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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!

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

I originally picked up The Bone People as part of the Avatar: The Last Page Turner readathon, this is not normally a book I would have selected, as it is described as a love story which isn’t really my thing. However, being challenged to include indigenous authors in my TBR encouraged me to consider other books and I was intrigued by the inclusion of Maori myth in the storyline.

In the introduction Hulme explains that it was a challenge to get her book published because of how differently she writes. This is something I noticed straight away and for me it has some great positives, but also some poor negatives. Hulme goes off on a lot of tangents, which I really loved. I felt that she was giving you a back story to each character in a really effective way. Everything is not in chronological order, but is revealed to you as of when you need to know it in the story, building a rich array of characters. However, the somewhat random sequence of events often left me confused, not knowing who was speaking or whether the current event was in the past or present. On occasions I would be 4 or 5 pages into a chapter before I realised who was speaking or where they were, so would need to go back to fully take in what was happening. Having said this I would be interested in reading more of Hulme’s work to see if this is something that is refined later in her career.

The story follows the fates of three main characters. Kerewin, an artist living as a recluse, Joe, a widow trying to bring up his adopted son, and Simon, Joe’s adopted son of indeterminate age who is unable to speak.

Hulme does an amazing job of building these characters and making you feel true affection for them. Simon in particular is such an interesting character despite getting little time as the narrator, possibly reflective of his struggle to be a part of conversation due to his muteness. His story highlights societies lack of acceptance of those with disabilities through ignorance, for example lots of minor characters treat him as though he is deaf. All three of them are by no means morally good characters throughout, but their faults, on the most part, make they more realistic and readable. There is a major caveat to this though. The subject of child abuse is quite a large portion of this book and in my opinion it was not dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Without giving away spoilers I think that the abuser is treated too kindly in the writing and it left me feeling very uncomfortable.

I did, however, really enjoy the inclusion of the Maori language, with translations at the back of the book, as well as Maori legend and culture, it made me really intrigued to learn more about their mythology and way of life.

Conclusion: While I found this to be an interesting read, and I had no struggle with motivation to keep picking it up, I was left feeling uneasy with the topic of child abuse. To give it context the book was written in the 1980s, but I don’t think that should excuse this. I feel that the book ended in the only way it could to somewhat resolve the issues, but I did not enjoy the ending or feel any satisfaction from it. Overall I’m glad I’ve read it, but I don’t think it will ever be on a reread list of mine.

Rating: ★★★

Three Kings

After much anticipation, yesterday was the day that I got to sit down in my living room, with my boyfriend and enjoy some live theatre! As part of the Old Vic’s In Camera season the theatre live streamed the production of a new play, Three Kings by Stephen Beresford starring Andrew Scott.

As this was a new play I had little to go on except the description on the Old Vic’s website:

When Patrick is eight years old his absent father returns unexpectedly and in a brief but memorable encounter, sets him the challenge of ‘The Three Kings’. Years later – recalling that meeting, and the revelations that followed – Patrick traces the events of his father’s life – and takes us on a journey of grandiose plans, aching disappointments and audacious self delusion.
By turns, hilarious and heartbreaking, Three Kings is about fathers and sons, the gifts and burdens of inheritance, and the unfathomable puzzle of human relationships. 

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2020/old-vic-in-camera/three-kings

I really enjoyed having only a vague idea of what I would be seeing. So often I have preconceptions of plays whether they be from other friends, reviews or books and films. It was refreshing to watch something from a completely fresh perspective, ready to make my own interpretations, unaffected by other opinions.

Scott takes on multiple roles, including Patrick, his father and his brother, seamlessly switching from character to character in continuous dialogue. As stated in the Old Vic description the play explores the relationship between a father and son made from the the few encounters they have and the scraps of information Patrick can find. The story is linear but each scene is a significant jump forward from the last. By doing this Beresford conveys how little the two really see each other, despite the fact that the play is all about their relationship. You are taken on an emotional journey, witnessing the impact upon children who barely see their father, desperate to engage and build a relationship. You are left asking the question is it inevitable that we turn into our parents even if we barely know them?

For an hour long play Three Kings has a lot to give. Beresford is incredibly clever in revealing background information and filling in story line gaps produced by jumping forwards in time. He makes these reveals a part of the dialogue, meaning they are in no way laborsome or distracting, giving the play a great flow and pace. This is of course aided by some brilliant acting. Each of Scott’s characters is distinctive and clear, full of emotion and powerful with it. Although the play focuses on Patrick and his father, Scott’s portrayals of the minor characters inclines you to truly empathise with them, even if this is only fleetingly.

