Monday List: RuPaul Parodies That Should Be Done

In honour of the Season 10 final four (#TeamAsia), enjoy these five suggestions for the future seasons. Got better ones? Leave a comment below!

1. Murder on the Whore-ient Express

I mean, how has thus not been done already?! Melodramatic, riddled with stereotypes and full of great costume opportunities, Agatha Christie (Hag-atha Christie? Agatha Bitchy?) is easy pickings for RuPaul and his posse. Imagine the exaggerated death scenes. So much potential for bitch slaps here.

2. PRIDE 🏳️‍🌈 and Prejudice/Jane Whore-sten

Okay, so I can’t quite think of the puns, but hear me out. Again, pretty costumes. They literally have balls in these books. There is a house called “NETHERfield”. There are a wealth of ott female characters. Bendelacreme’s Snatch Game Maggie Smith shares a lot of similarities with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The Colin Firth-lake scene? I’m sure the Pit Crew would be more than happy to oblige…

3. Wuthering Tights/Jane Hair

Catherine Earnshaw is so extra, she might as well have been a drag queen. If Kate Bush is ever a guest judge (please Drag Gods make this happen), there is no question what should be the main challenge – or the lip sync song for that matter. Pit the Brontes against each other with this team challenge. Nick some inspiration for Jane’s Red Room from Christian Grey’s infamous version, and we’ll be off to a good start.

4. Great British Cake Off

Like The Bitchelor in All Stars 3, reality shows are always good fun, with a big variety of characters allowing different queens to play to their strengths and improv a bit. This one has the added bonus of being British, so we can all enjoy some terrible terrible accent attempts, and perhaps a Mary/Prue/resident older woman impression or two. And think of all the fun that could be had with the baked goods – #DragFoodFight.

5. Fahrenheit 69 #DragDystopia

Just for the title alone…

With thanks to Sam (@SamButtler) for the punny names. 

Monday List: Three Worst ‘Classic’ Books

  1. On The Road Jack Kerouac
    An ultimate classic in the worst sense of the word. One of those books celebrated for its ‘authenticity’ and ‘rawness’, whilst sticking to all the cliches of the American male-crisis novel. Although there’s no denying that the rhythm, the juvenile longing of Kerouac’s prose is sometimes exciting, and even electrifying, the flatness of the female characters cannot but make it as a whole feel two-dimensional (see Alice Walsh’s great article on this, as well as The New Yorker’s opinion piece on Kerouac’s popularity). The plot centres around men wildly thrashing out against a female domestic sphere they perceive as closing in around them, choosing escape over security for the sake, they tell themselves, of their ‘souls’. Only when this domesticity is drawn authentically does this idea become interesting; and here it is not. If you want a better book about a desperate desire for something more, then read Zora Neale Hurston‘s amazing novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Same dissatisfaction, same passion, more tenderness, thought, and feeling.
  2. Heart of Darkness Joseph ConradCover Issues: Hesperus Books | Lulu's Bookshelf
    Talking of meaningless talk about ‘souls’, step up Joseph Conrad. Reading a few of Chinua Achebe‘s essays and speeches, makes this choice feel particularly righteous. This is one of those books that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, a faint feeling of disgust or frustration. In 2003, Botswanan scholar Peter Mwikisa concluded the book was “the great lost opportunity to depict dialogue between Africa and Europe; I’m tempted to agree. The depiction of Congo as a place peopled with savages, with “rudimentary souls” is dangerous mythologism. But, to judge aside from the possible/probably racism, the book itself is also just a heavy, dark, intense read that, like both the others on this list, seems self-indulgent and ambiguous to the point of confusion. On the plus side… it’s short?!
  3. Wuthering Heights Emily Brontëcovers for books: Wuthering Heights - The Mill on the ...
    You are either a Brontë or an Austen fan. It’s like Marmite: you can’t be both. I sit firmly on the side of Lizzie Bennett, of Emma Woodhouse, of headstrong heroines with high standards and witty narration. Wuthering Heights is the total opposite of this. If Catherine Earnshaw lived today, she’d be the vampire friend; the one who always finishes a night out weeping at you in a corner, deliberately grinding on strangers to make her possessive partner jealous, or who just leaves you because she’s spotted some much cooler/fitter people.Image result for needy friend meme The extreme emotions are too much for me (in particular love that borders on necrophilia – looking at you here Heathcliff). It’s the categorisation of this as one of literature’s greatest love stories that makes this a disappointment, as with its sister book Jane Eyre. As a critique on Victorian class systems: great. As a romance: awful.

“Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it”

Henry IV part 1, Act 5, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

    I’M BACK!

Having finally got myself a new laptop and starting on a new trying-to-see-as-much-theatre-as-possible spree, it’s finally time to resurrect Mingled Yarns and start helping you plebs sound vaguely intellectual and cultured at dinner parties once more (I say that in the most loving way possible).

