Sunday, 16 July 2017

"Green e-yd Monster": Othello at Shakespeare's Globe

Thursday 20th April 2017 Matinee Performance.
Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 'Tis the green e-yd monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds upon." - Act 3 Scene 3

We'd heard from a fellow classmate that the production took some "modern risks, such as Katy Perry," beforehand. At the time, I wasn't too sure about how to respond to that, as my goal in going to see Othello at Shakespeare's Globe was to gain knowledge of my Shakespeare A Level text ahead of final exams in the manner it would have originally been performed. Nevertheless, this is a production that if it ever returned to the Globe, I'd be in the queue rushing to buy multiple tickets - that's how good it was.

I don't have the greatest track record with live theatre. Having attended a lot as a young child, as I entered high school that drifted into nothing, and before Othello, the last theatre production I'd seen was the tour of the West End production of The Lion King back in 2013. 

Like any theatrical production, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. And Othello is a play where the clues are in the staging. There is staging interally and externally of the play, and seeing it live was to me essential to understanding Iago's influence. Also, whilst Shakespeare was a master of the written and spoken word, there's a serious lack of stage directions within his plays. How a line is interpreted can differ from one reader to another, which again is why it needs to be seen not read. My opinions may change when I see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child next month, but in my eighteen years, I don't think I've ever witnessed something as hauntingly beautiful as the opening scene of Othello. From the second that candles lowered from the ceiling and were gradually extinguished to a lulling choral rendition of Video Games by Lara Del Ray, I knew that I would love this production. Such an opening - starting at the end of the play to the bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on a bloody bed - initially threw me off entirely,  and I was stunned by how McDougal chose to cut straight to the chase and start at the end in a cyclical structure. Nevertheless, it was a powerful decision. One of the beauties of Othello is that due to the audience's consistent alliance alongisde Iago, dramatic irony means we always know of the destruction that will inevitable come under Iago's tyranny. Here, claustrophobia stiffled into suffocation, and as an audience we were smothered with the painful awareness of what a brutal conclusion would transpire.

Admittedly the most fitting phrase to describe this production hails to the Guardian's review, calling this saga a "candlelit tragedy," and nothing could be more perfect. Several scenes, particularly following the pivotal turning point of  Act 3 Scene 3, were enacted with the characters moving across the stage with Elizabethan-style candlesticks, allowing the flames to dance and burn along with their own ignited rage. Once again, spending these 2.5 hours in the darkness only lit by chandeliers and small flames added to the claustrophobic atmosphere, but also strikingly symbolised Othello's final motives in killing Desdemona; a woman who is sees as simultaneously villainous and pure in his dubious line of "put out the light, then put out the light."

McDougal's interpretation of the play certainly blurred the lines of acceptability in Elizabethan times and modern losses of stigma in a questionable manner, effectively diluting some of the important motifs and themes of Othello. The two key cases of casting which impacted on these ideas was in how Emilia was portrayed by a black woman as well as Michael Cassio was now Michelle Cassio, and the relationship between Cassio and courtesean Bianca was LGBTQ+. These depictions kept the play current, and appropriately fitted our modern day, increasingly liberal society in a beautiful orchestration. However, they also detracted from the essential point of Othello. For example; how does it seem like a plausible motive for Iago to cause so much destruction on the grounds of Othello's race when he is married to a black woman? And how has a woman made it into such high realms of power in Venetian society, when as Brabantio remarks, women are seen as "maiden[s] never bold"? One can argue that Ellen McDougal's direction of Othello was far more feminist and diverse than the original play that Shakespeare wrote, but that simultaneously raises issues of detracting from some of the key themes of the play. These most notably include gender politics, double standards in men and women (particularly in the grounds of Cassio and Bianca). 

