Review: ‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dashner

With the film release imminent, it seemed the right time to fire up the Kindle and read one of many books I purchased on a whim and never got around to reading. And if I’m honest, ‘The Maze Runner’ perhaps shouldn’t have been a priority pick.

The basis of the plot is compelling enough and perhaps the saving grace of the book: dozens of boys stranded in a maze with no memories and only basic tools for survival in their enclosed world. Memories keep trying to drip through, keeping you in anticipation of what might have caused their imprisonment, or rather whether they are imprisoned or being protected against a harsher world. Add in a hybrid mammal-robot killing machine and you’ve got a decent amount of tension surrounding the new boy, Thomas, who is learning about this world as we are.

Thomas’ status as some sort of chosen one is stated from the outset, and character archetypes are fairly blatantly stated throughout (innocent naive victim, the man who should be leader and the man who is, the hero, the antagonist…). We are told a lot of the information we need, rather than being shown it, which detracts somewhat from believability, particularly when we’re having to be reminded who Thomas likes and doesn’t (as in the case of Alby towards the end of the novel) at random intervals. Equally, after building tension towards the big reveal as Thomas goes through the Changing, half a page tells us everything we ever needed to know – the prior pages building speculation are wiped away, there’s no horror in dawning realisations, just straightforward ‘let’s get on with this then’ information. Having said that, one feather in the novel’s cap is the ending (perhaps telling in itself as to why I’m not rating this too highly) – the memorandum from the Wicked VP which alludes to a bigger plot, which is incredibly tantalising. If it had been backed up by an equally taunting novel, it would have hooked me into the sequel – as it stands, I’ve gone to a trusty source (hello, Wikipedia) and glanced over what’s next for Thomas and co., and I’m glad I didn’t spend my time reading the sequels if the synopses are anything to go by.

It’s already started to come through that one of the major irritants with this novel was that it was actually an exciting premise, and I did want to get through it to find out what had happened to earth as we know it. The telling of these events were so briefly dealt with that, like Thomas, I felt lost; a page of dialogue told us about Flares and sickness, and that the maze was a trial, but it was all tenuous in how it linked together: how does solving a maze and torturing children prove anything about the survival of a race? Why not train them in a more logical manner to rebuild a broken world? I suppose that’s part of the plot, that barbarism of it all, but that’s not what comes through; instead, you’re left with a bitter taste that alerts you to the fact that the strings holding the plot together are loosening rapidly, and that the quick explanations of what should be more crucial plot points are desperate attempts to knot together fraying ends.

I repeat that it’s a shame this promising plotline didn’t come to a fruitful end in terms of reading: Dashner’s ideas are interesting and play on an expanding teen dystopian market, but they lack the substance needed to make you believe in the chaos a post-apocalyptic world would descend into. You don’t know what to think, who to hate, who to support, how right and wrong might factor into things…In short, you’re left like Thomas: stranded in a book with no clue as to what to do next.

Review: ‘Let the Right One In’ (Play) @ Apollo Theatre

A last minute ticket purchase and a cheeky upgrade to front row balcony seats, it was always a bit of a gamble seeing something I was completely unfamiliar with. I came out not really in full comprehension of what I’d just witnessed, knowing that I’d enjoyed bits of this stage adaptation, but that any positives had been overshadowed by baffling elements.

Based on the film of the same name, ‘LTROI’ tells the story of a dark creature dependant on humankind for survival, both in terms of sustenance and security. The vampiric Eli is drawn to lonesome schoolboy Oskar, moving from her previous life to a new one in a bloody chain of events.

Starting with the positives, I can see why Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson have received praise for their roles as Oskar and Eli. They’re relationship is compelling to watch, as they both appear to be teaching one another about life on either side of the supernatural barrier they straddle. Eli’s move from unsure onlooker to subtle controller of Oskar’s life is fascinating, and Benson’s performance was absolutely stunning.

Likewise, the effects and staging were interesting. Eli’s physical breakdown when she enters a building uninvited is haunting and captivating, and a credit to the most simplistic of devices, like fake blood, being the core of moving theatre. The frame apparatus was also incredibly innovative in its simplicity, allowing the graceful movements of Eli to be highlighted as part of her supernatural character. The first murder was also disturbingly handled, with the poor boy begging for his life suspended from the treetops setting the tone for the play to unfold before us.

One bit of the stagecraft I found near intolerable was the music. Yes it was well selected, but the sound system itself was the issue. It was so loud as to be uncomfortable, distracting from any movement on the stage itself. Then the movement itself wasn’t entirely compelling; there were attempts at what I can only describe as interpretive dance that, by and large, did not suit the plot. The only time it worked, in my opinion, was with Eli, because it was a manner of representing her supernatural movements. Otherwise, in all honesty, it appeared to be trying to make the play something it was not – high art over psychological mind-play and borderline horror.

