Posts Tagged ‘excellent’

I saw this production at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, on 13th October 2012. It was performed by South Staffordshire Musical Theatre Company, an amateur company – but this certainly felt like a professional production.

The story is a well known one – a young Nun named Maria is struggling to cope with life inside the convent, where she lives in Austria.  She is sent away to become a governess to the seven children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp.  The Captain is initially formidable and doesn’t approve of Maria’s methods (basically, she lets the children have fun and teaches them to sing), but he softens towards her and the two fall in love.  However, their happiness is threatened by the arrival of the Nazis into Germany…

Okay, here’s a small confession….I have NEVER seen the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  I know the story of course, so I knew more or less what to expect in that respect.  What I didn’t know was that by the end of the show, my mouth would be aching from smiling so much, or that I would have had to wipe a few tears from my eyes.

It’s hard to pick out any specific members of the cast, only because they were all so good, but I cannot review this production without commenting on Claudia Gilmour, who had the unenviable task of taking on the part made so famous by Julie Andrews.  Claudia simply has the most beautiful singing voice, and her acting was also wonderful – I really liked her portrayal.  Tim Brown was also terrific is Captain Von Trapp, and his change from formidable and unapproachable, to gentle and loving was lovely to see.

Most of the songs are very familiar to even those like me, who have not seen the film. Do Re Me and A Few Of My Favourite Things were my particular favourites (it was hard not to sing along at the top of my voice, but I couldn’t subject those sitting near to me, to that!), but actually all of the songs were really lovely.

This was a fabulous production, with clearly a lot of hard work from all involved.  Their work paid off – the show is a triumph!

(For more information about The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, please click here.  South Staffordshire Musical Theatre Company’s website can be found here.)

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I saw this production of Twelfth Night, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, at Stratford upon Avon, on 1st September 2012.

For anyone not familiar with the story, it revolves around a young woman named Viola, who survives a shipwreck and washes up in a country called Illyria.  Viola believes that her twin brother Sebastian has perished in the shipwreck.  She disguises herself as a man and calls herself Cesario, and finds employment with Orsino (in the original play, Orsino was a Duke, but here he is captain of the police force).  Orsino has fallen hard for Olivia (originally written as a countess, but here the owner of a hotel), and tasks ‘Cesario’ with conveying his love to Olivia, and hopefully getting Olivia to return his feelings.  However, Olivia falls for ‘Cesario’, not realising that he is in fact a woman, and things get complicated.  A sub-plot concerns Olivia’s drunken uncle, Toby Belch, and his capers and escapades with his friend Andrew Aguecheek.

The play started with Viola, played with charm by Emily Taaffe, literally climbing out of water, onto the wooden stage, which made for a dramatic opening scene.  As the action moves from Orsino’s home to Olivia’s hotel, the action moves along at a nice pace, balancing drama and comedy perfectly.  The play was performed in modern dress, and the set was clean, with only a few pieces of scenery, which worked very well, and ensured seamless switching of scenes.

The cast were all excellent, but I simply cannot review this play without making special mention of Jonathan Slinger, who played Malvalio – and was outstanding in his role.  He also got the biggest laugh of the entire play; I’m not going to say in which scene, as I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has yet to see it, but suffice to say that the auditorium exploded with applause and laughter, and I was crying from laughing so much.  Nicholas Day and Bruce MacKinnon were great as Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek respectively, as Cecilia Noble as Maria.

This is one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies, and it’s easy to see why.  I highly recommend this production, which is part of the shipwreck trilogy (which also includes The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest; however, it is not necessary to see all of the plays to enjoy one of them). If you want to see an excellent comedy, in a beautiful theatre, I cannot recommend this production highly enough.

(For more information about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)


Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation.


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When a mysterious and reticent young woman moves into the country abode of Wildfell Hall, with a young son but no husband, the interest and suspicions of the villagers are soon aroused.  Gilbert Markham, a young farmer in the village is intrigued by the newcomer, Helen Graham.  They become friends and before long Gilbert falls for Helen.  However, the other residents of the village start imagining all kind of things about Helen’s past and start spreading gossip and half-truths, especially regarding her apparent relationship with her landlord Mr Lawrence.  Gilbert confronts Helen, and it is only when she allows him to read her diary that he understands her reluctance to make friends or discuss her past – Helen has left her alcoholic and cruel husband, and has taken their son in order that her husband cannot be a bad influence upon him.  But can she ever escape the spectre of her unhappy marriage, and find happiness again…?

Anne Bronte is far less celebrated than her two sisters, Charlotte and Emily.  Most readers are familiar wtih Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre (one of my personal favourites), and Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights.  (Even people who have not read the books usually have an idea of the storylines,due to the numerous television and film adaptations.)   This is the first time I have read Anne Bronte, and I am at a loss as to why she is less well known than her sisters, because I thought this book was superb.

The narrative has three distinct parts – the first and third take the forms of letters written to an unseen friend, by Gilbert Markham, in which he tells his friend about the mysterious stranger who has taken up tenancy in Wildfell Hall, and the  events surrounding her arrival in the village.  The middle section consists of Helen’s diary entries, which detail the events in her marriage and her flight from her husband.

For the time it was written, this was a very brave subject to tackle – no matter how badly a husband treated his wife, a wife was simply not expected to leave him.  Indeed at the time, it was not possible for a woman to obtain a divorce from her husband – although there was nothing to stop a husband divorcing his wife.  Helen comes across as a strong character, reluctantly but necessarily flying in the face of social convention, and finding herself the subject of salacious gossip rather than sympathy for her troubles.