I do wish the play could have been longer, but I think that is more to do with personal preferences, I don’t believe there was any detrimental effect upon the play for being only an hour long.

Just like Lungs, the stripped back stage and lighting, accompanied by the triptych camera style gives a unique intimate feel to the play, as though you are the only person in the audience. While I obviously love the atmosphere of being in a crowded theatre, and I hope, when safe, we are able to go back again soon, I am really appreciating this innovative form of production.

Conclusion: This is a short and powerful play, full of emotion, forcing you to ask questions about parental relationships. Are we destined to become our parents? If so what does that mean for us? Excellent writing and acting are combined to bring to the stage what feels like an effortless production, easy to become absorbed in.

Rating: ★★★★

The play is now completely sold out, but if you are interested in watching an Old Vic In Camera performance head over to their website (link below) on Monday 7th September at 10am to get tickets for Faith Healer by Brian Friel, starring Michael Sheen, Indira Varma and David Threlfall.

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2020/old-vic-in-camera/faith-healer

Summer Reads

I’ve been a bit less focused on my reading over the past few months due to moving, so instead of a monthly wrap up I thought I’d post reviews of the few books I’ve finished since June.

The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcolm X with the Assistance of Alex Haley

When George Floyd was murdered back in May and the BLM movement of 2020 began in earnest, I did what I think a lot of bookstagrammers did, I reached for a book to further my education. As a history graduate, naturally I leaned towards an autobiography, one I should have read a long time ago.

What I found most interesting in the story of Malcolm X was the stark contrast between his life before prison and after. I knew nothing about Malcolm X’s life before he became a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam so it was fascinating to hear about it from his own hand. From an intelligent school boy, told to give up any hopes of becoming a lawyer, Malcom X moved to Detroit as a teenager and began to work. Whilst employed at a railroad company he decided to move to New York and fell into hustling, drug taking and burglary. When he emerged from prison, a converted Muslim and well read man he was ready to absorb all that Elijah Muhammad could teach him. All of his experiences meant that when he became a mosque leader he was in the perfect position to appeal to a wide range of African Americans who had been heavily disadvantaged by white supremacy.

I’m a big fan of autobiographies because you discover so much more about a person’s life than just their public persona. Malcolm X gave so many notorious speeches and was interviewed countless times, but often his words were simply used to build an image of aggression. My main takeaway from reading this book, was how far we have come and how little we have achieved at the same time. And yes, I should have known that before! While many things have changed, POC are undeniably fighting some of the same fights that Malcolm X was fighting 60 years ago and many of the quotes are still apt today.

it’s still a reaction to the society, and it’s a reaction that was produced by the society; and I think that it is the society that produced this that should be attacked, not the reaction that develops among the people who are victims of that negative society.

p. 49

Unless we call one white man, by name, a “devil”, we are not speaking of any individual white man. We are speaking of the collective white man’s historical record. We are speaking of the collective white man’s cruelties, and evils, and greeds, that have seen him act like a devil toward the non-white man. Any intelligent, honest, objective person cannot fail to realize that this white man’s slave trade, and his subsequent devilish actions are directly responsible for not only the presence of this black man in America, but also for the condition in which we find this black man here. You cannot find one black man, I do not care who he is, who has not been personally damaged in some way by the devilish acts of the collective white man!

p. 371

it isn’t the American white man who is racist, but it’s the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.

p. 489

Additionally, I really enjoyed the discussion on religion. I’ve never read about Islam in much depth so found the topic incredibly interesting. I have consequently, discovered a new interest in the connections between different religions and the similarity in parables across them. This is something I definitely want to read more about in the future. (Any recommendations please let me know!)

Conclusion: I found this book to be an eye opening insight into the life of a black man in mid twentieth century America. Malcolm X not only tells the stories of the Civil Rights movement but also the atmosphere that sparked it and surrounded it which is something you can only really learn from first hand accounts. Although his autobiography was written 55 years ago so much of what is discussed is still relevant; it gives a wonderful context to the movement today, where it came from and what it aims to achieve.

Rating: ★★★★★

How to be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe

I had planned to read How to be Autistic as part of a readathon run by the publisher, Myriad Editions, so I ordered a copy from my local library before lockdown and about four months later I was finally able to read it!

