Theatre Reviews

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by National Theatre

the curious incident

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Play: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author: Mark Haddon

Playwright: Simon Stephens

Director: Marianne Elliot

Company: National Theatre

Genre: Drama

Venue: King’s Theatre Glasgow

Performance Date: 17 Aug. 2017

Summary: “Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington. He has an extraordinary brain, exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.” (Source: curiousonstage.com)

Content Warnings: strong language, “dead dog” prop, domestic abuse, use of a knife.


My thoughts

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a truly stellar play. Its plot and protagonist, Christopher Boone played by Scott Reid, are equally unrelenting which made the play so engrossing. At first, I was a bit dubious about the casting choice of Scott Reid in such a young role (Christopher is fifteen years old), but once the first act commenced, I could see why he was chosen. From the beginning, Reid is invested in his role both vocally and physically; a lot of effort and thought was put in for the characterisation of Christopher. On a side note, Frantic Assembly (a physical theatre company) had input on Marianne Elliot’s production, which I think is what made the play so engaging – the audience could step into Christopher’s mind through the physicality of the ensemble.

 

scott reid as christopher
Scott Reid (Christopher Boone) and ensemble

The main theme of the play is Christopher’s autism, he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Simon Stephens, the playwright of the book adaptation, treats the condition with sensitivity, exploring how Christopher’s father copes. David Michaels portrays Ed Boone authentically, trying to understand his son’s world and thoughts.

In addition, Lucianne McEvoy who plays Christopher’s teacher is a great presence onstage as she encourages Christopher’s interests and becomes the voice of reason when the world becomes too much for Christopher. Elliot’s choice to have Siobhan on stage during certain moments was meaningful as she is possibly the most supportive person in Christopher’s life.

On a side note, I was mildly concerned about Toby who was portrayed by an ACTUAL rat (there were two rats’ names listed in the programme: Dumbo and Meeko – how cute!) on stage. There was one part of the play where Toby’s cage gets thrown around, but according to the programme “no animals were harmed in the making of this production”, so I hope that is the case.

Why did I attend this play?

I read Mark Haddon’s book years ago and its style was quite unusual, so when I heard that it was touring the UK, I knew I had to see it.

Would I attend another National Theatre production?

Yes, I would. I’ve seen three National Theatre productions this year so far, and I look forward to seeing many more!

Overall…

Simon Stephens’ play is true to Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel. I think this play will continue for many years to come.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: Who Are Your People by Matthew Macdonald

who are your people

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: Who Are Your People (Cò As A Tha Thu?)

Poet: Matthew MacDonald

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Red Squirrel Press

Summary: A collection of poetry about considering one’s roots.

Content Warnings: alcohol, graveyards, bleeding, death, paternal estrangement, abuse.


My thoughts

Who Are Your People is incredible. I heard some of the poems read aloud, so I connected even more with Matthew MacDonald’s poetry. His poetry is exceedingly precise, sensory, and authentic; as I read the collection, it felt like I was there in those moments.

time and I observe each other

through glass tinted with rain

as we pass, going by other routes

my watch is ticking forward

as I watch the world reverse

– On the Train, p.18

Macdonald’s poem, On the Train, deals with a journey where the speaker contemplates their identity and sense of home. This particular stanza was astounding; the opening line of “time and I observe each other” is profound as time is personified to be almost a witness to the speaker’s journey to their ancestral roots. The final lines of the stanza is incredibly visual, I could see the speaker sitting in the opposite direction to where the train was headed, and how time was racing back to when the speaker last visited; it creates the idea of two different realities/time periods merging together when returning to a familiar place, and I think most people could identify with that.

Continuing this theme of time, the speaker addresses memory entangled with identity:

this is why we came here

to visit the one who remembers you

not as you remember yourself

 

but as a child, carefree…

– History II – Hillside Cottage, p.30

Trying to remember yourself is a peculiar feeling. This poem is concerned with the speaker as a child in the north of Scotland, and it is quite bittersweet as the speaker is concerned about the changes the cottage has gone through as well as themselves.

Why did I read it?

I had the honour of seeing/meeting Matthew Macdonald at a Neil Hilborn gig. I stumbled upon the merchandise stall and saw an additional poetry book to Neil’s Our Numbered Days, and the title intrigued me so much that I bought it before seeing Matthew’s performance. (He looked surprised, to say the least!)

Does the poet have other works?