In fact, if you’re looking for that kind of impressively political and literary, yet actually very easy to enjoy play, you can’t really go wrong with ‘1984’, Headlong‘s new production which transferred to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre after a sold-out run at the Almeida Theatre and a 2014 Olivier Award nomination.

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First of all I should say, if you haven’t read ‘1984’ by George Orwell, please please read it before. As engrossing as this production is, the book is even better, I promise you. Also this review might be a little more understandable, as I’m going to be referring back to the differences between the two quite frequently.

The production itself is well-acted; I especially liked Mathew Spencer as Symes who captured the nervous energy of the society and who made the terrible concept of ‘Newspeak’ seem almost inevitable and coherent. Tim Dutton as O’Brien was also the perfect human face to Big Brother; seemingly kind but steely underneath.

Personally I felt that Winstonblog (played by Sam Crane), the protagonist of the story, whilst acted believably and well, was a cast a little too young. I’ve always pictured him in his forties, a bit battered, wrinkled and worn, not your natural revolutionary. The trouble with him being in his late twenties/early thirties is that his actions became very idealistic; he was set apart from everyone else right from the start of the play (revolution ‘lay in his way’ like in the titular quote; it was his natural destiny whenever he lived), rather than being a normal everyday citizen who just happens to become disillusioned with the society he has previously accepted unquestioningly after a chance incident.

This also had an effect on the relationship between Winston and Julia; to me, in the book this is purely a matter of rebelling against the system not of any true feelings. In this production, however, it seemed to mean and be a lot more than that. Maybe I’m misremembering the book, but I thought it implied had the two met under different circumstances, they would never have given each other a second glance. They are two completely separate characters who come together only to take down Big Brother in any way possible.

The set itself was very clever, particularly the way Julia and Winston’s time in the blog‘safe’ apartment was shown entirely through videos, which (*Spoilers!*) showed how unable anyone was to escape from the eyes of the Ministry of Love and Big Brother. The section where the apartment is raided and they are taken away was brilliant; the wall falling in, and the apartment being revealed as a TV show style set – oh, it was just everything I wanted it to be.

The torture scene in Room 101 was likewise incredibly powerful – not as bloody as I had anticipated, although brutal in its clinical efficiency, building up to the final, awful cruelty. Ugh those rats! By the end it was hard not to run on stage and force the cage from his mouth. I do wonder if that has ever happened…. I think the whole audience was just willing, urging Winston to betray Julia, which of course afterwards made us feel co-betrayers, also responsible for allowing the regime to continue, for surrendering, for preferring survival over revolution and principles.

The concept of ‘ooh look we could actually be living in 1984 now!’ was a bit labored for me. I get that it’s a very clever idea, something I would definitely enjoy studying and analysing in a class (woohoo English nerd time), but not one that necessarily translated that well on stage. It meant the production started off slowly and pretty confusingly; I understand that human nature repeats itself, I don’t need to be shown that a hundred times. However, the pace quickened as they started to focus more on the main story and by the end the references were fleeting but poignant. And I did love that Winston began his diary at the start by writing that day’s date – always exciting when you feel involved in some way!

blogTo end on a positive, the two minutes of hate were absolutely brilliantly terrifying. To have seven actors facing you and shouting and screaming and yelling and hurling insults and throwing chairs and hitting you over the head with a barrage of passionate hate was the most well-conceived, powerfully acted, chilling part of the entire play.

The production on the whole is exciting and thrilling, but occasionally a little too clever for its own good. Although looking back on this review it seems like there were many faults, these weren’t so noticeable it prevented me from enjoying the play. It builds pace and the second half is much the better one. Go and see it – but definitely read the book first if you don’t want to get lost (and just because it’s one of the best and most easily enjoyed classics in English Literature).

1984at Playhouse Theatre, West End (transfer from Almeida Theatre): 4/5 stars

 

“’From this day to the ending of the world”

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

So, the final questions post… Sorry for the slight delay, only I’m currently in Costa Rica, of all places! Attempting to teach children English, although seems like it might be a bit of an uphill struggle… Still, hopefully I can make some progress by the end of these four months.

Back to the post, read on for Cormier, McEwan, Sparks, Joyce, Stephen Fry and more!

 

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?

Ooh, the endings of both The Chocolate War’ (Robert Cormier) and ‘The Life of Pi’ (Yann Martel) were utterly gobsmacking and shocking and cruel and brilliant, all at the same time. They were the type of books where all you can write afterwards is agsdsfhgdsafhdg and you just can’t explain your mixed-up, pathetically confused emotions without the help of gifs:

 throwing-book

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc):

In terms of friendship, I really liked Billy Prior and Dr Rivers and how their rapport developed over the three ‘Regeneration’ books (Pat Barker). On the romantic side, William and Nancy Hawkins of Muriel Sparks’ A Far Cry From Kensington’ were a great couple, getting on with their relationship without fuss but with much happiness; John Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer (‘Our Mutual Friend’, Charles Dickens)our mutual were the couple that you massively ship for the whole book and then it’s such a relief when they finally get together; and then we have Harold and Maureen Fry (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce) who grow together whilst apart and who come to forgive and understand each other slowly, slowly, inch by inch.