Comparisons to the works of Charlotte and Emily Bronte are inevitable, and whereas Emily depicted Heathcliff as a passionate and incredibly romantic hero, Anne portrays a far more realistic picture of life with such a man – her husband is certainly attractive and passionate in the beginning, but she soon realises that he is selfish, cruel and concerned more for himself than anybody else.  I rather admire Anne for daring to show this less than savoury aspect of his character.

The characters were extremely well drawn, and while Helen verges on being overly pious and religious, it is important to remember the time that the book was written, when people were expected to be devoutly Christian, and not to go to church was seen as a serious transgression (early on in the book, the local Vicar calls on Helen to admonish her for her non-attenance at church).  Helen does however come across as wilful and strong in extrremely difficult circumstances, and is determined to do what she believes to be right, even if it is not what others believe to be right.  She was an admirable heroine.

Gilbert was a very likable and believable haracter.  He was essentially a decent young man, but perhaps due to his mother who pandered to his every whim, he sometimes could behave in a selfish or childish manner – a fact that he himself was not blind to.  However, this just served to make him all the more believable and realistic.

The other main character is that of Arthur Huntingdon, Helen’s husband.  He does not narrate any of the book himself, but is fully brought to life in Helen’s diary, and was a despicable and ultimately rather pathetic character.

The story had sufficient twists and turns to suprise me on many occasions, and the ending was very satisfying.  There were also moments of unexpected humour, although unlike some other reviewers, I did not see any similarity with the humour of Jane Austen.

Above all, this is an exciting story, with a heroine who was ahead of her time in many ways, but trapped by the social conventions of the time in which she lived.  The book kept me gripped throughout, and I would recommend this without hesitation, especially to anyone who may have read books by the other Bronte sisters, but have yet to give Anne’s work a try.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Bette Davis is Margo Channing, a huge Broadway star.  When she meets the young, starstruck Eve, Margo takes her under her wing, and gives Eve a home and a job.  But it’s not long before Eve shows her true colours when she starts scheming in an attempt to undermine Margo – attempting to steal Margo’s current stage role, her lover, and the adulation of the theatre world.

I had never seen this film before (older black and white movies were never something I thought to watch, until I saw Roman Holiday, which opened up a whole new era of classic films to me).  However, I would certainly watch it again – I thought it was excellent.  Bette Davis is simply mesmerising as Margo – she is charismatic and sexy, but insecure and can be exasperating to her partner and friends.  It’s no surprise that she was Oscar nominated for her role, but something of a shock that she didn’t win, because she is really superb, switching from witty to sarcastic to genuinely kind to insecure and tense.  Great support is provided by Celeste Holm as Margo’s best friend Karen, George Sanders as theatre critic Addison de Witt, Gary Merrill as Margo’s partner Bill, and Hugh Marlowe as playwright Lloyd Richards.  Anne Baxter plays the eponymous anti-heroine, and also received an Oscar nomination for the role – she was certainly great in this, but this film really belongs to Bette Davis.  (Davis was not the first choice for the film – Claudette Colbert was originally due to play Margo, but suffered a ruptured disc and was unable to do so.)

No spoilers about the ending here, but I did think the way the film finished was just about perfect.  This movie received fourteen Oscar nominations in total, and won six of the categories.  It’s easy to see why – some classics do stand the test of time and this is one of them.  I’m surprised that this is the first film starring Bette Davis that I have ever watched – but it certainly won’t be the last.  Marilyn Monroe also plays a small role in the film – and she certainly made the most of her screen time, with some excellent comedy timing.

Definitely a film worth watching – and rewatching.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Writers: Mary Orr (original short story), Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Main cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe

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This is a chilling story of a very different America, sometime in the 21st century.  It is narrated by Offred, a ‘Handmaid’ – a woman who exists only for the purposes of procreation, and whose life beyond that purpose is worthless.

In the world in which the novel takes place, women are placed into categories, with no choice or education.  Offred’s tale is that of many other Handmaid’s – a woman who belongs to a wealthy childless couple, and who is expected to provide them with a child.  The details of exactly how America came to be like this are hazy, although the reader can surmise that it is probably through nuclear attack.

Offred recalls her life before this new society – the Gileadean Society – came into being. A life that many readers would recognise – happily married with a daughter and a good job (when she did not realise how happy she actually was); and how, shortly after the inception of the Gileadeans, she was herded to a centre with other prospective Handmaid’s to be ‘trained’ for her new role in life.  She also describes her life with the family with whom she lives – the Commander (what he is a Commander of is never clarified) and his wife Serena Joy.

This was a fantastic book – extremely well written, and despite the initial absurdity of the premise, I soon found myself seeing how such events could unfold (indeed, many of the shocking events in the book have taken place in one form or another throughout history).  Characterisation is excellent.  Offred was entirely believable, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that she could easily have been someone I knew.  Also believable were the couple who she lived with, her friend Moira and various other characters. The fact that each and every character was so well drawn, and so easy to invest in added to the disturbing sense that this was a reality one could imagine all too well.

There is much that is left unsaid in this book, and therefore a certain amount that a reader must assume.  Margaret Atwood’s writing is spare, but she has a wonderful way of placing you in the moment.  There is a sinister undertone to this story; a sense of apprehension about what might be about to come next.

Mainly this book made me feel relieved – relieved that this is not my life, and relieved that I could put the book down and leave the world which the narrator inhabited.  This does not mean that I did not enjoy reading it.  I would recommend this book very highly indeed.  It’s not often that a book comes along totally rocks my world – this is one of those rare occasions when I’m prepared to say that I think this just might be my new all-time favourite read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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