Saturday, 14 November 2015

Book Review: The Morgesons

·       ‘Adelaide talked slowly at first, and then soared into a region where I had never seen a woman - an intellectual one.’

Having never heard of the book or the author before, I read The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard for my nineteenth-century American literature module at uni this week. I was excited to start it when I discovered that it was a female bildungsroman as I always love books with well-developed and strong female characters, and it did not disappoint. The Morgesons is a really poignant coming-of-age novel that doesn't get nearly enough attention in the literary world as it deserves.

The novel follows Cassandra Morgeson from childhood to adulthood, recounting her exploration of knowledge, desire and the role of women in the nineteenth century. Throughout the book she travels to different settings, each one reflecting another stage in her intellectual and personal development.

I really liked Stoddard's writing style in the first half of the novel and was racing through it because I was enjoying it so much, but somehow I felt the pace started to wane in the second half of the book and it seemed to have lost some of the magic it held in the first half. That said, I did finish it and still really enjoyed it overall. There are lots of really beautiful passages in which Cassy's sense of identity seems to be connected to the scenery and I always love a bit of nature imagery in literature!

I personally really liked Cassy as a character as I thought she was really well-developed and often confounded the expectations of how women should behave at the time. I found myself really empathising with her as she faced isolation in school, and grief for various reasons later in her life. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion but I often find female characters in novels from around the same time period to be a bit silly and underdeveloped so I think Stoddard did really well in fleshing out the female characters in this.

Overall, I really liked The Morgesons and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes strong female characters, coming-of-age novels and beautiful prose.


Friday, 2 October 2015

Theatre Review: Future Conditional

(Image: The Old Vic)

It seems that new artistic director Matthew Warchus has brought a fresh pair of eyes to the stage of The Old Vic with his direction of Tamsin Oglesby’s energetic and topical new play Future Conditional. Focused on the troubles of the British schooling system, it couldn’t be any more relevant in the light of recent changes made by the government to education. But this is no lecture on politics: whilst making the audience question issues of society and morality, Future Conditional remains a lighthearted, fun piece of theatre that will appeal to any and all who know anything about British education.

Future Conditional confronts the problems of the British education system through the characters of parents, the Education Commission and 16-year-old Pakistani refugee Alia. It forces us to ask significant questions about our society: is our schooling system fair? Do private school kids have an advantage? And most importantly, are the government’s improvements to education in the best interests of children?

With audio clips played of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Michael Gove discussing the British education system as the play opens, it is clear from the outset that this is going to be a political play. There is no aspect of British education that Oglesby leaves untouched: from the private versus state dilemma to the postcode lottery, she discusses everything, which is sure to make a few audience members shift guiltily in their seats. But whilst no stone is left unturned, the dialogue isn’t preachy, which can easily be done when discussing social issues. Oglesby has managed to create a well-rounded discussion about the system the majority of us have been in at some point or another, so everyone can identify with at least one of the issues raised. The play is formed of three main narratives: Alia’s former state school teacher Mr Crane struggling to control his class, a group of mothers in a primary school playground trying to manipulate the catchment area system to their advantage, and Alia being accepted onto the rather inept Education Commission who can’t agree on how best to make children happy at school. The oscillating between these different scenes shows the different sides of the argument and keeps the play exciting and fast-paced.

The cast is large with 23 actors and two musicians, but this only adds to the energetic feel of the performance and the characters are surprisingly well developed given the number of them. This said, there are some standout performances: namely from Lucy Briggs-Owen as yummy mummy Hettie who fears judgement for sending her son to private school and Joshua McGuire, an Old Etonian who laments the rather first world problem of being an “acceptable prejudice” in society as a private school alumnus. Rob Brydon is also strong as Mr Crane, whose performance is delivered almost entirely in monologue as he addresses imaginary children on the stage. The choice not to have any children in a play about the schooling system is a bold but extremely effective one.

Oglesby has achieved the perfect balance of politics and humour, poignancy and tension by making what could’ve been a dry or controversial subject for a play original, witty and thought provoking. There is a collective sense of pride throughout the audience as Alia tells the Education Commission, “I can succeed” – something the people in the education system should be made to feel. My only regret is that the play isn’t on for longer.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Theatre Review: A View from the Bridge

A couple of weeks ago I went to see The Young Vic's production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge at the Wyndham's Theatre and I thought it was ace. If you fancy seeing some proper theatre that will leave you feeling emotionally drained in the best possible way, I think you'll like this!

