Friday, 30 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 26

Blue Stockings, The Globe Theatre, London. August 2013.

I'd given up hope of seeing this play as it had so few performances and even fewer matinees but sometimes luck works in my favour and Mr Norfolkbookworm agreed that we could go on our wedding anniversary and he'd drive us home afterwards as he had the day after off work.

I'm so pleased that we could see this as a play about the struggle that women had in the past for the right to vote and for an education ticked so many of my personal boxes.  I went to an all girls school where it was expected that most of us would go on to university and take a degree but little was made of the fact that this expectation was a recent phenomenon. I certainly didn't know just how much of a fight women just 100 years before I took my undergraduate degree had to even attend lectures let alone graduate.

We saw the second performance of this new play and from the very beginning I was swept up in the story, the conflict between the male and female students, the conflict between the classes and the conflict between the desire for an education and a love life all came to life before my eyes and it really did feel like I was seeing history rather than a fictitious story.

Today women may be able to attend university on the same grounds as men but the fees are making it as hard for some to gain an education now as it was for women 100 years ago and this parallel made the play even more poignant to me.

I think that there were two things about this play that stood out for me - firstly the story focused on women trying to obtain science degrees (and being better at science than the men) not typically female 'arty' subjects and secondly that there were many sly digs at either Shakespeare or the topics (i.e. the French) that he typically made fun of which linked the play nicely to the setting.

This was the first modern piece that I'd seen at the Globe and it has made me keen to see more of the plays commissioned for the space - I wonder if I can fit in a trip to see The Lightning Child?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 25

War Horse,New London Theatre, London. August 2013

There are some plays that are so good that seeing them multiple times is a treat and seeing War Horse for the third times was as moving and fantastic as the first time.

I was joined on this trip by my mum and my aunt and all of us were spellbound.  We sat in the circle and the view of the stage was great - we could see all of the small details as well as the projections and peripheral action clearly and even being further back the horses were 'alive'.
It didn't matter that this was the third time I've seen the play - I still jumped, laughed and cried and I still managed to forget that the horses on stage were puppets and not 'real' animals.

All three of us agreed that in many ways this is a brave play - mixing animals, folk music and dialogue in French and German whilst creating a play that appeals to an audience from 8-108 is no mean feat, especially when there are 6 or more performances a week.

As the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 approaches this play is only going to get more popular and more poignant and I am sure that I will go and see it again.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Advance excitement

Wake by Anna Hope

Twitter can be a source of many things but for me this week it was the cause of a late night and tears.  Not because I was a victim of Internet bullying but because of a book sent to me by the publicist @alisonbarrow from Transworld.

Despite knowing that I had a long day at work ahead once I'd started reading Hope's Wake there was no way that I could stop reading it until I'd got to the end. Compelling and a war story - sleep didn't stand a chance!

The main action takes place in the week leading up to the burial of the Unknown Warrior on Armistice Day 1920, but to tell the story we go back to the action in World War One.

I've read many books set during WW1 and many of them stop as the guns fall silent and then pick up the story many years into the future, if they go beyond that at all. The idea of seeing how people coped in the few years just after the war was a fascinating idea and handled so much better than in another recent proof that I read.

At first I didn't warm to the female characters, I couldn't see at all how they could be connected realistically but slowly and cleverly the story unfolded and I was sniffling several times during the novel.

It sounds glib to call this an easy read but it managed to get the tragedy of fighting and dying in a war, as well as the tragedy of surviving a war, across without needing a lot of description of the horrors.  What is left unsaid is more effective than detailed description.

The descriptions of some of the post war activities mean that this is still definitely a book for adults despite the lack of violence/horror, and it is going to appeal to women more than men but they are my only less than positive comments for what was a great read.

It is a brave move to bring out a book about the end of the First World War in the year that we commemorate 100 years since the start but I hope that the book (and author) get the attention that it deserves.

**Although this review is for a book I was sent to read/review I haven't been paid for this blogpost and the views really are what I felt for the book.**

Monday, 19 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 24

Barnum, Theatre in the Park, Chichester. August 2013.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I had a new companion for our outing to Chichester this past weekend as we went with his aunt - who had also kindly treated us to the tickets as well.

I think that it is fair to say that this wasn't a musical that we'd probably have chosen to go to of our own choice, and that after reading some of the reviews and blog posts we were actually quite nervous about. It really seemed to be pushing us both out of our comfort zone, however our companion was very keen and waxed lyrical about the show so we went with open minds.

And very quickly had those minds blown.

Barnum isn't the strongest musical out there - the 'plot' is wafer thin and the songs not that memorable but thanks to the energy that the cast brought to the performance and sheer talent that the cast showed it was a delight from the metaphorical curtain up.

The musical is a version of P T Barnum's life as a showman, manager, politician and then showman again and as Mr Norfolkbookworm said afterwards it was like they'd actually trained a circus cast to act a little in support of the main roles for the rope work, juggling, tumbling and choreography was faultless and breath taking.

Circuses with animals and freak shows are pretty frowned upon now but the clever staging meant that no one was mocked and we were treated to theatrical humbug of the highest order! Who'd have thought that you really could get a elephant into the temporary tent theatre at Chichester so convincingly!

I can see that this may not be to everyone's taste - lets be honest I didn't think I'd enjoy it a fraction as much as I did but this is no turkey of a performance. As the theatre was full on the Saturday afternoon with people of all ages - all of whom had a smile on their faces as it ended - I'm pleased that people trust the CFT and aren't listening too much to the reviewers!

Chichester is a long way from Norwich so I don't know how often I'll make it back but from flicking through their brochure for the rest of the season there's already 2 things I am hoping will transfer or tour.

The theatre tent in the distance across the lovely park

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 23

A Change of Heart, The Blakeney Players, Blakeney. August 2013.

