breeders, st james theatre

October 4, 2014 Leave a comment
Breeders

Breeders

I booked this last minute with a Time Out deal – just £18, which was good for quite a well known cast.  I’d also never been to the St James Theatre before – hadn’t even heard of it, and I love trying out new places.

Firstly, the venue – it’s apparently only a couple of years old, and so is very modern, and well thought out. The seats were comfy with enough legroom, and although quite small there is a feeling of a greek theatre about it (although not curved), with the seating rows staggered at least a head height going up, so that there’s a really decent view for everyone.  There’s also a really nice bar and bistro – a must have these days, and it was absolutely heaving when I went, so a great atmosphere.

And then the play. A cast of four, and all known in their own way. Tamzin Outhwaite and Angela Griffin were obviously top-billing as a high-powered, successful married couple at a stage where they want to start a family with Nicholas Burns (great comic actor – Man Stroke Woman etc) as Outhwaite’s bit-of-a-loser brother and the brilliant Jemima Rooper as his slightly ditsy girlfriend. Rooper was one of the reasons I wanted to go. She was brilliant in Hex and Lost in Austen, but I also saw her earlier this year playing alongside Angela Lansbury as Elvira in Blithe Spirit and she stole the show.

Author Ben Ockrent came up with the idea for the play based on his own experience when a close friend had once asked him to be a sperm donor for her and her girlfriend to conceive. For various reasons, he didn’t do it, but wondered how it would have affected everyone involved if he had.

There is a brilliant dynamic within the play as the theory behind the request is that the couple would like the baby to have both of their genes, so Griffin will carry the child, using Burns’ sperm as it carries Outhwaite’s DNA as they are siblings.

Obviously this leaves Rooper slightly out of the equation, ensuring some conflict, and the family history and rivalries can also be explored.

It’s not going to win any awards, but performances were great (particularly Griffin and Rooper), the script was clever and unpatronising, I genuinely laughed out loud and also got a tear in my eye. Chuck in a bag of flour and load of bad Swedish-language cover versions of old 80s pop hits and Christmas songs (yes, really) and it was a fantastic night out – recommended.

The cast of Breeders

The cast of Breeders

the house we grew up in – lisa jewell

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

The House We Grew Up In

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I managed to get ARC copies of Lisa Jewell books very close together, and read them just one book apart. However, this is very different from The Third Wife, which I reviewed here

Megan has brought her teenage daughter to the pretty Cotswold house where she grew up, as her mum has died, and being the pragmatic, organised one of her siblings, she has taken control of clearing the house.

Over the years Megan’s mum, Lorelei, has made the house completely uninhabitable for anyone other than herself – a victim of her incessant hoarding. 

Gradually, she is joined by her father and siblings, and they delve into their past, trying to pinpoint why Lorelei turned into this person. The layers of their family story are peeled back, one by one, through Lorelei’s long-term relationship with the woman next door that ended her marriage and split their ‘happy’ family, through Megan’s sister’s betrayal, one brother’s inability to grow up and take any responsibilities, her other brother’s tragic secret and what she views as her father’s irresponsible actions.

Can the family be brought back together by facing up to each other and finally dealing with their shared past? Could Lorelei’s sad end actually signal a new beginning for them?

After reading them so close together, obviously I will compare Jewell’s two books, and I have to say that this one comes out head and shoulders above The Third Wife.

Although there is still a large familial cast, the characters all feel a little more realistic. I think it may be because we go right back to their past and see why they all act in certain ways.

I am a hoarder myself, and the thought of reading about it scared me – I may hoard tonnes of stuff, but I don’t see myself as ending up like one of those old people you see on documentaries where they have to climb over stacks of newspapers to get into a tiny space to sleep in the rags they walk around in and then have to poo in carrier bags because they can no longer get upstairs to the bathroom.

The subject was really carefully handled, with some wonderful insights into what may happen to somebody to make them act in such an extreme way – how the family noticed it starting to happen, but were so wrapped up in their own lives that they kept making excuses to not tackle it at the time, and then…it was too late.

A sad, poignant tale that took a bright, vibrant family and showed how over the years, the colour and life just drained from them, accompanied by a bit of a thriller as the events leading up to the sunny afternoon that changed everything are slowly unravelled.

If you’re only going to read one of the two recent Jewell books, make it this one!

the third wife – lisa jewell

August 11, 2014 1 comment

The Third Wife

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Lisa Jewell has always had the ability to create three dimensional characters – especially those of her heroines. The fact that the main female voice in this book is already dead doesn’t really impact on this at all.

At first, we hear ABOUT Maya and her part in David’s ‘perfect family’. Although made of three separate parts (due to his three marriages), David has apparently been able to maintain harmonious relationships with his two ex-wives, and his children from both. Neither of them have remarried, and the entire clan have lived in an obscure close-knit co-existence for many years.

