Sunday, 31 January 2010

Nation by Terry Pratchett - as performed by the National Theatre

I said that I'd cheat and write two today.

Yesterday I dragged my poor, rather long suffering other half to see Nation by Terry Pratchett as adapted by Mark Ravenhill and directed by Melly Still.
I don't know how many of you have heard of the National Theatre Live project, but it's a wonderful scheme. I live in North Yorkshire which makes travelling to the National Theatre a bit of an expensive extravagance, which is really disappointing when there are shows that I'd like to see. However we've just seen the first series of the 'Live' shows, whereby one performance is broadcast to cinemas around the world. Love it!
To start with, I'm quite a big Pratchett fan, but haven't got round to reading Nation yet (massive 'to read' heap by the bed), my other half isn't a fan and has never read anything by him, but was intrigued by the live concept (and a little emotional blackmail from his girlfriend) and so agreed to come with me. I also tried to convince one of his friends who's a big Pratchett fan, but he declined due to universal panning by reviewers. It has to be said that I only read the reviews this morning, having seen it yesterday, and I was surprised to see such bad reviews, I really enjoyed it.

Nation tells the story of a parellel world. Mau, a South Pacific Island boy has just completed his trial to move him from boyhood to adulthood, but when he returns to his own island finds that his entire tribe has been wiped out by a Tsunami in his absence and he's left alone on the island. Daphne is a well spoken Victorian girl who has been shipwrecked by the same Tsunami. Neither Mau or Daphne understand each other, but they manage to communicate and start to build a nation, joined by islanders from surrounding islands.
Daphne (Emily Taaffe), Mau (Gary Carr) and Milton, a foul mouthed parrot (Jason Thorpe) probably hold the performance together. Gary Carr giving an excellent performance as the young man stuck between childhood and adulthood, not yet feeling that he deserves the title of adult because he hasn't been through the adult ceremony. Pratchett has said that this story grey from the image of a young boy stood on the beach cursing the gods, and it's easy to imagine that Carr's performance of this could be pretty close to what Pratchett imagine. Emily Taaffe performs a rather fiesty woman on the cusp of adulthood who has led a life controlled by her matriarchal grandmother, although it hasn't been the sheltered upbringing you would expect, her father having been keen on taking her to science lectures. Finally Jason Thorpe as Milton. Yes, he's a human playing a parrot - Thorpe does not play this role for realism, although his mannerisms and movements (especially his walk) are wonderful to watch, he symbolises a parrot, rather than trying for a realistic performance - and to my mind it fitted in very well. He is also the main comic relief of the performance.
I don't think I've ever seen anything directed by Melly Still before, but I quite enjoyed this, and was quite intrigued by some of the design. The ship wreck was interesting, the boat on water, there aren't many ways that you can perform this on stage, and I think we're unlikely to come up with a breathtaking suggestion any time soon, however the idea of showing the characters in the water as the ship broke up was a good idea and well done. There were three large screens around the stage and during the shipwreck water was projected on to the screens and the characters in the water were on wires behind them so that they floated and 'swam' as though in the water.
Puppets were also used to represent the animals on the island, including really creepy birds and a large and slightly scary wild hog, performed using different forms of puppets.
The second half continues with the creating of Nation but also with what's happened to other people who were on the ship with Daphne and landed on different islands, causing Daphne to face up to her behaviour and decisions since she's been on the island.
The ending was rather sad (didn't end how I expected it to at all, really should have read the book by now), and also well done. It would have been easy to make the ending unnecessarily twee and sweet, but it was well performed, both by Taaffe and Carr, and also by the rest of the cast.
Personally, contrary to what a lot of professional reviewers have said, I really enjoyed this and was really impressed, and that's without having quite the same live atmosphere. There were a couple of slightly dodgy shots at the beginning of the second half where there was a five second close up of one of the actors bottoms, but apart from that it was all very well run, including short videos and 'extras' during the interval.
When the performance finished most of the people in the audience applauded, as though they had actually been in the theatre, and I have to say that I'm looking back on this performance thinking that I saw it live, and I have to keep reminding myself that I wasn't actually in the same room as the performance, so I think this is a wonderful scheme that should be encouraged and continued. It fascinates me that I only found out about this through a news letter, there seemed to be no advertising for it in the cinema, to the point that when i went to book the tickets in advance I had to spend quite a long time describing it to the two lads behind the counter before one of them realised what I was asking for. And, for a cinema that probably held between 200 and 250 I don't think it was even half full.
On a final note, my other half, having just noticed that I'm writing this has just asked 'Are you being as harsh as those other reviewers?' When I said no he said 'Good, I thoroughly enjoyed it.' Although I have to admit that he did sound a little surprised by the fact. And I should probably mention Milton again, as I think he was Ben's favourite character.

