WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (8)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (8)

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 feel like I haven’t done much reading in the last month because I’ve been moving to my student house, so the only steady book I’ve been reading is Middlemarch by George Eliot.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I read War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Wise Children by Angela Carter and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, in preparation for my next year at university. This month, I also had 2 new books sent to me to read: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery by Jem Bloomfield and Weave A Murderous Web by Anne-Rothman Hicks. I also read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – a short Stephen King novel in the midst of moving stresses.

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

As usual, I have no idea, but I hope I pick up some more books in a genre I’ll really enjoy, like horrors or thrillers.


– Judith

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Read and Review: SHAKESPEARE AND THE PSALMS MYSTERY by JEM BLOOMFIELD @jembloomfield

Read and Review: SHAKESPEARE AND THE PSALMS MYSTERY by JEM BLOOMFIELD @jembloomfield
  • Title: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery
  • Author: Jem Bloomfield
  • Published: 2017
  • Started: Wednesday August 16th 2017
  • Finished: Thursday 24th August 2017

From Amazon:

‘In Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery, Jem Bloomfield investigates the literary legend that the famous playwright left his mark on the Authorized Version. He delves into the historical, textual and literary evidence, showing that the story isn’t true – but that there are much more engrossing stories to be told about Shakespeare and the Bible.’

I’m an English student at the University of Nottingham. Last year, I studied a module called Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. Jem Bloomfield was one of the lecturers responsible for providing some thoroughly enjoyable lectures, talking to us about Shakespeare’s works, as well as the literary, historical and religious contexts.

One lecture that I particularly found interesting was exploring the intertextual links between Shakespeare’s plays such as Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and various editions of The Bible.

When Jem contacted me his year to ask if I wanted to read his new book, which explores potential links between the King James Bible and Shakespeare, needless to say, I was interested.

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery was a good, quick read. As Jem talks* you through a variety of literary, linguistic, and contextual evidence, it soon becomes clear religion and Early Modern Theatre are subjects he is passionate about.

*I say talks; the book captures Jem’s voice wonderfully as he debunks a myth I never even knew existed, recreating the feel of another engaging lecture.

The structure of the book is mostly clear. Jem discusses why the Psalm 46 myth is merely a myth, then moves on to answering questions such as why the legend even exists, and what attracts people to it. However, the only section that tripped me up was the chapter focused on Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t really understand this section, which was a shame, as I followed everything else quite easily.

Nonetheless, if you’d like to learn some interesting things about Shakespeare and the Bible, presented in an engaging and accessible way, I recommend Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery is available as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

***

Thanks for reading! Thanks also to Jem for sending me a free e-book copy to read. He has a blog on WordPress too at:  quiteirregular.wordpress.com.

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

– Judith

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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

Film Review: The Hollow Crown V Shakespeare’s Globe

Film Review: The Hollow Crown V Shakespeare’s Globe

Image via BBC

English student + January = exam season!

One of my modules has been about Shakespeare’s History plays – hence why I wrote a little review of The Hollow Crown’s Richard II. I wanted to discuss The Hollow Crown’s adaptations – directed by Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock –  of the other plays I’m studying (Henry IV Part1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) and how I think these compare with the Shakespeare’s Globe productions, directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Does this count as revision?

This is a slightly different “film review”. It’s not meant to be an essay, but simply an exploration of some opinions I’ve had circling round my head.

I’ve watched each version a few times to reinforce my knowledge of the plots. It was also handy because I could see how different directors chose to emphasise or minimise certain themes within each of the plays.

I liked the filming of the Shakespeare’s Globe productions; it was a truly theatrical experience, despite the fact I was watching it on a screen.

I also found the Shakespeare’s Globe productions more helpful in familiarising myself with Shakespeare’s original plays, because they kept most of the dialogue and, most importantly, highlighted how important an actor’s performance is in conveying a certain message or tone. I always knew performance affected meaning, but I’d never really “seen” it implemented before.

In contrast, The Hollow Crown created a cycle of films, not plays, meaning that the original plays were heavily edited in places, and this is completely understandable. In order to fit a 3 hour play into a 2 hour film, some scenes have to go.

For me though, the most striking difference between The Hollow Crown and Shakespeare’s Globe is the differing focuses on tone.

The Hollow Crown’s Henry IV Part 1 is sombre from the beginning – emphasised by a particularly dark colour palette choice, low lighting and a grimy, realistic medieval setting. Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is always aware of the serious duties of kingship that await him following the death of his father, King Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) and this  dwells on his mind. Of course, this is stressed to us within the dialogue Shakespeare’s Henry IV anyway, but I feel it’s especially clear in this adaptation, as the use of voice-overs allows the audience to literally get inside Hal’s head.

Hal is also clearly the central character, as opposed to the conventionally more favoured Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). While he provides some comic relief, it’s undeniable that Falstaff and his motley crew are merely temporary distractions.

In comparison, Roger Allam’s Falstaff and Jamie Parker’s Hal in Shakespeare’s Globe are constantly exchanging witty remarks and have such a visible close friendship. I felt like I was watching a sit-com, with King Henry IV (Oliver Cotton) occasionally complaining from the side-lines about Hal’s behaviour. The tone is light-hearted – even the sombre scenes were given a comic twist – and I think the actors’ interaction with the audience was superb. Considering Shakespeare as a work of theatre, I found this production much more enjoyable because it is, after all, a theatre production, as opposed to a film.

