Friday, 27 May 2016

Theatre Review- Richard III and Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, performed by The Handlebards

Review written with input from two of my friends who saw it with me, Lottie and Amy. Their opinion is reflected here too. 


Title: "Richard III" and "Much Ado About Nothing"
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Emma Sampson  (Richard III), Nicola Samer (Much Ado)
Performed by: The Handlebards
Major cast: Liam Mansfield, Matt Maltby, Paul Hillar, and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge
Seen at: The Museum of the Order of St. John
Review: In Richard III, Richard, Duke of Gloucester murders his way to the throne and doesn't stop once he's there. In Much Ado About Nothing, plots to set up and break up pairs of lovers happen with varying degrees of success. The Handlebards, four actors who cycle with set, props and scenery to wherever they're going, are taking these shows on a tour.
I was incredibly looking forwards to seeing these. The comedy of the Handlebards that I'd seen before, plus one of my favourite shows (Much Ado) plus one of the plays I knew had many murders (Richard III) all combined to make me think I must see these shows somehow.
Both shows are imbued with the Handlebard style-brightly colour coding the actors, easy to remove and/or alter accessories, inventive ways of holding props to symbolise characters on stage when a scene needs more than four people on stage, audience participation, and epic levels of multiroling, energy, and enthusiasm.
The four actors are all new to being part of the Handlebards, and work together well. Liam and Paul play lovers in both plays (Richard and Anne and Benedick and Beatrice) and in both play off each other well, especially in Much Ado when both believe the other to be in love with them. All four of them have an extensive range of physical movement and  voices and facial expressions that differentiate the characters, which is necessary when most of them are learning about 20 characters each.
The set is a backdrop and some popup tents. It's simple for practicality and when it does what it's meant to, it goes well with both plays (especially when it's being worn by Gainsby and Benedick).
The music was good.  In Richard III, Richard's theme music is overdone in part one of the play (the same music and choreography each time means it loses its effect), or maybe it seems that way  due to the fact the theme was the only music in part one; part two had much more musical accompaniment (and occasional musical feature) so the recurrences seemed more integrated. It is especially performed well on a mop bass with jazz-style singing. Much Ado About Nothing has a lot more music, which is used throughout for scene transitions, comedy, and where the script calls for singing. They all sing and play their instruments well.
On to each performance specifically. I only knew that Richard III was about a lot of murder to become king; and  I was very pleased with how easy it was to follow. I think the multiroling helped with this a lot. With most Histories, I often see most the cast being men who are all named after parts of England and who all look the same and are very easy to mix up. but here, the huge differences between characterisation made it easy to tell what's happening. Despite all the murder, it's played pretty much as a full-scale comedy- timing, music, Richard's movements, the insistance that Richmond was French, the murder weapons.... oh and the ghosts. That was a most wonderful scene involving lots of bedclothes and wooooooing and the opposite of what you'd expect the souls of the dead haunting their murderer. The whole audience was laughing throughout this scene, and the whole play. It was a brilliant atmosphere and a great night.
Much Ado about Nothing was sadly not as good as I was hoping. It may be because we all studied it and loved it and know it, that it was easy for us to notice little slips and where they cut or shortened some of our favourite bits, such as Beatrice's "double heart for his single one" line, and Benedick's   listing of what he wants in a woman, which relates to his longer speech after his tricking scene. I am also used to seeing this performed at pretty much breakneck speed (like at their Richard III speed), and this felt comparatively slow in parts.  I think what they had in mind would have been brilliant, but the fact that  some things just didn't go as planned, such as scene changes and parts of the set starting to fall down, got in their way. They really did do their best at whatever the circumstances threw at them-Beatrice's temporary deafness being a highlight of their improv. In addition, the Watch scenes were good, I loved Stanton's ballet-dancing Claudio, Matt made an absolutely adorable Hero, and Liam's face of complete what the heck after being told to kill Claudio was a wonderful interpretation.I think as they perform more, they'll get used to what they want to do and they'll get quicker, and I'd like to see Much Ado later on in the run if I can.
All this said, this is a great company. They're learning not only two plays, but multiple roles within the plays, plus cycling to wherever they need to go. Also, we did see them on the first public performances. The overall style of their acting, the huge comedy/comedic potential, the running gags both within plays and across plays, and the sheer amount of energy and connection they have with each other and the audience make the well worth coming to see.

