Review: ‘Twelfth Night’ @ RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Filled with hilarity, unexpected gravity and musical mayhem, ‘Twelfth Night’ was a comedy treat at the RSC when I saw it on its final night in Stratford-upon-Avon.

With a backdrop in the Indian country of Illyria this time, it’s a colourful and loud performance which is what makes it brilliant and captivating. The RSC never does disappoint with sets and these were spectacular, my favourite being the garden ornaments used in the infamous box tree scene with Malvolio – with artwork baring its genitalia at you, you know exactly what’s going to happen but that doesn’t stop the inevitable from also being hysterical, especially in the hands (quite literally) of the bumbling Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the brash Sir Toby Belch!

Character-wise, it’s insanely difficult to pick a performance of the night. The cunning group of Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabia (not a misspelling, Fabian loses his manhood in this performance!) were a real highlight and whilst the main plot was, of course, captivating, you couldn’t help but lean forward in anticipation when you saw the dastardly quartet re-enter the fray. However, if absolutely pushed to pick a favourite…Fabia, for being the absolute perfect foil to every single character she came across, and being hilarious in her own right of course!

Now, with every good comedy comes a divisive element – mine was the odd appearance of shouting. Sounds weird, was weird. Sir Toby’s sudden outburst at the box-tree plot which quickly snuffed out its hilarity, Feste’s hiss (literally) at Malvolio at the end, and other bits in-between – it just snuffed out some of the comedy in that moment, perhaps to intensify Malvolio’s tragedy (I’ve genuinely never felt sorry for him until this production) and to bring the rule-breaking of the twelfth night to a close. Maybe by purpose and design, but something was unsettling about it, but then shouldn’t Malvolio’s plot be just that for a modern-day audience?

However, this was a minor point in a major hit – I particularly love when Shakespearean productions don’t shy away from musical elements and the RSC never does, and they always have the most spectacular band on hand. Everything pulled together to make order from chaos and right from wrong in a wonderful version of a classic comedy. Sadly, this was the final performance, but who knows what might happen – after all, Hamlet’s been touring for almost a year now so Shakespeare is definitely a stuff that will endure, and if not…well there’s always next time!


Review: ‘We Are Made of Stars’ by Rowan Coleman

I picked up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ for a steal on Amazon Kindle because it looked intriguing, and I came out of the book knowing it was more than intriguing: it was affirming and heartbreaking all wrapped into one.

9780091953126And it’s a weird combination, one that leaves you closing the final page wondering if you feel sad at the heartbreak the world contains, or empowered because these things challenge us, test us and show us how wonderful and brave we can be. In fact, my head was spinning with the mini-argument I was having with myself as to whether I should be feeling like I enjoyed a book with such tender and delicate themes.

This is because ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is centred around a nurse working in a hospice, looking after those nearing the end of their lives and those recuperating from serious illnesses. Through our nurse – Stella – we meet Hope and Hugh as well as various other characters, the former a 21-year-old with cystic fibrosis recovering from a near-death illness, the latter a man clueless about his own turbulent history who becomes embroiled in Stella’s night-time activities of writing final letters to loved ones on behalf of her patients.

Letters are beautiful things and a medium that suits issues so close to the heart. They are well interspersed in the novel to punctuate the happy, the sad and everything in-between, lightening and darkening the scene whenever needed. It’s a method I absolutely loved, and I wanted more letters: call it an odd sense of voyeurism, but it’s fascinating to consider yourself as getting an insight into something so unknowable as the human mind.

Hope’s story was just that: one of hope and unending potential, no matter how hard life treats you. In places it was full of cringey post-adolescence angst, but this wasn’t a negative: it was one of those moments where you roll your eyes cringing because you sit there going ‘oh God, I did that, I was once that daft/naive/embarrassing’ – it’s that warm embarrassing feeling of nostalgia in your tummy, and seeing it through Hope intensifies it because of her shortened life span and her need to work through to the other side of her problems to enjoy life while she can.

Hugh’s story is equally one we all recognise: who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we like we are? He’s written expertly; straightforward and affable, allowing us to go on the journey with him and reflect on why we are where we are. Throw in a romance and, heck, Hugh’s a vision of what we might want in the world: to be loved, to understand ourselves, to be able to move forward.

My favourite story though, by a country mile, was Stella’s. Her husband Vincent is critically wounded on tour in Afghanistan and struggles to adapt to civilian life and living whilst his friend died in the line of duty. Seeing Stella tip-toe around, trying to do the right thing but constantly being told it’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking and it’s all you can do not to scream at her to run fast and run far to save herself from the effects of the blast. She’s tired, near defeat and trying to do right by everyone, neglecting herself: haven’t we all known that feeling? She’s bold and brave, weak and frail, and it’s why you fall in love with her – she’s the epitome of what it is to be human. I adored her, her storyline and how the world unfolded for her.

