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The full title of this play is actually Vice Versa (Or the Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey). And if that doesn’t give you the idea that you are in for a few hours of fun, laughter and daftness, then I don’t know what will.

The play is a new script by Phil Porter, described as ‘lovingly ripped off from the Roman comedies of Plautus’. The story revolves around the pathetic and self-deluded General Braggodocio, who has taken as his concubine the unwilling Voluptua. She, meanwhile is having a clandestine relationship with her true love Valentin, and the General’s servant Dexter has to hide the fact from her boss, while simultaneously scheming to get Voluptua, Valentin and herself out of the General’s clutches.

I can honestly say that from the moment the play started until the moment the cast took their final bows, I had a constant grin on my face, and it is no exaggeration to say that I laughed out loud genuinely and frequently – the whole audience seemed to share a real enthusiasm and found the play extremely funny.

Felix Hayes certainly had no qualms about sending himself up in the role of General Braggadocio, and was terrific in every scene. The whole supporting cast were fantastic too, with Byron Mondahl and Steven Kynman great as his two inept servants Omnivorous and Feclus. Ellie Beaven and Geoffrey Lumb also shone as lovers Voluptua and Valentin, and Nicholas Day was truly hilarious as Philoproximus Braggadocio’s neighbour who is complicit in the the double crossing). Special mention also to Kim Hartman who played a prostitute called Climax(!) However, the main plaudits surely have to be reserved for Sophie Nomvete as Dexter – not only did she have the job of tying the whole story together and keeping the audience involved, she also had the biggest role and the most dialogue – she never missed a beat, and the unpacking the shopping scene (watch the show! I don’t want to spoil this scene for you!) was incredibly funny, well written and brilliantly delivered.

This play actually holds the records for the most amount of props (244) used in an RSC production, and indeed they were brought out with frequency. The whole production was colourful and brash, with a lot of physical ‘slapstick’ style comedy as well as numerous double entendres and puns.

I loved the production and would happily have sat through it again straight away. I definitely recommend that anyone who enjoys a good solid belly laugh sees this production while it’s on!

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La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of Georges, a night club manager (played here by Adrian Zmed) and his romantic partner and star attraction Albin (John Partridge). Happily together for 20 years, their lives are thrown into disarray when Georges’ son Jean-Michael (Dougie Carter) wants to marry a young woman named Anne, but her ultra-conservative parents do not approve of homosexuality (or much else it appears). Jean-Michael wants Albin to stay away when Anne and her parents visit, as they believe that his biological parents are still married. This naturally leads to devastation for Albin, who has raised Jean-Michael as his own for years, and also paves the way for a hilarious evenings of misunderstanding, mistaken identity and shocking revelations.

During the show, the audience are treated to a smorgasbord of highly imaginative, colourful and flamboyant dances by Les Cagelles, the dancers at Georges’ nightclub – a group of young men who dress like beautiful young woman. Albin of course is the club’s star with his alter-ego Zaza, a bitchy, vulnerable and extremely funny drag queen. Stage veteran Marti Webb also appears as restauranteur and friend of the couple, Jacqueline.

I loved the show – the songs, which include the showstopping I Am What I Am as well as others like With Anne On My Arm, Look Over There and The Best of Times, were all performed to perfection. John Patridge’s rendition of I Am What I Am moved me to genuine tears.

Despite the subject matter, this is most certainly a comedy, and Partridge and Zmed make the most of their roles, with Patridge (as Zaza) riffing with the audience for some time in the first half of the show. The more farcical elements are in the second half with the visit of Anne and her parents.

The show got a standing ovation at the end, and it was well deserved. If you want to hear some beautiful musical numbers, watch some spectacular dancing and have a good belly laugh, you should definitely try and see La Cage Aux Folles!

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This third book in Agatha Christie’s Poirot series is actually a collection of eleven (fourteen in the American book) short stories, all unconnected save for the fact that they all relate mysteries that Poirot solved, and all are narrated by his friend Captain Hastings.

I enjoyed the book and as with all other Christie books that I have read so far, I zipped through it fairly quickly. However – and this is just personal preference – while I don’t mind reading short stories sometimes, I generally prefer a full-length novel, which gives chance for more character and plot development. That said, Christie always seems to focus more on the plot than the characters – Poirot after all remains unchanged in the three books I have read which feature him, as does Captain Hastings. And despite preferring longer stories on the whole, I would still recommend this for Poirot fans.

It’s fair to say that while most of the plots were very clever, Poirot’s ability to solve them does stretch the imagination somewhat. He manages to solve one mystery without even being there! He is laid up in bed with flu so sends along Hastings to be his eyes and ears, but it is Poirot that works out the truth behind the matter. This explains Poirot’s huge ego and arrogance, which somehow only serve to make me like him more!

In all short story collections there will be some that the reader prefers over others, and these will probably vary from reader to reader. There were none that I didn’t enjoy, but for my money the best ones were:

The Adventure of the Western Star – A film star receives demanding letters requesting a particular diamond which her husband brought her for their wedding. She enlists Poirot’s help in finding out who is behind the letters.

