Review: ‘The Red Shoes’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet is increasingly becoming something I want to go and watch, following the wonders of ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake’, and given the acclaim following it to the stage, it seemed counter-intuitive not to put on ‘The Red Shoes’.

The first 20 minutes, as a ballet novice, left me a little lost. However, this was as far as I could go in any form of misunderstanding, because from the moment Victoria Page reaches stardom it all becomes clear – the play within a play, in particular, was a wonderful bit of stagecraft that took my breath away.

‘The Red Shoes’ is a ballet full of wonder, heartache and breathtaking moments. Personal favourites included the love scene between Victoria Page and Julian Craster, where this show proved chemistry, a fabulous score and amazing dancing is all you need to experience pure love. Another favourite was when, after being presented with the red shoes for the first time, Victoria Page is gently encouraged into the stage light at the end of a dance expressing her confusion and elation; it spoke of her destiny within the production.

No expense was spared within the production itself; the sets and costumes were stunning and really made the story leave the stage. In fact, I have to say that (albeit in my limited experience) I’ve never seen a ballet that involved so much acting as well as dancing; it normally feels like acting has been discouraged, and I loved its involvement here in intensifying the drama.

‘The Red Shoes’ returns to Birmingham Hippodrome in the summer, and I urge you to book tickets quickly – if February was a sell-out before the reviews came out, what will happen to availability after this stellar run? Get your shoes on before it’s too late – just be careful which ones you pick up…

 

Review: “Lyredbird” by Cecelia Ahern

I love Cecelia Ahern, I think she’s a beautiful author who makes the normal extraordinary and reminds us to appreciate the everyday without preaching morality or life lessons. In short, I have yet to see her do wrong, and ‘Lyrebird’ keeps that record intact.

The tale of Laura Button, a girl who mimics like a lyrebird without thinking after 26 years of living in relative isolation, Ahern writes about an unknown talent that inadvertently shows people who they are, making them understand the bad to come through to the good.

There are bits, I admit, which made me have temporary (and then cured) doubts: I have never been a fan of writing in present tense for example – ironically, it makes me tense because it just feels a bit unnatural when telling a story. Likewise, the introduction of talent show StarrQuest after being surrounded by natural innocence and beauty felt a bit jarring, but it was one of those plot lines you had to give a chance to, because it all made sense as part of the journey of Laura as a lyrebird. She had to be found, spread her wings, fall and rise again, and without this it wouldn’t have been so captivating and heartwarming. So the niggles died with the final rise of the lyrebird, and rightfully so.

With worries put aside, it turned into a narrative where you felt Laura’s development as your own because of how skilfully Ahern wrote her innocent nature; without that genuineness of her innocence, it might have come across as cloying or sickly, but it was handled wonderfully to allow you to access the real nature of Laura’s transition to the actual world.

It was a shame to see Rachel tale off as her partner’s due date loomed as she had an interesting relationship with Laura, but Bo was included just enough to see her rise, fall and rise again alongside Laura to redeem herself and start anew. Solomon was interesting if a bit stereotypical in being the brooding male, but he contrasted to and opened up Laura well, allowing her to have something of a foil to develop against.

I enjoyed the hints of stories within the plot as well; Gaga and the mother’s tale of woe wasn’t overextended, the Toolin affair wasn’t dragged out, things were what they were and the future, the change was the focus; a refreshing change from overly-emotional focuses in other books.

In short, everyone should experience the lore of the lyrebird for themselves; oddly enough, it’s not just the characters who come out of this thinking about who they are and how they perceive the world, and that’s what makes Ahern truly magical.

Review: ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner

Not something I would usually read, but on recommendation I picked up Eric Weiner’s ‘The Geography of Bliss’ hoping that – at the very least – I would come out of it with an idea of where to holiday in the future.

Technically I did, there are places I would love to explore as a result of Weiner’s cross-country ramblings, but it’s only the geography part that was fulfilled – ‘bliss’ seemed lost in the ether somewhere. But then, there’s a huge debate behind the question as to whether it was ever locatable – but that’s a question beyond a review!

‘The Geography of Bliss’ is fascinating; once you get past the excessive quoting of psychological and literary scripture, its engaging to see how on earth you go about finding happiness, something which a lot of us attribute to being within us, and not in a location as such. The anecdotes arising from Weiner’s travels are fascinating and well-told; anecdotes are often subject to being hideously boring when they don’t involve us, but Weiner’s brevity of style and humour allow him to escape this pitfall.

I have to say, that was the overwhelming joy of Weiner’s work; he has a sardonic, witty style that makes you laugh and groan in response to his humour. His background as a reporter also helps; his tales and exploits are tinged by personal bias, rather they are written for the objective public. He makes his work accessible by forgetting about himself, using his involvement as almost a vessel for our entertainment and intrigue. It’s a skill I haven’t come across in many first person texts, and what makes this book thoroughly engaging.

‘The Geography of Bliss’ won’t actually give you the answer to happiness, but it will give you an entertaining ride on the way to figuring out what and where it might be, and is certainly worth stopping in place for to enjoy and ponder about at your own leisure.

‘Dick Whittington’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome – December 2016

This year’s panto has arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome – oh yes it has! And both the Hippodrome and the audience were thrilled to welcome back John Barrowman after an eight year absence – and my, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder!

