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Archive for November, 2021

In the mid 1740s, a young Englishman named Richard Smith arrives in New York, a city in its infancy, with a money order for £1000. As none of the counting houses have that kind of cash available and as there are questions surrounding his honesty and the authenticity of the order, Mr Smith is obliged to wait in New York until the money can be raised and he can be proven to be trustworthy.

The reader is also kept in the dark about Mr Smith’s intentions – we don’t know if he is honest and we don’t know what he plans to do with the money, and we only find out the truth about both questions at the end of the book. No spoilers here though!

His presence in the city divides the people who live there – some believe him and like him, others are convinced that he is a liar and a cheat – and he finds himself in some dangerous and unsavoury situations – some of his own making and others in which he is an innocent party. There are a number of twists and turns along the way.

A curious one this, for me. I really struggled with some parts of it and found it difficult to maintain interest. But other parts were fascinating and exciting and I raced through them. There is a LOT of description about New York in the 1740s, which does really help to set the scene. Spufford also employs the use of language of the era, which could sometimes mean that it didn’t flow as easily as it might have. So all in all a bit of a mixed bag. I did like the main character of Mr Smith, but most of the other characters were not particularly well developed. There is a strong female character named Tabitha, who I wish could have been pleasant as well as strong and smart. She had a much more pliant sister, and I was reminded of Katherine and Bianca from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (although Katherine is more of a sympathetic character than Tabitha, who I just found unpleasant).

With all that said, there was a lot here to enjoy and I would consider reading more from this author.

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Anything from the Mischief Theatre Company is worth watching, and after this got postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it (and finally getting back to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, which is one of my favourite places).

If you’re familiar with the Mischief Company’s work, you’ll know that the usually play a group of amateur actors who stage plays that go disastrously wrong, and they have had huge success. A few years ago they wrote a straightforward comedy (The Play About A Bank Robbery) which was extremely funny. Groan Ups has all the laughs and gags you would expect, but there is a surprising tenderness and poignancy in it as well.

We first meet the main cast of five as a group of six year olds at school together, and we can see their early personalities which become more developed as they get older. There’s the precocious, spoiled Moon (played by Yolande Ovid), who spends more time with her au pair than her parents. There’s sensitive Archie (Daniel Abbott), the new boy in the class. Katie (Lauren Samuels) is a worrier and a hard worker. Spencer (Dharmesh Patel) is the popular lad who is not exactly academic. And Simon (Matt Cavendish) is the object of their teasing (and sometimes out and out bullying). After the first part where each child describes their weekend and naively talks about things their parents have done or said without understanding the adult implications of such words and actions, we next meet them as teenagers, where we can see deeper friendships having formed, crushes develop and their adult futures loom. In the final stage of the play they are adults who have left school, but return to the building for a reunion.

There’s a lovely running physical comedy gag about the school hamster, and a fabulous turn from Jamie Birkett as Chemise, the lady who Simon brings to the reunion. The small cast was rounded out by Paul Brown, who played another former schoolboy at the reunion. (Brown was understudy to Killian Macardle).

The sets were fantastic – all set in one classroom, but in teh first part, the doors and furniture were huge, helping to give the impression that the cast were little children. By the time they return for the reunion, the furniture is child sized.

I loved the show; it was so clever, so funny and very sweet. Everyone in the audience seemed to be having a great time and laughing a lot! The whole cast was great and I highly recommend going to see this if you get chance.

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