Theatre Review: King Lear

 

 

Where: National Theatre / When: 28th April

Wow. Just, wow. I had been eagerly anticipating this production of King Lear, ever since it was announced. Like the play, as it’s one I studied at A-Level, the last time I saw it performed was 10 years ago and one of my all-time, super favourite actors, Simon Russell Beale as Lear. I am delighted to be able to say that the performance far exceeded even my high expectations.

For those that are unfamiliar with the play, a quick synopsis (a more detailed one can be found here): King Lear is getting older and decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, leaving them to take care of the country and him. He asks each daughter to describe how much they love him, in order to win their portion of the kingdom. His older daughters Goneril and Regan flatter him, professing their love in grand and hyperbolic terms. However, Lear’s youngest and most beloved daughter, Cordelia tells her father that he should know her love for him, that it what it ought to be and is enduring. Lear is crushed by her answer – interpreting it as lack of filial love and duty – and casts her and those who seek to defend her out of his kingdom. Cordelia marries the Prince of France and leaves her family forever. Lear then divides the remaining portion of his country between his other daughters.

Lear then goes with his company of men and loyal Fool to live with first Goneril and then Regan. Both daughters are exasperated by him, and no longer feel the need to cow-tow to his kingly demands, treating him contemptuously and coldly. Lear begins to be driven mad by their unkindness and by the realisation that he pushed away his only loving daughter. Gradually, both Lear’s situation and his band of follows become reduced, with Lear’s madness and disordered behaviour worsening by the day. Meanwhile, his daughters’ jealousies increase and they look set to go to war with each other, trampling on anyone that would help their father or contact their sister. The country and Lear both seem set to crumble…

Note: This is a long post and there will be spoilers for the play below… you have been warned!

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Top 10 Tuesday – Link up with The Broke and the Bookish

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Hello folks, how’s your Tuesday going? I’m still recovering from the high of seeing my hero, Simon Russell Beale in King Lear last night. Review coming tomorrow! In the meantime, it’s my weekly link up with The Broke and the Bookish, with this weeks theme which is:

Top Ten Books If You Like X (tv show/movie/comic etc).

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood if you liked Broadchurch (TV series)

Alias Grace is a novel about a convicted murderer and the validity of her sentence and guilt. Atwood creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere with the reader never quite sure whether to believe Grace’s tale. ITV’s Broadchurch created a similarly unsettling, creepy feeling as two police officers investigated the murder of a young boy, with all residents’ suspects and constantly growing tension.

 

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens if you liked… Persuasion by Jane Austen (book)

Little Dorrit is the tale of Amy Dorrit, the youngest daughter of a debtor, born in debtor’s prison where she has lived her whole life. Amy is quiet, sweet and secretly determined. The book is about much more than just her story, but like Persuasion, it involves standing up to family, unrequited love, love at a later age and most of all about retaining hope at all times.

 

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham if you liked… Felicity (TV series)

Not what you thought I was going to say was it? Much as I love the Gilmore Girls and though the show clearly has links with the lovely Lauren Graham’s book, it actually reminded me more of Felicity in tone. SSM is all about Frannie Banks, an aspiring actress trying to make it in New York, figuring out some guy stuff, with some dependably smart-talking friends to help her out, just like Felicity was. Plus, they both leave you with a warm, happy sense of contentment.

 

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller if you liked… The Talented Mr Ripley (film or book)

Full disclosure: I don’t actually like The Talented Mr Ripley (sorry!). However, I did enjoy Heller’s Notes on a Scandal and there’s no denying they share certain DNA. Both feature cunning, manipulative and totally deluded protagonists, who become obsessed with someone they both love and hate simultaneously. The suspense builds beautifully through Notes… and you become so embroiled in Barbara’s narration, you almost feel like a co-conspirator.

