Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Launch party for The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman

I don't often tend to venture Camden ways, but when I received the invite for the book launch of The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman (read my review of the book here) I was more than happy to make an exception. Ever since I read Rob's excellent debut novel The Second Life of Amy Archer (review here) I've been hoping to get a chance to meet him in person and this was the perfect opportunity to do so without having to travel to a faraway book fair.

We were welcomed inside the Cecil Sharp House in a themed room, which was decked out with bees dotted around on the ceiling and the iconic black and yellow stripes decorating the walls. Thankfully these were cute-looking creatures, rather than a swarm announcing imminent doom like it does in the book!

Also gracing the walls were some of the superstitions Rob had come across during his research for the novel - ranging for the peculiar to the downright horrific. I thought they were incredibly interesting to read, particularly as I hadn't heard of many of them before, though I'm glad I'm not a superstitious person because I wouldn't have wanted to follow all of the 'cures' listed.

As soon as we arrived we went up to Rob to thank him for the invite; he was incredibly kind and I'm so pleased we finally got to meet after having spoken on Twitter ever since I reviewed his first novel last year. We briefly discussed his first two books and the fact that his third one - another psychological thriller, but without the superstitious angle of his most recent release - is nearly finished. It always amazes me that authors are already writing their next novel when the latest one has barely hit the shelves, I don't know how they find the time to write one book while promoting another.

Not wanting to hog Rob's time as there were plenty of other people there wanting to congratulate him on his new novel, my friend and I sat down with some of the delicious canapes pictured below (I'm not usually a fan of chips, but these were lovely!) and listened to the beautiful folk music being performed live by Ben Moss and Laurel Swift.

The book launch wasn't just the perfect excuse to mingle with the author and buy a copy of the new book to get signed, as has been the case with previous launches I've been to, but there was also an extensive reading and bonus Q&A session, which was a great way to learn a little more about Rob's writing background and how his books came to be. Particularly fascinating to hear was that he is superstitious himself and he picked up some new ones while he was researching The Prophecy of Bees. It's probably a good thing his third novel does not involve any!

After the readings and Q&A I also got my books signed and Rob was so incredibly gracious and kind. It was a wonderful night, filled with interesting bookish insights, yummy canapes and good music - the perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening and unwind after a hectic day at work. Thank you very much Rob for the invite!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Theatre review: Irvin Berlin's White Christmas

The treetops glisten and the children listen to hear sleigh bells in the West End after the glittering opening of Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

Admittedly, when I first arrived at the Dominion Theatre I was missing the eye-catching Freddie Mercury statue which had been guiding tourists and theatregoers to We Will Rock You for over a decade, but the almost life-like snow that fluttered down onto the red carpet and the gorgeous seasonal decorations inside of the theatre, not to mention the fresh-looking recently refurbished interior, made me feel very festive and forget all about Freddie.

The stage show is based on the 1950s film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as two ex-army men who become successful entertainers after the Second World War and audition a sister pair to become part of their act. Romance, of course, ensues. The version I saw follows a similar storyline but with a welcome increase in song and dance numbers. The additional score fits seamlessly with the originals from the big screen, creating a highly hummable soundtrack. And it is accompanied by some truly impressive choreography, which brings back a splash of the tap-dancing glory that had been missing in theatreland since the closure of Singin' in the Rain.

This particular production has been touring the UK for some years now and the West End cast is led by seasoned White Christmas actor Aled Jones (Bob Wallace) and Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers (Phil Davis). The duo are a good match, showing excellent chemistry and complimenting each other well on the theatrical disciplines; Jones brings the Bing Crosby-esque rich, velvety tones to sentimental numbers such as 'Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep' and 'Blue Skies', and Tom Chambers shows off the outstanding moves which gained him a well-deserved Olivier award nomination for his starring role in Top Hat the musical.

For a seasoned musical theatregoer such as myself, the show does feel somewhat unimaginable, particularly in the second act as it follows an age-old entertaining formula right down to the fake snow adding a touch of winter magic to the auditorium, followed by a toe-tapping grand finale. But while it may have been done many times before, not always to the degree of excellence the White Christmas cast brings to the Dominion stage and for that reason alone I'd happily return in a few weeks time for another Yuletide fix.

