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Archive for March, 2015

This novel tell the story of a marriage, and simultaneously of politics in Trinidad and Tobago in the latter half of the 20th century.  The book begins in 2007, with George and Sabine Harwood, a couple who moved to Trinidad in the 1950s, for George’s work.  While he instantly loves the island, Sabine struggles with life there, and is always looking forward to when they can return to England.  However, as disenchanted as she is with Trinidad, she cannot help being fascinated by young dashing politician Eric Williams, who becomes the Prime Minister, promising great things for Trinidadians.  Sabine writes to Williams on a daily basis, although she can never bring herself to send the letters.  By turns, she is both adoring and loathing of Williams, resenting what she sees as his ineffective efforts to improve life for the citizens of the country.

After the first part of the story, the book goes back to the Harwoods’ arrival on the island, as a young and very happily married couple, and then shows how the struggles of Trinidad itself are mirrored in their personal struggles to keep their marriage alive.

I had had this book on my shelf for years, and eventually picked it up when I wasn’t sure what I fancied reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the very first page.  George and – particularly – Sabine were very well drawn characters, entirely believable, but not always likeable.  However, I really liked Venus, the young woman who became maid and friend to Sabine; loyal and kind, but caught between the rich white people who she worked for, and those in Trinidad who wanted rid of them.

The book is informative about the political struggles of the country from the 1950s onwards, and demonstrates how Eric Williams started out as a new hope for its citizens, but was eventually unable to make the improvements to their lives which he promised and hoped to do.  The Trinidad riots of 1970 are shown from Sabine’s terrified point of view, and I made a point of learning more about Williams and his PNM party as a result of reading the book.

Brilliantly written, with eloquent but never flowery language, this book is compulsively readable, perfectly balancing the story of two people with the story of a country and it’s leader.

I loved The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, and would highly recommend it.

Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Hilarious is a word often thrown about to describe shows, film, tv etc., but in the case of National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors (based on Carlo Goldoni’s play from the 1700s, Servant of Two Masters), it’s completely appropriate.

It’s the early 1960s, Francis Henshall is the none-too-bright minder of gangster Roscoe Crabbe – but Roscoe is really Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel, disguised as her brother for her own safety, after her brother was murdered…by none other than Rachel’s boyfriend Stanley Stubbers!  To complicate matters, Francis is hired to work for Stubbers, but he must keep his two gunners – who (as he far as he knows) don’t know each other – apart, and that proves to be a lot harder than it sounds.

Quite honestly, after reading reviews of this play, I expected a few good belly laughs.  What I did not expect was to be literally crying with laughter, but there’s no doubt – this is simply one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.  First of all the music – skiffle band The Craze come on stage about 10 minutes before the show begins, and then during the performance they provide a number of musical interludes.  The music is jaunty and thoroughly enjoyable, performed by very obviously talented musicians.  There are other musical interludes too – performed by various cast members, and all very enjoyable.

Gavin Spokes was absolutely perfect as Francis.  This role was originally played by James Corden, who I’ve no doubt was brilliant, but I’ve also no doubt that he could not have been more brilliant than Spokes.  Francis is loveable, despite all the double-crossing and deceit which is character employs with varying degrees of success.  Shaun Williamson (forever destined to be known as ‘Barry from Eastenders’) is probably the most well known cast member, as Charlie Clench (!) father of ditzy blonde Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks), who was due to enter a marriage of convenience with the newly dead Roscoe, but who has since fallen in love with wannabe actor Alan Dangle (a superbly over-the-top Edward Hancock).  Roscoe/Rachel is played with aplomb by Alicia Davies, and I also really enjoyed Patrick Warner as the upper-class Stanley Stubbers.  The terrific cast is completed by Derek Elroy as Lloyd Boateng (a friend of Rachel/Roscoe and Charlie Clench), Emma Barton as Dolly (Charlie’s book-keeper who Francis falls for), David Verrey as Harry Dangle (the lawyer father of Alan) and Michael Dylan who practically brought the house down with his portrayal of Alfie, a doddery old Irish waiter.