 

The Outcast by Sadie Jones if you liked… Only Yesterday (film)

Both The Outcast and Only Yesterday reflect on how the traumas and trials of childhood affect us as adults and how confusing life can be if you don’t conform to an expected idea of who you should be as an adult. Lewis feels adrift and out of place in his small village, just as Taeko feels like a stranger in her own life in Only Yesterday.

 

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel if you liked… House of Cards (TV series)

Both Wolf Hall and House of Cards are stories about politics and the drama, intrigue, betrayal and clever manipulation that come with being successful in that world. They feature charismatic protagonists who live in the moral grey areas as self-serving as they are public servants.

 

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion if you liked… Romeo & Juliet (play or films)

Warm Bodies is loosely based on Romeo & Juliet, so it follows that people who enjoy one should enjoy the other. Warm Bodies’ protagonists are ‘R’, a zombie and Julie, a human, who form a connection despite being on opposing sides of the battle of survival for humanity. Their attempt to maintain that connection, despite the overwhelming odds against them is every bit as tension filled as R&J.

 

MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche if you liked… Bridesmaids (film)

MWF seeking BFF is about one woman’s quest to find friends in her new home of Chicago and an exploration of the way we make and form friendships as adults. While it doesn’t have any epic food poisoning scenes or cookie destruction, I feel that MWF… shares with Bridesmaids a sense of the importance of close friendships, how we feel when they are threatened, lost or altered and how hard it can be to find our feet without support.

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens if you liked… Harry Potter (books or films)

Yes, not one but two, TWO, Charles Dickens recommendations. Great Expectations and Harry Potter both feature an orphaned protagonist who is raised by sometimes less than caring relatives. They are both fortuitously pushed towards money and success and sometime stray from their true path. Both are stories about growing up and knowing yourself and who you wish to be.

 

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok if you liked… Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (book)

Look, I know I reference E&P too much on this blog. I’ll try to stop, ok? In the meantime, why don’t you try the lovely Girl in Translation? Like Eleanor & Park, it looks at standing out amongst your classmates, child poverty and first loves. It’s well worth a read.

What would be your recommendations?

Film Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2

On Bank Holiday Monday we took a trip to see the new Amazing Spider-Man 2 – a follow up to Andrew Garfield’s first (and very successful) outing in the Spidey suit in 2012. Watching Spider-Man movies is starting to make me feel old as I went and saw Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man at the cinema back in 2002. Yikes. I’m on my fifth Spider-Man movie in 12 years, which feels excessive, but there ya go. The cinema was packed, despite the film having been out for a few days, demonstrating to me at least that superhero movie fatigue has yet to strike. I went with fairly high expectations as I really enjoyed the previous film and am a fan of all the principle cast (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Sally Field).

We pick up a few months from when The Amazing Spider-Man left off. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) have re-united but it seems to be an on/off sort of relationship, as Peter is still plagued with guilt over the death of Gwen’s father. Spider-Man is all over New York, saving the day one quip at a time (seriously, the one liners were great in this movie and delivered with relish by Garfield). He is exhausted but seemingly happy, still living with Aunt May (Sally Field) in Queens. The mystery of what happened to his parents still lingers but he’s trying not to drive himself too crazy over it. Meanwhile, Gwen gets a job over at Oscorp and meets Max, an electrical engineer (Jamie Foxx), who is ignored and ridiculed by his colleagues and is a scary Spider-Man super-fan. Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back to the city following the protracted death of his father, Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), former boss to Richard Parker, Peter’s dad. Several threads of story start to intertwine as the film progresses: Peter learns more about what his father was doing and where he went, Harry is driven mad with obsession over Spider-Man and a possible cure for a family illness, Gwen proves her value while also putting herself at risk and most importantly, Max has a terrible accident and becomes Electro. Peter must struggle with personal and actual demons and decide what it really means to be Spider-Man…

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Pop Arts Recommends: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

It’s the end of April and I hope you’re all still enjoying the last remnants of Easter chocolate (I’ve already eaten mine…boo). As it is the last Friday of the month, it’s time for another recommendation. This month I’m talking about one of my all time favourite books, Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWSG).

