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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Five Fabulous Females in Fiction

International Women’s Day first really came to my attention when I was living in Italy, as they celebrate Women’s Day every year. Beautiful yellow flowers are handed out to the women and families celebrate the women in their lives. It was such a lovely tradition.

As I have thought back and remembered that day, I have decided to think about the females in fiction that I have loved, as I have grown up reading so many wonderful books. They need a little bit of celebrating too.

  1. Matilda (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

I was an enormous Roald Dahl fan as a child and, to be honest, I still am. I do not believe that he wrote books that were only to be enjoyed by children. I can remember the birthday that I was given three Roald Dahl titles as a gift and Matilda was in the collection. She is already ideal to me because she loves books and she does not let being a little girl stop her from achieving exactly what she wants. She may not feel that she always fits in, but she has so much character and is a great role model for fans of her story.

2. Beatrice (Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing)

I first met Beatrice as I studied A-Level English Language and Literature. She is someone who appealed to me straight away, as she is not your typical heroine. Beatrice is a witty and independent figure, and seems very different to many characters of the time – she may appear cynical about happy endings but, in fact, desires them more than most. She is someone that I would love to have as a friend; she would cheer up any situation and would certainly tell you to ‘get over it’.

3. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen)

Now, let us all be honest: there could have been any number of characters that could have been plucked from the pages of Austen’s works; however, for me it has always been Emma. I am not entirely sure what appeals so much about Emma, as I can totally recognise that to some she may be a little irritating and misguided. Yet, when I first met Emma on the pages of Jane Austen’s novel, there was something that I found charming. She wears her heart on her sleeve and all her actions are, she believes (most of the time), to benefit others. Emma may get a bit carried away and does not always go about things in the right way, but she still is a lovely heroine and learns her lesson. Even reimagined in the recent retelling by Alexandar McCall Smith, I thought Emma was great!

4. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling)

Hermione may be one that many of you expect but she has been a female character that I have learnt to love as my love for these books has increased. I am not going to lie – at the start, I had a similar reaction to her Ron Weasley but, as he did, I learned to love her. Hermione is a strong, independent young woman who (very much like Matilda) does not let anything stand in her way. She is one of the bravest female characters I think you can find in fiction, and the most fiercely loyal. The friendship between her, Ron and Harry is inspiring and shows that gender should never stand in the way of true friendship and adventure.

5. Mrs Hudson (The Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Great female characters don’t always have to be central to the stories they appear in. In fact, many have an important supporting role too, and Mrs Hudson is one of those characters. As the long-suffering landlady of Mr Holmes, she must have seen all sorts treading the famous stairs of 221b Baker Street. Mrs Hudson may not always have a voice, but she has nothing but affection for Holmes and Watson, and offers them great support – even if it is as simple as a cup of tea.

Who are your favourite females in fiction?

Happy International Women’s Day!

Julius Caesar (or #TeamCaesar)

Thanks to the social media world, the excitement levels for seeing Julius Caesar were a little off the scale. Even as you walk towards the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, you begin to feel the excitement and anticipation rise up in you.

The setting of this production is Ancient Rome and, as always, the set is simple but perfect. There is certainly the vibe of two teams going to war, as even the colours chosen as cloaks for the characters are blue and white. The lighting is also similar to that you would find at a sports stadium.

However, I am ahead of myself. You are drawn into the bright, bustling city of Rome from the moment the actors appear on the stage. Of course, there is a moment where the Ides of March is mentioned but that does not end the celebrations for those involved…

The production gives a lot of weight to the manipulation of Brutus by Cassius. Although, Caesar lets power and success go to his head, you feel that Brutus is far too easily influenced into extreme actions. Mark Antony avenges Caesar with great skill and therefore I left the production on #TeamCaesar (he did have an impressive team of groupies).

As always at the RSC, the production is beautifully acted by the strong ensemble. It reminded me of the ensemble of 2009. Caesar showed domination, Cassius showed manipulation, Brutus showed too much trust and Mark Antony showed loyalty. The set was a piece of artwork (in both halves) and the musical production brought the whole piece together.

If all the Rome Season 2017 is as slick and inspired as this play, it will be a hard season to beat.

Do you fancy trying to catch Caesar and picking your team?

Why I love the Royal Shakespeare Company

One evening in 2009, I walked into the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre with my parents. We had arrived to see Julius Caesar. This was not my first experience of Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon but it was the first that did not result in me returning to a classroom to write an essay.

I had read Self Made Hero’s Shakespeare Manga Julius Caesar in preparation, but nothing can really prepare you for the experience. I was hooked from the moment that the cast took to the stage. The RSC Ensemble were, on this occasion, led by Greg Hicks in the role of Julius Caesar, but a huge part of the charm was that there was not a ‘star’, but an ensemble of very talented actors telling the story of the Emperor of Rome. I left that evening exhilarated with a new appreciation of the Bard (I already loved Romeo and Juliet but that was probably thanks to Baz Luhrmann casting Leo in the film…). It was clear from that moment that nothing could beat seeing these plays on the stage. I was lucky enough to see a number of the plays at the Courtyard with the RSC Ensemble and have never looked back since and now visit the beautiful RSC Theatre.

Over the years, going to the RSC productions have become something of a family tradition. And, if we have not had the same desire to see some of the productions, then I have gone with friends who have a similar passion for the theatre. However, none of us restrict ourselves to the tales of Shakespeare. The wonderful musical ‘Matilda‘ started at the Courtyard and ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ was a fabulous retelling of J.M Barrie’s classic.

Memories are made each time we visit this wonderful town and its theatre, and I can not wait for the fast-approaching Rome Season and making many more memories.

Top 10 memories (in no particular order – and I have probably still missed something):

  1. Matilda on a very snowy December day.
  2. Othello with Hugh Quarshie in the title role and Lucian Msamati as Iago.
  3. Richard II with David Tennant (and spotting him in the street on the morning of the play).
  4. Wendy and Peter Pan (on both occasions).
  5. Love’s Labours Lost, sitting on the same row as Prince Charles.
  6. Julius Caesar – that first grown-up RSC experience.
  7. The Merchant of Venice with Sir Patrick Stewart as Shylock.
  8. Twelfth Night with the very funny Richard Wilson as Malvolio.
  9. Much Ado About Nothing with Meera Syal and a truly exotic setting.
  10. The wonderful Hamlet with the award-winning Paapa Essideu in the lead role.