Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blog tour: The editorial process of Lonely Girl by Josephine Cox

Claire Palmer and Josephine Cox (l-r)

Today I'm very excited to take part in the blog tour for Josephine Cox's latest book, Lonely Girl, on the paperback publication day! To celebrate the novel's release, editor Claire Palmer has written a guest post about the editorial process.

Claire said: "One of the very best parts of my job is being one of the first people to see Jo’s books once she has finished writing them – to get the manuscript hot off the word processer, as it were! When we get the book from Jo, the first think I do is to squirrel myself away into a quiet corner of the office. Jo’s stories always makes me laugh out loud, and inevitably makes me a bit tearful at times too, and I’m not sure anyone’s buying my excuse that it must be because somebody’s chopping onions in our office…!

"Once we have read it from start to finish, the book begins its journey through a stringent editorial process. It’s so important to us that every page is perfect and does justice to Jo’s brilliant storytelling, and there are a lot of people who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to make sure that we live up to our own high standards. Copyeditors, typesetters, proofreaders all have their role to play, and we spend many weeks and months poring over every page of the book in the form of A4 print-outs that we call ‘page proofs’. Of course, Jo’s job is the most important one as she creates the characters and writes the story, but every person along the way brings a wealth of experience and expertise to make the book the best it can possibly be.

"One of the most exciting parts for the whole team is getting to see the cover, which our brilliant designer Charlotte will talk about elsewhere on this blog tour. But nothing beats the moment when I was lucky enough to go with Jo to visit the printers at Clays and watch her books coming off the printer. We had a wonderful day and were given a real VIP reception from the whole team there – and as you can imagine, Jo herself came away having made lifelong friends with everyone who had given her such a warm welcome!

"We were given a special tour to see the book production process at every stage, from creating the ‘plates’ that are then used to print the pages of the book on huge sheets of paper, which are then folded to make a sheaf of sixteen pages, which we call a folio. All the folios are brought together in the correct page order, bound together and popped into the hardback ‘case’, which is then wrapped in the dust jacket. In this final stage of the process, when the books are standing on their spines on the binding machine, the hardcover held slightly apart from the pages of the book, it looks rather like a bird flapping its wings, and I can’t think of a better way of describing what it’s like to see the book coming off the press – after all that hard work from Jo and the whole team, it’s finally a real book, and it’s ready to take flight!"

Thanks so much, Claire, for your fascinating insights into the editorial process! Readers, make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour as well:

Lonely Girl is published in paperback today and you can get your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Beauty Blogger Awards – Workshops, Exhibition & Haul

In my previous life as the editor of a women's lifestyle website I used to go to the odd PR event or Christmas showcase, which was such fun, but sadly I haven't been able to go to any such events since taking on my new job in February as they're always during work hours, sniff.

I always found these showcases the perfect places to discover new brands and products offline and so I was thrilled when a little while ago I realised that the blogging community offered something similar in the form of conferences. After the FABULOUS Big Blogger Conference, I hit the Beauty Blogger Awards Workshops and Exhibition this weekend, which was held at London's Olympia conference hall.

The first part of the morning I spent inside the section specifically assigned to the Beauty Blogger Awards, where there were already some fabulous brands present. Particular highlights were Lava Shells, an amazing massage tool, which of course I tried out; Skin Accumax, a great product for problem skin, and I've had a browse on their website and they have some fab other supplements too that I am keen to try using the £50 voucher they gave bloggers in attendance; Nyx Cosmetics, who had a gorgeous stand and a cool photo booth to boot; and Best Secret, a members-only discount fashion website which gave all bloggers a £40 voucher (minimum £100 spend) and I am already eyeing two bags and a pair of shoes on their site!

On top of the exhibition stalls there were a wealth of workshops and I caught the first two on Sunday: 'When You've Lost Your Blogging Mojo – How to Keep the Inspiration' by beauty blogger Kat Clark, and 'How to Find Your Niche' by wedding beauty blogger and make-up artist Jules Cardozo Marsh. I particularly struggle with the latter as I have so many passions, but it was really insightful and both workshops have once again spurted me into action to be better and more focused with my blogging.

