Review: ‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac

18854687I’d had Jane Isaac recommended to me and grabbed ‘The Truth Will Out’ to give Isaac a whirl – and I can’t wait to pick up her other books, because ‘The Truth’ was a thrilling read.

DCI Helen Lavery is a well-written female protagonist; in some novels there’s a tendency to overplay the girl power card, but she just did what she had to do without being overly-glamorised or over-praised for being a woman in a man’s world. It was refreshing to have a strong female lead who wasn’t overly-lauded for being exactly that!

Likewise (without spoiling anything!), Dean’s role in Helen’s life unfolded naturally without being met with trumpets sounding and fireworks going off; I think that’s what I liked most about Isaac’s writing, in that despite the drama of the police work it was down-to-earth and naturalistic.

The plot moved quickly, leaving you no time for breath and creating an urgent need to uncover the truth behind all the lies and running away, echoing the journey that Eva is on in the fight for her life. It really keeps you involved, and is one of the main reasons I devoured this book in just a couple of days.

Overall, this was a thoroughly engrossing read and one I would thoroughly recommend – I keep spying more Jane Isaac novels in The Works and the like, so I’ll definitely be stocking my shelves in the near future!

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Review: ‘Macbeth’ @ The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

I love ‘Macbeth’, it ranks up there with my favourite Shakespeare plays, and finding out Christopher Ecclestone was playing the titular character was the final drop of incentive I needed to book my tickets to see the RSC’s latest production of The Scottish Play.

And Ecclestone was fantastic: brooding, conflicted, frustrated, fearful – he did it all and seamlessly so. It was post-crowning that the role really took flight; Ecclestone’s portrayal of ambition fearfully achieved was convincing and gripping, something to keep you on the edge of your seats (dangerous when you’re in the high ones like we were) until the bitter end.

Lady Macbeth…I was less convinced. Don’t get me wrong, overall Niamh Cusack was good, but I felt like a decision hadn’t been made over whether she was power-hungry, insane or simply overly-emotional. If a route had been picked it might have been easier to figure out why she pushed Macbeth as she did, but it seemed like neither of them wanted to ‘o’erleap’ their ‘vaulting ambition’, which is the sole purpose of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth’s mental torment: pushing him over the edge. I think it was most apparent following Duncan’s murder: one moment Lady Macbeth was the ‘unsexed’ woman, bloody, bold ad resolute, and the next she seemed to be blaming Macbeth for being so foolish. I couldn’t quite place what Lady Macbeth wanted, and I found that a little difficult to follow. However, the classic sleepwalking scene was outstanding, as was Lady Macbeth’s role in the banquet scene, so there were definite peaks and troughs.

The setting and scenery were used well, particularly where the (spectacular!) Porter was concerned (that blummin’ vacuum cleaner!!). Everything had a place and if something was unnecessary, it wasn’t used. The only mild (and I mean mild!) criticism I had was that the perspex box above the stage where the characters were during the post-war celebrations, where Lady Macbeth heard Macduff’s son’s cries and then sleepwalked through, wasn’t viewable from the second tier; I can’t imagine what it was like on the third. This was a shame because it literally needed a foot more glass and it would have been successful, and I did feel like we missed out on some key aspects of the performance.

Standout moments? The Porter was an absolute scream, punctuating the madness with stark reality and a reminder of life continuing in darkly humorous ways – he was a character used well throughout the play, not just in his one key speech like in other productions. He really did make me shiver when cleaning up after gruesome moments (like the Macduff massacre – a terrifying moment that was captured brilliantly by mother and son alike, and making her pregnant? Awful but a stroke of genius for the tragedy of Macbeth).

Another moment had to be the ghost scene with Banquo: the fact that no ghost appeared in Macbeth’s first rantings first of all had me going ‘what?!’ and then I saw it as brilliant; you got to see what the diners saw, before seeing what Macbeth saw when the ghost finally made his ethereal, terrifying appearance. I loved it, and it was one of my favourite production moments of the whole performance.

And I loved loved loved the clock. Another Porter moment of genius setting a stopwatch, the tension (and a moment where you blinked and thought ‘blimey, where did the time go?!’) mounted and Macbeth’s doom crept closer; it was a silent reminder that the truth will out and wrongs will be righted, and I loved how understanding it was.

Finally, I have to reflect on what once was; in the 2011 Macbeth at the RSC, one of my favourite choices was having the Weird Sisters as children dangling from the heavens speaking down to the cursed Macbeth, and a similar concept was attempted this time, but I wasn’t convinced by the kids in onesies with teddy bears I’m afraid; they were too cutesy to be wicked, and looked too snuggled up to cause real harm, so I couldn’t believe in their ill-will sadly. They were a little better in the second half, particularly when complemented with the dead cast members as the Prophecies, but overall it wasn’t the choice for me.

In what is overall a haunting performance with a killer cast, ‘Macbeth’ is encoring at cinemas soon and plays at the RSC throughout May, and is definitely worth catching while it’s around – Ecclestone and co. overall produce a fascinatingly dark demise of a former hero for you to sink your teeth into.