Overall:  A high strength 4.5 tea to Richard III and a solid strength 3 tea to Much Ado About Nothing averages out to Strength 4 tea to a set of shows that you should catch if you can.


Thursday, 12 May 2016

Book Review- This Is Not a Love Story by Keren David

Title: This Is Not A Love Story
Author: Keren David
Series:  N/A
Published:  7 May 2015 by Atom
Length: 352 pages
Source: library
Other info: Keren David has also written the When I Was Joe series (When I Was Joe, Almost True, and Another Life), Salvage, Lisa's Guide to Winning the Lottery, and Cuckoo. 
Summary : Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that's impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father's unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn't take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?
In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.
But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone's heart survive?
Review: Kitty and Theo have recently moved to Amsterdam. Kitty's mother's boyfriend's son is Ethan. The three of them must deal with falling in love, keeping secrets from each other, and getting through life.
I wanted to read this because it kept getting flagged up in chats for featuring bisecusl boys, and I'd been meaning to read things by Keren for a long time. Keren reading short story from Ethan's viewpoint made me want to know more about him and therefore I started on this.
It did seem a bit wandering regarding Kitty and Ethan's story, to start with (probably because I'm generally less interested in people working out who they like until there's bigger conflicts involved). I did like seeing the development of Theo's relationship with Sophie, which is told partially by flashback partially in the present too. I also liked seeing all the relationship strands between Kitty, Theo and Ethan converge and how that all panned out. The building and breakdown of relationships in this book are tumultuous, but good to read about.
I really enjoyed reading about different cultures - Jewish and Dutch. I especially liked that Keren provided characters with different attitudes to aspects of their culture, offering a range of characters within such an under-represented group.
The side characters made a good group. My favourite was Rachel, Kitty's sister, who was funny, and a good support for Kitty.
There's a lot of things our main trio have to deal with. Family relationships, working out friendships, health issues, fitting in when moving abroad... A lot is happening here, and I quite liked seeing how Theo and Kitty fit in after the move.
Part one is the climatic event, part two is before, part three is after. I liked this structure, as it catches your attention immediately, and establishes characters.
I loved the ending. Kitty's discussion with her friends is good for reminding all of us of some lessons in life. Characters' justifications for the way they wanted things were realistic, especially Ethan's (last paragraphs of chapter 44) and while the strands unpacked within the novel are tied up, there's still an openendedness for the future.
Overall:  
Strength 4 tea to a story that is not about love, but is about relationships, romantic, familial, and friendshippy, and overall about life.


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Theatre Review-A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by the Arcola Queer Collective

Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Writer: William Shakespeare and Patrick Cash and company
Director: Nick Connaughton
Performed by: Arcola Queer Directive
Cast:  Sheena Anyanwu, Diego Benzoni, Miss Cairo, Daniel Correia, Anthony Cranfield, Vickie Dillon, Rudi Douglas, Camilla Harding, James Hartley, Stuart Honey, Damien Hughes, Krishna Istha, Rubyyy Jones, Damien Kileen, Bex Large, Phil Rhys Thomas.
Seen at: Arcola Theatre

Review: Hermia and Lysander are a happy couple, much to the protests of Hermia's homophobic mother Egeus. Helena is a young man in love with Demetrius, who pushes him away. The couples all get mixed up at a nightclub, La Forêt, when the owner Oberon uses Puck to matchmake. Meanwhile, Oberon's relationship to his wife Titania is breaking down over the care of an abducted Irish musician, while the backstage team of La Forêt prepare for their turn in the spotlight. Through Shakespearean verse and contemporary additions, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a tale of love, relationships, and how that all works out.

