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Introduction

Enter Stage Left

“Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snowplough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of words.”

— Terry Pratchett

In a bid to expand my reading base I am starting this blog to encourage myself to not only read more, but to explore what it is I love about certain books and discover new authors and genres.

As my blog name suggests, however, I will also be writing about the other great passion in my life – Theatre. I count myself lucky to have parents that have taken me to shows for as long as I can remember, but now I want to explore even more of what the theatre world has to offer.

The goal for 2020 is to write at least one post a month on a book and a play each so I guess I better get started!

Lungs

A few weeks ago I received an email from The Old Vic advertising their live, socially distanced, performance of Lungs, and I immediately set a reminder on my phone to buy tickets on the release date. I’ve been missing the theatre terribly, although I feel very lucky that the National Theatre have been releasing plays on a weekly basis on Youtube, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to once again enjoy the world I love and support an organisation that I really care about.

I’ve seen many productions at The Old Vic, including the last play I saw before lockdown, Endgame, and the idea that it and so many other theatres are in danger of closing down as a consequence of Covid-19 is heartbreaking. Some may think this sounds melodramatic, but theatres are often safe spaces for marginalised groups, breaking new ground, and although the theatre industry still has a long way to go with its inclusivity, it would be an indescribable shame for it to disappear.

I was disappointed that I didn’t have the chance to see Lungs while it was in the theatre, having heard great reviews from friends, so you can imagine how happy I was when The Old Vic announced that it would be their first production since lockdown began. The play, written by Duncan Macmillan, tells the story of a couple, played by Clare Foy and Matt Smith, trying to decide whether they should have a baby considering the rapidly decaying state of the climate. What I had not expected from this description were lines that would have me howling with laughter. The script is so realistically hilarious with Foy’s rambling speeches feeling genuinely anxiety driven, whilst also providing comic relief from some heavy topics.

The story glides effortless from joy to despair and anger to heartbreak. I really connected with Foy’s character and her constant overthinking. I felt like I went on her journey with her and all of the emotions she felt towards Smith’s character I mirrored. To me, this demonstrates how powerful both of their performances were, and, although I have a great passion for sets I was not in anyway distracted or disappointed by the absence of scenery or lighting. The stripped back production gave a much more intimate feel to the play which I think is unique to this type of streamed performance. At first I thought the split screen filming would be a constant reminder that I was watching a stream and would therefore disconnect me from the story, but in fact, it enabled me to focus on each actor’s performance without being drawn in and out or backwards and forwards across the stage.

My only criticism would be that I was expecting a stronger environmental story line and to me it was more of an emotional couples drama. I still thoroughly enjoyed the plot, I just think an opportunity was missed to impress upon the audience the immediate need for action to stop climate change reaching a state where its effects are irreversible.

I believe all of the tickets for Lungs have now sold out, but keep your eyes peeled in the future, because if this play is anything to go by, future productions will be more than worth it!

Also if you have any money spare at the moment and feel like donating some to The Old Vic please click the link below:

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/support-us/donate

I know there are lots of great causes to donate to right now and it can be hard to work out how much to give to each, so just do what’s right for you. Also remember that there are others ways to support organisations such as buying memberships or vouchers, whether these are for yourself or as presents for others.

Accomplished in April Part 2

As promised here is the second part of my April Wrap Up reviewing the second lots of books I read for Book Roast’s Magical Readathon, if you haven’t read Part 1 you can find it here!

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Subject:
Charms

The story begins by following the fate of Charles Hale, a man who is being stalked by a gang waiting to murder him. The story then proceeds with the repercussions of what happens to him and the desperate actions of the gang leader responsible, 17 year old Pinkie. The narrative jumps from character to character revealing the perspectives of Ida the last person to see Hale before he was met by Pinkie and his gang, Rose an innocent waitress who falls for Pinkie and gets dragged into the gang world, and, of course, Pinkie, a young gang leader trying to assert his authority, but who ultimately trusts no one.

I was really looking forward to reading this having heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, I found it quite a tough read. The sentence structure and flow was quite odd and caused me to reread lines again and again to fully understand what was happening. Having said this, I did find the plot intriguing and wanted to discover what would happen next, it just took an awfully long time to get there.

My main issue with the book was that I constantly felt like I knew more than the characters and I was simply waiting for them to catch up with what I had read in the previous chapter. This really slowed the pace down and made it a bit of a chore to read. I am glad though, that I finished it and I do think that the story rounded up quite neatly and satisfactorily.

Conclusion: I thought that the overall plot for this book was great, however, the pacing really put me off and the sentence structure added to my negative view. I am not opposed to watching either of the films made of Brighton Rock as I do think some of the pace could improved with a more streamline text – not something I often say about book to film adaptations. I think Greene’s writing style is something you either get on with or you don’t. If you’ve enjoyed other books of his or you get the chance to read the first chapter and enjoy it definitely stick with it, but if like me you find the first few pages a struggle, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get much easier.

