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

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!

★★★★★

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!