Vice Versa – The Royal Shakespeare Company

As you may have realised if you are a regular reader of this little blog, I am quite a fan of The RSC and their work. Usually, it is all about their adaptations of Shakespeare, but recently I have decided I need to give some of their other work a chance (after all, ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ and ‘Matilda’ are two of my favourite shows and they were brought to life by The RSC). So, when a friend asked if I fancied going to the theatre, I jumped at the chance to see ‘Vice Versa’. And, how can you say no to £16 tickets?

Vice Versa has been created as part of the Rome Season (which sensibly includes ‘Julius Caesar‘, ‘Antony and Cleopatra‘, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Coriolanus’) and it is an absolute joy of comic theatre. I can say without reservation that we laughed from start to finish, and were rather delighted that, despite being set in Ancient Rome, it was in modern English.

Vice Versa is ‘a new Roman comedy by Phil Porter, inspired by the plays of Plautus, and it is sheer comic genius. The cast, with their epic comic timing and clear enjoyment of being on the stage, bring this play to wonderfully raucous life for the audience. The tale is mainly told by Dexter, a slave, played by Sophia Nomvete (a wonderful comic actress) as the farce unfolds to ensure that the ever-so-vain General Braggadocio gets his just desserts after kidnapping Voluptua (played by Ellie Beaven – I slightly fan-girled at this, being of the generation of ‘The Wild House’ and ‘Down to Earth).

The laughs just keep coming all the way through the play; it reminded me of the good old-fashioned comedy of the Carry On films, as there are some slightly cheeky jokes. However, it has also carefully observed the current world around us to make some very pertinent comments about the madness that is the world we live in.

The musicians are also a brilliant part of this play, especially as several end up on the stage during a wonderful scene with the monkey (I’ll say no more…), as they provide the wonderful atmosphere and sound effects for the comedy that unfolds on stage.

This is really one of the most feel-good productions I have ever seen. Everyone involved is incredibly talented at bringing all the joy of theatrical comedy to the audience – the laughter was infectious in the theatre. I do not believe that anyone there did not leave without a huge smile on their face – because we certainly did.

Vice Versa is playing at The Swan in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 9th September, so catch it if you can!

An American in Paris – You can’t take that away from me!

The memories of ‘An American in Paris‘ certainly won’t ever be taken away from me – what a beautiful, toe-tapping show!

Saturday, a friend and I ventured to the Dominion Theatre in London to see the much talked about show, ‘An American in Paris’. I will be honest that I did not know a lot about this show other than I heard good things and I knew it had been a film with Gene Kelly I had always meant to see but had never quite got around to (it has certainly shot to the top of the to-be-watched list now!). I, also, knew that it was the music of Gershwin so surely it was not going to disappoint – and it didn’t.

From the moment the first note was struck, you were enchanted with the set and the cast. The most beautiful choreography is used throughout the show to send you dreamily to post-war Paris and join the adventures of the three men trying to find their place in the world after the events of the years before. And the set, wow: such simply seamless transition from scene to scene with the most wonderful muted colours of the always romantic Paris. You cannot take your eyes from the stage even for a moment! Lise’s ballet scene in Act 2 is one of the most beautiful pieces of dance I have ever seen; I was truly mesmerised by the talent of every member of the cast on the stage.

Through all of this, you find yourself rooting for every character, whatever their story. However, you know in your heart of hearts that only one of the ever so charming men, Jerry, Henri or Adam can get the girl (and, let’s be honest, you will all agree that it is the right one in the end, as it is Lise’s heart desire). It certainly is a happy ending!

I think one of the things that also made the show so enjoyable for me was the number of people there who were clearly huge fans of the film and were reliving all their happy memories of it. I am sure that any fan of the film will not be disappointed by this production in any way at all.

This really is a wonderful traditional musical that I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. It only leaves the big question – what to see next and can anything beat this?