You can read more of Matthew MacDonald’s poetry on his website

Overall…

As a fellow Scot, I connected to the scenery that MacDonald created. If you enjoy reflective, personal poetry about home, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: This is How It Starts by Dawn Lanuza

this is how it starts

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

Title: This is How It Starts

Poet: Dawn Lanuza

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: A collection of poetry about love, heartbreak, acceptance, and fortitude.

Content Warnings: use of godd*mn, use of sh*t, intimacy.


My thoughts

I related to the majority of the poems, but the collection lacked variation for me. Dawn Lanuza’s dedication is “to alternate endings”, which caught my attention as it compliments the title. This is How It Starts is about beginning again after an awful ending of a relationship, and finding your inner strength to move on. The collection itself seems to go over past events which may have led up to an ending of some sort. What disappointed me about this poetry book was the lack of “starting” to move on, but perhaps the title itself is representative of the action – you don’t need to dwell on moving on, you just need to.

I know I said I know all about wanting

but I don’t know a thing about having.

– all this wanting

all this wanting is the opening poem of the collection, and it is a powerful one. The above lines are the final thoughts of the poem, and it impacted me greatly as the speaker expresses various things that they have desired across their life until coming to this realisation.

On a different note, there were some lovely illustrations in Lanuza’s poetry book. I wish there were more!

Back to the poetry, there was one particular line which stood out to me for various reasons:

It’s okay.

You’re okay.

You can wear your sadness

at midnight.

– this is your lullaby

The final lines of this stanza affected me massively. This poem is one of the few poems that address the idea of moving on, but of course, moving on requires a transition. This metaphor of wearing your sadness at dusk is equally comforting and disconcerting, I personally identified with this sentiment, I have never thought of sadness as something you can wear.

Why did I read it?

I’m all about supporting indie poets and authors. In addition, the collection actually doesn’t have a traditional summary, it is simply a poem from the book:

Not all
heartbreaks
have to end
with you
broken.

Does the poet have other works?

Dawn Lanuza has written another poetry collection titled The Last Time I’ll Ever Write About You, and has written novels titled The Hometown Hazard and The Boyfriend Backtrack.

Overall…

This is How It Starts is a good poetry collection, but it wasn’t for me in places. If you enjoy love poetry about finding yourself after a break-up, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: Fluent in Rivers by Kathleen Brewin Lewis

fluent in rivers

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

Title: Fluent in Rivers

Poet: Kathleen Brewin Lewis

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “In this lyrical chapbook of poetry, Kathleen Brewin Lewis writes of a hunger to know and connect with the natural environment…” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: vivid description of plant dissection, mention of starvation, sex, taxidermy, bleeding, implied death, Civil War, cancer.


My thoughts

I wasn’t affected by this collection in the slightest, however, I can see how other people could enjoy it. Nature poetry is a tough sub-genre to master; in order for it to be authentic, I think the poet has to experience these wondrous little things in nature, and I think Lewis has. From the full Goodreads summary, the collection appears to be autobiographical, and it is evident due to the imagery and language used.

There were a few interesting lines that caught my eye:

The outside is trying to come in.

– Whereupon the Writer Thinks She is the Centre of the Universe

I actually laughed at this line as it reminded me of summer holidays and how frustrated my family would become for all the flying things to come into our holiday flat. The poem itself is in reality quite creepy as the beasties are “craving” the writer’s light.

I want to know what would find me

first:

rattlesnake or ranger

heatstroke or angel,

fiend or god.

– On the Brink

This is the final stanza of the poem and is the most interesting. The poem alludes to the biblical story where Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert and the poem’s epigraph refers to a place called “Island in the Sky” in Canyonlands National Park. After a quick Google search, I can see why the speaker refers to such a place – it is desolation personified. The poem itself is vague and ambiguous; it has left me wondering!

Why did I read it?

I loved the lyrical tone of the title!

Does the poet have other works?

Kathleen Brewin Lewis has written another poetry collection titled July’s Thick Kingdom. 

Overall…

Lewis’ collection is visually beautiful, but I found it difficult to connect to the poetry. If you enjoy nature poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: Stubborn Lover by Christina Hopp

stubborn lover (2)

Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)

Title: Stubborn Lover

Poet: Christina Hopp

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “A collection of 21 poems on the fragility of human nature.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: suffocation, corpses, death, blood, anxiety, knife, suicidal thoughts, alcohol, vivid description of cutting a heart out, use of f*cking.


My thoughts

Christina Hopp’s poetry collection is incredibly abstract and ambiguous. I connected with some poems more than others, mostly lines than whole poems. The collection is quite chaotic, changing tone and imagery every line or so, but it was quite exhilarating in places. You honestly can’t predict this collection.

