Aug 11

Spitfire Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe

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I love Shakespeare’s Globe. I used to think that watching a performance at the Globe would be akin to watching a Shakespearean play when it was first performed. After doing some research I discovered that all of the female parts would be played by men in drag, the audience would have thrown food onstage if they were bored and the whole place must have stank. So… perhaps I’m better off watching the plays with the benefits of modern life, even if the plays aren’t, necessary, traditional performances.

Two weeks ago I watched A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies and also one of his most controversial  plays. In case you didn’t study the play at school, the plot follows four lovers Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena  caught in a love square with each other. They flee into the woods the same night that a troop of actors are practising a play for the Duke of Athen’s wedding. Both groups encounter fairies, become bewitched, the lovers fall in love with the wrong partner and one of the actors is turned into a donkey. At the end of the play everything is returned to normal, the lovers marry and the play the actor performs, despite being awful, is met with praise. ( I’m condensing.)

We don’t know when the play was written  but experts believe it was first performed in 1595 or 1596. The play may have been written for a special occasion such as the wedding of Lady Berkley or the feast day of St John although this is just speculation. Although the inspiration of the play is unknown it is worth noting that Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” is often credited as an inspiration and Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe (which also serves as a direct inspiration for Romeo and Juliet) is performed within the play. It seems Shakespeare was influenced by the tales of Greek Mythology as the Duke of Athens, Theseus, is same Theseus who slew the minotaur.

Throughout history the play has been praised and criticised for a variety of different reasons based on the cultural tastes of the time. Samuel Pepys described the play as “the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life” while other critics thought that because fairies didn’t exist, they shouldn’t be portrayed in plays. James Halliwell-Phillipps, wrote in the 1840s, that he found many inconsistencies in the play ( I didn’t spot any) but considered it a most beautiful play none the less. Modern audiences are much more forgiving, while other Shakespeare plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew have failed to age well not, Midsummer is still as popular as ever.

Although every show I’ve seen at Shakespeare’s Globe has been amazing, I think this was one of the best. As the audience took their seats a warm up band played on stage and  invited children up to hit a piñata. When the show started the band played in Theseus’ court and assisted the characters by playing romantic music to suit the moment. Due to the wide cast of characters every actor had to take on multiple roles, this meant changing from their human outfit into their fairy outfit, complete with psychedelic colours, within moments.

The best part of the show was Justin. When the troop of actors, called the mechanicals, were rehearsing in their first scene they realised that they were one cast member short. So they picked someone from the audience in the pits (the pits being the standing area before the stage) to join them. My first thought when I realised their plan was Thank God it isn’t me! At the same time… it must be quite exciting to say you’ve done an impromptu performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. The cast members lead him around the stage, spoon fed him his lines and took a selfie with him on stage! I have searched for this selfie online but so far it hasn’t surfaced.

I think that this performance of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is one of the best performances I’ve seen at Shakespeare’s Globe, on par with Romeo and Juliet. Well done to the cast and crew.

Ten piñatas out of ten!

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Aug 04

Spitfire Review: The Lion King

Hello everyone.

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, Disney are re-releasing many of their old classics as live action films. In this year alone they have released Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King with Maleficent 2 coming out later this year. The most recent of these films, and I think the film everyone is the most excited for, is The Lion King. When Disney announced they were making a remake of The Lion King fans were apprehensive. The Lion King was one of Disney’s most successful films of the Disney Renaissance era (1989 – 1999), is cherished by fans and is considered cult classic. Although Dumbo had received positive reviews, fans were worried that the remake would tarnish The Lion King’s legacy.

(Spoiler alert from this point onwards)

Before I give you my thoughts on the film I want to look at how the original Lion King, the 1994 version, came to be. It may be wrong to call the 1994 version an original as most audiences were already familiar with the plot. The Lion King shares the same plot as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A young prince is exiled from his kingdom, a father is betrayed and murdered by an uncle. The same uncle is later killed by the protagonist and both protagonists have two strong male companions and a childhood crush who becomes a love interest.

Some critics of Disney have have accused the company of ripping of Kimba the White Lion, a Japanese Magna series.  Have a look at the comparison shots below.

Although there is a strong case to be made, some of Lion King’s shots are clearly swiped from Kimba and the names Kimba and Simba are only one syllable apart, I don’t think anyone could win in a legal battle with Disney.

If I had to describe the 2019 Lion King film in a single word I would say “Majestic”. As you can see from the trailer above, the physical appearance of most of the characters is astounding. Aside from talking, they could easily almost be mistaken for real animals. In the opening scene of the film, Rafiki sprinkles a liquid on Simba’s fur during a christening like ceremony. The way the liquid spreads unevenly across Sima’s fur, which itself is moving in the breeze, is brilliant and sets the bar for the rest of the film. It becomes obvious, within the first few frames, that the animators have studied different animal’s body language and movements to create a sense of realism.