Once more Mr Norfolkbookworm and I headed to the Norfolk Coast to support the Blakeney Players and as ever the evening was a total delight.

This was another original play that managed to poke fun at London based multi-national companies and the Blakeney Players themselves whilst including some terrible puns and plays on words involving Shakespeare.

As ever the plot isn't the point of the play but the story was funny and the choreography and singing was brilliant - I dread to think how long it took them to learn the routine to All That Jazz but it was better than a lot of entries I've seen on 'find a star' TV shows.

I was pleased to hear that the Players are already thinking of their Christmas show - I can't wait to see it!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 22

The Color Purple, Chocolate Menier Theatre, London. August 2013.

Every year at the library where I work we run promotions to tie in with Norfolk's Black History Month and the ALA Banned Books Week.  In 2013 we are linking the two promotions and focusing on two books that are important for both - The Color Purple by Alice Walker and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

After the initial planning meeting I was pleasantly surprised to find that my hobby and my job had once more coincided and that in the summer of 2013 both books would be adapted for the London stage.  I didn't manage to see the version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the open air theatre in Regents Park but four of us travelled to London to catch a performance of The Color Purple.

I haven't yet re-read the book ready for our events in October and I could only remember the bare minimum of the plot in advance but I think that this was ideal as I then wasn't suffering from 'adaptation-itis' and wincing at changes from the original. This was echoed by my companions who all agreed that it felt 'right'.

This was a musical version and while very occasionally I found the music a little too loud for the venue and was unable to hear the singing but overall I was swept away from the instant the cast appeared on stage.  The Menier Chocolate Theatre is a pretty small and intimate place and thanks to the staging I felt that I was almost part of the cast - this was helped by actors leaving the stage and shaking hands with the audience in the opening number.

The Color Purple deals with some very heavy issues - rape, racism and abuse to name a few - but the genius of this production is that none of these themes is either over written or dealt with flippantly. As in life there are moments of humour even in the bleakest scenes.  Being a musical the tone so easily could be 'off' and the poignancy of the story lost but that doesn't happen at all. There pretty much wasn't a dry eye in the house as Celie sang the penultimate song 'I'm Here.'

The staging was very simple for the play, a huge thrust stage with chairs hanging on the wall. These chairs were used as seating, as props, for dancing on and for creating height on stage. There were no stagehands and these chairs were moved and used by all of the cast so smoothly that they were almost like another person on the stage. The lack of interruptions for scene shifting kept me thoroughly engaged in the play and constantly marvelling about the talent of the actors.

Apart from the very occasional moment when the orchestra drowned out the singing this was one of the best things I've seen at the theatre all year.  Much of the cast played more than one role but I really have to single out Sophia Nomvete playing Sofia and Cynthia Erivo who played Celie.  Erivo manages to convey a scared, pregnant teenager, downtrodden wife and also a woman of her own means just by changing her posture. Her voice is no less impressive!

I came out of this play wishing I could go straight back in and I am now hoping for a transfer to the West End so that I can see it again and talk everyone I know into coming with me.

The cast towards the end of the play, Celie is in the white blouse and Sofia in the green trousers.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 21

The Hush. The Shed at the National Theatre, London. July 2013.

In London for the weekend and with open return train tickets what were Rebecca and I to do but squeeze a fourth play into our brief holiday...

Even we admitted that we didn't think we had the stamina for a full length play - although Amen Corner looked very tempting - so we decided to try the new temporary venue and a 55 minute play.  The free drink was also welcome on a warm afternoon!

The Hush isn't getting great reviews from either the press or other bloggers but I enjoyed it a lot, and the more I think about it the more happy I am that I saw it.  It is a simple play with just two speaking characters, one male and one female.

The characters enter a room called The Hush, the man is recreating noise for a scene (but you never really know if he is writing a play or recreating a memory) and the woman is listening to recordings created by her (dead?) father.

The stars of the show are the Foley editors. On a balcony above the set are two people creating the majority of the sound effects in the play - from showering to turning over in bed.

I found it very clever and with no script the impact of noise became very clear and when a cold wind was played I did get goose bumps and I now have immense respect for those who create all of the sound effects for radio plays.

There was no real story and through the use of sounds the audience is left to create a narrative, I can see that some would find this pretentious but for me the chance to try something so different was a treat and I am glad that we went.

The Shed - a temporary stage while the Cottesloe Theatre is being renovated to relaunch as the Dorfman

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Exhibition Oddity

David Bowie is... Victoria and Albert Museum, London. July 2013

While Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were enjoying the Pompeii exhibition earlier in the summer Rebecca was queueing at the V&A museum securing us tickets to this summer's other sell out exhibition.

I wasn't at all sure about this trip at all. Apart from Under Pressure, Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes I wasn't sure that I knew any Bowie songs and I'd not been that inspired to look any more up in advance of our visit.  I didn't own up to this while we were waiting for the museum to open however as there were probably a couple of hundred people desperate for tickets - as soon as the doors open they took off at a run for the ticket desk and I feared for the safety of the statues in the corridor!

I was in for a nice surprise as I found I enjoyed the exhibition more than I thought I would.  Bowie is an interesting character and there is a lot more to him and his music than the flamboyant stage persona.  On entering the area everyone gets an audio guide, but this isn't giving a dry talk about the exhibits but is in fact loaded with sound clips and music that start playing as you walk around.

Bits of the exhibition (probably the bits that Rebecca liked the most!) left me cold but sitting in a cool space listening to Bowie's music through a good sound system while watching concert footage was brilliant - people were dancing or toe tapping but as everyone had headphones on it was like being at a silent rave.

A real experience and I will be looking for more Bowie music to add to my iPod before we go away.