Theatre Review: Nell Gwynn

nellgwynne

Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton

Theatre: Apollo West End, London

Dates: 4 February – 30 April

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I’m a massive theatre fan and try to catch many of the West End shows when possible. I’ve managed to watch most of the classics including Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Wicked (in NYC no less!) and many more. Similar to YA fiction, it is one of my indulgences and something I’m quite passionate about so I’m going to try and feature more of my visits on this blog as a nice way¬†to intersperse the book reviews.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to previews of Nell Gwynn earlier this month. The play, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Jessica Swale, has transferred from Shakespeare’s Globe to the West End for a limited season of 12 weeks with Gemma Arterton taking over the helm from Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Nell Gwynn is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, and is about the true-life story of orange-seller and prostitute turned actress and King’s mistress. In the play, Nell is discovered by actor Charles Hart who introduces her to the King’s Company, a theatre group, and with whom she undergoes training to become a leading female actress. Charles II is in attendance during one of her performances and upon seeing Nell he becomes besotted. As she begins a relationship with the King, she is forced by his chief minister to choose between Charles and her successful career on stage and her decision has far reaching consequences for both the King’s Company and her family.

I was quite excited about the play as it stars Gemma Arterton in the titular¬†role and after seeing Arterton excel in feisty roles in movies including Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe and St. Trinian’s, I was interested to see how she would play the ultimate historical anti-heroine Nell Gwynn. Needless to say, Arterton delivers this character really well and does justice to Gwynn’s playful, impetuous¬†attitude as well as showing the caring and ambitious girl underneath the persona. Gemma Arterton’s¬†natural¬†cheeky demeanour meant that you almost forgot she was playing a character. The play had a few upbeat and catchy song and dance numbers (some of which I still find myself humming three weeks on!) and Arterton seemed like a natural performing on stage.

The supporting cast were also fantastic but my favourite had to be Nancy, the theatre tailor and Nell’s dresser¬†– she easily had some of the best lines and quips along with the overenthusiastic and over-dramatic Kynaston¬†who believed he could play a female part better than a woman. Watching the romance develop between Nell and the usually confident and unflappable¬†Charles II, who became flustered¬†in her presence, was charming – it remained¬†true to the fact that whilst Nell was Charles II’s mistress, there was a genuine and life-long affection between the two figures.

The play is set during Restoration England when Charles II was on the throne and the country enjoyed a resurgent cultural scene following the demise of Thomas Cromwell and his staid regime. As such, the play features colourful¬†characters, vivacious outfits and bawdy humour. As Gwynn started out life as a prostitute and then went on to be the King’s mistress, the humour was incredibly funny with risqu√© jokes and double entrendres abounding that had the audience in hysterics.¬†The costumes and set design weren’t¬†elaborate – since approximately half of the play is set in a theatre, there wasn’t much needed to physically alter the stage. The production instead kept the cast centre stage and didn’t let detailed¬†sets detract from the drama. Gemma Arterton’s costumes were fabulous, her transformation from a poor prostitute to the King’s mistress is beautifully¬†reflected in her outfits.

Despite the progressive art and cultural scene, the play is set against¬†the backdrop of the introduction of the first stage actresses¬†– a really radical notion at the time. The play has an overt and powerful feminist theme which is handled deftly by Jessica Swale. Arterton’s playful interpretation of the character meant it didn’t feel heavy handed but the audience still left with the message clear, that despite her humble beginnings, in a male-dominated world, Gwynn made herself¬†a force to be reckoned with and was ¬†able to make difficult but independent¬†decisions¬†for herself and her own happiness.

If you’re up for a laugh along and¬†some catchy song and dance numbers all wrapped up in a powerful feminist message, I would urge you to go and watch Nell Gwynn during its limited season run –¬†there’s a reason why it transferred to the West End… ūüôā

 

Bookish Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Only Ever Yours¬†by Louise O’Neill

Published: July 2015 by Quercus

Genre: Dystopian

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô°

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Only Ever Yours is author Louise O‚ÄôNeill‚Äôs debut novel¬†which makes it all the more impressive that it¬†won the YA Book Prize this year. There‚Äôs been a lot of hype surrounding¬†this book so I was looking forward to diving into this.¬†First things first, I think this book is best enjoyed going into it with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. I’ve kept the review spoiler-free but do avoid if you’re planning on reading the book!