 

6 Months Blogging – Happy Half Birthday!

S0, 6 months ago today, Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was born. It was an idea that I had been thinking about for a while but I did not have the confidence to launch it until a good friend, Hayley from Home, encouraged me to give it a go and told me she would read it (so I knew I had one reader if nothing else!). I am so glad I did – and here are 6 reasons why…

  1. A chance to share what I love: Books and theatre are my passion and have been for a long time. It is a joy to be able to share my thoughts with you all about both of these subjects, and hopefully encourage other people to enjoy them too.
  2. The support of people out there: The messages on Instagram and Twitter that let me know that people have liked what I have written and visited my little blog.
  3. Discovering so many fabulous things: It has been a joy to check out other blogs and some great online companies that have a book, paper or theatre focus. There are so many talented people out there. Especially Ashley King for letting me have a sneak peek at his latest project ‘Witch for a Week.’
  4. Trying something new: This blog has encouraged me to look beyond the things I know I love and try new genres and styles. It has been a pleasure to see amazing plays that I wouldn’t have necessarily tried before, and discover brilliant authors and unforgettable books.
  5. A chance to do something different: Hobbies are so important and this is a great one. It also means that I find inspiration from the amazing community out there for my other hobbies (Harry Potter cross stitch is one of the best so far).
  6. Looking to the future: The chance to keep developing this blog is something I look forward to every day, learning new things and adding more little stories – bring on the next 6 months!

Coppelia – A Dancing Doll

Cinderella was such a inspiration earlier in the year that my Mum and I could not turn down the chance to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of Coppelia. Recently, my Mum had been reminiscing about a 1970s production that she saw at Sadler’s Wells which was even more reason why we had to go and see the 2017 production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We were not disappointed!

Coppelia is a happy and light-hearted ballet. It is a magical tale about Dr Coppelius and his misguided desire to bring his beautiful doll Coppelia to life. There is charm and gentle humour in the tale that will appeal to all.

This production did not disappoint at all – from the moment the curtain went up, the atmosphere was electric. You can see the enjoyment on the faces of all the fabulous dancers as they dance the beautifully choreographed steps. They tell the story with every movement and every action, and you are fully engaged in the stage. The music performed by the orchestra helps bring a magical atmosphere and tells the story with skill.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet has certainly reignited my passion for dance – especially ballet – and I hope to catch many more of the productions they put on in the future.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

So, I have finally picked up this book – I know I am very late to the party with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

I have heard so much about this book and Hayley from Home is a huge fan, so she inspired me to finally pick it up and give it a go (as well as it being the title for this month’s #BookClub140). I had a bit of an idea of the plot and, to be honest, I think that put me off for a while as it seemed a little bit depressing. However, I was so wrong; I could not put the book down and it really appealed to the history geek in me.

It is true that it is a rather hard-hitting storyline and there are clearly influences from our history that have helped form the plot, but I actually found it fascinating and thought provoking. It really does make you realise that we take an awful lot of our freedom for granted and that it is a delicate balance that avoids us slipping into such a terrifying reality.

The narrator’s voice is perfect throughout the novel. You empathise with her from the first line and you have a continuing desire to find out what her story is and where it may go; this is certainly what kept me turning the page. The characters were incredibly rounded and fascinating, considering their roles were so carefully defined in society. You do feel resentment towards those characters that appear to be privileged in society but they all, also, have demons that seem to be haunting them. There is the fear of not fulfilling the role you have been placed in, as well as the constant memory of the past and what may have been. The cliffhanger ending really does leave you with your imagination going off in all sorts of directions, never really knowing which are correct.

The final ‘chapter’ that suggests that this society is being studied is something that had really caught my imagination as a teacher. It left me thinking about the way we teach about societies of the past and when we may have been close to similar situations in our past.

I did not find this a difficult or harrowing read, but I am not sure that I am quite prepared for the television adaptation as this is taking the story out of my own safe imagination and possibly bringing it closer to reality.

Have you read any other of Margaret Atwood’s books? If so, where would you recommend me to venture next?

 

 

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I saw an article not so long ago that suggested that there were not enough lead female characters in children’s fiction, but yet again I have stumbled across another: Tiffany Aching is one of the most fabulous female lead characters I have encountered.

Tiffany encompasses the idea that girls can be courageous and ambitious and will not let the world that they live in hold them back. In fact, it was interesting at the end of the tale that Pratchett highlighted the fact that successful and heroic females do not always get the recognition that they deserve, but they are confident enough in their own abilities that they do not need public adoration.