Dave Eggers is well known as a modern voice and proponent of literature in its purest form. His publishing house and literary journal McSweeney’s is a recognised outlet for new voices and writers. He was also (importantly for me) immortalised on the wall of Rory Gilmore’s dorm room:

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I first came across AHWSG in my school library when I was about 15. I loved the title, its ego and cheekiness appealing to me. However, AHWSG is a massive book and I was a bit overwhelmed and the librarian was unimpressed with how late the book was, so I gave up about four chapters in. Several years later in my early 20s, I picked it up again. The fact that I’d left it unfinished had always nagged at me, as I’d really enjoyed what I’d read and I was determined to give it another go. The second time there were no problems: I whizzed through it, utterly captivated. AHWSG appeared on my Top 10 Tuesday list a few weeks back as one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and I stand by this assertion.

AHWSG‘s plot is sort of hard to explain. It’s a kind of fictionalised memoir, with Eggers mostly recounting the truth, but knowingly and wilfully adapting and adding to his stories, to make them more readable, more dramatic or to fit better within his narrative. His choice to expose this fact (later editions of the book are prefaced with a list titled ‘Mistakes we knew we were making’) is an interesting and bold one. Readers are usually subconsciously aware that memoirs/autobiographies are ‘edited’ due to the vulnerability and unreliability of human memory, but I think it’s pretty rare to lay that out for the reader so openly. There are occasions where characters break the fourth wall and I feel that the reader’s awareness of the fictionalised aspects of the book makes you more questioning and more critical as a reader.

Essentially, AHWSG is about Dave and his family. He goes through the appalling trauma of losing both parents within weeks of each other and he and his siblings are left picking up the pieces of their family and figuring out how to move forward. There’s almost no time for grief, as the oldest three (including Dave) must provide and care for their youngest brother Toph, who is still a child (I think he’s about 8 at the start of the book). Responsibility for Toph is split between them, with the whole family moving to California and Dave being left to handle much of the day to day stuff for Toph. What’s striking about the novel is Dave’s internal conflict between being a very young man himself, desperate to go out and live irresponsibly and freely, while also loving his little brother very much and wanting to keep him happy and safe. He is still processing his own grief and loss along with figuring out who he is and how his life is going to go now.

I read AHWSG right out of university. I’d been reading a lot of amazing books and been exposed to some incredible, ground-breaking writing styles and narratives. And yet, AHWSG was totally unlike anything else I’d ever read. Eggers’ style was brand new to me and the way he combined memoir and story-telling, along with existential riffs on life blew my mind. Seriously, guys. I feel like it’s impossible to explain how this book opened doors for me in terms of what I read and what I thought writing needed to be.

It was also a good book to read while I was still so young and fresh to the ‘real world’. Dave has no real idea of what he’s doing, or how to be an adult or what he wants, even. He drifts from job to job, apartment to apartment never quite settling. It was immensely comforting to be reading about someone who didn’t have it figured out – at all, really. I felt less alone, less frustrated and like it would all be OK somehow. Despite opening with just about the saddest things that could happen, AHWSG never feels maudlin or depressing; instead I found it to be oddly hopeful and forward looking. Life goes on regardless and we have to see what else is out there for us.

AHWSG won’t be to everyone’s tastes; its meandering narrative and various tangents may be frustrating to some. But I can say absolutely and truthfully that I loved it. I loved it so much that I’m actually sort of scared to read it again, for fear some of it’s magic will have disappeared somehow. Go out and read it, discover a great writer and an unusual book that stays with you, in the nicest way possible.

Throwback Thursday: Pop Arts Revisits…Spice by the Spice Girls!

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s that time again where I delve into my pop culture past and reminisce about something I’ve loved. This week, it’s all girl power, platforms and ridiculous nicknames as I look back on the Spice Girls’ debut album Spice.