I can’t fault any of the acting, but the inclusion of certain scenes was a bit odd as well. I understood that the bullying, the scenes with Oskar’s parents, were designed to show how little he had to stay around for after Eli’s heroic act. But they were often over-emphasised when the real interest lay in the young couple, and in the flailing relationship between Eli and former lover Hakan (Ewan Stewart), rather than the schoolyard name calling that could have been understood in half the time allocated. The same could be said for the scenes with Oskar’s mother (Susan Vidler) – why we needed to see her fears, her climbing into bed with her son because of these, was unclear and one of the few bits that completely lost my interest. It is worth noting that a lot of these little bits happen in the first Act as well, meaning that by the interval nothing feels settled and there’s no idea as to where the story is heading. This is a shame considering the second act was where events really picked up a decent pace.

I think, overall, that ‘LTROI’ was not an evening wasted at the theatre, but not an experience I’d have paid over the odds for (which, fortunately, I didn’t), and I can see why the theatre had to close the upper circle on the night we visited, as I imagine the target audience for such a play is rather niche. It mixed horror and romance generally very well, but the two did not always mix appropriately with the theatrical elements imbued within them, making it a difficult play to digest at points. However, for a last minute buy to occupy a couple of hours, it was worth a watch.

Promotional Offer – From the Diary of a Retired Detective

Originally posted on glyntimmins:

From the Diary of a Retired Detective

By Glyn Timmins

photo

 

On offer – only 99p over the bank holiday

 

Between 23- 29th August 2014 five easy-going detective stories in one amusing anthology will be available from the Amazon Kindle store for just 99 pence.

 

Read about the exploits of enthusiastic ex-cop, Gary Farrow, and his hapless friend, mentor and very reluctant partner-in-crime, Mark Foster-Blythe, as they bicker their way through a series of adventures that Gary seems unable to avoid.

 

A series of light-hearted romps that makes for an enjoyable bank holiday read.

 

Some recent reader reviews:

 

“Easy going and funny. I did not want the adventures to end.”

 

“We all loved it and had a very long discussion on how great it would be to have it adapted for a Sunday evening TV show!”

 

“This is Morse and Barnaby with…

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Theatre Review – Epstein

Originally posted on glyntimmins:

EPSTEIN

 epstein

Epstein is an absorbing, poignant and sensitive study of a man who should have shared the full glare of the limelight he secured for his young protégés. Instead, when The Beatles found their creative feet and declared independence from the soaring adulation of their legions of adoring fans by ceasing to tour, they also began the isolation of their friend, mentor and manager, Brian Epstein.

The play is set in a London apartment in the last 48 hours of Brian’s life. He has invited a young man he met in a nightclub back to his flat. The young man, who remains anonymous but for the pseudonym ‘This Boy’, is both a Scouser and a huge fan of The Beatles; however, it is Brian’s story he craves.

‘This Boy’ (played brilliantly by recent drama school graduate Will Finlason) has a genuine fascination with the man who made The Beatles…

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Review: ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ @ The Gielgud Theatre

For people who have read ‘Curious Incident’, it may seem baffling that it has not only been converted into a stage play, but a highly successful one at that. Going into it with some trepidation, I was wary about how such a complex issue would be dealt with in a theatrical setting.

Trepidation lasted about ten minutes; it takes that long to get into the swing of things, to pick up how the action will occur throughout the play and engage with the performance art aspect of the actions unfolding. The stage was almost an interactive whiteboard; chalk projections and light spectacles represented Christopher Boone’s Aspergers. Simplistic faces displayed his attempts to navigate everyday life, whereas flashing lights and pulsing music reflected the inability to cope with demands of a social world, resulting in blackout – not just Christopher, but the entire audience is plunged into darkness, completing the process of providing an insight into an autistic meltdown, and how a failure to compute leads to system failure.

The mixture of narration and interplay of different situations again are wonderful explorations of how social life moves far too quickly for Christopher to comprehend, as well as showing how his mind moves between situations (such as the language of promises being reflected in ‘doing chatting’ instead of ‘bloody detective’ games).

The characters are nothing short of Mark Haddon’s originals, and top performance has to be assigned to Graham Butler as Christopher – he married curious intelligence with blinding naivety perfectly, no overacting or condescension, just a clear portrayal of the literal details of the life he was embodying.

Likewise, Emily Joyce (Judy Boone) and Nicolas Tennant (Ed Boone) were realistic; no golden parenting, no breakthrough in understanding their son at last, just normal people coping with the hand life dealt them as best as they can. What is heartbreaking is both of their emotional pleas for intimacy and how Christopher cannot grasp this, is even repulsed by this; they need something they know cannot be provided, and it’s painful to even consider not being able to have unconditional love from your child.

The ensemble performances were, undoubtedly, key in securing the main cast members’ success. Collaboration wasn’t desired, it was necessary in order to complete some of the stunts set for them, to time their knocks on the imaginary doors to music, to position the world of the play appropriately, and how they mastered that timing is spectacular.

The National Theatre production’s second run is enjoying huge success, and is soon to go on tour and enjoy a stint at the cinema – I urge you to enter the mind of Christopher Boone and attempt to understand a section of the world that is foreign territory for most of us, and widen your experiences just as Christopher does.

