Review: ‘Foreign Fruit’ by JoJo Moyes

I have to be honest: the first couple of chapters of this book made me think it wasn’t for me.

But then comes the rest, and the realisation that this is something beautiful yet corrupt in the most intriguing way. Moyes does her usual thing with brilliant style: she underplays, doesn’t push too far, and shows the fragility of the human condition.

Lottie is a re1172549al anti-hero: dark, moody, short-tempered, you shouldn’t like her. But you will; she’s hurt and damaged but doesn’t demand sympathy for it. In fact she asks for nothing; she doesn’t know what she wants – it’s what makes her so likeable and relatable. Her actions are that of an uncertain young girl, then young woman, then elderly woman – and the change is palpable when she finally becomes certain of her life right in the closing pages of the book.

The storyline behind Lottie is simplistic yet artfully handled. The complexities of love are nothing new in literature, but Moyes captivates with the constant hopeful tension mixed with a dreadful longing throughout. Guy, for being a critical incident for Lottie, is underused and rightfully so; the enigma element aids the uncertainty and unknowability of what life hands you perfectly. Likewise, although we’re convinced we know, it’s never explicitly stated what Adeline does, or what Celia concocts in her warped version of perfection; we’re left in the simmering tension making our educated guesses throughout, and its this that drives you through the book and leaves you longing for more.

Another honesty moment: the switch to a more present-day scenario halfway through did not sit well with me at first. It took a good couple of chapters for me to come to terms with why this had been done, to show the unending nature of both Lottie’s problem and the problems faced by the new Lotties of the world. It also helped that you ended up rooting
for Daisy in particular; the jilted new mother brought out the fighter in me, and you can’t help but cheer her on as she stops being dull old Daisy and becomes something better than she’d ever been.

So yes, there are a couple of hiccups, but the core of this novel is so strong that the current will wash you away with it before you know what’s happening, and take you from tumultuous waves to safe shores and back again throughout. It’s a brilliant book (albeit with a rather forced title) and another Moyes classic.

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Review: ‘Julius Caesar’ @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Having seen an offer for discounted tickets, I couldn’t resist seeing my second play of the Rome 2017 trilogy at the RSC, and I was rewarded for spending my time and money in a turbulent Rome.

Brutus – yes, of et tu fame – was stellar. Alex Waldmann showed us the epitome of the man in conflict; it was obvious that Brutus wasn’t a murderer of a man but a murderer of the corruption coming through the man. His fight with ideology was evident in every action, from his cringing at the first thrust of the knife to his willingness to die in the failure of a Roman democracy. Brutus was an honourable man indeed, just perhaps a man too led by his peers in achieving that honour.

And seeing emotions laid bare wasn’t exclusive to Brutus – the cast were brilliant in their subtle and less subtle mojulius-caesar-production-images_-2017_2017_photo-by-helen-maybanks-_c_-rsc_214266-tmb-img-1824ments, expertly weaving between these for maximum effect. One of my favourite moments has to be at the end, when Mark Anthony (James Corrigan) can barely hide his dislike of Octavius Caesar (Jon Tarcy) – it’s blindingly obvious to everyone apart from Octavius how he has been used by Anthony to exact vengeance, despite finding him a churlish youth.
Caesar (Andrew Woodall), of course, cannot go unmentioned. He had majesty without royalty, and ambition whilst remaining grounded. You saw glimpses of why he had to die but not enough to justify this, and certainly not enough to prevent the horror at his brutal murder.

Speaking of which, the staging was spectacular and yet minimalist. The murder was a highlight, bloodbags aplenty and yet no one betrayed this theatrical trick in their realism. I especially loved the second half scenery, with the broken ruins of war lying around the stage and acting as plinths from which characters could rise and fall. It was incredibly thoughtful and, unlike some productions, not over the top in any manner, which made it all the more resonating.

The only thing I’ll say – and this is at Shakespeare and his era than the production itself – is the lack of women. They were well used by the director, Angus Jackson, despite this, but it seems incredibly sad that Calpurnia (Kristin Atherton) gets no resolution after her desperate pleas to Caesar, and we don’t see more of Portia’s (Hannah Morrish) conflict between her husband and her country. But this was not an age of women, and so we’re left with a lot of men (and a lot of six packs) around the stage (not complaining!).

‘Julius Caesar’ hits cinemas on Wednesday 25th April for the live screening of the performance, and I urge you to see this gripping production and live through the trials and tribulations of an empire on the edge.

 

Review: ‘Going Dutch’ by Katie Fforde

This book makes it into a rare and not-often-conceded to list: books I wouldn’t recommend. There aren’t many, and to be fair I did finish this book, but it was more out of unwillingness to give up than enjoyment, I have to say.

The characters are all hideous stereotypes; the divorced mother ‘refinding’ 527836-_uy200_herself and
eventually one-upping the ex, the posh country girl who says ‘golly’ a lot, the charming young man everybody loves, the rogue who finally settles down, the bimbo girlfriends whose sole purpose is to show how wonderful the ‘real’ women are…And yet to all these stereotypes there’s very little development; they start and end the same people, despite explicitly telling you how much they’ve grown and developed and progressed – no, they haven’t, stating it doesn’t mean they have.

