Play Review – The Tempest

Date: 29 March 2016, 14:00
Venue: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
Director: Dominic Dromgoole

As you can see by the date, this is a very late review and will be shorter than normal, but I still wanted to write about this play as it was wonderfully done.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is essentially a smaller Globe theatre, as the stage is significantly smaller than the Globe I was interested to see how they would portray the impressiveness of the storm. However I feel having a small space for the storm worked really well, the drumming and music seemed louder and overwhelming than what it might have done in a larger space. The actors threw themselves into the audience to convey the violence and recklessness which was a nice touch and made you feel like part of the play from the beginning – which really set the tone and atmosphere for the rest of the play.

The play was well cast with Prospero (Tim McMullan) and Ariel (Pippa Nixon) working really well with each other and playing off each other in a way that really complemented their individual performances. I especially enjoyed how Pippa Nixon played Ariel with more serious tones than playful ones, yet still with a subtle childlike eagerness to please – I felt she fully demonstrated how complex Ariel is as a character.

Caliban (Fisayo Akinade) and his companions were also great in their roles. Not only did they interact well with each other, and were a great contrast against each other with Caliban’s aggressiveness and Trinculo and Stephano’s much more laid back approach, but they interacted well with the audience too. There were a couple of instances where Trinculo (Dominic Rowan) really stood out, in an off the cuff response to a very enthusiastic child and in teasing a lady in the front row. Every now and then Trinculo or Stephano (Trevor Fox) would throw in a modern reference which fit really well and wasn’t jarring as one might expect, instead it just reinforced the idea of how relevant Shakespeare plays still are today.

Personally my favourite scene was the banquet scene (Act 3, Scene 3) as it was chaotic, I particularly liked how they presented Ariel in that scene and showed off how powerful Ariel can be. This scene was just one of many where you could really see how they used the small stage to their advantage. One of the ways they did this was through the use of music, which was one of the highlights for me, the music at times felt as though it were an additional character crucial to advancing the plot.

Overall, it was a great performance of The Tempest and it reminded me of how much I love Dromgoole’s interpretation and portrayals of Shakespeare’s plays.

Rating: 4/5

 

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Book Review – The Deviants

by C.J Skuse
Started: 15 September 2016
Finished: 15 September 2016

Firstly, huge thank you to HarperCollins and Harlequin for sending me a review copy of The Deviants. When I first started the book I wasn’t sure if it was going to be as good as I was expecting, however I ended up devouring the novel and loving every page of it.

The novel follows Ella, a member of the fearless five and Commonwealth 400m hopeful, as she recounts events of rage and revenge of one fateful summer. As the novel unravels you begin to learn of other secrets that haunt the fearless five. Why won’t Ella return to the island where they had fun as children and was Jessica’s death really just an accident?

For the first few chapters I didn’t find Ella likeable. However that quickly changed as the novel continued and you begin to understand her through opening up to her coach (albeit not giving away much, but just enough for you to feel for her) and her, rather extreme, actions to protect her friends. Ella is certainly someone you don’t want to get on the wrong side of as she is as creative as she is angry. I also loved Fallon and Corey, I thought they were really interesting characters to have in the fearless five group, you can see why Ella feels the need to help and protect them. I was conflicted with my feelings for Max, although you can argue his heart was in the right place most of the time, he was pretty clueless as to how to show that. I felt that all the characters were complex and were needed in the novel, even if they don’t necessarily feel like it at first.

I thought the plot was well developed despite the slightly slow start. Once you get used to how the story is being told, and are introduced to Ella, the plot is very gripping and well paced. There are many surprises in the novel, some are gradually revealed to you and others hit you suddenly. I thought this was great as you never quite know if you know everything you need to or if there are more twists to come. For a while I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to come together, or really the significance of everything but that’s one of the reasons that made me unable to put this book down. I was eager to see what was going to happen next.

This novel was incredibly well written, I was emotionally invested in this book on a completely different level. There were so many points in the novel where I could feel Ella’s rage myself and wanted to just jump in and give certain characters a piece of my mind. I was really rooting for her, well the whole fearless five, and wanted them all to have the ending they deserved. Towards the end of the novel my heart was racing as the climax became even more intense, only to be left in shock by the final chapters. I don’t want to give the ending away at all, however I will say I had to put the book down for several minutes before finally completing the book.

Overall, The Deviants is a fantastic novel, which left me shocked and speechless. It’s definitely one I would recommend everyone reads! Looking back it’s difficult to imagine I ever had doubts at the beginning of the novel, as it is easily one of my favourite books of this year.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review – Our Endless Numbered Days

by Claire Fuller
Started: 21 August 2016
Finished: 28 August 2016

Whenever I come across novels with unconventional childhoods and familial relationships I’m always excited to see where they will go. I loved where Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days took me and I didn’t want it to end.

The novel’s protagonist is Peggy in the present and the past, seamlessly illustrating how she is struggling to cope back at home with her mother, and the reasons why she is struggling to cope. We watch as her father takes her to a forest in Europe and introduces her to a new way of living, convincing her that it’s the only way to survive. However the mystery of what happened in the forest and how Peggy became the Peggy of the present is slowly uncovered.

