Sunday, 30 July 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Five: Don't Call Me Shirley

Don't Call Me Shirley, The Blakeney Players, Blakeney Village Hall, Norfolk. July 2017

It was a  lovely sunny evening as we left the city for the drive to the coast for this summer treat, but the unpredictable weather did thwart our plans for a walk on the marsh before hand!

However by the time the rain started we were in the village hall waiting for the curtains to part and as ever from the very start we were giggling (by the end we were practically rolling in the aisles).

As ever you had to be there to understand why this was so funny but making the inability to remember lines a plot point was inspired and a Monty Python style hand of God delivering the lines to the cast utter genius.

The scenes with Sherlock Holmes making fun of Benedict Cumberbatch's name were very funny as was his dream of being knighted by Queen Victoria - who was channelling  Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder and using a whoopee cushion!

As I said you really had to be there.

The plot wasn't the point but the cast having fun and infecting the audience with the same happiness was as ever a joy. I'm not wishing the year away but I'm hoping that the dates for the Christmas show are announced soon!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Talking Books: These Dividing Walls

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

This is a book about one recent summer in Paris, told from the view point of the inhabitants of one traditional building which has been split into several apartments. There are all walks of life living in the building and much of the story was told from the viewpoint of the young British visitor to the city.

Each of the building's inhabitants has their own story but they all become interconnected as wider political events within France rise to the surface and boil over with the weather.

This book felt very familiar in some ways, the trope of using one building to tell a story for instance, and also the tourist in a strange city but it was so much more than this and it became a real page turner - was the young mother going mad? Why was the homeless man watching the building? It was the main plot of how racism takes root and grows which really grabbed me by the throat and turned the book into a real page turner.

While the events in this book are fictional they are all too real and I think that, coupled with the well written descriptions of Paris during a heatwave make this book a really vivid read, in fact I was surprised to find that it wasn't a French book translated into English!

(This book was provided as a proof by Net Galley but it is now published)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-three and Twenty-Four - Angels in America

Angels in America, The Lyttleton Theatre, The National Theatre, London. July 2017.

(Millennium Approaches/Perestroika)

I'll confess that I was little nervous as the lights went down for this - Rebecca and I were seeing both plays in one day which added up to just shy of 8 hours theatre, what if it wasn't very good?

Millennium Approaches was split into three parts, each about an hour long and as the first interval started I was starting to be drawn in but I wasn't 100% convinced. This is a complex play with multiple story lines and at this point I just wanted to spend a little more time with each set so I could get to know them. By the second interval I was hooked and had fallen under the play's spell completely and I loved the switching between view points.

It is hard to explain this play, in simplistic terms it is the story of a group of people, living in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic but at the same time it is so much more - and I think that everyone brings (and takes) something different from each scene as various lines speak to them.

After a break of a couple of hours we were back in our seats for the second play, Perestroika and this was a little longer but again I quickly sank into the story telling and was desperate to find out how the lives of the characters were going to intersect and then play out. Right up until the very last moments of the play could we work out how the story was going to end and that is praise not criticism!

This was a total ensemble piece, with not a weak link in the cast. It took you through every emotion going but throughout the tension was cut through with so much humour - and not just the gallows humour of the dying. At times it was hard to work out what was real, what was dream and what was hallucination but that didn't matter at all because it was the overall effect that was important.

Perhaps my only criticism is that there were no real highs/lows in the storytelling - you remained keyed up throughout with no release, but, when you think about it life is actually like that.

I think we made the right choice in seeing the two plays in one long session. A gap between might have been kinder on our backs and bottoms but I think the full immersion made me fall in love with this play and the characters.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Talking Books: The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes.

I think my love of Greece and all things Greek shines through on this blog, from reworkings of the myths and legends through to seeing plays from millennia ago in the original language! I've been looking forward to this book since last November when Natalie Haynes spoke about it at the Heffer's Classics Forum.

This is Haynes' reworking of the stories behind the plays Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone but focuses her dual time line on two female characters who feature almost as throwaway lines.

At the very start I was a little unsure about the book, I couldn't place where the prologue fitted in to the tale at all and this confused me but once the story proper started with chapters alternating between generations I was hooked completely and stayed up far too late reading the book because I just couldn't put it down.

The characters were hugely realistic and vivid while the prose and descriptions really brought to life how the Hellenes lived. I've visited the ruins in Greece and know how the palaces work in theory but this book really made the stones I've visited into a living place

I knew the rough outlines of the stories behind the novel but Haynes used her knowledge of all versions of the stories to weave a brilliant tale that made me think about all the ideas I held about the characters and to think about the tales from a female point of view.

I think that this book would be just as enjoyable if you don't know much about the original stories/plays and that Haynes adds to them rather than anything else, I now want to search out Sophocles' other Oedipus play and also the mentions of him in Homer's Odyssey - oh and Anouilh's version of Antigone...

Monday, 3 July 2017

June Reading Round Up

I seem to have read an incredible number of books this month - 29 now I've counted them up - and I guess that this means I've had a lot of time on trains.

Many of these books have been great but a lot were advanced reading copies and are under embargo for another few weeks/months - reviews will be forthcoming closer to publication date however!

From Source to Sea - Tom Chesshyre
A non-fiction book charting Chesshyre's walk from the source of the River Thames to where it flows into the sea.  Inevitably the chapters dealing with following the Thames through London were my favourite and I hope to trace some of his steps on future visits to the city.

A Glint in the Sky - Martin Easedown
This is a very readable history of the first daylight Gotha raids on Folkestone during WW1. It charts previous raids on Kent and then the true horror of what happened on 25th May 1917. This has been dramatised really well on the Radio 4 serial Home Front too.

Ban this Book - Alan Gratz
An advance copy of a book all about what happens when a parent tries to ban books in a school library - full review coming in August.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do - Sally Nicholls
Another advance copy which I can't review fully yet. It is a Suffragette/WW1 tale for young adults and it has shot to the top of my favourite books of the year!