All Kinds of Wonderful – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical | Theatre Review

Apart from books, the great love of my life is theatre. I have secret dreams of one day performing at Shakespeare’s Globe. As I’m painfully aware, that’s one of those dreams that is very unlikely to ever come true so, in the meantime, I’m sticking to going to the theatre as much as I can (or at least as much as my bank account will allow).

Back in March 2016, I went with my Mum to see ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ at London’s Aldwych theatre. My Mum has been a fan of Carole King’s for as long as I can remember and it’s definitely a love that has been inherited by me. That day came in the middle of a very difficult and stressful time and it has always stuck in my mind as being one of my happiest days in a very long time.

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A few months ago, whilst mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I saw that ‘Beautiful’ was going on tour and would, therefore, be ending its run in London. Mum and I had loved the show so much the first time that we were desperate to see it one last time before it closed. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the matinee performance on 5th August. The penultimate performance. Waiting in our seats for the show to start, we both said we had a pretty good memory, but, Mum and I were both surprised by how much we had forgotten. I had forgotten how funny the show was!

Waiting in our seats for the show to start, we both said we had a pretty good memory, but, Mum and I were both surprised by how much we had forgotten. I had forgotten how funny the show was! I’ve seen criticisms of the show, saying that it isn’t very dramatic, that audiences would be left wanting more detail about Carole King’s later life, her other marriages and the further success of her career. To me, this was precisely what I loved about it. Besides Carole tumultuous marriage to her high school boyfriend, there is no over the top drama. It’s the story of a young girl trying to pursue a career in the music industry whilst raising her children.

Cassidy Janson, who played Carole King in both performances that I saw, captured how shy Carole is but with a quiet confidence about her. In one of the most moving scenes of the show, she confronts her husband saying, “The girls deserve better… and so do I”, every woman in the audience applauded. As an audience member, you feel very protective of her, there was a real sense of wanting to see this young woman achieve everything she had been working so hard for. When Carole plays the first few notes of ‘Beautiful’ on the piano, stops and says “I can’t believe I’m performing at Carnegie Hall!” the only way to describe how I felt was proud.

An image that will always stay with me when I think about ‘Beautiful’ is the look on Cassidy Janson’s face during her curtain call. She looked like she had tears in her eyes. Maybe it was because she knew there was only one more show left, maybe it was the standing ovation she, and the rest of the cast were receiving. It reminded me how much theatre, acting and performance means to me and so many others. I left feeling inspired by the talent, passion and life of Carole King and every member of the cast. It was all kinds of wonderful!

Graffiti (and other poems) by Savannah Brown | Review

One day a few weeks ago I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw that Savannah Brown, whose YouTube videos I’ve dipped in and out of over the past few years, was re-releasing her self-published poetry collection ‘Graffiti (and other poems)’. It’s the same as the edition she released last year, but with a few extra poems and a brand new cover design. Savannah described it in a recent video as the deluxe version of an album. Although I don’t know a lot about Savannah Brown, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve heard of her poetry, so, because I can’t resist a pretty book or a brand new poetry collection, I bought it.

Always a sucker for a good poetry collection, I devoured this book. It arrived around midday one fairly quiet Friday and an hour later I was finished. Usually, with poetry collections, I pick them up, read a couple and put it back down again. I couldn’t do that this time. When I finished reading, I had to set the book down again and sit in silence while I thought about what I’d just read. I knew instantly it was one of those books that will stay with me for a long time.

Much of the poetry I’ve in the past has been love poetry. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, Savannah has written some beautiful poems about love – but what was nice about reading this collection was the wide range of poems about growing up, mental illness, insecurities and moles (yes, you read that correctly).

There’s not much I can say which will explain how much I love Savannah’s poetry. You know that gut punching feeling when you listen to a song, watch a TV show or read a book/poem and you just think “Yes, that’s everything I’ve been feeling but haven’t known how to explain.”? That’s how I felt after reading almost every single poem. Generally, when it comes to poetry collections, I turn down page corners of the poems I really like. If I carried on doing that this time around, I probably would have folded down every single page corner – twice!

I struggle to critique because there are no rules. I can say whether I like or dislike a poem but I find it very difficult to declare poetry as good or bad. Reading poetry can often be a very personal thing so a poem could change one person’s life whilst having no effect on somebody else  With that being said ‘Graffiti’ is a wonderful collection and many of the poems will stay with me for years to come.

