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I picked up this book because I had heard lots of good things about it, and because despite the fact that fantasy is not, and never has been a favourite genre of mine, the premise intrigued me.

The story is set in London and is narrated by Peter Jones, a young PC in the Metropolitan Police Service. This strange tale starts when he is trying to glean information about a vicious and unprovoked murder, only to find himself interviewing a witness who died more than a hundred years ago…

More murders follow and Jones and his partner Lesley and mentor Thomas Nightingale quickly work out that they are all linked, and something strange and unusual is causing them.

As if that weren’t enough, Peter and Nightingale also find themselves caught up in a feud between Mother Thames and Father Thames, who are arguing over who has jurisdiction of their River Thames; as a result, Peter meets the exotic and alluring Beverley Brook.

I enjoyed this book a lot Рbut not quite as much as I had hoped to, or indeed quite as much as the first fifty pages or so led me to think I might. I really liked the characters of Peter and Nightingale, and as narrators go, Peter is witty, likeable and extremely engaging. However, I think the plot got a bit too convoluted, mainly because the feud over the River Thames seemed pointless and really added nothing whatsoever to the main mystery, which was that of the murders. The  murders themselves were quite interesting and I liked that Peter had a foot in both the mortal world and the underworld of London where he could learn magic and make deals with ghosts.

So despite feeling that it was something of an anti-climax, the main two characters are enough for me to want to try the next book in the series. I also find that generally with series such as this one, the first book is never the strongest. This book has had very strong reviews elsewhere, so if you are thinking of reading it – and especially if fantasy is a genre you enjoy (bearing in mind that it is not one I usually choose to read) I would recommend giving this a try.

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Shit-Faced Shakespeare has been running in America and the UK since 2010, and has enjoyed great success. The concept is simple – a small group of actors (six in this case, plus the compere) stage an abridged version of a Shakespeare play, with the twist that one of the cast is drunk. Well…shit-faced actually. Before the show, the compere told the audience that the cast member (in this case the actor playing the part of Claudio, although you are not told beforehand which cast member is going to be drunk, and the cast rotate that particular duty from show to show) had had several beers and half a bottle of Tequila prior to the performance.

What followed on this occasion was a truly hilarious hour – yes the show is just an hour long, and there are LOTS of liberties taken with the Bard’s script! – where Claudio was clearly drunk, fluffing lines, paraphrasing, whipping off his sunglasses at will (don’t ask, it made perfect sense at the time), interrupting other actors and basically causing uproar. The other five cast members were forced to work around his unpredictability and improvise, but it was fairly clear that none of them were taking it very seriously in the first place – and this just made it even funnier.

Needless to say that if you are planning or hoping to see a faithful production of the play, this is NOT the show for you. For one thing, the characters of Dogberry and his cronies are completely shaved from the script, and in this version the bad guy is Don Pedro, not his brother Don John (who also is not in the play). A male audience member is dragged onto stage to play the part of Margaret – and to be fair, he certainly got into the spirit of things! On the other hand, if you are looking for a lot of belly laughs, and you are not easily offended, then I would highly recommend this show. It’s probably worth pointing out that there is a lot of swearing and crude behaviour in this show, but if that doesn’t bother you, then definitely try and catch Shit-Faced Shakespeare if you get chance. I will certainly go again if the opportunity arises!

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I honestly can’t remember whether I actually read these books – more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, I guess due to the 1951 Disney film, which is an amalgamation of both of the Alice books – or whether the stories and characters are just so well known that I¬†feel like I’ve read them.

Either way, I recently bought the dark retelling and continuation ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry, and decided to read the originals before reading this newer release. For anyone who has lived under a rock for their whole lives, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the story of the strange encounters a young girl called Alice has when she falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland. There she meets such characters as the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through a mirror and ends up in a strange world where she meets the Red Queen and the White Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and many other characters.

I have mixed feelings about these stories. On the one hand, I am not really the target audience anyway and I feel I should take that into account. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Carroll was both imaginative and intelligent. The stories are quite fantastical, and Through the Looking Glass includes several clever verses, one of which is the famous Jabberwocky poem.

For all that though…I can’t say I really enjoyed reading the book (I read one book which contained both stories). I definitely preferred the first one, but I got a little bored with Through the Looking Glass, and consequently took far longer to read it than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because fantasy – which I guess this book probably could be classed as – is not a favourite genre of mine; maybe it’s because as I say, I am not the target audience; maybe it’s just that no book can resonate with every reader.

I would not want to put anyone else off reading the book – it is after all a much-loved classic, so really what does my opinion matter? – but on a personal level, I felt a little disappointed by it. I still look forward to reading the Christina Henry book though!

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Funny Girl is based on the life of Fanny Brice, a singer and entertainer who became famous in the early 1900s. It’s definitely a fictionalised account of Fanny’s life, so if you are after a biography this is not the show to see. But if you are after a couple of hours of great entertainment, delivered by a superb cast, then you should definitely see it.

The story tells how Fanny didn’t fit into the leggy beauty look that people wanted to see on stage, and instead had to rely on her humour and fantastic voice. And the audience loved her! She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and became a main attraction and a huge star. Her private life was less successful – she fell deeply in love with Nick Arnstein, a cad and a gambler, but through it all the show went on, as it always must.

Natasha J Barnes was outstanding as Fanny – she had something of a baptism of fire in the role, being understudy for Sheridan Smith and finding herself thrust into the main role when Smith had to leave the tour for a while under fraught personal circumstances. Barnes has a quick wit, a very expressive face and a cheeky nod and wink, all with perfect comic timing. She is utterly endearing – and that voice! Wow!

