Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mojo retained

All too often you find me on here bemoaning the fact that once I am back from holiday I find it hard to get back into reading again. I'm never sure if this is because I've read too much in a short period of time or if it is just hard to re-adjust to fitting in real life and books!

This year I don't seem to have been quite so bothered by this real first world problem and this is possibly due to the great books I have been sent by publishers in either physical form or via NetGalley.

Sing to Silent Stones: Violet's Story - David Snell.  (book out now)

This book was sent to me in physical form after I responded to a tweet offering reading copies. It arrived just before we went on holiday and it was just that bit too big and heavy for my luggage.  It was the first book I turned to on return but I wasn't gripped that night, a couple of week's later I picked it up again and promptly lost two days as I fell into the story straight away.

It is the first part of a sweeping family saga covering both World Wars and so was always likely to appeal to me, I loved the detail of the war scenes and the mixed view points. At times I felt like I was reading a biography not fiction but certain scenes do certainly ground the book in fiction, however inspired by family history.

My one criticism was that it seemed rushed through the 1930s but by the end I realised that this was necessary to get the book to a suitable end point ready for part two - which I can't wait to read when it is published.

Clover Moon - Jacqueline Wilson (to be published October 2016)

When I started out as a book seller Ms Wilson was the most popular author around, and while she has remained prolific and reasonably popular I started to find her formulaic and stopped following her publication schedule.  I wonder if this  response is not unique as a couple of weeks ago an advance copy of her next book, Clover Moon, dropped through the letterbox - I don't recall her being 'proofed' for well over a decade, and probably longer.

I was intrigued enough to read the book and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a historical book, and the content is pretty hard hitting - although not covering the same period in history (or themes) I found it to create images in my mind very similar to those shown in the recent film Suffragette.

I'm not sure that the overt links to another Wilson title, Hetty Feather, were needed and also the ending seemed so open that I wish it had been stated for certain that a sequel is in the works because it didn't word as a standalone for me as an adult reader.

French Rhapsody - Antoine Laurain (to be published October 2016)

I'm a huge fan of the translations of Laurain's work and I was so excited that Gallic Books made this new one available on NetGalley so early.  It is the typical mix of profundity and whimsy this time with more than a dash of politics.
This one took me a little longer to get into than the previous two books but I did fall in love with the characters I was supposed to and had sympathy for the others - what I'd have liked is for the book to have been twice or three times as long so I could spend more time with them all!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Four

Half a Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2016.

This was our annual outing with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt to her choice of show and as has happened over the past few years this wasn't a show we'd have picked ourselves but a day out in Chichester is always a treat.

I approached this one with more trepidation than usual after the unusual decision I made after seeing Mary Poppins last month.  Tommy Steele might have been a great singer/dancer/actor in his day but the film version of Half A Sixpence was awful and I only watched about 20 minutes before giving up.  Mr Norfolkbookworm got to the end and said I'd made a good decision.

I am pleased to report that I loved the entire thing on stage, from the clever set even before the actors appeared, to the costumes, singing, dancing and story the whole thing was an utter delight.

The story had been simplified somewhat from the film and the characters were all clearly defined and I found the show to be beautifully balanced between male and female leads, of course Kipps was the main role but the show wasn't a one-man vehicle like the film appeared to be.  I couldn't tell which were new songs and which were originals as it all seemed to just 'fit' for me.  I loved the relationship between Ann and Flo and I had a lump in my throat when their stories all worked out.

I think that the setting of this show was always going to make it resonate with me, as it is all set in Folkestone which is where my family come from and I could 'see' the real places as well as the beautiful and innovative staging. I also thought that the accents sounded like Kent ones and not bad cockney ones.

I love shows that I am nervous about and then they turn out to be terrific, right now this is likely to end up as one of my top shows of the year and I really didn't expect that as we walked in to the auditorium.

As ever lots of appreciation to all the staff at Chichester (theatre, restaurant and bar) who make going to the theatre with a companion who is elderly and registered disabled so easy - and even let us know that there were reduced tickets for disabled people rather than just selling the best seats in the house.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-three

Boys Will Be Boys, Bush Theatre at the Bush Hall, London. July 2016.

This was my final event of a busy few days (three plays/shows, one film and an exhibition in 50 hours!) and neither Rebecca nor I can remember why we picked to see this - a review somewhere must have enticed us.

We landed on our feet with this show - at just 1hr 45 minutes it packed a lot of punch.  The all female cast told a shocking story of sexism in the world of finance but the show was a mix of straight drama, cabaret style anecdote telling and big musical numbers.

The cast of 5 were incredibly talented and throughout the show I was never quite sure where the specifics of  story were going but the feel, that women don't compete on a level playing field with men currently was eloquently told without becoming didactic.

I found the show to be moving, socially aware, funny, shocking, and sensual.  I found Kirsty Bushell, playing Astrid to be the stand out of the show. With no costume changes at all she managed to convey all aspects of Astrid's character with just body posture and facial expressions and towards the end, despite her behaviour, my heart broke just a little for her as she looked so broken.  The rest of the cast were also terrific and as an ensemble this was stunning - it was just a little sad to see how empty the venue was.

