“Now is she in the very lists of love”

Venus and Adonis, Line 595

William Shakespeare

This post was sponsored by TheatreTickets.uk. All opinions, however, are my own.

Late November is the time I start writing lists; lists of food to buy, carols to learn, cards and presents to give, and (yay) presents I want. With this is mind, I thought I’d bring my festive list-making to Mingled Yarns, starting with…

THEATRE TO SEE AT CHRISTMAS THAT ISN’T ACTUALLY CHRISTMASSY

So. You’re in London for December and you want to see some theatre, but you don’t want to go full-on pantomime-Nutcracker-Snowman just yet, but you still have to find something all your family/friends can go to and not leave feeling totally depressed. Whatever the state of the world might be (don’t get me started), it is almost Advent after all. Look no further for the ultimate list of non-christmassy-yet-not-totally-depressing-and-serious-theatre-on-at-the-moment (title needs work I admit):

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This is just a stunner of a show. I saw it about three years ago, and I would willingly go back again, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it, blogregardless of age. The book itself (by Mark Haddon) is a murder-mystery-cum-family-drama-cum-coming-of-age novel, beautifully told through the eyes of autistic fifteen-year-old Christopher. The play is all of this and more, its digitally illuminated set adding an unforgettable extra element. And there’s a real live puppy. A dog isn’t just for Christmas, but they are extra adorable on a cold winter’s night. If you want a piece of really good theatre, which just so happens to be incredibly heart-warming, this is the thing to see.

Gielgud Theatre.

  1. The Lion King

If you aren’t awed by the opening scene of this musical, we will never understand each other. blog-5It is just factually one of the best musical openings ever in theatre. Full stop. I’ve seen The Lion King three times, and never got bored of ‘The Circle of Life’ being belted out at full blast, whilst actors in the most gorgeous costumes became elephants, gazelles, giraffes, flamingos, and – of course – lions, before my eyes. Like Curious Incident, this is spectacle theatre, but with a simply moving core story of love and loss. And, of course, there’s the cracking song list: ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’, ‘He Lives in You’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’… BRB just going off to have a private Disney singalong.

Lyceum Theatre.

  1. Les Miserables

Okay, okay, I assume you’re either thinking a) this musical is incredibly mainstream and overrated go away, or b) is a musical about a failed French revolution which includes prostitution, suicide, child-blog-3death and the word ‘miserable’ in its title really the thing to see at Christmas? If you’re an a) you might as well skip to the next suggestion, because I’m not ashamed to be mainstream, where Les Mis is concerned. I will never stop loving this musical. If b) YES. With the political shitstorm going on at the moment, everyone needs a bit of classic Les Mis ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ inspiration over the Christmas break. The finale will give you the same kind of happy-sad-crying-feeling as the end of Love Actually.

Queens Theatre.

  1. The Play That Goes Wrong

Peter Pan Goes Wrong too festive for you?blog-4 Go to see Mischief Theatre’s original, so successful that it’s even transferring to Broadway next year. You can see my full review here, but a quick summary:
hilarious family-friendly farce which gets you involved from the moment you step inside the theatre. The characters-within-characters are fully recognisable to anyone who’s dipped their toe into amdram at any point in their life. My mum and brothers went to see this on my recommendation and absolutely loved it. Now’s the time to see it, so you can look ahead-of-the-crowd to any American friends you might have – and it’s the perfect piece of non-festive fun.

Duchess Theatre

  1. Jersey Boys

The last musical on the list, and one with its own blockbuster movie attached. blog-2But the live show is always better than the film, trust. Before seeing Jersey Boys, I had no idea how much incredible music Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were responsible for (hint: it’s a lot). The story itself, of how the band formed and broke up over the years, is relatively interesting, and the way that each of the Four Seasons gets to tell their own part of the story is clever, but it’s ultimately the music that makes the show. One of the best jukebox musicals out there.

Piccadilly Theatre

  1. Nice Fish

Confession: I haven’t actually seen this yet.blog-2 I have tickets booked, however, and I feel like the combination comedy, Mark Rylance and fish costumes (if you turn up in one you can get free tickets!) is sure to be a good one. The reviews haven’t necessarily been overwhelming, but Rylance is bae so you’ll almost definitely see some great acting whatever the writing’s like.

