Theatre Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor 

Starring: Cecil Baldwin

Theatre: London Palladium

Dates: Saturday 22 October 2016

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve been listening to¬†Welcome to Night Vale¬†for a long time now and it was¬†my first and remains one of my favourite podcasts to listen to. For those that aren’t familiar with Night Vale, a quick synopsis: the podcast is in the style of a community radio broadcast for the desert town of¬†Night Vale. The host of the radio show is Cecil Gershwin Palmer who¬†shares news, announcements and advertisements as well as the strange things that happen in the small town – you get the whole gamut from weather (actually music) to the dark hooded figures in the dog park who you must not approach under any circumstance…¬†

As it’s probably clear from the above summary, this isn’t your run of the mill¬†podcast nor you usual community radio show, no sireee. Welcome to Night Vale has the best damn¬†deadpan¬†humour and a taste for all things paranormal and just, well, downright odd. I think the humour is quite specific and know the show isn’t for everyone but it’s always one that I find myself returning to.¬†I’ve dipped in and out of it over the years and that’s the beauty of¬†Night Vale –¬†you can come back to it¬†without feeling totally out of the loop because each episode is standalone. I also find it’s not as demanding as some other podcasts (like my true crime casts which require all of my¬†attention *side eyes Serial*); when I relisten to episodes I tend to just have it on¬†in the background.¬†

I’ve never been to a performance where it’s pretty much spoken word – there’s no heavy acting in Welcome to Night Vale. It has a ghost stories theme which was fitting what with it so close to Halloween! The show was similar to the podcast experience, with Cecil delivering brilliant news, except this time he was right in front of you and you really get to experience the gestures and facial expressions which was really¬†cool and just enchanced his already fantastic narration. There were nods to¬†recognisable segments like the Weather (featuring the wonderful Eliza Rickman), Horoscopes and Community Calendar and also¬†featured some of the brilliant recurring characters such as the Sheriff. All the great in jokes are there but even though the show generally stayed true to the podcast, there’s definitely enough new material for it to feel fresh and exciting.

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I think the best thing about going to watch Welcome to Night Vale was seeing¬†a 2000+ crowd all eager¬†to see the show. The fan following of Night Vale¬†is really what has kept the podcast going from strength to strength over the years and there’s something really special about fans getting together to experience something like this – whether it’s die hard fans who have been with the podcast from the very beginning and were in their cosplaying element or the newbie brought along by their other half. The excitement and humour in the show is infectious and the performance by the actors so gripping. I thoroughly enjoyed¬†Welcome to Night Vale¬†and may have bought some merchandise as souvenirs – really great that a lot of it was exclusive to the tour!

Unfortunately, the tour only had a couple of UK dates but I highly recommend you get tickets the next time they’re¬†in town if you’re a fan. And if not, get listening! The show is definitely worth a go – new episodes are released fortnightly and you can find more info about the show here. I’ll finish by signing off in the only way appropriate: ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD.

Are you a fan of¬†Night Vale? Do you have a favourite segment/character? Or maybe you swear by another podcast?¬†Recs always welcome – seriously, huge podcast fan over here. ūüôā

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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