A touch sentimental and predictable the show may be, filled with feel-good festive songs, showstopping tap-dance numbers and a twinkle of snowflakes, Irving Berlin's White Christmas hits the seasonal spot just right. Happy holidays indeed.

White Christmas is playing at the Dominion Theatre in London's West End until 3 January 2015, you can buy tickets here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book review: The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown

My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Harper, 400 pages.

Description: Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen…


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Theatre review: The Scottsboro Boys

The Scottsboro Boys is the third musical I have seen in as many weeks that references the story of Rosa Parks, an African American women who refused to gave up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in the 1950s, which goes to show how topical racial discrimination remains in today's day and age.

One of the most harrowing examples of this in recent American history is the Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine African American boys were accused of raping two white women and were in the first instance sentenced to death without much of a trial or even proof of the allegations. Even when one of the women admitted her testimony was a lie, the nine accused boys remained in prison for the duration of many trials, spanning years - in some cases decades - of their lives.

The general consensus is that musicals should be fun escapisms from every day life, so David Thompson (book), John Kander and Fred Ebb (music and lyrics) took a huge leap by taking this serious topic and turning it into a song and dance heavy stage show. Their bravery more than paid off as after a sell-out run at the Young Vic the show has returned to London and is now gracing the boards of the Garrick Theatre in the West End.

(c) Johan Persson

For a musical based on such distressing subject matter it was surprising how colourful and cheerful it was, especially in the beginning. The songs were loud and lively and filled with a sheer joie de vivre, and especially the earlier numbers were reminiscent of Tony Award-winning musical Newsies, which also relies heavily on a predominantly male cast and impressive choreography to accompany the music.

The similarities end there however, because whereas Newsies is a more conservative portrayal of a historical event (with added song and dance numbers, that is), The Scottsboro Boys is more theatrical in approach as it is told in the form of old minstrel shows. Though where in the original performances white people would blacken their faces, this time around it's the primarily dark cast that take an over-the-top approach to portraying their white counterparts.

Presenting the story this way was an ingenious choice to add another layer of social commentary to the production and make the audience really think about skewed racial perceptions - some of which are sadly still present today. Though towards the end this approach became almost too much of a caricature, detracting somewhat from the emotionally heavy core story.

(c) Johan Persson

Even though the minstrel presentation didn't work for the entirety of the production, it was an interesting and unique approach within the musical theatre genre and complemented well by a strong score and impressive choreography. And I haven't even mentioned the excellent cast yet, who sing, act and dance their socks off on the Garrick Theatre stage - true triple threats all-around.

(c) Johan Persson

The Scottsboro Boys is playing at the Garrick Theatre and is taking bookings until 21 February 2015, you can buy tickets here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book review: The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman

My edition: paperback, to be published on 20 November 2014 by Orion, 362 pages.

Description: When Lindy, a recently widowed American expat, buys a large manor house in the Cotswolds, she thinks it's the fresh start she and her wayward daughter Izzy need. Stagcote Manor is a large, rambling house with a rich history and Lindy is thrilled at the prospect of their new life there.

Izzy, however, is less convinced. She longs to be back in the hustle and bustle of London. There's something unnerving about the house that she can't quite put her finger on. And as Izzy begins to immerse herself in Stagcote life, she gradually realises the locals have a lot of strange and disturbing superstitions, many of them related to the manor.

When Izzy begins to investigate the history of the house, her unease soon darkens to fear as the manor's dark past finally comes to light.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Book review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Hot Key Books, 342 pages.

Description: Fifteen-year-old Frankie Landau-Banks has grown up a lot over the summer. She's no longer daddy's little girl - and almost immediately after starting the new semester at her highly prestigious school, she bags goofy-but-gorgeous Matthew Livingston as her boyfriend. They get along great but then Frankie discovers that Matthew is a member of a boys-only secret society that specialise in 'hilarious' pranks. Which hardly seems fair... especially when Frankie knows she's smarter than any of its members. And to prove this, she's going to teach them a lesson.

