Friday, 30 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one & Twenty-two: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre, London. June 2017.

This won't be a review - even after a year (and with the script published) there is great pressure to not spoil the experience for others and although I have read the script I was very very pleased I didn't know how it was going to come to life.

Sadly after all these months (we booked the seats 9 months ago) Rebecca couldn't make the date in the end but her stand in really had a good time - especially as she knew nothing about the plot at all.

All I can say is that the spectacle really is something else and this is a real feast for the eyes, there are flaws and I thought it was far too long but I am pleased I saw it and I think that it is something all Potter fans should try to see - for me it managed to blend my head canon images with the recognisable film Potter very well and there were certainly bits that left me gasping.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Armchair Astronaut event with Michael Foale

An Afternoon with retired astronaut Michael Foale.

While Tim Peake might be the first British astronaut but the first British-born male astronaut was Michael Foale and I was very excited to get the chance to meet him - this time a little closer to home in Milton Keynes rather than Pontefract.

It was a great afternoon with the event was split into three main parts. In the first hour Mike Foale spoke about his missions on the space shuttle and then on ISS - he talked us through his early life and how he became an astronaut and then aspects of each mission. There were lots of little anecdotes and film clips to bring everything together and it was fascinating listening. To be honest if the event had stopped there it would have been brilliant but it continued...

Part two was all about Foale's eventful time on the MIR space station exactly twenty years ago. This was at the start of American/Russian cooperation in space, at a time when the MIR space station was ageing and when the differences in approach from the two nations were at their most divergent.  A resupply ship, which was being docked to the space station manually, crashed into part of the MIR puncturing it and causing a slow depressurisation, loss of power and loss of control.

Even though I knew the outcome of this accident (spoiler alert - eventually all was fine) Foale's presentation was tense and dramatic - I don't remember seeing the actual footage of the moment the accident happened - and then his account of the slow saving of the the MIR showed just how much of the 'Right Stuff' astronauts still have.

After another short break there was a lovely long question and answer session which covered all areas of Foale's career, his thoughts on the future of space travel and also great advice for anyone looking to get into their dream career.

After all of this some of us had premium tickets which meant we got to stay a little longer, get an autograph and then chat more with Foale.

It was a lovely afternoon and so well organised by the Armchair Astronaut and very nice to catch up with other space friends.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one - Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's Globe, London. June 2017.

After last month's trip to the Globe to see Romeo and Juliet it probably will come as no surprise to read how nervous I was about returning to the Globe for another Shakespeare.

Sadly I think I should have listened to my inner turmoil. This was another updated pop Shakespeare and it just wasn't for me. I winced when the musicians appeared on stage with electric guitars and it got worse as the opening number (and that's not something Shakespeare wrote at all) was We are family by Sister Sledge.  It was fun but what did it have to with Twelfth Night?

There were definitely elements I liked to this. The comic characters were very well done. They were funny and they didn't out stay their welcome. I also liked the twins - their story popped for me.

The rest was awful however, Orsino made my flesh creep, Olivia wasa non entity and I really really disliked Malvolio - to the extent that I don't think his mistreatment went far enough.  In a play that is all about gender swapping so if you are going to have a girl play Malvolio then do something extra with this rather than just 1970s gags about a girl acting like a man.  As for Feste, he had a nice sounding voice but I couldn't actually hear what he was singing - not a fault that was limited to him I hasten to add. How can adding so many speakers and microphones make the sound worse?

After talking this over with Rebecca we are in disagreement as to which play is the most terrible. Rebecca says this one and I say Romeo and Juliet - at least this one actually kept to the plot.

We had planned a double bill at the Globe on this day and had tickets to see Tristan and Yseult the same evening. It was from the same director and reviews all talk about the same wacky viewpoint and so we decided that enough was enough and sold our tickets back to the box office and caught an early train home.

We have tickets for one more play at the Globe this season but it has to be said I for one can't wait for a new AD to be in post and an end to this style of performance in what was my favourite venue.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty - The Play that Goes Wrong

The Play that Goes Wrong, Theatre Royal Norwich, June 2017.

I never really thought that farce was for me, slapstick films don't really hold my attention after the first few gags but yet this is my fourth play in the genre...

I watched, and was reasonably entertained by, Peter Pan Goes Wrong when it was shown on the TV at Christmas so cheap tickets to the original Goes Wrong play seemed too good to miss.

For some reason it just didn't quite hit the spot, it was reasonably funny and the actors had a great sense of timing. The set was incredible too - you really did never know what was going to fail next or how the cast would deal with the malfunctions was the real highlight.

The downsides were the plot and the delivery of the lines. The plot did just peter out and I do think that if you've seen one Play that... you've seen them all. In addition to this all too often the lines were lost in the mayhem - especially in the final scene, I hadn't even realised that the play was over it was so muddled.

On the whole it was a fun night and I did laugh a little but being a fan of the Blakeney Players and the Maddermarket theatre with the shows they put on I was a bit uncomfortable at the mocking of these great local theatre groups - this just wasn't quite affectionate enough.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Final, final thoughts about the Baileys Prize

Women's Prize for Fiction ceremony and final thoughts.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the prize ceremony for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and to be honest by the time it came to go into the event I was about ready to run away - it has been a long time since I've been to a swanky book event and an even longer time since I've been to one where I know nobody else in the room.