After the workshops I had a peruse of the massive trade event happening next door; The Olympia Beauty Show. And when I say massive, I do truly mean that it was MASSIVE. I spend a good two hours wandering around, browsing all the stalls and gawking at the amazing products on display and I still didn't see it all.

I picked up a load of flyers and inspiration and while I promised myself to not spend any money, of course I ended up spending money. A friend of mine has been raving about MoYou nail art stamping plates for a while now and when I had the opportunity to try them for myself at the trade show I had to pick up a starter kit. For £25 I received two stamping plates of my choice, a large nail polish I could pick out myself, the stamper and scraper you need to apply the art and a freebie eraser pen thrown in as well (normally £5 on its own). Not too bad, and I will keep an eye on good deals on stamping plates going forward.

As if I didn't have enough nail polishes already (and I really, REALLY do) I couldn't resist the £1 offer on polishes at The Edge and how cute is the vintage nail file (also £1)?!

I was also after a new body butter as my current tub is nearly empty and at the perfect time I came across Cuccio's divine milk and honey scented one (milk and honey is one of my favourite combinations anyway and this one works particularly well), which is a beautifully rich cream and will be perfect for my dry skin. For £5 for a large 8oz tub, I also picked up the gentle fragranced pomegranate and fig body butter as a gift (yes, I have started my Christmas shopping!).

And that was everything I purchased on the day, I think I haven't done too badly (even though I promised myself not to buy anything at all, whoops). Everything pictured below was part of the goodie bags, which were magnificent.

Undoubtedly the most generous goodie bag came from Nyx Cosmetics, which included all of the above! Admittedly these are not all products I use myself but I know my sister does and she'll be very happy with all these goodies, as she's always on the look-out for new products. And I will of course report back on those I try myself as well.

More nail polishes, yay! I think I need to get an extra room in my house for all the nail polishes I have... I'm also very keen to try the cuticle care (bottle pictured in the middle), which I hope will help my poor hands through the winter when my cuticles are always suffering from the cold temperatures.

I think O.P.I. may be stalking me, how else could they have known that I had nearly finished my current bottle of nail polish remover and decided to give me a massive one (480ml)!? It is a lot and should at least see me through the next few months.

Finally, there were some lovely mini-tidbits, I am especially pleased with the Paw Paw Balm (which has already made itself at home in my handbag) as I am a big fan of the brand (read my review of the product here) and the mini body butter from Cuccio, after I fell in love with their products at their stand at the trade show.

And that was my day (or I should say half a day, come 2pm I was absolutely knackered) at the Beauty Blogger Awards. There were some great workshops, inspirations and brands, and I cannot wait to try all my goodies and report back on my favourites. Seeing my slightly biased purchases I sense a nail-themed post in the not-too-distant future!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book event: Tea with author Leigh Russell and No Exit Press

Last month I was delighted to make a return to the lavish surroundings of Grosvenor House Hotel for an exciting book event: afternoon tea with author Leigh Russell and the team at No Exit Press. Rarely one to say no to an invite of the bookish variety, having the opportunity to not only meet a new author but also enjoy fizz and cakes at the same time truly is my idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon.

I met up with fellow book lover Laura before the afternoon tea outing for a visit to the Wallace Collection (which was extraordinarily beautiful – I will write a separate blog about this soon), before we strolled along Hyde Park to the venue.

While meeting the guest of honour, Leigh Russell, the lovely team at No Exit Press, fellow book lovers and fans of Leigh, we enjoyed some delicious champagne (it honestly was, I don't always like bubbles, but this was a very tasty variety!), which on my empty stomach made the conversation flow easily.

I admit I was very happy when the first course of our afternoon tea arrived, the above pictured fruit cocktail, as it meant I was able to get something in my stomach of the non-alcohol variety! The fruit was delicious, after which I spiked the juice with the remainder of my champagne – as you do.