Impersonating lead member Alpha by using a fake email account is surprisingly easy, and soon Frankie is setting the boys up with all sorts of ridiculous schemes and sending them on wild goose chase after wild goose chase. Alpha's not prepared to lose face and admit it's not him sending the emails - but the fun can't last forever, and soon Frankie will have to choose between what she think she wants, and the reputation she deserves.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book review: The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Lisa Dickenson

My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 6 October 2014 by Sphere, 223 pages.

Description: At thirty, Claudia's life is stale and the romance with long-term boyfriend, Seth, has disappeared. Determined to inject some festive spark back into their love life, Claudia and Seth go on their first date in a very long time. But when the night ends in disaster, Claudia suddenly finds herself facing life - and Christmas - alone.

Life alone is exciting, scary and full of soon-forgotten exercise regimes and ill-advised attempts at crafting sexy underwear. It's also filling up with dates, surprisingly. With best friends Penny and Nick at her side, a surplus of festive markets, mulled wine and Christmas tunes, Claudia attempts to face all this change with gusto. One thing's for certain: this year, Christmas is going to be very different . . .


Monday, November 10, 2014

Theatre review: Made in Dagenham

For the past six months it has been very quiet in terms of big, exciting new shows moving into the West End, but with autumn comes a change of wind to the theatre capital of the UK with many new musicals and high-profile plays opening in short succession. For the longest of time I was most excited for the opening of British-born Made in Dagenham, starring none other than Gemma Arterton.

Mostly all Brits will be familiar with the sewing machinists strike at Ford in the 1960s, in which women employees demanded equal pay. Several weeks into the dispute the government got involved and the strike at one company eventually led to equal pay across the UK. It was a landmark case in labour history and in a day and age where gender inequality is still present, it's as topical as ever.

Adding in song and dance numbers to make the otherwise heavy subject matter a little more entertaining certainly shouldn't do it any harm and instead make it appeal to the wider masses. Add in a star attraction in the form of well-known movie actress Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, St. Trinians), a book by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain), music by David Arnold (Sherlock, Little Britain) and lyrics by Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) and the musical sounds like a winner on paper.

(c) Alex James

It is disappointing then that after all the excitement I felt in the lead-up to the opening of Made in Dagenham in London, the end result didn't manage to live up to the hype - or get even close to what you'd expect from a British-born musical with a heavyweight creative team behind it. A combination of a book riddled with poorly thought-through jokes, a for the most part unmemorable score and unnecessarily superficial characters, made for a simplistic fare that did not capture the empowerment of women the story should be focused on.

The show, which is based on the 2010 movie of the same name, had a clever marketing technique by releases several of the songs online before it had even played one preview. I had been listening to the cheerful, hummable melodies non-stop for days, getting more excited for the opening with each passing tune. But while these contagious songs added to the hype leading up to the opening, it also gave me a wrong perception on what the music in the show would be like.

The three songs I'd been listening to so devotedly (Made in Dagenham, Everybody Out and The Letter) unfortunately sounded better on the pre-recorded versions that they did live at the Adelphi Theatre. Furthermore, none of the performances came with big, showstopping choreography or impressive set changes, save the opener of the second act which provided an all-American glitter and glamour affair which certainly made its mark but perhaps wasn't quite suited to the otherwise very British show.

(c) Alex James

It wasn't all bad however. Arterton was excellent as main character Rita and she was a surprisingly good singer (though despite her best efforts still often outshone by the musical theatre-experienced ensemble); the pivotal union meeting was well-acted all around; Everybody Out was a catchy and memorable pre-interval affair; the previously mentioned performance of The Letter by Adrian der Gregorian provided a rare moment of goosebumps in an otherwise rather superficial first act; and Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down did the same for the second half.

There were some excellent elements to the show, which proves that there is a lot of potential there. It's such a shame then that after having watched it the negatives are so aggravating that they become more memorable than the moments of brilliance that shine through every now again. In particular because British shows haven't done very well on the West End in recent years (Viva Forever, Stephen Ward, From Here to Eternity, I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical) and I was really rooting for another roaring success such as Matilda the Musical.

Made in Dagenham is not the salvation for British musicals many, myself included, hoped it to be but if the book is tightened by taking out the more cringe-worthy jokes and character behaviours, and more impressive choreography is added to the bigger group numbers, the otherwise strong performances and interesting story of gender equality give this musical the potential to become a popular girls night out attraction along the likes of Mama Mia and Jersey Boys.

(c) Alex James

Made in Dagenham is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 28 March 2015, you can buy tickets here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

PapayaGold's PAW PAW balm

This balm isn't intended to soothe the paws of your precious pet, instead the name refers to Australia's tropical Paw Paw (more widely known as papaya), which is used to create the ointment. The moisturising product is also enriched with bioactive Manuka Honey 20+, farmed in the country next door to Oz; New Zealand, and is free from harming ingredients such as parabens and sulphates.

Lacking colour, odour and taste, in the first instance the look and feel of the product when opening the lid was similar to that of a tub of Vaseline. However, it's far less greasy and more thick in consistency, making it perfect to apply to visible areas of the skin, such as on your face, without leaving an unsightly filter of grease behind, or sticking to your clothes.

When trialling the ointment I found that it was wonderful to use on tougher areas of my skin, such as my knees and the back of my heels, as it not only soothed but also softened. And this wasn't after consistent use either, just two of three applicants made a world of difference for me. It also worked wonders as a moisturiser on my face and limbs, though foremost this has very quickly become my lip balm of choice.

I love a good balm or gloss to treat my lips and prevent them from chapping, especially in the current biting autumn weather. While I was happy with the brand I was using before, it didn't last as long as this one does. The PAW PAW balm rarely needed topping up throughout the day, which is perfect for me as I always forget to do this until it's too late.

Also good to note is that the product comes in a bright red travel-sized, sturdy tube, which makes it ideal to pop into your favourite handbag. It's small enough as to not take up unnecessary space and the popping colour means it's easy to spot, even if your bag is filled to the brim with random bits and bobs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

#LDNTheatreBloggers meet-up at Soho Grind

Coffee cocktails at Soho Grind

The fabulous Rebecca from Official Theatre has started something very exciting for London-based (and those who don't mind travelling to the capital) theatre bloggers by regularly bringing them together for evenings of helpful info about blogging and theatre while enjoying delicious cocktails and chatting to like-minded people (point in case: the first gin-up and group outings to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Autobahn and Sunny Afternoon).

The Official Theatre outings are always tremendous fun so when I received the invite for Monday's meet-up I immediately RSVP-ed even though I only arrived back in London the night before. I knew it'd be worth swapping an evening watching television from under my duvet - after all, I could always catch up on sleep (and my TV-shows) the rest of the week after work.

Though I work near Soho and often venture there for a bite to eat, I'd never actually been to Soho Grind before, the bar which was hired especially for the 30-odd theatre bloggers invited to the evening. While it was quite small, it was very cosy and the Prosecco reception definitely added to the appeal of the evening (not the mention the plentiful cheese and meat platters, which made for excellent dinner fare).

Some of the delicious meat and cheese platters laid out for us

While enjoying drinks and cheese I mingled with fellow theatre lovers; catching up with old faces and meeting new people as well, as the network of theatre bloggers is ever expanding. Before too long we were 'officially' welcomed with coffee cocktails (the bar's speciality) and a brief masterclass on how to make the drink. As a non-coffee drinker myself (I know, I know) I was given a different cocktail instead and while I don't remember the name, I loved the sweet strawberry concoction.

And we even got to make our own cocktails on the evening as well, though our team's name was once again already taken (and ended up winning!) by the time it was our turn. We need to learn to use our quiet voices.

The evening wasn't solely focused on consuming and making cocktails though, there was some 'serious' stuff discussed as well, including an interesting introduction by James from SeatPlan on the website's admirable intention of capturing regular people's comments (and pictures, where possible) of every seat in London theatres, to provide information to potential customers that isn't readily available yet.

