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Archive for July, 2019

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Last year I read ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion – a hugely enjoyable book, of which you can see my review here. This book is the follow-up, and sees Don and Rosie now living in New York, and Rosie pregnant. In addition, Don’s friend Gene has broken up with his wife and comes to New York to stay with them – which doesn’t please Rosie.

Don is shaken by Rosie’s pregnancy as it was not planned, and Rosie is worried about Don’s suitability as a father. The couple find themselves facing problems which they are not sure how to work out.

Although Don’s character has grown slightly since the first book, he is still painfully literally and brutally honest, which often leads to misunderstandings or offence. The book is narrated by Don, so we do see his point of view in a way which we wouldn’t if it were told in the third person…that said, it would be interesting to see the same events from Rosie’s side!

I enjoyed the book a lot, but probably not as much as the first one. For a while the story seemed to go round in circles, and I just wanted it to be resolved one way or the other. However, there were still plenty of humorous moments – and indeed some touching moments – which kept my interest. Overall I would say that if you enjoyed the first book, you should give this one a try.

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Julia Ormond plays Rachel, a dentist who after her marriage breaks up, takes a job in a prison two days a week, providing dental treatment to the inmates. There she meets Philip Chaney (Tim Roth) and an attraction quickly develops. Nearing the end of his sentence, Philip is on day release one day a week and the couple see each other and fall in love. However, such a relationship could be disastrous to both of them if discovered and matters soon get out of hand.

I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is one of my favourite actors and with just a look, he can say so much. Julia Ormond is also brilliant as Rachel, displaying a perfect mix of toughness and vulnerability. It’s unusual to see Colin Salmon playing such an unpleasant role, but he has a flair for it!

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Year of release: 1994

Director: Angela Pope

Writer: Frank Deasy

Main cast: Tim Roth, Julia Ormond, Keith Allen, Colin Salmon

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Genre: Drama

Highlights: Likeable characters, great acting

Lowlights: None

Overall: A hidden gem. Watch it if you get chance

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In 1993, the film Philadelphia was released – starring (and earning an Oscar win for) Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the film was classed as groundbreaking for it’s storyline about a gay lawyer with AIDS and having to battle the stigma prejudice associated with the disease. I actually loved that film and saw it twice at the cinema within one week. However, a full eight years earlier, there was An Early Frost a made-for-television movie about a gay lawyer with AIDS, having to deal with the stigma and fear surrounding the disease…starring Aidan Quinn as Michael, with Geena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara as his parents, who have very different attitudes towards his illness, and Sylvia Sidney as his grandmother.

An Early Frost was obviously made on a fairly low budget, and watching it 34 years later, in terms of therapies and treatments available, it’s clearly very dated. But while the world is more informed about AIDS and the way it is transmitted, there is still a lot of prejudice towards the disease, and this film is still very relevant. Scenes where the ambulance drivers refuse to take Michael in their vehicle or where nurses refuse to enter his hospital room to give him his meals are thankfully a thing of the past, but as I watched this film I remembered the special assemblies which we had at school when I was about 13, telling us about AIDS and what was known of it (which was little at the time). The callous actions of some of the people in this film seem awful with hindsight, but people were terrified. I remember going on holiday abroad with my parents and another lady at the hotel would not get into the swimming pool because she was worried about catching AIDS.

Anyway, this film – the cast were all excellent just as you would expect. There were a couple of ‘lifetime movie’ dramatic scenes, but overall this was played with just the right note. Michael’s parents do not even know he is gay, so he is faced with not only revealing his homosexuality but also his illness in one fell swoop. His partner Peter (D.W. Moffett) has had to cope with being Michael’s secret and also knowing that he may have been the one who infected Michael.

I think this film is important not just for Michael’s personal story, but also for witnessing the hysteria and terror surrounding AIDS. It’s rarely shown on television these days, possibly because it is now fairly outdated, but if you get the chance to see it, I would highly recommend it.

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Amok was originally published in German, but has been translated and turned into this audio dramatisation, featuring – amongst others – Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone.

The story opens with Jan May, an esteemed psychologist, waiting for his girlfriend Leonie to arrive for dinner. Tonight is the night he is going to propose but then he receives a panicked phone call from her telling him that “they” are going to tell him she has died, and not to believe “them.” Almost instantly, a policeman appears at his door and tells him that Leonie has died in a traffic accident.

Several months later, Jan takes a radio presenter and several visitors to the radio station hostage, and takes over the programme. He says that he will be phoning a random member of the public each hour and if they do not answer with the correct slogan, he will shoot a hostage dead.

Meanwhile, police negotiator Ira Samin has decided that today is the day she is going to kill herself. Unable to get over her eldest daughter’s suicide for Ira blames herself, and distraught because her younger daughter won’t speak to her, Ira sees nothing to live for. But when Jan May says that she is the only negotiator he is prepared to deal with, her plans to kill herself are put on hold. She has to negotiate with him live on air and this  includes discussing her dead daughter and revealing intimate secrets. He demands that she finds out the truth about Leonie, otherwise all of the hostages will die.

Although that sounds like a detailed synopsis, all of the above happens early on in the story – as Ira delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Leonie, she discovers the truth at the same time as the listener.

