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This is about the play, based on this novel. When the play opened, I was uncertain that I was going to enjoy it. It started off in a way that made me think, ”Oh no, this is awful!”. However, the beginning is just one twist in a series that keeps you in suspense until the very end. The play is billed as a two-hander, i.e. there should only be two actors in the play all the way through. Spot the extra as the play progresses! It concerns a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, a man attempting to exorcise a nightmare he lived through by setting it down as a story to be read to anyone who will listen. He enlists the help of a younger actor, who loses patience with the reading, and suggests that as they happen to be in a theatre, they should act it out. So this actor takes the part of the solicitor and Arthur Kipps plays all the other parts. Obviously, the role taxes the actor playing Arthur Kipps tremendously, I have seen it played by Barry Stanton and Edward Petherbridge, and both were incredible. The set appears to be very simple, and then slowly turns into a lonely mansion through the aid of gauze, lighting effects and an exceptional back stage team. At one point they do a scene change whilst you are watching the two actors, and I had absolutely no idea it was going on! It is scary; there are real “scream” moments – quite literally. At one, the whole audience cried out, and laughed nervously because they all did it together! It is not blood thirsty, just a genuine build up of tension in a claustrophobic atmosphere. I highly recommend this play, but be warned it is not for younger children, or the faint of heart!
Many people will assume that to enjoy this play, you have to be brilliant. Not so, else how could it appeal to the general audience? The basic concept within the play is that it is an unravelling of a mystery. It is two stories in one. The first story is set in the past, the second in the present day. The past story concerns a young girl called Thomasina, who is a genius. She poses the simplest of questions to her tutor, yet the answering of those questions is shown to be incredibly complex. For example. Do you remember when you were given rice/tapioca pudding at school with a spoonful of jam in the middle? And how many of us stirred the jam into the pudding until it was pink? And why is it, that no matter how hard you stir, you can't unmix the jam from the pudding? Thus we move elegantly onto chaos theory, and all the attendant theories contained within. We do not have to understand Chaos theory however for this play to be enjoyable. Stoppard makes plenty of relevant observations for the present day within the second story line to keep us entertained. For example, he touches on the never-ending argument between mathematicians and poets. Whilst mathematicians find beauty in numbers and that which can be proved, that which makes sense, poets find beauty within language and feelings, things that cannot be proved or mapped out on paper. I heard an argument between my maths and English teacher once, one said, "At least I can count the chairs in the dinning room" and the other retorted, "But I can describe them!" which sums up the argument succinctly. There are many, many moments of hilarity and sadness within the play. Go and see it only to be moved to tears by the end scene. From this, will other people be encouraged to study Chaos Theory? In the hope of this, let me leave you with the words of Alan Moore on the same subject :- Find me a dead cloud And a sharp piece of Science And let me see the skeleton of weather. And let me map all the amps that have been mistaken for the world, And learn by heart the timetable of dice, And from our clutching, self-invented dance steps see, An accidental grace, choreography. "Big Numbers" by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkewvicz. Available at all good comic shops.
When I first tuned into this programme, I disliked it. The pilot was terrible, the make-up awful, and every character seemed awkward with everyone else. It’ll never last, I thought. How wrong I was! The Star Trek viewers often argue that it is difficult to get into that you need to watch all the episodes to know what it going on, and to some extent they have a point. A viewer who has not watched all the episodes will not have the hairs on the back of their neck stand up when they hear “There is a hole in your mind” or “I have always been here.” However, there are many episodes that are ‘stand alone’ ones as well as being part of the whole. A good starting point would be the excellent “Deathwalker”, which covers subjects relevant today, such as war criminals, how much does the end justify the means and so on. The main story arc covers three and a half years. There is an ancient battle going on between two races, the Vorlons and the Shadows, who are made (at first) to represent Light and Dark. Then there are the younger races, the Centauri, the Narns, the Minbari and of course, the humans. Humans are also divided into telepaths and non-telepaths. There is politics, there is fighting, there are love interests – basically, something to interest anyone. Except sports fans perhaps! In the beginning, it seemed so simple. The Vorlons were the good guys, they were mysterious, but they preached peace and enlightenment through contemplation. The Shadows were the bad guys, they invited war and conquest – always undesirable, right? The Vorlons would ask philosophical questions such as “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” The Shadows…well, I dismissed them as being without redemption until the writer of the series pointed out that all they had done was ask, “What do you want?” Is this a bad thing? The conflicting ideas between them eventually leads to a showdown which does not end as expected. The only disadvantage was the fact that once the war was over, the series went down hill. Its only redemption was the episode “Sleeping in the light”, which many will find over-sentimental, but I enjoyed it. Quote for life : “When the avalanche has started, it is too late for the small pebbles to vote”.
