Book Review – Frightful Fairy Tales

Starting a book with such a title one would expect slightly gothic, Grimm-esque stories of fairies and elves making mischief and sneaking about the woods. While this is what you get from Dame Darcy’s tales, there is also a lot more to them.

Beginning with the tale of Persimmion you are at once dragged into the slightly mind-boggling world of genetics engineers come witches who moonlight as alchemists. The stories are thrilling and heart stopping in all the right places. They are the perfect fairy tales for adults.

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Darcy’s line drawings are a perfect addition to the tales. They jump out from the page and enhance the tales without taking over. Each time I was confronted with one I found myself admiring their simplicity and artistry. Not many people can convincingly depict a Goattick (yes, exactly what you think it is) yet the drawings are enough to make you wince in disgust.

The stories are a wonderful mix of both tragic and heart warming, and all have a moral, some more obvious that others. I found them the perfect length for bus rides, though some I thought could have been slightly longer and still as enjoyable.

In all they were a charming collection which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys bite sizes, slightly scary literature. Perfect for a bus ride home or scary halloween read, these tales are great for the older readers.

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Review – Rouse Ye Women at the Bristol Bierkeller

Original musicals can be tricky to write and more difficult to write well. Especially if the topic is something more unusual – for example, the women of the Black Country striking over their harsh working environment and low wages. Yet this is what AND THEN WE DANCED chose as their subject matter. And I’m glad to say they did it extremely well.

Their music is harsh, brittle, tender and soulful all at once. Constant leaps between the cacophonous drumming and angelic singing keeps you on edge throughout and makes the piece move at an incredible pace. At fifty minutes I found I was left wanting more. The use of tools as instruments worked well and they coaxed the music out of the chains, bins and work tops with ease. Yasmin Frampton’s singing was a particular highlight, her high, sweet tone rising above the ensemble’s soulful harmonies, her haunting melody a beacon of hope to the others on stage.

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One downside of the percussive music is the loss of some lyrics. The opening song was performed with the desperation and frustration of women trapped in their work. However, the volume of drumming drowned out the voices meaning the first song was almost lost to the audience. However, the actors’ conviction in their performance more than made up for this.

Despite being a very small performance space the actors worked well within it and the choreography was executed with great passion. Sadly the lighting failed to cover parts of the piece and actors were often sat in patches of darkness, especially towards the front of the stage where, unfortunately, there are long sections of performance. Some cues also seemed to lag, again leaving actors in darkness while they sang.

All in all this was an interesting and emotional performance which the performers and production team should be proud to be involved in. The music and singing combine with the actors natural talent to tell the stories of these strong women with charm and passion. A thoroughly enjoyable production.

Rouse Ye Women is showing at the Bristol Bierkeller until July 25th.

Treating myself to a new toy

Recently I have been doing what every university student spends every summer doing – job hunting.  And being rejected by employers.  It has been seriously getting me down.  So yesterday I thought I would cheer myself up by treating myself to something I have been wanting for a long time – an ebook reader.

Now I have had, to date, three previous ebook readers, all of which I have loved and all of which I have sold on to progress to the latest upgrade.  Some might say I have gone backwards this time.  I started off with a Sony, then got the upgrade to that, then purchased a Kindle.  The Kindle was sold to justify the buying of my iPad, which I love with all my heart.  But it’s not the same.

Reading on an iPad is much like reading on a laptop.  There is glare, you can’t take it in the sun, it’s just like a laptop screen with the backlight.  So I did some browsing.  And I found this.

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This little beauty is the Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch and it is simply Heaven to use.  I have only had it for a few hours but already I feel like my summer reading is going to take off.  I have an enormous amount of books I was hoping to get through this summer and I think this will help me do it.  Why, I hear you ask?  Here are a few reasons.

1)  It’s super light.  It’s lighter than your average paperback.  And as I like big books (Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is one of my favourites) it makes it a real joy to read as I don’t have to carry over 700 pages around with me on a daily basis.