Without gushing any further, what I promise you if you pick up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is sadness tinged with hope, hope that is filled with unease and promise all at once, and a reminder that life is for living – so don’t sit back and watch others do it for you. It’s a brilliant book and I can’t wait to pick up more of Coleman’s novels in the future.

Review: ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman

It took me ages to get around to reading ‘Pigeon English’, despite a colleague highly recommending it and raving about it. However, after eventually getting to it, I couldn’t put it down; you’re running through Harri’s story all the way with him until the bitter end, and you feel every moment as he does.


Harrison Opoku is essentially, in my mind, the personality we’d all like to be: fun,carefree and innocent. He has no understanding of the cruelty and violence of the world, and his pigeon exemplifies this: he doesn’t chase it away, try to kick it or poison it, he makes it his guide and friend where everyone else sees the pigeon as sky vermin. What makes Harrison’s beautiful naivety even more endearing is the subtle weaving of his background into the story, a background he doesn’t understand but we pick up on: he’s come to London from Ghana for a better life, making the troubles he encounters even more heartbreaking to witness.

In a way it’s very much a book of types: gangs versus innocents, good versus evil, corruption versus innocence. It’s starkly realistic in portraying these; there’s no sugar coating or promises of happily ever after, the world just is what it is and we have to deal with that whether we like it or not, which is one of the further tragedies of the book that pulls on our heartstrings and makes us an active part of Harri’s journey through life in England: we’re sat screaming, despairing, cheering on the sidelines because we know how we want things to be, and Kelman makes us painfully aware life doesn’t work like that.

It’s beautiful writing; Harri’s dialect stays with us throughout and infecting us until you feel like you can hear Harri telling the story to you like…well, an excited 11-year-old boy. I challenge you to go through this book without having developed a clear and distinctive voice in your head that’s Harri: no other character becomes quite as vivid as this little boy, and again it’s how Kelman leads us into this dark and sinister world, making it feel like a first hand experience rather than just another story.

So unlike me, don’t take nearly a year to pick up this book recommendation; it’s something you’ll love, laugh and cry with, and it will stay with you long after the final page has been turned.

Review: ‘The Marble Collector’ by Cecelia Ahern

I am an avid Cecelia Ahern fan and she has yet to disappointment, and ‘The Marble Collector’ is no exception.


The bittersweet story of a girl finding her father amid the ashes of his stroke and memory loss, ‘The Marble Collector’ is both sad and beautiful in equal measures. Fergus Boggs loses his memory following his stroke, but the chance finding of his marble collection begins his awakening; enter his daughter, Sabrina, who learns her dad was never who she thought he was and, in equal measure, she sees how much she’s misjudged herself throughout her life.

Fergus’ story is haunting; do we ever really get to be ourselves when there are so many expectations around us? It’s something we all face and all have a struggle with at one point or another, and Ahern’s journey for Fergus reminds us of how precious it is to find people we can be our true selves to.

Likewise, Sabrina’s story is subtle: as a mid-life/existential crisis plot, it had the potential to be cloying, but it’s handled deftly and lingers on the right things in the right places in order to evoke sympathy and maintain our curiosity as Sabrina’s amateur investigations continue. Case in point (warning: spoiler alert), when it’s revealed that Sabrina’s husband had an affair, we could have focused on the pain, the betrayal, the revulsion, but that wasn’t how the story was being told; it was sad, yes, but it was a journey from the dark to the light and not dwelling on the dark kept this momentum going. It’s part of Ahern’s writing magic and why I keep going back for more.

What I really loved about this story was that things so complicated came from these tiny little marbles: family tragedy, spousal divisions, loss, love, and everything else in-between – all from these tiny glass orbs. The everyday, once again, becomes magical under Ahern’s touch, reminding us of little beauties and triumphs in the everyday world. It’s a book I highly recommend if you want a reminder of this and a touching journey to understanding who we are.

Review: ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ by Victoria Hislop

I was suitably enchanted by Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Return’ so when ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ popped up on my Kindle it seemed like it would be a lovely read for the holiday period – and I wasn’t wrong!

‘Cartes Postales’ tells the story of Ellie, who’s reading the story of Anthony Brown, who’s telling the stories of the people he meets after being jilted and travelling around Greece to heal his broken heart. With me? Good.

The stories slowly show how we move on – we begin wondering who S. Ibbotson is and by the end, much like Anthony, we’re distracted by finding wonder, beauty and oddities in the world that challenge our everyday thinking. Much like Anthony and Ellie, we leave our old ways of thinking behind and become absorbed in the colour and culture of Greece, a country renowned for economic problems and forgotten about in terms of its rich cultural heritage.

