The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)

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I make a resolution every New Year’s Eve to read more. This year I’ve had a vague ambition in my head to reach the (unlikely) total of 50 books. I’m on book number 26 and we’re definitely over halfway through the year (how did that even happen) so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I bloody love a good book rec post so I thought I’d take a little look back on my faves so far BUT before I get into it, a few shout-outs to things that have helped me read more this year:

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Review – Doctor Faustus – Tangle Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 23 February 2018.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS by Christopher Marlowe
Presented by Tangle Theatre at The Bike Shed Theatre, 21 February 2018

Performed by: Munashe Chirisa, Joshua Liburd, Mogali Masuku
Director: Anna Coombs
Designer: Colin Falconer
Lighting Design: Hansjorg Schmidt
Sound Design: Drew Baumohl
Composer and Arranger: John Pfumojena
Producer: Deborah Baddoo MBE

It’s the opening night of Tangle Theatre’s Doctor Faustus, and I’m about to have a really Faustian experience. I go in presuming intelligence, and come out realising my complete ignorance.

Is this a Faustian experience? I’m gonna Google it to check. Because I don’t really know Doctor Faustus, but I just sort of assume that since I’ve always been a Shakespeare brat and that one time I did Schiller, there can be no verse play that would pose a particular challenge to me.

It takes five minutes of discussion with my sister after the show for her to discover that I didn’t even grasp the basics.

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Review – Split Second – Documental Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 26 January 2018.

SPLIT SECOND by Cally Hayes
Performed at The Bike Shed Theatre, 23 January 2018
Produced by Documental Theatre

Performed by: Charlie Coldfield and Georgia Fox Robinson
Directed by: Luke Jeffrey
Sound Design: Philip Robinson
Recorded by: Duncan Chave at Sound Gallery

Along the cobbled alleyway, down the stone steps, to the cellar bar decorated with curios and mismatched furniture. Towards the circle of comfy chairs snuggled into the far corner, welcomed by dimmed lights and the bright smile of playwright Cally Hayes. A chunky set of headphones each, which glow electric blue when we’re on the right channel and clamp down firmly around our ears. A thumbs up from Hayes – and we’re away.

Documental Theatre’s Split Second is a fifteen-minute radio play about a couple in crisis. They didn’t plan for a pregnancy, and now there might be something wrong with the baby. Overwhelmed by how their lives will change, they struggle to find common ground, shutting each other out but fighting to stay together. As with all of Documental Theatre’s work, the script is based on testimony and real stories, gently and sensitively fictionalised.

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Review – Humbug! – Wandering Tiger

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 19 December 2017.

HUMBUG! by Wandering Tiger
Performed at St Nicholas Priory, Exeter

Performed by: Charlie Coldfield, Richard Feltham, Benjamin Akira Tallamy
Written and directed by: Luke Jeffrey
Magical Consultant: Peter Clifford
Costume Assistant/Designer: Anna Palma Balint

It’s a mark of how deeply ingrained the Muppets’ version is that if you mention A Christmas Carol to me, I’ll think about how Gonzo is here to tell the story (and Rizzo is here for the food). Wandering Tiger’s Humbug!, written and directed by Luke Jeffrey, is another in a long line of adaptations that takes creative license with the plot of Dickens’ ghost story. Most of the main beats are there, but adapted for a promenade production and for a cast of three, with Charlie Coldfield as Scrooge, and Richard Feltham and Benjamin Akira Tallamy as pretty much everyone else.

Coldfield is a grouchy yet earnest Scrooge, who sticks with the Michael Caine school of playing the straight man in an otherwise comic re-telling. But whilst Humbug! talks him up as the main concern of the plot, it often doesn’t feel like his story, and Coldfield isn’t given much space to really get going with the role. Instead, the show is absolutely stolen by Feltham and Tallamy and their charismatic, comic takes on the other characters. Tallamy in particular has a flair for improvisation and self-deprecating audience interaction, and his witty, idiosyncratic take on the Ghost of Christmas Present feels genuinely different from previous interpretations of the character. The show also gains much of its warmth from Tallamy’s original Christmas songs, which are a welcome departure from traditional Victorian dirges.

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Review – Journey to the Impossible – Little Soldier Productions

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 16 December 2017.

JOURNEY TO THE IMPOSSIBLE by Little Soldier Productions, presented by The Bike Shed Theatre

Performed by: Dan Armstrong, Lucy Bishop, Duncan Cameron
Directed by: Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodríguez
Producer: Bridget Floyer, Larking Arts
Written by: Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodríguez in collaboration with Matt Harvey
Design: Sophia Clist
Sound design: Dan Lees
Music composed by Dan Lees, with additional content by Joe Darke and the company
Lighting design: Seth Rook Williams

If you’re tired of fairytales, fables, and Dickens adaptations, Little Soldier Productions’ Journey to the Impossible is a fun and unusual December alternative. It’s 1982, and three young friends looking for adventure find themselves transported to another dimension, to the strange and dangerous city of Vernopolis. They quickly find themselves separated and in trouble, and must fight to find their way home again.

Journey to the Impossible leans heavily on nostalgia to get the audience on side, and it’s chock-full of references to 80’s music, film, and trends – probably more than this 90’s child noticed if I’m honest about it. But what hits me as truly nostalgic about this show is how strongly it reminds me of those imaginary games you made up with your best friends on the playground, with the kind of storyline that’s impossible to explain to an outsider but that your friends just get implicitly. Those games where you’re a hero version of yourself, but sometimes you get to play the baddie too.

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Review – ‘Dick Whittington’ – Exeter Northcott Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 9 December 2017.

