From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

This week, I “interviewed” Florence Bell, a theatre blogger and theatre kid.

I say interviewed; it was more of a chat. Florence is a good friend of mine, and a fellow English student at the University of Nottingham. She wrote her first blog post in December 2016.

Florence Screenshot 2

The first play Florence ever saw was an amateur pantomime production of A Christmas Carol. “I was around three years old, and I remember the guy who played Scrooge putting pyjamas on top of his clothes. Of course, the audience was meant to suspend their disbelief, but three-year-old me was blown away that someone could wear clothes under their pyjamas.”

Since grappling with the discovery of costume in theatre, Florence has moved on to grapple with plays at an advanced critical level.

“I had been tweeting about theatre for a while and people kept encouraging me to start a blog, or asking me if I had a blog. I had been thinking about it for a while, but a few people suggesting it was all it took.” she said.

“I had already booked to see Mary Stuart at the Almeida Theatre and I knew that I’d be able to write an in-depth and interesting review of it. I probably spent more time on that review than on anything else I’ve ever written. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to grab people’s attention. I wanted to make a splash.”

‘I wanted to grab people’s attention.’

Florence certainly did make a splash; prominent theatre critics including Andrew Haydon and Matt Trueman both praised and retweeted her first blog post.

Florence Screenshot 3

She is upfront about writing, as well as reading, honest reviews.

“I like reviews that say what they mean, because that’s what they are meant to do. Reviews that mock awful shows can be fun to read, but they’re rarely the best reviews. My favourite reviews to read are assertive, thoughtfully considered, and beautifully worded.”

“I stopped writing negative reviews because all I was doing was annoying people who might employ me when I graduate, and there’s no point in being cruel. It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best. It’s rude to both the theatre makers and your readers to take the piss out of a show and not give a careful and considered approach to what went wrong.

‘It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best.’

If I’m going to be really negative about a show, instead of just slating it, I’d rather engage with it on a political level. That way, I can explain why the show had issues.Florence Screenshot 1 Sometimes I am too finicky though. I went to the theatre with a friend recently and I think I weirded her out by asking: Do you think this is problematic?’ during the interval!”

However, although she’s been blogging for a few months, Florence is adamant that writing is not her end-goal.

“I don’t want to be a critic and I don’t want to be a journalist. I don’t think I have a ‘writing style’ either –  other than an overuse of parentheses and a reliance on long paragraphs.”

“I like to think that my writing isn’t dissimilar to Meg Vaughan’s, but I’m kidding myself.”

“I write blog posts for fun.” she continued, “This is something I’m doing while at university, and I’ve met lots of cool people doing it, but being a critic is just not what I want to do with my life.”

Instead, Florence wants to be a director, and theatre has always been a big part of her life.

She has seen a variety of productions, but for her, it all started with a production of Oresteia. “It’s still my favourite play. I know half of it off by heart. Most theatre fans hum along to their favourite showstoppers in the shower. I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.”

‘I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.’

As someone who is not so much of a theatre kid, I steered the conversation towards a common interest of ours – Shakespeare.

As part of the BA English course at the University of Nottingham, both Florence and I chose a module title Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. The texts we looked at were Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V.  Eagle-eyed followers may note this is why some of my blog posts focused on these last year.

Shakespeare’s Histories has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of studying English at Nottingham so far.” Florence said, “The plays we studied will always have a fond place in my heart; the module really got me into the degree. I think it helped me settle in. And I met you through Shakespeare’s Histories, so that’s always a plus.”

I blush.

When asked about her favourite Shakespeare productions, Florence said, “In terms of a director’s vision, Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War and Roman Tragedies, Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, and Icke’s Hamlet. Cheek by Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale and Deborah Warner’s King Lear were also gems.” she said.

‘There’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule to as what makes theatre good, and I’m definitely not the person to ask.’

“I find original practices productions, like Dromgoole’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe, quite hard to engage with. I’m interested in directors who are capable of cutting the text and finely tuning their stagecraft to engineer a tone and an atmosphere based on the events in the play, and actors capable of making Shakespeare’s words sound like they were written yesterday.”


Quick-fire Questions:

Favourite theatre actor?

Andrew Scott or Hans Kesting.

Favourite theatre actress?

Lia Williams, duh.

If you could be any female character in any play who would you be and why?

Most of the plays I see are far too depressing to actually want to be any of the women in them. None. Literally none.

What about a male character?

Nope.


At any rate, it’s clear Florence is a confident theatre blogger and theatre kid but, crucially, she is not a theatre critic. She has other plans for when she grows up.

‘What do you wanna like be when you grow up?’

‘I am grown up.’

(Annie Baker, The Flick at The National Theatre)
(Florence Bell, Top Ten Plays of 2016)

***

Thank you for reading! I had so much fun talking to Florence and writing this interview. Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, and share it around.

You can find her blog at: bellflorence.wordpress.com

You can follow both of us on Twitter as well:

– Judith

 

 

 

 

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (4)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (4)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a non-fiction, Shooting History, by Jon Snow – an autobiographical account of modern history and journalism Snow was involved in. I’ve also been sent another book to read for Rosie’s Book Review Team, The Devil In The Countryside, a historical thriller by Cory Barclay. I’m also reading another free book to review – Being Simon Haines, by Tom Vaughan MacAulay.

It’s also exam-season, so as a form of revision, I’m aiming to re-read texts that will be covered in my exams. Here’s how I’ve got on so far:

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I read so much over the Easter break! I read The Seagull, a play by Anton Chekhov, as well some more Stephen King novels of course – The Shining and The Tommyknockers. I also finished the thriller Perfect People by Peter James, as well as The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. I also received a new book, Commune: Book One, to read and review for Joshua Gayou, a new author.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

As I really enjoyed Perfect People, I want to explore the works of Peter James, and the thriller genre as whole, further. It would also be nice to read some more classic literature as well.


What are you currently reading?

– Judith

NTL Review: Twelfth Night

NTL Review: Twelfth Night
  • Title: Twelfth Night
  • Director: Simon Godwin
  • Broadcast: 6th April 2017

I went to see Twelfth Night, broadcast by National Theatre Live on Thursday night.

Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to write this review or not, – theatre isn’t my forte – but once I left the cinema, I had so many thoughts about the production and I wanted to share them.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night is a play which, for the first time that I’ve seen, truly foregrounds the Malvolio subplot of Twelfth Night – or should I say, the Malvolia subplot.

Tamsin Greig played Malvolia, a female representation of everybody’s favourite self-righteous and controlling steward. Although characters’ teasing comments about her Quaker-like behaviour were still included, Malvolia was less pious and more of a narcissistic control freak, which made for good humour for a contemporary audience. The infamous scene with Malvolia’s yellow stockings now included a musical number, and watching Greig flaunt about the stage to musical accompaniment, as well as the horror of the other characters, was wonderful comedy.

NTL 1 [Malvolia].jpg
Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

This gender swap is one of a few changes made to the original Shakespeare play and spotlights contemporary issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality; Antonio’s implicit homosexual love for Sebastian is given more prominence (the two share on onstage kiss), the Malvolia / Olivia narrative suggests Olivia’s potential bisexuality, and Feste is now a woman.

Doon Mackichan played Feste, although I thought her portrayal fairly standard. She was a comical enough ‘fool’, but I felt her humour was at its peak when in interaction with Sir Toby Belch, played by Tim McMullan, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Daniel Rigby.

Every aspect of Rigby’s Aguecheek was absolutely hilarious; his body language, his line delivery, his costume was all spot-on. Aguecheek, for once, finally had his own style and personality, which was such a refreshing change from other productions of Twelfth Night, in which Aguecheek is simply ridiculed, rather than developed as a character.

NTL 2 [Aguecheek and Belch].jpg
Left to Right: Rigby as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and McMullan as Sir Toby Belch. Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

However, I think the relationship between cruel mocker and light-hearted comedy is incredibly important in this production of Twelfth Night.

Before the screening, Greig said in a VT that Twelfth Night is a witty play with a continuously melancholic undercurrent, and I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Viola and Sebastian are torn apart from one another. Olivia falls in love with someone she thinks she knows, who turns out to be somebody different. Antonio admits his feelings for “Sebastian”, who in reality was Cesario, and is left rejected and crushed. Sir Andrew is repeatedly humiliated by Toby Belch’s manipulative schemes as well as repeatedly heartbroken because he knows he stands no chance at winning Olivia.  Malvolia comes to terms with her own sexuality and openly expresses her feelings for Olivia in front of the entire household, only to be laughed at, imprisoned and treated like a madwoman. Thus, Greig’s final line: ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’, had such poignancy, that I felt more sympathetic for the plight of Malvolia then I ever had before.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night was thoroughly enjoyable, brilliantly comedic, but also cleverly melancholic and thought-provoking.

In short, when can I see it again?

– Judith

If you’d like to read about more this production of Twelfth Night, you can click this link to go the National Theatre Live website, or read this article by Susannah Clapp in The Guardian.

#RBRT Read and Review: THE OLD MAN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by AK SILVERSMITH @AkSilversmith #BookReview #Zombie

#RBRT Read and Review: THE OLD MAN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by AK SILVERSMITH @AkSilversmith #BookReview #Zombie
  • Title: The Old Man at the End of the World: Bite No. 1
  • Author: AK Silversmith
  • Published: 2017
  • Started: Wednesday 22nd February 2017
  • Finished: Friday 24th February 2017

The Old Man At The End Of The World is a short story, and the first instalment of a zombie comedy series by AK Silversmith. The plot is simple: 87-year-old Gerald Stockwell-Poulter was simply tending to his allotment when his neighbours, who have been turned into zombies, attack. The ‘zompocalypse’ – that’s zombie + apocalypse – has begun.

I thought this little story was brilliant – there wasn’t too much description to weigh down the plot and the dialogue exchanges between the characters was fast-paced. This allowed for quirky comments and sarcastic quips, which added to the humour of the overall novella.

Comedy was conveyed well, and the mix of jokes, zombies, and a stereotypical British setting reminded me very much of Edgar Wright’s ‘zom-com’ film, Shaun of the Dead, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The Old Man At The End Of The World even has jokes about a Bentley too!

This is a considerably shorter book review, for a considerably shorter book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short read, and it had me chuckling and smiling throughout.  If you liked Shaun of the Dead, I think you’ll really enjoy this!

I look forward to reading Bite No. 2, the second instalment of this series.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Old Man At The End Of The World is available to buy as an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

***

Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.

Thanks to AK Silversmith for sending me a free e-book copy to read. You can find her website here: aksilversmith.wordpress.com

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (2)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (2)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

My current fiction reads are: 11.22.63 by Stephen King – this is carried over from last month’s WWW post, because it’s a huge read – as well as The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

Since my last WWW post, I feel like I’ve finished a lot of books. I’ve finished The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, and The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, both of which I’ve now written blog posts about. I finished Child Taken and The Old Man At The End Of The World, two brand new works sent to me to read and review by two new authors making their debuts. I’ve also been reading various short stories and poems by D.H. Lawrence*, and I’m really enjoying his style of writing.

*Hence my starting Lady Chatterley’s Lover – I already have opinions of this book forming, and a book review will almost certainly follow once I’ve finished reading it.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ve bought some more Stephen King books (I honestly don’t know why, I’ve got plenty that I haven’t read already, and I haven’t even finished 11.22.63 yet), so I’d like to get round to reading them. I’d still like to read some more Thomas Hardy too, but it’s incredibly difficult fitting everything in, with what I need to read for university as well.


What are you currently reading?

– Judith


Read and Review: The Eyre Affair

Read and Review: The Eyre Affair
  • Title: The Eyre Affair
  • Author: Jasper Fforde
  • Published: 2001

The Eyre Affair draws on a mix of genres, such as humour thriller, sci-fi, detective and fantasy. It tells the story of Thursday Next, a literary detective in an alternative 1985, where everyone is obsessed with literature. The real world and the “book world” overlap, quite literally bringing citizens’ favourite book characters to life, which is all fun and games… until Jane Eyre is kidnapped.

My favourite aspect of The Eyre Affair was its witty references to “pop” literature, such as the Dickens’ books – this reminded me of Dickensian, the BBC drama set within the fictional world of Dickens – or the Shakespeare/Marlowe conspiracy theory. At times, these references seemed a little heavy-handed, but I think this excess paid off, adding to the charm of the alternative reality.

I also appreciated how Thursday’s own narrative, in some ways, mirrored the narrative of Jane Eyre. This was a clever and well-executed idea, and I enjoyed the allusion to how Thursday’s intervention and “reconstruction” of Jane Eyre resulted in the Bronte story we know and love today.

Yet despite its title, The Eyre Affair took longer than expected to focus on its main plot, the Jane Eyre kidnapping.

A lot of time was spent building the world with at times clunky or (dare I say it) cheesy sci-fi abstract descriptions, and introducing characters who, to me, held no significant role in the narrative. Although world-building is a significant part of any series, I prefer books where this description and scene-setting is done more subtly, rather than a heavy exposition.

However, the time spent in The Eyre Affair background and character descriptions may reduce the level of exposition needed further down the line, and these characters may well be more significant in future books in the Thursday Next series, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair. Although he “relies” on existing texts and authors (to an extent) to construct his own story, he blends his own ideas and style with existing characters and texts well, and it was a fun, light-hearted read.

I’d love to read the rest of the Thursday Next series, as well as more books by Jasper Fforde, an author previously unknown to me.

– Judith

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

With the release of Trainspotting 2, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 black-comedy film, I sat down with Patrick, from The Blog from Another World to discuss Trainspotting.