I really loved Peggy, she was a wonderful character and very convincing. I liked how her mood towards the world around her and her father was constantly changing, from being excited and accepting the forest and to rebelling and hating the situation she found herself in. Although for a lot of the novel it was difficult to figure out her age, you could see her develop throughout the novel through her childhood into becoming a young woman. I enjoyed how Fuller explored Peggy’s character and her relationship with her father.

I found it very difficult to like either of her parents, however I can’t imagine we were supposed to like them that much anyway. That being said, I did feel sorry for them, especially towards the end of the novel. Both parents arguable had good intentions but they were misplaced and born of selfishness. However their desperation to make things right or had that moment of realisation you can’t help but slightly want it to work out for them, even though you know there’s a better way out. I think where there aren’t many characters in the novel you can’t help but form attachments and connections as otherwise it would be difficult to read, additionally reading from Peggy’s perspective somewhat softens your view of her father sometimes.

The novel was a little slow to start with, starting in the present and going back to how it all happened. Whilst the chapters in the present day were interesting and added good pace to the novel as it progressed, it would have been nice to have the fact she left the forest kept from the reader a little longer. However that isn’t to say you have all the answers straight away because that isn’t the case at all, and the novel was still gripping. I found once Peggy and her father were in the forest the pages flew by a lot faster and I was a lot more interested in the story itself, rather than just the characters. Their life in the forest and establishing a routine was very interesting to read which didn’t make the repetitiveness of some of the scenes feel like a chore to read.

Without giving away any spoilers the ending twist was heartbreaking and not one I really saw coming. It’s rare that I will literally gasp at a twist, but Fuller managed to tear it from my lips and give me goosebumps in the final chapter. However I would have liked to see some more of Peggy’s recovery and development outside of the forest, although even without that all the loose ends in terms of plot were tied up.

Overall, Our Endless Numbered Days was a beautiful novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Although it looks like it took me a while to read, it only took me two sittings (it’s just they were unfortunately interrupted!). This was a wonderful debut novel and I can’t wait to see more of Fuller’s work in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5

Play review – 1984

Date: 22 June 2016, 14:30
Venue: The Playhouse, London
Director: Robery Icke & Duncan Macmillan

I had heard many great things about this play but unfortunately missed out on tickets the last time it was in London. So, when I found out it was coming back I immediately got tickets to see what everyone has been talking about.

The portrayal of the story was great, even if the book club to frame the narrative was a little confusing at first. The book club made so much sense by the end of the play and it was a great note to end it on, which meant I could forgive it for slowing down the beginning of the play.

I love how there was such a small cast because when something happened to a character it was a lot more noticeable. In addition as there was a small cast most of the characters had to double up as the Thought Police which I thought added a lot to the plot and emphasised how you didn’t know who to trust in this society.

The cast were great, I found Andrew Gower’s Winston more likeable in the play than the Winston in the novel. He even seemed somewhat childlike at times in his understanding of things, which was a very interested contrast to Julia’s (Catrin Stewart) bluntness which definitely seemed to drive the relationship. For me though, O’Brien (Angus Wright) was the best performance in the play. He was very unsettling and exactly how I always imagined O’Brien to be, just his mere presence and stern facial expression was enough to have me on edge.

In particular the acting in the ‘Room 101’ scenes was very distressing. The torture scenes are quick with brutal results allowing your imagination to fill in the brief violent blackouts. The entire scene is mentally taxing as it’s drawn out with slow and careful dialogue. It was a very powerful scene which focused more on playing with Winston’s mental state rather than the violence which was very effective, especially for a theatre setting.

Despite how great the cast was I felt that the set and the intimate stage really made the play. They made the small stage work well to their advantage, there was a story of 3D feeling to the set where you could see characters walk past the ‘room’ the scene was taking place or just stare into the foreground of the stage. The fact that the screen took up a third of the stage, at the top, added to the feeling of the stage coming out into the audience and felt very imposing – which heightened the experience of the two minutes hate.

I thought it was very clever in the way they presented Winston and Julia’s secret meetings, by having them offstage and streaming it through the big screen. It made their meetings feel more secret and intimate. I thought it also put the audience in an interesting position as you’re not quite passively watching as you have been, you almost feel like you’re participating as the Thought Police by watching their meetings on a screen rather than organically on the stage.

Overall, I’ve never been that on edge during a theatre production. I felt uncomfortable throughout the whole performance and was curled up in my seat – waiting for the next blackout or klaxon or crash dispersed between the scenes. However despite feeling this whilst I was watching it, once the play was over I could fully appreciate and enjoy what I witnessed. Thinking about it, if I hadn’t felt on edge during a performance of 1984 then it wouldn’t have been done right. You’re not supposed to feel comfortable in this society and they presented that wonderfully.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review – A Boy Made of Blocks

by Keith Stuart
Started: 1 September 2016
Finished: 2 September 2016

Before we get stuck in, a huge thank you to the Little, Brown Book Group for sending me a review copy of A Boy Made of Blocks.

