How To Stop Time

Occasionally you can stumble upon a book that stops you in your tracks, a novel that makes you think. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time did just that.

Haig elegantly mixes history and fiction, allowing our protagonist, Tom, to struggle with the wisdom 400 years on earth has tormented him with. It breaks down the human traits we recognise, and weaves them throughout history.

Tom Hazard was born in the late 16th century, yet he’s still alive in 21st century London. His many lifetimes span generations, from playing with Shakespeare and The King’s Men to life in 1920’s Paris. He joins Captain Cook on The Endeavour but it is the search for his daughter that truly keeps him alive.

There are large periods of Tom’s life where he is surviving. He is disjointed from the world, living his life in the shadows; neither connected to a person or a place. It’s a hard way to live and a lonely life too. But that can change with one person, a single piece of hope to carry you through the hard days. At the end of the day it’s our relationships with others that makes life worth living. Our shared experiences and in turn our shared history. A connection, a memory and a desire to live.

Beautifully written, this is book everyone should read.

Pity at the Royal Court

From the very beginning, I knew Pity was not going to be a straightforward play. Having collected our tickets we were sent back out of the theatre, down a side alley and straight onto the stage.

The performance had already started, a brass band were playing centre stage and an ice cream stall had a long queue of patrons. We were invited to pick up our tombola tickets, buy an ice cream cone and take our seats. It opened up the theatre experience and, with it, created a community out of the audience.

Of course, once the show began it was clear we were to expect the unexpected. But the unexpected continued to surprise me. It was a fast-paced show, making the 1 hr 40 running time fly by. There’s a skill needed to keep an audience engaged when a play is in one act and Rory Mullarkey did just that.

From the simple town square, we followed Alex on a day like no other. There was death, bombs, guns, ice cream, a wedding, snipers, actors and statues. Each scene questioned the world we currently live in; the people and the politics. The questions raised covered the why and how to the confusion and the mundane. The world can change at any moment. Teams are decided, alliances are drawn and the bystanders are left to put everything back together again.

Pity worked very well as a comedy, it needed to have the lighter elements to contrast the destruction of the world we’ve come to know. The stage design enhanced the show as it managed to weave in more surprises at every turn. This is a piece of new theatre we need to see more of.

This may have been my first visit to the Royal Court, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Morning

Whenever I’m in doubt of what to read next, when the bookshop is overflowing with inspiration; I turn to the nearest bookseller and ask for their recommendation. Not only are booksellers a very friendly bunch, but they’re also big readers and often have a book in mind you’d never find nestled on the shelves.

I recently popped into Salts Mill (my all time favourite bookshop) and did just that. I was recommended a non-fiction book that would be hard to categorise; it’s a diary, a book of advice and wellbeing, and a little nod to nature too. With that description, I never would have picked it off the shelf. But it’s a small book, that’s beautifully simple.

Allan Jenkins uses Morning as a confirmation of what he already knows. A secret he shares with his readers. It’s effective and calming. It’s also very simple – to wake up earlier. Listen to the birds, watch the sunrise and enjoy the quiet calm before the day really begins.

It’s elegantly put together, a diary of Allen’s pre-dawn thoughts interwoven with interviews of others who wake before the sun. It’s very effective too. Although I’m yet to wake early enough to welcome a July sunrise, I am getting out of bed earlier. And more than that – I’m using that time wisely. For now this might be a little change in my routine, but I really hope it’s one that lasts.

Summer Exhibition

Considering I used to spend every weekend in an art gallery (in fairness I did work there) it’s been far too long since I last visited an exhibition.

On a sunny Saturday, in search of an afternoon of culture, I headed to the Royal Academy for their 2018 Summer Exhibition. Curated alongside Greyson Perry, this year’s exhibition was always going to be a splash of colour and design.

I love the way the Summer Exhibition is created, art is suddenly everywhere, a mix-match of style: landscapes and portraits, still life and photography. Even politics and brexit got a mention. It was full of expression, of discussion starters as it evaluated life in the here and now.

Everywhere you looked there was something to catch your attention. Larger works of art sitting loud and bright, smaller pieces that needed to be spotted, sculptures, textiles, models and videos.

There was even a bar.

This may be my first Summer Exhibition, but I’ll be back for 2019.

The Encounter

The last time I set foot into the Barbican was to see Titus Andronicus, this was an altogether different piece of theatre.

The Encounter is an experience of sound, a new way of storytelling which in turn, is the oldest form of storytelling we have. Sound is already an intricate part of a performance, but when it is allowed to take centre stage it can alter an entire perception. A whisper can become louder than a shout. A rainforest can appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly.

We follow the story of Loren McIntyre, an explorer in 1969, deep in the Amazon rainforest. His search for the local tribe is less of an adventure as a challenge. It’s an encounter like no other, isolating and terrifying. Broken only through Simon McBurney’s realisation of the modern day, his daughter and the very act of storytelling.

The whole story is told through headphones, making the experience both more intimate and more isolating. You are no longer a member of an audience, but a solo viewer of a solo show. The staging is minimal, the sound is left to convey everything and with it your imagination controls the rest of the story.