I was very excited for this. Midsummer is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and the fact that they were making it to include queer characters and modernised made me even more interested.
I'm glad I knew it had added monologues before going in. I wouldn't have hated it if I hadn't, I would just have been puzzled to start with. The monologues are good additions, and I'll come to them later.
We're introduced to the last night of La Forêt. Introducing Puck as the in house drug dealer sets the tone. Then for the rest of the play, which happens mostly as Shakespeare intended, with some flashback scenes and speeches added in. 

I like most of the new characterisations. The Mechanicals have a weird love triangle/pining thing going on (Flute loves Quince, Snug makes physical moves on Quince, I'm not sure whether Quince reciprocates either of them. It's not really explored, or maybe I didn't notice it ) but they do produce a good play by the end of it. Theseus and Hippolyta were...bizarre. Were they high? Their comments are amusing ("Hermia can go to a convent or die" "That's a bit much." And "I will kiss the wall's hole" "Shakespeare is a pervert") but I'm not sure where their characters were going.
Other characters get better development. Puck is a cabaret, Doctor Frankenfurter like figure, introduced by a monologue of how he ran away then got into this culture. Hermia talks about her relationship with her mother. Helena's speech about porn and falling for Demetrius is funny and makes you love him. Bottom comes out of character and delivers a passionate speech, including poetry, about their identity and society, which I thought was a brilliant performance. 

There are four characters that this production of Midsummer changed my views on. First, Demetrius, who from the Shakespeare is normally one of my lesser favourites due to him being a bit of an asshole. Here, his speech about HIV gives him a reason for pushing Helena away, despite his feelings for him, and does not make him seem heartless.I also liked it because Oberon, listening to this speech, now has a more valid reason to work to get Helena and Demetrius together and finally yay bisexual visibility. Then there's Oberon and Titania, who are again a warring couple, but there's a confrontation scene at the start of the second half between them that is distinctly modern and pulls up the issues in their lives as they discuss the family and identity they left behind and how to go forwards. We see more flaws in both their characters than from the Shakespeare, and added new levels of manipulativeness, and I liked the new take on the relationship. Finally, there's the kidnapped boy they're fighting over-Irish here, as opposed to Indian, and given a chance to talk about his new life and chemsex, as opposed to being namedropped and maybe brought on with the fairies. He also provides really good keyboard and singing. 

The staging of this is good. They stay mostly on the main stage but sometimes use the upper level, where the Irish Boy and keyboard is stationed, and an aisle, for the flashbacks.I also enjoyed the little bits of audience interaction which made it more inclusive, but not so much to intrude on the main action.

They make full use of innuendo in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, and the Titania and Bottom seduction scene, providing adult physical comedy that differs to the comedy I'm used to seeing from Midsummer (and the comedy that others are used to too-the performance I was at saw a group of old people leave for the interval and not come back).

The comedy is less present in the lover's fight scene, when Lysander and Demetrius are both artifically in love with Helena, while Hermia looks on. I think it might be because it takes the bad situation for Hermia (having both her suitors completely change tack and court her best friend Hermia) and makes it worse because there's something a little more heartwrenching as her girlfriend Lysander (who I think might have been a lesbian?) starts wooing a gay boy, and the friendship and romance falls apart. 

I think the strength of this performance is that they take the issues surrounding courtship and marriage that are present in the Shakespeare, and look at the issues surrounding courtship and marriage today, particularly within the queer community.


Overall:  Strength 4.5 tea to a play that easily weaves together Shakespearean and modern stories to create a play that is both funny and serious, but entirely powerful.
Arcola Queer Collective is currently performing Le Petit Prince, between 8 -13 February. More information here.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Book Review- Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

First post of 2016! I'm starting as I hope to go on, with a review. Enjoy!
Title: Because You'll Never Meet Me
Author: Leah Thomas
Series: N/A
Published: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Length: 344 pages
Source: Publisher
Other info: This is Leah Thomas's debut. A sequel,  currently Nowhere Near You, should come in 2017.