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan – a lady staying at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, has a beautiful and valuable piece of jewellery stolen. Suspicion falls upon the chambermaid and the lady’s own personal maid, and it is up to Poirot to get to the bottom of the matter.

The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim – a banker goes missing and Poirot is immediately on the case.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman – Count Foscatini, an Italian nobleman is brutally murdered, and the hunt is on for the only two men who could have done it. But of course the truth is much stranger than imagined…

Overall, an enjoyable, undemanding and diverting read.

 

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This book centres around three women – Alexandra, Sukie and Jane – who live in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the early 1970s. They are all divorced and/or widowed, and they all just happen to be witches. Their close friendship is threatened by the arrival in town of the base, bawdy, but hugely charismatic Darryl Van Horne. And…that’s about it. More does happen, but the storyline here is really pretty slow, centering more on the interactions between the main characters.

I must confess that this was not what I expected it to be at all. Having recently watched the film again for the first time in years, I expected the book to be of much the same tone – quirky, funny and colourful. It wasn’t, and while it did eventually draw me in somewhat, quite often I found myself looking for something else to do rather than pick up the book, and certain parts did feel really tedious.

I didn’t find any of the characters believable, although to an extent maybe they weren’t meant to be. Indeed out of the three women, the only vaguely likeable one was Alexandra (until it was revealed that she had used a spell to kill a puppy out of sheer spite; that takes some getting past). The prose was undoubtedly eloquent in places, but I always felt that Updike was inserting descriptions where they weren’t required, and was forever flying off at tangents.

The fact that the three women were witches – and were not the only witches in Eastwick – was not treated as particularly surprising to other members of the community, although it was repulsive to some of them, and some of the things that happened because of their spells (such as unusual items coming out of people’s mouths while they were talking). There was not an awful lot of humour in the story, but a lot of simmering malice. In short, for me this book was something of a let-down. I can sort of see why some people would love it, and there were flashes of great enjoyment sandwiched between the weirdness, but as it turned out I was just relieved to get to the end of this one.

An Hour Behind (2017)

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Trish (Emily Rose) owns a cupcake parlour and has no time for love, but that doesn’t stop her sister Chloe (Alesandra Durham) setting her up on a blind breakfast date with a man called Adam. But Trish forgets to set her clock forward for Daylight Saving Time and turns up unaware that she is over an hour late. She ends up meeting a man who she thinks is Adam, but he is actually Parker (Barry Watson)- an understandably confused paramedic who goes along with the ruse and – surprise! – they both end up having a wonderful day together. But what will happen when Trish learns Parker’s true identity? And what secrets is Parker himself hiding?…

This is a romantic comedy, with possibly more focus on the romantic aspect than the comedy. Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable, lighthearted fare, with a couple of charismatic leads. As I’ve said in reviews of other movies of this ilk, the ending is guessable from the start, but it’s still fun getting there. I also thought the supporting cast – especially Scott Christopher as Parker’s friend Tom – was excellent.

No doubt the storyline is a bit fluffy and overly sentimental in places, but if you like the romantic genre, you may want to give this one a try. And all the talk of cupcakes will certainly make your mouth water!!

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Brian Brough

Writer: Brittany Wiscombe

Main cast: Emily Rose, Barry Watson, Scott Christopher, Shona Kay, Aubrey Reynolds, Alesandra Durham

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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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Lily Riser was kidnapped at the age of sixteen and held captive for eight years. This story opens with the day she makes her escape, when her captor makes a mistake which enables her and daughter Sky to run away. However, when Lily is reunited with her family and begins the painful process of trying to move on from her ordeal she realises that escaping was just the beginning…

I thought the premise of this book was really intriguing. Rather than focusing on the kidnap and ‘whodunnit’, instead we are told pretty much straight away who took Lily and the chapters, although told in the third person, then alternate between the points of view of Lily; her twin sister Abby who has been in mourning for her sister for the last eight years; their mother Eve, whose life has fallen to pieces; and Rick, Lily’s teacher who kidnapped her and is almost immediately arrested for the crime.

However, while I was really looking forward to reading this book, I found it disappointing. I finished it and it’s certainly a quick, undemanding read but to use one of my favourite analogies, it was like eating cheap chocolate – you know it’s not much good, but it’s not bad enough to not enjoy it. I spotted a mistaken in the timeline on page 2, which didn’t bode well, and things didn’t particularly improve. None of the characters seemed believable or particularly well drawn to me – indeed all of them behaved in a way which seemed entirely unrealistic, and potential plot points are dangled and then abandoned (such as Lily’s feelings towards high school boyfriend Wes). Rick is little more than a caricature, and it’s hard to believe that such a resourceful and intelligent (albeit completely evil) man would make such an obvious mistake as he did at the beginning of the book or entertain other plans which he did throughout the story. Also the writing seemed over-wrought and melodramatic, almost like watching one of those cheap made for tv suspense films.

As has become the norm for almost any psychological thriller in the last couple of years, this book has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. This should have rung alarm bells for me because I thought that both of those books were completely over-rated, but beware – even if you loved those novels, this one is nothing like them.

So overall, I would give five out of five for the idea behind the story, but probably only 1.5 out of 5 for the execution. Disappointing.