Overall, the company and cast behind this production brought Othello back to life like a reignited match to a candle - slow-burning and exceptionally dark (both literally and figuratively). Each and every performance perfectly aligned with the characters Shakespeare had so carefully crafted, but through modern elements added a harrowing glimpse at how the events which transpire in Elizabethan Venice and Cyprus do have the means of still occuring in a present day world where racism, sexism and homophobia still run deep in some veins of society. As I said before, I couldn't be more glad for academic as well as theatrical purposes, that I got to experience this play, not only through being in the room, but through being in a seat where occasionally characters were so close and even spoke to those in our row. If McDougal's production ever returns to the Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I'm sure I won't be the only avid Shakespeare lover who rushes to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Oh, the Places:: Oxford

19th November 2016: Merely the word "Oxford" triggers images of history, dusty old books that smell of intellect, and Harry Potter, to me. It had always been a place that I'd visit someday but not quite yet. I know quite a few people who had always discussed "Oxbridge" applications: my childhood best friend's life goal when we were 10 was to get into Oxford, and since then I've met a lot of people who have applied. But it was never for me. To me, the nature of those universities appears as toxic, with people living in bubbles that come with a slight culture shock upon graduating. It was an atmsophere that I'd never wanted to be a part of, and still didn't when I discovered Oxford Brookes University. 

The degree I intend to commence in September isn't done in every University, and I'm very picky when it also comes to course content and location. On the page, this University had the course, it had the location, but in reality coming away from an open day, it was possibly the most poorly co-ordinated event I had ever seen, and my mum and I came away feeling massively disheartened. It was my fifth choice on UCAS, but as soon as the offer came in I declined it. 

Where we'd intended to spend 5 hours at the open day, we got in 90 minutes. Suddenly left with hours ahead of us before our train (that's what you get for booking advanced tickets), we decided to head into the city centre, and it was every charmingly pastiche cliche you could possibly imagine it to be.

Oxford University Press' bookshop. 

The cutest, tiniest alumni merchandise shop, which was also bursting with Harry Potter merchandise too. The owner and I accidentally ended up having a 15 minute conversation about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I had seen a few days earlier at the London premiere.

What must be one of my favourite photos ever: Bodleian Library and the surrounding colleges of Oxford University.

Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wonderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her English city. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

REVIEW: This Careless Life by Rachel McIntyre

This Careless LifeLiv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy are auditioning for a new reality TV show. Producer Cassandra has warned them the process might be tough, but they are excited and keen to get on with things, confident that they can handle anything. But when Cass produces a photo of a body, everyone realises that they may have something to hide after all…

Editing Note: Thanks to Egmont for sending me This Careless Life for review. 

I have decided, in the planning of this review, that the easiest way of getting through this is through Alan Rickman (RIP) GIFs, because frankly they just seem to summarise my opinions on this book.

I first read Rachel McIntyre's debut, Me and Mr J, two years ago prior to publication. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was a fascinating read and I praised it generously in my review for pushing the boundaries in YA. I had high hopes, however, these did not transcend into her second novel, The #1 Rule for Girls, which felt like conformation to the same poorly written YA that seems to be consistently published nowadays. With one hit and one miss, I had partially given up on McIntyre, but then This Careless Life arrived through the letterbox... I was in the midst of exams and didn't care to read something that I knew I wouldn't like, but then a friend informed me that this was a retelling of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, and suddenly I had to read this. Two weeks into the summer holidays, and this was the third book of my break I picked up.

Sadly, I was right about it being a disappointment. 

Image result for alan rickman sigh gif

Maybe this would be a perfectly average, or okay book if it wasn't for the fact that it is intended as a retelling of An Inspector Calls, but all my main issues with this book stem from the poor parallels to the wonderful play. If you look over statistics, An Inspector Calls is one of the most well-loved texts studied for GCSE English Literature - a subject in which texts studied are usually loathed by students. Of course I am biased and will take the antithesis opinion to this as an enthused English Literature student, but the point here is that where so many students who don't like reading despise this subject, they love Priestley's play. That is why to me, it shouldn't be touched unless you're going to do it well, and that is where This Careless Life failed.

An Inspector Calls is a masterpiece of shocks, twists, and psychological thrill, if you're going to retell it, this is exactly how it shouldn't be done. This Careless Life feels like an attempt to "dumb down" a classic so that young audiences "get it," when the reality is that this does not need simplification. An attempt to dilute the reality of the play into something that conforms to what is assumed to be the stereotypical teenage ideology and mentality within this book is highly problematic, and is far from a credit to the play that presumably the premise and idea for this novel branched from. In this case, the apple fell far, far from the tree of literature.