And that’s sort of the theme of this book; it’s a series of declaratives trying to trick you into thinking implicit and mystical things are happening. In short, nothing like that happens. Everything you think will happen, happens, and there’s not a surprise in sight. Even things that should be interesting and breathtaking – man overboard! – end up being another dull event because everyone’s so ‘stiff upper lip’ they can’t crack the facade to show worry.

The females annoy me most of all. They flit between careers, allegedly finding themselves but actually and unashamedly waiting for a man to fix their lives. They don’t have a thought in the book, let alone a conversation, that isn’t to do with men; empowering this ain’t. And, of course, the solution comes with a good makeover for one character, and a romantic ‘revelation’ (obvious since the start but never mind) for the other; not because they’ve learned how to actually live an independent life or hold their own, but because they look good and have a new boyfriend. I mean for goodness’ sake, the only reason women are invited on a boat trip in this book is to feed and make tea for the men, which made my blood boil; I’m all for playing to your strengths but there wasn’t one woman who didn’t cater (literally or metaphorically) to a man throughout the whole book.

I’ve ranted long enough; don’t go Dutch this year, go to a faraway beach and find another book to enjoy yourself with – ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ might be a start. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed ‘The Rose Revived’ by Katie Fforde, but this was not a pleasant sail and choppy waters lie ahead for those who enter the world of Jo, Dora and their men.

Review: ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ by Marian Keyes

41vmazlew0l-_sx323_bo1204203200_I love a bit of Marian Keyes, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ was hideously addictive – for both good and (sort of) bad reasons.

The good: I loved main character Stella. She was everything a normal human female is, and therefore someone whose journey you end up feeling quite personally. You want her to be happy, to resolve conflicts, to be successful…although, of course, you can’t always get what you want! Likewise Mannix was great, if a little confusing in his initial descriptions as to his looks (he later became the God of all things sexy, it was a little skewed from his early depiction!), and again an incredibly real character.

Which leads to the niggle of the bad, and yet a bad that is entirely addictive for its own reasons. There was not a single character outside of these pair that felt realistic; they were all stereotypes (the businesswoman, the artist, the hippy chick, the moody teen – you name it, it was there!) and selfish stereotypes at that. I was screaming at Stella throughout the book about how awful these people were to her, but as I’ve said this was addictive in itself for making you want to see her through to her own personal happily-ever-after to spite these selfish people! Perhaps they were this way to deliberately highlight the ‘right path’ and the ‘good life’ options facing Stella, but my God they made my blood boil in the process!

It was refreshing to see an honest portrayal of money; in books involving New York and potential high-level success, money often gets to be this magical object with no real limit, but this wasn’t the case here. For Roland and his debts, Stella and her ability to live in New York, Ryan and his karmic mission, all money had a value and a limit, and it was interesting to see how this created the stresses we all know and fear at times in our lives. Nothing in this book was unmovable but neither was it wiped away by unrealistic pots of gold or good fortune; this book is enjoyable because, at the core of it, it contains things we’ve all felt and worried about, and shows us the light at the end of the tunnel without blinding us.

It’s a fabulous night-time obsession, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ will not disappoint you when you inevitably look up and realise you forgot to sleep because you were too busy reading – just remember to keep blinking!

 

“One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.

For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That’s okay. She doesn’t really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).

But this chance meeting sparks a chain of events which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.

Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad? For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?”

Review: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ @ The RSC

‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is an exotic and wonderful Shakespeare play, albeit one with a rushed second half where we’re told things happen rather than seeing them. Nonetheless, the RSC’s latest production is bold and rhythmical to capture even novice Shakespearean viewers.

 

The opening musical segment transports you to Egypt and the seductive den of the most radiant Cleopatra, and was an entrancing was to being events. The continuation of dance and music throughout was mesmerising and added that real Eastern feel to the events, separating the cold and calculating Roman empire from the rich and sultry Egyptian lands.

 

Cleopatra followed suit with this exoticism, although despite her captivating temper and demeanour I have to say it was sometimes difficult to understand her entirely, especially when she was louder; it was purely an accent thing, and it’s just worth knowing so that you know to move on when you don’t understand rather than missing the plot development whilst trying to translate.

 

However, both Antony and Cleopatra were magnificently regal, despite the clumsiness of Shakespeare’s ending where Antony is dragged up the monument, which (frankly) is mildly ridiculous. As I said, the whole second half is a bit ropey – blink and you’ll miss it explanations as to who likes and hates whom are all you’ve got and they’re so rapid it’s difficult to follow.

 

The whole cast, as expected, were brilliant; my highlights were Enobarbus and Cleopatra’s handmaidens, who made this less of a history lesson and more of a journey through these foreign climes.

 

The traditionalism of the setting was something unusual and the RSC, but their normal modernisation wouldn’t necessarily work through the Rome season; it’s classical nature is what makes it enjoyable and recognisable, no work needs to be done here to make this period of history accessible to all. The use of the trap door to change the stage was very effective; small changes that indicated the mood and processes of the characters well.

 

The Rome season at the RSC promises to be a memorable run, and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is just a third of this brilliance – make sure you don’t miss out on a trip through time.

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.