Rating: ★★★

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
Subject:
Potions

I enjoy poetry from time to time, but I haven’t sat down with a book of poetry since school, so I was excited to read Allen Ginsberg’s work. I watched a film about him several years ago and was taken aback by his extraordinary life. I would say that having seen the film definitely helped a little in understanding his poetry as it gave a context to his writing. Honestly though, I was still quite lost reading Howl. It is probably the longest poem I’ve ever read and even after reading summaries and analyses of it, I still felt like I was missing something. I could appreciate the rhythm and flow of the writing and understand that it was skilful, but I felt more at home with his shorter poems because I was able to grasp more meaning from them.

My favourite of his poems was Sunflower Sutra, which discusses identity and how society and your environment can affect and blur the understanding of your own self. I felt a strong connection to this because of my conflicted feelings about money. We live in a capitalist society so my dreams for the future have been built around the idea of buying a house and having a well paid job that allows me to go on holiday and buy new gadgets and clothes when I please. But recently, I’ve become more concerned with the effects of my decisions upon the environment – hence I haven’t purchased any new clothes for about a year now and I have made some changes to more sustainable products in my beauty routine. So how do I uphold my morals and maintain my identity in a society that is based on consumerism? The other reason I really loved this particular poem was that I felt it was so universal. Pretty much everyone is told to be something different than themselves by society and I thought it was an encouraging plea from Ginsberg, telling his readers to remember who they really are and what they ultimately believe in.

Conclusion: I think I needed to ease myself back in to the world of poetry a bit more gradually to fully appreciate Howl, so I think this is a book I will revisit in the future. As I have said though, I thoroughly enjoyed some of the shorter poems and look forward to including more poetry in my future reading, although I think it might be one at a time rather than a book at a time.

Rating: ★★★ – this was affected by my ability to understand the poetry rather than the quality of it

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Subject:
Muggle Studies

I loved this book! From the first page I was drawn in by the different writing style and within the first 20 pages or so I felt a really strong emotional connection with the main character. The story is written in the hand of Christopher, a 15 year old who, it is implied, is on the autism spectrum. This is conveyed by both the style of writing, which is very to the point and direct, as well as through Christopher’s explanations of why he finds it hard to understand other people.

He begins by telling the reader how he came across his neighbour’s murdered dog on one of his night time walks and aims to solve the mystery of who committed the crime and along the way write a thrilling whodunnit. The story, however, develops into a heat warming tale of a family trying, and often failing, to accommodate each others differences.

I found the writing style truly effective as it enhanced my ability to empathise with Christopher and helped me to better understand his perspective. The story line felt well paced as you discover things at the same time as Christopher, but you are also able to pick up on hints here and there, that he includes, but does not give much weight to, to keep you eagerly anticipating what will happen next.

I am not overly familiar with autism and what knowledge I have is mainly derived from TV shows. Therefore, I did take the time to see how others, much better informed than I, regarded the portrayal Haddon creates. The general feeling seems to be that he has done an excellent job in including autism within the story, elevating the narrative, without making it the focus.

Conclusion: This is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have read in a long time. I cried a lot, I laughed a lot and I found it agonisingly hard to put down. I would easily recommend Haddon’s masterpiece to anyone and everyone. It’s a lesson in kindness, but more importantly in understanding that we don’t all think and respond to situations in the same way and that these differences shouldn’t be used to separate us but to help us all become more empathetic.

Rating: ★★★★★

Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell
Subject:
Herbology

This was a mixed bag. The book is a collection of essays about a variety of topics including writing reviews, politics and lots more, including Orwell’s own personal experiences and those of others. Some of the essays I really enjoyed as I could recognise Orwell’s wonderful story telling structure and descriptive writing. I felt this most strongly in Down the Mine as I could see clearly in my mind the tunnels that Orwell was taking me down and feel the burn of the excruciating physical labour he was witnessing.

With other essays I felt like I was missing the context and sometimes an interest in the subject matter as the topics discussed are incredibly varied. Even in the ones I didn’t enjoy as much, however, I did catch snippets of opinions and thought processes that I could relate back to 1984 and Animal Farm which kept me more engaged.

Conclusion: This is not a book I would normally pick up. At university I was used to cherry picking the articles I needed, so would usually have only read one or two of the essays within a book like this. I think I would be better suited in the future to reverting to this process and reading essays such as these alongside others on similar topics rather than trying to read the whole book from start to finish. This is not a criticism of placing all of these texts together, but more of a suggestion that they should be respected and require further reading to fully digest their meaning.

Rating: ★★★ – again this is partly a rating based on my ability to derive meaning from all of the essays rather than a condemnation of the writing itself

Accomplished in April – Part 1

Book Total: 8

So for April I took part in Book Roast’s Magical Readathon, which involves revising for your O.W.L.s by reading a book that relates to each subject’s prompt. I attempted to pursue a career in Alchemy, but fell short by 4 books. Setting myself a target of 12 books in a month was a bit of a stretch considering in March I only read 3, so I’m pretty proud of finishing 8!