 

19. Favorite book you read in 2013 from an author you’ve read previously:

lifeI didn’t particularly enjoy Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach’ that we had to read last year for school, but both ‘Enduring Love’ and Atonement were great; beautifully written and very engrossing.

 

20. Best book you read in 2013 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else:

My ex-history teacher recommended me two excellent novels: Making History’100_2149 by Stephen Fry and The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson imagesboth of which do have historical elements but put them across in a reader-friendly, enjoyable way. The former is more of a slow-burner, with a rather stupid hero, but a great concept behind there; the latter is pacier, covering a huge period of history with an incredibly wise man at the centre of it all.

 

21. Genre you read the most from in 2013?
I read quite a bit of dystopia (the original one ‘We’- Zamyatin, ‘Brave New World’-Huxley, ‘Fahrenheit 451’-Bradbury), loads and loads of classics (if that even counts as a genre) and also quite a bit of satire (Waugh, Mitford, Maugham…)

 

22. Best 2013 debut you read?
I didn’t read that many brand new 2013 books, I have to admit, but I enjoyed ‘How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ (Mohsin Hamid)filthy rich, which was written in an interesting way and, apart from the few odd chapters, was a pretty gripping story.

 

23. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
Most vivid world was that of Brave New World(Aldous Huxley) or of Fahrenheit 451’ (Ray Bradbury) and the most vivid imagery was the beautiful descriptions in Grapes of Wrath’100_2149(John Steinbeck).

 

24. Book that was the most fun to read in 2013?
Neither Here Nor There’ The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1(Bill Bryson) made me actually laugh out loud on the tube – which was slightly embarrassing – and, of course, the Thursday Next series (Jasper Fforde) are a constant delight.

And there we have it! Roll on 2014’s books – although I won’t be doing another 100, I’m planning to read all the super long novels I didn’t have time for last year; so expect reviews of ‘Anna Karenina’, ‘War and Peace’, more Dickens, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and all that lot 🙂

 

 

 

 

“Pleasure and action make the hours seem short”

Othello, Act 2, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

You can find part one of my 100 book challenge questions here. Hope this gives you a couple of good recommendations for 2014, especially if you’re taking up your own challenge!

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ (S.J. Watson)book-lovers-3-300x200 easily wins this prize aka the I-Went-To-Sleep-So-Late-It’s-Actually-Ridiculous-And-Was-Grumpy-All-The-Next-Morning-Because-I-HAD-To-Find-Out-The-Ending-Of-This-Book Prize. Needs some editing I admit.

The thriller tells the story of a woman who wakes up every day with her memory reset to a point in her life around twenty years ago, with no recollection of her age, her life now, how she got here, who and what she knows and what she has done. Her husband has to fill her in on all the details. But how do you know the man you rely on entirely is the man he says he is? It’s a completely gripping read, recommended for virtually anyone. Just don’t start if you’re planning to get anything at all done.

 

10. Book you read in 2013 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Vile Bodies(Waugh) or one of the trashier books which I find much easier to re-read. I mean, I hope to re-read most of these at some point, but I’ll let them work upon my mind for a couple of years first. (For my thoughts on re-reading see here).

 

11. Top three covers of books you read in 2013?

I completely love the Vintage Classics editions of books, exemplified in the cover of Brighton Rock’(Graham Greene):

100_2149 Virago Modern Classics are also gorgeous:

 imagesAnd I really like the 60th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451’:

tumblr_inline_mh7e2j6XHv1qz4rgp 

12. Three most memorable characters in 2013?

I don’t think I can limit myself to three here actually!

·       Thursday Next, the eponymous heroine of Jasper Fforde’s books, is fun and completely believable, even if she does have a dodo for a pet and a time-traveler for a father.

·       I think I’ll always be a bit in love with Robert Frobishercloud-atlas06 from Cloud Atlas’ (David Mitchell), especially since he’s played by one of my favouritest actors ever, Ben Whishaw, in the movie (which I still haven’t seen!) Why won’t he write me a symphony or something?

·       Flora Poste from ‘Cold Comfort Farm’215px-Cold_Comfort_Farm_film (Stella Gibbons) and Muriel Sparks’ Nancy Hawkins (A Far Cry From Kensington’) fall under the same bracket here, because I like them both for their incredible practicality and the incredible small amount of fuss they make over their own lives. They both simply sort other people’s lives out, and don’t make a huge song and dance over their love affairs (ahem, Jane Eyre, Catherine Earnshaw, I’m looking at you here). True heroine role models.