The Harry Potter books The whole of the Harry Potter series is excellent. I think it is the amount of imagination contained within the books that make them stand out against all the competition. The characters are well written, with the added bonus that they have their own moments of weakness. As the main people are children, it must not be expected that they will act as adults, and the writer does not let us down. There are moments of tension created by them as well as by ‘the bad guys’, they have their own opinions and awkward scenes I can remember from school are re-created for us. Harry has times when he is completely alone, he is not simply surrounded by ‘yes’ people. As with all good fantasy, there are rules, not just for the school, but also in terms of casting spells. From these can be learned the dangerous consequences of acting emotionally (Ron and the slugs incident springs to mind!) and the importance of learning are also stressed. Hermione may be a swot but it is she that Harry turns to in times of trouble, making her knowledge invaluable. There are elements of mystery. What is the secret behind the Dark Arts teacher (I can see this is going to be a long-running theme, every term there is a new one)? Who is the Heir? Is Harry going to defeat Voldemort? Find the answers in the books! However, it must be remembered that these are written for children. As much as I may enjoy them, it has to be said my nieces enjoy them even more. If you want to keep two six-year olds (older and younger as well, I hope, but I can’t comment!) quiet for hours in the car, get the audiotapes. Stephen Fry is brilliant, capturing both the humour and the tension. The only time the girls spoke up (for literally two hours) was to make sure that we were going to put the next tape in. The only slight quibble I had was with the last book. Did anyone else find it a bit too dark?
Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson Note the last name : Roberson, not Robertson. Very important when looking on Amazon for new books by this brilliant author. I picked up the first in a series of eight just on the off chance, then spent the next four or five years waiting anxiously for the rest of the books. It starts with a young woman called Alix, waiting in the forest for the arrival of her lover – the prince of the realm, Carillon. They fall to talking about the slaughter his uncle (the ruler of the country) has encouraged upon one of the races, the Cheysuli. They are colloquially known as “Shapechangers”, for the very simple reason that they do just that. As Alix and Carillon talk, she vehemently defends the Cheysuli but their conversation is interrupted by one of the Shapechangers called Finn. He kidnaps them both, and thus leads Alix into contact with this race. As time goes on, she realises why her adopted father used never to encourage hatred of the Cheysuli : she is related to them. As the series progresses, it reveals a prophecy that the Cheysuli must follow in order to survive. Or do they? Whilst many of them strive to bring this prophecy about, some break away and try to prevent it from happening. There are also evil magic users, called the Ihlini, trying to stop the prophecy – or perhaps they aren’t evil, but are fighting for the best of reasons. Jennifer Roberson writes beautifully. She has the ability to really get the feel of the shape change, of becoming an animal. One of the characters describes the gift of flight to a man who can never possess it, and one can share in his regret when she stops and he (figuratively) comes down to earth. The series continues over eight books. Shapechangers, Song of Homana, Legacy of the sword, Track of the White Wolf, Pride Of princes, Daughter of the Lion, Flight of the Raven and Tapestry of Lions. She has also written another series about tw o characters called Del and Sandtiger, which are well worth picking up. The Shapechangers books will appeal to teenagers as well.
Terry Goodkind is one of the best authors I have ever read. I like fantasy novels at the best of times, but even more than that, I like fantasy novels which allow for amazing things to happen, but still follow rules of their own. Without rules, fantasy can become anarchy; it leaves the reader floundering in a world they can’t understand. The book starts simply enough : an ordinary woodsman (Richard) meets a beautiful woman. It turns out that she is being chased by three men intent on killing her. Richard defends her, and all three men are killed. The woman herself kills two by a method he doesn’t understand, and nor do we for a great majority of the book. We get tantalising hints by other people around them who know who and what the woman is but the truth only emerges about half-way through. The book involves magic, prophecy, fighting and to some extent, politics. It covers people’s behaviour and also addresses issues to which Terry Goodkind has obviously given a great deal of thought. The beginning was slow going, but well-worth pursuing, there is a definite calm before the storm. The characters are well defined, both the heroes and the villains, which makes every scene gripping. I think my favourite part of the second book was when the woman, Khalen, discusses war tactics with an army of 5,000 soldiers about to attack a force of 50,000. Sounds boring, but I can assure you, it was not. Towards the end of the book, I thought I was going to be disappointed. Richard is captured by some women known as Mord-Sith, and horribly tortured. I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be “torture for its shock value” and added nothing to story. However, this episode turns out not only to have consequence for the rest of the story, but also continues a theme throughout the rest of series. The story start with “Magician’s First Rule”, and continues through “Stone of Te ars”, “Blood the Fold”, “Temple of the Four winds”, “Sword of Fire” and “Faith of the Fallen”. I haven’t read the last book yet, I am impatiently awaiting the arrival of it in paperback version. A word of warning : If you decide to buy the books, make sure you get the small paperback version. I was annoyed by the fact that I bought “Sword of Fire” in the large format paperback, only to have it brought out in a smaller and cheaper version a couple of months later. My only issue with the books would be the ending of part two. It was rather a contrived one and something of a let down. However, book three made up for it.