One hugely disappointing element is the potential that this could have had to be great. Every ingredient needed to make an excellent story lay on the blurb, but the contents didn't reflect that summary in the slightest. All the magic that could've been brought into this was completely gone. Cass simulatenously was and wasn't the Inspector. The secrets the four characters actually had were nothing to fuss over and a waste of time, where actually, if you're going to contribute to one person's suicide they would have been far more significant than driving past them and breaking down (this is an example of just one of the four catalysts presumably leading up to the mystery within the novel). And on top of this, the Inspector of sorts actively went and told the characters of the girl using different names, and planted stories into their mouths - the beauty of the Inspector in Priestley's play is that each character works out their connection to the woman in the photo by themselves, and never reveals to them that it's the same woman. They just work it out on their own. Everything that could've made this genuinely compelling was stripped and instead we got a poorly written rebelling that didn't really need to exist.

Image result for alan rickman sigh gif

I hate to be sharp, shrew, and bitter, but as someone who adores the printed word and literature to the point where I am about to start a degree in it, I cannot emphasise how - for lack of a better phrase - distasteful This Careless Life is in relation to the play it is hideously attempting to immitate. If you want a story that has you gripped and enthralled from start to finish, and reeling for days after, then do yourself a favour, and buy a copy of An Inspector Calls, not this.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

REVIEW: The Black Key (Lone City #3)

The Black Key (The Lone City, #3)Violet and the Society of the Black Key are preparing to launch an attack on the royalty, and Violet has a crucial role to play. She must lead the surrogates as they infiltrate the Auction and break down the walls of the Lone City. But with her sister, Hazel, imprisoned in the palace of the Lake, Violet is torn. In order to save her sister, she must abandon her cause and her friends and return to the Jewel.

For a conclusion I've been waiting over a year for, and two years if we're counting the whole trilogy, I feel kind of deflated by this ending. True, I got everything I wanted in the ending, but it just didn't feel as strong as The Jewel or The White Rose

That being said, this conclusion peaks where so many ends to other YA dystopia/fantasy trilogies fail. Violet doesn't have a 'Chosen One' complex: Until the very end, she's adamant that this isn't just about her, no matter how much she has to go it alone, she's aware that it isn't all down to her, and for once - unlike so many YA protagonists - accepts the help, and accepts that they're ALL 'chosen ones.' The romance didn't dominate over the plot, and instead flowed subtly throughout the story, meaning that the relationship between Violet and Ash never felt forced, and came off as natural. As well as this, there was SO much death, and each one had it's brutal impact. I like that Ewing chose to kill off so many characters throughout the course of the book and not just in a one-chapter-battle; it helped to build tension, but also strengthened the cause that the Black Key was fighting for. 

Once again, Ewing is excellent at character development. Each character, no matter their prominence or lack thereof has a rich backstory which as it unfolds makes me as a reader feel both hatred and adoration for each and every character. It's something impressive that fails to often come across in YA, and is certainly something that I'll miss now that this trilogy is over.

But on the whole, this felt a little rushed. I could have done with a little less unneeded description and a little more plot development. Whilst this is the final book in the trilogy, The Black Key doesn't even hit 300 pages, and the ending, in particular the final overthrowing of the royalty felt hasty. It was crammed into less than 80 pages, and where there was a lot of 'connecting to the elements,' and exposition those descriptions were wasted words where we needed more description of what was actually happening.

Furthermore, most of the events that occured in The Black Key were highly predictable. I guessed most of the plot twists that were coming the second I closed The White Rose, and so nothing that was intentionally there to enthrall the reader came as a shock to me. No matter how much I appreciate this book concluding the trilogy, it didn't have nearly as much of the twisted flare that I so adored in The Jewel and The White Rose, but rather, as previously mentioned, felt like a hasty publication to conform to a "one-a-year" trilogy.

I'm glad I read this trilogy - I loved it, and have loved the wait of anticipating every new novel and novella. It's a refreshing spin on the typical tropes of royalty, bureaucracy, and political corruption in a YA categorised series. Each book is wonderful in it's own right, but this final one just fell a little weaker in comparison to The Jewel and The White Rose. Nevertheless, I'll miss it, and am curious to see where Amy Ewing's writing takes her next.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Summer TBR [2017]

After several traumatic months of constant revision, and serious deprivation of fresh air, I'm back (again accidentally depriving myself of fresh air by being inside writing this) and am free to read all the books! Slaying the dragons as I had promised in my hiatus, was brutal, and at times incredibly unfair, but I made it through and hope to get to my desired castle come results day. For now, I'm one week into summer and am seriously struggling to adjust to the amount of free time currently within my grasp. So what better than to spend that time reading? I haven't read anything that wasn't for A Levels and college since early March, so many books have accumulated in the since then. Without further ado, here is my Summer 2017 TBR.