The wordplay is fantastic, with many genuinely laugh-out-loud lines – and I also loved how Francis broke the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, reminding us that this is after all, not real, before pulling everyone back into the delight of the show.  However, as well as a great script, there is also a LOT of physical slapstick comedy, the highest point of which is probably the scene at the end of the first half of the show, where Francis is trying to serve dinner to both of his bosses in the same venue, but without letting them find out about each other.  The cast throw themselves around spectacularly, and I can only imagine that Gavin Spokes in particular must be exhausted by the time the show finishes!  There is also some terrific interaction with audience members, but at the risk of revealing spoilers, I’m not going to give details.

Overall, I reiterate that this is truly one of the funniest and cleverest plays I have ever seen.  Just brilliant from the opening scene to the closing moment.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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The Biscuit Girls is the true story of biscuit factory Carrs of Carlisle, started by businessman Jonathan Dodgson Carr in 1831, told through the eyes of six of its former workers – Ivy, Dulcie, Barbara, Ann, Dorothy and Jean.

Ivy, the oldest of the girls, started working at Carrs in the years following World War II, and remained there for 45 years.  During her time there, she eventually helped to train some of the other women featured in the book.  Each chapter is devoted to one of the women (all feature in a number of chapters, which eventually bring their lives up to the present day), and as well as looking at their work at the factory, the book also delves into their personal lives.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a thoroughly entertaining and interesting read.  Although all of the women featured had different reasons for joining Carrs, and came from varied backgrounds, they all seemed to have enjoyed their jobs, and the camaraderie and friendships that came with it.  Each chapter incorporated some of the history of Carrs, and there was plenty of information about the area, and the wider biscuit industry.  Working there brought different rewards for each woman (Barbara for instance worked there purely for the money, while Ivy wanted to work there having seen other women going to work there and thinking how smart they looked in their uniforms).

The personal aspect of the book made it an interesting and relatable read, more so than a straightforward biography of Carrs would have done.  I thought it was interesting how just as Carrs passed down through generations of the family, you would find many generations of local families all going to work there.  It is clear that the factory was a major source of employment for many people living in the area, and by and large the Carr family treated their workers well.  Although labour-saving machinery and health and safety legislation have brought about inevitable changes in the industry and at Carrs, it appears that many of the old ways of working still remain, as the later chapters explain.  (Carrs is still in operation although it is now part of the United Biscuits Group, owned by McVities.  One of Carrs most popular and famous products is Carrs Water Biscuits, which still sell vast amounts today.)

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone familiar with the Carlisle area (although I really enjoyed it, and have never even been to Carlisle), or anyone who is interested in the lives of women in the 20th century.  It’s engaging and clearly well researched – and will definitely make you want to sit down with a cuppa and a biscuit!

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I have a small confession to make – I have never seen Oklahoma! before.  Not the film version starring Gordon McRae, or any other stage production.  My basic knowledge of the story was that it had a character named Curly, who Hugh Jackman once played on Broadway, and that it was a musical featuring cowboys.  I knew a couple of the songs of course, but beyond that…nothing.

However, I do enjoy musical theatre and there seemed to be a lot of buzz about the current production, so I decided to buy tickets, and it ended up exceeding all my expectations.

The basic story revolves around cowboy Curly and a young lady named Laurey (played by Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield respectively), who despite acting with hostility towards each other, clearly are very attracted, but first there is the little matter of creepy farmhand Jud (Nic Greenshields), who wants Laurey for himself.

Meanwhile, Will Parker (played by the wonderful James O’Connell) really wants to marry Ado Annie (the equally delightful Lucy May Barker), but has to contend with his rival Ali Hakim (Gary Wilmot), a charming but irresponsible pedlar), who unwillingly finds himself engaged to Annie.

Watching over all the proceedings is the wise and weary Aunt Eller (Belinda Lang), who is a sort of wise-cracking, plain-speaking mother hen to all the younger characters.

I can honestly say that none of the performers put a foot wrong, literally or figuratively.  Day and Wakefield both had beautiful voices and great chemistry together.  Their duet of People Will Say We’re In Love, was fantastic, and Day’s opening song, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’! was the perfect way to start the show.

Wilmot provided a lot of humour and was ideal for the role of Ali Hakim, and Lang was fantastic – perfectly cast – if virtually unrecognisable – as Aunt Eller.

My two favourite performances of the show came from O’Connell and Barker – the story between Will and Annie captivated me as much as the main story between Curly and Laurey, and O’Connell and the ensemble cast’s performance of Kansas City was a real highlight, with some energetic and wonderfully choreographed dancing, and terrific vocal performances.  I also loved the Act 2 opening number, The Farmer and the Cowhand should be friends.  Additionally, Barker really made the most of Annie’s song, I Cain’t Say No, which was lots of fun.