2)  The battery life is incredible.  Obviously I’m yet to test this fully but the website states that the battery life lasts over two months.  Which means no annoying cables to take on holiday with you!  I can happily read for the entire five hour bus journey to see The Bearded One and not have to worry about charging up before the journey back home.

3)  Storage.  I have a book problem at home – I have too many for the space I have.  This is the perfect solution.  I can buy as many books as I like and never run out of storage space thanks to the Nook’s capability to use a micro SD card.  Perfect!

4)  I can upload my own writing on there and edit on the go without having to carry a million devices.  I can pop my pdf scripts and drafts on there and read them whenever I like and just make notes with a good old fashioned pen and paper.

5)  No backlight.  Thanks to my years of working at computers I now need glasses to stop the words dancing all over the flippin’ screen.  Not so with my Nook.  The wonderful E ink display means it’s just like reading on paper.  No backlight and no headaches.  Which also means…

6)  I can take it in the garden and read in the sunlight!  No backlight means no glare and no freak outs to the sunshine.

With all of that in mind I’m off to do some reading.  On my new Nook.  Which I love.

Review – 33 at the Bristol Old Vic

When you go to the theatre to watch a show about 33 men encased in a mine shaft underground for 52 days you expect a sombre affair with deep messages about the meaning of life and how relationships fair under pressure. While the Wardrobe Ensemble does confront this it is with a far from sombre voice. There are moments of lightness, even humour, in the hour long performance which takes you underground, overground and through the minds of some of the most tortured men you can imagine. They are trapped with little knowledge of what is happening on the outside world and with almost no contact with their loved ones.

The actors conveyed a variety of characters convincingly, each person they became having a unique voice. Their minimalist costumes, with a patterned scarf or baseball hat symbolising a new character, was simple and effective, if a little clumsily changed at times. The actors remained on stage almost constantly throughout, most of the times blending in perfectly. Unfortunately at times their removing or putting on of overalls took the attention away from the main action. The appearance of Elvis, played with obvious delight by Edith Woolley, was unexpected and yet perfectly acceptable. James Newton’s mentally cracked Edison was as confused as the audience but his desperation was palpable throughout their reckless and at times terrifying scramble across the stage. More than one audience member jumped in their seat with each perfectly choreographed punch and chair throw. I don’t recall ever seeing a fight scene so well performed and with such trust and confidence.

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Tom Brennan’s direction shines particularly brightly during the numerous movement sections. From news reporters to ‘the masses’ watching reports on television at home, the gestures are wonderfully choreographed and performed with gusto. There is little synchronicity between the actors, but their frantic and passionate moves show that this is not the intention.

The ensemble worked well with the large amount of sound and camera equipment on stage. Showing the movement through the mine shafts on the projector was inventive and useful for the audience, with the added humour of James Newton’s running man on stage (which much be seen to be truly appreciated). On a personal note I feel the production would have been much cleaner without the added distraction of the tech desk on stage. Though it was well out of the lights and the technician was subtle my eyes strayed more than once to the distant corner when much more interesting stuff was happening right in front of me.

Live music was a great addition to the show, and performed beautifully by various members of the cast. The spanish guitar gave a great sense of place, and with the two saxophones combined to really fill the space with mood and atmosphere.

All in all 33 was a fascinating piece of theatre which tackled its subject matter with tact and sensitivity. The audience was a mixed bag but all seemed to thoroughly enjoy the evening. Though the show was completely not what I was expecting I took pleasure in trying to understand a (as the cast explained at the beginning) translation of a version of events that has already been passed on many times. I wish the company every success and urge you to catch this show, if not in Bristol then in Edinburgh next month.

33 is showing at the Bristol Old Vic until July 13th and will also be at the Edinburgh Fringe in The Aviary, Zoo Venues from 2-17 August

Oz the Great and Powerful: Movie Review

WARNING:  THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS

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Sam Raimi’s vision of Oz is opulent and magnificent, like Fleming’s original Oz on speed. The colours are dramatic and the land is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately, the over acting and tacky cgi lets it down.

