Jane Eyre – Northern Ballet

I always keep a look out for Northern Ballet productions at my local theatres because as well as the traditional ballets, they adapt other stories such as Jane Eyre, and they are always great. I wasn’t disappointed with Jane Eyre.

Although some things had been cut, the story stayed very close to the novel. The beginning was a little confusing however, as it began with Jane staying with St John Rivers, and then there was a flashback to her childhood. For such a wordy novel, the dancing was choreographed perfectly to convey the characters’ feelings, and Jane had some help from the male chorus, who represented her inner demons. I also loved how the choreography portrayed the characters’ personalities; I particularly liked Adele who was very light and bouncy on her feet.

Another fantastic production by Northern Ballet.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

Juliet Ashton is an author and journalist living in London just after the Second World War. She is struggling to find inspiration for her next book, but one day she receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who has found her contact details in a book. He explains that due to the German occupation of Guernsey during the war, there are no books on the island and he asks whether she would be willing to send some books. As their communication develops, Juliet learns more about life under German rule in Guernsey and decides to visit herself.

This is an epistolary novel, and generally I felt this form worked well. The characters are fun and likeable, but I did feel that there were a few too many, and it was sometimes difficult to remember who was who. However, I loved learning about life on the Channel Islands during the German occupation as it was something I didn’t know much about at all.

This is quite a light hearted and fun read, but with plenty of history too.

La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

17 years after the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy was published, Philip Pullman finally released the first in another trilogy set in the same world. As some of this trilogy will take place before and following His Dark Materials, Pullman has described The Book of Dust as an ‘equel’ rather than sequel or prequel.

In the first novel, La Belle Sauvage, Lyra Belacqua, the protagonist of His Dark Materials is only a baby. She has been placed in the care of a group of nuns, but when a catastrophic flood hits Oxford, a young boy called Malcolm rescues her from both the water and her enemies and tries to take her in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, along the Thames to her father, Lord Asriel.

This is without a doubt darker than its predecessors – there’s swearing, rape and child abuse, and Bourneville with his hyena daemon is a horrific villain. Pullman’s storytelling is still fantastic, and this is a gripping read. My only very small criticism is the rescue attempt by Malcolm in the canoe becomes a little repetitive by the end. There are also a lot of unanswered questions and unexplained symbolism, but I’m hopeful that these will be explained in the future novels.

A fantastic companion to His Dark Materials, and well worth a read.

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

Tom Hazard has a rare condition where he ages far more slowly than other humans. He has been alive for over 400 years. The disadvantages of living this long are having to move and change identity when people start to notice that you don’t age, and the fact that you lose loved ones who age at a normal pace. Tom is a member of the Albatross society, run by a man called Henrich, which helps people with the condition relocate and change their identities every 8 years. Tom hopes that the society will help him find his daughter, who he believes also has the condition.

I found the concept of the story interesting, and in general I enjoyed Haig’s writing style. I did have a few bugbears however. There are a lot of flashbacks, and while some of these are effective others feel like they have been shoehorned in. Another element that felt shoehorned was all the celebrities that Tom happens to have come across in his life, like Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also, as a former teacher, I found the chapters where he was teaching quite unrealistic, as it seemed that he was more of a lecturer, which would never be effective with teenagers!

Despite these annoyances, it was a pleasant enough story and I did enjoy the writing style, therefore I will probably try another of Matt Haig’s books at some point.

44 Scotland Street – Alexander McCall Smith

44 Scotland Street is the first novel in a series where the chapters are originally published daily in The Scotsman, and then published as a serial novel. I’d originally started the series a few years ago, but couldn’t remember how far I got so I decided to start again from the beginning.

I’d forgotten how fun the series is! It follows the stories of occupants in apartments at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, from the highly intelligent 5 year old Bertie and his overbearing mother Irene, to Angus Lordie and his dog Cyril with a gold tooth. It is light-hearted, funny and perfect escapism, and ideal for reading on a commute as the chapters are so short. I’m looking forward to starting Espresso Tales soon!

Mythos – Stephen Fry

Being more or less completely unfamiliar with Greek mythology, I was eager to read Stephen Fry’s retelling as I thought it would be an accessible introduction. I wasn’t disappointed. This was an excellent starting point for a novice like me, but I’m sure his engaging style of writing would also please those who are already very familiar with the myths.

