Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tea for four...

Bucket lists were all the rage a little while back and while my mum, aunt and I don't exactly have a full bucket list we've decided to do the things we want rather than keep putting them off.  As another relative said to me - you don't regret the things you've done, only the things you don't do...

With all of this in mind the three of us and a friend met in London on Thursday last week with the sole intention of being entirely ridiculous and having champagne afternoon tea at the Savoy Hotel.  To mark the importance of the occasion I even wore a dress!

From the instant we stepped from the Strand into the side street that the Savoy occupies we felt special, not at all out of place or patronised simply special.

We had a large table in the corner of the beautiful art deco Thames Foyer and two very attentive and knowledgeable staff looking after us.
The food was delicious - sandwiches that were nothing like I put in our lunchboxes on a daily basis, light scones, jam, cream and lemon curd.  There were two champagnes to chose from and 32 teas...

Trays of petits fours were offered, tea cups refilled and tea pots replaced with fresh.  The only slight disappointment was the cakes offered at the very end weren't quite as nice as the petits fours. Should we go again (or if any of my readers go) we'd pass on the last course and ask for more of the petits fours!

The live piano music was of a very high standard, if a little loud at times, and the service what you'd expect.  The best bit for me (apart from the food and company)? Even at the Savoy they can't get teapots that don't drip.

To bring the blog back around to it's origins again one of my all time favourite authors, Michael Morpurgo, has set a book at the Savoy making it a top literary destination as well as a foodie one.  Kaspar Prince of Cats is a really sweet tale and well worth searching out!

I'm not sure that I'd go to the Savoy for tea again but it would be very easy to get used to that level of luxury...are you listening Mr Norfolkbookworm?! 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Theatrical Interlude 12 (2013)

Noises Off. Theatre Royal, Norwich. May 2013

I loved this play so much last year that when I found out it was coming to Norwich I instantly booked tickets for Mr Norfolkbookworm and I because I wanted to share the pure joy of this farce with him.

Since making the booking I've had several wobbles about doing so.  Was it really that good in London? Would seeing it a second time be a let down? Would the touring version be as funny? And lastly after the let downs that I found the Ladykillers and The Mousetrap, was this actually a funny play?

I am so pleased to say that yes it was a funny as I remember, yes the touring version was pretty much as good and no I really don't regret seeing it a second time.

I think that this is a play that requires timing and trust something the cast had in abundance on opening night in Norwich.  Looking at the Old Vic's touring schedule then the Norwich run corresponds with about the second act and if that is what is going on behind the scenes then professionalism shone through and you'd never have known!

The element of surprise had gone for me as I'd seen the play before but i found the humour to be as fresh as every, the prat falls as funny and from the laughs around me so did everyone else.

I am so pleased that the touring versions of London shows are making it to Norwich - it is so much easier for me to get Mr Norfolkbookworm to them!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Found in Translation

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Readers' Day, May 2013.

Being on the 8am train to London on a Saturday was a bit of a shock to the system yesterday, not helped by the fact I'd been out at a Norfolk and Norwich Festival Event the night before. However it turned out to be a great day and one that I really hope I can repeat in 2014!

I posted just under a month ago about the IFFP 2013 and the book I was reading - and I'm pleased to say that the author did manage to wrap the book up in the last 150 pages.  I won't say it happened in a totally satisfying way but it was very appropriate for the rest of the book, and yes we did have some great chats about the book at our meeting and on the train yesterday.  We also talked a lot more about it after hearing from the author and the translator and were very proud of ourselves that we had spotted what he was trying to do!

The second book I had to read was The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer) and back in April I was looking forward to reading it as light relief from Traveller of the Century.  It really drove home the maxim of not judging a book by its cover. It might have been short with a large font and lots of small chunks but it, for me was also so unrealistic and stylised that it ranks with some of the least enjoyable books I've read.  If there was a 'deeper meaning' to be found it was so deep that I couldn't find it and made the books feel very shallow.