I was a bit surprised by some of the darker parts of the story – for example, when Curly tries to encourage the intimidating and obsessive Jud to commit suicide.  The dream sequence also had a sinister undertone, but both scenes had some beautiful singing, and the latter also had some incredible dancing, which took the edge off.

A uniformly excellent ensemble cast – filled with incredibly talented singers and dancers – provided perfect support to the main characters, with everyone seeming to get their moment in the limelight during the amazing dance numbers.

The whole audience seemed to love this show, and it was easy to see why.  This performance is definitely an early contender for my favourite show of the year (yes I know it’s only March).  If you are a fan of musical theatre, don’t miss this production.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

 

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December 31 1999.  Ten year old Amy Archer goes missing, and is presumed dead.  Her body isn’t found, and ten years later, her mother Beth is still struggling to cope with her grief.  On December 31 2009, there is a knock at her door, and a young woman claims to know where Amy is.  Beth is then introduced to a girl who looks exactly like her daughter, and knows things that only Amy could have known.  But this girl is only ten years old.  As Beth tries to understand the truth behind ‘Amy’s’ sudden reappearance, her enquiries take her down dark paths and reveal secrets long hidden.

I am in two minds about this book.  I think the premise is interesting – I don’t personally believe in reincarnation, psychics or mediums, all of which are discussed in this book, but I don’t think that you need to to invest in the story.  The narrative moved fast, and was interesting enough to keep me reading for hours, but the main issue for me was that I did not like any of the characters.  Not Beth, not Libby (the young woman who knocks on her door) and not even Amy/Esme, the young girl who claims to be Beth’s daughter reincarnated.  The other problem was that this author really REALLY liked his imagery and symbolism, and initially that annoyed me a little.  However, as I got further into the book, I must have got used to his way of writing, because I noticed it less and less.

Much has been made of the ending – I am not going to reveal anything about it here, but I personally did not mind it so much as other reviewers appear to have done.  I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, I would probably recommend this book, but beware that it does detail some particularly dark scenarios, which could make for uncomfortable reading.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a book I’d rave over, but I enjoyed it enough to read further books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I first saw this play at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, in July 2013 (please see below for my link to the review), and when I heard that it was touring, I knew I had to see it again.  Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is set up very differently to the Swan Theatre, so logistically some of the entrances and exits of the actors had to be changed, as well as there being some changes to the scenery set-up.  A lot (though by no means all) of the main cast had also changed but happily, the show was just as enjoyable and funny second time around.

In essence, the story consists of young Dick Follywit, a likeable cad, who is determined to con his uncle, Sir Bounteous Seersucker (yes, really!) out of his fortune, and employs various methods to do so.  Meanwhile in a separate storyline, Mrs Littledick wants to pursue an extra-marital affair with Sir Penitent Brothel, but her husband Mr Littledick is determined to keep a close eye on her, so she uses her friend, prostitute Truly Kidman to act as go-between between her and Penitent.

The play is bawdy, and very VERY saucy.  If you are not one for dirty jokes, then this probably isn’t the show for you.  However, if you don’t mind rude humour, then you are guaranteed a lot of laughs.  Joe Bannister was excellent as Dick Follywit, and I really liked Ben Deery and Dennis Herdman as Mr Littledick and Penitent Brothel respectively.  The roles of Mrs Littledick, Truly Kidman, Mrs Kidman and Sir Bounteous Seersucker are still being played by the same actors as previously (Ellie Beaven) Sarah Ridgeway, Ishia Bennison and Ian Redford), and it is clear that they have not lost their enthusiasm for this play.

Linda John-Pierre also returns as the soul singer with the incredible voice; her and Ellie Beaven’s duet of Cry Me a River was sensational.  Ian Redford was hilarious as Bounteous Peersucker, and I also really enjoyed David Rubin as Bounteous’ deaf, shuffling old butler, Spunky.

If you haven’t seen this play before, do yourself a favour and get tickets.  If you have seen it before…do yourself a favour and get more tickets!  I thought it was just as joyful and delightful second time around, and if it tours again in future, I shall certainly be seeing it for a third time.

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Click here for my review of the play at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 2013.

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