The Spice Girls exploded into my life back in 1996. I was an impressionable nine year old and they were SO EXCITING. Here was a group of girls who wore bright (often shiny) clothes, crazy shoes (I was desperate to wear high heels) and seemed to be having just the best time. I was a quiet, shy kid with secret desires to sing and dance and be on stage and the Spice Girls seemed to epitomise to me just how fun it was to be a performer.

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Theatre Review: Other Desert Cities

Last week I went to see Other Desert Cities at The Old Vic. I absolutely loved it and feel even happier being able to say that it’s on for another month – I actually reviewed a play that’s not about to close for once! Hurrah!

Other Desert Cities is a modern play by US playwright Jon Robin Baitz, which was first performed in 2011, although the production at The Old Vic marks its UK premiere. The play is set in Palm Springs in 2003. It follows the Wyeth family: conservative, friends-of-Ron-and-Nancy parents, alcoholic, hippy aunt and liberal, artistic children, gathering for Christmas. Daughter Brooke (Martha Plimpton) is a writer and has recently recovered from an extended and serious battle with depression. Her trip to see her family from the East Coast coincides with her announcement that she has finally written a follow up to her debut novel. Her mother Polly (Sinead Cusack) is suspicious of the fact that Brooke won’t reveal the topic of her book, while simultaneously concerned with her sister, Silva (Claire Higgins) who has relapsed after five years sober and staying with them. Meanwhile, father Lyman (Peter Egan) and brother Trip (Daniel Lapaine) try and maintain peace and equilibrium. However, all pleasantries are dismissed when Brooke reveals to the family that her new book is a tell-all memoir about the family and most specifically, her long deceased brother Henry, who her parents seem determined to forget.

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Top 10 Tuesday – The Broke and the Bookish link up

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My weekly link up with The Broke and The Bookish is here again and this week’s theme is…

Top Ten Characters Who X (you fill in the blank — examples: piss me off, are the popular kids, are bookish, would be my bff, that stole my heart, etc. etc.)

In my list this week I’m going to select my top 10 characters who I will always love

1. Petrova Fossil (Ballet Shoes)

Ballet Shoes is probably one of my favourite books of all time. It’s a treasured childhood favourite and of all the Fossil sisters, Petrova has always been my favourite. Petrova is the middle sister and most definitely not a gifted performer like her sisters. She finds the whole process tiresome and infuriates her teachers with her mediocre attitude towards her training. Petrova is far more inclined towards engineering, with a love of maths and gift for cars and planes. She never gives up on her dream of working with engines though and keeps finding ways to learn and grow her skills throughout the novel. Petrova is the sort of person I would want as a sister – fiercely loyal, smart and practical, with a healthy dose of family peacemaker thrown in for good measure.

2. Lucinda Leplastrier (Oscar & Lucinda)

Oscar & Lucinda is an epic novel, spanning continents and ideologies, bringing two most unsuited characters together and make them fit perfectly. Lucinda rises up from an unpromising start, pulling herself through life, always trying to live her own way and relying on her stubbornness and determination to see her through. Her refusal to compromise or give up don’t always lead to great things, but are core foundations of her character and she is true to her own mind, always.

3. Ron Weasley (Harry Potter)

My natural instinct is to go for Hermione – what book-loving girl doesn’t relate to Hermione – but actually, the older I get, the more appreciation I have for Ron. (Plus the constant undermining and maligning of Ron that occurs in the film series is unforgivable, frankly).

Ron I think is who most of us would be in that scenario. He’s fairly ordinary, unremarkable and very insecure about his place within the trio and in life generally – things we can all probably relate to. But he’s also very loyal (even when in a fight with one of the others), good at thinking on his feet, tough and funny. He’s the only one of the three who knows anything about magic and the wizarding world (without which knowledge they would be lost) and overcomes many of his insecurities and vanities to come through for his friends when required. I would argue that Ron grows the most significantly as a character over the course of the series and I love him for this.

