Friday, 28 September 2012

Marmite or Marmalade?

Paddington Races Ahead by Michael Bond

I had a hand made Paddington Bear toy as a child - he had removable boots, hat and duffle coat and in my memory was the same size as me - I'm still pretty sure he was larger than a normal teddy bear though as he did wear my out-grown red boots.  I had a lovely compilation book of Paddington stories too.

My first real memory of the visitor from Darkest Peru was when Selfridges made their Christmas Grotto all about the bear - from searching the Internet I see that this was in 1983 and in honour of his 25th birthday!
There was a special book published to coincide with this and I remember loving the bit  where Paddington inflates a giant boat whilst in the shop.
It was only this year that I saw the statue at Paddington Station for the first time and got a bit overexcited!

I got excited when I saw there was a new book due. Unlike many of the recent updates to old favourites the original author is still in charge so I wasn't worried I'd be disappointed.

Sadly, as ever, reading a childhood favourite as an adult wasn't quite the same.

It wasn't that I minded Paddington getting into a muddle over Oysters or even having his fish nibble his feet, Paddington has always lived in a timeless place. It was Jonathan and Judy that hit the discordant note, and the talk of them wearing jeans that jarred for me, along with them being drawn much younger than the text implied they were. I think it would have worked better for me if they had grown up while Paddington stayed the same and the children were now their children...

In my opinion the best chapter was when Paddington accidently drops into Hamlet being performed at the Open Air Theatre in London, but anyone who regularly reads this blog will be unsurprised by this!

Once I put thoughts of old favourites out of my head and lost myself in the new book it was fine but all in all I prefer the originals and the original pictures.  I can't wait until my nephew is old enough to sit and share Paddington's adventures with, complete with a plate of marmalade sandwiches of course... I think I'll start hunting for a copy of the original TV series on DVD now!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Theatrical Interlude 17

Cabaret, Theatre Royal Norwich, September 2012

I've started to infect my whole family with the theatre bug - this outing saw me accompanied by Mr Norfolkbookworm and my dad, although this time I only had to walk to the theatre and dad had to make the long journey.

I think he found it worthwhile.

I knew the vague plot outline of the musical, but from reading Christopher Isherwood's books and autobiographies rather than the famous film adaptation which I haven't seen.

I was a little concerned about the leads in this version - in casting pop/TV stars I was a bit worried hat the production was all about making money through sell out audiences rather than quality.

Happily I was wrong.  This is a musical that starts in a light hearted, comedic way with all the excesses of Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s clear to see.  As the story unfolds it gets darker and darker to the truly shocking ending.

Even as the story spirals into the horrors of the Nazi era there are moments of humour and  found the balance of humour and horror was very well done in this production.  I have read a lot of comments on discussion boards at people being horrified by audience members laughing at parts of the show, but if like me they didn't know where, for instance the song The Future Belongs to Me, ends up then the start is funny. And yes I did feel guilty for laughing by the end of the song.

Although it has a start studded cast I found that this was forgotten quickly and all of them were very good, I did find it hard to hear all of the words when Will Young was singing sometimes but I do think that might have been more to do with the sound at the theatre than his voice.  The costumes (and lack of them) were very good and the clever use of scenery made it easy to follow the many changes of location during the performance.  I think that the Swing really deserve separate praise as the moves and dances they performed were truly jaw dropping, especially on moving scenery.

It has been a week since I saw the show and I am still humming the songs, but after watching clips on Youtube I'm not sure I will hurry to watch the film, it seems very much of its time rather than of Berlin in 1931.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Swept up by the Summer of Sport

The Paralympic Games, 31st August 2012

After missing out on tickets repeatedly for the main Games I'd become a little disillusioned with the whole idea of the Games.  The disruption caused by the Olympic Torch Relay didn't improve my mood, then we had the Opening Ceremony and I was hooked.

Thanks to a tip off from a friend and an awful lot of website refreshing and shift negotiation with colleagues Mr Norfolkbookworm and I ended up with tickets to the Aquatic Centre and the Orbit Tower for the last day of August.

An early start from central London in glorious sunshine set the tone of the day - it was brilliant from start to finish.  We got off the Tube at West Ham and walked along the Greenway into the park and as the stadium got closer my excitement grew.  Security checks were fast and efficient and once we were in the Park we had time to grab coffee, juice and breakfast before going into the Aquatic Centre.

Our seats were right in the centre just under half way up and we could see everything.  Amazingly the pool area wasn't too hot and didn't smell of chlorine some really enjoyed seeing elite athletes give their all in the heats. We aren't ardent sports fans and so didn't recognise any of the swimmers at the time - after the past 11 days I now know many more! This didn't matter at all as we were just spellbound and cheering for everyone, especially when Paralympic records were broken.

After our session in the Aquatic Centre we wandered around the park, revelling in the space and beauty of the area and then we had our trip to the top of the Orbit sculpture...

...this was a bit of an extravagance but it gave us the chance to see over the whole Park, into the Stadium and across in to London.  I also found the structure beautiful and the red of the metal against a blue summer sky very eye catching. While we were at the top the athletics finished and we saw just how busy the park gets when 80 000 people start wandering around!