Summary: Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.
A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.

Review: Ollie is allergic to electricity-contact with devices means he'll have a seizure, or it will short out. Moritz was born without eyeballs and he has a pacemaker. And they live on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Still, they form a friendship, writing letters to each other, talking about their present and past.

I got sent this by the publishers. I didn't know what to expect, but the blurb looked good.
The story is told through the letters between Moritz and Ollie. Both write totally differently, reflecting their contrasting personalities. I think Ollie's style was more engaging, it is, for the most part, more enthusiastic, while Moritz is more controlled. However they're both styles that make you want to read on to learn about the characters, as they tell you about their struggles to interact with society, and their attempts to make it work.

Most of the book is telling us about the lives of the boys, separate from society for different reasons, but trying to interact. We meet friends like Liz, Fieke, and Owen, who help our main characters develop. I really liked watching Moritz and Ollie change, especially Ollie, as they both become more confident to do things on their own. Favourite moment- Moritz being taught how to read ink on paper.

When we do learn about their history, which seems quite late considering its focus in the blurb, for me, it's very out of the blue. I liked that we got a lot of coming of age and different stories, and this ending... I didn't see it coming, and it's a bit of a genre shift. Then again, I guess all the references to Daredevil does bring in some elements of it early...  I still prefer the friendship/growing up differently element of this story.  However, I did like the very ending, and the fact that you wonder about the stories of the other people who would be involved. I didn't see it coming, and There's a lot that could be written, in fanfic or by Thomas, or can be left open to your imagination.



Overall: Strength 4 tea to a story about an unusual friendship between two characters you love to watch.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads |  Foyles

Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 Round Up and Bookish Survey

The amount I have blogged this year has been shockingly low.... I do aim to have time to rectify that, because I love the community, but school and doing everything is difficult. *sigh*
Anyway, like last year, I'll fill this out as best as I can! Thank you, Jamie (The Perpetual Page Turner) for making and hosting this!

2015 Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 93
Number of Re-Reads: 4, I think: The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Genre You Read The Most From:
...not sure. A bit of many things. Not much historical. A fair bit of contemporary.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Book Review- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Canongate Myths
Published:  October 2005
Length:  198 pages
Source: library
Other info: Atwood has written many things, such as The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Heart Goes Last. The Penelopiad was written as part of the Canongate Myths series.
Summary : For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay...And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to? 

Review: Since her husband Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, and then gets caught up for ten years on the way back, Penelope has been left running her household, and fighting off suitors who want to marry her, and eat her out of house and home. Now that she's dead, she's ready to tell her side of the tale, as are the twelve maids who were hanged.
According to Goodreads, I read this a few years ago and gave it three stars, but I don't remember doing that. Now I know the Odyssey a bit more, and we're doing a feminist-orientated piece of English coursework, I decided to pick this up, and now I understand things better, I loved it.
There's reinterpretations and challenges to the characters and stories. Obviously, there's those against Odysseus, where there's the question of whether the Cyclops he fought was a monster or a one-eyed barkeeper, and whether his years with Circe and Calypso were spent in brothels or nymphs and witches. But there's also a conversation with Antinous, one of the suitors, explaining why they wanted to marry Penelope so much, and the presentation of Helen as vain, proud, and wanting to conquer men just because she can. Atwood has taken inspiration from multiple sources, not just Homer's epic, but also theories from Robert Graves (who used many writers to inform his work) and Homeric hymns. I like the possibilities this gave Atwood to work with, and the ways she used them.
Penelope's voice often dryly comments on various parts of the stories, and I enjoyed her different insights. What I liked most was the use of the chorus, the twelve maids, whose chapters mostly alternate with Penelope's and change styles each time. Poems, songs, plays, and a transcript of a modern-day murder trial are some of the ways the maids pass their story on in many ways. The writing is well crafted, allowing each of the styles as well as Penelope's main narration to work together to make a story that is intriguing and easy to read.

Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book that makes you think about the different interpretations a myth can have, and provides a new one.