Harold Pinter Theatre

 

You can find tickets to all these amazing shows on TheatreTickets.uk, who sponsored this post. Hopefully coming up soon, lists of the ultimate Christmassy shows to see, and my fav festive books, treats, music, TV shows and films… Not that I’m over-excited or anything…

elf

Advertisements

“I defy you, stars!”

Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

What makes a five star show?blog 1

To be honest, this is kind of an unanswerable question, but the (very minor) Twitter controversy over my latest “confused” review of Kinky Boots has made me realise perhaps I need to make it a little clearer how I decide my production star ratings.

Many people, including the lovely and incredibly talented West End Wilma felt I was a little harsh giving Kinky Boots only three stars, despite a pretty positive review overall. Now, I concede I definitely wrote that review in rather a hurry, and so it probably does feel a bit confused. However, I stand by the rating.

What’s surprising that usually I’m criticised over being overly generous! And it’s true, I very rarely give a two or one star review – partly because I genuinely do find something to enjoy or something that interests me in almost everything I see (hooray for great theatre!); and partly perhaps because I see more West End and less Fringe theatre (not that Fringe theatre is in anyway worse – in fact it’s often better and more original to boot – but there’s less budget available and with less publicity, perhaps less constant checking for success – though if I’m wrong on this, do correct me!).

My reviews mostly vary between 3 and 4 star ratings, and sometimes I even cheekily sneak half stars in for when I really want to differentiate between very similar but slightly different shows. tumblr_msbcpvIVtG1stovino1_500

A five star show, however, is far more rare. A five star show has to have something other than a great cast, fab set and magnificent directing. For me, it has to be a production that leaves me slightly amazed; one that I just want to talk about to everyone I meet; one that either really makes me laugh or really makes me think. It’s a kind of undefinable quality that perhaps has more to do with me than than entirely the show itself.

Despite this, my aim is always to give five stars to the things I can’t recommend highly enough, the things I truly think you would enjoy and the shows I’m just desperate for you to see so that we can have intense fandom discussions about it!

Urinetown, The Trial, King Charles III have all left me flabbergasted and therefore, in my view, earned their five stars. Brilliant productions like Kenneth Branagh’s The Winter’s Tale and the RSC’s Death of Salesman got four stars because they were technically superb but I didn’t get the feeling, where I want to grab people on the tube and force them to come see it with me because I just know their lives will be better if they do. Kinky Boots got three stars because it was enjoyable, but I felt Charlie was a bit of a weak protagonist; there were elements, such as Lola’s struggle to be accepted in Northampton, that could have been capitalised on further; and I have no real desire to see it over and over again.

Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you think it’s infuriating not to reward technically excellent productions, or perhaps you just did get “the feeling” from Kinky Boots or something else I’ve three-starred. As to the latter, that is absolutely your right, and it’s one of the things I love most about theatre; that everyone has their own favourite that suddenly thrills and inspired them, and that you can’t predict an audience’s reaction to anything. To those arguing the former, again, that is your perogative. But to feel something is, I think, the point of theatre, and a production technically superb that leaves me cold is not one I would want to recommend unhesitatingly to anyone else.

“A hit, a very palpable hit.”

Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

I’m taking up the ‘Top Ten Theatre Shows of 2014’ challenge the rest of the #LDNTheatreBloggers have been doing all this week. Over the past year I’ve seen around 35 different productions, which, considering I spent 19 weeks away from the UK and started university is not too bad imho!

Out of those 35 odd shows, however, there were some clear highlights that shone out far and above the rest (although I don’t regret going to a single one!):

10. A Streetcar Named Desire  at Young Vic Theatre

blog

Squeezing Forbidden Broadway and My Perfect Mind out of the top ten, this classic play by Tennessee Williams starred three incredibly powerful actors in a beautifully staged production with some of my favourite music from a non-musical theatre show this year.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“All in all, this is a great production of a fantastic, classic play. I can’t quite give it top marks, simply because I felt Anderson took quite a time to build up to the marvellous power of the second act. The acting is brilliant and the production captures the essence of sleazy, dirty, hot, vibrant New Orleans perfectly. And, to be honest, it’s worth seeing simply for the last scene, which is just sheer flawlessness.”

9. Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe

blog

I didn’t actually write a blog for this at the time, but this was a spectacular show; despite being one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays,the audience was enthralled constantly in the unceasing action that played not only upon the stage, but in the groundling pit and even outside the theatre. William Houston was great in the main role, and Indira Varma  was beautifully evil as Tamara, Queen of the Goths. And how can I talk about Lucy Bailey‘s production without mentioning the gore?! I mean, we had 23 fainters at the midnight showing (well worth going to by the way) – watching multiple 6ft+ men topple over when confronted with a handless, tongueless, blood-dripping Lavinia was worth the ticket price alone!

8. The Play That Goes Wrong at Duchess Theatre

blog 5

The action starts from the minute you walk into the theatre, and the speed of the jokes is quite incredible. The performers know their characters and their characters’ characters inside out and they know exactly how to make their audience laugh. What more can you ask for?

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“The pace of this production is extraordinary, and the amount of energy expended by each and every actor (even including Greg Tannahill, playing the dead body!) is that of a million Duracell bunnies. In fact, after laughing so hard for so long, I think even the audience feel they’ve been for a work-out after seeing ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Sometimes the jokes are repeated perhaps once too often, but overall this is farce at its finest.”

7. Much Ado About Nothing at Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre

blog 6

I love this play so much, and this production finally lived up to the amazing script! The staging was beautifully Downton Abbey-esque and the two leads sparked off each other just as Beatrice and Benedick should.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“Basically this is a really warm and inviting production with two superb leads who definitely carry the play on their capable shoulders. A perfect show for Christmas, for comedy and romance, and for drama; whilst the Dogberry scenes aren’t quite as hilarious as they could be, they still elicited a great big response from the audience and the ending is beautifully sentimental without being cheesy (although I love a bit of cheese, so who am I to judge?!) A show that will leave you hugging yourself with happiness.”

6. King Lear at National Theatre

blog

This seems like so long ago… But Simon Russell Beale was absolutely superb in this insanely demanding role. I loved the twist with the Fool in the middle, Sam Troughton was a great Edmund and Olivia Vinall was surprisingly tough as Cordelia. This was King Lear on an epic scale, and it really, really worked.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“In fact, overall the production was basically flawless… What I’m trying to say here is: if you can possibly get tickets, do. I enjoyed this more than last year’s much lauded ‘Othello’ and this is from someone who wasn’t that big a fan of King Lear previously. This is the most emotional, real and balanced production I’ve seen so far; usually Edmund dominates, but here it is Lear, the real star, who shines out.”

5. Skylight at Wyndham’s Theatre

blog

A clean, beautifully designed production, carried completely by three actors who fully understood their complex characters. Understated and thoughtful, but with some lovely light-hearted moments, this was seriously good theatre.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“As I hope you’ve picked up, this is a seriously good piece of theatre.
Light-hearted enough to be an enjoyable evening out, but interesting enough to leave you contemplative afterwards. Basically an amazing production of a great play. Go and see it while you can!”

4. The Scotsboro Boys at Garrick Theatre

blog

Another one I didn’t actually have a chance to write about, but a fantastic show nonetheless. Like Kandel and Ebb’previous shows Chicago and Cabaret, it’s full of energy and gets your foot tapping along before you realise quite how serious the subject matter is; it makes you complicit in the evil events. The performers are brilliant, the songs are so clever and the dancing is ridiculously energetic. Plus we saw it with two of the understudies – yet I wouldn’t have realised it for a second because they inhabited their roles as if they did them every night. Kudos to everyone involved.

3.The Crucible at Old Vic Theatre

blog

Dark, disturbing and ridiculously gripping, this tense production of Arthur Miller‘s classic just kept the suspense building over the long three hours and did not let go. A great performance by Richard Armitage brought it all together.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“I think you can already tell, this is a fabulous production of a great play. Despite its length, I wasn’t bored for a second. One cannot help but be gripped by the uncontrollable chaos that sweeps the town of Salem and its residents. Both the acting and staging are superb, heightening the tension to an almost unbearable pitch, with the tragic ending leaving you wanting more. If you can possibly get tickets, I urge you to go! You will not be disappointed.”

2. Urinetown at Apollo Theatre

blog 1

I love anything that surprises me, and Urinetown certainly did that! Great cast, great songs, great production, all that satire I love. Go and see it guys!

