Thursday, 17 December 2015

Finally a sequel-ly good read!

Return to the Secret Garden - Holly Webb.

Warning this blog post may contain spoilers - but as these are plot points from books published over 100 years ago I don't mind!

I don't have a great track record reading the modern sequels to books I adored as a child. The Return to Hundred Acre Wood is a book that I can't get out of my mind and I really didn't like another sequel to a Frances Hodgson Burnett book either.

Thus it was with trepidation I reserved Return to the Secret Garden from the library.  I'm so pleased that I did.  Webb has not continued the book from the immediate end but has moved the story on to a WW2 setting. Orphans housed at London orphanage are evacuated to Misstlethwaite Manor in September 1939 and have to learn to adapt to their new life.

At first I was worried that the book was just going to be a slightly modernised retelling of the original: a sad, lonely, and bad tempered orphan arrives in the new place and immediately finds a robin who leads her around the garden to a more secret place and she also hears crying in the night... So far so derivative.

Webb however is skilled enough to use these elements that are familiar from the original to weave a new tale but that lovingly references all of the original plot elements and characters. I was very happy to be surprised by the book, and I am not ashamed to say that it did bring a huge lump to my throat in more than one place.

Like so many of the modern adaptations it isn't as long or as complex as the original but as sequels go I loved it.

Which was a relief as earlier in the year I'd read Jacqueline Wilson's updated version of What Katy Did, called simply Katy.

In this, the first half really is a rewrite of the original just modernised and as someone very familiar with the original I was bored, it didn't work and I wondered why on earth anyone would read this and not the Coolidge one.

However after Katy's accident the book changed completely and I found it to be a convincing and realistic read of how this little girl would have reacted after a life changing accident.  Also an improvement on the original is the loss of the moralising, the idea of the saintly invalid and also the miraculous recovery!

This really was a book of two halves and I am glad I carried on to the end but for anyone familiar with the original I suggest skipping ahead to the middle, the start adds nothing.

So a mixed bag for sequels/rewrites of classic books this year. I am intrigued to read Kate Saunder's Five Children on the Western Front but this will be a different sort of read as I've never yet managed to finish the original!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Book review - Shakespeare reworked

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson.

After my recent trip to see Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and being a little disappointed (!) I wasn't sure that I really wanted to read a novel based on the play.

I'm glad that I didn't put it off however as this was very, very clever.  Unlike many books based on Shakespeare's plays this one actually follows the plot very closely and it works brilliantly.

The plot has been updated to modern times and has a slight dystopian feel to it. All of the plot points from the play are included and although the catalyst of Leonte's jealousy appears from nowhere and seems preposterous but it is cleverly worked with some extra back story to make it more understandable as the novel unravels.

The novel form also allows us to stay in touch with the two halves of the plot far better than the play did, which makes it seem a little more rounded. We also stay a little better in touch with all of the characters and so their personal story lines work and this helps the reveals at the end of the story to mirror the play but to also work in a modern day setting.

Knowing the play well meant that at first I was bemused by the opening scene and slight re-working of the plot time line but by the end it all came together and I was carried away with the story and not at all bothered by the 'pastoral' scenes when they appeared. I believed in all of the characters and even disliked the 'comic' ones less than those in the play!

My only criticism is that Jeanette Winterson couldn't resist putting herself into the plot, that self-reference really jumped out to me and I felt was unnecessary, surely the prestige of being chosen to write 'official' Shakespeare reworkings to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death is enough, without having to immortalise yourself in the text too?

I think that this will work as a stand alone novel if you aren't familiar with The Winter's Tale but reading it as a companion to the play really worked for me. I can't wait to read the next volumes in this series.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Help needed

Daily Dip In 

All year Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have been dipping into the wonderful The Wrong Kind of Snow, which was a great find in the National Trust bookshop at Blickling Hall in January.

This has a entry for every day of the year with quirky weather facts, or happenings in history that occurred due the atmospheric conditions on that day.  There's been a lot of humour, lots of quotes from novels to add to the ever-growing pile of books and also a lot of discussion between the two of us. There have also been some eye-opening and sad entries.

However it is now nearly the end of the year and of the book and we're looking for something in the same vein for 2016.

We both read at very different speeds but we're both adventurous readers so something like this was ideal to share during the year.  We're not really looking for a straight diary like Pepys but wouldn't rule out diaries in general and we don't mind if it is science or arts based... over to you!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Nine

The Nutcracker, Theatre Royal, Norwich, November 2015.

An extra mid-week matinee and some hours owing to me at work meant that I could catch this on a sneaky Wednesday afternoon and it was a lovely treat.

Ballet is an art form that has really grown on me recently and after successful trips to see Matthew Bourne ballets and the more recent outing to see Romeo and Juliet I was interested to see if a traditional ballet where I was unfamiliar with the story would hold my interest too.

I'm pleased to report that in the main it really did.  Act One was a visual and story telling treat, I loved the way the dancers told the story of over excited children at a Christmas party squabbling over new toys just as much as I loved the spectacle of the more adult party.  After the party when Clara returns to the room and is confronted by the naughty mice and the toy soldiers there was so much humour in the dancing that I felt like clapping my hands together with glee like the pre-school aged little girl next to me.

After the interval I did feel that the story stalled, don't get me wrong it was amazing to see the talent of the dancers and to hear the beautiful Tchaikovsky music, but it wasn't until the very final few minutes of the ballet that we came back to the 'story' in anyway.  I do wonder if this is also the first example of the "and it was all a dream" trope too!

I was wowed by the dancing and I loved the way that the familiar and 'real' people from the first half appeared as the amazing dancers in the second but for me the highlights were before the interval when we had dance and story. The live orchestra was a real bonus and from my front of stalls seats I could really see the emotion that the dancers were expressing and also the chemistry between the cast, which was wonderful.

This was a really nice way to spend an afternoon, my heart did sink when I saw how many children were in the auditorium but as ever the majority were impeccably behaved and enthralled throughout. The adults were not quite the same and I did hear people complaining that they couldn't follow the story as there were no words. I shall keep going to the ballet as I am spellbound by it - possibly all the more so as I have no sense of rhythm or balance and at least two left feet!

The Christmas and snow scenes did make me start to feel a little festive and I imagine that had I seen it in mid-December I would have come out wanting mulled wine and mince pies, perhaps next year I'll find a production that we can take my nephew to a little but closer to Christmas, I think he'd enjoy it...

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Eight

Waste, Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, London. November 2015.

After our recent trip to the disappointing The Winter's Tale I'm pretty sure that all three of us were a little nervous of seeing this play, two of us had no real idea of what it was about. I was drawn to it mostly because it is a play that was banned by the censor for many years and I always feel that if those "superior" to me think I shouldn't see/read something then I really probably should.

It is a very talky play, it reminded me a lot of Man and Superman from earlier in the year where there were so many ideas to get across that full attention had to be given at all times, luckily for this production the actors and the script made this easy to give.

The play is a political drama, but all about what goes on behind the scenes, it is also a personal drama and one that I found most affecting.  Time after time my assumptions were proved wrong and I found the ending to be a shocking surprise.

Some parts bothered me slightly - the play started with a very strong female-led scene and then this group of intelligent women vanished from the stage. It has since occurred to me that this is a play from 1907, before the main suffragette campaign was under way, and that of course women would be excluded from everywhere except the drawing room. Even those women who appeared to be powerful behind the scenes could not come to the fore as the political intrigue deepens.