While enjoying cakes, sandwiches and scones we spoke to Leigh about her work and writing, and although we didn't get to talk to her an awful lot (everyone wanted a chance to chat with her, of course!) we did sit right next to someone who'd been very helpful in the research of her book, which was particularly intriguing, even though he wasn't allowed to say much about it (ohhhh the mystery!).

We also played a bit of musical chairs (well, the people around me did – after all the champers I was feeling a bit too lazy to move), which meant we had the chance to chat to different people about mid-way through the afternoon, though pretty much all conversations were a variety on 'what is on your to-read pile?' and 'what is the best book you've recently read?' – ahh the joys of getting a bunch of book geeks in one place!

All in all, an ace afternoon with a lovely author and a bunch of great bookish people, not to mention a delicious spread of afternoon tea in a gorgeous setting. Thank you very much to Leigh Russell and the No Exit Press team for the invite!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book review: Hello, Goodbye, And Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

My edition: Paperback, published on 1 September 2015 by Headline, 248 pages.

Description: Of course Clare made a list. She creates lists for everything. That's just how she is.

But tonight is Clare and Aidan's last night before college and this list will decide their future, together or apart.

It takes them on a roller-coaster ride through their past – from the first hello in science class to the first conversation at a pizza joint, their first kiss at the beach and their first dance in a darkened gymnasium – all the way up to tonight.

A night of laughs, fresh hurts, last-minute kisses and an inevitable goodbye. But will it be goodbye forever or goodbye for now?


Friday, October 2, 2015

Book review: The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 10 September 2015 by Head of Zeus, 378 pages.

Description: Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes - made all the more precious because they were once owned and loved by another woman. Thousands follow her vintage fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed.

But this passion for the beautiful clothes of the past is about to have unforeseen consequences, when Lily stumbles upon the story of a 1950s New York beauty, who was not only everything Lily longs to be, but also shares Lily's surname.

Joy Fitzpatrick was a legend. But what was the famous dress which she once commissioned – said to be so original that nothing in couture would ever match it again? What happened to it – and why did Joy suddenly disappear from New York high society?


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book review: The Beachside Guest House by Vanessa Greene

My edition: Paperback, published on 10 September 2015 by Sphere, 336 pages.

Description: When Rosa and Bee get together in the run-up to Bee's wedding, they reminisce about the holiday they took together as teenagers to the beautiful Greek island of Paros. They remember the sandy coves, the guest house in the converted windmill where they stayed with their friend Iona, and the gorgeous local men.

As memories of that long-forgotten holiday resurface, they are forced to confront the turns their lives have taken - and the guilt they both feel about letting Iona slip away from them. When they learn that the windmill guest house is going bust they form a plan: why not go back to the island and take it over themselves?

And so begins a life-changing journey - because it turns out that opening a guest house and reliving their teenage dreams isn't that easy ...


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book review: The O'Sullivan Twins (St. Clare's #2) by Enid Blyton

This summer I have re-read some of my all-time favourite children's books to discover whether I enjoy them just as much decades later. After the epic The Letter to the King by Tonke Dragt, I revisited my love for Enid Blyton by reading one of the St. Clare's novels for the Nostalgic Summer Re-Read challenge. This review was originally published here on Novelicious.

When I was about six years old I received what is still one of the best presents I've ever had: my mum's old Enid Blyton collection. It consisted of the St. Clare's books, Malory Towers, and a small selection of Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, and Adventure-series titles. From that moment onwards I was hooked on reading and for nearly 10 years I re-read at least the boarding school series several times a year. I also started to expand upon my collection of Enid Blyton titles at every possible flea market and second-hand bookshop occasion, and there were a lot of these during my childhood as I'm now the proud owner of several hundreds of her books; all the old versions that were translated into Dutch, with some titles in different languages too, and all still stored at my parents' place in the Netherlands – sorry mum!