After all, theatres often have different price ranks for their seats, but a cheaper price doesn't always mean the seat is bad (and the other way around too, some top price seats are not as good as others). So by including honest opinions from the regular public, it should make it easier for people to decide which tickets to buy to a play or show. I think it's a great idea as I'm always after finding a great seat for a fair prize and I hope many people will be leaving their reviews so SeatPlan can create a comprehensive database.

The cocktail we made, with subtle zesty decoration...

To top off what was already a fantastic night we were also treated to a beautiful acoustic set by Bity Booker, what a talented lady! If you enjoy listening to new music then I definitely recommend visiting her website for a free download of her digital album. It's worth checking out, I promise.

Anyway, long (blog) story short, I had a brilliant night with the #LDNTheatreBloggers, it's always a joy to get the chance to catch up with this lovely lot. Many thanks to Official Theatre and SeatPlan for fabulous evening!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Book review: A Most Desirable Marriage by Hilary Boyd

My edition: Paperback, published on 2 October 2014 by Quercus, 441 pages.

Description: Lawrence and Jo have enjoyed a strong marriage, the envy of their friends. Even after thirty years they have lots to say to each other, many interests in common and, until recently, a good sex life.

But Lawrence seems wary and restless. Something’s wrong. Just how wrong, Jo is about to discover…

Can they use their years of history – all the things they’ve shared – to overcome a devastating betrayal?


Friday, October 31, 2014

Book review: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

My edition: Paperback, to be published on 6 November 2014 by HarperCollins, 357 pages.

Description: Marguerite Caine's physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite's father is murdered, the killer—her parent's handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can't let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul's guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father's death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Theatre review: Memphis the Musical

Set in 1950s Tennessee, when racial segregation was still a distinct part of society in the southern part of the States, we meet rhythm and blues-loving Huey Calhoun (Killian Donnelly).

He's not very good at holding down a job, but his contagious love for soulful songs eventually leads him to landing a slot on the local radio station and he quickly gathers a loyal following of impressionable teenagers who share his rebellious taste in Rock 'n' Roll music.

His rapid rise to fame causes outrage among many of the older locals, however, because while he promotes and plays tunes from black performers, both Huey and the majority of his adolescent fans are white.

©Photo by Johan Persson

Running parallel to Huey's story is that of Felicia (Beverly Knight), a singer in a black rock and roll bar owned by her brother Delray.

One night when he's wandering the streets, Huey follows the hypnotising sounds of Felicia's voice into the bar and, while initially he's perceived as completely cuckoo for showing his white-boy face in the establishment, he soon becomes friends with the locals and falls in love with the star performer.

But at a time when African-American Rosa Parks makes headlines for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person, both government laws and prejudice stand forcefully between Huey and Felicia's growing romantic relationship.

©Photo by Johan Persson

With a focus on subject matter as loaded as racial discrimination it's surprising how joyful and exciting this show, which has a book and music by David Bryan and Joe Dipietro, truly is.

From the very first moment the curtain goes up, Memphis is a thrilling spectacle which has more than just hints of the upbeat contagiousness from Hairspray and is filled to the brim with slick and wildly impressive choreography reminiscent of West Side Story.

Plentiful with catchy tunes, colourful costumes, funny one-liners and a gimmicky set design, it is obvious from the start why this soulful show won the Tony Award for Best Musical. And having had a chance to grow and evolve on Broadway, where it ran for three successful years, the production currently gracing the London boards is polished to a tee.

©Photo by Johan Persson

While the entire production seemed flawless, with the large ensemble providing beautiful harmonies during the big group numbers, Killian Donnelly and Beverly Knight were the ones who really shone on that Shaftesbury stage.

Donnelly's Huey was endearing and bonkers at the same time, and with his funny improvisations he frequently had the audience in stitches. Knight is probably best known to the general public as a pop singer and it can always be risky to stuntcast a vital role in a musical but she more than held her own; her powerful pipes stole the show on more than one occasion.

I generally watch several productions each week, but it has been a very long time since I've been this impressed by a newly opened show in the West End. It single-handedly brings the glitz and glamour of a slick and stylish Broadway show-stopping spectacle to London, paving the streets to the Shaftesbury Theatre with soul and Rock 'n' Roll.