The play was banned because it deals with abortion, a politician gets a lover pregnant and she dies getting rid of the child, however even this is not quite as it seems. The subsequent potential for scandal then is the catalyst for the second half of the play.  I am trying not to go into detail about the play as since I've seen it I have seen many reviews where all of the plot is given away and I think that seeing it unfold organically was the best way.

I found this a political play from over 100 years ago to still be scandalously relevant - decisions made by the old-boys' network behind closed doors making or breaking laws and lives.  The play hasn't been received well by all reviewers but I know that it will stay with me for quite a while and it gave me lots to think about.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Update to an earlier space blog

I am so pleased to find that there are people out there who don't be come quite so awestruck as me in the presence of space legends!

The second lecture that Jim Lovell gave on 1st November (that is the one we didn't attend) was recorded by an audience member and is online to view.  If you have 60 or so minutes to spare and are interested in why we travel to Pontefract for essentially just an hour's talk now you can see...

I hope I have this much energy and enthusiasm at 47 let alone 87...

To find out more about forthcoming Space Lecture events you can find them on twitter @space_lectures, on Facebook and at their dedicated webpage.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Seven

The Winter's Tale, Garrick Theatre, London. November 2015.

I had such high hopes for this one, and I'd infected my two theatre companions as well.  Okay yes it was another high profile, celebrity, Shakespeare but unlike the ill-fated Hamlet the scrum for tickets hadn't been too bad, and we'd secured them for just £15.

The official reviews for this play had been pretty good, although online regular theatre-goers hadn't been so kind.  There had been lots of complaints about the seats and the view too, I wasn't expecting utter comfort as we'd paid so little but this was daft.

The Garrick theatre is a joke, there is no rake to the stalls at all, and to add insult to injury the seats are not off-set and so visibility was, erm....., poor to say the least.  In Act One I was lucky enough to have an empty seat in front of me and then a short person in front of that so I could see 70% of the action. My friends did not share this luck, and were too polite to duck from side-to-side so they could see. I think that they were the only people in the auditorium to consider the people behind.  In Act 2 the very tall gentleman who'd been sat in front of them moved in front of me, luckily I could move along two seats but then I was constantly swaying from left to right to see around the person in front.

You can already tell I am going to *love* this production can't you...

Shakespeare is not hugely consistent in quality with his last plays and this one is no exception, an example to this is how in one breath Hermione says she is the daughter of a Russian emperor and then in the next breath they are sending off to the Oracle in Delphi to solve their problems...

I loved Act One, the court scene and the emotions shown were wonderful (except Branagh who overacted like he was in a Victorian melodrama), the plot unfolded clearly until just before the interval and then my heart sank right down to my boots.

The Winter's Tale includes the infamous line "exit pursued by a bear" and in this production film of a giant bear roaring was projected on to the back of the stage. It looked so out of place.

It should have acted as a warning, in Act Two the action moves away from the court of Sicilia to the countryside of Bohemia and the distinction between the two was glaring. The stately pseudo-Victorian court had become a mock-Tudor county bumpkin farm and the accents echoed this.  On the plus side it was lively and full of music and dance so even if we couldn't see much it was an aural treat.

The denouement of the play all takes place off stage (as it does in the text, see what I mean about it being an uneven play?!) and then we return to the court. Through the power of magic all the unhappy endings from Act One are reversed and we should have a moving and surprising ending (I'm not going to say what, for when it is done right it is wonderful) but by this point we all had such cricks in our necks that we just wanted it to end.

Dame Judi Dench was fantastic to see and hear, she really does make Shakespeare's lines seem like natural modern dialogue, she had real presence and to be honest it was worth £15 just to see her perform. This coupled with my enjoyment of the first act lead me to enjoy our outing more than the others but it wasn't a roaring success.

The final insult to the day was that in the over-priced programme there was a huge feature on how much money they'd just spent on improving the theatre. I think that less gold leaf on the plaster work and better seats could have been a better investment,but hey - at least they've expanded the bar.

I think that I really should learn that I do only enjoy Shakespeare when performed by the Globe, and as they have a new artistic director for 2016 I am getting nervous!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Six

Handbagged, Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2015.

This was a last minute booking for me and a convenient matinee at the theatre opposite where I work meant I could take a gamble on this.  I wasn't sure that I needed to see another play about the relationship between the Queen and her Prime Minister - after all it wasn't that long since I'd seen the NT Live broadcast of The Audience.

The idea is the same in many ways, no one actually knows what went on when the Queen and Margaret Thatcher but Buffini uses real speeches and her imagination to make a believable play.

In some ways the story telling is quite conventional - we start the day after Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979 and finish when she resigned in 1990. That is where convention stops.  The play is very hard to explain without making it sound incomprehensible, pretentious and like a long Spitting Image episode and it really is none of those things.

Essentially we have the Queen and Margaret Thatcher in older age looking back on the story, while another two actresses play the Queen and Margaret Thatcher during the 11 years of her rule.  There are also two male characters who play a further 27 parts between them to move the plot along.  The older ladies interject and interact with their younger selves, and older Queen repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience...  see it sounds complicated and dreadful!

It wasn't at all, it was genuinely funny and at times shocking and moving.  I was a young teenager in 1990 when Thatcher resigned but I could remember 90% of the historical facts that were covered in the play, but those that I didn't recognise were explained in such a way that if it all became a bit 'Basil Exposition' then this was also referenced by the cast. Even in a big theatre like Norwich the nuance and expression came through and at times I did think I was watching the real people not actors - impressive seeing as there were two of them on stage at all times.

My discomfort with this play didn't come from the style or the acting but rather from the audience.  The writing of the play is non-judgemental and as I said earlier a lot of the actual lines come from real speeches just altered slightly to fit the stage representations.  Mrs Thatcher was a decisive figure in politics and very far to the right of where my own political belief is, the audience I shared this play with seemed to be, how shall we say..., more appreciative of her stance than I was.  Lines that I found shocking received laughter and applause and on the occasions when characters made comments more in line with my views the audience were stony silent or making their displeasure known.  It made for an interesting afternoon I suppose!

After the performance three of the cast held a q&a session and their insights in to the political mixes of the audiences in various locations was great fun to hear, as were there anecdotes about accidentally staying in role away from the stage!

I wasn't expecting much from my afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised that a play so similar to another recent hit could add to the story and engage and amuse me so thoroughly.  I may avoid weekday matinees for political plays in Norwich however!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Meeting another space legend and personal hero.

Capt. James Lovell lecture, Pontefract. October 2015.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I made the cross country trip back to Pontefract recently as the chance to listen to astronaut Jim Lovell was far too good to miss.

Now 87 Captain Lovell spoke for an hour about his four space missions (two Gemini, two Apollo), then took part in a question and answer session and then signed an autograph for everyone in the audience.  Amazing stamina and proving he really is made of the Right Stuff.

Although famous for being the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission it was great to hear Lovell speak about all three of his missions with equal weight.  I often find that the Gemini missions are overlooked and they were in fact some of the most exciting and important missions carried out as it was during these that the techniques needed for getting to the moon, and back, were trialed and perfected.