New Years Resolutions

It's safe to say that, as far as new year's resolutions go, this week has been a complete and utter failure. The end of January and it's already fallen apart. I sent a selection of resolutions this year (I always do, doesn't mean that I manage them though!), but it's been a very unsuccessful week.
I'm meant to manage three lots of aerobic exercise and five lots of toning exercise (the toning only takes 10 - 15 minutes, so it's not as dedicated as it sounds), sew for at least two hours a week and write at least 2000 words, also, unofficially I'm meant to try and write at least two blogs a week... I haven't managed any of those this week, I will manage two blogs, but only if I cheat and write two blogs today, although I do intend to. Ive done no sewing (which was basically the purpose of this blog, to say that I don't have any pictures to put up this week), I've written less than 500 words, done one lot of aerobic and two lots of toning, I might manage another set of toning tonight, but I'm not convinced.
It's been a vedry unsettled week at work this week, which has left me feeling very unsettled, and consequently not very good at sitting down to do anything, at home. It's been feeling unsettled for most of the week at work, then I got called into the office of our CEO on Thursday to say that she was moving me to a different desk and giving me a differnt job. I hasten to add this was not something I'd applied for or requested, it just happened, so I'm now a little unnerved by the whole thing. Technically it's a promotion, so I should be all excited, but I'm generally just a little unnerved by it all, there's no rise for the extra responsibility, and I don't really understand what I'm meant to be doing. I understand that there's an end goal, but I don't really know what I'm meant to be doing short term (say when I walk into the office on Monday) and that scares me a wee bit.
Anyway, all this preamble really is is me explaining why there's by nothing in way of blogs this week, and also no updates on my stitching. Hoping to do some stitching this afternoon, but I don't think it'll be enough to make putting up a new picture worthwhile.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

An update on Winter's Majesty by Maia. I'm aware that it doens't look like it's grown much, but about 6 hours of work have gone into this since the last photo. I was off work sick one day this week :-( so I curled up in front of the TV with this, and this is what I achieved. I've since come to the conclusion that this page was either a really good idea to start on or a really bad idea. Having looked at the rest of the chart, this is by far the worst for confetti stitching, none of the other pages seem to be anywhere near as bad, and I think it's the confetti that means it's taking me so long to work on at the moment, once I've got bigger blocks of stitching I'm hoping it'll start to progress a bit faster. This knowledge has also made me think much more fondly of the project as a whole, now that I realised that it's not all going to be like this, and it isn't all going to be half stitches, which this section is. :-) Although I have to admit that I am looking forward to the time when it actually starts to resemble something, although I'm starting to suspect that that may be some time off.

Can you guess what it is yet? Infact, can you even tell that there's stitching on there? I'm aware that it's not easy, it's cream stitching in a cream background and my camera struggled. It was like that, without the flash, or with the flast which meant that it was basically a big square of white. My camera and I don't always get along brilliantly, especially after it decided that it didn't know how to focus last summer :-(

Anyway, another sepia from Vervaco, another present, they're just such wonderful kits for presents. In answer to the first question by the way, it's sky, lots and lots of sky, although I am aware that it really doesn't look like that at the moment, in fact unless you really squint, it doesn't look like there's even anything there at the moment. This one will, eventually, be a present for my dad and his fiance when they finally get round to getting married, although goodness knows how long off that's going to be.