The stories themselves are full of jealousy, deceit, love, revenge, sex and power. I particularly enjoyed learning the origins of some of the vocabulary and phrases we use today through the myths. I did find at the beginning that a lot of information was given all at once; we are introduced to a lot of characters and explained how they all relate to each other. As the book went on there was less of this, but also I think I stopped wondering how everyone related to each other and just enjoyed the stories!

This is definitely a great introduction to some of the Greek myths. I would have liked a more detailed family tree, and an index would also be great, but overall I enjoyed this very much.

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

When her parents are killed in a cholera outbreak in India, Mary Lennox is sent to live with an uncle she has never met at Misselthwaite Manor. At first she is spoilt and unfriendly, but when she discovers a locked garden she begins to take more of an interest in her new life in Yorkshire, and gradually discovers the secret of the garden.

The 1993 film version of The Secret Garden was one of my favourite films as a child so I was eager to finally read the book. It didn’t disappoint although it’s always a different experience reading a book when you already know the story. I loved the descriptions of the garden and I particularly liked Dickon as a character. I feel I probably would have enjoyed it more had I read it when I was younger, especially before seeing the film. However, I’m glad to have finally read it.

Strangers on a Train – Cardiff New Theatre

When Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) and Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) meet during a train journey, Charles devises a plan whereby they each murder someone in each other’s lives, Charles’ father, and Guy’s ex-wife. Initially Guy believes it’s just a joke, but he soon finds himself in an impossible situation.

The set in this production was fantastic. Sliding panes were used to reveal different settings in different parts of the stage, and the train set was particularly effective.

Having not read the novel by Patricia Highsmith or seen the Hitchcock film I cannot compare the play, adapted by Craig Warner, to either. However, I would imagine that as it’s directed by Hitchcock that the film is full of tension and thrill which I felt were missing from the play. This wasn’t due to the performances; Chris Harper was convincing as an alcoholic psychopath and Jack Ashton conveyed Guy’s torment effectively, particularly when trying to hide his secret from his wife Anne (Hannah Tointon), but I just couldn’t understand why Guy didn’t go the police immediately.

This is a pleasant enough production with an impressive set, but is unfortunately lacking in tension.

Pressure – Theatre Royal Bath

It’s the weekend before D-Day in 1944, and Dr James Stagg has been drafted in to a military base to advise General Eisenhower on the weather conditions for the landings. Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s own adviser, Krick, doesn’t agree with Stagg’s forecasts, and if Eisenhower decides to listen to Krick, Stagg fears that he could be putting the lives of thousands of men in danger.

A play based around a weather forecast doesn’t sound very exciting but this play successfully managed to maintain the tension, despite the audience having an idea of what the eventual outcome will be. It’s a relatively new play, first performed in 1914, and written by the actor David Haig, who also plays Stagg. It’s evident throughout that Haig has done thorough research while writing the play, and although for a few minutes in the first half I did briefly wonder whether it was just going to be discussions about jet streams for two hours, I was quickly proven wrong as the plot and characters began to develop.

The set was relatively simple, a large office space with maps being rolled up at the back of the room to show the latest forecasts. There were also balcony doors which were used effectively to convey the changing weather conditions, and the blackouts at night. Haig, as well as being a talented playwright, was excellent as Stagg, a little bossy and abrupt at times but also extremely sympathetic when he worries about his wife who is in labour. Malcolm Sinclair also gave a strong performance as Eisenhower, as did Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s chauffeur.

It was great to learn about a little known true story, particularly in a well written pacy play.

 

The Secret of Chimneys – Agatha Christe

While in Africa, Anthony Cade agrees to help his friend Jimmy McGrath and return a manuscript to London. After an attempt to steal the manuscript from him, he ends up at the country house of Chimneys, involved in a political scandal and murder case involving the royal family of Herzeslovakia.

This is far from my favourite of Christie’s novels that I’ve read, but it’s enjoyable enough and easy to read, despite a fairly complicated plot. I found I missed Poirot or Marple, and the number of characters pretending to be someone other than they were was a little ridiculous. However, for some easy escapism, it’s a good read.