To be honest as I entered the fabulously decorated ballroom at the Southbank Centre I was even more overwhelmed - I was met with smartly dressed waiters with a selection of drinks, more wandering around with canapes and lots of very smartly dressed people.

My discomfort vanished really quickly as Karen and Kimberley from the Reading Agency spotted me really quickly and we soon found another library ambassador - book chat quickly followed.

The actual prize ceremony was really smoothly run, the speeches were all interesting and fun - championing books, reading, fiction and authors especially in the world we are currently living in.

On the trip down to London, and after talking with colleagues at work, I'd decided that my overall favourite was Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo - her links to Norfolk just swung it for me. I think I can also explain it and handsell it to customers slightly more easily than my other top read Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. I was lucky enough to meet both authors at the event and they were lovely.

While the bookies were saying Naomi Alderman's The Power I was pleased to see so much love for Do Not Say on line in the days leading up to the announcement - however on the night the bookies were proved right at the dystopian, feminist Animal Farm won the overall prize.

I've been thinking about this book a lot since I finished it and while it wasn't my top read the fact that it is preying on my mind means that it must have *something* to it and I can see why it won - I'm now looking forward to talking about this, and the other 5 books, with friends and customers in the library.

After an amazing experience as a library ambassador I now have to do my thanks - to the Reading Agency for the opportunity, to the publishers for providing me with a copy of each book, to Baileys for the invite to the party last night, and also to my colleagues for letting me talk books for so long and rearranging shifts at the library so I could go to the prize!

Enough gushing - I'm off to find more great books to read and talk about!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Bailey's Prize final thoughts

It is no good - even after a week I still can't pick which book is my favourite.

I am torn between Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Stay With Me.  These two have gripped me firmly since I read them and I can't stop talking about either of them.  They are very different in many ways - but the way they both use the personal to make wider events come to life draw them together.

I know that the bookies are saying The Power is the favourite to win but I really hope either of my top books confound the odds and do win.

I am excitedly nervous about the prize ceremony tomorrow night - it has been quite a while since I've been to a book event in London, especially one with a dress code but it will be great to meet a lot of the people I've been tweeting with over the past 6 weeks.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

May Reading Round Up

May seems like it has been full of Bailey's Prize books, I may have only had five left to read but I've been writing about them here and on the Norfolk Library book review blog as well as talking about them with others on Twitter and Instagram. However as these books have all been great reads this hasn't been a chore!

In between these books I also finished another 13 books in May and in addition to Stay With Me which I reviewed here there are three more books I want to talk about:

London Under - Peter Ackroyd
This is a simple non fiction book which looks at the history of London under your feet. It covers hidden rivers, sewers and of course the Tube. It was an easy read but one that made London come to life for me, especially after our recent trip to the London Guildhall and the Roman ruins buried under there.

Who Let the Gods Out
- Maz Evans
This was a fun book for children taking a currently popular idea of the Greek Gods returning to modern day Earth. This one had a different feel from some of the others although I am hard pressed to explain  how exactly, in many ways the closest comparison to other books Marie Phillips God Behaving Badly - although with content suitable for children! For once I was also really pleased to realise half way through that this was going to be a series. 

The Boy Behind the Curtain - Tim Winton
This is a quirky book, part autobiography, part environmental treatise and part whimsical musing about the state of the world.  I loved every section of it and I really liked the Western Australian setting and the reminder of just how remote this state is to the rest of Australia. I can't remember what made me reserve this book from the library but I am pleased that I did as this was a wonderful read.

I'm now looking forward to seeing what books June bring, the Wainright Prize longlist has just been announced and so I think I might start reading those...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Nineteen - Spamalot

Monty Python's Spamalot, Norwich Playhouse, Norwich. May 2017.

Although slightly too young to remember Monty Python from the original broadcasts I have been a fan for many years now and most Easter weekends I like to watch Life of Brian in a double bill with Jesus Christ Superstar. I do also like The Holy Grail as a film but it has to be said I think that Spamalot is better.

I was lucky enough to see Spamalot in London soon after it opened and then again on tour in Norwich a few years later but when a friend and I saw it was on in Norwich again I was certainly keen to see it once more.

This production was put on by the Threshold Theatre Company, part of the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. They have a great idea behind them:
The Threshold Theatre Company was set up by NNOS to provide a training ground for less experienced actors and singers, preparing them for stepping up into the main company when they felt confident enough to do so. One of Threshold’s objectives is “to train young or inexperienced people to gain a good knowledge of all aspects of operatic and dramatic arts“.
With this in mind I wasn't sure what to expect on the night - would it be a low budget am dram show? The answer was an emphatic no - this was as professional and as polished as any touring London show and being in a small theatre was wonderfully intimate as you got to see every eyebrow quirk and facial twitch!

The singing, dancing and acting were all superb with a relatively small cast doubling and tripling to great effect, I had a grin on my face before the end of the first line and by the end a huge stitch from laughing so much.

The Threshold Co. are now high on my watch list and I can't wait to see more of what they put on. Norwich is so lucky to have great local talent as well as a theatre which books great London theatre tours - I'm now off to look at the schedules for the Playhouse and Maddermarket...