Only Ever Yours¬† is set in a speculative future where females are no longer conceived naturally. Instead girls (called eves) are “grown” and trained at the School to take on one of three role¬†when they come of age: a Companion, the most desirable position as wives to wealthy and influential men, a Concubine, or a Chastity, women relegated to raising and instructing eves in their education. frieda and isabel have been best friends since they entered the School. However, the pressure of final year sees isabel going off the rails putting her beauty, and her #1 ranking, at risk. As the pool of potential husbands¬†are introduced to the eves, frieda is forced to do what she can to survive – even if that means sacrificing her friendship with isabel in the process…

The book¬†has been described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and¬†Mean Girls,¬†but it was a really fresh and interesting take on feminist ideas and patriarchal society. O’Neill world-builds really effectively, the disturbing nature of the School and the society are in the details – the girls’ strict food intake, their room decor and their structured lives.¬†I also adored O‚ÄôNeill‚Äôs writing style. Her words and sentences are raw and unforgiving, and I was particularly drawn to her similes – some of which actually made me physically uncomfortable (hard to do!)

They must be dead now, those trees, like everything else. Rotted away, decaying like female babies in the uterus. Decomposing from the inside out.

The characters are simply put, unlikeable – they are vapid and spiteful towards one another and have little, to no, redeeming qualities but that is the whole point. They are a reflection of the depraved society they live in.¬†The girls’ every day is punctuated by rankings and comparisons, which define their worth. The subliminal messaging they are constantly bombarded with whilst asleep and the not-so-subliminal messages of the Chastitys sermons are brutal and brainwashing.¬†There is no let up and no loyalty, the brutality the eves show one another is exhausting but also, uncomfortably familiar too.

Fat girls should be made obsolete.

I wasn‚Äôt sold on frieda‚Äôs actions towards the end of the book. Whilst they demonstrated her desperation and complete lack of control over her fate, there were times when I wanted to shake her for making naive¬†choices and silly¬†mistakes. isabel is an intentionally distant character, her story is revealed rather slowly, but I would‚Äôve liked to get to know her character a bit better, beyond the numerous flashbacks, especially as frieda worshipped her best friend throughout most of their childhood. There were also some fascinating concepts introduced by the author, such as “Underground” and “female aberrants”, left unexplored which was a shame. The sticking point for many reviewers seems to concern the ending. I must admit I¬†wasn‚Äôt totally convinced by the wrap up –¬†it seemed a bit rushed – but neither was I expecting a neatly tied bow, it’s just not that sort of book.

All in all,¬†I was blown away by the sheer intensity of the topics explored in Only Ever Yours and O’Neill’s¬†unflinching style. This is a difficult and uncomfortable read, but it‚Äôs supposed to be. O‚ÄôNeill takes the worst of our society and cranks it up a couple of notches. The reader is forced to confront situations, that while not realistic (yet!), is not a total stretch of the imagination to believe.¬†Definitely one not to miss!

If you’re looking for something similar, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld is a cult YA classic. Otherwise, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which O’Neill drew inspiration from is a modern dystopian classic.

Have you read Only Ever Yours? What were your thoughts on the ending?¬†Let me know¬†in the comments below ūüôā

Bookish Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Published: June 2014 by Sphere

Genre: Crime, Mystery

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô°

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

The Silkworm¬†was one of 2014’s most anticipated releases. The book is the second installment in the Cormoran Strike series written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Having immensely enjoyed the first book,¬†The Cuckoo’s Calling,¬†I was looking forward to getting stuck into the sequel.

Cormoran Strike, fresh from his success solving the Lula Landry case in The Cuckoo’s Calling¬†is roped into a missing person mystery when the wife of Owen Quine, a has-been author, turns up at Strike’s office asking him to find her husband. The now famous private investigator¬†finds himself swept up in the world of literary intrigue as egotistical authors, decades-old rivalry, and domestic un-bliss take over the pages. It soon becomes clear that a manuscript the missing author¬†was working on may hold the key to his disappearance…

The premise of The¬†Silkworm was a nice departure from the celebrity and socialite world we were introduced to in¬†The Cuckoo’s Calling. Instead, the reader is immersed in the publishing world, meeting characters that ranged from competitive authors, ruthless agents, tired editors and successful publishers – all of them intriguing and compelling. I really enjoyed the strong characters, both the literary ones as well as the usual smattering of mistresses and partners. The character roll-call was a little difficult to keep track of, but Galbraith helped us by narrowing down the list of suspects nicely. I also loved the rich descriptions of London – as a Londoner I enjoyed being able to picture the exact locations as I was personally familiar with many of them.

