A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Taheren Mafi

This novel has an incredibly clever title and it took me rather a long time to realise this. But when I did, it made me love this book even more.

This is a tale that may seem like a popular one for YA fiction – a love story. However, this has so much more to it. Yes, it tackles the idea of love across the cultural divide (which we all know is something that maybe we should not be facing in the 21st Century), however the journey of self-discovery on these pages is fascinating. Maybe, one who fears prejudice may inadvertently demonstrate their own?

Shirin feels that there is absolutely no need to become part of the school community. After all, they will all have made their mind up about her, judging her on her hijab. However, she meets Ocean, who goes out of his way to find out more about her – and will not give up easily. As a friendship and relationship blooms between the two, it comes to light that Ocean is basketball player and the labels the two feel they carry lead to difficult consequences for both.

A I read this book I went through all the emotions for all the characters. It is quite an emotional page-turner. You certainly feel that, by the end, Shirin and Ocean have been on quite an adventure together – and maybe they are a little happier in their own skin by the end.

Measure for Measure

Our summer trip to the RSC was to see Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse’s favourite play, ‘Measure for Measure’. A probloem play, so I am told, as it does not appear to fit perfectly into any category.

This production, by Gregory Doran, is set in early 1900s Vienn. Angelo has been left in charge of the city to deal with the brothels and low morals that the citizens appear to be demonstrating. However, is he in fact, any more morally superior than the people he is accusing?

This production was certainly played for laughs (including actors corpsing which, for me, always makes the show more enjoyable). However, what struck me through some of the action and the soliloquies is that, again, Shakespeare’s plays could have been written for the age we are living in. Are those in control really deserving? Can we believe or trust anything we are told?

As always, the production was superb. The cast engaged the audience in the tale, the set so simple but yet so versatile, and the music creating the perfect atmosphere.

Overall, a highly enjoyable, yet thought-provoking evening.

Six: The Musical

I love the opportunity to go to London and see a musical. As Miss W had mentioned that she fancied seeing ‘Six’, I jumped at the chance to plan a little trip (especially as even students I teach had been telling me ‘to see that musical about Henry VIII’s wives’).

‘Six: The Musical’ is at the Arts Theatre on the edge of Leicester Square. Quite an intimate theatre, which is perfect for this show as it is more a brilliant rock and pop concert than a traditional musical narrative. In fact, it is such a simple idea that it is incredibly effective.

The wives act out their own singing contest to allow the audience to decide who the most hard-done-by wife of Henry VIII was. Historical fact is set to amazing music to allow each wife to tell their tale, in a way that would probably suit their character if it was the modern day. The songs are catchy and the audience really does feel like it is at a rock concert.

However, what struck me the most was not just the amazing all-female production but the excellent ‘political’ statement made about ‘his-story’. All of those women are connected by Henry VIII, the man who fact brought them to hsitory. Yet they are part of ‘her-story’ and are figures in their own right, none more significant than the other but each having made their contribution. We just, unfortunately, often remember what those who write ‘his-story’ want us to remember.

This show deserves all the praise and dedicated following it has gained. And, if it is causing people to become more interested in history well, then it has done a fantastic job.

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage by Erin Green

Erin Green’s fourth novel has hit the shelves, and her first published by Headline. An exciting August publication for all, readers and author.

‘New Beginnings at Rose Cottage’ is an absolutely wonderful novel; I enjoyed every moment of this tale that was inspired by a recent trip to Brixham that Erin went on with friends (and by the end I am pretty certain you will want to visit it too).

Three women are thrown together as they each book a ‘solo’ holiday at Rose Cottage. At first they appear an unlikely trio to become friends – but they all have a strong connection: the need to find new beginnings.

They have quite some adventures as each embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, their friendships blooms and creates strong bonds that are unlikely to be broken.

The characters in the book are relateable, but my favourite of all was Benni – in fact, by the end of the book, I decided many of us need to ‘be like Benni’. She is just fabulous but, for me, certainly blooms into the beautiful butterfly she deserves to be by the end of the novel.

Erin Green never disappoints with her books. And, although I have a terrible craving for fish and chips and a seaside holiday now I have finished the book, it was a great read and I am looking forward to the next story in 2020.

Grease: The Musical

Despite my love of musicals ‘Grease’ is one that I have never seen. I’m not really sure why; after all, I was in the chorus of a school production many years ago. So, when I was given the chance to see the current touring production at Birmingham Hippodrome I thought: why not?

It really was an ‘electrifyin” production. Grease is one of those shows that has a cult following; really dedicated fans who ensure they see it every time it is on as it is a show that engulfs the audience in the nostalgia of the age of rock ‘n’ roll. As well as involving a love story which is always a popular narrative.

Let’s be honest – when the first tune is ‘Grease is the word’, you are addicted to the show. The whole performance was wonderful, high energy, colourful, and fabulous. There was even a ‘flying’ car during ‘Grease Lightin”. The whole company were great, with Dan Partridge taking on Danny Zuko and Martha Kirby playing Sandy (you would not know it is her professional debut – she WAS Sandy). However, I am not sure I have ever heard an audience get quite as excited as the moment that Peter Andre appeared as ‘Teen Angel’, a short but sweet appearance which made the audience squeal.