I always intend to take notes at these talks so I can write them up more fully afterwards but each time I just become totally star struck in the theatre and fail to do so.  Lovell's anecdotes about one little bit of his Apollo 13 story stuck however:

Lovell had been to the moon before, in Apollo 8 when he was one of the first three humans to ever see the dark side of the moon - the beautiful Earthrise image comes from this mission, his colleagues on Apollo 13 had not.  This meant that despite all of the peril they were in at the time Haise and Sweigart did forget everything to gaze at  the moon and Earth and had to be reminded that if they didn't pay attention to the mission requirements they wouldn't get home to show off their photos.

After the talk and a live narration of some film footage of the Apollo 13 mission came the q&a. This was hosted by Professor Brian Cox and I confess to being a little sceptical about this, I did wonder if it would become either all about Cox, or dominated by Cox's own questions.  Neither happened and Cox skilfully managed to work equally start struck audience questions into simple forms for Lovell to answer and also insisted that the young people in the audience got to talk to Lovell too.  Afterwards when it came to the signing session he disappeared from sight and the event was totally about Lovell. I am cursing myself as it was only after the session that I thought of a question!

I am now really excited to hear that Cox will be back at the next event (April 2016 - Gene Cernan) to do the same - our tickets are already booked!

Also if anyone was wondering about the accuracy of the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13 apparently there are only minor liberties taken with true story and Lovell thinks it is a good film.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Not dribbling - giggling

The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson.

I can't believe that it is twenty years since the wonderful Notes from a Small Island was published, and by all accounts neither can Bryson as he haphazardly sets off to explore England, Wales and Scotland again.

From page one I was chuckling to this, and I found myself reading out many sentences to my poor travelling companion who kept giving me funny looks as I shook with suppressed laughter on a busy train.

After re-reading some of Bryson's earlier travel books a while back I was a little nervous about this one - there was a nasty strain of racism/xenophobia in a a couple - but this didn't disappoint. It is full of well aimed and well deserved quips about the British all dialled up to 11 for comic effect.

This will become a firm favourite and Mr Norfolkbookworm is now reading it, giggling a lot and reading favourite passages to me, all the sign of a good book. Bryson's mocking of poor grammar and punctuation in print journalism really made me smile. It won't be for everyone, it is firmly southern England-centric and at times less than kind to Norfolk but on the whole a great read.

Not everyone agrees and the Guardian's Digested Read does have more than a whiff of truth about it, but taken as a light, whimsical book it was perfect reading for the weekend that saw the clocks change and everything seeming that bit darker and more miserable.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Five

Romeo and Juliet, The The Royal Opera House, London. October 2015.

Earlier in the year mum and I saw Romeo and Juliet at the Globe and I mentioned then that I'd been writing about the play for my MA.  One of the essays based on the play was actually about how it translated into ballet, the version I talked about was that choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan. When mum and I found out that this adaptation was to be on stage we treated ourselves to tickets and planned an overnight trip to London to see this.

I loved the DVD version that I watched and rewatched while writing my essay but really is no comparison to seeing a filmed version and the real thing.

From the moment the conductor appeared until the last curtain call I was swept away in the story and although our seats didn't give the same close up views that the DVD did I found it more involving.

Everyone always warns you when you go to your first ballet you will be surprised by the noise the dancers' feet make.  Having seen a few contemporary Mathew Bourne ballets I thought I was prepared for this but it was more pronounced in this and I think added something - you really could see how hard the dances were and how effortless the dancers made it seem.

Our Juliet, Roberta Marquez, was such a good actress as well as dancer that I felt she was the real star of the performance we saw.  Not that Romeo wasn't good - and the two had a believable chemistry - it was just that she was outstanding.  Her growth from childhood to womanhood was portrayed wonderfully and believably.

The crowd scenes were also fabulous, being in the theatre meant that I could look all over the stage, not just where the camera man decided I should look, really opened up the scenes and added menace and foreshadowing which helped move the plot along.

The whole evening was magical and I am a firm convert to the world of ballet, however the one thing that both mum and I noticed (and were a little sad about) was that at the end the principals all took a bow but the corps de ballet were not acknowledged at all.  I'll need to see more ballet in order to find out if this is standard practice or an aberration, despite the two bunches of flowers it wasn't Marquez's last night in the role...

There is even a Norfolk link to this outing as Kenneth Macmillan was born in Great Yarmouth!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Shock horror a book review!

Fallen Glory by James Crawford.

I've been wanting to talk about this book for months and months. I read it way back in the summer when it was one of the books submitted for a project I was taking part in. I wasn't allowed to talk about it then but now the book has finally been released to the wide world I can do so.

I think that this may well be my favourite book of the year, fiction or non-fiction.

Crawford tells the history of the world in a new way, via the great buildings of various cultures. We visit, amongst others, the Tower of Babel, Troy, Mongolia, India, South America and then, right up to date, we get to the Twin Towers and September 11th 2001.

Of course it is only giving a snap shot of history but the buildings are cleverly linked and there are a surprising number of connections that I hadn't encountered before. Equally if a building/period of history isn't quite your thing then you can skip to the next location without disrupting the narrative.

Crawford is also good at explaining how myth interacts with reality and at no point did this book feel anything other than engaging, well written and informative. Not a hint of text book about it.

I don't think that the book was selected to feature on the radio as part of the project in the end but that shouldn't stop  you from giving it ago.

At least of the other books that I read and enjoyed did make the cut and details of the whole project can be found here and here.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Four

Medea, Almeida Theatre, London. October 2015.

After a surprisingly enjoyable Bakkhai and a throughly disappointing Oresteia I really wasn't sure what to expect with my third Greek play of the year, and this was possibly the best way to go in.

This was a retelling of the play with a very feminist slant which while being quite a good play I really am unlikely to have gone to see it without the title.

I am an oddity, I like Greek drama - I like seeing Greek drama as it was written (and yes that does include in the original language). I like the plots, the style and the language and not one of these elements was really present in this play.

However I didn't hate it, I liked the nods to the original, for example, as in the original,  Medea's husband has left her for a younger woman but in this version rather than actually being royal she is just her daddy's princess.  Other bits were funny and although not as good as in the Bakkai I liked what the chorus were trying to do.

However as a modern play about a woman breaking down after her husband has left her... it all felt a little bit like I'd seen or heard it before.  It was competent and I didn't hate it but if that was a person's introduction to classical Greek drama they are in for a big shock when they see a more authentic version.

Also unlike the poster intimates, and early images led me to believe, this was a remarkably violence free interpretation of the text and I think that it lost out because of that, I know that the idea was you don't have to use violence to hurt people but that is what the original is about.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Three

Richard II, Shakespeare's Globe, London. October 2015.

After revisiting Hamlet and possibly enjoying it less than the first visit I was actually a little wary about seeing Richard II again. It was a good production earlier in the summer - what if it didn't live up to that, or what if I was wrong in thinking it to be good....

Fortunately I enjoyed our trip to this as much, or if not more than earlier in the season.  I still stand by my comments that too much of the Groundling space was used for acting, which meant that even in our top price seats we missed some of the action but my other niggle about line pacing had definitely been worked on.

I'd thought previously that the speed of delivery was supposed to indicate the King's state of mind and that was clearly the case.  At the start of the play when Richard is firmly in control he speaks slowly and in a measured way but as his monarchy, and his state of mind, unravels he speeds up and becomes frantic.  However in this final performance of the season there was a clear demarcation of the two speeds and no clarity was lost during delivery.

