Friday, 24 June 2011

Theatrical Interlude 9

Lady in the Van, Theatre Royal Norwich, June 2011.

I first came across Alan Bennett when I was studying for my GCSEs. A unit of my English course was all about monologues and I recall it being a real joy to watch all of the 1988 Talking Heads series. At that age I'm not sure I was really aware who the author was, I don't think I'd come heard of Beyond The Fringe at that point.

Up until the end of last year Bennett was someone I was aware of, I read The Uncommon Reader the day it was published, but until World Book Night reintroduced us I think that most of my Bennett awareness came from the pretty cruel sketches on the radio version of Dead Ringers.

When I found out that Lady in the Van was coming to Norwich it didn't take an awful lot of persuasion by a friend to get me to see it. I knew the rough out line of the story - Miss Shepherd parks her van in Bennett's front garden and remains there for the next 15 years - but nothing about the play.

I found it very good. The idea of the two Alan's confused me for the first few minutes but then I was swept away into the story and had no problem at all working out what was supposed to be happening at the time as opposed to what Bennett was thinking when he wrote the play.

The actors had me convinced from line one, and Nichola McAuliffe was incredible as Miss Shepherd. The play deals with some pretty deep and traumatic themes but there is enough humour throughout to stop it feeling depressing. In fact some because some scenes were funny despite the poignancy I found myself feeling guilty for laughing. Then I remembered that that is the British way of coping in times of stress and emotion - it was okay to laugh, so long as you feel a bit uncomfortable.

One thing jarred in the play for me, and that is probably because of my own perceptions, and that was the use of some of the swear words. I see Bennett as a mild mannered, polite, shy person - a veritable National Treasure - and to hear the F-word coming from 'him' was a shock. When I'm watching a play I lose track of the real world around me and the swearing did actually jolt me out of that state and back into the present. I don't doubt that Bennett does use that language (both in real life and in the situation depicted in the play) but it did to me feel anachronistic.

Each play I've seen this year has been fantastic and this one was no exception. The one thing I am particularly glad of is that the stage director didn't scent the production - my imagination was quite enough!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Being controversial

The library can be bad for (my) reading health.

There I've said it and now before you all scream at me let me explain...

Part of my job lets me look through the supplier catalogue each month to highlight some of the new non-fiction published. You might not agree with my choices but you can find them here. Now when I am reading the catalogue I find lots and lots of books that I want to read.

So I reserve them.

And then they all come in together.

This is where my problem starts, one week I can be going mad because I can't find anything to read and then all of a sudden I have a pile about 12 deep of new books that I can't wait to read. Thus I become a book butterfly, flitting from book to book in an effort to read them before their return date. Or worse I drop what I've been reading for a while because something new and exciting has arrived and then I forget to go back to the original book.

It got worse today as Mr Bookworm has also come home from work with a book from the Uni Library that I've been wanting to read for months, and that is only on loan to me for a week.

I shall have to start prioritising harder, either that or sleeping less so I have time to get through them all.

So the library is wonderful. I have access to dozens of books that I couldn't afford to buy in such quantity. BUT it has been about 2 weeks since I last finished a book, despite having a pile on the go!

It doesn't help at the moment that I've just got a new camera and lens so a lot of reading time has become photography time...

Monday, 6 June 2011


I realise that currently I don't so much review on this blog but more talk generally about my impressions of what I have read or seen. This is because I live in fear of the dreaded spoiler.

There is nothing worse than reading a review and all of a sudden a major plot twist is revealed. There has been a lot written about this recently as the current chief writer for Doctor Who was very disappointed and angry when details of the new series were released on the web by a fan after a special screening.

If you chose to read the last page of the book to find out what happens then that is a personal choice, to have this read to you is a problem. However where do you draw the line? Take for instance my recent trip to see Much Ado About Nothing. The play itself was written over 400 years ago so isn't new but I for one had never read or seen it before the weekend just writing about the plot for this a spoiler?

Also there is the danger that in writing a review to remain spoiler free you just end up writing a plot summary.

I've got a book on review writing on order at the library to see if I can pick up any tips but I think that a personal impression is a valid form of review, it might not be erudite or intellectual but it is honest and spoiler free!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Good lord a book review!

Focus on Composing Photos by Peter Ensenberger.

In my job I get to look through all of the forthcoming publications
for each month and every month a startling number of new books on photography are published. As I work in a library many books are ordered for the county and I tend to borrow many of them for extra hints and tips. It is quite rare that I get excited by a new book, so many of them seem to be about editing photos rather than the actual photography itself.

I don't mind 'tweaking' my photos a little bit but I am far more interested in taking a good photo in the first place.

Focus on Composing Photos is a book that helps you take those good photos in the first place and it doesn't matter whether you are using a camera phone or a state of the art digital SLR - Ensenberger is just teaching you how to look at a scene to maximise the quality of the
original image.

The book is broken into chapters focusing on light, perspective, focal points, composition, leading lines and then rule breaking. The book is written in easy to follow language and each point it illustrated by one of the author's photos to highlight what he means. It isn't a technical guide telling you what lens/exposure/aperture to use it is a readable book teaching you how to look at scenes.

I have to confess that a lot of the book is set in an area I will be traveling to later in the year so I have a vested interest in the book but even without that the tips on how to look at a scene were great and I plan on using some of the tips given on my next outing with the camera.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Sometimes you just need a vent for emotion - whether it is a happy emotion or a sad one.

I have a pile of trusty books for such occasions. There are some I turn to when I am ill - these are books I've read time and time again and it doesn't matter how often I fall asleep when reading them because I already know them word for word.

There are others that I read when I am excited and can't concentrate - usually just before I travel. Again I know these books inside out but I know that as I read them I will become immersed deep within them and time will pass quickly.

Then there are the books that you know will make you cry. I'm not talking about a sad passage in a book (the bit in Good Wives where Beth dies for instance is sad but over all the book is a happy one) but the ones that are *really* sad. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin is one of these, as is If I Stay by Gayle Foreman. Actually when I look at my shelves I have quite a few of this type of book.

These are books that I read knowing they are going to make be feel awful at the time but also knowing that once I've sobbed my way through them I'll feel better.

There are a few films like that too (Beaches, and Graveyard of the Fireflies for example), but as a rule I turn to my favourite books as it is easier to hide away with a novel than it is with a film or at the cinema.

I broke this rule last week when I went to see Third Star at the cinema. I knew what the film was about and I knew it was going to be moving. I might just have under anticipated just how sad it was going to be and just how much it was going to affect me. Gulp.

There are many reviews out on the web of this film but even now, a week after I saw the film, I can't write about it without wanting to cry again. The summary from IMDB probably gives the best taster with least danger of spoilers:

James and his three closest lifelong friends go on an ill-advised trip to the stunning coastal area of Barafundle Bay in West Wales. What follows is a touching and comical adventure dealing with friendship, heroism and love.

However despite sniffing my way through the film, and looking decidedly unattractive on leaving the screen thanks to the red eyes and nose the movie was incredible. The locations were stunning, the actors very good and the whole roller coaster of emotion played beautifully. It felt real and just like those books I turn to regularly this is going to be a film I know I am going to watch and re-watch.