David’s third wife, Maya, threw herself into being an integral part of this, accepting the strange arrangement, helping to arrange the ‘extended family’ holidays and devising a wall planner to ensure that nothing and noone was forgotten, and that David and herself were able to spend time with each of the children individually.

But, was all the ‘happy acceptance’ just for show – not just on Maya’s part, but for those that had been doing it for years?  Who was sending the nasty, intimate emails with obvious inside-knowledge of the family?

This book gave me an interesting mix of liking and disliking the characters at the same time. They all seemed to be hiding something. I guess maybe a lot of people do, but it felt like the whole clan were living a lie of some kind. Of course that made interesting reading, but it also made some parts of the story that bit too unbelievable. The whole episode with Jane and her phone felt really convoluted to me.

It also meant that I ended up not really liking anyone, which was a shame. It’s always far harder to buy into a story when you don’t really care what happens to the characters. It is strange as they felt like ‘real’ people, and I ‘saw’ the story being acted out in my head very clearly but it was all just a little too far-fetched.

I think perhaps there were just far too many characters in the family – it made it difficult to have any real insight into any of them as the spotlight was too diluted.

However, it was a very easy read, had a kind of thriller aspect to it, which was unexpected, and certainly held my attention – a good ‘beach read’!

the question of the missing head – ej copperman & jeff cohen

July 13, 2014 2 comments

The Question Of The Missing Head

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Samuel Hoenig has set up his own business where he answers questions for a living. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ‘detective’ agency – Samuel has Aspergers and is therefore adamant that he is not a detective but a ‘question answerer’. This means that his cases have to be presented to him in a certain way.

He hasn’t been running his new business long, but a previous client has already recommended him to a friend, which brings him ‘The Question Of The Missing Head’ from the Garden State Cryogenics Centre.

In attempting to answer the question, Samuel becomes embroiled in a murder investigation, along with his newly appointed assistant Ms Washburn.

Samuel’s Aspergers means that he is able to get to the root of the problem, and ask the questions of the people involved that may be harder for others to tackle – but will his distinct difficulty in dealing with certain social situations mean that he gets removed from the case before he has solved it? Will he be able to help solve the murder at the same time?

Obviously, you can’t read this book without comparing it to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time or, more recently Smart. However, this book is set in New Jersey and Samuel isn’t a child – he’s in his mid-20s I believe.

There’s something of a young Monk about him – and I love that programme, so it’s probably no surprise that I loved this book too. It’s charming, as is Samuel as we get to see inside his head, and the way that it works – not just witness what comes out of his mouth. And Samuel has been taught well by his mum – he understands that there are certain things that ‘aren’t socially acceptable’, even if he doesn’t understand why. And he is also aware that there are certain nuances in language and behaviour that he is particularly likely to miss – which is why he sees Ms Washburn as being an asset to his previous ‘team’ of one.

A lovely light detective romp with an endearing character – I hope that we will see more of Samuel in the future.

The Question Of The Missing Head by EJ Copperman & Jeff Cohen will be published on 8th October 2014.

the unfinished symphony of you and me – lucy robinson

July 11, 2014 1 comment

The Unfinished Symphony Of You And Me

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Sally loved opera from a very young age – when her friends were all dancing around to the latest pop sensation, she was being enchanted by arias. And Sally has a fantastic voice, but since a heart-breaking bout of nerves as a child, she hasn’t had the confidence to sing in public.

In fact, the only place that Sally feels safe singing is in the warm, close dark of her wardrobe.

She very quickly accepted that she would never be prima donna, but turned her skills to something new, and ended up becoming a key member of the costume department at London’s Royal Opera House – very nearly a dream come true.

Even better, her beloved cousin (brought up as a sister since her aunt died when they were both very young) is also working there as a ballerina.

Life couldn’t be better as they embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to New York. But love and life are unpredictable and the trip doesn’t go quite to plan.

Can Sally get on with the next stage of her life? Can she move on?

I have never read a Lucy Robinson book before, and I never get very excited by chick lit – although I have to say, I do read or listen to it occasionally as ‘filler’ when I’m feeling particularly tired. However, I really loved this – who would have thought that chick-lit and opera could mix?

Sally isn’t your normal skinny-minnie chick-lit heroine – she’s big and bold, clever, witty, self-deprecating and you want her to be your new best friend. Her raw pain in places broke my heart.

And Julian – the ‘perfect’ ex-boyfriend. I want Julian to be MY ex-boyfriend! He’s wonderful, quirky – a complete anti-hero.

And there is a fantastic secondary cast of characters, able to be even more flamboyant because of the setting. The wonderful Jan Borsos, one of Sally’s fellow students, has been written so well that I can’t believe he doesn’t exist. Jan Borsos MUST exist. Jan Borsos who everyone refers to with his whole name as anything less would be disrespectful.

