My Name is Leon

By Kit de Waal

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There are so many reasons why you should head on down to your local library or bookseller and get your hands on this.

For one, it’s not your conventional first person narrative. Instead, the story is told by the nine (and then ten) year old Leon, in the third person, where the narrator is Leon’s mind and it’s his take on the events.

Secondly, the so simple sentences provide you with such honest, innocent and sometimes complicated emotions.

Thirdly, de Waal is outstanding.  She doesn’t just write from a child’s point of view – using their descriptions, dialogue, ways of looking at the world – as a vehicle to gift you with the story, she goes deeper. She gives you a real child. The kind that make stupid and dangerous decisions. Not because they are bad, but because they are human and they haven’t experienced. Leon is immature, and that’s what he should be. He has also had to face a lot.

Furthermore, Leon is a glorious, thoughtful child. His intentions are so good and though his reading of situations may not be spot on, you’ll find yourself thinking about him and sometimes worrying, even when you’re doing the washing up and haven’t picked up the story since last night’s Book at Bedtime.

This story is so many things. It’s touchy; beautiful; upsetting; authentic. It explores loss and love. It’s sweet and unfair. It also explores intense love and desire to protect those closest to you.

And it’s not just Leon that will stay with you, but you’ll come into contact with (and if you’re anything like me will spend long moments thinking about), the others that Leon encounters. Like Tufty, Maureen, Jake’s new family…even The Zebra.

This is a powerful book – simply written, but by no means simple.

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Hepworth Wakefield

West Yorkshire

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When on route, take a detour or make it a destination, for this gallery is not only visually tasty from an architectural point of view, but also holds some fabulous pieces that you can inspect closely without having to peer around others to gain an appreciation of the art.

Also, what’s on offer is diverse and bound to appeal to a range of tastes; the pieces are displayed to their best advantage – with the clever use of natural light and shadow; and the shop’s a little treasure trove as well.

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There are a few things you may not know about me, so before I go further….

  1. And this is a biggy…I didn’t really know anything about Barbara Hepworth (sorry…) until roughly 16mths ago. Now, by no means an expert, rather a huge admirer, I spend enormous amounts of time plotting and dreaming and devising the best place to position my own Single Form on our terrace which struggles to house even the ferns.
  2. For six weeks, Team Family minus one (but plus a super lovely extra-family addition), attended fortnightly (just two hours each go), a course on the London Group. So I managed to have further knowledge gaps filled and was introduced to some spectacularly talented painters and sculptors. From a very huge list, three really stood out for me, Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
  3. And…I might not really understand what I’m looking at, but I’m happy to give it a try.

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So why mention all this.

Well…as the name would suggest, you get a lot of Barbara Hepworth. Not just sculptures, but history, explanation of the process of casting and photographs. You also get a lot of ‘Please don’t touch’, which is really difficult not to when you are standing half an arm’s distance from the most glorious wooden beauty softly calling ‘Touch me, touch me, I know you want to’.

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And bonus time, it was as if someone wished to do me a favour, for no more London Group on PowerPoint, it was there staring straight back at me.  All three of my favs are represented here and seeing them in the raw really does make for happy.

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By now you are obviously itching to get off up the M1 and take a look, which is wise, however keep in mind, if you can’t leave that operating theatre or that court room just yet, try and visit before 19 March 2017 – as the first of the two exhibits/shows I enjoyed the most Anthea Hamilton reimagines Kettle’s yard finishes then and my other, The contemporary collection will end Autumn 2017.

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The Vertical Hour

by David Hare
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

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Life’s pretty great when you go out for a walk, well a couple of walks in the Lake District and find they have a theatre in town, and not just any theatre, it’s two theatres in one spot – with the smaller, the Studio, staging a David Hare play, and there are hardly any tickets left, but you and your best mate (read Husband), get two…yes, I said it…Life is pretty great.

So great in fact, we spent the rest of mini break spotting the actors (OK one), around town, driving his car, smoking a pipe and knowing, knowing what he really does and feeling pretty blessed that we’d seen it.

In case you haven’t just rushed off and read up about The Vertical Hour or you saw it in your distant past and it’s now a little less vivid in detail, this play looks at some fundamental issues which though first performed in 2006 are super current today.  In particular – opposing views.  When is it or isn’t it right to invade foreign countries and kill in an attempt to bring about regime change?

Additionally, it examines tension in relationships, either that being with your dad, child, lover or confidant. It explores how one deals with a public persona and their private feelings.  But that’s not all it does, it gets you thinking about the big issues, discussing them and exploring your own thoughts and opinions.

And…it throws a great conversation starter for the next day’s walk – ‘If Oliver and Nadia had stayed talking for five minutes more, do you think something would have happened?’

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Oh and the cast – though only five in size – have just been added to my list of need to see more of. And that’s not just around town, driving, smoking pipes, but on stage – which brings me to my one regret…I didn’t get to see them treading the boards in their other plays run during the Summer Season 2016, however maybe you will.

Also, dare I forget, the theatre itself was ideal for the production. Doing my mental maths, it only sits eighty, evenly distributed on either side of the stage, so yes intimate…though good intimate, not creepy intimate…and thankfully no need for those teeny microphones that manage not to be sufficiently discreet and you spend considerable amounts of time being distracted by the funny growth on the actors’ foreheads and not entirely focused on the play.

Season ends super shortly, so hurry.

Kat’s Kitchen

135 Main Street, Keswick CA12 5NJ
Open 10.00hr-17.00hr

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I love Keswick and I love Keswick more since discovering Kat’s Kitchen, Thursday of last week.