·       Lady Sophia Garfield (Pigeon Pie’ Nancy Mitford) is just divine, darling. In a strange way, she actually reminds me of Flora and Nancy above; even though she has little interest in other people and is pretty self-centered, she too doesn’t moan about her own life all the time. She just gets on and sorts it out, or at least has fun doing other things until they sort themselves out. No sweat, no stupid fuss, and everything’s fine in the end.

13. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

I’ve already mentioned the incredible writing in ‘The Grapes of Wrath(John Steinbeck) and The Marlowe Papers(Ros Barber) in Part One of my questions. However, in ‘Out of the DustThe-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1, Karen Hesse combines two great elements of these novels together and weaves her own shimmering web of language. The heat and tragedy of the dust bowl in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and the poetry of ‘The Marlowe Papers’ – ‘Out of the Dust’ is written entirely in free verse – make for a brilliant pairing in an extremely evocative and beautifully written book.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

Brave New World’ (Aldous Huxley) still has me pondering the answer to the question: Happiness or Knowledge? To be honest, I tend to just choose whichever the person I’m arguing against rejects. How can one decide between eternal ignorant contentedness and tortured awareness and understanding of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Fontain, Plath and all the greats? It’s a terrifying decision either way.

 

 15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2013?

Arnold Bennet provided some very witty observations in The Old Wives’ Tale’:

“On a recent visit Mr Baines had remarked that the parson’s coat was ageing into green, and had commanded that a new suit should be built and presented to Mr Murley. Mr Murley, who had a genuine medieval passion for souls, and who spent his money and health freely in gratifying the passion, had accepted the offer strictly on behalf of Christ, and had carefully explained to Mr Povey Christ’s use for multifarious pockets.”

Linking nicely to this is a great quote from ‘Decline and Fall’ by Evelyn Waugh:

“‘I couldn’t understand why God had made the world at all…’ I asked my bishop; he didn’t know. He said that he didn’t think the point arose as far as my practical duties as a parish priest were concerned.”

And then, from one of my favourite books of the year Neither Here Nor There’ (Bill Bryson):

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2013?

919lvIQfX9L._SL1500_The Testament of Mary’ (Colm Toibin) came in as shortest at around 101 pages. Hopefully it’ll stretch out longer in the play I’m going to see of it at the Barbican later this year, starring Fiona Shaw.

‘Our Mutual Friend’ (Charles Dickens) clocked in at 822 pages – the longest by far!

 

Part three coming up very soon! Plus a review of the Michael Grandage Company’s excellent ‘Henry V’, starring Jude Law… If that doesn’t tempt you back, you have very weird tastes.

 

“Ask me what question thou canst possible, And I will answer unpremeditated”

Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 2
William Shakespeare
100 books (or some of!)I did it! Yes, I completed my self-set challenge of reading 100 books in a year; it was a struggle at times – especially during my A Levels – but overall it was worth it. I read some great classics and some not-so-great trash, some major disappointments and some brilliant surprises, most short, some long, all an achievement.
When I tell people about this challenge they usually have the same questions to ask: “Which was the best/the worst/the funniest/the saddest/the most beautifully written?” So in a series of three posts I’m going to both answer most of these and test myself to see if can actually remember all of them… Crossed fingers!

1. Best three books?
It’s incredibly easy to choose my number one tippity toppity book of the year; The Grapes of Wrath(John Steinbeck) 100_2149was the only novel I gave ten out of ten stars to for its completely amazing descriptions, entirely believable characters and general brilliantness. One of the most beautifully written books ever, in my opinion.
Another classic I loved was ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (Charles Dickens) – yes, it took up several weeks of my precious time and set me back quite a bit with my target, but it was well worth it. Whilst at the beginning, the constant different new characters which keep on appearing are simply confusing, you grow to love them over time and get caught up by the plot twists, romances and drama. But, as always, the best things are the witty character sketches. Dickens is a comic genius.
Lastly, ‘The Marlowe Papers’(Ros Barber). The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1Like ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, the language is sublime, though this is less down to the descriptions and more to Barber’s brilliant manipulation of blank verse. Although, as previously stated, I don’t agree with the premise, and Marlowe’s character for me tails off at the end, it is both gripping and thoughtful and one of the best new books out there.