Review: ‘Wicked’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

It was third time lucky for seeing ‘Wicked’ it seems – my favourite ever performances of ‘No Good Deed’ and ‘As Long as Your Mine’ and a fantastic production, one that you should definitely see if you get the chance!

wicked-04-683x1024.jpgTaking us to Oz before Dorothy and Toto, ‘Wicked’ is the untold story of the witches of Oz, and one designed to make you rethink what good and evil really is. I have to place myself firmly on Team Elphaba, and Amy Ross was a spectacular Elphaba – you could feel the hurt and pain that led her to being who she is, and every word sang emphasised this characterisation. Team Glinda, never fear, your Glinda is just as good as my Elphaba – Helen Woolf is hilarious and emotional in equal measure, and I’ve never been so moved by the heartbreak she faces in the second half when she betrays Elphaba to the Wizard and Madam Morrible.

 

The sets and costumes travel well and are truly spectacular – it’s always the worry that when a show tours something might get lost, but if anywhere’s equipped to cope with the grandeur of Oz it’s the Birmingham Hippodrome, a stunning venue for a breathtaking musical. From Glinda’s bubble to Elphaba’s flight in ‘Defying Gravity’, it was all incredibly staged and truly mesmerising theatre.

And, of course, where would a magical show be without the supporting cast? From Aaron Sidwell’s Fiyero who convincingly moves from shallow to caring(and looks darn good whilst doing it), to the bitter Nessa Rose (Emily Shaw) and the naive Boq (Iddon Jones), there isn’t a faulty cog in this production, and they’re all fighting it out to pull on your heartstrings until you’re an emotional mess by the end!

Performance of the show had to go to ‘No Good Deed’ and the Fiyero riff that made the my arm hairs stand on end; I could have listened to that song on repeat for the whole three hours (although Amy Ross might have gotten a little weary of it I suppose).

It’s a musical that’s as fun as it is emotional and meaningful, and despite not having a green wicked witch in the world (yet), it resonates with so much going on in the world right now that it reminds us to look at things a little differently and make sure we know what’s wicked and what’s not before blustering our way through life. Get to see ‘Wicked’ on its tour and I guarantee you’ll be seeing a little green in everything around you, and humming a wicked soundtrack to boot.

The Recommended and the Unfinishables

There’s an irony in why I haven’t reviewed any books lately, and it’s thus: I’ve been on an absolute book binge, chain-reading and using every spare moment to get through some absolutely brilliant reads that I’ve picked up lately. So rather than try and write a million reviews, here’s my hot and not-so-hot from my last couple of months of reading…

Hot Hot Hot!

image.jpg‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett – I love anything that shows us the roads less travelled, and this was the ultimate in that genre. Eva and Jim’s paths cross, recross and uncross across their altered histories. Barnett takes us through both the possibilities and inevitabilities of life, making us laugh, despair and cry. Supporting characters such as the insufferable David Katz, Eva’s family, and various children in various lifelines intensify the twists and turns until the final call where life untangles itself and simplicity is left.

‘The Child’ by Fiona Barton – This was an Amazon steal and boy, am I glad I turned to book-lifting. The tragedy of this story is discovered in a haunting manner, with the truth growing clearer through the mists as you live the investigative life with the brilliant Kate Waters. The journalistic style builds the drama and hurtles you to the last page, where you find yourself relishing the reveals and cursing that it’s the end of a brilliant book.

‘Blackberry Wine’ by Joanne Harris – Whilst it’s been lovely to read the dramatic and Blackberry_Wine_by_Joanne_Harris.jpgthe heartbreaking, there’s nothing quite so lovely as the reassurance of a life journey and exploration of the magic in the everyday. The story of Jay Mackintosh and Jackapple Joe, discovering what childhood meant and where adulthood could lead was as touching as it was motivating; it’s refreshing to read a reminder that you don’t have to have it all together every day, that it’s OK to step back and figure out yourself and your life before moving forward. The characters of Lansquenet were well-painted as if viewing a busy frieze, every one throwing a different shade on the story. It was a delight from start to finish, and a warm remind of the wonder in the everyday – layman’s alchemy, if you will.

‘Galatea’ by Madeline Miller – a cheat because it’s a short story, but it’s a brilliant one. A reimagining of Grecian mythology once more, brutal and triumphant, the story of Galatea and her refusal to submit as stone to man’s gaze is the perfect story to whet your appetite for Miller’s upcoming ‘Circe’, or for the breathtaking ‘Song of Achilles’ (one of my favourite books ever).

 

Not-So-Hot…

‘The Italian Wife’ by Kate Furnivall – not for me and a rare book where I gave upimage3
halfway through – I couldn’t even be tempted to see how matters resolved themselves. I have no patience with characters who announce what type of person they are repeatedly, nor with repeated insistences that said characters are brave/strong/impressive and so on. I couldn’t stand Isabella and her constantly changing moods, neither could I take any more clumsy balancing acts between trying to show people being reverential for Il Duce Mussolini and show people condemning him when history shows this wasn’t the case.

 

‘The Dragon Queen’ by William Andrews – it gets worse; I didn’t even get past the first chapter. I couldn’t take the protagonist, Nate Simon, seriously – his declarations about himself and his life were comical when they were supposed to be revelatory, and all I could equate him to was Horatio Cane in CSI: Miami rather than this serious NATO representative – please.

15990487‘Oh Dear Silvia’ by Dawn French – now this one I finished, and I feel a little guilty putting it on this list. It had it’s moments, but it’s a book of stereotypes and sometimes indecipherable accents. The storyline was pleasant enough in that it allowed us to see the power of life and death and getting past grievances, and the final chapter by Silvia did choke me a little, but I’m not sure it should have made itself into such a long book. Also, what on earth was the point of Tia?

 

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.