Tommy – He sure played a mean pinball

So, I knew Tommy was a Pinball Wizard and that I would be treated to some wonderful tunes from ‘The Who’, but that was about it when a lovely friend and I arrived at The Birmingham Rep on Wednesday evening. I must confess we were both as clueless as each other, however by the end of the show, we had both been blown away.

The production of ‘Tommy’ came from The New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich along with Ramps on the Moon. Ramps on the Moon works towards developing the chances of employment and artistic opportunities for disabled performers (please visit their site to find out more, as I do not feel that I can do their work justice).

So, the story of Tommy, the Pinball Wizard, was, of course, told through the tunes of ‘The Who’ and the amazing artistic skill of the company. The use of sign language, that was at times skillfully choreographed into the lovely dance routines, was seamless. The complementary skills of the different actors moulded the narrative together and you could see the enjoyment of all involved.

The musicians were wonderful and clearly threw themselves into channeling their inner ‘Who’ to bring joy to all. The passion for their craft was clear, especially with the rendition of ‘Pinball Wizard’ (more than once).

When this wonderful production reached its conclusion, there was one of the most deserving standing ovations I have ever witnessed. I urge you to catch the ‘Tommy Tour’ if you can to see why.

I certainly now know that there is much more to Tommy than being a Pinball Wizard.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

When I found out that Ashley King was illustrating a book for Kaye Umansky, I did a little squeal of joy. Growing up I was a massive ‘Pongwiffy’ fan; Kaye Umansky’s books were staple reading for my sister and I (and even my mum). So, when I saw that there was a new title and a wonderful collaboration between these two, I had to read it.

‘Witch for a Week’ is out in October, just in time for Halloween, but I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and I loved it. It was great to revisit the writing of Kaye Umansky, accompanied by the illustrations of Ashley King.

Elsie Pickle is a lovely heroine who takes on the job of temporary caretaker of the ‘Tower in the Forest’ for the local witch, Magenta Sharp. Along with a wonderful little collection of characters, including a talking raven and a rather hapless, scruffy dog, she embarks on quite an adventure. Elsie is a determined young lady who uses her skills in customer service (thanks to the family shop) and the guidance offered by the handbook ‘Everything You Need to Know’ to tackle whatever the ‘Tower in the Forest’ and the rather interesting locals throw at her.

There is so much humour and warmth in this book, just as I knew there would be. You can not help but wish you were part of the adventures. The illustrations really bring the characters to life, their personalities shining through in each drawing. This is a book that children and adults alike are going to enjoy reading.

So, make sure you give this book a go and find out if you have what it takes to be ‘Witch for a Week’. Thank you Ash for giving me the chance to find out!

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse introduced me to Neil Gaiman about 7 years ago. Since then, I have become a massive fan of Gaiman’s work and, as there has been such hype about the TV series of ‘American Gods’ (how can there not be when Lovejoy is in it?), I thought I had best read the book first. This is a rule I have: try to read the book before I see any kind of adaptation.

I think this is the longest Neil Gaiman book I have read and it seemed to take me a while to get through it. Not due to lack of enjoyment, but due to real life getting in the way. I was, in fact, hooked from the moment I picked up this title – it does have quite a dramatic start and I constantly tried to sneak in a few pages wherever and whenever I could since then. I was fascinated about Shadow and his story and the mysterious Mr Wednesday from the word go, and you just get more drawn in as you are introduced to the vast array of colourful characters throughout the novel. You just want to keep turning the pages, as you’re always keen to find out what is going to happen next.

It does take some concentration to keep up with the tale as it marches towards the conclusion, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the book. It is extremely clever storytelling when even the smallest incident turns out to have quite an impact on the story. So much is revisited that you wonder if you should have given each event more of your attention as it happened – which is something great that you’ll often find in Neil Gaiman’s stories.

The research and detail that has been put into this book to intertwine all the gods and folkloric figures from around the world as they converge in America (as so many different cultures have done) is commendable, and has left me with a desire to find out more about a number of them. Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was quizzing me on if I had worked out who they all were, but I am happy to find out as I go rather then predict.

