Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Magistrate, National Theatre Live (Encore), Cinema City, Norwich. January 2013.

Thank heavens for the continuation of the National Theatre Live programme.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to see this at all and so didn't bother getting tickets in London. Then the reviews and the bloggers started talking about it and I was kicking myself.

The actual 'Live' broadcast sold out, and in fact took place on a day when Norwich was blanketed in ice and I'd incapacitated myself by slipping over so I was very lucky that the daytime Encore fell on a day off.

The cinema was packed and thankfully for a comedy the audience was lively and so it was much more like being at the cinema than other broadcasts have been.

The Magistrate is a late Victorian farce. A widow has remarried but lied about her age in a fit of vanity. This has also meant that she has re-aged her son too, everyone thinks he is a forward 14 year old when he is actually 19. The family set up is already funny but when a figure from the past threatens to reveal the deception the comedy really kicks off.

I enjoyed the play, all of the actors were very,very good. They all managed to keep the balance between straight acting and comedy so this felt like a cohesive play rather than a pantomime, but all had excellent timing and the audience couldn't help but laugh along with the characters' predicaments.

Unlike some reviewers I did like the addition of the songs during the (clever) scene changes. For me the costumes, dancing and words made me think of Gilbert and Sullivan and added to the Victorian setting.

However I am still glad that I didn't rush for tickets in London - it was a fun afternoon but nothing that special.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Book of the year already?

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Way back last November I attended a Reading Agency development day held in Peterborough. Lots of publishers got to present themselves and their forthcoming books to a group of library staff from around East Anglia.  At the same time we got to 'sell' our libraries to the publishers as venues to consider for events a promotions.

At the end of the day after chatting with lots of lovely people we all staggered home with piles of exciting books and proofs to read.

Because I spent much of October, November and December reading through the Writers' Centre Norwich Summer Reads long list helping to pick the books we'll be championing all summer my own personal reading got put on hold for a while.

Now I am fully recovered from the lurgy I am enjoying catching up on other things.  The first two books I've plucked out of the pile from November (pictured above) have both been from The Tinder Press and both were fantastic.

Amity and Sorrow reminded me a lot of both the 19th Wife by Ebershoff and Grace by Morris Gleitzman as it is all about what happens when families leave religious cults and just how far indoctrination can go. I raced through the book and think that it will be a great hit, especially with reading groups.

However much I enjoyed this one it was the second book that really blew me away...

 The Yonahlosse Riding Camp for Girls was truly fantastic, I started it at lunchtime on Sunday just had to keep reading until I finished it, poor Mr Norfolkbookworm didn't get a lot of conversation or sense out of me!

The story starts with Thea Atwell being left at the Riding Camp thinking she is there just for the summer. It is clear from the outset that she is there in disgrace but it is only slowly that flashbacks let you see the whole story unfold and reverberate through Thea's life.

As well as the story line being compelling I loved the vivid way the landscape was described.  I've visited some of the more wild central Florida areas that form Thea's home and could instantly visualise the family home.  I'm not a keen horsewoman (that is possibly the biggest understatement I've ever made on this blog) but that didn't matter at all, the love for horses shone through without swamping a reader with details.

I was surprised by several of the twists in the book and by the end I did have to surreptitiously wipe my eyes on more than one occasion. Thea was an interesting lead character for me, at times I felt sorry for the way life treated her but then some of her decisions made me less sympathetic towards her - a sign of a well rounded and 'real' character!

The one downside with this book is that it isn't published until June and so however much I recommend and rave about this one other people won't get to read it for nearly 6 months! New books from DiSclafani will certainly be books I am eagerly awaiting.

Fiction in 2013 has a lot to live up to after these two books  - and I am already bumping the 3rd Tinder Press proof to the top of the to-be-read pile!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Theatrical Interlude 1 (2013)

Acropolis Now, The Blakeney Players, Blakeney. January 2013

The first theatre outing of the year and one that didn't need a journey out of the county.

I've said before that I can never be unbiased in my reviews of these shows due to knowing at least one cast member but I think that they out did themselves this winter.

This was pure pantomime, with sketches barely linked to tell a story that was set up from the introduction of the character Hadron the clumsy boy.

We had the Gods on Mount Olympus squabbling amongst themselves - Hera channelling Sybil Fawlty was a stroke of genius - as well as interfering with the lives of the mortals in Acropolis and Troy.

Greek myths merged as the Minotaur and Labyrinth moved to Troy and then there was the Trojan (pantomime) horse. The jokes were dire - yes, the 'what's a Greek earn?' gag was in there but delivered in such a way, with such great set ups that it didn't matter. The song and dance routines were as brilliant as ever but possibly even more tenuously linked to the story than usual. 

I laughed more at this than I can remember laughing at anything since Noises Off.  Any show that manages to get four Harpies singing Tom Lehrer songs *and* a tap dancing horse has to be considered truly brilliant and biased although I am I do think that this rivalled a lot of professional stage productions.