The Handmaid’s Tale | Page to Screen

A few weeks ago I reread Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in preparation for the new serialisation on Channel 4. I say “in preparation for” but, truthfully, nothing can prepare you for such a harrowing viewing experience. The book is written in such a way that many of the more graphic details are left to the reader’s imagination but the ten part drama forces viewers to take in every single detail. It is an uncomfortable watch – far removed from the rose tinted nostalgia fests of Call the Midwife that I’m used to on a Sunday evening – it certainly wasn’t enjoyable, yet every Sunday night, there I was, glued to my television screen.

What makes ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ so disturbing is how little imagination is required for audiences to piece together how a society like Gilead came to be. It starts small, women can no longer use their credit cards, and somehow it ends in fertile women being sold and traded. This is not the latest sci-fi blockbuster nor is a rejected plot line from the newest season of Game of Thrones, the events of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are a result of the actions of humans, on Earth. In both the book and the series, the most striking thing was how everybody seemed to accept what was happening, nothing was shocking or upsetting to any of the characters, they had all become immune to the horrors they were facing.

A ten episode drama was always going to deviate from a three hundred and eleven page book. In the first two or episodes I found the deviations from the plot to be distracting but as the series continued these additions to the story became more prominent and yet at the same time felt more like a natural progression of the story. Most of the book’s content was covered in the first two episodes, with a few minor plot lines being reserved for the finale. I know Margaret Atwood herself was involved in the making of the series, making sure everything was true to her vision of the story. Book and adaptation meet again at the end when Offred is taken out of the house and put in a van, to be saved or punished, it is not known. For readers, it never will be, but the show has been commissioned for a second series and we will discover Offred’s fate next year. Personally, I don’t know how to feel about the prospect of a second series. I have no doubt in my mind that it would be just as brilliant as the first but, what stayed with me about the ending of the novel was that we never learn Offred’s fate. She becomes a story of one person in the dystopian society, one nameless member of the revolution.

I’m always sceptical of TV/film adaptations of books I really enjoyed, particularly this time around. The events of the book were so disturbing and shocking, I didn’t want them to ruin that atmosphere or to change the story too much. It was handled with the up most respect for Atwood’s writing and any scenes written for the series were fitting additions to the story. The final episode was by far one of the most harrowing pieces of drama I have ever watched. Despite that, there was, at times, a stronger sense of unity and triumph amongst the Handmaid’s which does not come across in the book. One scene shows all the Handmaid’s walking, in their assigned pairs, in a line down the street staring straight down the camera, it is in this moment that you feel an almost undetectable shift in Gilead, the scene concludes with the standout line of the series, “They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”.

If you haven’t watched ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I urge you to. It’s not an enjoyable watch in any way but, I promise, it’s a necessary one.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith | Review

For the past year, it’s seemed almost impossible to have a bookish discussion without somebody mentioning ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith.  Once again, I’m the last person to arrive at this party!

Every review I have read or heard of this novel has been nothing short of glowing, it was just recently announced as being on the long list for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. With that in mind, forgive me if my review seems a little subdued. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I just don’t seem to have had the same life changing experience as everybody else who read it. Perhaps, I’m just naive, this is a book that’s bursting at the seams with a lifetime of experiences, some of which I can relate to, others that I have yet to experience. If I were to read this book again in a few years, or maybe even one, I have no doubt that I would take something completely different away from it. Already, after only one reading, it’s clear that this is the kind of novel that you can read again and again, each time finding something new.

It is also important to note, at this point, that the story follows the lives of two women of colour, their friendship at a young age and their bond changes, bends and breaks as they grow up. As a white woman, I will never understand the experiences of people of colour, so this book wasn’t written for me.

Zadie Smith’s writing is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Somehow, her writing is simple yet so vivid. She captures the atmosphere of earlier childhood beautifully and the excitement, apprehension and delicacy that comes with new friendships. Swing Time takes place in London, New York and West Africa and Smith captures each place in a way that makes the distinct and separate from one another but when weaved together form a rich and vibrant narrative.

