Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Trumpet Blowing

I always knew I worked somewhere very special but we are all very proud and excited at the Millennium Library because we've made the short list for the Library of the Year award at the Bookseller Industry Awards.

We are up against some really strong competition but to be named one of the top 5 libraries in the country is something special.

We find out if we are the winner on Monday 14th May and I think I'll be keeping everything crossed between now and then.

In addition to our wonderful news, the children's book department at Jarrolds here in Norwich has also been nominated for an award - Independent Children's Bookseller of the Year. Just goes to show how great Norwich is!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Trying New Things

Dancing on Ice, Nottingham Arena, April 2012

I didn't intend 2012 to be a year of new challenges and experiences but that does seem to be how it is panning out so far - and that includes the blog as blogger seems to have changed quite radically since I last posted.

On Saturday I took a friend to see Dancing on Ice Live in Nottingham.  This really was a treat for her and I admit that I was dreading it a little bit.  I am the clumsiest person around on solid ground and can't ice skate to save my life, plus I've never watched an episode of Dancing on Ice.  However I do remember watching the Olympics back in 1984 and seeing Torvill and Dean winning their gold medal with Ravel's Bolero.

The arena was huge and we were *pretty* high up - jokes about oxygen masks and nosebleeds felt pertinent!  The advantage to these seats became clear as soon as the skaters appeared on the ice as we could see all of the skaters at once and the patterns they were creating on the ice.  There were big screens to the side so that seeing close ups were possible.

I only knew one of the 'celebrities' who was skating and so that part of the show left me a little cold but I was blown away when Torvill and Dean or the professional took to the ice - the speed, grace and moves that these people performed were truly incredible.  Skating whilst hula-hooping fire has to be seen to be believed.

What surprised me the most was how influenced I was by the lighting (and costumes) when the ice and lights were yellows and oranges I instantly disliked the routine but the pinks, blues and purples really captured my attention.

I did surprise myself with how much fun I did have, but this was a one off - I don't think I'll be doing it again.

The trying new things continues today as it is World Book Night and I will be the MC for an Open Mic poetry night...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

Life in the Dales

I started reading the Gervase Phinn autobiographies a few years ago and found them great fun. Phinn started out as a teacher in a small school in the Yorkshire Dales and progressed on to school inspector. These are his memoirs of this career - I suppose they are a school version of the James Herriot books. I think that they have to be heavily condensed and pretty fictionalised but I might be wrong on this account.

These came to an end and then I discovered the novels by Jack Sheffield, these are very similar to Phinn's books but very definitely fiction. At present these are coming out at the rate of one a year and I eagerly await each new volume, especially as they generally end on a real cliff hanger. The other appeal of these books is that they start in the same year that I started school so while I went to a school in a Kent town rather than a rural village I can remember some of the things that Sheffield talks about.

I was quite excited to see a new book in this vein on the library shelf last week (All Teachers Great and Small by Andy Seed) however after the genius that is Phinn and Sheffield this just feels like a pale imitation, it is *another* memoir/novel of a teacher just starting out in a rural school in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1980s...yawn.

Now I know if something is selling then there are likely to be more in the same style but really - another one just the same as those that already exist? I will try to read it to the end but I think that this might be a book too far. If only it was set in another county I'd be okay but I'm only on page 27 but I already feel like I've read it before but in a better, funnier format.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Theatrical Interlude 3 (2012)

She Stoops to Conquer, National Theatre Live (encore), Cinema City Norwich. April 2012

Having never seen any theatre from the 1700s by a strange quirk of timing I've ended up seeing two in three days thanks to the delights of the National Theatre Live programme.

Sadly this experience wasn't quite the joy that I found the Recruiting Officer to be, however similar the themes in both plays.

I'm not sure if She Stoops didn't quite hit the spot because it was at the cinema and thus I had to watch what the camera showed me or if it was because I found the size of the Olivier Stage created a barrier between the actors and the audience. In the intimate Donmar the knowing winks, nods and asides felt like they could have been aimed at me but knowing just how big the Olivier Theatre at the National is I never felt as much a part of the play as I was supposed to.

The acting in the play was very good, again not a dud amongst the main players and even though the play is well over 200 years old it did feel very accessible and funny. The elements of farce were well handled and just on the right side of cringe worthy. I did think at a few points that the male leads were channeling Black Adder the Third but it (just) worked wonderfully.

I do wonder if I'd seen this play first and The Recruiting Officer at the cinema I'd feel the same but I love the opportunity that National Theatre Live gives me to see more London plays and this was a very nice way to spend a Monday afternoon.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Theatrical Interlude 2 (2012)

The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse, March 2012

From all accounts my theatre going friends and I were incredibly lucky to secure tickets for this production as it is quite hard to get tickets for this venue without being a 'friend of the theatre' for any performance - let alone when it is a sell out 5 star play.

We knew very little about this play in advance short of it being a comedy written in the very early 1700s.

Our tickets were very clear in saying that late-comers wouldn't be admitted so we arrived in plenty of time and found that as soon as the auditorium doors opened there was action on the stage - with musicians and dancers lighting hundreds of candles. The theatre itself was tiny but the seats were very comfortable and even being sat at the end of the row at the side of the stage we could see everything.

The play itself was a real surprise, it felt like a real bridge between Shakespearean theatre and modern plays - the interaction with the audience and the use of space beyond the stage was very much like a production at the Globe but the language was modern dialogue and natural rather than poetic and rhythmic.

The action all took place in a very short space of time and followed the intrigues of both star crossed lovers and the unscrupulous manner in which people were press ganged into the army. From the very start the play was incredibly funny (and that is before the stage became slippery and a dramatic skid led to some corpsing) and in a way the whole experience reminded me of an up market pantomime with lots of playing up to the audience although luckily no actual audience participation.
The humour continued right up to the last scene when all of a sudden it became wonderfully poignant - the lovers had all been reconciled, the pseudo-baddy (a wonderfully camp Mark Gatiss) had got his comeuppance and overcome this and the recruiting officer had his new soldiers. Then the new recruits all stood in a line playing the traditional song "Over the Hills and Far Away" and through their actions remind you that soldiers go to war...

All of the cast were brilliant, each person inhabited their role completely and the skill of the ensemble to act whilst playing musical instruments, singing, dancing and acting as stagehands was a real stand out.

This was a thoroughly fun play to see and yet again a play that I came out of wishing I could straight back in and see it again.