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“As far as I’m concerned,Urinetown is highly recommended and it’s shocking that the theatre wasn’t fuller when I went – admittedly, it was a Thursday matinee, but still. Theatre-goers, I expected more of you! This is a brilliant, unique musical, in an age where people complain of the non-originality of ‘new’ musicals on Broadway and in the West End. If you enjoyed Avenue Q or The Book of Mormon, you’ll love this as much as I did.”

1. King Charles III at Wyndham’s Theatre

blog 6I mean, this was just so brilliant (not that I’ve over-used my superlatives in this post at all…) The thing that gives it the number one spot is that it wasn’t just the actors that made it amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the cast was great, but it was them combined with the set and the music and the script and the whole concept that all came together and just blew me away.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“…it’s a play I came out of exhilarated and amazed. It made me laugh, and despair, and it made me think. It’s well acted all round, the staging is brilliant, and, most importantly almost, the script is so interesting. It’s the sort of play that could be played to generations in the future and they, too, would be both amused and gripped by it. Unlike many modern plays, it doesn’t rely on clever modern references for its success, but at the same time it plays up to the current times for a current audience. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy for our times, and for future times, and that is why this is a must see.”

“This above all – to thine own self be true”

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

Let’s be clear – this is a Big. Deal. Hold your breath and get ready for the drumroll please…

suspense

THIS IS MINGLED YARNS’ 100th POST!

O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

yippie

And to celebrate this rather magnificent achievement – 100 apt Shakespeare quotations is hard! –  I have… not very much actually. Come on guys, it’s summer, I’ve been away for a while, cut me some slack.

However, whilst away on my South-East USA roadtrip I did find some bookish things to share with you, such as… :

  • The Library of Congress library 2– the largest library in the world and the United states’ oldest federal cultural institution. The best things, IMHO, were the quotes on the ceiling, such as: ‘In books lies the soul of the whole past time’ (Thomas Carlyle) and ‘Reading maketh a full man, Conference a ready man, and Writing an exact man’ (Sir Francis Bacon).shakespeare

There was even the now increasingly famous ‘Fault in Our Stars’ quote up there, and, naturally, a statue of the big Bard himself (see the very tiny picture to the right).

  • The Folger Shakespeare Library (again) – unfortunately, they had a rather average exhibition on ‘Heritage and Heraldry’ on when I was there, and let’s just say my cultural heathen brothers weren’t all that keen to stay in there for long. Still, the theatre was beautiful.
  • Tennessee William’s House (in the amazingly vibrant city of New Orleans)
  • Beckham’s Bookshop bookshop– in the French Quarter of New Orleans, this second-hand bookstore is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. With hundreds of old books, the best antique paper-decaying odour you’ll smell and it’s own cat, it’s a reader’s paradise.
  • The real life house of Jim Williams – one of the major characters from one of my favourite reads so far this year, ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ (John Berendt). Seriously worth a read, it’s a true story about a murder (which happened in the aforementioned house), the ensuing legal case, and all the crazy people who live in Savannah, Georgia. 

And if you’re looking for any more new books to read then I’ll end with some other recommendations:

‘Three Men in a Boat’  (Jerome K. Jerome)

‘Here For the Season’ (Tania Kindersley)

‘The Woman in White’ (Wilkie Collins)

‘We Need New Names’ (NoViolet Bulawayo)

Enjoy them, and thanks for supporting ‘Mingled Yarns’ during it’s first century – here’s to the next 100!

great gatsby

“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything”

As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

Procrastinating? Bored? Literary nerd? Here’s my round-up of the top book and theatre-related sites lurking around the internet at the moment:

• Wondering what to go as for Halloween? Well, muse no more my friends: here are 17 literary-themed costumes to wear. (I’m getting into the spirit of things here in the US and am not going as something scary. Part of me feels I have betrayed by country.)

• Great photo listing the ‘Top 5 Oddities of the English Language’

• What would Shakespeare tweet? This article imagines 12 “literary legends” on twitter.

• A blog from Giles Terera and Dan Poole (actors, who coincidentally I just saw in National Theatre Live’s ‘Hamlet’, starring Rory Kinnear – Spoiler alert: IT WAS AMAZING!) on how they learnt to love Shakespeare

• Apparently the National Theatre has a tortoise, who now has his own twitter account. And it’s hilarious.

