A Christmas Carol

I am a huge fan of the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (and I must confess that it is the only Dickens tale that I have read from start to finish), so when I saw that the RSC was going to be doing an adaptation this festive season, I had to get tickets. Then my excitement was heightened when the cast was announced and Phil Davis was to be taking on the role of Scrooge; he has been a family favourite of ours for a long time, especially for shows such as ‘Whitechapel’ and the appearances that he makes in all our favourites.

So, on the 16th December (I know, I am a little behind – blame festivities) we arrived at a very Christmassy Royal Shakespeare Theatre to take our seats for ‘A Christmas Carol’. From the moment the production started, you were transported to Victorian England at Christmas time. The thing I admired the most was that such a simple set transported us to all the favourite destinations in the tale, from Scrooge’s chambers to Fezziwig’s Christmas party, in such simple moves of staging from all of those involved. The other immediate charm was that it was a small cast who took on the mammoth job of bringing this favourite to life, but it was all so cleverly done with subtle links between the characters they took on (I always admire a quick change).

Dickens takes you through the story as the narrator of the tale (although he too must take on other roles as we move through the play, but you almost do not notice, as it is all such a smooth transition). However, what I really admired about the tale having some narration, rather than it just being played out, was the real focus on context that this story was given with this narration. The social and historical context were really key to this production and this in fact probably made the tale even more relevant for the modern audience as, sadly, we are still in a society of clear divisions.

The costumes and the effects throughout the production are absolutely stunning. Every single member of the company appears to thoroughly enjoy themselves from start to finish, and you are entranced from the very beginning. The audience certainly showed a great deal of appreciation for the play.

I am not sure I can ever really say that I have a favourite Scrooge – give me any opportunity to read, see or listen to this story over the festive period and I will take it. However, Phil Davis was a wonderful Scrooge, conveying the small emotional changes you see in the character as the story unfolds before his eyes just as it does for us.

I would highly recommend catching this at the RSC if you can; it is another wonderfully festive interpretation of a much-loved classic and it will keep that festive spirit alive a little longer as we head into 2018!

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

I know we are in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you feel you need to do all the things that you have not done as you have been busy in the Christmas bubble. For me, it is also a time when I need to make sure that I catch up on all those blog posts that I have missed, especially as one of my main focuses has been the chance to read.

So, just before the Christmas craziness began, I read ‘The Girl who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig. It was a delight! It was all the things that you want from a Christmas story and was a well-crafted nod to the work of the classic author Charles Dickens; in fact, dare I say that I enjoyed it even more than ‘A Boy called Christmas’, which I have also blogged about this festive season.

Amelia (who you meet at the very end of ‘A Boy called Christmas’) is not in a festive spirit, as she is orphaned at Christmas and is resident at Mr Creeper’s workhouse. Losing her belief in the miracles of Christmas is having a detrimental on the work of Father Christmas, as the magic of Christmas is fading and he is not able to carry out his work. He must find her and restore her faith so that Christmas Day can be saved. It is a classic Christmas adventure involving a whole host of colourful characters who want to save the big day and the faith of Amelia, and restore the magic of Christmas.

To me, this novel is a tribute to Dickens and his work. There are cleverly named characters reflecting their part in the tale, but it is also a comment on the state of Victorian society and, sadly, not that far from the truth for some in modern times.

This is truly a children’s novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so if you want to find or be reminded of your faith in the festive season (and you love ‘A Christmas Carol’ – book or film adaptations), then this is the novel for you – because Amelia Wishart really is the girl who saves Christmas for her and all of us.

 

Crime at Christmas by C H B Kitchin

December means festive reading; however, I have had this title on the shelf for two years and finally picked it up this year. I was drawn to this book because, on the cover, it had the lovely words ‘A Classic Festive Mystery’. I think there is something very romantic about the crime novels of the early 20th century. They are not, necessarily, written to shock but to tell a crime story for the enjoyment of the readers.

This novel did not disappoint. An out-of-town house (not quite country), an unusual collection of house guests for the festive season and cold, dark weather – seriously, what else do you need? Oh, of course, the injured gentleman detective (Mr Warren), just to ensure that a crime really will happen.

Now, I do not write spoilers because I want people to go out and pick the books up themselves. So all I will say is that this is a wonderful classic crime, with different strands running through to keep your brain working. One thing I liked the most about this book was it had the traditional gathering at the end for the big reveal. Although, even that had a mini cliffhanger which made the book so thrilling.

This book was published in 1935 and is still a novel that can be picked up and enjoyed today, especially on these cold winter nights.

The Nutcracker

On a snowy Friday night, is there any better adventure than a night at the ballet watching the most magical, festive show ‘The Nutcracker’? I do not think so, and that was exactly how I spent my Friday night with my Mum.