Before the Readers' Day I also managed to read Bundu by Chris Barnard (translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns) which was enjoyable but although sharing similar themes with Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came nowhere near the latter's brilliance.

The Readers' Day was held at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon and gave us the chance to hear from translators, authors, judges, bloggers and readers.  I hoped to be able to make lots of notes and to tweet form the day but I found myself so engrossed that all I have are odd notes and phrases that have stuck in my mind.

We heard from the authors and translators of the six books on the IFFP shortlist and this really altered my thoughts on some of the books I'd read and cemented other opinions!  What really came across was the authors' views on their translators.  We've heard a lot from translators at our reading group but not really met many of the authors who've been translated. We've thought about and researched the original work but yesterday it was interesting to hear from the authors and how generous they can be to their translators.  Andres Neuman for instance sees a work that has been translated as being only 49% his...

After an incredible lunch we took part in a focus group thinking about the IFFP, book groups, translated fiction, book buying and anything else that came up. This was followed by 2 short talks - one from a blogger who spent a year trying to read a book (translated into English) from each of the 196 UN recognised countries -  and one from the English branch of PEN talking about the importance of reading books from other languages.
After this there were some fun creative writing exercises.

The last session of the day was great fun - a translation duel.  No violence or swords involved just the mighty pen! Two translators had been given the same passage to translate independently and then these were put side by side and compared.  Not even the title of the chapter was the same!
The first few lines were then discussed with a third person (also a translator) as he got them to explain their choices, decisions and thought patterns.  It has been many years since I did any (minor) translating but this session reaffirmed how hard it was and how there weren't really any right answers of how to do it - just personal preferences!

At the very end of the day the winner of the IFFP as chosen by us readers was announced and a book that has been translated from Croatian was declared the winner - Trieste by Dasa Drndic, translator Ellen Elias-Bursac.  My copy is still on reserve from the library but the notes I made yesterday lead me to believe that although hard going this is going to be a fascinating read.

I was left with a few thoughts from the day that are going to be hard to shake and will influence my reading:

In English we are spoiled by being able to read in our own tongue so many books form so many places but we have to also read books translated into English to get a real feel for the world.

Only 4.5% of the books we find in the UK are in translation and of these women are woefully under-represented.  We realised that this is something we've unconsciously noticed at our Reading Group as we were actually struggling to remember more than 2 books by women that we've read in the 3+ years we've been meeting.

As readers we are all translators - what we actually take in from a book is our version of the text and can't be what the original author had in mind as he/she wrote.

Pens must be bisexual - it shouldn't matter if a man writes a female and vice versa just as it shouldn't matter if a female translates a man. The quality of the writing and content should make any scenario work and if it doesn't then this is the problem not the gender of the author/translator.

I'd really like to thank The Booktrust, The Reading Agency, English Pen, BCLT, The Free Word Centre, the authors, judges, translators and speakers (plus anyone else I've forgotten) for making the shadowing process and the Readers' Day such a great experience.  I hope we can take part again next year and I'm really looking forward to finding out which book the judges pick as the winner!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Theatrical Interlude 11 (2013)

 The Tempest, The Globe, London. May 2013

The Season of Plenty presented by the Globe is really spoiling us this year, as well as seeing 6 plays at the London theatre I am also hoping to catch another  two as plays tour around the country.

Yesterday's trip was to see The Tempest and the weather forecast wasn't hopeful that we'd avoid our own bad weather...

I saw a version of The Tempest back in September 2011 where I found it a mixed play.  This version blew me away.

From the shipwreck at the beginning to the reconciliation at the end  felt I was an interloper on the island watching the story unfold.  Roger Allam as Prospero was a joy to watch - he played the magician as a kindly father who was trying to right wrongs rather than a cruel enslaver of the spirits on the island.

Unlike in other productions Miranda and Ferdinand were stronger characters than expected - with the lines Shakespeare wrote they are never going to set the world on fire but they showed some spirit and humour.

The scenes with Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban stole the show (especially Caliban) and I think that due to judicious cutting their scenes were just the right length, always funny and never over stretched.