Oz the Great and Powerful follows the wizard Oz (played by James Franco), or Oscar Diggs as he was known in our world, as he travels to Oz and attempts to save the land from the evil witches Theodora and Evanora (sisters if you hadn’t guessed). With the help of the good witch Glinda and a host of Ozian helpers, Oz saves the land while transforming himself into the wizard they proclaimed him to be.

The film has some touching salutes to the 1939 movie we all know and love. Beginning in black and white it has an old world feel until Franco’s arrival into Oz, where the colour bleeds into the picture until you reach for your sunglasses. Sadly, the extended opening begins to grate due to the tiny picture in the centre of your screen (we spent ten minutes adjusting the screen settings on our tv before realising it was intentional).

The scenery is, as I have already mentioned, absolutely magnificent. I can see myself being overwhelmed in the cinema. However, watching on a relatively small screen at home it already looked dated as Franco flew majestically over what was obviously a green screen. He and his balloon basket were the only realistic thing flying over the land that looked less real than Garland’s Oz from seventy years ago.

Mila Kunis as Theodora, the good witch turned bad, gives a very emotional and real performance from her first moment of meeting the great wizard. She is tender and vulnerable, nervously admitting she has never danced with a boy before. Her early scenes with Franco are both beautiful and sad thanks to his callous treatment of her. Unfortunately, once Kunis becomes the green hag we are familiar with she becomes almost cartoonish with her screeching and evil cackle. I feel a slightly softer tone would have done better than the ear splitting shriek she chose to communicate with.

Franco’s Oz is a complex character that takes quite an emotional journey through the film. He begins as the overbearing, self-centred magician at a travelling show and ends a sentimental and lovely wizard ruling the land. His relationship with Zach Braff’s Finley, the flying monkey, is particularly lovely and the development of their friendship gives you hope that he can become a better man. Regrettably some of his scenes can be wildly overacted, enough to shake you from your enjoyment of an otherwise well-acted character.

On a positive note, Danny Elfman’s orchestrations are, as always, sublime. In particular his montage music during the preparations for the final battle stir your blood and beautifully work with the screen. His music is magical and almost makes up for the shoddy computer imaging on the screen.

Overall this film was not what I was expecting. A fan of the world of Oz (I have enjoyed both movies and books), I was disappointed with the quality of what should have been an incredible cinematic experience. With an all-star cast of actors I admire, plus a world created by one of the greatest fantasy writers there ever was, I was hoping to sit back and enjoy. Sadly, too many elements of the film tried too hard and ultimately made me regret my time in front of the screen.

Ox the Great and Powerful is available to buy now on blu-ray and DVD

Projects

My aim this summer was to make sure I keep up my writing and not get back to uni in September and realise I hadn’t written a word for three months.  Thankfully I am managing to do this.  However, I am doing this in my usual style of taking on a million projects at the same time.  So here I shall share them with you.

Camp NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an event that happens every November where you aim to write a 50,000 word novel in 31 days.  It’s very intense, incredibly hard work but ultimately so rewarding.  There is a huge amount of support from other participants and the people who run the event.  They also run two ‘camps’, one in April and one in July.  I just missed taking part last November so am happily taking part this month and hoping to finish my first novel!

Full length play – I have also started writing my first full length play.  I have written several short plays which I really enjoyed and have had some good feedback from people.  I thought I would challenge myself a little further by extending my word count.  I didn’t realise how much harder it would be and am currently sat at the end of act one wondering how to proceed.

Short play – I also started a short play which is very different from my usual style.  I am a very naturalistic writer normally but this is much more absurd, physical piece.  I’m surprising myself with how the piece is coming along.  I have never been a fan of writers like Beckett, despite my best efforts to appreciate their work, but this piece is turning out much like Krapp’s Last Tape.  I’m intrigued to see how it ends.

For 30 days I will… – My second blog is challenging me every day to be creative and write something new.  My current challenge is to write a poem every day which started our pretty easy.  However, writing a poem alongside everything else is proving more difficult than I thought it would be.

So juggling everything together is proving to be harder than I thought but I know that when the end of the summer comes around I’ll be so happy with all I’ve achieved.