Darius Campbell was fetching and charismatic as Nick. Far too smooth a character for my personal taste, but he inhabited the part well and his singing voice was just right too.

Full credit too to Rachel Izen who played Fanny’s mother and almost stole every scene she was in; Myra Sands as family friend Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Brown as another family friend Mrs Meeker. Also to Joshua Lay who played Fanny’s friend, fellow performer and ardent admirer Eddie. His dancing was excellent, and I wished Fanny had ended up with him.

Beautiful songs, with the two most well known probably being People, and the uplifting belter, Don’t Rain On My Parade.

Overall, it’s a feel-good show with some poignant and tender moments. Natasha Barnes fully deserved the standing ovation she got at the end…I highly recommend this production!

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The third instalment of the Miss Fisher series starts with Phryne Fisher waking up on a train to discover that she and her fellow passengers have been chloroformed. After raising the alarm it is discovered that an elderly lady, Mrs Henderson, is missing from the train and is subsequently found dead. The honorable Miss Fisher is soon on the case, but the plot thickens when a young girl who was on the train is brought to her having lost her memory. Now Phryne is not only trying to discover who killed Mrs Henderson, but also where the girl has come from and what has happened to her to cause her to forget everything…

As with the previous two Miss Fisher novels, there is a great sense of fun in this book. However, there is a sinister undercurrent, which deals with the trafficking of young girls and a gruesome murder. The author does traverse this tightrope well though – conveying the characters’ (and by extension the readers’) disgust at the treatment of the girls, while still allowing Phryne’s sense of adventure and her liberated attitude towards sex to come through.

An enjoyable and for the most part undemanding and enjoyable read – if you like ‘cosy’ murder mysteries I would recommend the Phryne Fisher series. However, if complex character studies and intricate plots are more your thing, this series may well annoy you. I like these books very much, reading them as I do, sandwiched between other books.

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The book starts on the night of an auction, when a long-lost and recently rediscovered painting by famous artist Antoine Watteau is being sold. The prospective buyers are introduced to the reader, and it is clear that there is a huge buzz surrounding this painting.

Cut to six months earlier, when a young lady named Annie McDee, who has no idea whatsoever about art, is looking for a gift for her new boyfriend, and stumbles across a painting in a junk shop. She buys it but has no idea of the adventure that this painting will lead her to. It is also clear that there are others who would dearly love to get their hands on this painting for more nefarious reasons, and at least one person is desperate to get it in order to stop a dark secret being exposed – and he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal.

I bought this book more or less on a whim, and picked it up to read with not particularly high hopes. However, I have to say that I found it utterly delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Annie is a great character for the story to hinge upon – she has no idea of the picture’s history and significance, so she discovers it at the same time as the reader does. She is a hugely likeable character and very easy to identify with. I also really liked Jesse, the young artist who helps her in discovering the history of the painting, while quite obviously falling for her at the same time.

There are a lot of other characters – if this book was turned into a film, it would need a large cast! – but skilful writing means that it never gets confusing. I also loved the fact that occasional chapters were even narrated by the painting itself – it sounds kooky and gimmicky, but somehow it works.

It’s a great story, imaginative, often funny and very sweet and intriguing – I highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by this author.

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For this performance of the much loved Shakespeare play, the action has been moved to Mexico in 1910, shortly after the Mexican revolution. Soldier’s Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio are returning from the war, with Claudio anxious to see his love Hero, while Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice have a snippy, sarcastic relationship. The audience of course know that they love each other, even if Benedick and Beatrice have yet to realise it themselves. Fortunately, Don Pedro and the rest of their friends scheme to bring the two together, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that despite their reluctance, they do of course work things out in the end. Along the way however, Don Pedro’s scheming sister Don Juana (as opposed to Don John) schemes to break up Hero and Claudio which causes their wedding to be wrecked when Claudio falsely believes that Hero has cheated on him. Bumbling and inept detective Dogberry fortunately steps in to save the day, and naturally the situation resolves itself.

I was very intrigued to see how the more modern Mexican setting would change the staging and perhaps alter the focus of the play, as opposed to it’s original setting in Messina. Fortunately although there was a more ‘brutal’ atmosphere to the staging, the comedy and the verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick remained safely intact, and I thought Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham were excellent in their respective roles. I also really liked Steve John Shepherd as Don Pedro. Anya Chalotra brought just the right amount of sympathy and vulnerability to the role of Hero, and Claudio was played well by Marcello Cruz (Claudio is not my favourite character in this play; I always thought he was gullible, and disloyal to the lady he was supposed to love – Cruz managed to straddle the line between displaying that and yet somehow getting the audience onside at the end).

The role of Dogberry was played by Ewan Wardrop – for me, Dogberry is one of the funniest characters, but also one of the easiest to overplay…he could easily tip over into being annoying, but Wardrop was note-perfect in this production.

Plenty of Mexican music added to the atmosphere, with two musicians constantly on stage and shown in silhouette. The props were also clever, with Don Pedro and Claudio strolling around in stilts of a sort, and with wire horses (no, I haven’t described that very well, but trust me, it worked).

All in all, this was a very enjoyable and very imaginatively staged production of the play, which shows how Shakespeare can retain all his original beauty yet still be adapted to different times and settings.

If you are a Shakespeare fan (or even if you’re not) I would recommend you try and catch this production while it’s on.