If this tours or transfers I'd urge you to go - I know I'd try and get tickets again.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

Shakespeare in Ten Acts, The British Library, London. July 2016.

In the year that I finished my MA and 400th anniversary of the Bard's death there have been lots of Shakespeare events and exhibition. Perversely I've not seen that many plays etc. this year - possibly because I was concentrating so hard on my dissertation but I  knew that I really wanted to see this exhibition.

I'm pleased that we got there, the concept was really good because it wasn't just about Shakespeare's time but his legacy and this is what a lot of my studying has been about.

Each zone took a different play as a theme and then used printed material, costumes, interviews and videos to put it all in context.

Highlights for me were the copies of the early books, folios and quartos - comparing the three versions of Hamlet was a delight and reading the details about the booksellers and exactly where you'd find their stalls shops really brought the era to life.
Other parts that I liked were the rooms on Othello and non white actors - possibly influenced by seeing Red Velvet and reading about theatre in the eighteenth century.  I also liked seeing the recreation of Peter Brook's iconic white box A Midsummer Night's Dream as I'd read so much about this production.

A great deal of my pleasure from this exhibition came from seeing the actual items that I'd learned about over the past few years - the actual pages of the play Sir Thomas More thought to have been written by Shakespeare for instance but also the layout was really good and as it wasn't too busy at all when we visited there was plenty of time to read everything and walk backwards and forwards to look at things more than once.

After the past few years of study I didn't expect to learn many new things from the exhibition, but there were some quirky details that I did discover and if the exhibition had been a little warmer and I didn't have another play to get to I think I'd have spent even longer poring over the exhibits.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-two

Richard III, Almeida Theatre, London. July 2016.

This was the third version of Shakespeare's Richard III that Rebecca and I have seen. The first was the stunning Mark Rylance/all male cast version at the Globe back in 2012 and it is always going to be hard for any other production to come close to this.

The star casting of Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave made getting tickets to this difficult but Rebecca managed it, although the seats were possibly a little more restricted view than we thought from the size/shape of the theatre - not that we were complaining for the price!

The play starts in the modern day with the dig in the Leicester car park where the remains of Richard III were found and this open pit remains on stage throughout, sometimes used for bodies to fall into, and at other times covered but always visible as a reminder of how the play was going to end.

It was a hot night in a dark theatre and I was tired yet I was kept engaged throughout this production which is a real positive but yet again I failed to quite connect with what was on stage.

Fiennes started evil in his portrayal of Richard and it had nowhere to go from this, people were laughing at his lines and actions but for me I didn't find him at all likable at any point and so he never had my sympathy. I also found his very graphic sexual actions, especially the rape, just too much to watch. Scenes like that could never have been performed until recently and the power in these scenes has always, for me, come from the words and again these scenes just felt a way to up the evil even further.  However as I'd never had any sympathy for this Richard I didn't need to see him be nastier still.

The mix of modern costumes and mobile phones along with swords and the famous "a horse" line also didn't work for me, although the main proponent  of this, Hastings played by Globe stalwart James Garnon, did manage to make the language seem natural and to fit with the staging - even when he was using a mobile phone.

My main issue with this production was with the staging, the Almeida is a small theatre and so to have the entire play performed to only 4 rows of the stalls was unforgivable. The attempts at including the audience could never work as so much of the play just didn't reach out.  I think the only time the gaze of those on stage included the circle was the curtain call.  I've also read reviews since seeing the play which talk about clever staging ideas that were totally invisible from our seats, and much of the circle from what I can tell from peeking around in the interval.

This was certainly better than the version of Richard III we saw at the Trafalgar Studios a couple of years back, and  I am a little tempted to go and see this in the cinema at a National Theatre Live broadcast just to see if a 'perfect' view does make a difference.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-One

Disney's Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre,  London. July 2016.

After our fabulous trip to the Lion King back in March my sister and I were very excited to see that Disney were bringing Aladdin to the West End, tickets were duly purchased for my nephew's birthday treat.

I have to confess that Aladdin was a film that passed me by when Disney released it and I have only seen it once or twice since, apart from the wonderfully voiced Robin William's Genie not much about the film remains in my mind.  I wasn't worried about this however, as I'd just been wowed by another Disney stage production of another film I'm not a fan of!

On the surface absolutely everything was in place to make this another stunning hit - good acting, costumes, choreography, singing and staging plus some true magic in the flying carpet, I really don't know how they managed to make it fly (and I don't want to spoil the illusion by looking it up either)!

However for just some reason I didn't connect with the show completely, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the show at all but as a whole it just didn't wow me.  The sum of the parts just didn't quite make the spectacle I was expecting. At times it felt a little bit like a pantomime but there was no actual audience interaction  and the humour was over the heads of the young audience the show attracts.

I enjoyed my afternoon, my nephew, sister and brother-in-law were perfect theatre companions but even if I won tickets to this show I think I'd pass them on to someone else rather than watch it again. Happily my faith in Disney was completely restored the next day when we went to see Finding Dory at the cinema - Pixar/Disney do still make magic - just not in the magical tale of Aladdin.