Despite my obsession with the St. Clare's books in particular, and Enid Blyton in general as I read every possible book on her I could find (this was before the Internet existed) – I was mighty impressed by not only the wealth of books she wrote but also all her other ventures including producing a club magazine, writing short stories and doing a lot of good for children – I haven't actually read any of her books in about 15 years. So when the Novelicious Nostalgic Summer Re-Read was announced I knew it was the perfect opportunity to revisit one of my favourites.

Unfortunately I don't have access to my vast Enid Blyton collection here in the UK and I've just moved house so don't have a card to the local library yet either but, coincidentally enough, a few months ago I won a small Enid Blyton book collection and one of the titles included was The O'Sullivan Twins, the second St. Clare's title. I did contemplate for a bit if I should try to get my hands on the first book somehow first, especially as I hadn't read these stories in English before and so thought that with different character names I might get confused, but I tried a chapter and I needn't have worried, it felt as familiar as if I last read the books 15 weeks ago, and not 15 years!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Blog tour: Interview with author Sarah Lotz

Sarah Lotz is the author of many novels for both the YA and adult markets, some written under her own name and others co-written with fellow authors. She is probably best known for the amazing thriller-horror cross-overs The Three and Day Four, and her latest novel, Pompidou Posse, is published in the UK this month. To celebrate the book's release I had the opportunity to interview Sarah about all things writing.

Hi Sarah, thanks for joining me today for a Q&A on Page to Stage Reviews as part of the Pompidou Posse blog tour! The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a time in your own life, can you tell me the differences in your writing approach between something so personal compared to writing books that are purely fictional?

Thank you! Lovely of you to invite me.

I’m not sure there is a great difference between writing a fictionalised memoir and a novel, as I tend to draw from real life when I do both.

Writing Pompidou was interesting as my memory of that time – living on the streets in Paris in the 1980s – was murky due to the fact that I was taking a lot of drugs back then (I know, too much information!), so I had to fill in the gaps.

Curiously, when I re-edited it a few months ago, I found that I couldn’t remember clearly which parts actually happened and which sections I’d fictionalised.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule you adhere to, or any quirky habits that help you get into the zone?

I don’t have any quirks or tricks to get me in the zone, except for the writers’ stalwart, tons of coffee! If I’m not travelling or researching, then I write all day, every day. Sometimes I have to be forcibly removed from my laptop to eat and take the dogs for walk.

You have a tendency to move between genres and audiences, as other recent novels such as The Three and Day Four are thrillers aimed at a more adult market. Do you have a favourite genre to write in, or audience to write for? And how does your approach in writing novels differ between genres and audiences?

I’m naturally drawn to the horror genre, probably because I’m a life-long Stephen King constant reader. That said, I like to try out different genres to see how they fit. Apart from say, avoiding using hardcore curse words when writing YA for example, my approach is the same whatever genre it is – many months of panicking to make the story work! I never know if it will until the very end.

As to audiences, I have a group of lovely and very honest readers of all ages and proclivities who give me feedback when I’m done with the first draft. They usually let me know if I’ve screwed up audience-wise or not!

You've co-written books as well and I've always been curious as to how this works. For example do you each take turns writing a chapter or is it a completely collaborative process for every page? What has your experience been like?

When I write with Louis Greenberg, my co-author on the S.L Grey novels, we tend to write progressively, with each of us taking on a character and moving the narrative forward chapter by chapter. When we wrote The Mall, our first novel, we had great fun leaving each other’s characters in tricky situations, like a literary version of the game Exquisite Corpse.

When I write with my daughter, Savannah, the process is different as we have a very similar narrative voice, so we tend to take it in turns to write a section and then write over each other.

Last year I wrote a series of ‘choose your own adventure’-style erotica books with authors Paige Nick and Helen Moffett and the distribution of work in these was easy to sort out. They wrote all the sex scenes (I’m rubbish at writing sex) and I did the bits in between (clearly they got the short end of the stick as the books were 90% sex!)