Book Roast runs these readathons twice a year and I would definitely recommend – I met lots of new bookstagrammers and found it really good motivation for picking up tomes I’ve been avoiding for a while.

I’ve split this post into two so I can give an in depth review of each of the books, hopefully, without you getting bored!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Subject: Care of Magical Creatures

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in sixth form for A-Level English. I’ve been meaning to reread it ever since Channel 4 announced they were airing the TV series and now I finally have. I think I enjoyed it even more on this reread than I did the first time, partially due to the lack of pressure to truly understand it for my coursework and also due to my developed understanding of the political framework.

For those that haven’t read it, The Handmaid’s Tale introduces you to a dystopian world where the American government has been overthrown by a totalitarian regime that restructures society to conform to an exaggerated, old fashioned family model. High society husbands work while their wives remain at home with Marthas who help with housework and a handmaiden who carries their offspring. The story follows the fate of Offred, who is part of the first wave of Handmaiden’s. The narrative switches between Offred’s life as a Handmaiden, her past life and the path that connects the two.

Many have commented that the book seems to remain relevant despite being published 35 years ago. This is partly because the world Atwood constructs always seems only a few steps away – big steps, but not unimaginable. However, I also think it demonstrates how much more there is to achieve in sex equality, by which I mean both equality between the sexes and sexual equality. Although this is obviously an extreme depiction, it is based on an evolution of ideas that many people subscribe to today. For example the idea that women don’t enjoy sex and it is an obligation required of them. Or that a women’s role is to raise children and a family cannot be complete without them.

Atwood builds a fully formed world in which it is easy to imagine yourself within. Also, unlike other novels in which it sometimes seems contrite that you happen to be following the one person who acts against evil, Atwood includes several characters with similar outlooks to Offred. This complexity gives you a sense that you are following one of many narratives rather than a bespoke singular perspective.

Conclusion: It is not an original opinion, but I think The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to read it as a young adult and I am really happy that the TV show has bought the story to a whole new audience. The first time I read this it was more of a fascinating imaginary world, while the reread helped me to see the reflections in today’s society. Consequently I am now really motivated to read more feminist writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Subject: History of Magic

I was so happy that I could include my Harry Potter reread in the readathon. Once again I loved revisiting the magical world of my childhood, but this time with the addition of some beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay.

This reread made me realise the parallels between Voldemort and his followers with Hitler and the Nazis were realised in the books much earlier than I first thought. For the first time in the books we really see the prejudice within the wizarding world, a prejudice based on family lineage, which takes centre stage later in the series. I know this is a much used framework in literature, but I still think it stands as so many modern day prejudices are based on differences that people are born with, whether this be race, sexuality or any other. So stories that teach children and adults alike that prejudiced actions are unjustified are always welcome.

Asides from this new appreciation for the depth involved in Rowling’s story telling I was also reminded of how much I enjoy the witty rhymes that she includes. From Peeves’

Oh Potter you rotter, oh what have you done,
You’re killing off students you think it’s good fun

… to the Valentine Dwarf’s

His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard,
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord

I think the one thing I tend to forget about when I haven’t read Harry Potter in a while, is just how much it makes me laugh.

And I can’t review the book without mentioning some of my favourite illustrations. I think one of Jim Kay’s strongest skills is drawing animals so naturally the depictions of Fawkes the phoenix and the basilisk are amongst my favourites. However, in my opinion the most breath taking illustration is Harry being transported into Riddle’s diary, the colour and movement are incredibly dramatic and a wonderful representation of something I would have thought would be so hard to illustrate.

Conclusion: As with every Harry Potter reread I discovered something different with this one, and appreciated that Harry Potter is probably partly responsible for my moral compass. I was also reminded that sometimes the best thing to do is to forget about life and just laugh. We’re all having our own struggles during lockdown, whether they be big or small, they are all very real and losing myself in my favourite fantasy world helped me to feel better about my current situation.

Rating: ★★★★★

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Subject: Ancient Runes

I picked this up a couple of years ago in a charity shop along with Fleming’s second Bond novel Live and Let Die and wasn’t really sure what to expect, having never really read any spy books except for the Alex Rider series. I found the introduction, written by Alan Judd, really informative and thought it helped to bring an extra level of authenticity to the story, knowing Fleming’s background.

I’m going to get the misogyny out of the way right away. Some of the descriptions of women in this book from the narrator and from Bond are appalling, to the point where I had to reread lines several times, because I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. If you manage to see past Fleming’s less than satisfactory descriptions of women you can begin to appreciate his elaborate illustrations of places and clothing.