This is the second audio dramatisation I have listened to, and I do enjoy them; in this case the cast, which includes the aforementioned Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone, as well as other stalwarts of theatre and television such as Rafe Spall, Brendan Coyle and Peter Firth, were all excellent. The narrator who joined the seams together was Robert Glenister, who can also always be relied upon to put in a solid performance.

While the production held my attention, particularly in the first half, the story did get somewhat convoluted and far fetched in the second half, and relied heavily on coincidence. I would have preferred a straightforward hostage drama, rather than the machinations that transpired. Nonetheless, this was still an entertaining production and I would listen to other dramatisations of Fitzek’s work.

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This book has dual time frames told in alternating chapters:

In 1985 in Chicago – and across the United States – AIDS has devastated the gay community. The story starts with a group of friends mourning the AIDS related death of their friend Nico. These chapters are largely told from the point of view of Yale Tishman and through Yale, we witness the ongoing crisis, and it’s effects.

In 2015, Nico’s sister Fiona, now in her early 50s, has gone to Paris to track down her estranged daughter Claire. Through these chapters we learn about the fates of various characters in the earlier timeline, and understand what Fiona went through, watching not only her brother, but so many of their friends die at the hands of a virus which the government at the time seemed largely unbothered about.

This is without question my favourite book that I have read so far this year – and I’d put it into at least my top 10 of all-time favourites. I absolutely adored Yale, and appreciated that Makkai drew so many believable and distinct characters which made up his friendship group and other acquaintances. She does not portray heroes and villains, just incredibly ‘real’ characters, who I felt like I genuinely knew and cared for. I do feel that the early timeline on its own would have made for an interesting and wonderful novel, but the 2015 story added to it, in that we could see what an effect Fiona’s experiences had had on her as an adult.

I could write about this book all day, and good luck to anyone who asks me about it – you’re going to need to set aside a few hours while I wax lyrical! However, I don’t think I could do it justice. It is a beautifully written, heartbreaking, uplifting, thought provoking novel, and I recommend it to literally everyone.

 

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I had never seen the film Educating Rita (although I have bought it to watch after seeing this show). However, it was originally a stage show before being filmed for the big screen, so the touring production has gone back to its roots.

It’s written by Willy Russell (who also wrote Blood Brothers) so you know that there is going to be humour, sadness and poignancy in the script. For anyone not familiar with the story, Rita is a Liverpudlian hairdresser and housewife who feels there must be more to life and enrols on an Open University course in English Literature. Frank is her lecturer, a borderline alcoholic, disillusioned with his career. He underestimates Rita’s ability or willingness to learn, but as they work through the course, both of them ending up helping each other in different ways.

The show is a two hander – the only two members of the cast – Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson are on stage throughout the entire performance (save for the brief moments before and after Rita arrives and leaves her lessons. Its also set entirely in Frank’s study. So there is a lot of responsibility on the two actors to deliver – and deliver they do, in spades. Stephen Tompkinson is perfectly cast as Frank, and despite his issues you cannot help liking him, and more importantly believing in the character. Jessica Johnson was also extremely likeable and entirely believable as Rita, and the two bounced off each other very well.

The dialogue is at times razor sharp, but there is also pathos and both Frank and Rita’s back stories are laced with regret. Willy Russell seems to be able to get to the heart of the human psyche, and has done so brilliantly here. (For my money, this is a much more enjoyable play than Blood Brothers.)

Quite simply superb – if you get the chance to see this production, don’t miss it!

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This is the second time I have seen this show, which is based on the 1992 film of the same name starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. When I saw it in 2015 (review here) Zoe Birkett played the role of Rachel Marron; on this occasion Jennlee Shallow tackled the part and it’s safe to say she was an outstanding success.

A brief recap of the story for anyone who is not familiar – Rachel Marron is the world’s biggest singing star, but has become the target of a deranged and calculating stalker. Frank Farmer is the bodyguard hired to look after her, although neither Rachel doesn’t want him there, and Frank doesn’t want the job. They are initially disdainful of each other, but their relationship start to grow and Frank realises that his feelings for Rachel are getting in the way of his job.

The show literally opens with a bang – a gunshot rings out and you see two men caught in a standoff, before the spectacular opening number, Queen of the Night. The show plunges the audience right into Rachel’s world with this song – the fire, the costumes, the dancing, gets you into the mood immediately.

The musical numbers are of course the real attraction of the show – Shallow has a great voice and uses it to full effect; for me, the ballads are the more enjoyable songs. Run To You, All at Once, One Moment in Time and I Have Nothing, are all beautiful and brought a lump to my throat.

Frank was played by the gorgeous Benoit Marechal, who brought the perfect amount of gentlemanliness and reticence to the role – his karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You, was a comedic highlight in a show packed with drama. Micha Richardson played Rachel’s sister Nikki, always eclipsed by her younger, famous sibling, and harbouring an unrequited desire for Frank. The stalker was played with menace by Phil Atkinson, and there are six young boys playing Rachel’s son Fletcher – on this occasion Caleb Williams took the role and stole the audience’s hearts.

Just a fantastic show which has drama, laughter, amazing singing and dancing – for me this will be one that I will see every time it comes around and I highly recommend it.

 

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