NEWS FLASH: the Folger Library’s Shakespeare collection is now online!

• More from the National Theatre – it was their 50th birthday this week, what do you expect?! Rufus Norris is taking over from Nicholas Hytner as artistic director, but the Guardian asked a variety of people how they’d run the National Theatre.

Famous authors’ last words. Number 2 is my favourite.

• ‘Wuthering Heights’ was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read. If only I’d seen this article, explaining the whole thing in gifs, beforehand.

• And finally, more Halloween goodies – 18 literary-themed pumpkins. These people are geniuses. Seriously.

“O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book”

As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 4

William Shakespeare

I’m sure all of us have been inspired at some point by a particularly impressive or evocative quotation that seems to put its finger on exactly what we feel. Yet having seen a new piece of art incorporating all sorts of quotes at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, I got to thinking about those that I simply don’t agree with.

For example, P.J. O’Rourke once advised:

“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” 

P.J. O'Rourke

P.J. O’Rourke

The idea of reading something simply to make yourself look good is naturally not incomprehensible to me, since writing a personal statement and interviewing for university places is all about making yourself look well-read. But whilst I’ve tried to read quite a few of the so-called  ‘canonical works’, the well-respected authors, like Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Trollope, Hardy, etc., I’ve also read my fair share of chick-lit. If I died in the middle of reading ‘Christmas at Tiffany’s’ (Karen Swan), I certainly wouldn’t be ashamed; at least I died reading something that makes me happy. Yeah, you can totally guess who the heroine ends up with from the first chapter; yeah, it’s inconceivable how many over-dramatic things happen to her in just one year; yeah, it doesn’t really have a deep and meaningful message and the writing isn’t the best I’ve ever read, but who cares? I’d rather die in the middle of that than perish by over-straining my brain trying to read George Eliot.

Haruki Murakami reportedly said:

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

Just… no. Absolutely not true. The heated debates in book forums, the varied reviews in newspapers and blogs and simply talking to your friends should be enough to show how wrong this is. Everyone has a different interpretation of a book; as Edmund Wilson said: “No two persons ever read the same book”. And just to back my argument up further (and to show off my literary nerdness), look at Roland Barthes’ theory of ‘The Death of the Author’, which maintains that the authors’ intentions when writing a book don’t matter; English isn’t about reaching a certain point where we can all agree on what the author meant, it’s about examining all the different interpretations there can possibly be and then choosing which one you personally believe to be true. Naturally, you have to back your theories up with something, like in Science, but the same piece of evidence can be used to prove about a gazillion different interpretations. So a whole book group might read ‘Madame Bovary’ (Gustave Flaubert – I’ve just finished it!), and one could view the eponymous heroine as a passionate woman restricted by society, one might completely disapprove of her adulterous actions and condemn her; one possibly will see the moral of the story as you should be satisfied with what you have, another that we must strive for true love above all else… The possibilities are endless, even though they have all read the same book.

 

And finally…*whispers* J.K.Rowling.

J.K.Rowling: Not always right

J.K.Rowling: Not always right

Now, Potterfans, let it be understood I am in no way disrespecting your queen. I just find it hard to totally agree with her idea that:

“Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.”

Now, obviously this is, to an extent, the truth.  I don’t believe any book can so dramatically make someone wiser, even if it’s the best and most intelligent novel around. However, I do think that books do have an impact on intelligence. I’m not saying people who don’t read are stupid, and I’m not saying a person who reads ridiculous amounts is necessarily any the wiser.

Saying this, I feel personally that reading has definitely helped me become cleverer, if not wiser. Books have given me characters to aspire to be like, characters that can’t let me down, because they’re always there, and they’re always perfect. Books have shown me the error of so many heroes’ ways and let me learn from their mistakes without having to make them myself (although some of them I probably will). Books have proven that every character has a flaw; that some change and some don’t; that we are all completely different, and yet at the same time very similar; that failure doesn’t necessarily mean the end; that success is only the beginning.

I would hope at least some of the time I’ve spent reading has made me a better person. I may not be a genius, but I’m confident that I’m not a complete fool either.