This book was a brilliant read and overall, for me, it has left me thinking about ‘Shadow’ and shadows: do we always know what is going on or what is going to happen? Do we need to be in the spotlight, or should we be looking at the magic of the shadows?

The Shires #MyUniverseTour

I have a secret…I love country music, especially British country music. Also, I have the loved the British duo ‘The Shires‘ since I heard ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ on BBC Radio 2 back in 2014. Since first hearing that single, I have collected their two albums, ‘Brave’ and ‘My Universe’, gone to gigs whenever I could (I have seen them 3 times) and followed their career with interest.

So, on Tuesday 25th April, I went to see The Shires for the 3rd time at Warwick Arts Centre with a friend. Again, The Shires, their band and their support did not disappoint. The set list was a wonderful combination of songs from both of their albums, so nobody in the audience could have left disappointed, as I am pretty sure that they managed to get the favourite songs of pretty much every audience member into the set. The passion that Crissie and Ben have for their music comes across every time that they perform and, as they pen so many of their own songs, you can really feel the emotions.

This was an especially emotionally charged gig as they performed ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ – a song that Crissie wrote about her Dad – which brings a tear to my eye every time. Additionally, there was not a dry eye in the house when Ben donated one of his guitars to a charity auction for ‘Zoe’s Place‘, a local charity. One of the most deserving standing ovations I have ever witnessed.

The audience were all on their feet, dancing, clapping and singing along to all the wonderful songs that this duo and their band belt out. There is certainly a clear mutual respect between The Shires and their fans.

Nobody will have left this gig disappointed, and all will certainly have been singing the songs from the set list for the rest of the week.

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

It is a fact that I cannot be without a book and, on a recent trip, I needed an emergency book as I had finished the one I had with me. I entered trusty Waterstones and not being too sure what I fancied to read (I can be lost in a bookshop for hours, or possibly even days) and I saw Orangeboy on the table with the other Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winners for 2017. The cover attracted me immediately so I thought I would give it a go. There is one exclamation for this title…wow!

Orangeboy is a great young adult fiction title that will stay with me for a long time. The opening chapter has you hooked and you are left in no doubt that you want to know what will happen next.

Marlon Sunday is introduced to the reader just as the date he is on ends in tragedy, and very quickly he is caught up in a world of gangs and fear. Unfortunately, it is a world that he is not completely unaware of due to the antics of his older brother, but Marlon is torn throughout the novel with his desire to do the right thing but also protect his own family. You find yourself on the journey with Marlon as he tries to navigate this underworld and you are rooting throughout for him to be okay, to make the right choices and to solve the mysteries of why Orangeboy is such a target – what really happened to his brother, Andre?

This is such a well-written novel, narrated by Marlon. You feel like you know each character, although, with some, you are certain to question the choices they make or the way that they live their life. It may be young adult fiction but I think it is a book that should be read by all, as it will stay with you for a long time!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am not always one that selects prize-winning titles, but this is a well-deserving winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.

The art work on the cover of this book is absolutely stunning and immediately catches your eye, even before you reach the magical sounding title. This is a story that takes you on a real adventure and, most importantly, there is wonderfully strong and independent female lead character in Isabella. She is a girl who will fight with real courage and fierce loyalty for the people she loves and the beliefs that are important to her.

When Lupe, Isabella’s best friend, goes missing, it is Isabella who uses her great knowledge of the stars and maps to support the search party. As you follow the characters on their adventures, there is a great use of myths and stories to influence the decisions made by those living on the island. It really reflects on how the ideas that can be with a nation of people for as long as they can remember, passed on to each generation, can lead some to have fear and misunderstanding and others to have the courage to fight for what they care for. You see the characters really form as each part of their adventure influences them personally.

You are on the edge of your seat throughout the story, never sure what is going to come next. You feel the danger and excitement as you turn each page; it is impossible to put this novel down. It may be a children’s book, but it is one that adults will enjoy just as much.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

I was once lucky enough to be a bookshop girl for one year between studying. Therefore, I was instantly drawn to this book – and even more so because of the stunning cover courtesy of the very talented Ashley King.