Roll on the summer and the next Blakeney Players extravaganza!

a sneaky photo taken by Mr Norfolkbookworm during the curtain call.
On stage you can see the Harpies, Helen of Troy, Hermes, Zeus's earthly form, Hera, Zeus, Eros and the Muses.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Top Tens from 2012

Better late than never...

Due to my Christmas lurgy I'm later than I planned in posting my personal top 10s from the last year.

I've been thinking about them for a while but I don't like to list them until the year has turned - there have been times when the book I've finished as New Year's Eve ends have been the best of the year, The Book Thief in 2006 for instance. This wasn't quite the case in 2012 but I did read one of my favourite books late on in the month.

None of these lists are in any particular order and all of them seemed a lot hard to pick this year!

Top 10 Books 2012 

Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal - this is the book that made me understand how to read the plays of Shakespeare and enjoy them as much as seeing them performed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver - very late to the party on this one but despite this it blew me away.

The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Haflon - a rare book that despite *having* to read for book group I loved.  I was wary of the book because it listed so many translators but it was beautiful if odd.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr - another book that I liked enough to blog about.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - a very gentle book that just swept me along.

Strange Meetings by Harry Ricketts - I loved this one so much I blogged about it!

The American Wife by Paula McLain - I like Hemingway's collection of stories called A Moveable Feast a lot and this novel captures his lifestyle at this time wonderfully.

These Wonderful Rumours by May Smith - a recently discovered wartime diary of a female teacher in the midlands.  A real insight into a young woman's war and terrifically funny at times although possibly this was not intentional.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window by Jonas Jonasson - I only finished this book between Christmas and New Year but I've already been recommended it to several people. It is deliciously dark and funny although just occasionally the history isn't quite accurate.

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton - this was another book group novel that I'd probably never have picked up otherwise.  It was a dark, unsettling war novel but unlike my favourites by R F Delderfield this was not a comforting read - it was the language and style that made it stand out.

Top 10 Plays of the year

Richard III - The Globe & Apollo Theatre
Henry V - The Globe
The Recruiting Officer - Donmar Warehouse
Cabaret - Theatre Royal, Norwich
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre
Noises Off - Novello Theatre
War Horse - New London Theatre
Taming of the Shrew - The Globe
Hymn and Cocktail Stick - The Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre
Berenice - The Donmar Warehouse

Worst 5 Books of the year 

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Willes - a book on a longlist I was reading, found it a real chore to read and by the end was ready to throw the book at the wall in frustration. I think it would have made a great  short story or novella but as a novel was just dull.

Paddington Races Ahead by Michael Bond - it pains me to put this on the list but as I blogged earlier in the year the updating of classics rarely seems to work.

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov - I know it is supposed to be a classic but by the end I was willing them to tie the lead charcters to the trees and then set fire to the orchard. Perhaps I should see this on stage and see if my opinions change?

The Descendents by Kaui Hart Hemmings - this was a hit film so I thought I'd try the book. On finishing it I decided not to bother with the film...

The Fifty Shades trilogy by E L James - I confess I read all three of these (on an eReader so that no one could see that I was doing so). They were dire and for me and about as erotic as toothache. The real problem was that there was just enough story in the trilogy that kept me reading to the end as I had to know how it finished - badly, don't bother!

Worst 2 Plays of the year

Love and Information - Royal Court Theatre
What the Butler Saw - Vaudeville Theatre

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Theatrical Interlude 25 (2012)

Richard III, Apollo Theatre, London. December 2012.

I'm a bit late in getting this review up, I can't blame the pressures of the festive season more a nasty virus that has wiped me out.

In retrospect it was probably a bit silly making the trip the London to see this, I'd been ill beforehand but the lure of seeing the production again and feeling fine on the day saw Mr Norfolkbookworm and I on our way to the Big Smoke.

I'd seen this play back in August and thought it brilliant then and I really think that it transferred wonderfully to the West End.  In many ways it was a better location - with no helicopters and sirens to be heard none of the dialogue was lost and the seats were also more comfortable than the Globe benches.  The lights weren't dimmed out and so some of the audience atmosphere from the open theatre remained.

Being in a smaller theatre (no Groundlings between the seats and the stage) the nuances of Mark Rylance's Richard III were very clear and his take on the character's madness were chilling.  His stage presences and expressions were funny but the words chilling, put together this made for a brilliant performance.

The rest of the cast were all fantastic, and as ever the Globe created a real ensemble piece, the one thing I found most interesting about this version was I *think* that the cast used the theatre and stage steps far more here than they did at the Globe.  We had end of row seats near a door and to be that close to the actors was very exciting.

I loved having the chance to see Richard III again, it is certainly in my top 10 of 2012 and seeing a Globe performance in the winter makes me all the more excited for the Sam Wanamaker Indoor Jacobean theatre next year!