The Silkworm¬†also gave us a much better insight into the lives and backgrounds of Strike and Robin which was a welcome breather every few chapters. Their personal dramas and their interactions with others away from work was done well and made the duo more relatable. I found the long-awaited meeting between Matthew, Robin’s fiance, and Strike really amusing (JKR recently tweeted that this was one of her favourite chapters¬†to write!)

The ins-and-outs of the publishing world were really interesting to read about – especially knowing it’s JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym and that some of the things that happen in the book may reflect her own experiences. The actual manuscript, Bombyx Mori, (Latin for silkworm) which was the focus of the book was fascinating, if a little confusing. But I liked how it showed¬†the immense number of people and amount of work involved in the development of a novel – from conception to release.

There were a couple of the things that stopped the book from achieving a solid five star rating from¬†me. It took me a while to get into the book – truth be told, I began The Silkworm in June 2014 but abandoned it about 60 pages in. It is understandable that with a murder mystery, the characters/suspects must be established first but I think the “crime” which was a huge and gruesome¬†hook came a little too far in. I also felt the “reveal” was a little delayed – Strike and Robin are aware of the culprit a few chapters before the reader yet when the reveal came, it was rushed and I found it a little anticlimactic.

Overall though, the plot kept me guessing “whodunnit” and the pacing through much of the middle of the book kept me turning the pages. This book seemed to set up some significant¬†character development for Strike and Robin which I’m looking forward to exploring in the next installment, Career of Evil, due out in October this year.

Have you read any of the Coromoran Strike novels? Are you a die-hard Harry Potter fan and is that how you came across the Strike series? What did you think of The Silkworm? Sound off in the comments below ūüôā

Bookish Review: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

A Thousand Pieces of YouA Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Published: November 2014 by Harper Teen

Genre: Sci-fi, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♡

Goodreads  |  Buy on Amazon

Claudia Gray’s new sci-fi series has captured the imagination of many¬†readers. This is a book I definitely judged by the cover (guilty!) and like a lot of people, I think it¬†is undeniably gorgeous. I like that it hinted at the protagonist’s talent as well as the dimension-travelling theme of the book rather than just a generic pretty cover which can be common these days.

A quick summary: Marguerite Caine is the daughter of world-famous physicists who have managed to invent a device, the Firebird, which enables inter-dimensional travel. But knowledge like that puts the entire¬†family into danger and soon Marguerite’s¬†parents are betrayed by their assistant Paul. Marguerite, joined by Theo, another of her parents’ assistants, is soon jumping dimensions chasing after Paul in a bid to avenge her murdered father. However, she quickly realises people and things are not as they seem and some would kill to get their hands on the secrets of the Firebird…

The story was set up using flashbacks showing¬†how the Firebird came about and the dynamics between the characters. Marguerite has grown up having her parent’s assistants around and often living with them in the family home. Paul and Theo have been around longer than usual and have become fixtures in the Caine home and so Paul’s betrayal stings Marguerite badly. It was inspiring to see her fight through her raw grief for her father and¬†pursue Paul despite the dangers.

I loved the intricacy of the world building which is crucial to any fantasy or sci-fi book and Claudia Gray has done a fabulous job. Each dimension that Marguerite travelled to was really creative in its inception and (sometimes radically) different so it kept me on my toes trying to anticipate how similar or different each new dimension would be. I particularly enjoyed reading the science behind the Firebird (I know!) and it made the whole premise more believable.

[BEWARE HERE BE SPOILERS:¬†A couple of thoughts on why the book lost a star in rating. There were points where I would’ve liked to see¬†a bit more independence from Marguerite. She was accompanied at most points throughout the book by either Paul or Theo who were on hand to help her out of tight spots. Also the fact that both her father was alive and Theo absolved of guilt in the end felt a little too convenient to¬†me. It would’ve been interesting to see Marguerite grow from her experience of these negative aspects of the¬†Firebird. That said though, I did like how there were clues in the flashbacks as to¬†what was really going on – it made me go back to chapters as I read the book to find hints and that kept it fresh and intriguing!]