2. Worst three books?
Again, a relatively easy decision: ‘On the Road’ by Jack Keroac was easily the worst book I read this year. This was partly because of the disappointment of finding I didn’t like such a popular classic and partly just the mind-numbing tediousness of the whole thing! giphyThere is practically no plot at all, and the worst thing is, it pretends to be so dramatic and fast paced and exciting, and really it’s just goddam boring. The characters mean next to nothing to me, there seems to be no true development and even the descriptions aren’t that good. It took me ages to read and the only reason I’m glad for all that effort is that it gives me the ability to say I’ve read it, which should never be the only thing you can say about a book.
‘Beloved’(Toni Morrison) belovedwas a little better, because of the intensely passionate descriptive writing, but was likewise a disappointment, since I’ve seen and heard it raved about, and I just did not get it. The characters were vaguely interesting but not at all likeable, the plot was incredibly confusing, and I didn’t understand the whole thing. Not for me.
‘Heart of Darkness’(Joseph Conrad) once again had flat characters I felt; it didn’t grip me and the beginning was seemingly unnecessary. I did try reading more Conrad (‘The Secret Agent’ – supposedly one of the classics) but really, I don’t think we’re ever going to exactly hit it off.
All three of these books I chose because I thought they’d be quick but interesting and important reads; however, whilst they may be important, none were exactly quick; I just wasn’t absorbed enough to want to read them. Sons and Lovers’ (D. H. Lawrence) also gets a special mention here!

3. Biggest disappointment?
Not to carry on the down-beat mood, but there definitely were one or two major disappointments this year; ‘Moranthology’ I’d looked forward to since reading the imagesCA5XVTTYbrilliant ‘How To Be A Woman’ by the same author, Caitlin Moran. Seeing it had columns on ‘Sherlock’, my most favourite TV show ever, in it, my excitement only intensified. However, whilst Moran’s typically witty and heartfelt writing did shine through on several occasions; overall this anthology of her columns was not nearly as brilliant as I’d hoped. Too much was written over and over about her difficult childhood for my liking to be honest.
‘The Scarlet Letter’(Nathaniel Hawthorne)life could never live up to its reputation as the inspiration behind one of my favourite films ‘Easy A’, but I really didn’t expect it to be quite as monotonous as it was. Another one, like ‘Heart of Darkness’, which had a pointless opening prologue. Just get straight into the story guys!

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?
Ah, ‘The War of the Worlds(H.G.Wells) was such a lovely surprise after his less exciting ‘Ann Veronica’. What a brilliantly gripping imaginative book; its only flaw being the rather abrupt and hasty ending. war_of_the_worlds_coverDespite this, Wells still creates an expert sci-fi novel – completely engrossing.

5. Three books you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?The Enchanted April’ (Elizabeth Van Arnim) is a lovely little easy read to transport you to an Italian paradise. Not to spoil it, but everything turns out well in the end. The characters are each different, fun and mostly likeable – my big recommendation for a light-hearted satisfying summer read. images
One of my big discoveries of 2013 was a huge love for Evelyn Waugh’s work, but especially Vile Bodies which has everything one could wish for; satirical, ironic, witty characters, ridiculous situations and a deeper, more melancholy feeling haunting the text towards the end. I don’t understand people who don’t enjoy this.
‘Brave New World’(Aldous Huxley) is a book I recommend to everyone, because everyone likes Orwell’s ‘1984’ and this is reasonably similar. brave_new_world_book_cover___growing_humans_by_sunflowerman-d5qru81The best sections are the beginning, as we discover this incredibly detailed, fascinating dystopian world, and the Controller’s speech bluntly stating the true question the book asks: Would you rather have knowledge or happiness? Read the novel before you answer the problem!
You can tell these are highly recommended because I wrote blog posts on each and every one of them – I tend not to bore you with rants against the bad ones if I can help it.

6. Best series you discovered in 2013?
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde is my favourite thing I found this year. So far I’ve read the first two (‘The Eyre Affair’ and ‘Lost in a Good Book’The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1) and the third is waiting for me on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite (ooh controversial…). They’re completely hilarious and clever and dramatic and I love them. Highly recommended, especially for people who like Douglas Adam’s The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxyseries, or for avid readers in general.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2013?
Apart from Jasper Fforde? There are so many…
Pat Barker’s
Regeneration’ series was brilliant; Ian McEwan’s books are completely enthralling; as I’ve mentioned, Evelyn Waugh is my guy at the moment;giphy2and his friend and similar author Nancy Mitford  has also given me two slyly witty enjoyable reads.

8. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
‘The Midwich Cuckoos’themidwichcuckoos500 by John Wyndham (which is about Midwich, an English village mysteriously completely sealed off and put to sleep for one day. Nine months later, identical children are born to every woman of a child-bearing age in the hamlet. Why are they here? What do they want? And how will they take it? It’s completely engrossing, trust me).
This wasn’t exactly out of my comfort zone, but with it, and ‘The War of the Worlds’, I’ve discovered a new love for sci-fi! Anyone got any more similar suggestions for me?
That’s all for now, though Part 2 is coming up very soon!
What books did you read in 2013? Any you’d recommend? Or any you’d definitely steer clear of? Comment below!

“The wheel is come full circle, I am here.”

King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

Yet another amazing transfer from the Almeida Theatre to the West End. ‘Ghosts’, starring Lesley Manville and currently playing at the Trafalgar Studios, is a must-see.Ghosts poster

A quick blurb (cheekily copied from the website!): Helene Alving has spent her life suspended in an emotional void after the death of her cruel but outwardly charming husband. She is determined to escape the ghosts of her past by telling her son, Oswald, the truth about his father. But on his return from his life as a painter in France, Oswald reveals how he has already inherited the legacy of Alving’s dissolute life.