William Gaunt who has been playing John of Gaunt in the production was indisposed yesterday and as per the Globe's procedure (no understudy) his part was read by another actor.  I'm not sure how long W. Gaunt has been off but the stand in was almost word perfect yesterday and if we hadn't been told he was reading the script we'd have totally believed that Gaunt was a man of state papers hence them in his hand.

This was the last outdoor performance of the 2015 season and it ended it with speeches from the out going artistic director.  I'm looking forward to the season announcement for 2016, and celebrating the fact that it will be a female in charge of the theatre.  I am also nervous because it is Dominic Dromgoole's Globe (and Shakespeare) that I have fallen in love with.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-Two

Hamlet, The Barbican, London. September 2015.

I'm late getting this review up, uni has restarted and I had a short break away but even without these reasons I'd have found it hard to review this play.

Rebecca and I were hoping that with much better seats we'd love the play more. And indeed this time we were sat at the front of the circle and on the opposite side of the auditorium so in theory all should have been well...

While we could now see all of the balcony scenes, and they were worth seeing, we lost the wonderful depth and wonder of the stage and while not a lot of lines were given in this area the 'wow factor' was well and truly lost.

Once more we found that the actors weren't engaging/making eye contact with the auditorium and all three of us decided that it was a bit like watching the play on the television rather than live. Act One is also far too long!

I feel sorry for the third of our trio, she doesn't join us as often in our theatre trips and last year we dragged her along to the grim Richard III and this summer it was Hamlet... I think we all agreed that Cumberbatch was worth seeing but the rest of the cast were insipid still. Oh well perhaps I wasn't being overly grumpy in August, perhaps this really is a duff production!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-One

The Beaux' Strategem, Oliver Theatre, National Theatre, London. September 2015.

After the sadness of War Horse a restoration romp seemed just the thing to see next and I'm pleased to report that Rebecca and I had a great time at the final performance of this comedy.

I think it took me slightly longer to warm to the play than Rebecca in the first instance but very quickly I was swept away in the complicated, multi-stranded plot.

Aimwell and Archer have wasted all of their money in London and are thus taking to the provinces in an attempt to find rich wives who's money will support their chosen lifestyle.  Aimwell is impersonating his older, titled, brother and Archer is acting as a high class personal gentleman as they put into play their strategy - hence the play's title.

In addition to this we have a corrupt landlord involved in all sorts of crimes, imprisoned French officers and their priest and the ladies of the grand house who Archer and Aimwell have in their sights.  There is also an unhappy marriage, brought about by the need for money...

It sounds complicated and until you have grasped who is who, fortunately there is very little role doubling, it seems a little bit of a mess but quickly it is clear what a clever piece of writing this actually is.

In many ways this felt a very Shakespearean play, far more so than the other Farquhar play (The Recruiting Officer) that I have seen.  There was a lot of song, very bawdy humour, a dead pan servant, a jig at the end and a very neat (improbable) tying up of the loose ends to make the finale.  This isn't a criticism, just something I wasn't expecting from a Restoration Comedy.

The set and costumes were sumptuous in this production and the cast were very obviously having a good time - I do wonder if this was heightened as it was a last performance as there was some, hastily recovered, corpsing on occasion.
All in all this was a real mood boost play, with a few things to think about afterwards thrown in for good measure.  It has also left me with a craving for trifle.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty

War Horse, New London Theatre, London. September 2015.

This trip turned out to be incredibly poignant as while we were ensconced in the auditorium closing notices for the production were posted.

We however found this out afterwards and in the meantime the three of us making this trip were blown away by what we saw on stage.  This was my fourth visit but the first time my companions had seen the play live, although one had seen the NT Live broadcast.

Repeated viewings of this production never disappoint me.  Each time I sit in a different area of the theatre and so see something new. This time we had seats in the 'restricted view' seats to the side of the stalls. I have put the restricted view into inverted commas because I think that we missed nothing on the stage at all, and while sometimes the actors had their backs to us that was the only inconvenience.  The seats were in fact just three rows from the front and so we really could see the whites of the actors eyes.

As ever I was instantly swept up into the story and forgot within seconds that Joey and Topthorn weren't real.  In fact where we were sitting we made so much eye contact with Joey at one point that we were all reaching for apples to share with him! This close range also showed just how good the puppets are in scenes where they are used as riders on the "half-horses."

Every time I watch this play I get a lump in my throat at a different point, after all of the work I have been doing on the Norfolk in WW1 project it was the lines about the war being over by Christmas in act one choked me up but it was the very final scene that had me swallowing hard this time.  I know that I have become more involved in the human story in the past few years and while the treatment of the animals is a way into the horrors of war I have moved on from that in some ways and do get more involved with the human story.  However there were still points I had to shut my eyes for!
As we said afterwards - without showing any blood at all this is one of the most violent and brutal things we've ever seen.

In the second act we are taken away from the bucolic Devon countryside and romantic ideas of how the war will be into the horrors of the trenches - the added realism of a real mouse around my feet was a nice,but unnecessary touch!

On the way home we were discussing what we'd seen when the man sitting behind us joined in - it turns out that he'd been the back-end puppeteer of Joey for a few years and had given Michael Morpurgo a ride on Joey!  He gave some fascinating insights to the role, how the puppets work and how hard it was to make it look so real and so effortless.  I'm just glad we had all liked the performance and were saying nice things, it isn't always the case!

I'm now planning one more trip to see War Horse before it closes, and wondering whether to really splash out for those special seats in the front stalls for the 'wow' moment or to stick with the so-called restricted view and go twice...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Nine

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Theatre Royal, Norwich. September 2015.

Back in 2012 Rebecca and I were lucky enough to get tickets to see this play in its original incarnation at the Cottesloe Theatre in London and it made my top 5 plays of the year. I've wanted Mr Norfolkbookworm to see the play for a while but as he isn't too keen on London it was a great relief to discover that the tour was coming to Norwich.

Before going in I was worried how the change from black box theatre to proscenium arch would work.  The set was so integral to the original play we saw, could this be reproduced? I'm pleased to say that it totally worked - and possibly improved some parts.

The set comprised of an open box that was divided into, for better description, graph paper and was used to great effect as lights and drawings appeared on all visible sides as needed.  The three dimensional set also made it clearer that the ever changing lights and projections were reflections of Christopher's mind being unable to process the world around him.  When he is coping there are ordered lines and his own images but when over whelmed it all becomes jumbled, flashing, loud and incomprehensible.

It may be false memory but I did think that the fourth wall was broken more times in this version than in the original and I didn't like this - I was jolted out of the production at these points, but this is a small criticism of a wonderful night out.

If you don't catch this on tour then it is still playing in London and I really recommend going if you can, it is a play that can stand repeat viewings. Mr Norfolkbookworm also gives it his seal of approval!

Two warnings:

  • there are unpredictable strobe lighting effects used in this, if you are susceptible to these this really may not be the play for you. 
  • there is a slight danger of cuteness over load at one point.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Eight

The Simon and Garfunkel Story, The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. September 2015.

I've been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel's music for as long as I can remember,  influenced probably by my parents who had a lot of their music as I was growing up.  If I ever had the chance to go in a time machine their concert in Central Park in 1981 would be one of my first destinations - along with the Queen tour of 1986 - how shallow am I???

My companion and I weren't sure what we'd be experiencing at this show, another friend had seen it recently and was positive so we were hopeful. We were pretty much the youngest in the audience and our seat neighbour was borderline rude about C but we weren't that bothered as we were there for the show/music.