I don't normally run more than one project at a time, it's just sort of ended up like that at the moment, and I'm currently undecided about whether I'm going to keep doing it when these are all completed or not. On the plus side it means that I can choose the chart that I'm in the mood to work on that night, but on the down side it takes a lot longer for each piece to grow because I'm splitting my (not very ample) time between three projects. The only reason I'm even doing it now is due to accident. I was working on Winter's Majesty for myself and started Tenderness for my partner, but that was meant to be (until he caught me) a suprise, so I needed something I could work on when he was in. Now I'm working on both whenever I wanted to. Then I decided that it was probably about time that I started working on my dad's wedding present, hence the three.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Me and Mr Darcy by Alexander Potter

Me and Mr Darcy by Alexander Potter tells the story of Emily, a hopeless romantic and Jane Austen fan who opts out of a holiday to Mexico with friends and instead decides to go on holiday to England to visit the land of Jane Austen and go on a literature tour. Here she meets Mr Darcy and romance ensues.

I had high hopes for this book and I have to say that I was incredibly disappointed by it. The original concept was quite original and I thought Ms Potter was going to do something quite interesting with it. She basically retold Pride and Prejudice, but with a lot less class than Austen ever did, and it's such an obvious retelling, there's nothing original in this book. She attempts to make herself seem clever by saying to the reader 'look how silly Emily is, she's making all the same mistakes as Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, isn't that foolish of her', but it doesn't make her look clever, it just points out that she hasn't managed to do anything creative with the plot and instead is just retelling someone else's story.
Emily's surrounding cast are Spike, a journalist who also happens to be on the tour, Eddie, a sweet coach driver and of course, Mr Darcy. Very early on Emily hears Spike describing her unfavourably (hmmm, where have I heard this before?) and consequently takes against him, so, it should come as no surprise that when Eddie tells her a heart breaking story of how he was once mistreated by Spike she feels sorry for him and longs to jump to his defence, but has been sworn to secrecy by Eddie, sound familiar? Now, I admit that I will read most forms of complete trash and consequently I could probably forgive most of the horrors of unoriginality if it wasn't for the complete and utter massacre that she makes of Mr Darcy's plot. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those die hard fans who can't stand to have the characters of the original book messed with, but I do resent someone taking a character name and then putting completely different characteristics into that person. I'm sorry, I'm generally quite laid back about books and will, as I've said, read pretty much any trash if I'm in the right room, but I found myself resenting this books depiction of Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy would not spend long periods of time gazing adoringly into the eyes of a woman that he barely knows, neither would he start, rather randomly spouting poetry, it was all a little embarssing if I'm honest, but not, as Ms Potter intended, for the characters, rather it was embarassing for herself.
To be honest it was an odd, and very predictable book, it could have been a very interesting take on an idea, possibly nothing spectacular, but something a bit more original (along the lines of Lost in Austen - check it out if you haven't seen it by the way) but instead it was just uncomfortable, stilted, and I'm sorry Miss Potter, but a little boring, completed with an embarassingly contrived and rather rushed ending.
This said I can't really recommend it, and I definitely have no intention of reading anything else by the author. As a fan of new takes on classics I can cross it off the (rather long) list of things that I'd like to read, but sadly, that's about the best I can say about it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