To finish, one of my absolute favourite bits was the Russian dimension (not a spoiler I hasten to add! Get a closer look at that gorgeous cover because it’s on there clear as day). Yes, it was a little clich√©d and there were some plot holes that went against¬†the laws of dimension travel that Gray had outlined BUT I’m a huge historical fiction fan¬†so I¬†fell totally in love with this world. Gray’s description was lovely and vivid. ¬†Also,¬†the¬†question of fate and whether love can transcend time and place was something I enjoyed and I’m looking forward to seeing it explored in the next books.

The next book is due out in November later this year and I’m already salivating after the sure-to-be beautiful cover! There will be three books in total in the Firebird series. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in sci-fi especially for fans of David Levithan’s Every Day and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

Have you read A Thousand Pieces of You? Did the cover draw you to it? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments below ūüôā

Bookish Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

lola-boy-next-door

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Series: Anna and the French Kiss

Published: September 29th 2011 by Dutton Books

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô°

Goodreads |  Buy on Amazon

I was excited about reading Lola and the Boy Next Door¬†having read the awesome Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss which is easily in my Top 10 favourite YA books. I was looking forward to more relatable protagonists and swoonworthy romantic interests and Lola¬†certainly did not disappoint.

Lola Nolan is a girl who has life sorted. She is happily dating her boyfriend Max, who just so happens to be a few years older and a sexy rocker to boot, and busy cultivating her outrageous and original sense of style. Her only concerns¬†are bringing her parents around to accepting Max and creating the ultimate costume for her winter¬†formal. At least that is until her old (and incredibly gorgeous!) neighbour, Cricket Bell, waltzes back into her life reawakening old feelings and memories Lola thought she had long since buried. Soon Lola¬†finds herself juggling her jealous boyfriend Max, her crazy family life and of course her confusing relationship with Cricket Bell. It isn’t long¬†before she realises¬†that¬†some feelings refuse to be silenced so easily…

Although Lola is the second in the Anna and the French Kiss series, it did not feel like a rehash of Anna. Lola is very different personality-wise to Anna and I found that really refreshing. Lola is louder and more confident but just as lovable. And she had an awesome sense of style that made me want to be more experimental myself. Check out this snippet for an idea of her wacky outfits:

“Today I’m a strawberry. A sweet red dress from the fifties, a long necklace of tiny black beads, and a dark green wig cut into a severe Louise Brooks bob.”

Lola’s narrative is incredibly honest and forthright and I loved that about her (“I’m encouraging him. And I can’t stop.”). Some of her confessional thoughts about Cricket are downright hilarious and very realistic (“Don’t stare at his body. Do NOT stare at his body.”) Most importantly, Lola is portrayed with flaws which made me warm to her a lot and I think this is something that sets the book apart from some other YA fiction where the female protagonists have a tendency to be just a little too perfect.

Cricket was very genuine and it was adorable how considerate he was of¬†Lola’s wishes even when her actions may have been contradictory. It was hard not to fall for him – he was incredibly¬†romantic and reliable. Stephanie Perkins dealt¬†with unconventional relationships wonderfully in Lola and showed that being different is never a bad thing, whether it’s your family structure or your dress sense that doesn’t conform to convention.¬†I loved loved loved Lola’s parents and her relationship with them whilst¬†her friendship with Lindsey was a great¬†portrayal of how opposites attract.

One thing I absolutely adore about Stephanie Perkins’ writing is how much location practically becomes a character in its own right in her novels. I plan to visit Paris again soon and do it as Anna and St. Clair did it and now I want to do the same with San Francisco. I found myself googling the Castro and the Haight to get a better idea of what they were like although Perkins’ descriptions were wonderfully detailed.

Finally, for anyone who goes into this having read Anna, you my friend are in for a treat. Their cameos and dialogue are so wonderfully SQUEEE that they had me grinning from ear to ear. It was nice to get a little insight into how their relationship was progressing! I would totally recommend this book to anyone who likes a funny, lighthearted contemporary romance that you could read in one sitting.

Have you read Lola and the Boy Next Door? Or do you have a brilliantly eclectic dress sense like Lola? Sound off in the comments¬†below ūüôā