Friday 27 June 2014

Theatre Review- Avenue Q

Title: Avenue Q
Writer: Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty
Director: Cressida Carré
Performed by: Sell A Door
Major cast:  Tom Steedon, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Stephen Arden, Richard Morse,Jacqueline Tate ,  Ellena Vincent, Jessica Parker,
Seen at: Wycombe Swan
Other Info: They're still touring! Try and catch them if you can. More info here.

Review: Princeton has just completed a BA in English. He now doesn’t know what to do with his life. Moving into Avenue Q and meeting a range of colourful characters, puppets such as Kate, Rod, Nicky and Trekkie, and humans like Christmas Eve and Brian. Oh, and Gary Coleman. Avenue Q follow them all as they all wait for their dreams to come true. 
I wanted to see this because...hello, Avenue Q! It’s a brilliant coming of age show, with a few songs for which it's well known but some others that are also really good, and I was looking forwards to a night of comedy and music and adorableness.
The show started with a cute little animation to the short opening theme. The screens occasionally came on between scenes or during songs, providing extra comedy.
All the cast were really good. Lucie-Mae Sumner's Kate voice was annoying to start with, because it's quite squeaky in places, but her Lucy was really good. Tom was good as both Princeton and Rod. I would have liked to see more of Ellena Vincent/Gary. Jacqueline Tate and Richard Morse's Christmas Eve and Brian were both cute and funny and paired well together. My favourites were Stephen Arden and Jessica Parker, who are Nicky, Trekkie and the Bad Idea Bears. They worked together really well, Parker's facial expressions as... well, everyone, were really good, and I loved the range of voices that Arden did (normal for Nicky, growly for Trekkie, and quite high for the Bad Idea Bears).  All the actors put a lot of energy in, the very skilled puppeteers made the puppets come to life, and this really showed.
The music was very good. The arrangements were a little different to the one on the recording (of a different cast), which I liked, though it's a shame they only got licensed shorter versions of Schadenfreude and The Money Song. Trekkie's song was very good, with an added pause after Kate's “Normal people don't sit at home” line  which worked really well for comedy. You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Making Love) was really well staged, showing off the whole cast  (and the puppets' inventive sex).  I also really liked the way they did My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada, Fantasies Come True, Schadenfreude, and The More You Ruv Someone. 
I liked the staging, and the use of lights in windows to show where on the street each scene was taking place in.  The book is very good (someone else must have thought so too because it won an award for it). It touches on lots of themes, like acceptance,  friendship, relationships, in a way that is funny about 90% of the time, emotional the other 10%, and brilliant throughout. 

Overall: Strength 5 tea to a wonderful show with a very strong cast that made for an excellent night out.

Links: Company | Writer | Theatre

Friday 20 June 2014

Book Review- Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Title: Grasshopper Jungle
 Author: Andrew Smith
Series:  N/A
Published:  27 February 2014 by Electric Monkey
Length: 394 pages
Source: won from FictionThirst
Summary : In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things. This is the truth. This is history. It's the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.
Review: Austin and Robby accidentally unleash an army of giant praying mantises. They also find somewhere where they might be able to survive the end of the world.
I wanted to read this because I was told queer protagonist plus laughs plus weird stuff and this looked right up my street.
It started with one of my favourite ever opening passages. Then an introduction to Robby and Austin, and the people in their town. Then lots of weird weird things.
A lot of things happen in Grasshopper Jungle, which would seem crazy on their own, but just about work when combined into the story.
This is definitely funny in places. Austin is a sex obsessed teenager questioning his sexuality and other things in life. He's also attempting to record everything as a historian. This makes for a unique writing style, with many funny parts such as “Even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we've ever done, we’ve also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit” and the chapter titles. However, this also comes with a lot of annoying things. We are told every time  he gets horny, and we also get repeated things like names and histories of people which he's already explained. Both these things get irritating after the first few instances, and  they carry on throughout the entire book.
I like the fact we get a lot of information about everything, which I think works because 1)it's interesting and 2)some things are so bizarre that not knowing as much as we can about a thing can make it impossible to understand. It felt like I was reading slower than usual, maybe to make sure I caught everything, maybe because the of the style. I don't know.
The characters are well fleshed out, though I felt I didn't really get to get close to them, maybe because of the blunt writing style. Also, regarding Austin's sexual confusion: this is why bisexuality and options of nonmonogamy need to be openly offered. (I might do a post on bisexuality and nonmonogamy and why that would solve so many problems in literature and life. More on that later maybe).
The plot developed slowly, which meant we got a chance to take it in. we also got a full history of each generation of Austin's family from leaving Poland down to Austin, which I liked.
Andrew Smith's imagination is wonderful.

Overall:  Strength 3 tea to a book which was weird in an awesome way, but not entirely my thing.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Book Review- Love Letters to the Dead

Title: Love Letters to the Dead
 Author: Ava Dellaira
Series:  N/A
Published:  1 May 2014 by Hot Key Books
Length: 327 pages
Source: publisher
Other info: This is Ava’s debut
Summary : It begins as an assignment for English class: write a letter to a dead person - any dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain - he died young, and so did Laurel's sister May - so maybe he'll understand a bit of what Laurel is going through. Soon Laurel is writing letters to lots of dead people - Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Amelia Earhart... it's like she can't stop. And she'd certainly never dream of handing them in to her teacher. She writes about what it's like going to a new high school, meeting new friends, falling in love for the first time - and how her family has shattered since May died.

But much as Laurel might find writing the letters cathartic, she can't keep real life out forever. The ghosts of her past won't be contained between the lines of a page, and she will have to come to terms with growing up, the agony of losing a beloved sister, and the realisation that only you can shape your destiny. 
Review: Laurel's sister died. Laurel is told to write letters to someone dead as an assignment. Laurel writes to Kurt Cobain. And then  to Elisabeth Bishop. And then to Amelia Earhart. And then to lots of other dead people as she tells the stories of ger life and those of others around her.
I was expecting this to be good because I'd heard lots of people say how brilliant it was.
This is very similar to Perks of Being a Wallflower, which kind of make sense considering Chbosky is "a dear friend and mentor" of Dellaira. And considering Perks broke me with its beauty and feelings, I should have enjoyed this.
sadly,  I didn't. It's repetitive. Laurel goes on a lot about what X dead person is doing or what their family is doing or what a situation would be like if that person was involved. it's ok to start, boring by the end.
The writing style goes from really simple like the part where she describes getting dressed and eating lunch at high school, and random words and metaphors and things to describe something that is being made to seem much more important than it actually is.
The Perks similarities. Oh my gosh they were endless. Coming of age angst? Check.  Epistolary form? Check. Queer friends in hiding? Check. Even the thing with Billy, which  while I understand it's important to not gloss over these things, didn't work for me because I just wanted to scream "this is a female led attempted copy of Perks and it isn't working at all."
Why didn't it work? For one, it's hard to imagine it happening in these modern times, at least since Amy Winehouse died, and there's something about the tone that puts it in a weird time setting. Then there's the fact that the plot didn't hold my interest.
The romance was of the "he's cool and doesn't talk but he will to me" variety, and ugh no. I didn't feel like anyone really developed. I just didn't care for the characters and felt no emotions for any events at all.

Overall:  Strength 2 tea to a book that had everything I should have loved, but just didn’t work for me.