I really enjoyed this porduction, and the nostalgia of rock ‘n’ roll and the start of teenagers as their own group. I am not sure that the ‘love’ story is one that works for the modern age, but it is good fun and I am not sure why I have waited quite so long to see it.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Again, I am late to the book party. ‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been all over the book world since it was published, however I was never sure it was the book for me. Yet I gave in and decided to give it a go. My word, it really is a book for me.

Adam Kay has shared with the world his diaries from his medical days. His own secret diaries from his shifts on the front line working for the NHS. This is one of the most revealing books about life on the hospital wards that you are likely to read.

There is such humour in the writing (not sure it is always intentional) some moments of horror (especially if you are squeamish) and real heartbreak. In fact, never has a book had quite such a powerful ending.

What is clear about this account is that it has not been written to name and shame the NHS. However, it does show the frustration that Kay felt working in such a profession that is being forced to survive in such difficult circurmstances thanks to outside factors. It is obvious why so many are forced out of such careers, despite their best efforts.

This is a book that I hope mamy of the readers in the UK – and maybe even the world – will pick up to educate themselves and raise their awareness of the medical world.

Have you read a memoir that is like an education?

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royaly Military Tattoo has been part of the August Bank Holiday viewing for as long as I can remember, always looking like one of the greatest shows on earth. Miss W asked if I would go and see it, as it is also something that holds happy memories for her. And, I am so, so glad that we went; it was one of the best evenings of entertainment I have been to.

The theme of this year’s Tattoo is Kaleidoscope (a celebration of glorious symmetries), a celebration of the colour that makes this world the wonderful place we live in; a mixture of fabulous culture that makes up the rainbow of the world.

Military music has so much power and emtion behind it, from the moment the first note is heard, you have goosebumps and are engulfed in the Tattoo.

I don’t think I have the skill to describe how truly wonderful every moment of the Tattoo was. However, I can share that there were stunning performances from military bands from Nigeria, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, France, New Zealand, China and the Shetlands Isles. As well as dancers transporting us all around the world and putting us right in the middle of their culture.

And then we are returned to the massed military bands, and massed pipers and drums. Together they create a human kaleidoscope as they continue to engage and entertain the audience.

However, for me, even more powerful than all of this and seeing a whole audience join for ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is when we were asked to remember all of those who have fallen or been impacted by war, supported by the projection of candles of remembrance on the castle and concluding with ‘The Lone Piper’ on the castle walls.

I may not have summed up every detail of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo because I am not sure words do it justice. However, military music, colour, dancers and fireworks make for one of the most marvellous shows I have ever been to. I would love to go back!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019 – Part Two

There is so much at the Edinburgh Fringe – it is like an assault on the senses – but this also means that there is lots of choice. So, the main theme of the rest of the trip was music.

All the King’s Men

From the moment I finally caught up with the real world and saw ‘Pitch Perfect’, I became fascinated by ‘a coppella’ music. So when we spotted the opportunity to see the all male a cappella group ‘All the King’s Men’, we could not turn it down.

Their covers of a range of tunes were brilliant. They engage the audience with their slick choreography and amazing vocal talents.

The favourite for me was the cover of ‘I wanna dance with somebody’. Who can’t enjoy a singalong to such a classic? However, every song was brilliant, and you can not help leaving with a smile on your face and singing some tunes.

Avenue Q

This is a musical I have seen before and this production did not disappoint.

Avenue Q is Sesame Street for adults (and is certainly full of adult themes – this is not a family show). Part of the charm is that we all remember Sesame Street with rose-tinted glasses, and this gives us an excuse to enjoy such things again.

The laughs in Avenue Q are continuous (even if you are not sure if you should laugh at every song and joke). The talent of the puppeteers is impressive, the taking on of their puppets’ characters as well as working the puppets themselves.

It was a great production with a minimal set that worked for all the scenes, and talented actors who took on more than one part.

The Dolly Parton Story

Miss W is a huge Dolly Parton fan, so we could not turn down the chance to see ‘The Dolly Parton Story’. This is a show which tells the story of Dolly Parton’s career up until the 80’s – and, as we go, songs are sung along the way.

The songs in thsi show are sung by Hannah Richards, and she does this beautifully. Dolly would be proud of the show that is put on for the audience.

The audience is offered the stories behind some of Dolly Parton’s famous songs, as well as learning what a real rags-to-riches life the Queen of Country has led, with its ups and downs.

It was wonderful to see the audience really embrace the chance to have a singalong to end the show. After such a brillaint morning, it was an afternoon of Dolly Parton earworms.

Unfortunate

This was a surprise favourite of the Edinburgh Festival for both of us, I think. A friend recommended that we should go and see the offering from the ‘Fat Rascal Theatre’, and so we went to see ‘Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch’. As ‘The Little Mermaid’ is my favourite Disney film, this seemed like something I would enjoy!