The novel follows Alex, who’s going through a trial separation from his wife, Jody, and his relationship with his autistic son, Sam. Living with his best friend Dan, who seems to know everyone, and the memory of his brother which haunts him, Alex knows a change must be made to bring his family back together. But will that be possible if he doesn’t even understand his own son?

I wasn’t sure whether I would like Alex at first, however I quickly realised that although I may not like some of his actions (or, rather, lack of actions) at times or some of the things he says I understood where they were coming from. His pairing with Dan was great as where they’re quite different you got to explore Alex’s character further. As great as Alex was, Sam completely stole the show. I really loved the way Sam was written and you could tell Stuart was heavily influenced by his own son, Zac, as Sam felt so human. I found it very interesting to see Sam’s thought process through his choice of topics to speak about (or not as was also the case). Sam was a wonderful character who offered something new on every page.

In particular I found Sam’s obsession with Minecraft very interesting to see unfold. Personally, I loved the way Alex began to learn more about Sam through playing Minecraft with him. Not only did this help Alex learn about Sam but me as well and how some autistic children interact and engage with things they have an interest in. Additionally, how Alex and Jody would use Minecraft as a way to help calm him or help understand something else happening in his life was also interesting to see.

All of the characters in the novel were complex and great at highlighting characteristics within either Alex or Sam. I found each of them essential to the novel and they all added something new. For example, I liked how Matt and Clare’s marriage complemented Alex and Jody’s showing that everyone has problems regardless of their situation or your perception of their situation.

Throughout the novel there were many times I found myself strongly feeling the emotions of Alex, especially where Sam was concerned. The joy of seeing them connect or Sam excelling at something; the anger towards Sam’s school or anyone being mean to him and the heartbreak when Sam is inconsolably sad. To me, this is a sign of excellent writing and well developed characters. I found the plot very well paced as Alex was just trying to get through each day without anything major happening and occasionally have larger goals to accomplish. With this novel I was never quite sure how it was going to end, whenever I had an idea of what would happen with Alex (and Jody) something would then change that. This, along with the characters and pacing of the novel, made the story feel more convincing and realistic at times as life isn’t as straight-forward and predictable as novels.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this novel. I could have happily read another 400 pages of Alex and Sam’s relationship and adventures (a word I will now think of slightly differently thanks to Sam and Jody). This is an excellent debut novel from Stuart and one, I believe, that will have everyone eager to see what he does next.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review – The Rest of Us Just Live Here

by Patrick Ness
Started: 11 August 2016
Finished: 16 August 2016

One of my book highlights in 2015 was More Than This by Patrick Ness, so I have wanted to read another of his books for quite some time. I came across The Rest of Us Just Live Here and couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the normal people who are only ever in the background of popular young adult fiction? This novel follows Mikey and his friends, the normal kids who are content with never being the ‘chosen one’. All they want to do is graduate high school, however there’s something going on with the mysterious ‘indie kids’ which threatens that.

I really liked the unique personality of each character. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to Mikey but once I did I loved and really appreciated his narration. He was very witty and just seemed very down-to-earth. I liked his complexity and how Ness explored his OCD, and as frustrating as it could be I also liked his jealousy. My other favourites in the group were Jared and Mel, especially their interactions with Mikey and the rest of the group. They seemed to complement Mikey well and I enjoyed their character developments too. Out of the group the only character I wasn’t sure about was Henna, however I think this is because her behaviour and speech could be quite jarring against Mikey’s obsession and image of her. Despite this by the end of the novel we really got to know her and so I began o like her more, although I wasn’t left wishing I had seen more of her like I had with Jared and Mel.

Whilst not a lot of huge significant events happened in the plot – unlike what you would expect in ‘typical’ young adult fantasy – there was still a lot of substance to the novel. I was very happy to just read about Mikey’s struggles, whether that be in his friendships, family or his OCD. Although Mikey just getting through the final weeks of high school was the main story, there was also a more fantastical YA sub-plot going on. I would have liked to have seen more of Mikey’s family life as I found them all very interesting, especially after each time we saw them.

A nice feature of the novel were the summaries at the beginning of each chapter for the fantastical YA sub-plot. The summaries will be what the ‘indie kids’ (the ‘chosen ones’) are doing whilst the focus of the chapter is on Mikey and his friends. It was really interesting to see what would be happening if this was a ‘typical’ YA novel. It was also very clear that Ness is poking fun at that, with just a couple of throw away lines he hilariously sums up so many YA books I have read and love. I thought the novel was very interesting and cleverly done.

Overall, I loved the novel and the characters. The ending felt a little rushed, however the important loose ends were tied up and it was still left open-ended enough which gave the characters that extra life of what happens after the novel – which is what Ness did before with More Than This. This was another wonderful novel by Ness and he is quickly becoming a favourite author of mine.

Rating: 4.5/5

My trip to Stratford-upon-Avon

This blog post is way overdue but it’s here now and it’s a long one!

I turned 21 at the end of March and one of my birthday surprises was a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. I first visited Stratford in 2009 for a school trip and I have wanted to go back ever since, as Shakespeare is one of my favourite writers and it’s just a beautiful place. As this year is the 400th anniversary of his death, it was a really great time to go back and be part of it all.

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