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Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

It’s almost 20 years since I saw Fiddler on the Roof, at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, so I was due another performance, and had the absolute pleasure of seeing it at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, with the iconic Paul Michael Glaser, heading the cast as the Jewish milkman Tevye.  Set in the poor Russian village of Anatevka in 1905, the story – taken from a collection of stories by Sholem Aleichem – revolves around Tevye’s attempts to find good husbands for his eldest three daughters, while also trying to maintain his family’s Jewish traditions in a changing world.

The most famous song from Fiddler is of course If I Were A Rich Man – which Glaser performed wonderfully – but the show is packed with wonderful music, all delivered by an excellent cast, most of whom played the instruments for the songs while in character.  The eponymous fiddler on the roof was the excellent Jennifer Douglas, who is present as an observing character throughout most of the show.

Although there is much humour to be found in Tevye’s determination to marry his daughters off to men of whom he approves, while they themselves have other ideas(!), Fiddler does deal with some serious subjects, especially that of the Jewish people being turned out of their own homes.  This brought a touch of pathos to the show and I was genuinely moved at the end.

Craig Revel-Horwood choreographed the show, and his talent is obvious in such marvellous sequences as the Matchmaker song, performed by the three eldest daughters, and especially Tevye’s dream, which had the audience in fits of laughter.

I’m somewhat reluctant to single out specific members of the cast for praise, as they were all excellent, but Paul Michael Glaser showed that he has lost none of his charisma in his superb performance, and Karen Mann matched him perfectly as his wife Golde.  Emily O’Keefe, Liz Singleton and Claire Petzal were also superb as the three eldest daughters.  However, there was not a weak link at all amongst the cast, and every single one of them deserved the enthusiastic applause which they received.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

 

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This mini-series (four episodes) was based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s experiences as a doctor, which he wrote about in his book ‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’, and was part of the Sky Arts Playhouse Presents series.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a young, newly graduated doctor from Moscow in 1917, who is sent to a remote village where there is very little to do (even the nearest shop is half a day’s travel away).  It snows constantly, and the only companions he has are his two nurses, his assistant doctor, and his patients, who invariably don’t want the help that he offers.  John Hamm plays the same doctor 17 years later, and the two interact with each other (although the young doctor is the only one who can see the older version of himself).

The first  two episodes were filled with dark humour (and some gory moments), but things took an altogether more sinister turn in the third and fourth episodes, when it becomes apparent that the older doctor is addicted to morphine, and faces legal trouble for falsifying prescriptions.  The older doctor wants to stop his younger self from repeating the same mistakes.

I won’t give away the ending, but it was oddly unexpected and inevitable, both at the same time.  I understand that there aren’t any more episodes planned, but the ending means that there could be more, so I live in hope!

As for the cast – Hamm was excellent as the older, world-weary doctor, and the excellent supporting cast included Rosie Cavaliero as Pelageya, a nurse and sometime sexual partner of the young doctor; Adam Godley as his assistant, and who provided some of the more humorous lines; and Vicky Pepperdine as another nurse.  Daniel Radcliffe was fine as the younger doctor, and was not as unbelievable as you might think, playing a younger version of  John Hamm!

Overall, well worth a watch – plenty of laughs and a few ‘cover your eyes’ moments.  I’d like to see a second series please!

Year of release: 2012

Director: Alex Hardcastle

Producers: Kenton Allen, Dan Cheesebrough, John Hamm, Matthew Justice, Lucy Lumsdem, Saskia Schuster, Yvonne Sellins, Clelia Mountford

Writers: Mikhail Bulgakov (book ‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’), Mark Chappell, Alan Connor, Shaun Pye

Main cast: Daniel Radcliffe, John Hamm, Rosie Cavaliero, Adam Godley, Vicki Pepperdine

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This is the second book in Paullina Simons’ trilogy about young couple Alexander and Tatiana.  The spoilers I mention in the title of this post refer to both this book and the previous book, ‘The Bronze Horseman’.

The two title characters are actually not physically together for most of this book; Tatiana having escaped to America at the end of The Bronze Horseman, believing her husband Alexander to be dead; and Alexander still in Russia and forced to lead a penal battalion in war, with not enough soldiers, not enough ammunition and certainly not enough support from his country’s leader.

While Tatiana attempts to make something of her life – she becomes a nurse at Ellis Island, makes friends, raises her and Alexander’s son Anthony, and even considers dating again – she can never escape the possibility that her husband, the love of her life just might be alive.  Alexander meanwhile has no idea where in the world Tatiana might be, or even if she is still alive.

I enjoyed this book, just as I enjoyed The Bronze Horseman.  In this instalment of the story, Alexander’s back story, including how he came to be living in the Soviet Union, and his life before he met Tatiana, is covered, with the result that he is a much more sympathetic and rounded character.  I thought the parts which detailed him fighting for a war he was no longer sure he believed in, under horrific conditions, to be absolutely compelling.  The contrast between the lives which husband and wife led during this period were very marked – while Tatiana has found comfort and luxury, Alexander is barely surviving, and watches his fellow soldiers die on a daily basis.

The ending was superb – the last 100 pages or so are genuinely unputdownable!  There is a third instalment in this series, which I certainly look forward to reading very soon.

Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of The Bronze Horseman.

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22nd June 1941.  This is the date that life for Tatiana Metanova, a young girl living in Leningrad, will change forever.  First, it is the day that Hitler invades Russia, and second, it is the day that Tatiana meets Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army.  There is an instant and very strong attraction between Tatiana and Alexander, but circumstances conspire to keep them apart.  She quickly finds out that Alexander is the new boyfriend of her sister Dasha, and has to choose between her own happiness and that of her beloved sister.  Meanwhile, as the war continues, the living conditions in Leningrad become dreadful, and Tatiana sees people dying all around her, from starvation, illness and bombing.

And still, she and Alexander cannot let go of each other emotionally.  Will they ever find a way to be together – and will either of them survive the war?

Paullina Simons is one of my very favourite authors, seemingly always able to create books which I can’t put down, filled with very realistic and believable characters.  I felt the same way about this book, although I felt it was very different in style to such books of hers as Tully and The Girl In Times Square.

Tatiana was a great heroine.  Although the book is told in the third person, I think that we got to see things predominantly from her point of view, and therefore she was probably the easiest character to sympathise with.  She was feisty but vulnerable, and showed remarkable reserves of strength and courage.

I felt more ambivalent towards Alexander and at times actually disliked him.  Although he and Tatiana had this incredible love, he sometimes treated her less than gallantly, and came across as a spoilt young man.  However, his basic decency also came through and made me root for him.

The most fascinating and interesting part of the book for me was the description of war torn Leningrad.  To read about the tiny rations people had to live on – just a tiny amount of bread often mixed with sawdust or cardboard to pad it out – was harrowing, and it was all too believable.  Electricity was lost, and there was no clean water.  People would attack each other for their meagre rations, or someone would be blown apart from a bomb while waiting in line for their food.  The depictions of such conditions were vivid and distressing, yet utterly compelling.

The book was not perfect – at times it did lapse into slushy, sugary dialogue and I thought I had accidentally stumbled upon a Mills and Boon novel, and there was much handwringing and agonising between the main two characters.  But despite this, it won me round.  I found the book hard to put down, and was genuinely interested to see how the story wound up.

It is the first book in a trilogy, and I will certainly be reading the following two books.  It’s not my favourite book by this author, but certainly one that I’m glad I read.  Recommended.

(I would like to thank Harper Collins for sending me this book to review.  Harper Collins’ website can be found here.  Paullina Simons’ website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of Tatiana and Alexander (the second book in this trilogy).

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