The story is well thought out and full of suspense. I found myself unable to put the book down, constantly wanting to know what happened next, even though I had already seen the movie and knew the general plot. I somewhat expected the action and pace to be impeded in comparison to the film, but I was wrong. The action is fast paced, but you still get a clear picture of the entire scene which is something I was really impressed by.

Conclusion: If you can ignore the sexism this is a really enjoyable read. I can completely understand why movie makers chose to transform Fleming’s stories into films and why these plots have remained popular ever since. The mixture of mystery, luxurious lifestyle and action make for an enthralling read that was hard to put down.

Rating: ★★★★ (This is a rating that ignores the sexism- something that I would not normally do, but I hope that the majority of people who read this will laugh at the absurdity of the misogyny rather than take it seriously, even though I don’t think that this was Fleming’s intention)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Subject: Transfiguration

So not only did I manage to include CoS into my readathon but also Prisoner of Azkaban! Whenever asked I’ve always said this is my favourite Harry Potter book, I don’t know whether I will change my mind after I’ve finished rereading the series this time, but I once again really enjoyed PoA.

Because it has been so long since I have read the series and I have watched the movies plenty of times in between, my favourite thing about this reread was rediscovering the smaller characters that the movies give little or no screen time to. The Weasley twins really made me howl with laughter and I loved getting to see why Lupin becomes such an important part of Harry’s life, something that I think is slightly lost in the films.

I also appreciated the introduction of Harry’s faults, his reckless behaviour and the guilt that he feels. I remember feeling as a child, that this made Harry much more relatable. He wasn’t a beacon of sainthood, but a normal kid that misbehaved and made mistakes whilst still being a morally good character.

One of my favourite elements of the book is of course the time turner. The story really cemented my understanding of time travel (fictional not scientific) and every reread has always entertained me with the hints here and there of Hermione disappearing and reappearing almost immediately, while Harry and Ron have no idea what is going on.

In my opinion the illustrations are the best so far of the three Jim Kay editions I have read. Again the depictions of magical creatures are amazing, I loved seeing the hippogriffs come to life on the page and I thought the portrait of Lupin was perfect.

Conclusion: I still absolutely love this book and I was reminded how much I love some of the “smaller” characters. The richness of the magical world just makes me feel like I’ve fallen into it and could go exploring in any direction. For me this is the book where the action really starts and I feel there is a fully outlined backstory that begins to explain Harry’s connection to Voldemort, so for now, it remains my favourite of the series.

Rating: ★★★★★

Frankenstein

This week’s NT at Home Production was an amazing rendition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller switch between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and The Creature in different performances so you can you can pick which to watch. Last night’s premiere saw Cumberbatch play The Creature and Jonny Lee Miller portray Victor Frankenstein alongside a wonderfully talented cast, including Naomie Harris, Karl Johnson and George Harris.

The play begins with The Creature coming to life and learning how to walk. I was taken immediately by the powerful emotion of the play and its emphasis on the treatment of those who are different from the societal norm. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of The Creature instantly builds a sympathetic connection with the audience. He is shunned and attacked by society, the only companion he finds is a blind man that cannot be horrified by his appearance. As a result I spent the majority of the first half silently crying for The Creature’s loneliness and lack of identity. The emotional focus of this production, I think, is its strongest feature. I felt emotionally tied to The Creature from beginning to end and for that reason I thought Cumberbatch’s performance was outstanding.

Continually ill treated by the rest of humankind The Creature builds an understanding of his fellow man from the negativity he sees in them. Consequently, the play raises questions of nature versus nurture. Is The Creature the monster everyone perceives him to be or are his monstrous qualities the results of the abuse he receives? The communication between The Creature and Victor Frankenstein is a really intriguing exploration into this debate. Their relationship interchanges between a likeliness to father and son, master and servant, God and Adam and back again. The link being their dependancy upon each other, they are not themselves without the other, as much as they may hate their counterpart they are irreversibly connected. Miller does a wonderful job of switching between each of these roles, revealing the consequences of human pride and jealousy.

While there is an undeniable link to religion throughout the production I think the direction of the play brings a lot of contemporary themes to the forefront. The vanity of today’s culture, valuing appearance above all else; the rejection and ill treatment of those who do not fit to societal norms and the tragic impact a lack of kindness and sympathy can cause a person.

Conclusion: I was affected by this play far more than I thought I would be. I was not expecting the powerful emotional performances or to see such topical subjects being discussed. I found it moving and compelling throughout and, therefore, strongly recommend that you find the time to watch it.

Rating: ★★★★★

You can now pick whether to watch Cumberbatch or Miller play The Creature and I’d love to hear what people think of Miller’s performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl8jxNrtceQ&feature=youtu.be

Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI88grIRAnY

Twelfth Night

The National Theatre recently announced they they will continue their run of streaming previous live performances on YouTube which I’m incredibly happy about! This week’s production was Twelfth Night, which I have neither studied or seen a production of unless you count She’s the Man – the Amanda Bynes film adapted from the play (but I’m thinking that doesn’t count), so I was really excited to discover a new tale.