Girlhood by Cat Clarke
If you didn't know already, Cat Clarke is one of my favourite authors. Every time a new book of hers is published, I binge read them in a day or two. They're dark, often twisted, and are painfully accurate depictions of real life issues as well as consistently keeping me on the edge of my seat. With Girlhood, I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the book a couple of months before publication. Sadly, I hadn't had time to read this, so it has been perched on my TBR stack, waiting to be picked up for a while now; guarenteed to be my first read of the summer. [REVIEW]

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn is a book that I have spent maybe two years waiting for it to be released in the UK. It did the booktube rounds back in 2015, to rave reviews, and I have desperately wanted it since. Finally, this was published here by Hodder in April, but much to my disappointment, this was really bad. Anyway... moving on!

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
This is a book I've been searching for in my specific edition for months. I finally found it in a charity shop in a rare break from revision and it is STUNNING. Admittedly I've never read any of Thomas' fiction, but my eyes have poured themselves over her non-fiction book on writing: Monkeys with Typewriters. The End of Mr Y  is anything like her non-fiction writing, then I reckon I'm going to love this book.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
As I said in my favourite books of 2016 post, after Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Becky Chambers' first book - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - was my favourite book of the year. As someone who has never been into sci-fi, this revolutionised my opinions on the genre entirely. Having met Chambers at a signing just after reading TLWtaSAP, I also got A Closed and Common Orbit, the somewhat sequel, signed at the time, and have been saving it until the summer. I cannot wait to read this.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I've tried reading this 600 page book twice before, but the right moment has never quite come. When I first wrote about how I was outgrowing YA, this book was recommended to me countless times. And from what I've read, The Secret History is intense and enthralling, but I just didn't have the time to invest into such a long book at the times I picked this up before now. Now, I have many, many weeks ahead of me, and what better way to spend that time then reading?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give rightfully exploded on the internet and the NYT Bestsellers List when it was first published earlier this year, and for very good reason. From the onset, this is going to be a contemporary read like no other, and the kind of read that should've existed before now. But alas, it's finally here and feels like it should be mandatory reading for anyone. In April I was lucky enough to transcribe and blog Angie Thomas' event at a local Waterstones for their teen department, and having spent the entire event swinging between laughing, having epiphanies, and crying, I walked away with a sheer thirst for this book. 

Quiet by Susan Cain
Not much to say on this, really. Fun fact #1: I'm an INFJ and am hugely introverted. Quietness is my comfort zone, although many people can be critical of that. Cain's book is meant to highlight the importance of having introverts in the world, and as a result, this just feels like a book I definitely need to read before starting University in September.

Letters From My Father by Barack Obama
Because we all miss and love Obama...

Naturally, there's also books that in the many long long months of revision that I have added to my TBR but haven't got around to buying. These include: The Crucible by Arthur Miller - because I loved Death of a Salesman at A2, A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (you have no idea how long I have been waiting to read the final installment in this trilogy), This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab, The Power by Naomi Alderman.

I should probably take the opportunity to note here that these aren't all my unread books. In mid September I'll be moving to University, and whilst my degree will be very book heavy (English Literature student, here), I'd like to take a few books with me for recreational reading, if I get the time - if not, then that's also perfectly okay! This reading list may be subject to change over the course of the summer and will alter once I found out where I'll be doing by degree, because following Results Day you can guarentee I'll be adding books from my reading lists to this pile. Given that I don't - at this point in time - know if I'll be going to be at my first or second choice university, I intend to (if I can) try and cross-reference the reading lists of both universities in order to read anything that comes up on both. 

I'm never very good at sticking to TBRs, as evident by the fact that within a week of summer beginning, I've borrowed seven books I didn't plan on reading from the library. Although it may work for others, I don't believe in conforming myself to a tight TBR unless it's for academic purposes, so whether I'll stick to this or not is questionnable, but eitherway, if there's books left over then I'll just take them to University.

What's on your summer TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, 19 June 2017

REVIEW: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

GirlhoodHarper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can't escape the guilt oYA f her twin sister's Jenna's death, and her own part in it - and she knows noone else will ever really understand. But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels...loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died. Then Kirsty's behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper's? And why is she so obsessed with Harper's lost sister? Soon, Harper's closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.

Well then...

If you've been here a while, then you'll know very well that I'm a sucker for any Cat Clarke book. After finishing the Harry Potter series, her books (or at least those which had been published at the time) were a gateway for me into YA fiction. Her books, all of them, are page-turners that can easily be flown through in a couple of days. Clarke keeps you in her grip from start to finish, and never ceases to let you go, even for days after when your reeling from what just occured in 300 pages. Girlhood was no exception to this. This differed from Clarke's former books in many respects - it just had a different tone - but nevertheless, from page one, I knew I was once again being immersed in the words of one of my favourite authors.

The setup for Girlhood will appeal to any reader from the onset: Scottish boarding school surrounded by beautiful landscapes (but as a result very isolated from urbanisation), and a close-knit friendship group where whilst there's beauty on the surface, there are transparent splinterings underneath the surface. Logistically, the actual setting not only appeals to me as Hogwarts alumni and a lover of boarding-school books when I was younger, but it means that the tenseness of these friends can unfold in a manner which is naturalistic, and in the midst of the chaos that unfolds within these pages, creates a faultless eerie atmosphere for the tenser scenes. 

In many respects Girlhood is the perfect YA book. Clarke's books are known for discussing issues that need to be spoken about, or issues that occur in society that we need to be more aware of, such as teenage pregnancy, kidnapping, substance abuse - a more young adult version of Jacqueline Wilson's books if you will, but with an added sprinkle of thriller and mystery. But to top off this excellent formula, this book is incredibly diverse for a boarding school. Girlhood has the diversity we need to see in every YA book. Clarke seemlessly yet with such power pushes the undercurrents of class divides, ethnic diversity, and LGBTQ representation. It was so refreshing to see a lesbian and bisexual pair of roomates who don't end up together, and actively rebel against the assumptions surrounding them that they will. Girlhood criticises societal generic assumptions about LGBTQ+ peoples in a manner that we need to see everywhere, not just in the occasional book. Personally, Clarke's seventh book should be - regardless of genre - the book that every other YA should aspire to be in terms of diversity.

Whilst I did love many aspects of this book, there were problems, some of which may just be personal to me. Having read every one of the author's books, I think I've reached the point where I see the twists coming and usually predict them correctly. Where the plot twists are coming, they should shock me, but instead have little to no effect. This is not a criticism of Clarke's books, because I have devoured and adored each and every one of them, and it isn't something that would be picked up on by the casual reader. I'll of course, continue to purchase and support this amazing author, but Girlhood wasn't the same emotional rollercoaster (that really it should be) as Torn, Entangled and Undone were, just because I've become used to the formula that occurs. 

Overall, the book had an exciting, fast-moving plot, but I feel like the ending was too abrupt for me to be satisfied. Given all the buildup that had been occuring throughout the novel and the disturbing acts that had occured, I was disappointed to see such a sudden reconcilliation after what had happened. The ending was the sole part of Girlhood that felt like a rush to the finish line, rather than wrapping the book up properly and a little more realistically - because I don't think anyone would be that placid in accepting what just unfolded in the plot. Furthermore, because of the way this took place, some seeds of information felt like they were just seeds, rather than points that really could have done with flourishing. As an Anxiety sufferer, I was frustrated by how Ama's Anxiety was briefly mentioned as causing her trouble, but never given any more explanation than that. Instead where something needed to be depicted, it was concealed in order to continue to follow a narrator who seemed to be too ignorant to pick up on what was clearly going on from the start. 

Girlhood is yet another whirlwind of a book from Cat Clarke, who at this point belongs with the writing gods in my eyes. Although I knew what was coming, and saw through every hurdle in the plot, the novel still kept me intrigued from start to finish, and left me with an emptiness of knowing I don't have another new Clarke novel to immerse myself in. It undeniably has its issues, but the portrayals of grief, wealth, sexuality, and the complexities of friendships were tremendous. I like every other reader, wait on baited breath to see what Clarke comes up with next...

Thank you so much to Nina for sending me Girlhood on behalf of Quercus for review. Girlhood was released on 4th May 2017, so go and grab your copies!