I cried in the bathtub

over whatever God’s last straw was.

I felt sorry for whoever pulled it out.

– Meeting My True Colours

In all honesty, I cannot even begin to imagine what the line means. God seems to punish the speaker for something, but that something isn’t really explained. What is God’s last straw? Who pulled it out? Why? So many questions. All I know is that this line affected me.

And I can’t forgive you for letting

me wander –

for being the creator of everything

here

that is dirty.

– In The Centre Of The Hild

After reading the collection once, I re-read it, and I realised that the collection is (more or less) a one-sided conversation between a frustrated believer/Christian and God. The believer appears to be at odds with God, they are almost enraged that God has made them this way.

Why did I read it?

I was curious about the theme of fragility mentioned in the summary.

Does the poet have other works?

Christina Hopp has written another poetry collection titled The Morning After Relapse.

Overall…

As an agnostic person, I quite liked this collection. The theme of God is not that obvious from the title, Stubborn Lover, but perhaps the title signifies the struggles of a believer. If you enjoy spiritual, melancholic poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: Forgive Me My Salt by Brenna Twohy

forgive me my salt

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: Forgive Me My Salt

Poet: Brenna Twohy

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “Brenna Twohy’s debut collection reads like a letter to all that haunts her– letting them know that despite her wounds, she’s still alive.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: low self-esteem, alcohol, use of f*ck, knife, trauma, threat, vivid description of fish being pierced by hook, shattered glass, noose, bleeding, rotting, description of drowning, animal death, death, nightmare, funeral, sex, mental illness, panic attacks, mention of rape, anxiety, erotic Harry Potter fanfiction, use of the word wh*re.


My thoughts

Brenna Twohy’s debut collection can only be described in one word: intense. From the first poem, I connected to Twohy’s words. As Twohy is known for her spoken word performances, you can tell by reading her poetry that the words have a life of their own. She has this succinct way of expressing herself in each poem, her dark metaphors are just what the doctor ordered.

On nights

when my body feels

more cage than shelter

and my hands ache from the rebuilding,

– Consider This Your Only Warning

Twohy’s opening poem has some beautifully dark imagery. The second and third line of the poem completely seized me. It perfectly expresses feeling trapped in your own body, your own home.

Do you really think Lazarus wasn’t angry

when they opened up his tomb?

 

Do you really think you can come back

without bringing hell with you?

– I Know It’s a Little Late

These are the final lines of Twohy’s poem, and I again was seized with emotion. How is it possible for this poet to express so much in so little? The ambiguity of the last line is overwhelming!

Why did I read it?

The title was intriguing and somewhat amusing, so I was curious.

Does the poet have other works?

Brenna Twohy will be releasing a second poetry collection titled Zig-Zag Girl.

Overall…

I am speechless with this poetry collection. It has completely purged me. If you love dark, visceral poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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Literature Reviews

Review: Before I Lose My Nerve by Layla S. Tanjutco

 

before i lose my nerve (2)

Rating: ★★ (2 stars)

Title: Before I Lose My Nerve (This is NOT About You)

Poet: Layla S. Tanjutco

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “If you’ve ever had your heart broken you would know that it takes courage to love again. Before I Lose My Nerve is a collection of poems about heartbreak, the journey to finding the courage to love again, and realizing the kind of love that one deserves.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: sexual imagery, bleeding.


My thoughts

For me, this collection lacked depth. I struggled to connect to the poetry. The content of the poetry was not the issue, it was the writing style which I somehow didn’t connect with. Maybe it was the choice of words or the syntax. I am also confused at the subtitle, as the collection is quite descriptive about someone. Then again, the final poem in Tanjutco’s collection explains that the collection is for herself. As a poet, I certainly understand that poetry is often created purely for the poet, not for a reader.

Despite such a low rating, I did like a couple of Tanjutco’s lines:

There was only

the deafening silence

of my tears

falling

on

the

ground.

– Timber

The spacing of the final line was quite clever. The spacing creates onomatopoeia, where the isolation of the last four words produces the sound of the tears falling. On the other hand, the speaker describes the falling of the tears as painfully loud yet silent.

Why did I read it?

Love poetry is an interesting sub-genre of poetry, so I like to read different styles.

Does the poet have other works?

As far as I am aware, no.

Overall…

Tanjutco’s writing style simply wasn’t for me in places. If you like short love poetry collections, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings


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