Monday, 29 July 2013

Theatrical Interlude 18, 19 and 20

Henry VI trilogy, The Globe, London. July 2013

I think it is fair to say that The Globe Theatre doesn't have the reputation for being the most comfortable theatre. Deciding to see three plays in a day there had lots of people laughing very hard at Rebecca and I as we planned our weekend.

The thing is that if a play is good you forget your surroundings entirely and any discomfort fades away totally.

I'm pleased to say that the Henry VI trilogy fell firmly into the second category and for over 9 hours on Saturday I was living in the world of Henry VI totally.

A small cast acted their socks off all day.  Apart from Henry VI himself all of the actors doubled/tripled/quadrupled up and we travelled from France to all areas of England, fought battles, saw treason and experienced the struggles of the throne.

I was spell bound from start to finish, the use of the stage was clever and with simple tabard changes actors became French, supporters of the House of Lancaster and then supporters of the House of York. Simple application of face paint made it easy to identify the sides in battle scenes.

Although almost the simplest part to play I found the way Graham Butler played Henry VI captivating. At first he was like a child - at the sign of conflict he would scamper to protected places or climb high on the set to avoid the trouble.  When meeting his bride to be for the first time he is shy and while she is waiting for a meaningful kiss he puts an embarrassed peck on her forehead.  Later on his love for her has grown but he is weak enough that he's content to be lead by her and by the end it is clear that all he wants is to be left alone with his religious works.

My other favourite was Brendan O'Hea who played Richard Plantagenet through the three plays and then in the final play created a stonking Lewis XI, but all of the cast were so good it does feel wrong to praise any of them above the others!

The body count in a play about almost civil war was high but as in Macbeth there was very limited use of stage blood - to the extent that in the one place it is used I was incredibly moved and had a lump in my throat.

Seeing 3 plays in a day was in some ways insanity but with plays of this calibre it was in fact a treat. My one wish...that Richard III was still being performed as this trilogy lead perfectly into that play and I'd love the chance to see it again!

being a good Norfolk girl I did of course like seeing Suffolk's head being chopped off!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Snow in midsummer

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book has been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, a few people told me how good it was but for some reason I just hadn't got round to reading it.

After a conference in London where the publicists of the book gave a presentation on the publishing history of the book I was intrigued and following a few prompting tweets I finally got round to reading it.

I started reading the book in the middle of the longest heat wave we've had in Norfolk for years and being transported in to snow Alaska was heavenly - it cooled me down no end and when I emerged from the book I kept being surprised that it was sunny and summer!

The book is wonderfully lyrical - an older couple have moved to Alaska to try their hand at farming as they are finding it too hard to live back East where all of their relatives seem to have the families that the couple can't have but so desperately want.

Alaska is a hard, unforgiving place and it almost breaks the couple but the appearance of good neighbours and the mysterious snow child turn their lives around.

I can see why this book was such a success - I found it a magical read that totally transported me to the wilds of Alaska about 100 years ago.
I do wonder if reading it in the winter just past would have been a different experience but in the height of summer it was wonderfully escapist!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Theatrical Interlude 17

Macbeth, The Globe, London. July 2013

After my experience with Macbeth earlier in the year I was feeling very unsure about going to see this.  It also turned out to be the hottest day of 2013 so far - were we mad going to see a traditionally bloody play in such heat?

I'm pleased to say that once more the Globe as a venue didn't disappoint. We are quite canny with our seat choice and luckily we remained in the shade throughout yesterday which did make the whole day more enjoyable!

The first play we saw at the Globe was Much Ado About Nothing starring Eve Best and this version of Macbeth was her directorial debut - and for me it was a success.  The play came in at just under 2 hours 30 but told me the story far more clearly than I could have hoped.  Thanks to the daylight and staging it was easy to keep the characters straight, and rather than this version being awash with blood the violence was so restrained that when it did occur it was all the more effective.

There were Scottish actors in the play but the accents weren't too heavy and the speech clear so that not a word was lost. Humour was added to the play through facial expressions and the character of the Porter but it remained clear that this was a tragedy. Lady Macbeth is the driving force of Macbeth's actions and slowly their ambition drives them to insanity.  The ending with Macbeth's (erroneous) confidence that he cannot be beaten is wonderfully realised.

I don't think that Macbeth is ever going to be my favourite play but this version has proved to me that it is still a good play and reinforced my opinion that I prefer my Shakespeare in the open air, performed as it would have been originally.

Despite the heat London was lovely - it felt like the Olympic spirit all over again as you heard the cheers from outside bars where people were watching Wimbledon. Strolling around St Paul's eating ice cream made a perfect end to another great day at the Globe.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Theatrical Interlude 16

Merchant of Venice, Norwich Cathedral. July 2013.

