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Archive for June, 2015

The play may be called Othello, but iconic villain Iago is by far the bigger role, and needs a great actor to carry it off. The RSC certainly picked such an actor in Lucian Msamati, who is also the first black actor to play the role in an RSC production.

The story of the play is one of manipulation, jealousy and murder – Othello is happily married to Desdemona, but Iago, furious that renowned soldier Othello has chosen the younger Cassio for promotion to lieutenant over Iago himself, hatches a plot to rid himself of his rival. He sows seeds of doubt about Desdemona’s fidelity in Othello’s mind, insinuating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Unfortunately, the consequences of his plans are far reaching and horrific when Othello becomes so overcome with fury that he kills his wife, and then kills himself when he learns that Desdemona was true to him all along.

Hugh Quarshie was ideally cast as the titular character – his good looks and charisma make it easy to see why his young wife has fallen in love with him, and make his subsequent breakdown all the more shocking. However, earlier scenes of him tacitly endorsing waterboarding a prisoner of war suggest that he was never as benevolent as he initially appeared. Msamati also fits perfectly into the part of the villain of the piece – he’s funny and clever, but his scheming is never far below the surface – for the audience at least, if not for his fellow characters. In this production, more than some others, Iago actually is – at times – a fairly sympathetic character. It is easy to understand his dislike of Cassio, and his real belief that he has been passed over for a promotion that was rightfully his. Joanna Vanderham was also excellent as Desdemona, combining a visual fragility with heart and pluck.

The production is modern – to an extent. Laptops, mobile phones and computers are all used, and this may not please some of the audience – a couple behind me said that they would have preferred a traditional performance. However, I personally liked that aspect, as it is a reminder that Shakespeare is as relevant to modern audiences as to those of his lifetime.

The action is gripping, and there are no dull moments – strong performances all round and genuine tension on stage make this a highly recommended production of a classic play.

(Click here for more information about this production, or the Royal Shakespeare Company.)

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One rainy November evening, a young mother is bringing her five year old son Jacob home from school when she lets go of his hand for a second. Long enough for him to get killed by a hit-and-run driver, who becomes the subject of a police investigation.

Devastated by her memories and haunted by her past, Jenna Gray moves to a remote cottage in Wales, where she tries to get over her grief. And bit by bit she starts to find a new purpose in her life – but just as she finally sees light at the end of the tunnel, her past comes back to find her.

I’ve had to be deliberately ambiguous about the plot of this book, because I don’t want to give anything away. However, if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, then I would highly recommend it. I thought the plot was very clever, and all of the characters – particularly Jenna and DI Ray Stevens, the man in charge of the investigation into Jacob’s killer – were very well depicted and easy to invest in.

There are multiple narrators in this book – Jenna tells the story in the first person, while a third person narrator describes the police investigation and delves into the personal life of Ray Stevens. A third narrator enters the story at a later point, but to say who would reveal too much.

The author was actually in the Police Force, and it shows in her knowledge and descriptions of police procedure. I also liked how she revealed the story bit by bit, and for the first time in a while when reading a novel, I had to stop myself from looking a few pages ahead, because I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

The blurb on the cover as well as every review I’ve read of this book state that there is a big twist, so I don’t think I’m revealing anything new by saying that here – however, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t known there was¬†something twisty coming. The twist itself was cleverly written, and had I not been expecting it I would have been totally thrown.

This is an accomplished debut, and I will definitely be looking out for further books by Clare Mackintosh.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book took me two months – to the day – to read. For someone who used to read a book a day and has now slowed down to generally a book a week, that is LONG time. But don’t think that it was because I didn’t enjoy reading this – on the contrary, I loved it, to the extent that I would put it in my top ten favourite books.

Because it is Richard Burton’s diaries, it is not an autobiography as such, but it does paint an revealing and fascinating picture of his life, particularly during his first marriage to Elizabeth Taylor.

The diaries initially start with schoolboy Richard (then called Richard Jenkins) describing his day to day life – with focus on friends, family and sport (and a lot of board games!) but even then you can see his budding interest in books and literature. The majority of the diaries are, as aforementioned, written during his life with Elizabeth Taylor, and they are very absorbing – not just for the private snapshots of their lives together, but also for his thoughtful observations on the world in general, his profession, his children and his reading habits. Because he certainly loved to read – up to three books a day sometimes – and wrote his thoughts about almost everything he read. He had a wickedly acerbic sense of humour and often used quotes by poets, authors and playwrights to support his point.

The diaries tail off towards the end of his and Taylor’s relationship and then start again during his four marriage (to third wife Suzy Hunt). After another long gap, they restart again during his relationship with Sally Hay, and during preparation for the Private Lives tour, when he and Taylor starred together in Noel Coward’s play about a divorced couple who still have feelings for each other. I admire Burton’s widow Sally for releasing the diaries, especially when he writes with such passion and love towards Taylor for the majority of them.

What ultimately emerged from the diaries was a picture of a very intelligent, witty and generous man, with many demons (not the least of which was of course alcohol), but who was all too aware of the flaws in himself, as much as he noticed flaws in those around him.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book from beginning to end, beautifully edited (although I would have preferred the notes to be in a list at the back of the book, rather than footnotes on almost every individual page), and one I will definitely pick up and read again. Highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest interest in any aspect of Burton’s life.

(Click here for the official Richard Burton website.)

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