Although the plot of this film does change slightly from the 1994 version, it is still as powerful, arguably more so. Mufasa’s death is still devastating, young Nala and Simba are adorable and Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa are hilarious (more on the latter two in a moment.) In other cases the film mirrors shots from the 1994 film as a nod to fan.

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It should also be mentioned that Nala, the female lead, is voiced by Beyonce who loans her voice to the film’s soundtrack.

Although The Lion King was bound to attract fans who had grown up with the 1994 version, it’s target audience is primarily families. With this in mind, I was very surprised that the producers added in several jump scares. Although these scares were followed by a joke or played for comedic effect, I still couldn’t help wandering if it was too extreme for younger viewers.

I also questioned the character’s designs, in particular Scar’s and Pumbaa’s. This film was meant to focus on realism but even with that in mind I found myself preferring the 1994’s version.

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Pumbaa is… ugly. I know that he’s a warthog and he’s meant to be ugly but compared to the other characters he is the odd one out. I also prefer the original voice actors for Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella respectively) but that is just personal preference. I also prefer the original song Be Prepared song by Scar and the hyenas. I thought the new version was lack lustre.

These points don’t, in any way, ruin the film. I think this is the best film I’ve seen this year. I’ll give Lion King 10 pride rocks out of 10.

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In summary, it’s brilliant.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

 

Jul 28

Top five Truth is Stranger than Fiction stories.

Which of these descriptions sounds more realistic?

  1. This creature is horse-like in appearance, with a typically white mane and a horn upon its head.
  2. This creature has a metre long neck and uses its head as a club to attack other animals with.

Number one, right? The description for the first animal is a unicorn and the second is a giraffe.

This is a crude example of the truth being stranger than fiction. This phrase is used when real life events are so bizarre that when they are written down and sent to publishers, they are dismissed as being too unrealistic despite the fact they have actually happened.

Here are five more examples of truth that is stranger than fiction.

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Jul 14

Five misconceptions about popular books

I wrote this website post as a sequel to, what I thought was, an article I published last year. When I searched for that that old article… I hadn’t written it. It was still in draft form and only consisted of two sentences. Oh.

So, here are five misconceptions about popular books! I hope you enjoy.

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Jun 30

Spitfire review: Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition

Hello all,

I’ve recently returned from my holiday in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.

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While I was topping up my tan between taking swims in the hotel’s pool, I discovered a book that I’d downloaded on my kindle and forgotten about. The journals of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition. Scott was a British Antarctic explorer who entered a race against the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to see who could reach the South Pole first. Scott perished on his return journey having lost the race by a month and when news of his death reached Britain the country had an outpouring of grief.  At the time, Scott was treated as a tragic hero but following World War One and after the public’s sense of nationalism had faded, historians began to question some of Scott’s decisions. We know a great deal about Scott’s journey to and from the South Pole because he made very detailed journal entries. These journals were found in Scott’s pocket when he died and the final line has been called the most haunting line in non fiction:

We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.

Robert Falcon Scott – March 29 1912.

I’m aware that there is a sense of irony reading about the Antarctic while in the Canaries but the Artic and Antarctic fascinate me. I’ve toyed with the idea of setting a novel in the Antarctic and I’ve even looked into cruises around the continent (which I’ll be able to afford once I’ve published that best seller!) What surprised me, and spurred the idea for this review, was how emotional I became was reading Scott’s letters. You really get a sense of who he was as a person and his letters to his team’s family members informing them of their loved ones approaching deaths is heart breaking. I sheded a tear on the sun bed as I read and it’s not often I find a book with that much power.

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Here are my thoughts on Robert Falcon Scott’s journals.

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Jun 23

Inspiration: The British Library 

I love libraries. All writers should. Hell, everyone should. One of the first jobs I had was working in the school library and one of my first “real” jobs was working in my local library. Sadly I don’t work in the British Library (yet) but on the 11th May 2019 I officially became a member.

I’ve wanted to discuss the British Library, in the same vein I wrote about the British Museum (see that old post here) for some time but I needed a reason. After I became a member and attended the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition I thought now would be the ideal time.

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Jun 09

Five political speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard of.

The other week I stumbled across a job as a script writer online. You can imagine how delighted I was… until I opened the job description and discovered that it was a job to write political speeches. Although I’ve listened to a few political speeches I don’t think I’ve ever read one but in a strange way, a political speech is an art form in itself. They certainly contain memorable phrases such as:

“Brexit means Brexit.”

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… “

Although I didn’t apply for the job I did some research into their work. A political speech writer creates a speech for every outcome meaning that the politician in question will always have something to say and that the general public only hears half of their written work.

Here are five political speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard of.