©Photo by Johan Persson

Memphis the Musical is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 28 March 2015, you can buy tickets here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Theatre review: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

I love the Charing Cross Theatre for its location; smack-down next to Charing Cross Station where I take my train home from it is the easiest theatre in London for me to visit. However, despite its close proximity to travel means, the productions that make their way to the theatre have been more miss than hit for me and for a while I was reluctant to watch anything put up in the space.

This changed earlier this year when I saw the moving and mesmerising Lost Boy, which beautifully portrayed the parallels between George Llewelyn Davies and the iconic character of Peter Pan he was the inspiration for, as well as the hilariously stagey Ushers the Musical; the Charing Cross Theatre was once more in my good graces.

And so I was very keen to check out their latest production; Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Growing up in the Netherlands I was already very familiar with Brel's moodful melodies and with a cast led by West End favourites Daniel Boys (Avenue Q) and Gina Beck (Wicked), I had high hopes that this would be a very special evening indeed.

(l-r) David Burt, Eve Polycarpou, Gina Beck and Daniel Boys ©Photo by Scott Rylander

First things first, while this was initially billed as a musical this is far more a revue set in a nightclub in Paris; heavily perfumed air and smoky haziness filling the auditorium before and during the show to set the mood. Even the orchestra on stage had a gypsy, rustic appearance, elevating the authentic ambience.

For this production Brel's French and Dutch songs were translated into English which, while certainly beneficial for the majority of the audience to gain a greater understanding of the music's beautiful and meaningful lyrics, made it lose the French vibrato which makes Brel's chansons so iconic. There is something in the rolling R's that adds a rough romanticism to the language; bringing an entirely new dimension to the ballads, which the polite British tones simply could not.

Nonetheless, after a somewhat lacklustre start, the talented cast did a good job of projecting the heartfelt tones of Brel's chansons into the theatre. The quarter of performers was made up by the previously mentioned Beck and Boys and completed by David Burt (Kiss Me KateCrazy for You) and Eve Polycarpou (In The Heights), and each of the four singers brought something unique to the songs.

©Photo by Scott Rylander

The start of the show lacked the passion and emotional punch Brel so beautifully weaved into his performances and so initially I felt disappointed watching the stilted production on that stage near Charing Cross station. However, when Polycarpou sung the exceptionally moving My Childhood, the revue did a turnaround for me and I almost started to believe that I was in fact watching a performance in an underground club in Paris in the 1950s.

The show was very much up and down the entire evening, but the moments of brilliance that emerged -  Burt's Amsterdam, uplifting group number Brussels and Polycarpou's showstopping Ne Me Quitte Pas in the second half, which perfectly captured the raw and powerful emotion of Brel's original - were such delights that they were worth sitting through some of the too musical theatre influenced imitations of the iconic chansons.

©Photo by Scott Rylander

Despite a perhaps lack of French understanding by what was a largely British audience, I believe Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris would've benefitted hugely from being performed in the original French (and on occasional Dutch) it was intended.

The powerful emotions that seep through the French language were sorely missed during the show, and while the cast was certainly talented and there were definite moments throughout that made this production worth a visit, there is only so much they could do with the material given and so rather than having an entirely exceptional show, there were only snippets of it throughout the night.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is playing at the Charing Theatre until 22 November 2014, you can buy tickets here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book review: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

My edition: Paperback, published on 28 August 2014 by Simon & Schuster, 381 pages.

Description: Allison Weiss is a typical working mother, trying to balance a business, ageing parents, a demanding daughter and a marriage. But when the website she develops becomes a huge success, she finds herself challenged to the point of being completely overwhelmed.

As she struggles to hold her life together and meet the needs of all the people around her, Allison finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for a back injury help her deal with more than just physical discomfort - they make her feel calm and get her through the increasingly hectic days.

Sure, she worries that the bottles seem to empty a bit faster each week, but it's not like she's some Hollywood starlet partying all night. It's not as if she has an actual problem.

Until she ends up in a world she never thought she'd experience outside of a movie theatre: rehab. And as Allison struggles to get her life back on track, she learns a few life lessons along the way.