I read Trainspotting, the book on which the film is based, by Irvine Welsh last year and wrote a review of it here. Overall, the gritty Scottish social realism failed to captivate me, but I appreciated Welsh’s inclusion of Scottish slang and dialect. When I watched the film however, I felt much more engaged.

I asked Patrick if enjoyed watching Trainspotting. He said: “I think that ‘enjoy’ is a difficult term to use to describe this film. I think it’s is a British classic and a milestone for British cinema.”

He continued, “Many films have tried to emulate the anarchic and twisted style of this film (such as Jon S. Baird’s Filth in 2013 – based on another novel by Irvine Welsh) but nobody has ever really come close. I love Danny Boyle’s direction and he makes the film palatable for the audience.”

However, what I found unpalatable in Trainspotting was how every social situation was punctuated by, hard drug use aside, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst Trainspotting is by no means the only film to feature heavy drinking and smoking, it’s something in film that irritates me every time; excessive consumption makes me feel physically sick. I also found it ironic that the characters who frequently binged on these “socially acceptable” drugs were the same characters berating Renton and his friends for their heroin addictions.

Yet the constant smoking and drinking was certainly not the most shocking part of Trainspotting. To say the film includes crude scenes is an understatement.

 “It is a tough film to watch in places, so I understand why people can’t enjoy it for that reason.” Patrick said. However, he argued that these disgusting scenes are purposeful, and contrasted with moments of beauty and perfection.

“For example, when Renton dives down the worst toilet in Scotland, he lands in clear, serene water –  brilliant juxtaposition; I really admire the sheer invention of it.”

Speaking of whom, Ewan McGregor’s Renton was my favourite character in Trainspotting: the protagonist and heroin addict, who provides a voice of relative reason and is capable of blending into “normal” society.

Renton is the central narrator of the film, which made the plot easier to follow and helped me put names to faces. It was also a nice change from the book, which frequently changed between different narrative perspectives, making for tough reading. The fact Renton’s narration helped me understand the plot better made me appreciate the voice-overs – a technique I normally dislike within film –  and I thought they matched the style of Trainspotting well.

Patrick’s favourite character was Francis Begbie, a psychopath with violent tendencies, played by Robert Carlyle.

“Carlyle gives such a ferocious and frightening portrayal of a psychopath” he said.

“I can’t help but feel that Heath Ledger’s Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty share DNA with Begbie’s pint-glass-throwing-chaos. True, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy are iconic characters, but Begbie is the character who sticks in my mind.

When Begbie starts a fight at the pub, it’s horrible. His callous violent bloodlust is frightening and his whim to have a fight is portrayed excellently.”

Patrick described to me another memorable Trainspotting scene, where Renton is forced by his parents to give up his heroin use, going through withdrawal symptoms, including vivid hallucinations. “It’s a horrific and surreal scene.” Patrick said, and I have to agree. McGregor’s acting here was fantastic; his screams really emphasised the suffering he was going through, and it was conflicting to watch.

Personally, I found the scene where Allison’s baby dies unsurprising but incredibly emotional. Allison, played by Susan Vidler, had an incredibly blasé attitude to drugs and promiscuous sex, resulting in a neglected baby surrounded by drugs and filth. When baby Dawn, inevitably died from poor health and neglect, it was such a raw and emotional scene – I could really sense Allison’s pain. However, what disturbed and angered me was that although Allison was in such pain, she still turned back to drugs – highlighting the vicious and destructive cycle of drug addiction.

It is scenes such as these that give Trainspotting a much darker tone, to juxtapose with its comedic elements.

Patrick said, “I think Trainspotting’s tone is very complex. It’s a film which is hyperactive but sombre, crass but frightening. The tone works because it’s about the ‘highs and lows’ of drug addiction; the tone wildly fluctuates to expertly capture and reflect what life is like for a heroin addict.”

“Many drugs films such as Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) show only the horrific parts of drug addiction. Trainspotting is the best portrayal of addiction since The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945). It gives a balanced but unflinching view of addiction – it’s as euphoric as it is disgusting. It is better to understand what drugs give you, before you see what they take away.”

Trainspotting 2 was released today in the UK, and will be released in March in the USA.

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like’.

This is part of another collaborative series with The Blog from Another World, and again, the focus seems to have been on trains! You can read our previous posts, talking about Paula Hawkin’s The Girl On The Train, here and here.

This is also the first post in my new series, From One Blogger To Another, where I will interview a different blogger / writer each month. I wanted to write some longer pieces for my blog that are more journalistic in style, and hopefully this series will allow me to do that.

That’s all for now!

– Judith and Patrick