It is a very simple format, two men sing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel with the support of a drummer, keyboard player and bassist. A screen is visible behind the musicians and this shows a montage of images and films that reflect the music, America of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and also images of the duo themselves.  Simple but effective.

The voices of the two performers were pretty much perfect - if you shut your eyes you could easily convince yourself that you had the originals in front of you.  Even with your eyes open the pair had the mannerisms down pat and it was a surreal watch.

I loved every minute of this evening, it was like a sedate rock concert - fab music, lots of chance to hum along and I knew every song except two. I loved that the songs were interspersed with  little anecdotes about the duo or their music and that although it was a very affectionate telling of their story it also didn't gloss over some of the problems.

Both of us wanted there to be more than one performance, and I think that we'd have booked straightaway to see this again - rumour has it that it may be back  in Norfolk early in 2016, I think we'll be there!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Seven (sort of)

The Oresteia, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

With this play Mr Norfolkbookworm and I did something that we've only done once before in all the years we've been going to the theatre - we left before the end.

I appreciate that we only saw the second preview of this and so perhaps we were a little harsh, but I'm afraid that after 85 minutes we had had enough.  I am still going to review what we saw however because although we only saw Act I this was the entire play Agamemnon which forms the first part of the Oresteia trilogy.

Agamemnon deals with the end of the Trojan War and the return of King Agamemnon to his kingdom and wife after a 10 year absence.  He returns with the doomed prophetess Cassandra and the knowledge that he'd tricked his wife and sacrificed his daughter to guarantee luck at the start of the war.  It seems he is welcomed home by a loving wife but it goes bloodily wrong very quickly.

My problems with this production were many...

I have pretty good hearing and yet so many of the lines were spoken from the Groundling area or by the cast with their backs to me that I couldn't hear them.

Many of the lines were accompanied by music, which meant that even when the cast were facing me I couldn't hear them.

The costumes were all over the place. The Chorus appeared to be from the 1940s - especially the women who looked like they were stereo typical members of the French Resistance.  Clytemnestra and her attendants looked like they'd stepped out of a 1960s Mary Quant fashion show (or if you are being less generous off the set of the Austin Powers films). The Greek army were in modern battledress with nightsticks and helmets.  To cap it all Agamemnon appeared in a traditional Ancient Greek costume.

My final problem was with the gore - there was so much that it lost all impact, there was no shock value at all and it all just seemed pantomime.

As I said I can't let you know how the final two parts of the trilogy were performed, I'm afraid we left.  I suppose I will always be a little curious but I don't regret leaving.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Six

The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre, London. August 2015.

My final show from this past weekend outing to London was to see The Book of Mormon. This is another notorious show, both for content and seat price and Rebecca and I have been waiting a while to see it.

Once more we were up as high as you could be in the theatre, but unlike at the Barbican the production has been designed with the whole theatre in mind and although we were a long way from the stage we never felt like it, and I don't think we missed a thing.

To appreciate this show you have to be someone who isn't easily shocked as it is rude, full of swear words and sexual jokes, mocks religion terribly and most of the time you aren't sure if it is okay to laugh or if the boundary in to offensive has been crossed.

It is however hysterical and a totally feel good show. I was smiling from the opening number - you can see a version of that here!

The show is however a scant two hours (plus interval) and I do think that unless you can get the cheap seats, or a good offer, it is over priced but it is certainly something to see at least once, especially if you like South Park.

The programme is also great fun with adverts for the Mormon church!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Five

Tiddler, Leicester Square Theatre, London. August 2015.

After the somewhat disappointmenting Hamlet I was looking forward to my next play - after all a weekend in London when you only see one thing is a waste!

After abandoning Rebecca for a couple of hours I met my sister and nephew in Leicester Square for our trip  to see Tiddler and other tales.  The outing didn't start that well as the toilets were out of order at the theatre and at a show full of under 7s the last thing you want is long queues for the one cubicle that was available.  Credit to the staff as they did get people sorted and the play started almost on time.

It was a wonderful hour of theatre.  Three talented actors with unlimited energy told the stories of Monkey Puzzle, A Squash and A Squeeze, The Smartest Giant in Town and the eponymous Tiddler. The tales blended seamlessly into each other and there was just the right amount of imagination needed to fill out the stories, who in their past hasn't turned cushions into animals to help act out a story?

The source material from Julia Donaldson obviously helps but with the aid of puppets, shadows and songs I, along with pretty much the whole audience, was captivated throughout.  Although clearly for children there were just a few jokes - visual and spoken - just for the grown ups in the theatre and these really made the outing for me.

I love good children's theatre, and going with my nephew is a real treat as he is always spellbound by what he sees on stage.  Extra special congratulations to the cast member who completed the whole thing with her arm in a plaster cast.

Huge thanks to my sister who treated me to my ticket - and next time dad, you really should see if there are any spare seats because you missed a real treat!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Four

Hamlet, The Barbican, London. August 2015.

I have to add the disclaimer to this review stating that the production was still in preview when we saw this performance, although at the time of booking we weren't aware of this.

As well as being the most eagerly awaited theatrical event of the year this Hamlet has also proved the most controversial. A quick Google search will bring up pages of controversy surrounding the production and with that much hype it was always going to be be hard to live up to.

When Rebecca and I saw this the production had moved the 'To Be...' speech back into a more traditional location and I was a little sad at that - if you are going to be daring with a play then be really daring! Instead the play opened with Hamlet (Cumberbatch) sat on the stage listening to Nature Boy looking through his childhood possessions.  The speeches usually given to by the guards on duty then were spoken by Hamlet. It didn't feel odd or out of place at all and I can see that with this melancholy start how the To be... lines would have worked.

Following this the stage opens right out into an opulent stately home and as the Barbican's stage is so big I did really feel like I was looking at a National Trust property.  The play then continued in a servicable fashion, the text had been reworked so that narratives were easy to follow but there were no standout brilliant parts for me.  In fact I started getting incredibly frustrated by the direction which had the lighting change and the rest of the cast move in slow motion each time Hamlet gives a soliloquy. I can see how the criticisms of a dumbed-down production have arisen.

Many of the reviews that have been published since press night praise Cumberbatch but are less kind to the play as a whole and I think that I agree with that.  He was a good Hamlet, he managed to make a character I have never liked tolerable, The set was the other star!  We had seats in the gallery for this performance and only once did we notice an actor playing to the whole audience - something that is very noticeable after frequenting the Globe and seeing how they encompass everyone.  Our seats were also not listed as restricted view and they certainly were! To add insult to injury the programme - no more than a collection of images freely available on line - costs £8.50, the same as a glass of champagne from the bar.

This feels like a very grumpy review and I am glad that I will see the play again in September, from better seats, as I can then make an informed decision about what I really feel about the production.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Books, Glorious Books

After my holiday I discovered I'd read myself to a standstill again and it has only been in the last week or so that I have rediscovered my reading mojo.  You'd think I'd learn as I do this every holiday!

However thanks to Net Galley advance copies and my library card I have broken this drought and have read several books I want to tell everyone about!

Noonday - Pat Barker.  This one disappointed me, although billed as "by the author of..." I didn't expect that you'd have to have such good recall of books that are 7 or so years old.  It follows characters first met in Life Class Toby's Room but has a WW2 setting.  I didn't find it anywhere near as good as the former books, and I felt that Barker doesn't write as well about WW2 as she does WW1.

