Thursday, July 28, 2016

'Moving' by Jenny Eclair

28 July 2016

We first saw the comedian Jenny Eclair at the South Holland Centre in Spalding about a year before she became the first female solo winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Perrier Comedy Award in 1995. We saw her stand-up show a few times over the next few years and have since enjoyed her appearances on radio and television but, until now, I hadn’t read any of her books. Her latest novel, ‘Moving’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Judith Boyd, Clare Willie and Andrew Wincott), is a surprisingly melancholy family tale in three parts. The first section of the book focuses on Edwina who is about to sell the house she has lived in for more than 50 years. As she shows the estate agent each room she is reminded of episodes from her family life, gradually building up a jigsaw-puzzle narrative of Edwina’s marriages and children. Moving from room to room with a series of flashback stories provides an intriguing structure but feels more like an extended Radio 4 Afternoon Play than a novel. The middle section of the book plunges the reader into the more straightforward story of a student at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre in the early 1980s (clearly drawing on Jenny Eclair’s own experience). But the fact that the protagonist here is not one of Edwina’s children but someone more obliquely connected to her family makes the novel much more interesting as the reader tries to work out how the events and characters are going to connect. Some apparently far-fetched coincidences turn out to have more believable connections that were subtly planted in the early chapters. The final section of the novel shifts to another previously peripheral character’s perspective and brings the narrative back to the present day. Echoing the structure of the novel’s first section, photographs in an album prompt memories that fill in another angle to many of the events covered in the first two parts of the book. Jenny Eclair cleverly makes us care about a previously unsympathetic character by showing us the story through his eyes. ‘Moving’ is an impressive and intriguing novel – carefully plotted and a sadder, more serious story than I had expected.


Friday, July 22, 2016

'Sense and Sensibility' by Jane Austen, adapted by Laura Turner

22 July 2016

On Wednesday we took advantage of the hot weather to watch an open-air theatre performance at Wrest House in Silsoe. It was a beautiful setting for Chapterhouse Theatre's production of 'Sense and Sensibility', adapted by Laura Turner. We had actually seen this production before (reviewed here in September 2011) but it was still very enjoyable second time round – with a fresh and enthusiastic young cast and a packed audience on the tiered lawns beside the Orangery. When Marianne Dashwood was caught in a thunderstorm (leading to her development of a 'putrid fever') there was a moment when we all wondered whether the recorded thunder sound effect was the actual weather finally breaking but fortunately we stayed dry as the sun sank behind the trees.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

20 July 2016

The annual Northampton Symphony Orchestra Friends' Concert is an opportunity for us to say thank you to the Friends of the NSO for their support over the past year. It is also a chance for the orchestra to play a variety of shorter, lighter pieces that wouldn't necessarily fit into our main concerts. This year's Friends' Concert – the first with our new conductor John Gibbons – featured waltzes by Johann Strauss and Aram Khachaturian, 'Entry Of The Gladiators' by Julius Fucik and two pieces by Eric Coates ('London Suite' and the 'Dambusters March'). We also played a suite of music by Nigel Hess written for the 2004 film 'Ladies in Lavender' with NSO leader Stephen Hague – who actually appeared in the film – playing the solo violin part. Our concert programme also included 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring' by Delius and Dvořák's 'Slavonic Dance No 1'. It was a lovely concert – followed by a wonderful buffet!

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Friday, July 15, 2016

'Vinegar Girl' by Anne Tyler

15 July 2016

Anne Tyler said that 'A Spool of Blue Thread' (reviewed here in March 2015) was to be her last novel, so it was great to be able to discover a new Anne Tyler book in the form of 'Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold', which I have just read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Kirsten Potter. 'Vinegar Girl' is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which contemporary novelists are invited to re-imagine Shakespeare plays. This being Anne Tyler, her 'Taming of the Shrew' is set in modern-day Baltimore and focusses, like most Anne Tyler novels, on the slightly quirky domestic life of a relatively normal family. In the manner of most Anne Tyler protagonists, Kate Battista contemplates a radical step that would change her comfortable, familiar life for ever. 'Vinegar Girl' is a fairly short novel which succeeds by concentrating on character development rather than slavishly following Shakespeare's plot. It's a gentle and very enjoyable book – an unexpected treat for Anne Tyler fans who feared there was no more to come.


Wimbledon 2016

15 July 2016

We made our first visit for three years to the All England Tennis Championships at Wimbledon last week. We were very lucky to get Centre Court tickets for Ladies' semi finals day and had the best seats we have ever had – just three rows from the court. It was an incredibly hot day and we had a wonderful view of the action. Unfortunately neither semi final was a great match: Serena Williams' win over Elena Vesnina was so one-sided it felt like a first round match. The second semi final, between Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber, was more competitive but the result never really seemed in doubt. We did, however, get a great men's doubles semi-final which saw the eventual champions, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, triumph over Max Mirnyi and Treat Huey in five tight sets. It was amazing seeing the lighting-fast rallies between all four players at the net so close-up. You can see a selection of my Wimbledon 2016 photos at: