Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: Coram Boy: The Play

Coram Boy: The Play
Coram Boy: The Play by Helen Edmundson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Admittedly, this review is based on seeing the National Theatre's film of its own 2005 production, so not all points hold.

The story plots the 18th Century lives of two boys and their obsession with one girl. One is the heir to a country estate who wants to devote his life to music instead; the other is the son of a thoroughly nasty character who takes money from unmarried mothers to send their babies to the Coram foundlings institution but then murders the children and pockets the cash. Not a nice man.

It's a compelling story, let down slightly by the failure of the two storylines to weave together. The National's production was let down by the intrusiveness of the music, which often drowned out the dialogue and is so prevalent that the show was practically an opera. It's other main failing was the cast, or possibly the director, who seemed to confuse running around, shrieking constantly and falling over with the more subtle art known as 'acting'.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Wintersmith

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not sure Terry Pratchett can write a bad book, but Wintersmith is unlikely to be many people's favourite Discworld novel. The plot is hardly gripping and old favourites Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg seem to have been brought in to support a fairly weak cast. These include the Feegles: probably the most irritating characters in the whole Discworld series. If I were Scottish, I would probably find their stereotyped speech and behaviour offensive, but since I'm English it's merely irritating.

The plot concerns likeable teen witch Tiffany, who inadvertently becomes the love interest of the Wintersmith, the god of winter. She ambles around the rural areas of the disc, learning and dispensing witchy wisdom while trying to fend off the attentions of the Wintersmith and rescue summer. Some of the plot seems forced, with characters such as Roland being given a role simply because they were in earlier books and readers would wonder why they had disappeared. Horace the cheese seems to be there for no reason whatsoever.

As an opponent, the Wintersmith seems more of an annoyance than a menace, but the old witch Miss Treason is a lot of fun, keeping Tiffany on her toes while revealing the wicked and funny tricks of the real trade: helping people not through magic but by exploiting their credulity.

Yes, there's some trademark humour and clever philosophical musings that make Wintersmith a fun read, but Pratchett isn't really on top form here.

Note: The publisher deserves some criticism here. The book is labelled "A Story of Discworld". This, apparently, means that it's for young adults, which explains why it sometimes seems simplistic and shallow. But there's nothing to warn the uninitiated that this is YA.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Fifty Sheds of Grey

Fifty Sheds of Grey
Fifty Sheds of Grey by C.T. Grey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The only joke in this book is in the title. How far can you go with shed-based puns mimicking mild erotica? Not far, it seems. This isn't a book: it's a novelty gift item and you can read it in ten minutes, but the joke wears thin after five. I only read it because a friend left it at a party. I'm a bit embarrassed to have read it at all.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm
Animal Farm by George Orwell adapted by Ian Wooldridge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was intrigued to know how Animal Farm could be adapted to the stage. The answer is, it hasn't been. My drama group had great fun reading it, but at no point could I see any drama going on. What we have is Orwell's classic prose in dialogue form, which would make a great radio play, with vague stage directions for the two or three bits of action (e.g. "There is a revolution and Jones is expelled").

The problem isn't that an imaginative director can't portray a cast of animals; it's that nothing really happens in the play. It's all talk with some very long speeches, which seldom makes for great theatre. I didn't think Animal Farm could be adapted to the stage. On this evidence, I still think so.

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