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May 26

Spitfire review: Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones is over…

Now we’ll wait for the next global phenomenon to hit our screens. I think the last TV show I was this invested in was Lost back in 2010. Does anyone else remember Lost, a plane crashed on a tropical island that contained polar bears and a mysterious hatch in the ground? Like Lost, Game of Thrones has had it’s ups and downs and although I adore the show I’m still going to give it a fair review. This review will focus on the TV show but it will also contain elements of The Song of Ice and Fire book series of which the TV show is based.

Spoiler alert for The Game of Thrones TV show and The Song of Ice and Fire book series. 

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May 12

Spitfire Review: Tolkien

Hello everyone,

I know I said that my next article would be “Five historical speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard of” and that is still going ahead. That post is currently in draft form, due to be published in a week or two. On Bank Holiday Monday I watched the film Tolkien at the cinema and because Tolkien is one of the greatest writers in the fantasy genre I thought his film deserved a Spitfire Review.

This review contains spoilers for the film Tolkien. Do not read if you have not seen the film yet. 

Tolkien is famous for writing The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion (the former two having been turned into blockbuster films and The Lord of the Rings being a cult classic). Tolkien is also famous for being a skilled linguist, knowing English, Finnish, Old Norse and Old English as well as inventing several languages of his own, most notably elvish. Tolkien attended Oxford University, fought in the First World War, worked as a code breaker in the second and died in 1973.

The plot of the film follows Tolkien fighting in the trenches during World War One as he experiences flashbacks to his younger self in England. During these flashbacks we watch as Tolkien helps form the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society) with three other creatives and balance his time between writing, falling in love and studying for his university entrance exams. Tolkien survives the war only to discover that out of his three friends in their “fellowship” only one survived. This inspires Tolkien to write his most famous pieces of work, The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings.

The biggest draw for this film, if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, are the references to Middle Earth. For example, while in the trenches Tolkien and his friend (who themselves mirror the relationship between Frodo and Sam) are attacked by German soldiers with flamethrowers. Tolkien visualises these soldiers as the dragon Smaug, from The Hobbit. Also in the trenches Tolkien spots a white horse (the rider killed in battle) which closely resembles Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse and sees imposing figures in the mustard gas and smoke that resemble Sauron and Saruman. Tolkien ends the film by telling his children to speak to the trees like he did when he was a child, referencing the Ents of Fangorn Forest and in the final shots of the film he writes the opening line to The Hobbit.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The film tells a powerful story highlighting the fruitlessness of war (a theme Tolkien used in his works as he became a pacifist in later life) and it’s destructiveness, the classism of the 20th century, the stresses of student life and having a forbidden love. The acting is, of course, brilliant and particular praise goes to Nicolas Holt, the lead actor.

Unfortunately it is unclear how much creative licence was used in the film. The Tolkien Estate have tried to distance themselves from the project despite Nicolas Holt’s claim that members of Tolkien’s family supported the project while it was being filmed. The director, Dome Karukoski, and the writers glossed over the religious aspects of Tolkien’s life. This may have been to avoid alienating the audience or for time reasons but it was clear that this was a big influence in Tolkien’s writing. If there are any more inaccuracies they have yet to be announced but as a whole the film appears to be very respectful of its subject.

I’ll award the film seven rings out of ten. If you like films such as The Imitation Game or Goodbye Christopher Robin then you’ll enjoy this. The trailer is below if you want to find out more.

I love the romantic idea of a fellowship of writers, like Tolkien and C S Lewis or Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. If you want to start a fellowship with me, let me know.

Ring  Ring Ring Ring Ring Ring Ring

 

 

Apr 27

End of Camp NaNoWriMo and escaping on a writing retreat

Hello everyone, I’ve temporarily escaped the toxic smoke that is London.

I’ve ended my Camp NaNoWriMo project at 30,000 words. My target was 40,000 but due to a mixture of work commitments and health issues I wasn’t able to reach my goal. It’s disappointing but 30,000 words is better than 20,000 or 10,000 or nothing at all. I’ve learnt a lot about the novel itself. I’ve finally discovered the correct ending (which has been bothering me since last November when I started the project), I’ve discovered a new title and I can reveal that this novel is going to be longer and darker than Empty Nights. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to write!

A big thank you to everyone in my cabin and all the London based writers I met on our write ups in Pret for their support throughout the month.

Unfortunately my writing retreat doesn’t have Wifi, so I won’t be online for much of the following week. Although this means I’ll miss the Camp NaNoWriMo celebrations (and Game of Thrones), a lack of Wifi should also mean that I won’t procrastinate too much and actually complete the first draft of my screenplay.

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I’m returning to the big smoke on May 4th (which by coincidence is International Star Wars day) and I’ll be returning to this website the week afterwards with my next article “Five historical speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard.”

I look forward to seeing you then.