The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks.  This was fantastic. I am a great fan of taking a well known person or event and then telling their story from a new viewpoint.  This is the full story around King David, using the relevant information from the Bible, Brooks has added detail and colour to the well known stories and created a book I found hard to stop reading.  I have a love/hate relationship with this author (I loved her book about the plague in Eyam and loathed her retelling of Little Women) but this was great and I shall be recommending it to all and sundry, especially if you liked The Red Tent by Diamant.

The Millionaire and the Bard - Andrea Mays. This is all about Henry Folger, an American who created the biggest collection of Shakespeare's works early in the 20th Century and then created a library in Washington for the items.  His name comes up regularly in my studies and I dream of visiting the Folger Library so it was nice to read more about the books and the man.

Ana of California - Andi Teran.  This was the first of two retellings of classical children's books and I liked it a lot.  It is loosely based on Anne of Green Gables but with enough variation that it felt totally fresh and it was a game of spot the reference.  The ending was a little rushed but I enjoyed it a lot.

Katy - Jacqueline Wilson. The second retelling, this time of What Katy Did.  The first half drove me mad, it was so close to the original (and the parts that had been updated 150 years were awful) that I wondered why I was bothering.  It was after Katy's accident however that the book came into its own.  Unlike in the original it felt believable and Katy did not become a saint!  The struggles with coming to terms with the results of the accident were a little quick but this is a book aimed at the under 13s and so within these parameters was very good - if you can get past the first 100+ pages.  Of course if you've never read What Katy Did you won't know what my gripe is!

Now I am back to two super-secret reading projects again which have to be completed before uni restarts in late September.  I can see that for the next month or so I will be either at work, at the theatre or reading - happily trips to London involve four hours on a train and so that it extra reading time!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Three

Mack and Mabel, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2015.

Regular blog readers will remember that a couple of years ago we went to see Barnum in the temporary tent theatre at Chichester with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt.  The renovations to the main theatre have now been finished and Mack and Mabel caught the same aunt's eye and so we made a return trip.

Way back in the early spring when I booked this trip I had mixed experiences with the staff at the theatre.  We needed seats that had little or no steps to gain access to them and the staff couldn't have been more helpful in recommending where to sit.  However when booking opened it became a nightmare trying to book on-line, on behalf of someone else and I ended up sitting on hold for a very long time before getting the seats we needed.  It was thus with mixed feelings we went to see this show.

Once more I knew nothing about the show, and the reviews I'd read were not entirely positive but again I trusted our companion's choice.

On the whole I really enjoyed the show, I thought the mixing of acting and footage from the actual films was done brilliantly, and the choreography was fantastic.  I enjoyed all of the actors and thought that their singing, especially the main draw - Michael Ball, was top notch.  Mabel didn't convince me quite as much but then as part of the plot line is that she is only a comic actress and not that great at anything else I chose to see this as a casting/directing decision.

The first act whizzed by and was highly enjoyable, custard pies and all. The second act felt a little padded to me. There was a great tap number but I'm not convinced that it was needed. The ending was a little like a punch in the stomach and very well done, what could have been horribly sentimental wasn't and did leave me with a slight lump in the throat. I do wonder if this would have been better as an edited, shorter, one act musical?

I didn't come out humming any of the tunes, and after the ending not particularly uplifted but I do have the urge to find and watch movies from the 1920s and before such as the Keystone Cops as the use of them on stage was great.

After my mixed experiences with the staff before our trip I'm pleased to report that they were all fantastic during our visit, helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.

I was left feeling a little perturbed by some of the audience/Michael Ball fans however.  There is so much in the press currently about the 'bad behaviour' of Cumberbatch fans at Hamlet (which seems to all be rumour and nothing concrete) yet there were some in the CFT who could have been accused of the same behaviour and yet we hear nothing of that in the press. Oh well I shall report back as my next trip is to see the afore mentioned Hamlet...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Two

Richard II, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

This was a surprise addition to my theatre going calendar as I was lucky enough to win tickets to this on Twitter. Well I actually won tickets to any Globe production this season but as it is my friend's favourite Shakespeare play (probably) we decided that this was the one we'd see.

It was also my friend's first visit to the Globe after listening to me rave about it for the past few years so I was a little nervous how she'd take to the space - it isn't for everyone after all,  To add to the pressure she'd also accompanied me to see Richard II in 2013 when we saw the RSC version.

I found this production much clearer in terms of plot narrative, starting the play with the coronation of a child  (which segued into an adult very well) showed that this version of Richard was all about a king who hadn't known any other way of life, hence why he was so spoilt and petulant.  The action unfolded naturally after this and there was a lot of humour in the staging, this childishness was also very movingly reprised at the end in a scene that did bring a lump to my throat.

This Bolingbroke was a charismatic and alluring figure, more so than the king, and thus it was easy to see why people did follow him so swiftly.  He also managed to foreshadow his future as shown in Henry IV (parts one and two) which was a nice touch. In this version Aumerle was more of a sycophant to Richard than anything else and his treachery treated very well.

This isn't a play that allows a lot of interaction with the Groundlings and what there was came naturally and wasn't over played, as with the rest of the season however I did find that the space was used a little too much for entrances and exits.

The comic scenes were typical Globe moments and worked wonderfully within the play, they kept the plot moving and were not at all comic asides or pauses in the action. The love between Richard and his Queen was another beautiful thing to watch.

My main criticism with this play remains the same as before - unless you listen very, very closely to the words - you are left not entirely sure why the king is as 'bad' as he is and why he has to abdicate. There is no flowing hair or homosexual undertone in this version and I came away feeling that poor Richard really got the thin edge of the wedge. My friend and I were debating this after the show, and both agreed that occasionally we found his lines to be rushed and wondered if this was a directorial choice and a way of showing his instability and unsuitability...

I am revisiting this play on the very last day of the season and I am pleased to have a second chance to see this play as it is deceptively complicated and there are a lot of little details I want to see again.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-One

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre, London. August 2015.

The trouble with booking theatre in advance to ensure you get a ticket is that things like Tube strikes can crop up.  Luckily there are two train routes to London and one of these put the theatre in easy, if up hill, walking distance and so Rebecca and I weren't troubled by the strike at all.

I confess that I like Greek drama, to the extent of going to see it (and mostly enjoy it) even when it is performed in Ancient Greek and I was looking forward to this, even with it being a reworking of the script - but then what translation of a play that is 2000+ years old isn't?!

The story is a tragedy. The God Dionysus has been denied his status by the city in which he was born, and his mother branded a liar for claiming to have been Zeus's mistress. The young God has returned to Thebes in order to make the city accept him. He has turned his aunts mad and created a cult of women living in the hills above. His cousin, Pentheus, now king of Thebes really refuses to acknowledge Dionysus and so the two come face to face and the God systematically destroys his family and city. Cheerful stuff!

The staging was both wonderfully traditional, just three actors and a chorus, and cleverly modern (the chorus were all female) and from the start I was hooked.  There has been a lot of comment about the role of the chorus in reviews, and a lot of it has been negative. I however found them to be fascinating. A group of 10 women spoke and moved in absolute unison as well as singing many of their lines in a truly hypnotic fashion. The comments have called these interludes overlong and confusing yet when you go back and read a translation of the original play this is just how they come across. The Chorus speeches are the longest in the play and they do transform between Dionysus' supporters and the women of Thebes and to be honest even in the original text you are wishing they'd get on with it. In this version their singing did help me overcome this problem and I was swept away by the sound.