The food is unbelievably good and crunchy and nutritious and exciting and the kind of mouth happiness you should get every single day of your life…sadly I shan’t though, as I don’t live there…but maybe you do or you are holidaying nearby and are considering making an excellent dining choice.

I spent two fabulous lunch dates on the top of a couple of mountain-hills eating a Falafel wrap with bonus salad, followed by the Gluten Free Carrot Cake at 3.00pm break-time (all dishes cunningly purchased as take-out prior to each day’s activities). And I shared (well not exactly), an evening meal of Moroccan stew with lemon couscous and Stuffed Aubergine, which was so pleasurable no restraint was shown (or ability to share well), and I went to bed happy happy. Thankfully we all know vegetarian and vegan food is pretty much the bees knees, so I slept super well and woke refreshed, ready to track down my next mouthful.

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The Rover

By Aphra Behn
At RSC, Stratford-Upon-Avon

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Since venturing off to take in this supreme piece of theatre fun, I’ve shout-talked my happiness at a handful of friends about its joyous impact upon me and the crazy fact that I’d never come across this spectacularly talented restoration period lady playwright before.

Thankfully those kind friends weren’t shocked and wishing to disengage from my company indefinitely, rather chuffed that I’ve finally become acquainted with such a hugely gifted, all-rounder.  For apparently, she wasn’t just a dramatist, but a poet, novelist, SPY, political propagandist and the first English woman to earn her living by the pen – how great is that…and how useful that one’s programme was able to fill me in further.

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The text of The Rover serves up meaty fistfuls of roll on the floor hysterical bawdiness, which is presented to you by a superior cast. The energy’s infectious and the action so lively I struggled to stay in my seat. Thankfully I didn’t have to for the whole play, for there was an interval where I dashed off to the Shop to purchase a copy of the text for Team Family winter evening fun and then at the end of all the terrific shenanigans, I ejected from my seat to stand and applaud and smile and try and catch the eye of the rogue Willmore and the feisty Hellena.

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The RSC does theatre. It does costumes. It does music. It does dance. It does lusty excitable action. And it does a spectacular night out.

If you see just one play this year – see this.

The Two Noble Kinsmen

By John Fletcher & William Shakespeare
At The RSC

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Finally I’ve got my act together and I’m about to fill you in a sizable treat which is showing at Stratford-Upon-Avon presently and will be until February 2017. So easily enough time to book tickets, flights and gift yourself with 2hrs 35mins of ‘gee I made a great decision’.

A great decision based on an extraordinary cast, fabulous direction and an interesting exploration into friendship, desire, attraction and arranged unions.

Oh and a massive thumbs up for the staging and props – for the action is lively to say the least, so when Arcite and Palamon get a little heated up, you receive a huge serving of energy, involvement and anxiety. Anxiety?…Indeed…for they are accomplished swordsmen and the way they speed up the iron fencing, there are moments you despair that they might fall on an entranced audience member or perhaps really hurt themselves. But yes…this concern of ‘will they, won’t they’, just adds to the excitement and your experience.

Did I use the word entranced? I meant to keep that to describe the effect Frances McNamee (who plays Emilia) had on me, so thanks to Thesaurus.com, I’ll throw in a couple of adjectives (or they could be verbs) to characterise her and her performance. Bewitching, mesmerizing and simply stunning (oh there was adverb). The moment she hits the stage, you don’t see anyone else.  You also feel for her, for the choices she has to make and the choices she can’t.

And other goods news – this is the beginning of the Winter season, so chances are you can catch most members of this remarkable cast in other productions showing in The Swan. So I’d say best approach here, buy tickets to both The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Rover as well.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

By Alice Birch

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After experiencing some new writing at the Royal Court I was definitely itching for more, so you can imagine my relief on discovering that the RSC as part of their Making Mischief Festival during the summer, were putting some of their own on. So, dashed off I, typed in the MasterCard details, obtained three very affordable tickets and begged my days to move faster.

Why beg? Well, when you see a comment that states ‘This play is not well behaved’, you know…well I know… ‘that’s what I’m talking about’. And you start to…well I…get really excited and expectant and geed up for the big day.

And yes by golly it came, and Team Family not bashful in the slightest, took those empty front row seats, with legs a swinging, grinned until lights out and then proceeded to howl with laughter throughout the first two scenes of the play.

And when I mean howl, I mean loud, mixed with tears and side holding, for truly ruly Scene One is genius and was executed by some very fine performers, and then Scene Two, is comic and hilarious and again delivered with such talent that you’re left with little else but be blown away by the writing and performance.

I can’t tell you how many scenes/sketches there are in this one hour performance, but I can say it doesn’t just stop at funny, for each mini-play has its own angle to explore. These all pretty much focus on the role women in the 21st century – how they speak, feel, are victimised and can take control, so it’s fascinating, thought-provoking, daring and bold.  It’s also not fluffy, and at times quite disturbing (but good disturbing) and powerful.

And with super credit to the playwright – for the language can shock and wound and excite all in equal measure and all at the same time.

Also the staging is stark, effective and adds to the action. Oh and the cast – three super fabulously women (Emmanuella Cole, Emma Fielding & Beth Park) and an equally super fabulous man (Robert Boulter).

Thankfully, it’s still on, not on at the Other Place in Stratford where I caught it, or Edinburgh where it’s just been but at Shoreditch Town Hall until 17 September.