Ibsen‘s claustrophobic classic is performed in an uninterrupted 90 minute stretch; as the tension rises to fever pitch, and the characters get more and more distressed, the climactic ending leaves the audience in shock – one can only imagine how Manville deals with the aftermath every evening. The tears were still rolling down her cheeks and she could barely muster a smile as she bowed to the loud and heartfelt applause with the rest of the five-strong cast.

ghosts mother and sonHowever, whilst naturally Helene is probably the most demanding part, going through such emotional turmoil as she does, the rest of the cast also have a lot of the play to bear on their shoulders. Jack Lowden as Oswald gives a very impressive performance of a son trying desperately to pretend to himself and others around him that all is well whilst concealing a soul-destroying secret. (A small, incredibly shallow, side note – my friend Megan and I were particularly dazzled by Lowden’s ability to pop champagne corks so smoothly he could have been a bartender. Now that is skill.) Charlene McKenna was likewise sincere and also comedically tragic in her role as Regina, the maidservant who is infatuated with Oswald, but who doesn’t know the darkness the lurks in her past and threatens her future happiness. Her ‘father’, Jacob (Brian McCardie) shows himself over the course of the play to be so much more Christian and kind than the pastor, Manders (Will Keen) who is just the most hypocritical, pathetic man there ever was.

The actors really show Ibsen’s unusual (at the time of writing) sympathy for women and the lower classes; like in ‘A Doll’s House (which you can see my review of here), the wealthy, powerful man is shown to be much weaker than the women who sacrifice their lives and happiness for them and get little, or nothing, in return. It is a play of thwarted human potential, in each and every character. As you can imagine, it is a play ahead of it’s time, dealing with feminism, sexual morals, arranged marriage, incest, sexual disease and, finally, euthanasia, as the play ends with Helene having to make one of the most agonising choices a person, and particularly a mother, could ever have to make. Not to give it away or anything. (Although, if anyone has already seen the play, I’d be interested to here what you thought she was going to do; would she have gone through with it? Personally I think yes, though others I’ve spoken to thought the exact opposite – probably something to do with age and experience.)ghosts finale The finale was one of the most spectacular things about the play; as the stage was flooded in violent, passionate reds and oranges, and Oswald’s pitying cries combined with his mother’s desperate sobbing.

The set was perfect, in my opinion – closed and claustrophobic, isolated and dark, with the rain hammering down outside, it’s easy to see why this sombre and depressing atmosphere would affect its residents. The audience are fully drawn into the enclosed world through this setting, and the expert and extraordinarily intensive acting which is only heightened by the close proximity of the audience to the action. The translucent wall behind the main part of the stage allowed us a view of what goes on behind closed doors and cleverly evoked the eponymous ghosts that haunt Helene. ghosts lesleyMy only small problem was a tendency to melodrama, especially on Helene’s part, though this was more a fault with the script than the acting. And perhaps I’m just cold-hearted, unsympathetic and overly-critical…

Although, saying that, I’m still going to give this production maximum marks; tense, thoughtful, dramatic and superbly acted, it well deserves its West End-transfer. Go and see it if you possibly can.

Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios (Transfer from The Almeida) – 5/5 Stars

“You may my Glories and my State depose, But not my Griefes; still I am King of those.”

Richard II, Act 4, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

 

Me. David Tennant. William Shakespeare. Richard II. Jealous yet?

 

As with ‘Mojo’, this one was always going to be good. Having seen Tennant fronting the BBC’s ‘Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet’ documentary, I was fully aware of his abilities to explore in depth Shakespeare’s most interesting and detailed characters.Richard_II_243x317 Richard II is one of these, to say the least.

 

Whilst his behaviour is often childishly petulant and obstinate, he develops into an extremely sympathetic character as the play goes on. I felt Tennant was very successful in subtly winning over the audience; his speeches when talking of John of Gaunt’s death are horribly cold-hearted: Now put it, God, in the physician’s mind/ To help him to his grave immediately!” However, as Richard becomes more and more of a pathetic figure, not only forced to give up the position that defined his entire life, seeing his identity melt before him, but also deeply confused that a role he’s been told was God-given (i.e. the Kingship) can be taken away from him all of a sudden. 

 

Really though, Aumerle (Oliver Rix) is the key tragic hero in this production. David Tennant’s performance is excellent, but Rix’s is truly harrowing. Portrayed as a man who must choose between two opposing sides, a bit like Antony, one of the most perfect moments is the silence between the two cousins as it becomes clear Richard must give up his throne. So much is said in this mutual stillness, which is only broken by a kiss. Now, I’m not sure this homosexual element was completely needed, though my mum did suggest the kiss actually showed Richard’s inability to get close to anyone without adding a sexual hint to it, which I think sounds pretty valid!