Boringly, I’ve never had a bad collaborating experience – I can’t recall a single fight or hissy fit. All of the writers I work with are supremely talented and professional, and fortunately none of them are ego monsters.

Pompidou Posse has only just been published in the UK but can you tell me what you're working on now? And particularly, is there another title coming up to follow up the mind-blowing ending in Day Four? Because I need to know what was going on in those final chapters!

I can’t tell you what I’m working on now in case I jinx it! There will be a follow-up to Day Four, but it will also be a standalone novel that can be read out of sequence.

Thank you so much for your time and questions!

Thank you very much to Sarah for your insightful answers! Pompidou Posse is published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and you can get your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer now.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Theatre review: Hangmen at the Royal Court

©Simon Annand

The last Royal Court production I reviewed on this blog was the Trafalgar Studios transfer of Constellations back in July, so it was about time I visited the actual Royal Court Theatre near St. James's Park station again – especially as it's just a short walk from my office – and Hangmen was an excellent choice for my return to this lovely playhouse, as this was an incredibly well-written and captivating production – not to mention an absolute hoot.

The opening, set in 1963, shows the final moments of a man about to be executed. His sparsely furnished and dark prison cell gives the scene a grim backdrop, however once the convicted man starts to protest that he is innocent the play takes a completely different turn. Morbid the situation may be, and I'm sure he isn't the only man ever to challenge the conviction in his final minutes, his interaction with the hangmen is so absurd that you can't help but burst out laughing at the poor man's misfortune. This sentiment is very much how this production continues; serious situations cranked up for laughs and, surprisingly, it completely works.

Two years after the man's unfortunate ending the death sentence has been abolished in the UK and the second-best hangman in the country, Harry Wade (David Morrissey), is now running a pub that receives a steady flow of peculiar visitors coming by for a pint and a chinwag. This could already provide plenty of material to fill a good two hours in the theatre, however the play is made even more fast-paced than it already is by adding an intriguing element dating back to one of Harry's final hangings. And when a newcomer (Johnny Flynn), quickly nicknamed Babycham Man by the locals for his London accent and youthful looks, makes an appearance in the pub, the speculations only increase – with morbidly hilarious results.

This snappy dark comedy sizzled with a quick-witted dialogue by writer Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaan) and twists and turns around every corner. I thought I had the plot all figured out by the end of act 1, and I was already patting myself on the back for predicting where the story was going, when act 2 opened and I realised I couldn't have been more wrong. The unexpectedness of the play and the fast pace at which the twists unraveled, supported by some fantastic performances and memorable one-liners (such as Harry arguing that hanging is better than death by guillotine, which is messy... and French), really kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

While Morrissey's stubbornly old-fashioned Harry and Flynn's menacingly charming Mooney were the undeniable stand-outs in this play, the supporting cast worked flawlessly in tandem to create an exciting and electrifying piece of theatre. There were some stunning stylistic choices as well, particularly in the first scene and the set change early on in act 1 and I only wish there has been more of that as the play continued on, as there was a wealth of opportunity with the scope of the set on stage and I almost felt as if they missed a chance by not fully utilising this for the duration of the production.

Other than that this play was spot on though, I don't think I have ever laughed so much at such a morbid subject matter. The darkly funny Hangmen is filled with sharp writing and an even sharper delivery by a unanimously excellent cast, creating the epitome of gallows humour – literally and figuratively.

Hangmen is running at the Royal Court until 10 October 2015. You can book tickets here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book review: The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

My edition: Paperback, published in 2014 (originally in 1962) by Pushkin Press, translated by Laura Watkinson, 508 pages.

Description: It is the dead of night. Sixteen-year-old Tiuri must spend hours locked in a chapel in silent contemplation if he is to be knighted the next day.

But, as he waits by the light of a flickering candle, he hears a knock at the door and a voice desperately asking for help. A secret letter must be delivered to King Unauwen across the Great Mountains – a letter upon which the fate of the entire kingdom depends. Tiuri has a vital role to play, one that might cost him his knighthood.