When I first started writing this blog I said that, as well as books and films it was also going to be about the progress of my stitching, and then I haven't done anything about that since writing this, so this is my initial stitching news.
Winter's Majesty by Maia.
I haven't actually done much of this one yet, and haven't done anything on this for nearly two months, and most of what has been done to date was done when I was off work for a day last year, I seemed to get loads done that day, but it barely seems to have grown since then, despite the fact that I have deen working on it occasionally. I'm aware that at the moment it mostly looks like I just threw stuff at the aida and waited to see what stuck.
Really enjoying it, and it's going to be an absolutely beautiful piece when it's finished, but it's quite complicated and takes a lot of concentration so it's not something that I can pick up for a few minutes then put down again, it's got to be something that I work on when I know I've got at least an hour to work on it, otherwise it's just not worth picking up.
There's a lot of confetti stitching in it, which means I'm really having to think about not trailing cotton across the back where it can be seen. There's also a lot of half stitches, which on 16 count aida isn't exactly something that I relish, but again, I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end.
I've been stitching on and off for years, but I always give my projects away, so when I finished my last project at the end of last year, my partner made me promise that my next project would be something that I'd keep for myself, so this is what I picked as the one I'd like for myself.

Tenderness by Vervaco.
The trouble with Vervaco is that I tend to find that it's called by different names on different sites. The site I bought this off it was called Tenderness, so that's what I call it.
I'm making this as a present for a partner, he's a chiropractor, and I thought it would look nice in his clinic, it was meant to be a secret, right up until the moment he caught me working on it, so, it's still a present but it's no longer a surprise and I can work on it when he's in the flat now.
Really lovely to stitch, I'm rather fond of these Vervaco sepia kits, this has only got seven or eight colours in it and looks absolutely amazing. Also, because it's so few colours it's really lovely to work on, it's nearly all nice easy blocks of colour to stitch, no flitting back and across the material to do one or two stitches but the final effect is just so striking.
I'm enjoying this one so much that I've actually just bought another of the Vervaco sepia's to do as a present for someone else as well.

Now that I've actually started writing about my stitching I do occasionally intend to publish picture sof my progress, although I'm not sure how much I'll be able to write each time, because my opinion is unlike to change that much, until I get the opportunity to see what I think of the final piece, but I'll see how it goes.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland tells the story of a group of travellers during the outbreak of the Great Plague. It centre's round and is told by Camelot, a traveller who sells religious artefacts (all fake), but he describes it as 'selling hope' to people. Camelot considers himself to be ugly having sustained an injury that's left him without one eye, an injury used to advantage when selling holy relics, as the injury can be used in the explanation of where the relics came from.
As plague breaks out a company of travellers (or liars) begins to band together as they travel from place to place trying to find somewhere free of plague. First are two musicians, Rodrigo and Jofre, a travelling conjuror, Zophiel, an artist, Osmond and his heavily pregnant wife Adela, Osmond, a one armed story teller, a pale haired child with psychic ability Narigorm and Pleasance, a midwife who has been caring for her, and finally, a one armed story teller called Osmond.
As the title suggests, each of these characters has a hidden secret from their past and throughout the course of the story, each of these are revealed.
The book is beautifully written and really brought the age to life, the terror that the plague instilled in people and the religious zealousy that it inspired in some people, but it also shows the other side of fear, the lengths that some people will go to to protect others, even at the risk of their own lives. It soon becomes aparent that half of thise company don't like each other, but they are a company and as such will protect each other, although whether this is for noble or selfish reasons is not always clear.
The biggest secret and the final twist of the book was, I felt, Camelot's secret, which I guessed a little over half way through after a rather sledge hammer hint dropped by a minor character, although my reason behind the secret was completely wrong.
The book does hold a mystic element to it, although more through the character's beliefs about what could or would happen to them rather than what actually happened, because of this it didn't feel out of place, as can often happen when a writer suddenly drops mysticism in.
The opening prologue is very odd and I have to admit that I read through it assuming that it would either all become clear later or that it wasn't important and so I didn't need to think about it. As it happens I was probably less than fifty pages from the end before I finally understood what it was about, although I may have got there earlier if it hadn't been for some of my pre-conceived ideas about characters and events.
Over all I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it took me a little while to get into, but once I did I was hooked and having taken me a couple of weeks to read the first half I polished the second half off in a couple of days. Maitland creates wonderful characters each one with a clear voice that's easily identifiable. Each character's story is unique and at no point do you feel that Maitland was just padding to fill space. Very well written and very enjoyable with an ending that may make you think a little.