Ariel and the other sprites were otherworldly and used the whole theatre to create their effects, making particular use of the original lines to do this.

The slight flat point for me were the scenes with the King and his followers, although boasting a few of my favourite actors from the Globe their scenes were, for me, underplayed and I almost missed some of the important plot points.

The nature of the play really allowed for audience participation and in jokes - Caliban in particular managed this yesterday as he was amazed by helicopters and interacted wonderfully with the person in a wheelchair at the stage edges being particular highlights!

This version seemed a lot less episodic and much more coherent than the version I saw in 2011 and once more Mr Norfolkbookworm and I came away from the theatre saying that this was the best play we'd seen there! I am pleased to have seen Roger Allam on stage at The Globe after missing him as Falstaff in Henry IV a few years ago.

The weather did smile on us too, and the rain didn't start to fall until the 'curtain' calls!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Theatrical Interlude 10 (2013)

 Mamma Mia! Winter Garden Theater, New York. May 2013.

The Norfolbookworm and her mum went international last week as we treated ourselves to a few days in New York.

The weather was amazing and in 3 1/2 days we walked about 20 miles and saw loads of the famous sights.  Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan under a glorious blue sky, sailing in front of the Statue of Liberty aboard the Staten Island Ferry, the views from the top of the Empire State Building and the Rockerfeller Center were all highlights.

I did indulge in a bit of a busman's holiday with a visit to the New York Public Library - a truly amazing building and home to the original Winnie the Pooh and friends:

We had a list of things we really wanted to do while in The Big Apple and seeing a something on Broadway was pretty high on that list.  On our first full day we arrived at the famous TKTS booth in Time Square and queued for discount tickets for a show that evening.

The booth opens at 3pm for the evening discounts and even though we were there before 3.30 the queue was huge - happily there were also lots of shows and tickets available.  We'd decided that we wanted to see something fun and lively, set ourselves a price limit and joined the queue.  Barely anytime later we were at the counter and came away clutching tickets for the orchestra stalls at the Winter Garden Theater to see Mamma Mia! at 8pm.

One of my earliest musical memories is ABBA's Super Trouper plus as Mr Norfolkbookworm and I got married in Greece the year the film version of the show was released I've always felt an affinity to the show but never managed to get around to seeing it in London.

We weren't disappointed at all - from walking into the theatre and being given a *free* playbill (programme) until the final curtain we had a ball. The energy of the performers, the set, costumes, music and acting made it a magical evening.

There were a few negatives - audiences in New York seem to be worse behaved than in London, people were talking quite loudly throughout, especially in dialogue/quiet song moments. The walls to the theatre seemed quite thin and unlike in London it wasn't just drums you heard in the auditorium - it was all traffic and people chatting just outside. You could even smell their cigarettes...

However all in all we had a great time, and as we joined in during the last number (participation encouraged, not crashing the stage!) we can now say that we too have sung and danced on Broadway!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Theatrical Interlude 9 (2013)

The Mousetrap, Theatre Royal, Norwich. April 2013.

This play has been on my 'would like to see' list for quite a while but because it shows no sign of closing in London it keeps slipping down this list. When the 60th Anniversary tour announced it was coming to Norwich it seemed like the perfect opportunity, especially as Mr Norfolkbookworm will come with me to the Theatre Royal.

As all audience members are sworn to secrecy regarding this play it isn't the easiest play to review.  It wasn't helped by my reaction to it.

The set was beautiful, all the action takes place in the sitting room of a large house that has just been turned into a guest house, there are various entrances to this space and it evoked the late 1940s wonderfully.

The actors were all very good as well.

However I'm not sure if this was a straight comedic play or a farce.  I do know that all the way through I was expecting the cast to break into song and or dance routines - a la Blakeney Players.  To be honest I think that would have improved my enjoyment.

The script was beyond stilted and I guessed 'who dunnit' before the interval. I didn't even find it very funny. Perhaps this is the point?

I like Agatha Christie as a rule - one of the few crime writers I do like - but to be honest how this has survived 60 years is beyond me.