DICK WHITTINGTON by Tony Lidington and Steve Bennett
Produced by Exeter Northcott Theatre

Directed by: Tony Lidington
Performed by: Steve Bennett, Gordon Cooper, Emily Essery, Jeffrey Harmer, Jaz Franklin, Lotus Lowry, Martin Reeve, Owen Thomas, Annabel Warwick

During the interval of Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Dick Whittington, I realise the last pantomime I saw starred David Hasselhoff. The one before: John Barrowman. The one before that: also John Barrowman. (I will not apologise for still loving Torchwood. Fight me.)

But before that, the star of all my pantomime experiences was my grandad, Fred Comber, who wrote, directed, and played the baddie in every show, every year, in his small Devon village of Holcombe. These were the best pantomimes of my life and played a large part in making me believe theatre could be for everyone. And there’s something about Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Dick Whittington that brings that feeling back.

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Review – ‘The Hartlepool Monkey’ – Gyre & Gimble

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 10 November 2017.

THE HARTLEPOOL MONKEY by Carl Grose
Presented by Gyre & Gimble and Fuel, in association with Stratford Circus Arts Centre

Directed by: Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié
Performed by: Rebecca Collingwood, Fred David, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, James Duke, Baker Mukasa, Rachel Sanders, and John Trindle
Produced by: Fuel

I’ve been to Hartlepool once, and it was the first thing that came up in conversation: “Have you ever heard the story of the monkey who was hanged?” A co-production between Gyre & Gimble and Fuel, The Hartlepool Monkey takes the unsettling local legend of a monkey mistaken for a French spy and turns it into a totally inspiring show which gets just about everything right. At the risk of sounding a bit X Factor, it’s easily my favourite performance of the year.

Actually, it’s the kind of show that makes you start saying stuff like ‘it was so much better than I thought it was going to be/than it needed to be’, because it’s unashamedly designed to work for the whole family, which tends to make us grown-up theatregoers fall into the trap of expecting something…simpler? Smaller? Sillier? The Hartlepool Monkey definitely makes me nostalgic for my childhood experiences of going to the theatre, but only because it’s been so damn long since I saw something which feels this overwhelmingly exciting to watch. I want to be able to look at five things happening onstage at once. I want to laugh louder and less politely and I want to cry at the end. I want to see it again.

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Review – ‘The Way I Look’ – O&O

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 31 October 2017.

THE WAY I LOOK by O&O

Performed by: Alex Devine, Tessa Gaukroger, Roland George Harrad, Oliver J Harris, Marina O’Shea, Emerson Pike
Directed by: Igne Barkauskaite
Technical Manager: Alex Hoyle

Sam would like to introduce us to Mark – a facial birthmark that’s been their constant companion since birth, and something which they’re only just ready to talk about. Using ‘Sam’ as a common character which each performer can step into, The Way I Look is a whistle-stop tour of the realities of looking different.

There isn’t a weak link in this ensemble. Each performer slips easily into Sam’s story with their own particular style, but each always seems comfortably in tandem with the others. There’s a practised, end-of-tour ease as they pull the threads of the show together, and the tone shifts confidently through direct address, light-touch comedy, and more abstract moments of physicality and vocalisation. The Way I Look has a wholeness to it, an understatedly well-constructed script, and a real sense of stagecraft in the thoughtful use of space and set. I can do without the clutter of books and mugs to set some of the scenes – the performers are too good to need them – but the playful use of picture frames appeals directly to the first-year Drama student in me who still absolutely loves seeing a show about looking with literal framing devices in it.

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Review – ‘Happiness Ltd’ – New Model Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 20 October 2017.

HAPPINESS LTD by Tom Nicholas
Produced by New Model Theatre and The Bike Shed Theatre, in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth and Salisbury Playhouse

Performed by: Rebecca Jade Hammond, Lloyd Notice, Liam Salmon, Gabrielle Sheppard
Directed by: Jo Newman

Designer: Tomasin Cuthbert
Sound and Music: Chris Menes
Producer: Emily Souter Johnson

For a play set in the niche world of indie game development, Happiness Ltd feels comfortingly familiar. Game designer Vi (Gabrielle Sheppard) goes through a break-up which rocks her sense of self, so she invents a game to cope, celebrating small achievements like eating a proper meal or getting up on time. Her best friend and coder Tyler (Liam Salmon) turns Vi’s idea into an augmented reality app, which is quickly backed by a large company. Success puts a strain on their friendship. The corporate backers push for an unethical marketing strategy. And Vi, who should be on the rise, finds she’s still falling apart. It’s a small-scale, contemporary rags-to-riches story with big ideas.

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Review – ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – Exeter Northcott Theatre Graduate Company

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 25 July 2017.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
Presented by Exeter Northcott Theatre
Saturday 22 July 2017, Rougemont Gardens, Exeter

Performed by: Martin Bassindale, Katriona Brown, Ella Dunlop, Grace Hussey-Burd, Lucy May Rothwell, Jennifer Ruth-Adams, Tanwyn Smith Meek, Alex York
Directed by: Poppy Burton Morgan

“Is this a twin one? Is it the double twin one? Is it one with a shipwreck?”

There’s not a lot to the story of The Comedy of Errors. As we munch through our picnic on a chilly Saturday evening in Exeter’s Rougemont Gardens, one of my friends describes it as a ‘two line plot’. Two sets of twins – the brothers Antipholus and their servants, the brothers Dromio – get mistaken for each other, as can often happen when you give both of your twin sons the same name. Comedy and mayhem ensue, reunion scene at the end. A standard but smart choice for an open-air show, since there’s very little fear that the audience won’t be able to keep up if they’re distracted by rain/other members of the public/aforementioned picnics. You can throw literally anything at The Comedy of Errors – fire spinning, beam walking, knife throwing – the whole circus.

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