Tiuri’s journey will take him through dark, menacing forests, across treacherous rivers, to sinister castles and strange cities. He will encounter evil enemies who would kill to get the letter, but also the best of friends in the most unexpected places.

He must trust no one. He must keep his true identity secret. Above all, he must never reveal what is in the letter…


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Star for a Day... Weekend

You may remember me rallying the troops a few months ago after I had created a Matilda and Alice in Wonderland-themed Star For a Day itinerary as my entry into a blogger competition from Hotel Direct and thanks to all your amazing votes for my entry I won and got to experience all the literary London activities I'd been researching myself, which was very exciting!

I picked the August Bank Holiday weekend for the fun, so I had time to spread all the enjoyment over two days to really relish it all. Apologies for the delay in actually posting about this, but I've had some computer issues and was only able to transfer my images over last weekend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bangle making workshop with

I loved The Big Blogger Conference, which I attended last month, for many reasons but one of the very best things was discovering some fabulous new brands, of which is by far my favourite. Their stand at the conference was beautiful, Gemma was lovely, but most of all their incredible products speak for themselves. I was thrilled when the gift box I received at the conference contained their adorable sterling silver dinosaur studs – and I've been wearing them non-stop since.

I have also visited their website. A lot. And made a huge to-buy list. Which, despite the number of items on it didn't rack up a high bill at all. Because while each product I wanted to get is sterling silver (all I ever buy), the pieces are SO affordable, meaning I can expand my collection of cute silver studs, necklaces and bracelets without breaking the bank. Brilliant. Normally a web-only store they had a pop-up in London's Brixton this month and of course I had to give them a visit to admire their full collection in person. I also emailed over my order to Gemma, who made sure that it was ready to pay for and collect when I popped by (and I may have bought even more while there, ssshhhh).

And as an extra bonus, they also held a bangle making workshop for some bloggers, which was such fun! It was actually a lot more time-consuming than you'd expect and we didn't even do all steps as the main part was already prepared for us. We did get to make the rounded ends, smooth the edges of the bracelets, take a tiny hammer to the charm to create a cool texture, add our initials, fill it in with paint and attach everything together. They made it look so simple, but it really wasn't and it made me appreciate the time and effort that goes into making fabulous jewellery pieces even more.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Theatre review: Jane Eyre at the National Theatre

©Manuel Harlan

Despite being a self-proclaimed book geek, I have a rather embarrassing confession to make: I have never read Jane Eyre nor seen any of the various screen adaptations. In fact, I've done a really good job of living under a Charlotte Brontë-shaped rock, as I knew little about the story before watching the innovative production currently gracing the boards at the National Theatre, which in turn is an abridged adaptation of the two-part version staged at the Bristol Old Vic last year.

This re-imagining, which runs at 3 hours and 15 minutes, of the classic novel is a hugely imaginative and compelling one and does an admirable job of making the complex and lengthy story accessible to those not yet familiar with it. Chronicling the life of protagonist Jane Eyre (Madeleine Worrall), it's depicted in five distinct parts that run from her birth right down to her becoming a mother herself. In between she faces endless hardships; at her family home where she's severely bullied by her cousin and aunt, at the religious institution she's sent to at a young age and even when she believes she has found emotional and intellectual fulfillment she uncovers a terrible secret that severs the fragile romance with her Mr Rochester (Felix Hayes).

The story of spunky orphan Jane Eyre is a gripping one in its own right, there is a reason it has captivated readers for over a century and has received countless adaptations in a range of media since, however this theatrical version is something special on an entirely different level. The staging is simplistic with a minimalist industrial set design encompassing a three-man band that form the sole instrumental accompaniment to the play, which are complemented well by the haunting vocals of Melanie Marshall (who plays an unexpected role in the production as well, which I won't spoil as I thought it was a fantastic reveal).