The thing I will take away from this book is the portrayal of friendship as a non-linear thing. As young children, we seem to expect that the friends we make in primary school will stay with us for life when for many people this isn’t the case. Many friendships are not constant, just like everything in life, they ebb and flow. The dynamic between two people changes as their lives do. Sometimes, life events bring them closer, others, it breaks all ties they have for good. Only last week, I realised that I am no longer in contact with anyone I considered a friend before the age of fifteen. In the beginning of the novel, Smith captures that sometimes uneasy relationship that comes from the friendship between young children, the constant impluse to lie to one another and the desperate need to be liked by the other person. Smith really hones in on the role that lying and dishonesty have to play in young friendships and how that can travel through life.

There are aspects of this book that have really stayed with me and inspired me. In a year’s time, I will reread it and hopefully, I will take something new from it.

Have you read ‘Swing Time’? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

 

 

The ‘Mid-Year Book Freakout’ Tag

How are we already well over halfway through 2017?! This is one of those times I wish I had a magic watch that could pause time but that’s another story for another time… To celebrate this terrifying milestone, I’ve been scouring my GoodReads account to try and answer these questions (note to self: you’re 2 books behind your 50 book target, PICK UP THE PACE PLEASE ELLIE!)

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2017?

Straight in there with the difficult questions, I see…

My initial answer was ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alire Sáenz*. A beautiful coming of age story about two teen boys discovering their friendship and sexuality. Whilst it is a strong contender for my favourite book so far, that title has to go to ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr*. Partly because my premature dislike for the book made my eventual enjoyment took me by surprise but because after reading it, I felt so inspired to start writing again after struggling with writer’s block for so long. This is the book that stands out to me as being one I could read over and over again.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2017?

I’ve just started reading ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ by Helen Fielding* but have yet to finish any sequels. It’s been a long time since I sunk my teeth into a really good series so I welcome any recommendations.

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to?

‘How To Stop Time’ by Matt Haigand ‘Moxie’ by Jennifer Mathieu*. Matt Haig is one of my favourite authors so I know I’m missing out by not reading his latest release and I’ve heard so much about ‘Moxie’ I’m willing to overlook my self-inflicted YA ban to read it!

4.  Biggest disappointment

It’s a tie between ‘1984’ by George Orwell* and ‘Everything Everything’ by Nicola Yoon*. Two very different books, I know but both recommended to me. I don’t want to say too much about ‘1984’ because I think it deserves a second chance, there were elements I really enjoyed. However, ‘Everything, Everything’ felt like a real let down to me because of its attitudes towards disability.

5. Biggest surprise?

Easily, ‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poehler*! I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book but I came away from it with an itching to read more autobiographies and a new found respect for that incredible woman.

6. Favourite new author (debut, or new to you)?

Megan Hunter, author of ‘The End We Start From’*. This novella is so unlike anything I have ever read before and renewed my love for dystopian fiction.

7. Newest fictional crush?

‘The Reader’s of Broken Wheel Recommend’ by Katarina Bivald* was the first book I read this year so I’d almost forgotten about my love for Tom. Yes, the love story was a little predictable and cheesy at times, but who doesn’t love a bit of cheese every now and then?

8. Newest favourite character?

Never before have I seen myself in a character so much as I did with Ari from ‘Aristotle and Dante’. He’s a brilliant example of a well rounded, imperfect yet likeable character. A lot of the traits I found myself internally screaming at him for, like the way he distances himself from people instead of talking to them about how he’s feelings are things I definitely do!

9. Book that made you cry?

I have a confession to make… books don’t make me cry… I KNOW! I consider myself a cryer but for some reason very rarely cry whilst reading a book. The only example I can think of is when I finished reading the entire ‘Harry Potter’ series for the first time.

10. Book that made you happy?

SO many! One book that filled me with joy inspired me and taught me so much was ‘Hamlet: Globe to Globe’ by Dominic Dromgoole*. I’ve reviewed this book on my blog but once again, if you have an interest in Shakespeare and theatre, please, read this book.

11. Favourite review you’ve written this year?

It’s not so much of a review but more of a critique of ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes and the representation of disability.

12. Most beautiful book you bought or received this year?

‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books I’ve seen all year. Although, books are like babies – there’s no such thing as an ugly one!

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

I have to read the follow up to ‘Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’, ‘The Other Half of Happiness’ by Ayisha Malik as well as Dodie Clark’s first book, ‘Secrets For the Mad’* which is coming out in November!

If you do this tag, please send me your posts! I’m looking for some more recommendations!