Hislop’s writing focuses on the sensory human experience and evokes the essence of Greek setting and warmth in the reader. Granted, not in all stories – that of the French couple comes to mind in particular which is haunting in its scary departure from the warmth known previously, reminding us of the cruel and cold side of life.

It’s a beautiful collection of stories that make for easy reading, bringing both the characters and the readers a sense of tranquility and thoughtfulness. It’s a read to drift away to after a busy day, and one I thoroughly recommend.

Review: ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ by Audrey Niffenegger

I loved ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ (who didn’t?!) so couldn’t wait to get stuck into another Niffenegger novel – but I should have waited. And waited. Then waited some more.

Because ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ was just odd.

Warning – spoilers ahead.


Firstly, the title: I don’t understand what was supposed to be ‘fearful’ about the book. Creepy, yes. Weird, definitely. But twins happen, so why it became such an overawing feature of a novel was unclear. And to be honest, being twins was made into something that should affect the novel way more than it should have been; it didn’t matter at the end of the day with regards to Julia and Valentina, so its necessity was overplayed. And its use with Elspeth and Edie – just ew. Poor Jack.

And Robert – I cannot overstate what an utter creep I felt this man was. Oh, the love of my life has died – I shall attempt a clumsy seduction of her niece/daughter who looks like her even though this is wildly inappropriate and she’s clearly not sure of what she wants. Stalking on a tube, taking young naive girls to odd dates, procreating with the ghost of your dead girlfriend inhabiting said naive girl’s body which – by the by – is also dead girlfriend’s biological daughter…This is a clearly irresistible specimen, who then acts the victim to just solidify what a mollusc he is. Did I mention I didn’t like him?

If I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you what the overriding plot was supposed to be; was it ghostly shenanigans, was it two teens finding their way in a difficult new life, was it a man overcoming his grief and failing…? Not to mention the only plot line that was wonderful but under explored, that of OCD Martin and long-suffering wife Marijke. It was like the ending was a garble of a plot that should have been after nothing happened for the longest time, the whole sequence of events didn’t add together neatly.

That said, I do have to give credit where credit is due; once Valentina’s ridiculous idea of fake dying (oops) was mentioned, the tension ramped up somewhat and I did want to keep reading to find out the outcome (although to give further credit, I figured out what would happen, and more ew followed). The outcome was disappointing, but it was pursuable.

What I did love was Martin’s OCD storyline; what a misused gem this was. How much I loved and rooted for this man who just wanted to love his wife but whose suffering outweighed that love. I wish we could have seen more of his transformation, but because he was neglected his steps back into the world seemed hurried and undernourished, an unfitting reward for his courage.

In all, this was not what I was expecting; a ghostly thriller let down by too many plots, creeps and uncertain decisions.


Review: ‘The Sheriff’ by Simon Fairbanks

Picking up a book by a fellow Birmingham alum is always a special thing, and ‘The Sheriff’ did not disappoint – full of fun, tension, twists and turns, it pleases on every level.

Denebola very quickly became one of my new favourite characters; noble, courageous (he’s no cowardly lion!) and a little bit grouchy, he’s a bit of all of us: trying to do a good job in a difficult and ever-changing world. His shaping and craft is skilful to show the complexities of his job, something which is handled delicately to subtly show the intricacies of Nephos life. Likewise, children are always tough in novels, and to get them into likeable characters without being sickly sweet or just plain irritating is a skill, and one that Fairbanks possesses in spades. Toby is astute and brilliant without going beyond his boundaries as a child character, and I’d argue as a result he’s the character we feel the most emotionally throughout the novel.

Even the bad guys are wonderfully shaped; it’s so easy to fall into cliches, but Fairbanks makes even the obnoxious Father Osmond into a creature that confuses the readers emotionally: do we feel angry at him, or sorry for him, or do we see that he’s like anyone who becomes engrossed with theological matters? It’s brilliant writing that makes you re-evaluate how you see things, a sign of a cracking read.
What I also like about Fairbanks’ style of writing is how everything wraps together; there are no clunky hints or clues here, just subtly weaved in elements that allow the direction of the story (and I imagine the Nephos novels as a whole) to be clear and to leave you realising the answers were there all along, a bit like a good Holmes story! I kicked myself for not seeing some of the plot twists coming because everything had been there to tell me they were, and that’s the beauty of Fairbanks’ writing.

This is a definite must for fantasy and young adult readers alike; I dare you not to want to live in the wonderful Nephos, and to come away not wondering who the cursed Besti Bori is in anticipation of the next book – this is definitely a debut that leaves you wanting more, and if you take a sneaky peak on Amazon, you’ll see that Fairbanks does not disappoint in this respect!