The plain set design puts the focus on the actors, giving them nowhere to hide, and it was a thrill to watch Madeleine's Jane visibly grow from a petulant and misunderstood child into an accomplished and intelligent young woman. Felix's Rochester was excellent as well, being just as broody and mysterious as you'd expect him to be. But it were the astonishing performances of the supporting cast, who doubled up on roles and swiftly moved from children to a range of adult and even animal characters, that made this absolutely mesmerising to watch. I was particularly enamored by Craig Edward's enthusiastic portrayal of Rochester's canine companion and Laura Elphinstone's turn as the young ward Adele. While this may have foremost been the tale of Jane Eyre, it is the collaborative execution of the entire company that made this such a remarkable play.

For all the simplicity that rippled through this production, the overall appearance was anything but. Director Sally Cookson's re-imagining of Jane Eyre is an innovative piece of theatre that lingers on the boundary between a straight play and highly physical performance art, while the anachronistic musical support added an ethereal element to what was already an incredibly imaginative retelling of the classic novel.

Jane Eyre is running at the National Theatre until 10 January 2016. You can book tickets here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Theatre review: Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre

©Matt Crocket

In 2013 I went to New York with a friend for a theatre-heavy trip seeing nearly 10 shows in just one week. It was glorious. There were some productions we were keen to see straight off the bat, such as The Book of Mormon and Disney's Newsies, and there were others we discovered while there, including Peter and the Starcatcher and the joyful Kinky Boots. The latter I knew little about other than that the buzz around Broadway was all about these shiny red boots in the week before the Tony Awards, for which it was nominated for no less than 13 Tonys (and ended up winning a season-high of six of them, including Best Musical). All well-deserved, we thought, as it was one of the highlights of our trip and with the cast recording taking a top spot on our playlists, the feel-good enjoyment we felt after leaving the Al Hirschfeld Theatre continued for long after we had arrived back in the UK. So you can image our delight when this sassy show strutted into London's West End this month.

Set in England's Northampton, it feels as if Kinky Boots had finally returned to its rightful home. Based on the 2005 feature film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, it tells the tale of shoe factory Price and Son, which is at risk of being closed down because they've been out-marketed by cheaper alternatives. The only way Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) can save the factory is if he follows in the footsteps of similar companies and find a new niche market. That's where flamboyant drag queen Lola (Matt Henry) comes in, who is in desperate need of a pair of knee-high boots that can support the weight of a man while at the same time keeping the feminine design and spiky heels he adores so much. It's a challenge Charlie is eager to accept to take his mind off the pain of his father's recent passing, which has left him so suddenly in charge of the family-run business – a responsibility he is not sure he is cut out for.

Kinky Boots follows hot on the heels of subpar factory musical Made in Dagenham, which played at the Adelphi Theatre just prior, and is proof that it is possible to have a second industrial British show entertaining audiences in London besides musical theatre darling Billy Elliot. Despite tackling similar themes, such as acceptance and diversity, Kinky Boots takes itself far less seriously and ramps up the silliness to create a feel-good fun evening for the whole family. The straight-forward book by musical theatre great Harvey Fierstein is complemented well by the catchy tunes from the legend that is Cyndi Lauper and the tight direction and choreography I've come to know and love from Jerry Mitchell (who is also behind the delightful Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). The whole production looks slick and stylish, befitting the snazzy shoes it focuses on.

The show is not without its flaws, however, and particularly lead character Charlie suffers as he is heavily overshadowed by the much flashier role of Lola. Killian Donnelly, who was brilliant as Huey Calhoun in Memphis, does an admirable job as the sweet-natured, reluctant factory-owner, but it's a thankless role and he is not given much to work with. When he does get his moment in the spotlight, he takes it with two eager hands and then some. His heartfelt rendition of Soul of a Man in the second act was incredibly powerful and one that stunned the audience into silence after the mostly non-stop clap-along spectacle involving Lola and the Angels during upbeat numbers such as Land of Lola, Sex is in the Heel and Everybody Say Yeah. Matt Henry unsurprisingly shines as the star of this show as he was sensational as both the spunky Lola and the far less confident Simon. It is no easy task to follow in the footsteps of Tony-winner Billy Porter, but Matt has risen to the occasion and embraced the sexy red knee-high boots with sass and flair.