Snapshots #1 | South Bank

If you follow me on Instagram (plug, plug, plug) you’ll know that about a week ago, I went to London. Specifically, one of my favourite places in the world, South Bank. There’s something about that part of London that feels so far removed from the rest of the city. There is something about that place that makes me feel at home.

My one true love in life is theatre and many years ago I made it my life’s mission to perform at The Globe Theatre. Visiting always reminds me of that ambition and gives me a little nudge of inspiration to keep working at it!

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Summer of Love at Shakespeare’s Globe

Further along South Bank is the National Theatre. I’d never been before so my Mum and I had a look around. We only stayed for a few minutes and all the accessible seats had been sold for the performances that day but I definitely want to go back ASAP, I’d love to see ‘Yerma’ or ‘Angels in America’.

If you are as much of theatre and book lover as I am, you will feel at home here. The National Theatre is also right next door to Forbes so you can see why I love South Bank so much! Just outside, there was a pop up second hand book store. Unfortunately, by this point, I was in a rush to get the train home so I couldn’t spend too long browsing. There were so many books, I could’ve lost myself in there for hours!

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By far my favourite thing about South Bank is there is always something new to see. That afternoon, a wedding had just taken place in St Paul’s cathedral. Like everybody else who was outside that afternoon, I stopped to watch the couple have their pictures taken and had a serious case FOMO – there were so many beautiful dresses!

Each time I visit, I’m surprised to discover new things. Every where you look, there’s a different street performer or art installation (my favourite was the ‘poet for hire’, who sat at his type writer, composing poems on demand.). Under every bridge is a different busker, from a jazz duo, a harpist and drummers.

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London is such a bustling place but it is in this little pocket of the city that it truly feels alive.

Wilde Like Me by Louise Pentland | Review

YouTuber books have become the topic of heated debate over the past few years. It’s an argument that I have found myself agreeing with both sides of so I don’t want to open *THAT* can of worms. Instead, this is my honest review of Louise Pentland’s ‘Wilde Like Me’.

A friend lent me their copy of this book and I read it out of curiosity more than anything else. Over the past year, I’ve grown rather tired of ‘chick-lit’ as they are starting to feel all the same to me. Ever since I read Bridget Jones’ Diary last year, all the other chick lit books I’ve read have felt like they were trying to emulate that story but not quite managing to achieve that level of relatability and humour. Unfortunately, ‘Wilde Like Me’ was the same in this sense. Whilst there were moments that genuinely made me laugh, a lot of the ‘relatable’ traits of Robin’s personality felt very cliched.

Louise has been very open and honest about how much help she has had in regards to developing her story and editing the novel so I was surprised by how clunky the writing was. It gave me the impression that the editing process had been rushed in order to get the book out by a certain deadline, I can appreciate the difficulty of writing to a deadline but when reading a book it’s nice when you can tell just how much time and care has gone into making sure it is as good as it can be, that every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ crossed.

I’ve watched Louise’s videos and followed her blog for a few years now so was interested to see how her writing style differed from her blogging style but, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Of course, this is a fairly lighthearted book so it’s understandable that the writing style would be more informal than most books, however, the use of words such as ‘bants’ made me cringe. Louise has insisted that this is not an autobiographical book but I found it very hard to separate ‘Robin Wilde’ from Louise Pentland – perhaps if I wasn’t aware of her before hand this wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, this is all just personal taste, and if you like books that feel like you are reading a friend’s thoughts, you’ll probably love Louise’s style of writing.

Unfortunately, the story itself didn’t do much for me either. I found it to be rather boring at times, or perhaps that was just due to my reservations about the writing style. Nonetheless, there were some very interesting topics such as domestic abuse and depression that were hinted at very briefly but ignored for most of the novel. It would have been really interesting to see how those themes were explored in an otherwise lighthearted novel. I was disappointed that Louise portrayed Robin’s depression (or ‘The Emptiness’, as she referred to it) as being purely down to her lack of romantic relationships with men. Yes, that could well be an aggravating factor but falling in love with a man is unlikely to solve all of Robin’s problems and it was upsetting that Louise would write such a story line for a book that is, due to the large numbers of young people in her audience, going to be read by young girls. Personally, I think it sends the wrong message but perhaps I am being unduly critical.

It has been announced that Louise is writing a second novel about Robin Wilde so I will be intrigued to see what the book is like, I just hope, this time, more care and time is taken over the editing process (and that she doesn’t use brackets on every page).