It took me a little while to get a grip of exactly who everyone was, but after a couple of scenes I relaxed into it and found myself really enjoying both the comedy and the wonderfully adaptable set. Unlike other modernised Shakespeare productions the plays true focus was not the new setting but the story itself, making the contemporary costumes and sets refreshing additions rather than crass rehashings.

The set elegantly unfolds itself to reveal four different locations each of which are dressed to transform them into many more from an outdoor swimming pool to a drag bar. A richly talented cast weaves in and out of the multiple sets with great humour, delighting the audience with acts of foolery and wit. I don’t know why, but even while knowing the play was a comedy I did not expect to laugh as much as I did. I truly enjoyed the outrageous outburst of Olivia and Malvolia (played by Phoebe Fox and Tamsin Greig respectively), but also the slightly more subtle humour of Orsino (Oliver Chris) continuing to confuse Viola (Tamara Lawrence) and Sebastian (Daniel Ezra).

Each character had their own distinct story line, which felt fully fleshed out. I feel like I really understood each character’s purpose in the play and gleaned morals from each of their arcs. All of which contributed to a well rounded finish neatly tying up all of the loose ends.

Favourite Character: Sir Andrew Aguecheek played by Daniel Rigby
Favourite Scene: Malvolia and the Fountain – fully of witty puns and plenty of silliness

Conclusion: This play is sure to lighten up your day, whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or not. I’ve always been sceptical of watching Shakespeare plays that I have not read for fear of getting lost, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playfulness of this production. I really appreciated the respect the play was given, by the production team not feeling the need to add some new modern twist that distracts from the charming nature of the play. So if this taster has intrigued you make sure you click the link below before Thursday evening to make sure you don’t miss out!

Upcoming Schedule:

  • Thursday 30 April: Frankenstein by Nick Dear – Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller
  • Thursday 7 May: Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare – Starring Sophie Okonedo & Ralph Fiennes

Managed in March

Book Total: 3

Better late than never! Here’s my round up of everything I read in March. It was a very odd month for me, as I ‘m sure it was for everyone else. Adjusting to self-isolating and working from home affected my reading habits just as much as everything else!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I’ve wanted to read Brave New World ever since it was on my reading list for A-Level English Lit, but I’m afraid I was a bad student and didn’t read it… I did however read the synopsis back in sixth form so I did have some idea of what to expect. You are immediately introduced to an alternative future where society manufactures humans to have different levels of intelligence and varying skillsets, clearly defining class levels through job titles and IQ. I really enjoyed how the dystopian world is explained to the reader by the prose rapidly switching from character to character answering the questions you haven’t asked yet. It makes for a very fast pace and removes the necessity for a long and drawn out introduction.

The book raises the question, if we had everything provided for us and we didn’t know what unhappiness was could we be truly happy? The main characters portray different answers to this question and help you to come to your own conclusion.

One element I found particularly interesting was the positivity that the governing body attributes to consumerism. As soon as anything is broken or damaged, rather than mending citizens are encouraged to throw away and buy anew. When the female main character encounters those that live in the reservation, she is revolted by the state of their attire, which is far from new and pristine. For me it was an instant reflection of today’s fast fashion culture – which I doubt was the intention of Huxley, but it’s interesting to see some of his ideas on advanced consumerism come to light.

Conclusion: I found Brave New World greatly compelling and marvelled at how Huxley managed to convey such a complex and well thought out story in a reasonably small number of pages. I think fans of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale will enjoy this as another excellent addition to their dystopian collection.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This was a really fun, enjoyable read! I watched the film a couple of years ago and found it absolutely hilarious, so when I spotted the book and it’s sequel in a charity shop I couldn’t resist buying them.

I found the best way to enjoy this book was to not take it too seriously – as long as you ignore the questionable morals of Allan Karlsson, a hundred-year-old man who has just escaped from his own birthday party, stealing a suitcase left with him by a very angry mob member, then the rest of the story is joyously funny. As the book develops you’ll find yourself becoming more and more relieved that Allan has escaped so many extraordinary encounters with so many historically important and dangers people from General Franco to Soong May-ling.

The way the story weaves itself in and out of modern history is wonderful. I constantly felt like I had some grasp of what was happening only to be hilariously delighted with some fictional and ridiculous scenario revolving around Allan. This is all intertwined with the tale of Allan’s escape from his care home and the police investigation into his “kidnap”. Despite the fact that you are always ahead of the detective in his investigations this switching of narratives does not feel laboured, but adds another level of richness to the novel alongside plenty more laughs.

Conclusion: This was a real feel good read because of how much it made me laugh. I had no difficulty in reading large chunks of it at a time. I often found myself recounting parts of the story to my boyfriend, who has seen the film, because I found them so amusing. Also because the story is set in a part of history that most people are at least loosely aware of it’s really easy to engage others with it. I would highly recommend to anyone that wants to swap the doom and gloom of their daily routine for some harmless and entertaining escapism.