It’s a clever retelling, focused on sound and isolation, of the ways we can communicate without language. Simon McBurney captivates the audience through a journey like no other. This is an adventure you should join.

The Greatest Showman

I’ve tackled book reviews, theatre shows, trips to museums and galleries — but now it’s time to try a different genre.

I always advocate that the book is better than the film — but what about those films not based on books? The stories that use this platform as a unique story telling experience, and one that can only do it justice.

The Greatest Showman is a cinematic experience from start to finish, visually exciting, the music embodies the tale; enhancing the feeling the story conveys. The music is a triumph that stays with you long after the final credits. There are dreams of a better future, fantasies that can come true and a mindset that the world is yours to take . A message that seems very poignant today.

Yet there are a few downsides to this dream-state world — each issue in the storyline is quickly resolved — making life appear perfect. The gambles of every decision seem insignificant as the reward is instant. A theme that certainly wasn’t true in the real life of P.T. Barnum, but this can maybe be forgiven in the showmanship of Barnum, he’s a storyteller after all.

For any fan of musical theatre this is a film for you, a chance to see a man live a life of showmanship, regardless of the consequences.

After all, we have P.T.Barnum to thank for the entertainment industry of today — entertainment for everyone, and I think that is something worth seeing.

The Greatest Showman was released in the UK on 26th December.

This is Going to Hurt

I don’t often find myself straying from my bookshelf full of fiction, However, as soon as I’d heard of Adam Kay’s diary as a junior doctor, I was intrigued. Kay introduces an honest, raw, retelling of life on the inside the NHS: the long shifts, the lack of staff and funding but mostly the emotional toll this all takes. Despite the dedication of NHS staff across the country — the NHS is failing them.

Told with a side of dry humour Kay’s diaries are simultaneously heartwarming and devastating. It’s a glimpse into a world we rarely see. It’s not just the lack of social life, but the overtired doctors on the ward; what should be an exception is becoming the norm.

This is the shake up the NHS desperately needs, a chance for the outside world to see just how much the NHS is trying, and yet the services it provides continue to be overstretched. There are times when Kay points out more efficient methods of care, ways the NHS should be spending its money, but these decisions aren’t made by doctors, they’re made by people who rarely step foot into a hospital ward — no wonder they’re out of touch.

This book is a chance to appreciate the NHS and the hardworking staff, a chance to laugh out loud and on the next page have tears in your eyes. A chance to try and chance things for the future.

Saint George and the Dragon

I thought I knew the tale of England’s patron saint, yet this National Theatre production alternated my preconceptions of the famous story.

While we may begin with dragons and armour, knights and fair maidens. The story soon shifts to convey a much deeper message; questioning the world that is to come. Saint George (John Heffernan) interjects comedy at just the right moment bringing light relief to this otherwise quite dark play. Rory Mullarkey’s writing is tactically clever, intertwining this historic story with many modern twists and relatable experiences. Perhaps, we too, live in the constant shadow of the dragon.

Yet, it was the set that craftily brought each element together, bringing with it the world we know and the world we think we know. Gradually turning the simple village into a busy town and a thriving city — each time with a new challenge to face. The backdrop enhances the tale and with it the perception of development, of a new and improved life, while hinting at the sacrifice this entails.

This may have been my first visit to the National Theatre — but it certainly won’t be my last.

London – The National History Museum

This past month has been quite a busy one, I’ve moved to London and in a typical fashion of exploring a new city took the first opportunity to be a tourist. While I’ve visited the majority of London’s museums, most of my memories are ten years old. It seemed the perfect time to take the tube to South Kensington and visit the National History Museum.

I expected the dinosaurs, the fossils and grand scale of the exhibitions – one thing that surprised me was the architecture. Hintze Hall was astonishing, a masterpiece of the victorian era and something my younger self hadn’t noticed or appreciated. Regardless of the displays and taxonomy this room now held, it was the stonework, bridges and arches that held my attention.

The experience from start to finish was impressive, entering through the Earth’s core and being taken on a journey across the atmosphere from the Earth’s beginning to today. It’s a perfect spot for half term this week with a range of exhibitions everyone will enjoy.

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead’s tale is one of persistence and bravery. The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave from Georgia born into a life of suffering and the desire to escape to freedom.

As introductions go, Cora comes from a line of strong women, her grandmother Ajarry, stolen from her West African village, ferociously protective of her three-foot patch of earth, and her mother Mable, the only slave who has successfully escaped the plantation. When Cora is asked to escape with Caesar, part good luck charm, part companionship – the tale begins with the first trip on the underground railroad.

The journey continues to be one of suffering, small glimpses of hope and a chance of freedom — but the life of a slave can never truly be free. Hunted out by the renowned slave catcher Ridgeway, Cora may at times be physically free, but her time as a slave will forever haunt her. Aided by non-believers of the enslavement regime, the underground railroad becomes a symbol of hope, of kindness and most importantly the opportunity of freedom -— it’s a long ride to take.

An incredible tale of desire and truth, of raising the coloured question when the coloured question was at its most dangerous. It shows the strength of slaves and abolitionists alike, in a quest for freedom that can still be felt today.