Aladdin – Prince Edward Theatre

Based on the 1992 Disney film, Aladdin is a fun filled show with great music. I have a soft spot for the film version as it’s one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema, and may have had a small crush on Aladdin too…! There have naturally been some changes to the film in the stage adaptation but none that were too much of a disappointment. Abu the monkey has been replaced by three friends, as has Rajah the tiger. These changes worked well, and Aladdin’s friends in particular provided some comedic moments. Some new songs have also been added, and I especially liked Proud of your Boy and High Adventure.

Without a doubt, the best thing about the show is the Genie, played by Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was the understudy on Broadway. Robin Williams could not be a tougher act to follow but he succeeded in making the role his own while keeping just enough of Williams’ mannerisms. The staging was also very impressive, particularly in the Cave of Wonders and with the flying carpet during A Whole New World.

My small criticism of the show is that it occasionally felt a little similar to panto when Jafar (Don Gallagher) and Iago (Nick Cavaliere) (also a human rather than a parrot) were on stage. This was the fault of the production rather than the performances. I wasn’t sure of Jade Ewen’s acting as Jasmine and I felt she sang A Whole New World a little too much like a popstar rather than a musical theatre performer. These are only small criticisms however, and although I don’t think it’s as good a show as The Lion King and Mary Poppins, I still very much enjoyed it.

 

The Graduate – Cardiff New Theatre

I have never watched the film version of The Graduate so I saw this play with only a very general idea of the plot. Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan) has just graduated from college and is living with his parents. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life and isn’t impressed by his parents ideas for his future. During a party at home, he is seduced by a friend of his parents, Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack), who is also disillusioned with her life.

The set was fairly simple but conveyed 1960s America well, and projections were also used effectively. The soundtrack also helped to convey the period, with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel! All the performances were good but I found the character of Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Emma Curtis) quite unlikeable, and I’m not sure whether I was supposed to do so! I also didn’t think there was a lot of chemistry between the leads, but overall I enjoyed the production and I will definitely be watching the film soon.

 

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

When Cora Seagrove’s cruel husband dies, she moves to Essex along with her autistic son Francis and her companion Martha. There she hears the story of the Essex serpent, who the villagers believe has returned after a man’s body was found in the river. She also meets the rector William Ransome, and there is an unspoken attraction between them.

The gothic elements of the novel are prevalent, the villagers believe they are being punished and that is why the serpent has returned. There is also a lot of hysteria, particularly during one incident at the school.

I was a little underwhelmed with this novel. The writing style is absolutely beautiful, but I found the pace very slow, particularly during the first half. For me it didn’t quite live up to the hype it has received.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

A snowdrift stops the Orient Express from running. It is unusually full for the time of year, and when an American tycoon is murdered overnight, Hercule Poirot begins to question every passenger in turn.

Although I’ve read some Agatha Christie before this is the first Poirot novel I’ve read. I already knew the plot and the outcome, but I didn’t feel this spoiled my reading experience. Christie’s writing style is very easy to read, and the amount of details she includes is very clever and her plotting is brilliant.

My Cousin Rachel

Whenever a film adaptation of a novel is released I always plan to read the book before I watch the film version, but I rarely manage to do so. However, with My Cousin Rachel I actually finished the novel only two days before seeing the film at the cinema.

Philip Ashley lives on his cousin Ambrose’s estate in Cornwall, and while Ambrose is abroad in Italy Philip receives a letter from him informing him that he has married. However, a few months later Philip receives more letters from Ambrose that seem to suggest that his new wife Rachel is trying to kill him. After Ambrose’s death, Rachel arrives in Cornwall and Philip is determined to dislike her, but things aren’t that simple.

Rachel Weisz is fantastic as Rachel. She is sure of herself and knows how to use her sexuality to her advantage, all the while being completely unreadable and we are never sure whether she really is guilty or not. Sam Claflin is also very good as the innocent and naive Philip. The locations of the film is absolutely beautiful, both the scenes in Cornwall and the brief scenes in Italy.

Although in general this is a successful adaptation, as the novel was so familiar in my mind I was very aware of the few changes there were. Some changes I didn’t mind at all and could understand why they had been made, for example, sex between Rachel and Philip is only hinted at in the novel but is shown (to a certain extent) in the film, and although at the beginning I was a little unsure about the fact that we weren’t actually going to see Philip and Ambrose together (Claflin plays both) by the end I didn’t think that it was needed. However, there were some other changes that I felt made Rachel seem more innocent than she does in the novel, such as Philip finding the laburnum seeds outside rather than in Rachel’s room. Nevertheless, I thought this was a strong adaptation of the novel, and well worth a watch.

 

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier

I confess I hadn’t heard of My Cousin Rachel until I saw a trailer for the recent film when I was at the cinema, and as it looked good I decided to read it before watching the film.

This mystery novel tells the story of Philip Ashley, who after the death of his parents is brought up by his cousin Ambrose. He and Ambrose get on splendidly, so when Ambrose goes to Italy and ends up marrying while he is there, Philip feels a little jealous and lonely. Ambrose’s letters start to become more strange, and suggest that his new wife Rachel is not to be trusted, so when Rachel turns up in Cornwall after Ambrose’s death, Philip is initially determined to discover the truth, but Rachel’s charms are too overwhelming for him.

I’d previously read two of Du Maurier’s other novels, Rebecca which I loved, and Jamaica Inn which I didn’t enjoy as much, but I thoroughly enjoyed My Cousin Rachel. I love that the novel never reveals whether Rachel is guilty or not and lets the reader decide for themselves. The writing is gripping and extremely clever to keep you guessing throughout.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

In this second Guardians of the Galaxy film, Star Lord/Peter (Chris Pratt) and his friends have built up a reputation for protecting space. They have been chosen to protect the batteries of a race called the Sovereigns, led by their leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and in exchange they are given Nebula (Karen Gillan). However, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) decides to steal a few batteries, which causes the Sovereigns to hire Yondu to find the Guardians so they can have their revenge. They are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who reveals that he is Peter’s father.

This film isn’t quite as good as the original but it is so much fun! The story is fairly entertaining but the film’s strengths are its great characters and the dynamics between them, and there’s a fantastic combination of humour and action. As with the original, the soundtrack is great, and the film is worth seeing if only for adorable Baby Groot!