I didn't know anything about the story beforehand, but it's set in 1950s Brooklyn where a longshoreman, Eddie, welcomes his cousins from Italy to stay as they try and make it in the land of the free. However, when one of them begins a relationship with Eddie's orphaned niece Catherine, it becomes apparent that Eddie is a bit too protective of her. His jealousy grows throughout the play, causing concern for the new couple and his wife Beatrice, until eventually his obsession with his niece is taken too far. Needless to say, it doesn't end well.

I love all of the literature from the American Dream period so naturally I really liked the actual script of this. (Can you tell I'm a literature student?)The play doesn't have an interval, it just continues for two hours straight. I think it's good that they do this though because it's so intense all the way through that I think it might lose momentum if they paused in the middle. There were so many bits where I felt like you could cut the tension with a knife! I was sitting in the stalls but they have seats actually on the stage for this production which I think would feel even more intense as you'd be so close. I thought all three main characters were fantastic but Mark Strong especially stood out as Eddie as he seemed so temperamental, like he might flip at any moment. His relationship with Catherine makes you feel pretty uncomfortable as for uncle and niece, he is a little too close for comfort. However, something about his performance makes you feel a little sorry for him too as he obviously cares about her and thinks he's doing what's best for her.

I don't want to give away the ending for people who haven't seen it but it was my favourite bit of the whole play. I will say that it involves water and is very symbolic, but I shan't say anything else!

It's going to be on at the Wyndham's Theatre until April so if there are any tickets left then I urge you to go and see it because it really is a great piece of proper theatre. If you haven't had or won't have the chance to see it, fear not because from the 26th March, National Theatre Live is broadcasting it out to certain cinemas so it's definitely worth seeing if it's coming anywhere near you. I wholeheartedly recommend!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Theatre Review: My Night With Reg

(Image: Johan Persson for the Donmar Warehouse website)

Hello and Happy New Year to one and all - I realise we're now twenty-two days into the new year but this is my first post of 2015 so I thought it shouldn't go unnoticed! I'm kicking the year off on the blog with another theatre review - namely, Kevin Elyot's rather suggestive-sounding My Night With Reg, a revival currently on at the Apollo on London's Shaftesbury Avenue. I went into it blindly having been invited at the last minute by a friend, and frankly I'm not 100% sure what I made of it. A melange of gay smut and heartbreaking poignancy,  my thoughts on it are equally as mixed.

Taking place entirely in Guy's flat in 1980s gay London, My Night With Reg follows a group of gay friends who have all at some point slept with the mysterious Reg who, in a rather Godot-esque fashion, never actually appears in the play. Despite this, his promiscuity is central to the story as we discover that all of the characters in the play have been affected by it in some way. Tensions rise as revelations come out and people are seen in a different light.

The play opens right in the middle of the action with little to no explanation which means you are constantly catching up, piecing together who is dating who and what each character's history is. I did quite like this as opposed to having a lengthy introduction bit at the start of the play and it held my interest by keeping me guessing. However, the lack of explanation makes for some confusion: I didn't even realise the play's story spanned over several years until I read the plot summary on Wikipedia five minutes ago! The cast as a whole is really strong and they all have good interaction with each other. Eric, a a young Brummie handyman played by Lewis Reeves really stands out and gives a convincing performance. I also felt so sorry for Guy (Jonathan Broadbent), rather reminiscent of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, whose unrequited love for heartthrob John (Julian Ovenden) leads him to live a solitary life of thumbing through cookbooks of dishes for one. These moments are really poignant as they highlight the emotional turmoil Guy and other characters have endured for years, but Elyot also makes light of some of these issues to avoid it being too depressing. 

That said, considering it is advertised as a comedy, I didn't find it that funny. There are some comic moments but not enough to warrant the comedy description. The presentation of these gay men sometimes rings a little hollow as the majority of the characters seem to fit perfectly the stereotype of the gay man - effeminate, bawdy and flamboyant with little room for character development outside of these traits. Their behaviour is often so cringy and smutty that I felt like I was sitting there watching an orgy - definitely not one to watch with your parents. On the theme of unnecessary sexualisation, there is also a nude scene which seemed to me to be completely gratuitous to the story. It wasn't powerful in any way; it just seemed out of place amidst the rest of the action. However, all of my criticisms of it are more to do with the script rather than the actual production of it as I thought it was a really strong cast and a well-executed production. I'm just not a fan of your script Kevin, sorry.

So is it worth seeing? It's a really well-acted piece that has some heartbreaking moments. That's definitely worth seeing if you're willing to sit through the two hours of smut and sexual innuendos that unfortunately comes with it. In short, it's your call. 

It's on until the beginning of April if you're interested.

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