REVIEW: Matilda the Musical (UK National Tour)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: ‘When I Grow Up,’ I want to be Matilda.

Meet Matilda. The talented young story-teller suffers while living with her TV-obsessed family, but discovers her hidden talents when she meets her new school teacher, Miss Honey. Tim Minchin’s musical, based on the well-loved book by Roald Dahl, perfectly captures the heartwarming story of this earnest, charming little girl.

Matilda the Musical is currently touring the UK as well as showing on the West End, and I went to see the show on its opening night in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, with the touring cast. The show opens with an entourage of precocious children and their over-bearing parents in the comedic number ‘Miracle’, and from this moment onward you can expect to be bowled over by the young talent on the stage. With effortless soaring high notes from Bruce (played by Toby Mocrei when I saw it), adorable characterisation from Lavender (Chantelle Tonolete) and, of course, a powerful little leading lady in Matilda (Sophie Woolhouse, who makes her professional debut), the child cast brought outstanding vibrancy to the stage.

The thrillingly terrifying Miss Trunchbull is played by Elliot Harper in this production, and he is an absolute joy not to be missed. While Harper highlighted the menacing and intimidating elements of the Trunchbull, he also brought her to life through his comic timing which made her seem awkward and almost childish at times. This was a really interesting characterisation, and one that elevated the character beyond the two-dimensional villain she has always been known as.

If the cast does not do enough to facilitate your enjoyment, then the set and production most certainly will. With swings, scooters and moving steps in the gate of the school that spell out the alphabet, the set of Matilda is absolutely incredible. The ‘swing choreography’ in ‘When I Grow Up’ is a highlight of the show.

As I’ve said before, the Southampton Mayflower is a great place to go and see shows. The way the seats are raked means you can’t really have a bad view, and the acoustics of the room are fantastic. It is definitely worth a visit.

Matilda the Musical is pure joy and excellence. With themes of family tension, vulnerability, overcoming bullies, being yourself and supporting your friends, this show is both a fun time and an educational one.

 

Matilda the Musical is showing at the Southampton Mayflower Theatre until the 6th July, and will then be showing at Norwich Theatre Royal from 16 July – 17 August. Buy tickets here

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: Catwoman Soulstealer

Quick summary: Giving ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ a whole new meaning.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Try this series if you like: DC Comics (obvs), Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Richelle Mead


In this rewrite of DC’s Catwoman, we are re-introduced to the badass anti-hero Selina Kyle, and her ‘band of merry men’, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. We also meet Luke Fox as the ex-military do-gooder, Batwing. Full to the brim with high-stake heists, romance, allies and enemies, this stand-alone book is good for hard-core fans and comic book rookies alike.

The world-building in this story happens quickly. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the teeming, corrupt underworld where Selina Kyle spends most of her life. We learn about the social hierarchies and some of the basic politics of Gotham City but are expected to fill in the gaps ourselves as far as societal culture goes. When it comes to feeding the reader information about the world, it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’; for example, we find out that Selina’s sister Maggie is very ill, but instead of finding this out through clues such as her coughing, or taking medicine, Maas writes “with her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.” This does the job, but I would have liked a teeny bit more subtlety.

As far as the characters go, they are interesting and reasonably well-developed. Selina Kyle has an interesting storyline; a female anti-heroine who is interested in protecting the people she loves, but ultimately has no qualms over committing high-level crimes. She is cunning, wily, an excellent fighter and adept at having secret plans that aren’t revealed until late in the novel – Maas’ forte, it seems! Her secretive personality complements the brash insanity of Harley Quinn and the stoic, green-fiend Poison Ivy well, and overall I found her character to be an enjoyable and pleasing read.

Some reviews make the comment that Luke Fox is only present in the book to give Selina a love interest, and, as a black character, to add diversity to the cast. I did not find this at all. I read him as a man struggling to keep control over his PTSD, Gotham City while Batman is away, and his growing feelings for someone he really should not be feeling things for. He frequently commented on police brutality against the black community, and this did add a good dimension to the book as there was the antithesis of him being targeted by law enforcement for his skin colour and yet he is the one protecting the city from criminals. I found it ever so slightly basic in its delivery; it was similarly more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ This is not, however, a criticism of Luke Fox as a character – I liked him, I saw his good intentions, and although he was a bit vanilla, he complemented Selina’s character well.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I got through it quickly. The plot, world-building, eand characterisation were arguably not anything jaw-droppingly special, but they held my interest, and I was invested in what happened. For both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass (Maas’ series,) I found that while I enjoyed the first book, the later books in the series were where I became truly captivated. Perhaps Maas’ writing is like cheese or wine – it is good at first, but it gets really good over time. If we were to have a series made out of this, then I might fall head over heels in love with it, but as it stands, I love it as you might love a close-ish friend. You’re not my family, you’re not my soulmate, but I get on with you and I’d hang out with you again.

REVIEW: Truthwitch

Quick summary: Sisters before misters, *KAPOW*!
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: Sara Raasch, Renée Ahdieh, Kendare Blake and Laini Taylor.


This book is 479 pages of brilliant, completely enjoyable writing. You have to take this opening novel of The Witchlands series as it is – a light fantasy with sparks of romance, high-octane adventure and a sister-bond between two female witches. It is fun, easy to read, and puts friendship above all else, which is a nice angle that you don’t always see in YA Fantasy.

Character-wise, we have some interesting ones in this mixed bag. Safi and Iseult are the two main female characters and they are Threadsisters, a bond stronger than those between families. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and the fact that the twenty-year treaty keeping the peace between the countries in Susan Dennard‘s world is swiftly coming to an end leads us to the conclusion that these girls will somehow be heavily involved in what’s to come. Both Safi and Iseult bring something completely different to the table. They are individuals, but both work together, and this is what catapults them from arguably run-of-the-mill YA characters to something vastly more interesting.

They are joined in the ensemble cast by Merik, Safi’s steamy love interest and Prince of Nubrevna, who is desperate to ensure his country doesn’t collapse into poverty and starvation after the costly wars. Merik is earnest and has good intentions at heart, but there were many times where I did want to reach into the book and throttle him.
We also have Aeduan, who threatens to fall into the brooding-bad-boy trope, but deftly swerves away into a well thought out character with emotional complexity and multi-layered villainy. He is definitely a key one to watch for character development, and also for potential romances… (I’m looking at you, Iseult!)

I got on with the writing of relationships in a similar way to how I got on with Laini Taylor – there were similarities in the dynamics between relationships, both romantic and platonic. This was an aspect of Taylor’s writing I really enjoyed, and this enjoyment translated into Dennard’s writing as well.

Dennard’s world-building has had mixed reviews from what I can see, as others think while there is some vague background information, we don’t get to deeply dive into the Witchlands with elongated descriptive writing. We are asked to grasp the geography, culture and politics pretty quickly, and sometimes you do have to reread sections to fully grasp the implication it has on your understanding of the world. From this angle, I did find it a slow start and if you want world building to have a stronger presence than action or plot, then this isn’t the book for you. While detailed world-building is usually something I really enjoy, I didn’t find I needed any more than Dennard gave. Her writing is full to the brim with fast-paced action and “dynamic storytelling” (Publishers Weekly), so to slow the pace down with too much descriptive writing would take away from what Dennard’s writing is all about.

We want kick-assery, magic, deep-rooted friendships and some “tense (tense!) romance(s)” (Susan Dennard), and that is what we get! What’s not to love?! I say give this book a read.

Susan Dennard also has a really good blog/newsletter, and for any potential writers/enjoyers of literature, I recommend giving it a follow here!

Rosie x