There is something about this magical tale that reminded me of the favourite stories of my childhood. There is something almost Roald Dahl-like about this adventure, with its wonderful characters. They are colourful and instantly spark your imagination, and are brought to life throughout the book with beautiful illustrations.

The main setting of ‘The Great Montgomery Book Emporium’ is somewhere that I would absolutely love to visit. So many books and so many adventures facing anybody who sets foot in there – it’s delightful. It also emphasises the real pleasure that books can bring an
ybody that is around them. However, the bookshop at the start of the story, ‘The White Hart Bookshop’ (it was a pub in the previous life, after all), is full of charm too.

From the moment you start this charming tale by Sylvia Bishop, it is so difficult to put down, as you are just rooting for the Jones family to have a happy ending.

The Breakdown by B A Paris

I love a book title that is clever and, for me, this is one of those. ‘The Breakdown’ can refer to the car in the lay-by at the start of the novel (and, in fact, the crime scene), and the mental state of the central character as the story develops.

It can be difficult to talk about thrillers, as part of the enjoyment is not knowing. The pace of the story sets the scene and reflects the ‘breakdown’, however the book becomes ever more fascinating as it hurtles towards the conclusion and you revisit all your thoughts and ideas about the story.

Cassie, the main character, is someone you feel both empathy and sympathy for, although I was not sure some of her actions accurately reflected the educated woman she had been presented as. Although, this could be due to the ‘breakdown’ concept of the story – it certainly makes you wonder how you would behave if ‘fear’ was always with you. Despite the thriller side of the book, I think the fear Cassie has of her family history is more pivotal to the whole story.

Overall, it was a satisfying read – but a story I would only think works as a one-off.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The ever-so-lovely fellow bookworm Hayley From Home sent me this absolutely wonderful little book. It is a title I have been aware of for a while but, as I always have a ‘to read’ pile that is sky high, it had just not quite ever made it onto it. However, I wish I had discovered it sooner!

This tale is told in the sweetest collection of letters. Snail mail is such a romantic idea in this crazy world of technology; there is such a dreamy notion about people’s feelings being put down on paper. The characters are all so wonderfully portrayed through the letters. The style of each letter and telegram is unique to each character and, therefore, you don’t really need them described to you in any other way. The letters even bring the ‘absent’ character, Elizabeth, to life and the reader learns about her just as Juliet does.

The historical setting of the story is Guernsey just after the occupation in WWII. It allows the characters to reflect on their experiences and relationships with each other and the Germans. The thing that stands out for me the most in this novel is the question ‘does being on the other side automatically make you the enemy?’ It’s something I’m still contemplating now.

This treasure of a book has left me wanting to develop my knowledge of this period in Guernsey’s history, and even make a visit to the island.

So, always share your favourite reads with your friends because you never know what treasures you may uncover.

Antony and Cleopatra

After the bar had been set by Julius Caesar, I had very high hopes for Antony and Cleopatra and…it did not disappoint. Antony and Cleopatra is a gorgeous, golden production and is still flying the flag high for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome season.

The settings for this production are the ancient civilisations of the Roman Empire and Cleopatra’s Egypt. The scenery is amazing as it seamlessly moves between kingdoms and the action. It, also, clearly connects to the Caesar production in the current Rome season. The music fully supports in creating the atmosphere for the destinations and the story as it unfolds.

There is no mistaking the Queen of Egypt in her stunning, shimmering costumes. Josette Simon plays Cleopatra with real elegance and perfect humour. Antony Byrne is a commanding Mark Antony and together they play out the true passion between the two lead characters. The rest of the cast perfectly support the central characters as the plot picks up pace. It is always wonderful seeing the ensemble of actors move from one play to another demonstrating their true versatility.

For one of the longer of Shakespeare’s plays, you are hooked from the moment the stage erupts into life with a dance scene in Egypt until the tragedy of the final closing scene, played out beautifully by all those involved.  The intense applause was well deserved for all involved (on the stage and behind the scenes) as the lights signalled the end of the performance.

The next stop will be Titus Andronicus and, if the first two plays are anything to go by, I absolutely can not wait.