And, oh my word, we enjoyed it. It was laugh-out-loud funny from almost the very first moment. The songs are truly wondeful (and, no, you won’t them before you arrive), as they create quite a parody of that classic film. This is not a family show – it has rather adult humour – Ariel has a whole different character to the film.

The show is wonderfully presented with a brilliantly simplistic stage, and costumes and all parts played by one of five members of the company. It is brilliant how they manage to play such a range of characters.

I am really keen to go and see more shows by ‘Fat Rascal Theatre’, because it was all comedy gold.

Legally Blonde

Our final show was a production of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’. This production was put on by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This is a full production and is good fun.

This is the tale of Elle Woods as she wants to prove she can be the woman her ex-boyfriend wants. However, she shows she can be so much more. The tunes in Legally Blonde are good fun and were performed beautifully. The jokes were brought right up to date for the audience. It was a great production of a fun musical with very talented actors on the stage and another simple but impressive set, and was a great way to bring our awesome Edinburgh experience to an end.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019 – Part One

At the start of August, I went to Edinburgh with the lovely Miss W. She had planned a little trip for us to attend the Edinburgh Fringe; something that has been on my bucket list for years. Having grown up listening to brilliant radio comedy, I had always heard of the Fringe and it always sounded like it would be great fun – and the event did not disappoint.

So, in order to share my thoughts, I have decided to create two posts – one that focuses on the spoken word events we saw, and a second that share the music and theatre we saw. So, I guess I should begin…

Evil Genius with Russell Kane

Attending a recording of radio show is something that (again) has been on the bucket list for quite some time. So, I am over the moon that I have managed to tick that off by attending a recording of ‘Evil Genius’ with Russell Kane. This started life a BBC podcast, but is moving to BBC Radio 4. The concept of the show is that the panel must decide if a celebrity of choice is ‘evil’ or ‘genius’ – there is no grey area.

The focus of our show was Bernard Manning (not the turkey man, Miss W). I won’t spoil the outcome but the panel chaired by Russell Kane, discussed the subject with a balance of humour and serious focus to make for a very entertaining show.

I am looking forward to the episode being broadcast to remember I was there (and love Russell Kane, Miss W even let me swap seats so I could see – haha).

The Empathy Experiment

One of the great things about the Edinburgh Fringe is that there are a number of shows that are free. One such show was ‘The Empathy Experiment’.

This was a spoken word show by Rose Condo, sharing her experiment that suggests if we give up our phones, we will show more empathy.

The audience are taken through the steps of the experiment. An interesting comment on the world of modern technology we live with every day. This show certainly makes you consider the pros and cons of a world of devices.

Will you leave looking at your use of devices or level of empathy differently?

Age Fright: 35 and Counting

Wow, this was a brilliant piece of stand-up comedy as, let’s be honest, it spoke directly to me and Miss W. We were the perfect target audience (and even managed to get over our fear of being involved).

Jaleelah Galbraith leads us through the nineties again, reminding us of all theose things that made grwoing up in thet decade great fun. (Dean Cain was one of my first crushes too). It was such a giggle as we all together remember the retro decade.

However, something this show did well was not just to focus on the rose-tinted nineties, Jal also thinks about make the most of our age and the life we have, because not everybody is so lucky to see all the ages that they could go through.

Buffering

The final piece of spoken word stand-up comedy we saw was ‘Buffering’. A show based on the idea that the women feel that their life is buffering, waiting for their children to leave home, or caught in the middle of elderly relatives and children (and maybe the odd glass of wine).

Jenny Laville and Pauline Eyre take to the stage as a double act who then split into their individual stand-up acts. They use their experiences to create a relateable set of routines for all. There were so many laugh-out-loud moments and jokes for all.

There is a great chemistry between both Jenny and Pauline, which make it even more fun, and giggles galore.

We were lucky that every show we saw was absolutely brilliant, and I would recommend each one to anyone who see a good show when in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

One of the best thigs about summer is that I seem to fit a lot of reading time in. Therefore, I discover some gems which have been on my ‘to be read’ pile quite some time, and ‘The Cactus’ was one such title.

I had seen a lot of love for ‘The Cactus’ on social media and in the bookshops, so I was quite excited to give it a go when it became the next book to read.

‘The Cactus’ is such a charming book, full of warmth and humour throughout, even as it tackles some tough subjects. Susan Green has always thought she is fully in control of every aspect of her life; a strong, independent and very organised lady. She does not need anyone else, and enjoys her own company. That is, until she is 45 and life appears to be changing, in ways she can not control – in fact, was it ever as she thought it was?

This book creates characters you can really warm to, and probably represent people we all know. You really find yourself rooting for Susan as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery she didn’t know she needed. In fact, by the end, it is almost as if she has become a new person.

This is a novel that fans of ‘The Rosie Project’ or ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ will enjoy. Not sure I could rank them, as they are all marvellous in their own way – but if you have not read ‘The Cactus’ yet, make sure you do soon.