Rating: ★★★★

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay

It is no secret that I am a huge Harry Potter fan and one of the positives that I am taking from this self-isolation situation is that I have time to read these beautiful illustrated editions for the first time!

It’s been a fair few years since I reread the series, but last year I started listening to The Real Weird Sisters podcast (I highly recommend this podcast to HP fans) which is a chapter by chapter analysis of all of the Harry Potter books and ever since I’ve been itching to reread them. I love that every time I do a reread I find something different or understand a character or event more deeply. I think this time a felt a stronger connection to the events that preceded the beginning of the story and how, by the time Harry starts attending Hogwarts, society is still healing from a massive war. On previous reads I think I have always been more caught up in the excitement and joy of discovering magic, whereas this time I read it from a more adult perspective and saw scars the war left behind.

I’ve always treated the first four books as the introduction to the serious action that unfolds in the last three, possibly because the first four were already out when I started reading, meaning I read them the most, but now I see many more connections between all of the books.

Starting the series again allowed me to escape to somewhere I felt familiar with and has really helped with my mental health during my time at home. With the addition of the illustrations I felt I became even more deeply immersed in the story and they brought back some of that childhood joy I experienced when I first read the Philosopher’s Stone.

Conclusion: Reading Harry Potter will always be my safe place, however, this reread brought not only that, but also a deeper understanding of the history within the magical world and a new love for Jim Kay’s illustrations – my personal favourite being Diagon Alley. This edition is perfect for first time readers and for die hard Potter fans alike.

Rating: ★★★★★
(Like I was going to score it any less!)

One Man, Two Guvnors

In case you hadn’t heard The National Theatre are doing something wonderful in these uncertain times. As we are all unable to visit the theatre at the moment, they have explored their archives and organised the streaming of some of their most popular shows in the last few years. The first showing was last night, at 7pm the curtains were drawn and One Man, Two Guvnors began!

I really had no idea what to expect from the play as I knew little about it before yesterday, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. The slapstick comedy and ridiculous plot had me howling with laughter – exactly what I need after being in isolation for over three weeks! The play tells the story of Francis Henshall (James Corden) who unwittingly becomes the minder for two separate bosses, neither of whom are exactly who they say they are. Solely motivated by food and later women, Francis performs a set of hilarious tasks that he cannot keep up with, assisted by the audience and several brilliant characters.

The scene changes are accompanied by witty music from a 60s band that are intermittently joined by members of the cast playing a variety of musical instruments. I thought this was a really clever addition as it added to the audience interaction, breaking the third wall, whilst not distracting from the play’s plot.

Audience participation and interaction are a massive part of this play and one of its greatest strengths. The characters frequently turn to the audience to share their thoughts, adding an extra layer of comedy. Corden directly interacts with the audience throughout the show and his quick wittedness makes for hysterical dialogue. You can see he is occasionally caught off guard, but his honest reactions simply increase the comedic value.

Each character in this production is fully defined and hilarious in their own way, from the innocently dim witted Pauline to the outrageous posh Stanley. Together they make a wonderfully rich tableau sure to keep you laughing from start to finish.

Favourite Character: Alfie played by Tom Edden
Favourite Scene: Lunch Service – Francis attempts to serve both of his guvnors at once without letting either of them know about the other, with the help of an audience member and the two waiters, Alfie and Gareth – I was crying with laughter

My only criticism would be that the sound recording of the band makes it quite hard to understand exactly what they are singing, but I’m splitting hairs really!

Conclusion:
I would strongly recommend this as the perfect pick me up for anyone finding self isolation difficult. I guarantee that you will laugh, even if you are not a fan of James Corden and if nothing else it’s a pleasant change from all the Netflix programmes we’ve been binge watching. The set and costume will transport you back to the 1960s and with plenty of ironic references to the years to come combined with some fantastic physical comedy you’re sure to be cheered up.

Rating: ★★★★

If you missed the show on Thursday don’t worry you can watch it any time up until 7pm on Thursday 9th April when The National Theatre will begin streaming Jane Eyre – I can’t wait!! Just click the link below and enjoy:

https://m.youtube.com/user/ntdiscovertheatre

Endgame

So I’ve been saving this post as I might not be able to write about any new theatre shows for a while with all that’s going on. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit The Old Vic to see a double bill of Rough for Theatre II and Endgame starring Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe. Since then like every other theatre in the UK The Old Vic has closed its doors and the show run has consequently ended. Obviously I completely agree with the decision to close, but it is still very sad to see so many wonderful organisations have to struggle through this uncertain period. But enough of the doom and gloom, I’m hear to tell you how much I enjoyed my visit!