4. Cathy (Never Let Me Go)

Never Let Me Go is a book that continues to haunt me, years after reading it. It is an utterly compelling and moving book and Cathy, as our narrator still stands out to me. Her stoicism in the face of a terrible fate, her kindness and generosity to others despite the cruelty of her situation and their sometimes unjust attitude towards her are rare and lovely qualities. She is the epitome of grace under fire to me.

5. Tris Prior (Divergent)

I am as drawn to characters that are wildly different from me as I am to those that remind me of myself. In many ways, Tris is nothing like me, aside from occasional shyness and stubbornness. While this is hardly surprising (Tris is living in a future dystopia after all) I find her courage and strength in dangerous and potentially life-altering situations awesome. Her focus and investment in herself – training relentlessly to become one of the Dauntless – is such a positive thing to read and her confidence in her own intelligence and willingness to question authority and populist ideas are inspiring.

6. Anne Elliott (Persuasion)

Always my favourite Austen heroine (closely followed by Emma – who couldn’t really be more different!) Anne Elliott is full of disappointment and regret at the start of Persuasion. But she doesn’t let this dictate her life. She looks for things to enjoy, gives a great deal of support and kindness to her friends and family. She also – importantly – never really gives up hope in Captain Wentworth, or finding a life for herself. Her slow re-growth across the novel is like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. She finds her inner strength again and emerges as a more interesting, more rounded person.

7. Winnie the Pooh

Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh? I’m always astonished when I meet people who aren’t keen as what is there not to enjoy and cherish in a bear (of very little brain, or so we are told) who possesses such kindness, wisdom (no, really) and love for all his friends and who seeks to fill the world only with good. Winnie the Pooh stories bring as much comfort now as they did when I was a child.

8. Jessica Darling (Sloppy Firsts series)

Like Tris (#5), Jessica is not much like me. She is bookish and well-behaved (mostly) as I was, but her bracing wit and willingness to chase adventure are qualities I wish I possessed. I loved Jessica’s smarts, her cynicism (which disguises her actually poetic and romantic heart) and her toughness. Her development over the course of the series feels natural and real. She softens but in the best way and I always look to her for some inner snark and bravery.

9. Bertie Wooster (Jeeves & Wooster series)

Ahhh, Bertie Wooster. I am a big fan of the Jeeves and Wooster books and I love sweet, silly Bertie. He’s almost always wrong about everything, his friends are idiots and he’s hopelessly unaware of how shamelessly Jeeves manipulates him. But he’s so upbeat and willing to look for the positive in things that it’s impossible not to love him.

10. Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables)

Anne Shirley is a gift to us all. She is so enthusiastic, so full of passion for life and art that it’s easy to get swept up with her. When you think of her sad lonely beginnings compared to the life she builds for herself…it’s the most uplifting story. Yes, the love and support of the Cuthberts helped, but a lot of Anne’s success is down to herself. She gets things wrong, makes mistakes, makes herself look silly and blithely ignores reality most of the time. But her earnestness, sincerity and desire to be better for herself and others are just so endearing, you know she’ll figure it all out in the end. An imperfect girl we can all relate to.

Throwback Thursday: Pop Arts Revisits…The OC!

Californiaaaaaa, Californiaaaaaaaaa, here we cooooooooommmeeeeeee!*

YES. This week folks, we revisit the magic that was The OC. It started when I was 16. Channel 4 started airing the show autumn 2003, just as I started sixth form. It was exciting, ridiculous and unlike anything I had ever seen before. So glossy! So beautiful! So rich! So much sun! Let the looking back commence…. (full disclosure: there be spoilers ahead)

It was overblown and dramatic nonsense right from the start. I mean, just watch the first season trailer

Amazing, no? So much action, intensity, brooding and teen trouble crammed into just one minute. Can you imagine how much there was to enjoy in a whole season?

The OC took us into the world of a privileged community most of us had never heard of, all through the eyes of a ‘troubled’ outsider. He – and we, by extension – is trying to get his head around the freedom, the access, the expensive clothes, the never ending parties and enjoying the ride in the process. And boy, what a ride it is.

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