 

Review: National Theatre Live – ‘Skylight’

Where else can you see a theatrical masterpiece for £12.50?

The National Theatre have, once again, opened up their performances to cinema screens across the country, this time for a live screening of ‘Skylight’, starring Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy and Matthew Beard.

Largely a two-man performance, David Hare’s play is essentially an extended conversation between ex-lovers and the child in the middle, and it’s fascinating that a conversation can be so powerful and so captivating. Having played the role eighteen years previously, Bill Nighy was practically perfection; his comic timing and ability to handle the transition between smooth businessman to heartbroken wreck was uncanny, and something I don’t think many actors could handle with such conviction. Yes, his wisecracking was poking fun at Mulligan’s Keira, but there was never a doubt that something bigger was working in the background. At every moment, you could see Nighy’s Tom fighting his psychological pain, refusing to acknowledge its existence until it was too late.

Mulligan was equally heartbreaking; despite a clear age difference (which initially meant I couldn’t place them together physically), she pulled off that protective love that her character had felt for Tom, and her ability to convincingly dissolve into tears on cue made her performance all the more heart-wrenching to watch. My favourite thing about Keira as a character was her convictions; in fact, the highlight of the play for me was in the second half, where Keira rants about how the corruption of the world reflects our inability to act, to do instead of to judge. Her ending words within her rant, accusing journalists and governments of judging without trying to do the work of a social worker, teacher etc. resonated with the audience both in and outside of the theatre, leading to well deserved applause after she’d finished. Perhaps this is the beauty of the play; yes ultimately it may be about broken love, but the political resonance that has (perhaps worryingly) stood the test of time makes it inhabit your core values and question them throughout the performance and long afterwards.

As for the cinema experience, don’t think that it detracts from the viewing pleasure; in fact, you wouldn’t notice all the nuances and subtleties without it. There was a moment where Tom tried to grasp Keira’s finger when she sat by him, and I’m fairly confident in thinking you might not have noticed this small action in the dress circle of a theatre, let alone in a restricted view seat. Perhaps the only criticism of this medium is that sometimes the camera is misplaced; Keira’s vicious throwing of the cutlery draw was largely missed because the camera was on Tom after he had slipped up and said the words that pushed her over the edge. But when you see how many people turn up to these events, and that it is reaching thousands across the country in one night, is it a method that can be knocked if it sustains the glory of British theatre? Our theatre was filled with a mix of people, and it struck me that the elderly members of our audience who had come together would not be able to travel to London easily, yet here they had the opportunity to be involved in something utterly breathtaking. The theatre become a global experience, and it was fabulous.

‘Skylight’ is only one of the upcoming NT Live productions; ‘Medea’, ‘Frankenstein’ (Encore), ‘The Curious Incident…’ and many more productions are heading to cinema screens soon, and I urge people to support this venture and enjoy the theatre as you never have before.

 

Carnegie Nominee Review: ‘The Bunker Diary’ by Kevin Brooks

Ever read ‘Room’? Now imagine four more people in that room, and that instead of sex and control, the person just wants to play a game. There you have ‘The Bunker Diary’. 

16 year old Linus Weems is caught unawares by a man pretending to be blind; after being drugged and bundled into a van, Linus wakes to a modernised war bunker, and is soon joined by a nine year old girl, then four adults later on. If they ask for food, it might arrive; if they try to outwit their captor, punishments ensue. 

This is one of those books that is as captivating as it is repellant. You finish and put it as far away from you as possible, but can’t stop thinking about the complex yet futile psychopathic motives underlying Linus’ situation. The only confirmation that we have within this book is that there’s a man, and he is in full control of every possibility – we don’t know his name, his motivation, anything. And that’s what’s scariest; facing the unknown. The lift is a brilliant symbol of this; it will follow the time schedule, but what it contains is a mystery – it could literally be the difference between life and death. It’s one of those horrific voyeuristic situations; it gets to a stage where you are compelled to read because you’re safe and it couldn’t possibly reach you, it’s almost a cheap thrill to gain an insight into this psychopathic situation. 

The most fascinating thing, as normally is in these types of novels, is the character relationships. You get your six stereotypes: innocence, bravery, selfishness, selflessness, recklessness, foolishness. None of these fit together properly, and its the clashes that are captivating to watch unfold. You know who the bad guy is and who is working for the good of the group, and their interactions have you picking sides and considering what ethics and morality are within such extremities. 

The only dubious thing about this book is it’s classification as young adult, and indeed its participation within the Carnegie award – ranging from offensive language to barbaric cruelties, this book is heavy-going, and only our sixteen year old narrator mediates the information in a way that might be thought-provoking for older teens. The plot demands frankness and we get it, but sometimes this is perhaps too stark a reality for younger teenage readers. 

But then, shouldn’t our own concepts of morality be challenged and tested? Despite audience qualms, this is a thoroughly interesting book and shows a unique skill in making the mundane nature of Linus’ imprisonment and a lack of motivational understanding and making it into something that mystifies and horrifies in equal measure.