The three lead actors, male, played all the rest of the roles and while Ben Wishaw is getting all the credit for this play (and somewhat deservedly - he is totally compelling on stage) I found the stand out to be Bertie Carvel, who played Pentheus and his mother. Watching his downfall at the hands of a vengeful God was stunning and then to see him transform into his mother, also driven mad by Dionysus, was brilliant.

Much has also been said about Wishaw's costume in the play:

but again this androgynous look is a stage direction from the original and isn't there as a 'shock' tactic. Wishaw carries the look very well and there is a moment in the play when he fixes Pentheus' hair which was one of the most erotic pieces of theatre I've seen this year - and again this is in the original and is not a modern reading.

All in all I enjoyed this play, I wasn't sure about the Chorus arriving in modern dress with suitcases at the very start but it won me over and I find myself unable to stop thinking about the play which is a good sign. It may yet end up in my top 10 of the year.

The one downside for me is that however accurate and good Wishaw is in his costume he did remind me of both Conchita Wurst and the guy who play Jesus in the 1970s film version of Jesus Christ: Superstar!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty

Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

I confess that I approached this play with some trepidation,  the play was a set text earlier this year and I wasn't at all sure what to make of it.  Luckily in the hands of the Globe I needn't have worried and this outing has rocketed high into my top ten performances of the year so far.

Measure for Measure is one of the 'problem plays,' both through content and disputed authorship! But as in Taming of the Shrew a few years ago a fine line was steered and the play clarified before my eyes.

Put very simply the Duke of Vienna is tired of his role, his city is out of control and so he decides to appoint a deputy and leave town.  His deputy, Angelo, starts off with good intentions but then proves himself as corrupt as the rest of Vienna. However in this play you can see that Angelo's actions are having an effect and that he is improving the city - before the official start the Yard was full of action, bawdy houses were wheeled on and drunks, prostitutes, corrupt law men and religious pamphleteers filled the area with a show.  These characters continued to pop up on the stage between scenes throughout the first act, but by the end we rarely saw them and the city was a better place... In his personal decisions Angelo may be corrupt and hypocritical but his ideas for the city as a whole weren't all detrimental.

The ending of this play is morally dubious. After preventing Isabella from being violated by Angelo the Duke all but forces her into giving up the religious life for which she was training and into marrying him.  The staging of this version did allude to this slightly - the Duke appeared to realise that his actions towards Isabella were little better than Angelo's, and in the end, it is clearly Isabella who makes the choice for her future.  For me I find the Duke's actions as reprehensible as the court in Merchant of Venice when it forces Shylock to convert to Christianity and I was surprised at the laugh this scene raised in the theatre when I was expecting a hiss...

The comedy was very much to the fore in this production and I liked this, the comic scenes felt very much integral to the story and not at all as light relief scenes between the drama. Once more my slight criticism could be that there was too much action off stage in the Yard but this was rarely actual speech, just added colour and so I'll just recommend this play to anyone who can get to London!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Nineteen

Mummy Mia, The Blakeney Players,Blakeney. July 2015.

As ever this review comes with the disclaimer that I know one of the cast and that I'm never going to be anything other than positive about the Blakeney Player.

This is a show that is totally impossible to review without you all thinking I've been indulging in illegal substances.

We opened with the music from the film Lawrence of Arabia and a sheikh staring into the desert distance as a pantomime camel appears on stage.

The next to appear on stage was explorer Gertrude Bell, the hieroglyphics expert Rosetta Stone and their colleagues Ray and a reluctant explorer, Livingstone.

Thanks to the magic of a cursed tomb we then slipped back in time to the reign of King Tut Tut and the invention of the pyramid. We visited the royal palace, a bazaar in Cairo and a camel race before ending up with the King from Memphis. There was also a dancing camel and an on-stage sand dance in the style of Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

You really had to be there but I can say that this is the most fun I have from curtain up to curtain down since the last Players' show!

The highlight of the show was the illusion dance (here's one I found on line but the Players' version was much better!) but from the dreadful puns to the grand finale this was a show that left us all with aching sides, big grins and a sense of wonder.  I don't want to wish time away but I'm already looking forward to the Christmas show.

I'm not the only one to really enjoy the show - the EDP reviewed it very favourably too!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Eighteen

As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe, London. July 2015.

Unusually for Mr Norfolkbookworm and I we were at an evening performance for this and the first thing we noticed was the huge queue of people waiting for returns.  We're used to seeing long lines for those wanting to be a Groundling but never for seats.  I wonder if this production is more popular than others we've seen or if this is normal for evening performances.

For a play that has no real plot, that is just a sequence of events loosely tied together, I enjoyed this a lot.  The characters that were written humorously in the original (Touchstone, Audrey and Jaques) were not overblown and the Rosalind/Ganymede and Celia/Aliena beefed up their roles to match the humour which I found balanced the play very well. The male love interests in contrast did seem a little insipid and interchangeable - this was certainly an adaptation played to a comic and feminist slant.
I wonder if the director of the play also realised just how slight it is plot wise as the deus ex machina towards the end was certainly played up to be utterly ridiculous, which worked with the other staging decisions of the play.

The more Shakespeare plays I see the more I realise that the 'comedies' are not my favourite. There was nothing wrong with this one in terms of acting etc. but the slight plot made me long for some intrigue and seriousness.

After studying Shakespeare in depth I was also more bothered by the staging and extensive use of the Groundling area.  This would just not have happened at the time of the original Globe - the costumes were just too expensive to risk off of the stage, and although giving great opportunities for entrances and exits too much of the action is invisible from the Upper Gallery. A minor criticism as all of the actors projected well and I didn't miss a line of dialogue. I remain unsure about the bicycle and  the shopping trolley however.

A big shout out has to go to the Steward who was working the Upper Gallery, Mr Norfolkbookworm asked him an idle question about an instrument being played on the stage in the interval and although he didn't know the answer the steward (no name badge so I can't be more specific) went and found out for us and slipped the name to us during the second act.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Seventeen

Jersey Boys, Theatre Royal. Norwich. July 2015

Oh What a Night!

I've wanted to see this musical for a long time as I love the music and often have the soundtrack playing as I am walking/studying/avoiding the house work and it seemed as if the whole of Norfolk had the same idea - this booked out ages ago and the group of 5 of us were dotted around the circle rather than next to each other.  This doesn't really matter however as you shouldn't talk to the person next to you during the show anyhow!

Apart from the music I didn't know much about the story at all and I found the style in which the show was told to be both very interesting and at times slightly frustrating. Frustrating in that often only excerpts of songs I love were played and not the whole thing! The story itself hung together very well, was full of humour and sadness and at all times was really clear leaving you in no doubt who everyone was.  I also loved the way that the narrator changed throughout the show so we did get a rounded picture of the story, it really was about the Jersey Boys and not one person.

The cast were incredible and their voices so like the originals that I'd have thought they were miming if I'd seen a clip on TV.  It was an incredibly hot and humid night when we went yet they put their all into it and the singing and choreography was perfect throughout. My one possible quibble is that perhaps the writers didn't quite know how to finish the show as it did just abruptly stop, however as this gave the cast a chance to sing again it wasn't all bad. Seeing the live band throughout the show was a bonus and they deserved every cheer.