 

richard-ii-rsc-2013-aumerle-richardAs in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown’, starring Ben Whishaw, they chose to change the ending, making Aumerle Ricard’s killer, rather than the somewhat less dramatically interesting Sir Pierce of Exton as in the script. Personally I think this was a perfectly acceptable alteration; it, and Bollingbroke’s anger afterwards, really emphasised the impossibility of Aumerle’s situation. My heart broke for him, as well as for Richard, especially when his father turned him in for treason. He just couldn’t do anything right!

 

Now, the (very few!) problems I had with the production. For a play with one of the great speeches about England…

“This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”

…the set was very plain and conjured up none of “this earth”, none of picturesque pastoral countryside and certainly not “this other Eden”. However, they almost made up for this by the absolutely ear-meltingly gorgeous singing, music composed by Paul Englishby and sung by a trio of sopranos.

 

richardii-98I thought the casting was very good, though Nigel Lindsay as Bolingbroke seemed a little underwhelming at times; I couldn’t imagine him being a viable option for Kingship, especially against Richard, a man with such presence, a man who invented the word ‘majesty’ in fact!

 

However, other than these slight flaws, this production was handled expertly. The poetry is some of the most beautiful there is out there, the acting is brilliant, and the real tragedy of the tale, that of Aumerle, is powerfully and heartbreakingly told.

 

Richard II (RSC at The Barbican) – 4/5 stars

“After summer evermore succeeds/Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold”

Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 4

William Shakespeare

Aka my November book haul

Hooray, it’s finally December and therefore ok for me to get ridiculously over-excited about Christmas! But before we can have a run-down of the top festive books and films to watch over the holiday season, there’s November to look back over first. So here it is… my November book haul!

Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh) – This was brilliant; admittedly, I do love Waugh’s books anyway, so clearly his style of writing just appeals to me, but I think most readers would enjoy this. The ironic, satirical tone is right up my alley, and since I like the roaring twenties and thirties anyway, a novel set in this lost era of “bright young things”, flappers, money lost and won, parties and drink, engagements broken and made up again and gossip columnists hurriedly vastly exaggerating it all for the newspapers. Although focusing around the love story of Adam Fenwick-Symes, a destitute young would-be writer, and Nina Blount, daughter of an extremely eccentric aristocrat, the novel is really about “the social whirl of a class doomed to extinction as certainly as the dodo”. As it progresses, darker and more depressing events occur which give the entertaining witty writing a sinister undertone, emphasising not only the pathetic fragility of most of the characters, and their lives, but also a sense of a generation dealing with the aftermath of the Great War, with the tragic losses of World War Two just over the horizon. Basically, the best of both worlds: a book with some sort of meaning underneath it all yet also fun, easy and enjoyable to read.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) – A somewhat abrupt change here, going back around three hundred years, and on a much more allegoric and religious theme. I knew the story of this beforehand, having read Enid Blyton’s version ‘The Land of Far-Beyond’ and listened to Stephen Tompkinson read Geraldine McCaughren’s excellent retelling on audiobook. However, I’m not sure that this wasn’t a mistake, in that I simply felt the retelling was so much more exciting than the real thing. At first I thought this was mainly because I already knew the story, but actually the second part, telling the tale of Christian’s wife, Christiana (wow, original naming there Bunyan!), was equally as dry. Although I see why it is so important to the history of English literature in its use of allegory and language, not the most entertaining book I’ve ever read, although not without merit; some sections are a little gripping, and the idea behind it is very clever.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) – Infinitely more riveting, Bradbury’s dystopian novel is ever-popular with teenagers and adults alike, with its premise of firemen there to burn books, which are now contraband, rather than put out fires. Following on from Heinrich Heine’s famous quote: “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings”, Bradbury doesn’t wait to reveal the benefits of this society, instead delving almost instantly into the dark, sinister undertones of a culture, not so dissimilar to our own, unlike ‘1984’ or ‘Brave New World’, whose worlds, whilst identifiable with, seem to occur years in the distant future. With incredible foresight, considering the novel was written in the early 1950s, Bradbury predicts the idea of portable sound devices (iPods to you and me, Seashells to the protagonist Guy Montag and his wife Mildred), huge wall-sized TVs, and reality shows where the audience are gripped by live police chases (um, this anyone?!). A gripping and easy to read novel with some big ideas, I especially loved Clarisse McClellan, and, of course, all the sections praising the power of literature and words in general. I also thought Captain Beatty, leader of Montag’s fire station, was particularly interesting, and can be compared to Mustapha Mond of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ (which you can find a review of here), in that they both seem incredibly logical in their argument; so persuasive are they, that, like the characters they speak to, they almost convince the reader of the sanity of this new world order, until one suddenly remembers the sinister side of what they stand for. A book which I think almost anyone would enjoy; a thriller which celebrates literature and reading and warns of the consequences of its demise.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – This is another classic late twentieth century novel that, according to tumblr anyway, you actually have to read. It’s also another book I regret having seen an adaptation of first. Having said that, the film, starring Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, and John Malkovich among others, is completely amazing. Seriously. If you’ve read the book already, definitely give the film a go. However, I think much of the witty and downright crazy writing didn’t have its full impact on me, as I’d seen lots of the most hilarious bits portrayed in the movie beforehand. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you should. Adams has a genius mind for just crazy and brilliantly funny ideas. His books remind me a little of those of Jasper Fforde, which I have raved about before on here. If you have a silly sense of humour, you’ll enjoy the Hitchhiker books. If not… my commiserations.