I have seen some complex theatre in my time, but I was quite nervous that I wouldn’t understand Endgame at all! I was eased into Samuel Beckett’s world though, with the performance of Rough For Theatre II. Cumming and Radcliffe discuss the pros and cons of a man’s life who is standing on a ledge contemplating suicide. Their business like manner shows an attempt to organise the thoughts of someone in deep desperation. Their inability to do so easily lets us glimpse the complexities of the human mind and see that such decisions are not made based on logic or in a way that those unaffected by mental illness can fully understand.

So at the interval I felt a little bit more reassured that I might be able to at least partly understand Endgame. Emphasis on the partly!

The curtains open to reveal an almost empty room, with two dustbins in the corner and an armchair in the middle. In the armchair sits an incredibly thin person, their face covered with a cloth. As the plot unfolds to tell the story of Hamm (Cumming), who can’t see or stand and his servant Clov (Radcliffe), who can’t sit. They appear to live in a dystopian world where hardly anyone has survived some kind of apocalyptic event. With no one else to talk to except Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell, who incidentally live in the dustbins at the side of stage, Hamm and Clov bicker and squabble over their boredom and desperation.

Accidentally topical for the situation we are all in now, the play deals with the repetitive routine of a household restricted to staying indoors and how we often turn on the ones we love the most because they are the ones we are closest to. Despite the dark depravity of their situation the strong wit and ever present sarcasm kept me laughing – something I was not expecting.

Favourite Character: Clov played by Daniel Radcliffe
While much of the comedy in this play comes from quick wit I thoroughly enjoyed the physical comedy portrayed by Clov, from the energetic way he climbs a ladder to the obscure way he lowers his head into the dustbin to speak to Nagg.
Favourite Scene: The Toy Dog
Can’t really explain this one, you’ll just have to go and see a future production!

Conclusion:
Regardless of whether I was meant to interpret Endgame in this way or not, looking back at the play now I see the importance in valuing those around you. The ones who do the small yet incredibly important things to make our lives the way they are. It’s easy to overlook the little things, but Endgame and this crisis remind us that it is not only the rich in society that keep us going, but in fact those that keep us fed and healthy, whether that’s supermarket workers and the NHS or your family and friends.

Rating: ★★★★

Finished in Feb

Book Total: 3 (or 6 if you count The Earthsea Quartet as 4 books) 😂

I’ve always loved reading in the winter months, snuggled up in a duvet with a hot drink and a book is the perfect escape from all of life’s smaller problems in my opinion. I do have to admit though that the majority of my reading takes place on the train journey to and from work or on my lunch breaks as I always find a million things to do when I get home.

This month I covered a range of genres – fantasy, environmental non-fiction and a fictionalised social history of life in pre WWII Berlin. With the exception of reading sequels I love mixing up the topics covered in the books I read as it keeps me really engaged and I find that I also read faster. 🤷‍♀️

Here’s a little breakdown of everything I read and what I thought, if you’ve read any of the below please let me know what you thought of them, do you agree or disagree with my opinions? I want to know!

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin

I received this book as a Christmas present from my brother about 7 years ago so I’ve not exactly rushed to read it, but I’m so glad I finally did commit to it! The four stories tell the tale of a wizard called Sparrowhawk and follows his journey from training boy mage to respected wizard and the incredibly rich but disparate world he inhabits. Each story does start off fairly slowly, but I was rewarded at the end of each tale with a wonderfully satisfying ending that tied up all the loose ends – so make sure you stick with it!

Aside from the obviously enthralling aspects of spells and dragons that are effortlessly weaved together into a rich tapestry of lore, Le Guin also puts contemporary topics at the forefront of her writing even though it is set in an early modern period, from gender inequality to the privilege of those in power and much more.

The thing that struck me most when reading this book was the feeling of being so caught up in my own world, where I live and what I find normal. Le Guin eloquently describes societies and tribes that live in total isolation to the rest of the world with completely different views and traditions. This may sound like an obvious thought, but I do think it’s important to regularly remind ourselves that our way of life is not the only way of life and it is definitely not the only correct way to live. A lot of characters in the book are left in awe of what magic can achieve, but I think the overall message is what individuals can achieve by accepting all kinds of people, treating them with kindness and as equals.

Conclusion: I would highly recommend this book to all fantasy lovers especially if you enjoy books like LOTR and His Dark Materials as I feel the themes of grand quests and life’s relationship with death are present throughout the series. Like LOTR the tales are not always fast paced, but the lore is beautifully rich. You will find yourself piecing bits of information together throughout the four stories, building a stronger picture of what is to come without being spoon fed which I really appreciated.

Rating: ★★★★★

No One is too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

This book was another Christmas present but this time only from last year – so I’m doing much better! This is a very short and very easy to read book filled with speeches Greta has given around the world. The simplicity of the book is, in my opinion its greatest asset. Greta clearly and succinctly demystifies the world of climate change crisis, using easy to digest facts to shock you into action. It is unforgivable that the journalist spotlight is not being shone on the climate crisis which in less than 10 years could be irreversible.