With showstopping spectacle Everybody Say Yeah, which boost some seriously exciting choreography, closing the first act and the equally contagiously catchy Raise You Up/Just Be providing a toe-tappingly fun-filled-finale, audiences are guaranteed to be buzzing about Kinky Boots during the interval and long after leaving the Adelphi Theatre. The slightly slower moments in between are easily forgotten when the aforementioned hummable tunes get stuck in your head for days after having seen the musical. Containing not only some fantastic music and impressively choreographed scenes, but a heartwarming message too, this is one show that will undoubtedly appeal to a broad audience; from ladies to gentlemen to those who have yet to make up their minds.

Kinky Boots is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 6 February 2016. You can book tickets here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Theatre review: The Sting at Wilton's Music Hall

Bob Cryer (Gondorff) and Ross Forder (Hooker)

Tucked away in a side street a moment's walk away from the historic Tower of London is another place steeped in history; Wilton's Music Hall. The Grade II listed building dates back to the 18th century, though it has only been a producing space for the last decade. Having recently undergone a major restoration, the theatre has re-opened its doors with a production of The Sting, based on the 1973 movie of the same name starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

While I don't know what the music hall looked like before the restoration, it still very much shows its age, which gives the theatre a lot of character suitable to the time period that their first new production is set in; the 1930s. As soon as I entered the venue I was transported to a smoky Chicago of nearly a century ago, where a sultry singer was entertaining the audience, a couple of smartly dressed con men were lurking around eyeing their next target, and in another room a group of men were playing an intense game of poker. It was delightful pre-show entertainment and combined with the newspaper style programme, titled the Wilton Tribute, it set the mood for the rest of the evening.

Taking our seats in the main auditorium, the atmospheric entertainment continued until the lights dimmed and the main event of the night started. The Sting focuses on two grifters, Hooker (Ross Forder) and Gondorff (Bob Cryer) who are combining forces to set up a complicated con to take revenge on big mobster Lonnegan (John Chancer), who has killed one of their friends. What follows is an ingeniously complicated set-up that would be mad in any form but a stage or screen adaptation, and while some of the actions seem unrelated to the big con at first, they slowly but surely start to click together as the big plan reveals itself to the audience.

The 1930s is a popular decade for London Theatre productions at the moment, as in recent months I've also watched Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse and Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Landor Theatre, all set in the time of flapper dresses, sharp suits and swing jazz. Each one had their own charm, but where the former two were romanticised, The Sting is a more action-packed kind of entertainment – in similar vain to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, though less silly as it takes place during the time of the Great Depression in America. While this doesn't take a very central point within the story, it is always lingering in the background. 

The play had a slow start and it felt even longer due to the rather uncomfortable seating options (top tip: the seats are not attached to one another so move them slightly apart before your neighbours arrive, that way you will not be awkwardly squashed between two large men like I was for the first half), however once the big con was set into motion it started to get a lot more captivating and this only increased in the fast-paced and exciting second act, which had a rather explosive conclusion.

Leading men Forder and Cryer were excellent in their respective roles and they were supported by an admirable cast. The doubling up of characters and some accents that didn't come near Chicagoan were a tad confusing at times, but if you suspend disbelief and take The Sting for the rapturous adventure it is you'll have a jolly good time. Besides the con cleverly coming together towards the end, a particular highlight was watching Ashley Henry as the piano player providing the sole instrumental support for the production, he does so with a joie de vivre befitting the grifters and the gorgeous Wilton's Music Hall.

The Sting is running at Wilton's Music Hall until 17 October 2015. You can book tickets here.

Many thanks to theatreblogs for organising the outing!