I last saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 5 years old. I remember the evening so fondly, especially as I wore my favourite princess dress and remember feeling so grown up being at the theatre in the evening.

This 2017 production (because let’s not work out how long ago I was 5) by the Birmingham Royal Ballet┬ádid not burst the festive bubble I hold ‘The Nutcracker’ in.

The moment the music strikes up, you are transported to the festive wonderland. The thing that amazes me throughout a ballet is that the music and dance have to tell the story. The skill of each dancer and musician is always amazing and you are into the tale of ‘The Nutcracker’ and all its adventures.

I was mesmerised throughout; everything gelled so beautifully from start to finish. However, the ‘best’ moments (if I dare to be so brash) were the dances in the magical land, performed as a reward for the bravery of our heroine Clara.

Clara, and the audience, witness some of the most beautiful and magical dances of all time. Let’s be honest, as has pretty much every girl who has ever done ballet, I would have loved to have been the Sugar Plum Fairy too. Well, to be honest, I would have pretty much have loved to have been any one of those dancers in such an iconic piece of ballet.

I enjoyed every single moment of this production. ‘The Nutcracker’ remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of theatre. Let the festive season well and truly begin!

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

The festive season is full swing and that has inspired me to pick books with a festive theme. I decided to start with ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ by the very talented Matt Haig. This may be a children’s book but, to be honest, that never puts me off a title; the most important thing is that you enjoy what you are reading – and I certainly enjoyed this book! (Feeling even more festive once I had finished it.)

This novel answers a question I am sure we have all pondered: how did Father Christmas become Father Christmas? (The same question that Matt Haig’s own son had, and which he took on the challenge to answer.) We all follow Nikolas on his childhood adventure to the far North after he decides that he needs to find the father he loves, and his only real family, who has not returned from his own journey there with the hunters.

As we would all expect, it is not a journey without challenges on so many different levels. He is captured by elves, who may not be quite as you expect, and he discovers that his father may not be all the man he thinks he is – until the going gets tough, and love and respect shine through. By the end of the tale, and I never like to write a review with a spoiler, we are all let into the secret of how Father Christmas became Father Christmas.

This novel is an instant Christmas classic, in my humble opinion, because it is full of magic and adventure, hopes and dreams, and a collection of colourful, magical characters – even a mouse that is a little bit of fond of cheese. The theme throughout that really made me smile, and can sometimes be lost in all the festive frenzy, is about how the most important thing in life is those that we have around us, and making the most of what we have and how we can help others. This is a novel that will make you laugh out loud and celebrate the success of goodness over evil – and realise that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

There is so much festive spirit and cheer in this novel that you can not help but feel ready for some Christmas fun with those that you love by the time you reach the end. (And keen to read ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’, which also happens to be on my festive to-be-read pile.)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I picked this up in one of my favourite bookshops ever – it is a little Oxfam Bookshop which always has the most wonderful collection of titles, and you feel like you are doing a little bit of good whenever you donate or purchase from this little establishment.

So, on a very cold November Saturday morning, I popped in and found a bargain unread copy of ‘The Power’ and I could not leave it on the shelf. I had been asked by a few friends if I had read it and I had kept saying no so I thought it was about time I turned that answer to a ‘yes’. I had also spotted that Hayley (Hayley from Home) had picked up a copy, so I felt inspired.

I found the idea of this novel fascinating; from the title to the story, there is so much in this book that I am not sure I can do it justice in a blog post. I am not often stuck for words with a book that I have enjoyed but I feel that this is the sort of book that you need to be able to have a very informed discussion about. So, I am just going to give it my version of a review.

Immediately, I was gripped by the idea of the role-reversal in society and, in fact, what an impact that would have on the world. It is ridiculous to think that women having ‘power’ should be such a dramatic tale as we grow up in the 21st century but, sadly, I think it would be a shock to some of those in the world. In fact, ‘power’ was such a significant word throughout the novel because it took on so many different meanings throughout the book, strength and control being just two of them.

I was fascinated by the way that it addressed the interpretations that people can have of the same information. The religious ideas in the tale suggest that if things had been interpreted differently, would it be a woman that would be found to be central to the beliefs and ideas in the world?

The structure of the tale, looking at how ‘The Power’ impacts a variety of different figures, makes the novel a page-turner, as you are keen to see what awaits each character. I did on occasion find that some of the tale was a little longer and my attention was not always focused, but I was still keen to know what would happen next. I have not read many tales like this one, other than ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (which I read earlier this year), but I am ready to seek out more tales like this one as I find that they really do make you think and challenge the world that we are in. I enjoy being made to think about the world we live in and question what we know as fact.

Have you read ‘The Power’? How did you find it? Any other books you would recommend along these themes?