This book does not offer simple solutions for you to implement at home because in Greta’s opinion the change we need is the responsibility of governments and large organisations who can make a real difference in reversing global warming.

Conclusion: Please read this book! It is truly shameful that the world is relying on a 17 year old to raise awareness for a crisis that will bring an end to life as we know it on earth. This book is guaranteed to get you thinking and hopefully get you angry and beyond that get you to panic – as Greta says “act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Rating: ★★★★

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

Another Christmas present from last year – I’m doing well aren’t I? This is a book I’ve heard mentioned a lot without ever knowing anything about it so I had no real idea of what to expect. One of my favourite genres of non-fiction is social history as I think the person aspect allows you to connect with the past more effectively than reading about government policies or war strategies. This book, therefore, really appealed to my love of history, and due to its fictional story telling format, I found it very hard to put down.

The main challenge I faced while reading this though was my great dislike of some of the characters, but I don’t know whether you’re really meant to fall in love with them, they are there I think to add to the spectrum of normal life. These characters alongside the ordinary subjects covered, like going to work and spending time with friends in bars helps to convey the unexpected subtlety with which the Nazis Party took a hold of Germany.

I found the format quite refreshing, a linear story line but jumping with each chapter to a new part of the protagonists life, already settled into his routine with new acquaintances without the need for explaining the details in between. This resulted in a well rounded understanding of different perspectives and how Nazis Party politics creeped into each character’s life.

Conclusion: I found this really hard to put down because I really wanted to see what each character would do next. I guess this style of writing is probably my version of reality TV, an in-depth view into several people’s personal lives but in a historical context that helps me to relate to situations that are so often discussed but not always humanised.

Rating: ★★★★

The Book of Mormon

It seems apt that my first post in a blog about books and theatre should be reviewing a show about a book. The Book of Mormon first came to the UK in 2013 and I must admit that I dismissed it somewhat, having no real idea what it was about (besides Mormans). In the last year or so though I’ve heard great things about it from friends and in articles, so I was delighted when I received tickets to the show as a Christmas present.

For anyone that was as oblivious as me, the show was created by the minds that made South Park – which gives you some idea of the tone of the musical, although there were definitely people sat around us that thought it would be a wholesome story about God loving men…

Pre-Theatre Bread & Water:
Before the show we took advantage of some free Seedlip alcohol free cocktails from Grind Soho courtesy of Time Out which were delicious even if you can tell that they are not alcoholic – ideal for those trying to drink less or anyone cutting out alcohol altogether.

After we headed to Mildred’s, a veggie/vegan restaurant in Soho where you will definitely find a queue of people waiting to get in, so make sure you’re prepared because it is definitely worth the wait! I would highly recommend the Porcini Arancini and the Pumpkin Gnocchi (both classed as small plates, but very filling). For those looking for their meat fix though, the Mock Duck Bahn Mi is delicious and I couldn’t tell the difference. Plus the service is fab!

Tonight’s Performance is About to Begin:
As you walk in you are met by the view of a stunning proscenium arch which is filled with beautiful stained glass, but the second the curtain lifts you remember this isn’t going to be in anyway a serious musical. Silly, rude but incredibly clever songs will have you howling with laughter from start to finish.

The concept of sending two young Mormons to Africa in an attempt to convert the local population naturally lends itself to plenty of funny scenes, but it is also a powerful watch. There are clever correlations made between the naive Mormon characters and the casual racism and homophobia that occurs all around us today. Placing these more than questionable opinions into such outlandish scenarios allows the show to really highlight and make fun of racist and homophobic behaviour, uniting the audience against prejudice. Possibly the best part about this is that you don’t really notice them doing it, but simply reflect on the ideas when you leave.

Aside from the clever comedy and extravagant characters the show is also supported by a wonderful set that moves effortless around the stage to transport you from scene to scene. I was particularly fond of seeing inside Mafala and Nabulungi’s home, which is part of the backdrop until it is turned around to reveal its interior, creating the feeling that you are stepping behind the set into unseen territory.

The show is jam packed with musical numbers, dance routines and random historical references, keeping you guessing the whole way through. Each discipline on its own is wonderfully executed but combined they produce a hilariously well rounded show that left me crying with laughter.

Favourite Song: Turn It Off
Favourite Character: Elder McKinley played by Steven Webb
Favourite Scene: Villagers performance of the story of Joseph Smith

Conclusion:
I honestly haven’t laughed this much in a long time, each scene had something to offer whether it was a ridiculous story line, outrageous song or hilarious piece of acting. The juxtaposition between each song sounding like it could be in a Disney film and its crude contents make it the perfect musical for reminding yourself not to take life too seriously. The bonus is that it also manages to bring across a subtle message of unity and acceptance. Just a warning though, you probably won’t get the songs out of your head for at least a week!

★★★★★