However, whilst this light-hearted tone continued into Henry IV Part 2, I feel like this jarred with sudden scenes of seriousness – like King Henry’s death, Hal’s imminent ascension and Falstaff’s rejection. In these scenes, I thought the sombre tone of The Hollow Crown production conveyed the right emotions more effectively. For example, in The Hollow Crown, I understood and supported completely why Falstaff had to be cast out by the newly crowned King Henry V – he is a drunk, a thief and a criminal. In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, I felt so much sympathy, as if Falstaff had simply been written out of the sit-com for no apparent reason.

By Henry V, I’d struggle to pick a favourite adaptation. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of King Henry V was amazing, as if Hiddleston himself had grown and developed into the role of Henry, just as Henry himself grew and developed into the role of a king. I also thought the way it was filmed was brilliant – there were lots of well done, gritty and gory battle scenes and in these scenes, I really appreciated The Hollow Crown’s choice to consistently maintain a dark and gloomy colour palette, costumes and settings.

In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, whilst the battle scenes were understandably less action-packed and dark, I enjoyed so many other aspects of this play. The comedic and light-hearted tone was carried through to this play too, which I really appreciated. After Falstaff’s death (I find it interesting how Shakespeare almost glosses over his death, despite him playing such a large part), Brendan O’Hea’s Captain Fluellen provided some much comic relief in the midst of the battles. In comparison, The Hollow Crown’s Owen Teale was definitely not designed to be funny, but more intimidating and gruff (but in a good way).

Overall, I found all 6 of these films really entertaining in different ways, and that’s absolutely fine. I’d recommend all 6 of them to you, if you have a spare few days with nothing to watch. Watching The Shakespeare Globe productions has made me more interested in theatre and other Shakespeare – I’ve since watched The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for sheer enjoyment.

Basically, if anybody wants to buy me The Hollow Crown or The Shakespeare Globe box-sets, I wouldn’t complain 😉

If you have any opinions on any of these plays or these adaptations, I’d love to hear them.

If you enjoyed reading this slightly different “film review” then please click ‘Like’ or share it around.

As it is exam season, there won’t be any new blog posts from me until February, so click ‘Follow’ to stay updated!

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #4: Christmas Present Haul

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #4: Christmas Present Haul

Are you the kind of person who opens Christmas presents early, or waits until Christmas Day? Normally, I’d wait until Christmas Day.

However, my friends from university and I all swapped presents before the Christmas break, and some of us decided to open our presents.* As English students, unsurprisingly, most of the presents were either books or book-themed.

*We won’t see each other until after Christmas, and it’s a nice experience to see your friends’ faces light up with joy, and them to see you do the same, so I didn’t really mind.

With that in mind, I decided to share with you the Christmas gifts I received as a mini haul / book lovers’ gift guide in case you’re doing a last minute bit of Christmas shopping and want some inspiration:

1. 

My first present is this sparkly silver necklace with a masquerade mask charm. It’s so small and cute, and it to me, it gives off Shakespeare vibes – reminding me of his comedies like As You Like It or Twelfth Night, where mistaken identities and disguises are key themes.

my-photo-christmas-haul-1

You can find a similar equivalent on Etsy here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/173951025/crystal-rhinestones-mask-gold-tone?ref=market

2. 

My second present is an actual book this time: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart. According to Goodreads, it is a classic book of prose poetry about Smart’s love affair with the poet George Barker, and the ‘tragedy of her passion’. You can read more about it here. I think the long title is interesting, and it has a foreword by Yann Martel and a review by Angela Carter, authors I’m already familiar with, so I’m glad to add it to my TBR pile.

my-photo-christmas-haul-2

You can buy By Grand Central Station here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grand-Central-Station-Down-Wept/dp/0586090398

3. 

My third present is this beautiful set of rose gold notebooks with foil block patterns by Katharine Watson. As a writer, notebooks seem like an obvious but lovely choice of gift for me. However, these notebooks are so pretty that I’m scared to write in them for fear of spoiling them! Are you the same? Maybe I’ll write in them one day, but only something really, really important…

my-photo-christmas-haul-3

You can buy the notebooks yourself here: https://www.waterstones.com/product/rose-gold-notebook-set/katharine-watson/9781452155456

4. 

Although this isn’t explicitly a book-themed present, it is gold-themed, and matches the notebooks I just mentioned. This is a Cinnamon Spice candle, in a gorgeous gold glass container with a tassel and lid. It’s quite a strong scent but, oh boy, does it smell wonderful. It has all the aromatic spices and smells you associate with Christmas in a simple vanilla-coloured candle. I haven’t lit it yet – sadly, university accommodation aren’t too keen on students burning candles (I wonder why…) so for now, I’ll keep it as a beautiful ornament.

my-photo-christmas-haul-4

Sadly, I can’t find the same candle online but I’m sure there are other similar alternatives.

5. 

Finally, to carry all of these nice presents in, I got a tote bag that says ‘B is for Book’! I like the red and black colours, and I don’t think you can ever have enough tote bags – they’re super handy, and they’re even nicer when they’re book-themed.

my-photo-christmas-haul-5

I found the bag online here: https://gonereading.com/product/b-is-for-book-tote-bag/ but it’s from a US store. I’m sure my friend didn’t travel specifically to America for this, but I can’t find a UK equivalent (although I’m sure there is one)!


Those were my five (early) Christmas presents! I hope you enjoyed my mini haul / gift guide: if you did, please click ‘Like’ (it means a lot). I’ll be uploading my next Blogmas post at the same time tomorrow, so stay tuned!

– Judith