If the point of a hit musical like this is to leave you with a smile and humming the songs I'd say this was a real hit, and I think that if I got the chance I'd go and see it again in a flash.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Reading binge

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just spent two weeks on the Greek island of Mykonos. It was an interesting time to be in Greece with all of their financial troubles and the referendum but at no point were we ever greeted with anything other than smiles. We certainly added to the economy by eating and drinking lots of wonderful items - although we'll gloss over the sea urchins...

While we did do lots of exploring the main purpose of the trip was to unwind and spend lots of time reading.  I certainly managed this as in 2 weeks I read 23 books as well as plenty of relaxing.

  • Boston Girl by Anita Diamant - a great read all about first generation immigrants to Boston in the 1900s. 
  • Sagan 1954 by Anne Berest (tr. Heather Lloyd) - an imagined biography about the year in which teenager Sagan wrote and published Bonjour Tristesse.
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend* by Katarina Bivald (tr. Alice Menzies) - a young Swedish girl visits her pen pal in the States to find she has died. Books were the link between the two and might just save the Iowan town of Broken Wheel.
  • Early One Morning* by Virginia Bailey - set in Rome during the German occupation an impulsive decision to save a Jewish boy from being deported has repercussions for decades.
  • Grey by E L James  - no words to explain why I read this.  It is dire.
  • Hearts of Stone* by Simon Scarrow - before WW2 a German boy makes friends with two Greek teenagers on Lefkas during an archaeological dig. He is posted back to the island during the war...
  • The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club* by Marlena de Blasi - I thought this was going to be fiction but was in fact the story of five women and their family who meet to have supper. The stories were interesting and the recipes had me drooling.
  • Let Me Explain You* by Annie Liontas - a dysfunctional Greek family are contacted by their father to say he is dying and spend the time trying to unravel their relationships with him and each other.
  • One* by Sarah Crossan - a young adult novel about a pair of conjoined twins. A bit predictable but still moving.
  • The Summer of Good Intentions* by Wendy Frances - three sisters and their families return to their beach summer home but the summer doesn't work out as planned. A good holiday read.
  • In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume - in the 1950s three planes crashed on one small New Jersey town and the novel imagines the effects this had on some of the inhabitants.
  • Anything to Declare by Jon Frost - a former Custom and Excise officer talks about some of his jobs.
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson - I wasn't blown away by Life After Life but this companion novel enthralled me from the start and I liked that Teddy was a pilot in Bomber Command and not a fighter pilot.
  • The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean Paul Didierlaurent - a very odd book that I don't think I 'got'. I am still not sure if it is a dystopian novel, a love story or a fable that I missed the point of.
  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier - A gripping psychological thriller, glad that a friend recommended it to me.
  • Adeline* by Norah Vincent - a novel about Virginia Woolf that probably would probably have been lot more enjoyable if I'd known more about the relationships within the Bloomsbury Group.
  • A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre - another great read about the British spying world, this time with Kim Philby as the focus.
  • The Martian* by Andy Weir - a gripping space thriller about a man left alone on  Mars after an accident.
  • Finding Audrey* by Sophie Kinsella - a young adult novel which starts quite well but by the end seems to be too simplistically dealing with mental illness.
  • Motherland* by Jo McMillan - the mother and daughter protagonists of this novel set in the 1970s and 80s are fervent communists and given the chance to visit the DDR, will they be disillusioned?
  • The Bees by Laline Paull - a fascinating tale told from a bee's point of view. Hard to explain the charm of this but I always knew I didn't like wasps!
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - a thriller like Gone Girl or Before I Go to Sleep.  I spotted the twist in this one but it did still give me nightmares.
  • The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay by Andrea Gillies - Nina is involved in a serious accident while on a Greek island but we only learn why she is there as she talks to her doctor, but is he who he seems? A bit self indulgent and also the constant Americanisms really jarred for a book that is set in Scotland as well as Greece.
Not a bad collection of books, none that I gave up on this time.  Now I have to go to the library and pick up all the books I've reserved and are now ready to read...I'll need another holiday to get through them all!

All of these books except Sagan 1954 were read as eBooks and those marked  * were proofs provided by

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Theatre 2015: Review 16

Shrek the Musical, Theatre Royal, Norwich. June 2015.

I was vaguely interested in this when it had a London run, just not enough to plan a trip to the capital to see it, so finding out that Norwich was on the tour schedule came as a nice surprise.

I am really not at all sure what to make of the show however.

Visually it was stunning, the scenery and set were inventive, fun and worked in harmony with the rest of the show,  The costumes were also good - it did look a lot like the animation had come to life.  The cast were okay too with a couple of real standouts.  Just sadly the parts just didn't all come together to make this a 'wow' event for me.

I think that on the whole I blame the score and the sound for my feelings.  The songs were all original to the show - this is not a 'jukebox' musical like Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You, and yet unlike other original shows (Phantom, Miss Saigon etc) the songs were not catchy and for a lot of the time I found them to be incomprehensible and was wishing for subtitles! Duets and ensemble numbers seemed badly balanced and again often inaudible.

Bits of this show had me in absolute stitches - the drop in gags about other musicals were very funny, and Lord Farquaad stole the show every time he appeared on the stage.  The dragon was brilliant too - again puppetry proving that you don't need expensive animatronics to create effects. The scene with the Pied Piper and the rats was very well done too.  I just expected a little bit more.

It was a fun evening, I did laugh a lot and thanks to the end number I did come out humming a tune which is what you want from a musical but it just wasn't quite the fabulous experience I was  expecting and I'm glad I didn't travel too far to see it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Fifteen

King John, Shakespeare's Globe, London. June 2015.

Completely by accident I managed to book us tickets for this show just one day before the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215.  Of course he didn't stick to it but this is what he is probably best remembered for in history.

Shakespeare's King John doesn't mention the document at all, and in this production it is name checked thanks to lines from another play The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England being incorporated to the script - it has to be said this was very well done as I had only read the play a few days before seeing the production and I couldn't spot any 'sore thumb' lines.

This production has been touring around the country and the staging was very striking in the Globe setting, with a big walk way stretching into the Groundling area as well as two extra parts of stage to either side of this - sadly from where we were sitting in the Upper Gallery we couldn't see these although the acoustics of the venue did mean that we didn't miss a word.

 The view from our seats, the walk way went on much longer and there were two other free standing stage areas.

King John is about succession, relations with France and relations with the Papacy. The falling out with the British aristocracy which so marred John's actual rule is a very small side story towards the end of the play.  For such an episodic play I found the narrative clear and followed the twists easily, although some of the cross casting did seem to confuse a few people sitting near us.  I think that I might have been more confused had I not read the play in advance of seeing it!

The first act of the play had some amazingly strong female characters - some of the strongest I've seen in Shakespeare - and I loved the idea that as well being, possibly, not the legitimate ruler of England John was also still ruled by his mother.  The three main women are sadly forgotten by the second half (original play and not directing choice) but they certainly drive the first half and in many ways set up the action for the second.

As for King John - I couldn't help but like him as he was certainly channelling King John as portrayed in the Disney cartoon Robin Hood and that has always been my favourite classic Disney film even though it is very cheesy!

I wasn't sure of the production at the interval but it has grown on me.  The simple staging was good and it was nice to see the musicians so clearly during the production but after a while they did become a little distracting and made the stage seem cluttered.

Minor niggles as I did like the play overall just a little sad that we did miss so much of the action visually.

Disney's King John from 1973