Neither Here Nor There (Bill Bryson) – Talking of funny, this book is absolutely laugh-out-loud, chuckling-to-yourself on the tube hilarious. Bryson’s wit and sarcasm is shown beautifully here, as he writes of touring through Europe, both as a spotty teenager and as a fully-fledged adult. It is brilliantly written, with lovely and detailed descriptions of both small and big towns throughout Europe, painting vivid pictures of the people, the places, the customs and traditions that make a city or town what it is. Bryson combines paragraphs describing with heartfelt sincerity the splendour, magnificence, beauty of a place with inspired and side-splittingly satirical remarks on the less attractive sides. The only reason I didn’t give this book top marks was its lack of moral or meaning; for me, a really great book should make me think a little about myself too. Other than that small niggle, I honestly can’t recommend this book more highly. Absolute quality.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce) – A relatively recent publication, which garnered a lot of positive press coverage, I felt I should read this after having read ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, a book which it is mildly based on. This was a hell of a lot more fun though. Whilst it starts slowly, the story of Harold Fry, a recently retired sixty-five year old who, after hearing an old friend and colleague, Queenie Hennessy, has cancer, somehow finds himself on a pilgrimage walking 627 miles from his home in Devon all the way up to Berwick-upon-Tweed (near/in Scotland I think!) where Queenie is being cared for in a hospice. Whilst the premise is somewhat fantastic (Harold takes no walking shoes, no mobile phone and no supplies at all), the novel is really interesting when we get to read Harold’s reflections on his life as he walks. With the book also following how Maureen, his wife with whom he has an extremely strained, virtually non-existent relationship, deals with the extraordinary situation, their bond is really the crux of the story, and what ties the book together. The people Harold meets are also fascinating, with none being a clear-cut good or evil as in Bunyan’s allegory; they are more similar to the pilgrims of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, another resource Joyce uses. Each has their own back-story, and whilst we aren’t given all the details of most of these, we are provided with brief glimpses into a whole variety of different lives. These, and the gorgeous descriptions of the nature that Harold passes through, were the highlights of the book for me. Well worth a read, this novel steadily grows more gripping as it progresses and, by using the well-worn method of placing an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, is relatable to all readers.

Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) – Some great language, but overall I wasn’t thrilled by this book. I simply could not understand the protagonist, Florentino Ariza, who spends his entire life basically waiting for Fermina Daza, his childhood sweetheart. Just get over her already Florentino! Although this undying love doesn’t stop him having affairs left, right and centre, including one, when he’s about seventy, with a blood relative of fourteen years old. It’s revolting and leaves me with absolutely no sympathy for him whatsoever; although to be honest, he had basically dried all my resources up with his passionate love letter writing, seeming complete incompetence and plain self-centeredness. Nope, can’t be dealing with him. Fermina Daza herself is better, getting on with her life as she does. Still, why does Marquez start the novel with a long, and seemingly pointless prologue which goes into great detail on an event which has very little to do with the rest of the novel? In my opinion, if he’d just stuck to explaining this original story, he would have had a much more interesting book. As you can tell, I’m not this book’s biggest fan, though if you like descriptions of South America, those sections are very well-written. Still, not at all my kind of novel.

Pigeon Pie (Nancy Mitford) – And back again, to another Evelyn Waugh-type “bright young things” novel. And again, I loved it. Telling the story of the somewhat slow but absolutely divinely funny Lady Sophia Garfield during the beginning of WWII, Mitford paints brilliantly witty and satirical over-the-top characters, and sets them into a spy novel, with Lady Sophia desperate to become a BFS (that’s Beautiful Female Spy to you and me). One of my favourite characters is Olga Gogothsky (nee Baby Bagg), Sophia’s greatest enemy, who has suddenly developed a broken Russian accent after marrying Prince Serge – although he speaks in perfect Eton tones. Hmm…maybe you won’t find that funny though; I don’t think I can completely capture the sly humour of Mitford’s writing. Guess you’ll have to read the book yourself then! Everything about this book is a perfect light-hearted, enjoyable read, and I can’t wait to delve into some of Mitford’s more well-known novels like “Love in a Cold Climate” in the near future.