In true rip-roaring tradition, the Hippodrome’s latest panto was funny, risque (talking boobs anyone?!) and downright ridiculous, catering to everyone from toddler to teens and, of course, the ticket-paying parents! The storyline was put aside for making you genuinely glad to have stepped out the house to enjoy this comedy showcase, with panto regular Matt Slack being a highlight with his brilliant impersonations, razor-sharp wit and inventive replacements for dialogue – I’ll say no more…

The one character I came home utterly in love with (besides John Barrowman, he’s an older love from a Torchwood time) was Babby the Tabby – the best Brummie cat I ever did see. I now only wish that my cat could talk so I could mould him into Babby Junior.

But, of course, Barrowman and Babby were not the only stars of the show. Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) was a superb baddy in King Rat, and I only wish we could have seen more of the giant rat he was working for, particularly at the end to see how King Rat fared against his boss’s displeasure!

Jodie Prenger, from the TV show ‘I’d Do Anything’, has a spectacular voice, and the Krankies were in fine form as the comedy duo of the piece – Jimmy Krankie in particular was an absolute riot! Add to that a chorus of talented backing dancers, singers, actors, and a clearly talented backstage crew, and this is a panto you won’t forget in a hurry – particularly if you’ve never seen Captain Jack fly an upside down reindeer! And that’s not to forget the spectacular (if rather scary!) 3D effects in the second half.

In short, Birmingham has once again excelled itself in providing festive entertainment for all the family – it’s hysterical, it’s amusing, and it’s everything the holiday season needs, so get yourself to where the streets are paved with gold and turn your fortunes into those of Dick Whittington today!

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Review: ‘The Nutcracker’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

‘The Nutcracker’ is a festive favourite around the country and the world – the music, the Christmas wonders, the magic…it’s hard not

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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

to fall in love with one of the world’s definitive ballet shows.

After seeing Sir Peter Wright’s production at the Birmingham Hippodrome, here are my top five reasons to use this phenomenal ballet to project you into the Christmas spirit…

  1. The costumes: having had a sneaky peak at the costumes backstage, they are as stunning close up as they are in the shimmering stage lights of the theatre. They’re a sight to behold, and the dancers look exquisite as they lead you around Clara’s dreams.
  2. The sheer skill: ballet is one of the toughest disciplines going – if you don’t believe me, watch a ballet dancer sitting at rest, you’ll find their backs are still poker straight and their feet in formation. It’s no wonder, therefore, that this skill translates into something beautiful, magical and breathtaking on the stage. The smallest move has the utmost grace – if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a ballet movement is worth so much more.
  3. The props and set: a flying swan, the ultimate Christmas decadence and toys fit for royal offspring. That’s all I need to say.
  4. The music: you’ll recognise more than you’d realise! Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces are never better heard than with a live and hugely talented band who deserve every second of applause they receive.
  5. How it makes you feel: it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll leave wanting to put up (possibly another) Christmas tree, blast out the festive music and bring the sparkle of Christmas day to every day – after all, what else is a sugar plum fairy meant to do to you?!

If you’ve never seen a ballet before and have been curious, this is the one for you – the relaxed family atmosphere, the familiarity of the family scenes and music, and the magic of toys come to life in a land of sweets and dreams is enough to bring out anyone’s inner child and let you stare in delight at the stage for two hours of wonder.

Enjoy yourselves – and merry Christmas!

The Naughty and Nice List

I have been very neglectful of this site recently, and for good reasons – my latest project, Literacy Stars is taking off and I am incredibly proud of it, as well as being incredibly exhausted from all the time it’s taken!

Excuses aside, my recent reading hasn’t stopped in the background, so here’s the pre-Christmas naught and nice list from my reading trawls of late…

 

Nice: 

  1. ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill – a truly harrowing book, made all the more impressive by it being a product of the 1980s yet sounding like it’s straight from the Victorian era! It’s detailed but in the best possible way – you feel every moment and, for a story where (when you reflect on it and realise) very little happens, you feel like everything has changed througho
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    The clear candidate for top of the list! 

    ut the course of this little novella.

  2. ‘Facing the Congo’ by Jeffrey Taylor – a fascinating insight into life on the Conga in former Zaire, exploring the lines between adventure and exploitation, daring and foolishness, and adding a little education along the way.
  3. ‘The Year I Met You’ by Cecelia Ahern – this only just makes it onto the nice list, but it’s a standard sweetheart of a book from Ahern, removing romantics in favour of life-changing relationships beyond the conventional. It’s that everyday magic and love Ahern specialises in, so worth a read.
  4. ‘The Taliban Cricket Club’ by Timeri Murari – this is the best of the bunch; fascinating, insightful, moving and wonderful, you don’t have to love cricket to love this haunting and beautiful story of being female in a repressive regime and the bravery required to free yourself – a bravery embodied by the glorious game itself.

Naughty: 

  1. ‘Early One Morning’ by Virginia Bailey – somewhat interesting in places but entirely predictable and overly-cliched for such a serious topic. A lot of potential that isn’t fully expanded on, which is a shame considering that Rome is a vantage point lost when considering the war in modern culture.
  2. 51rpuevkfl-_sx324_bo1204203200_‘Gorky Park’ by Martin Cruz Smith – I started off loving this dark Russian detective book, but its desperation to be the first in a series let it down, meaning the story finished in a fallen hurdle rather than a rising leap, and the pathos drooped woefully.
  3. ‘The Russian Debutante’s Handbook’ by Gary Shteyngart – what can I say? Our leading man Vladimir is a feckless pig who oscillates between naive and dangerously arrogant so frequently the book needs to be solved with nausea medication and a flow chart of events. Quirky but too much so for this reader.