Yes, it’s generally a chick-lit, but there are darker issues dealt with, and with a well-considered beautifully light touch. Lucy Robinson manages to create characters that you feel yourself searching for on the streets like old friends.

Oh yes, and she can get away with the sentence “How dare he wank on about spiritual connections after what he’d done to me?”

#respect

The Unfinished Symphony Of You & Me by Lucy Robinson will be published on 19th July 2014.

if i should die – matthew frank

If I Should Die

I received a review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Joseph Stark isn’t your average Trainee Detective. As the Met investigation team’s newest and youngest member, he expects the going to be tough – but he’s used to that. An Afghan veteran, he has been left severely injured by an attack that killed his comrades.

Of course, his new colleagues don’t know the full story, and Stark isn’t about to start confiding in them – he wants them to accept him on his own merit.

His first investigation concerns a gang that seem to have been viciously attacking homeless people, apparently without motive. But when one victim fights back, and the attack results in murder, Stark’s team are called in.

On the gritty streets of South London, Stark realises that the truth may strike a little closer to home than he would have wished.

This is Matthew Frank’s debut novel, and billed as ‘Joesph Stark #1′ on Goodreads, I am assuming that this is planned to be the first in a series featuring the broken young detective.

It’s a good introduction. If a little repetitive at times. That was one of my very few criticisms – Stark’s thoughts went over and over the same things quite a lot. But in reality, they definitely would have done. On the plus side, it made him feel extremely real, and I completely ‘got’ his motivations, but on the flip side of that, it doesn’t really make great reading.

It took a little while for me to get into a book. That might be because I felt wrong-footed. I was expecting a ‘stabby thriller catchy killer’ book, and the opening scene is of a soldier (Stark) being ambushed. there was nothing wrong with it, I just hadn’t been expecting it, and I’m a bit of a girl when it comes to ‘war stuff’ – I’m not that moved by it. (NB: I’m not saying that girls don’t like war books full stop).

There were some great little twists and turns that hadn’t been entirely obvious throughout the book, and I really enjoyed the ‘unexpected’ ending.

The characters were extremely well written. I loved the banter between Stark and his new boss Fran, and I absolutely love her boss, Groombridge. He’s just SO cool :)

Great debut! It will be interesting to see if the series manages to develop seeing as so much seems to have been resolved in Stark’s psyche within this first book – what other surprises can he possibly be holding out?

alex horne – ‘monsieur butterfly’, pleasance theatre (islington)

Alex Horne – Monsieur Butterfly

I love Edinburgh preview shows. There are some fantastic ones which are really cheap, as they are always a ‘Work In Progress’. I’m lucky that my local pub, Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub has the fabulous Red Imp Comedy Club that plays host to many acts. But, there are shows going on all over London, and one of the busiest is the brilliant Pleasance Theatre just off of Caledonian Road. It has a twin in Edinburgh, so it’s hardly surprising.

Being so busy recently, I’ve only been able to book to see a couple of shows, but last week saw Alex Horne (minus his Horne Section this time). If you don’t listen to Radio 4, you may not yet have heard of Alex Horne. The Horne Section mixes a 5 piece lounge band with comedy. Yes, I know how that sounds, but it works in an irresistible, innocent silly way.

So, Monsieur Butterfly is more of the same but with an absence of musicians.

The show was in The Pleasance’s Stage Space, which is undeniably tiny – it can’t hold more than about 30 people. But this gave the show an intimacy which Alex Horne works really with. His amiable, easy-going inclusive nature meant that even though there was some audience participation necessary – it wasn’t as if anyone was worried that they would have been made to look stupid, the participants really felt like they were helping him out – and for the first time EVER at a comedy show, I wished that *I* had been one of the people picked! I’m usually one of those that wants to sit at the back, just in case…

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual theme of the show, as it’s a pretty ingenious idea, but suffice to say that the audience was entranced, and on absolute tenterhooks willing Alex on to a successful climax – the tension in the air was palpable. We were all rooting for him!

However, a successful climax (ooer) wasn’t the be all and end all, it was the journey. The show was peppered with little anecdotes, childhood stories and very amusing set-ups.

I see quite a lot of comedy shows, but I have to say that there was one particular moment that was SO silly that I really did worry that I was going to leak! It was extremely simple, but so well delivered, complete with audience participation, and the entire place erupted, and took ages to settle down.

At only about 50 minutes long, and just £5 at The Pleasance (playing again next Wednesday – 25th June), I really recommend that you get a ticket if you can…or catch him in Edinburgh of course!

(Edit: Have just seen that he’s also on at The Bowler Hat in St Paul’s next Friday, June 27th – but that is £15, although Time Out are currently offering half-price tickets)

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