Lunch beckoned after this and we had a lovely Mexican meal in World Square before visiting the London 2012 Megastore. After this we were beginning to flag and so decided to leave before the evening rush hour but even then strolling towards the exit along the canal bank we found more to see - including Gloriana, the Queen's specially built Jubilee barge.  It was a fantastic day and we are both so pleased we got tickets and could take part in this fabulous event.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Theatrical Interlude 16

Taming of the Shrew, The Globe Theatre, August 2012

This was again a play I was a little nervous in seeing, not because I had any doubts about the performance itself but because it was a long awaited treat for my mum, and her first visit to the Globe.

Our seats were in the Upper Tier but dead centre and so we could see almost all of the action, barring a tiny amount that took place on the catwalk-esque thrust part. The first thing I noticed about the staging was how much scenery there appeared to be compared to the sparseness of the last two plays I'd seen there.

The start of the play was a little bit of a shock and was very unexpected (The play runs until October 13th so I won't 'spoil' this) but very quickly became a familiar Globe production. I didn't know the story behind this play at all before seeing it, I'd just been told that it was a problem play that I might find hard to swallow.  I didn't and I loved it from start to finish.

For me this version was funny, poignant, bawdy and brilliant. While Petruchio does try to tame Katherina I found this version wasn't about the subjugation of women but more about a couple having to both compromise for a marriage to work.  The relationship between Katherina and Bianca also had moments that felt very familiar, nice to know Shakespeare got the female sibling rivalry spot on as well as other family's feuds!

The costumes (or lack of them!) were fantastic as were the songs, musicians and the jig at the end. While there were lots of laughs throughout I do think that the kicking of the bucket scene stealing was my favourite!
As mum and I said to each other, if every school child saw a Shakespeare play like this, or even just at the Globe, he'd never be classed as hard work or dull again.

Like my dad earlier in the month I think mum had a great time on her first visit to the Globe and she now has her fingers crossed that her other favourite plays will be in the next season's run!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book reviewing at a funny time

It is a funny time to be reviewing books at present. A pretty big scandal broke in the book world over the past few days. Authors have been creating false names and accounts on Amazon (at the very least) to positively review their own books and to do the same but negatively to their rivals.

I don't review on Amazon - the closest I come is leaving feedback on 2nd hand items! From the outset I think I've been honest if a book was won, a proof or by a friend. My views are all my own and there is even a picture of me on the blog.

Enough disclaimers. I actually started this post to review a book I won in a Twitter competition:

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr.

This is where I start with a confession to the publisher - I wasn't paying too much attention when I entered the competition. I saw the publisher and the title and thought it would be a simple, non fiction first aid book that would be great to pass on to a family member who is a Cub Scout once I'd read it!

When a teen novel appeared on the mat I was a bit nonplussed, but then I opened the book. 4 hours later, with a great deal of sniffling I closed the most fantastic teen novel I've read in years.

At the start I thought I knew where the book was going but it continued to surprise throughout and while the ending was happy it was totally appropriate for the story.
I don't want to say any more about the novel as I'd like for others to come to it as unprepared as I was. Not because a spoiler will ruin it, but because the plot may seem trite and something that has been done many times before - it isn't and it hasn't!

If I still worked in retail this is the book I'd be hand selling to everyone buying for a teenage girl this autumn/winter however I will be raving about it to all and sundry in the library service and hoping to get at least one book group (not necessarily a teen one!) to try it.

This was a real surprise gem and again thanks to Usborne for sending me a copy.

Theatrical Interlude 15

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre, August 2012

I've managed to get a little behind on reviewing after another busy fortnight, I 'owe' two theatre reviews, at least two book reviews and my thoughts on the Paralympics. In addition to this I am also trying to get my head around a new piece of technology that isn't intuitive when it comes to Blogging software. Bear with me and any dodgy formatting for a while please!

My crazy theatre going August continued with a trip to see the adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is a book I've read more than once and one that I read during my 2011 World Book Night Challenge  with that review in mind I am surprised I was so keen to see this play.

The play may just have dispelled all of my misgivings about the book, the staging and acting made it live in a way that the words on the page just hadn't for me.  The Cottesloe Theatre is a small theatre with seating in the round, and our seats were looking down on the stage. As the play started the theatre went totally dark, and with all black seating and walls I mean totally dark, then as the lights came up in the middle of the stage was a dead dog.

The play continued in such an innovative way all the way through with lots of moving of props by the actors - who were almost always on stage, just seated around the edge - to create new scenarios. Some of the scenes were created in almost a modern dance format as Christopher was bodily moved around the stage by the others to simulate, for instance, his wish to be an astronaut. The stage itself was a giant light board that at one point transformed into a realistic Underground platform, just stunning.

I am totally in awe of Luke Treadaway who portrays Christopher. This is almost a one man show and he carries it wonderfully, showing the wonderful mix of intelligence but also lack of understanding that is Christopher.  Paul Ritter, who plays the father, also deserves every accolade as he manages to create a very real dad, someone who cares deeply for his disabled child but also someone who is human and who snaps and can't cope at times.

I don't think I can find a thing wrong with this play, other reviews have said it was over long but that isn't something I found at all. It was possibly the most intense piece of theatre I have seen and as it is sold out at The National do try to catch it at one of the National Theatre Live events.