A memoir of Amelia’s life living with Autism, the book began as a video recording entered into an arts competition. Poe is unashamedly honest and darkly witty. I cried within the first 10 pages and was laughing about 5 minutes later. They not only describe the personal trials faced living with Autism, but highlight the lack of medical expertise on the topic at a local level that left them undiagnosed for over 20 years.

The frank honesty made it both a difficult and beautiful read. So many authority figures let Poe down in their childhood and it was heartbreaking to read the way teachers, amongst others, treated them, simply refusing to believe Poe and escalating their anxiety rather than relieving it. Although you feel that many of these people could have shown more empathy regardless, you realise how unaccommodating much of society is to those with Autism. Mainstream media lacks the representation of so many minorities, Autistic people being one of those groups, which results in a lack of understanding. When they are included, Poe points out that they are often reduced to their Autism alone, partly explaining Poe’s obsession with tattoos:

it’s just so nice to be thought of as ‘the girl with all the tattoos’ before ‘the girl with autism’.

p. 94

Conclusion: I strongly urge you to pick up this book! It forced me to face the subconscious prejudices I held regarding Autism and opened my eyes to the lack of resources available to support those who are Autistic. The success of books such as this, I hope will open the door for more Autistic artists, bringing accurate, firsthand stories to the mainstream, rather than interpretations of Autism created by others.

Rating: ★★★★★

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I had seen lots of people reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and had assumed that it was a fictional story, so when I found out it was part one of seven autobiographies by Maya Angelou I was intrigued. Not only have I never read a seven part memoir, but I know shockingly little of Maya Angelou’s life despite seeing her quoted frequently in the media.

The first thing I noticed when reading the book was how beautifully descriptive Angelou’s writing is. I really felt like I was there in each story watching it unfold, holding my breath when she did and sharing her elation in times of joy, i.e. becoming the first black person to work on the San Francisco streetcars. Angelou is masterful in bringing each scene to life and drawing in the reader emotionally.

Like How to be Autistic this is both a joyful and difficult read, but for different reasons. Angelou experienced some unbelievably horrendous events during her childhood, which are not easy to read about, but you must read them. The dark stories, however are surrounded by anecdotes of a loving family and the successes that Angelou reaped in her early life.

Conclusion: This is a stunningly written memoir that took no time at all to read. I found myself recanting many sections to my boyfriend, because I found them so interesting. The only slight negative I would say is that Angelou very rarely mentions her age which was sometimes confusing at times, but not detrimental to the book. The second volume has been added to my next book buy list and I look forward to delving into more of Angelou’s exquisite storytelling as she documents her early adulthood.

Rating: ★★★★★

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, Translated by Megan McDowell

Little Eyes was part of my latest book buy. I was drawn to the dystopian, Black Mirror like plot and I couldn’t resist the beautiful cover. This is the quickest read I’ve had in quite a while, which mainly comes down to the fact that I couldn’t put it down. The bizarre and brilliant concept depicts our world with the edition of Kentukis, animal shaped robots with cameras inside. You can choose to either, buy a Kentuki and have it live in your house with you, or buy a connection which enables you to control and see through the camera of a random Kentuki, but not speak.

The story flips between different Kentuki-owner relationships in short punchy chapters. This is one of the great strengths of the book, because it does not follow a singular storyline, you find yourself immersed in a richly diverse world with a wide ranging plethora of characters and relationships, some of which you visit only once, some you return to again and again.

The only downside I found was that some of the stories did not have much of a climax. I appreciated that they all had varying levels of drama, because if everything had ended in an extreme way it would have been too much, making the story seem wholly unrealistic. However, I do feel a few of them could have made more of an impact.

Conclusion: I could very easily imagine Little Eyes being turned into a TV show or a movie with great effect because of its excellent concept and its large, well thought out group of characters and scenarios. Until that happens though, if you’re a fan of Black Mirror or dystopian realism pick up this book. You’ll probably finish it in a day or two, but you’ll be thinking about it and talking about it for weeks.

Rating: ★★★★

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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

UPDATE: I have removed my comments regarding Harry Potter following J.K. Rowling’ s transphobic comments as I no longer wish to in anyway endorse her work.

So for April I took part in Book Roast’s Magical Readathon. 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!

Pleases note that in light of J.K. Rowling’ s recent comments Book Roast will no longer be hosting this readathon, but is planning something new which I am sure will be wonderful.

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: ★★★★★

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)

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: 2

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: ★★★★

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