A Shakespeare Festival has been held at Norwich Cathedral for the past few years but for some reason I've never been - or even really noticed it taking place.  This year after some mocking by friends on Facebook about how often I go to the theatre the same friends asked if I'd be interested in going with them to a play at the festival!

In the end these two original companions couldn't come and my companions on the evening were Mr Norfolkbookworm and a friend/colleague Jon. It was a perfect evening for outdoor theatre - not too hot, not too cold, not windy and best of all for this summer not raining.

The Merchant of Venice was a new play to me although I knew the basic premise of the plot, I was surprised to see that in the first Folio had categorised the play as a comedy. I know that sensitivities were different in the late 1500s but still I wasn't sure how the topic could be funny...

This version really showed be just why it was classed as comedy - without over acting the humour was apparent throughout, especially in the characters of Portia and Nerissa.  In fact the comedy character, Launcelot Gobbo, was one of the weaker areas - the two leading ladies stole the show!

I very much liked how the play was performed, once more the idea that the players were travelling actors from times gone by was clear. The stage was simply some boarding with steps to the left, right and centre and all the props were either carried by the actors or stored in two trunks on the stage which doubled as seats.

The evening we saw Merchant was the first time the company had performed the play in public and just occasionally there was a stutter or stumble but as I can't imagine how actors can keep one part in their minds let alone several for more than one play I don't feel I can criticise.

There are downsides to performing outside (not including the weather) at the Globe the actors contend with helicopters flying low over head. In Norwich the outside noise came from the peregrine falcons that nest on the spire - every time Shylock appeared in the first act it appeared the birds took off and flew around the cloister screaming.

The uncomfortable moment in the play when Shylock is 'reprireved' so long as he renounces his Jewish faith and converts to Christianity was met with a big hiss by the audience in Norwich and that I feel was a nice way to deal with the worst moment of antisemitism whilst still enjoying what was a great performance.

I know that I will be keeping an eagle (or peregrine) eye out for the announcement of the festival next year.  I might even pack a picnic and really soak up the atmosphere!

Photo taken from my iPhone - the weather was really much nicer than it looks!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Vive La France

An Englishman Aboard - Charles Timoney
Road to Rouen - Ben Hatch

Travel writing can be very good and sometimes it can be self indulgent rubbish, in the past 10 days two titles about France have come my way - one from the library and one through a competition on Twitter.

Although I am only a little way into Road to Rouen so far both books are fun, enjoyable reads although very different. Both have made me want to visit France and to get off the beaten track once there...

Charles Timoney built a row boat to the amusement of his French friends who at a New Year party challenge him to circumnavigate the length of the Seine.  He quickly realises that it won't be possible to do this in his rowboat and so we are spared long passages of him complaining about blisters and backache but rather have anecdotes on towns and villages near to the river, food and drink reviews of the areas travelled through and a few expeditions on the river in various crafts.  Towards the end I got the feeling that he remembered that this was supposed to be about a boat on the river and not about all the other things and, for me, it petered out a little but on the whole it was a fun read.

Ben Hatch on the other hand is travelling around France with his family and on a mission to write a travel guide.  He is trying hard to find things to review but travelling with young children isn't making this as easy as he'd hoped BUT is very entertaining to read from my (childfree) point of view.

I feel that parents will be nodding along and sympathising with Ben Hatch but I'm afraid I am just enjoying knowing that when we travel it can be spontaneous and that as long as Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have plenty to read and access to nice food we are easily amused.

A few other books have come in to the library for me that I can only borrow for a couple of weeks as there are long reservation lists on them so I shall only be dipping into Road to Rouen for the next few weeks but I know that I'll be looking forward to those moments!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Last summer I was swept away by The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  There was something very sweet and compelling about the story of a man who decided to take a letter by hand to an old flame rather than put it in a post box.

I was excited to read on Twitter that Rachel Joyce had a second novel ready for this summer, and even more so when I was approved on Net Galley to read an early copy.

The premise is lovely - two school boys hear about leap seconds being added to the year 1972 and then when something happens are convinced that it occurs during these extra moments in time.  A perfect summer and a perfect family then fall apart dramatically and tragically.  Interspersed with this tale is a modern one of a man called Jim trying to readjust to life outside of institutional care.

I struggled with the book, there was so much I should have liked about it but it just didn't grip me. The writing was lyrical and the movement between 1972 and the present was very well done but... And I can't explain why I wasn't gripped.

The tension was such that I did have to stop reading frequently but this was constant - there was no let up and perhaps that is what made it hard going for me.  There was no urgency to the tension and equally no respite, I didn't feel I had to race through the book to find out what happened but there was no slow build either...

I am glad that I read to the end but rather than be surprised I had more of an "oh right" reaction.

I can see from reading reviews on line that I am in the minority (so far) with my views on this book, and it would have been hard to replicate the magic of Harold Fry but this second novel was decidedly 'meh' for me which was a shame.  It is going to be popular with book groups and readers, just not my cup of tea.