As I am sure you can see, I loved reading ‘Wee Free Men’. There was a charm to the book from the moment you picked it up. It was full of Pratchett’s usual wit and humour that works on so many levels (adults can always enjoy his children’s books as much as his target audience) and the voice that he gave the ‘pictsies’ was spot on. I often found myself chuckling as I heard their ‘wee’ Scottish voices throughout the novel.

The foe of Tiffany is the ‘Queen’, who kidnaps her younger brother. With the help of the pictsies and a mildly grumpy toad, Tiffany has to fight the dreams that the Queen creates for her to try and get her brother home. Her inspiration throughout is Granny Aching, who she gets her strength of character from. It is quite an adventure for all involved.

So, I think I may have found one of my new favourite characters, as it is rather a lot of fun to join Tiffany on her adventures.

Spamalot

Having grown up in a household that often recited Monty Python jokes (the most common being ‘Are you Mary Queen of Scots?’ – which gets repetitive when you are a history geek), any opportunity to see Spamalot can not be missed.

On Friday 26th May, we went to see this very show at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. It was production of this marvellous musical put on by the Coventry Musical Theatre Company, a local amateur theatre group. However, you would not – for even one moment – have thought that this was anything less than a fully fledged professional group. From the moment the curtain lifted, the laughs started and there was clearly a lot of passion for their craft on the stage. King Arthur led his band of hapless knights (with the ongoing support of Patsy) with all the merriment and japes that you’d expect when you see the title ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’. The musical numbers were performed with skill and the dancing beautifully choreographed. The support from the orchestra added to the atmosphere – and also added a little interactive comedy from the wider troupe.

A highlight, which I am sure you will not surprised by, was the audience all singing along to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’; you felt the buzz of excitement as soon as the first chords were struck.

The overall production was wonderful and I can not praise it enough. I am really looking forward to seeing what else Coventry Musical Theatre Company has to offer in the future.

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I am a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo because he makes history accessible for readers of all ages, and Emma Carroll has done exactly the same with this lovely tale, ‘Letters from the Lighthouse’.

Set in WWII, it follows the adventures of Olive and her younger brother Cliff as they are evacuated from London to the Devonshire coast. Before they leave, their sister disappears during an air raid and the only clue to her disappearance appears to be a coded note and a link to the village the children are evacuated to. I do not like to give the plot away, other than to say this mystery intrigues Olive and Cliff while they embark on Devonshire life and move to the Lighthouse with the mysterious Ephraim.

What really delighted me about this tale is the cleverly interwoven lessons from history (as a history teacher, this is a real joy). Also, reading it this week especially, I found myself reflecting on the way that people will pull together in times of need, whatever their background.

The story is beautifully written with wonderful characters. It is a real page turner as every new question is raised or a new mystery solved. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I can not wait to share it with others.

Are you a fan of historical fiction? Any recommendations?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I have really enjoyed taking part in #BookClub140 from Parker and Me (as always, thanks for the recommendation, Hayley from Home), as it has led me to read books I may not have chosen otherwise.

This is one such title. Obviously, I had heard all the hype about the HBO series but I did not know anything about the story. However, once I started, I could not put this book down; I was eager every day to make some reading time – but we all know that is easier said than done sometimes.

The key with this novel is that there is the mystery within the tale from the moment you read page 1. Now, I do not want to share any spoilers, but never has a title of a book been more apt. It is fascinating to follow the revelations of the big little lies from the 3 central characters: Jane, Celeste and Madeline. As the reader, you understand why some of the lies have been created and some of the secrets kept. It does not take too long to become all too clear the huge impact that some actions can have on so many people, intentionally or otherwise. I was also left thinking about how we never really know the personal battles that people are facing.

There is a clear humour and sensitivity to the writing that adds to the joy of reading this book. The conclusion of the tale, I think, will be considered a happy, or at least potentially positive, one for the characters that you grow to admire – and, possibly, an understandable one for others.

I would like to give some more of Liane Moriarty’s books a go. My Auntie has suggested ‘The Husband’s Secret’ – what do the rest of you think?

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.