Tartuffe, directed by Iqbal Khan for RSC

I knew of Tartuffe before seeing this play but I’ve never seen it performed before and I don’t know the text so this theatre trip was a bit of an adventure.  I wasn’t sure what to expect although I knew it had been given an update by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto.

Moliere’s original was about poking fun at, and satirising, “directeurs de conscience” in 17th century France.  These Catholic lay preachers exerted high levels of influence on the individuals they battened onto and not all of them were genuinely pious, religious or working in the best interests of their “clients”.

The play is about exposing the hypocrisy of the people who exploit the tenets and beliefs of devout people.

This RSC version has been transported to Birmingham and to a family of Pakistani Muslims.  The father, Iqbal, meets Tartuffe at the mosque, believes him to be a holy man and brings him home.

The rest of the family – children Damee and Mariam, wife Amira, friend Khalil and cleaner Darina – can see through Tartuffe but Iqbal continues to believe and to retreat into more traditional beliefs. The crux comes when Iqbal expects Mariam to break off her engagement to the man she loves and marry Tartuffe, when he signs away the family home and business to Tartuffe and when Tartuffe makes it clear to Amira that he wants her.

Darina, the main narrator, helps Amira devise a way out and Tartuffe is exposed as a con man.

The play starts with a bang – literally – as Darina explodes onto the stage listening to heavy metal music “through her headphones” and starts explaining what’s happening. It’s funny from the beginning and the audience continued laughing throughout the play.

There is some brilliant wordplay between characters and during the rap interludes.

I think that the underlying story has enough credibility for the audience to understand that it is universal. It doesn’t matter whether the family are Muslim, Catholic, Survivalists, wedded to the tenets of Napoleon Hill or another business guru, etc, etc, etc, the potential is there for an unscrupulous hustler to take advantage of a guileless follower.

I think the play also reflected how, in a world that has changed so much during their lifetime, older people can feel the need to find something that gives them a sense of certainty they lost when their generation became “the grown ups”.

On the whole I think the stage set worked well, although I am puzzled as to why some of the furniture needed to be moved around on Scalextric-style pegs in slots.  It was slightly distracting from the play trying to work out the why!

I really liked Michelle Bonnard as Darina, Raj Bajaj as Damee and Zainab Hasan as Mariam.  They inhabited their roles well.  I didn’t think anyone was miscast and, given some of my recent rants, everyone was audible.

Overall, a really fun evening at the theatre with an underlying message that kept us discussing it, on and off, all the way home from Stratford to Yorkshire.

Click here to find out Iqbal Khan’s view of the play

Click here for the What’s On Stage review

Mindfulness for Beginners – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Before I start writing about this book I’d like to make one thing clear; I think the idea of being mindful – being in the present and thinking about what you’re doing – is a good one and it would pay most of us to spend a bit more time contemplating rather than rushing around.

Having got that out of the way I can now say that I found this book to be a load of twaddle!

The book is split into sections; Entering [a state of mindfulness], Deepening it, Ripening it and Practicing it.  Under each header are very short chapters of 1 to 2 pages looking at a different aspect of the main header theme.

I can’t even begin to describe some of the things this book recommended as I’ve simply ditched them from my conscious mind and instead of feeling, calm, meditative and mindful I just wanted to throw the book at the wall!

It is the type of book that gives rise to the hippy-dippy, new-age, fluffy air-head tag that gets attached to people who are interested in meditation and alternative therapies.

I’m sure that somewhere there is a useful book on how to achieve mindfulness and how to incorporate it into your life.  This one isn’t it!  Don’t waste your money on it.

The Origins of the Second World War – AJP Taylor

I bought this book when I did my history A-level as a mature student, picked out the bits I wanted to quote in the essay I was writing and then stuck it on the shelf and forgot about it.  I picked it up whilst looking for another book to lend to someone and decided to actually read it.

It’s always interesting to read a history book that is also history.  I find it much easier to spot the angle the author is coming from and it’s no secret that AJP Taylor came from a very left-wing perspective, almost naively so from a modern stand-point.  It’s also interesting to note where there are gaps in knowledge that we have filled since Communist archives have opened up to western historians.  For me it is these two perspectives that really date this book.

I enjoyed getting a different perspective about the inter-wat years in Europe and a different viewpoint on the political situation between Britain, France, Italy and Germany, particularly the relationships between the various governments. It was also interesting to consider the alternatives Taylor considers were available to those leaders had there been the political will to find another way.  I suspect a lot of this boils down to hindsight although Taylor liver through the inter-war years so he must have had some idea of what would and wouldn’t have been acceptable to the general populace of Britain.

This was an easy and interesting read but it is, ultimately, a book that has been overtaken by more modern history books written by authors who have a greater breadth of source material available to them.

Click here to find out more about AJP Taylor

If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Else Will – Eric Sykes

I always liked Eric Sykes as a comedic actor.  He was alwys funny, he was never crude and The Plank still makes me laugh.  So, when I found a copy of his autobiography at a book sale buying it was a no-brainer.

This is less of an autobiography than a series of anecdotes in chronological order.

The earlier chapters about growing up in Oldham are the most detailed, like a more usual biography.  Sykes describes growing up on the borders of poverty, his early jobs in factories and shops and then his call up into the RAF during the war.

As with many comics of his generation it was the people he met during the war who influenced him to become an actor, comic and writer after the war rather than to settle down back into a steady job in a factory or shop again.

The show-biz years parts of the book are a series of stories about Sykes work or about his family rather than telling the reader much about Sykes the man.  I suspect that like a lot of autobiographies there is a lot that has been left out or swept under the carpet.

Generally though Eric Sykes comes across as a modest man who was interesting and interested.  A man driven to keep working and who also enjoyed what he did.

I’m really pleased I read the book.  And that writing this has taken nearly 3-times as long as a review usually does because I’ve kept been side-tracked into watching YouTube videos.  It’s not often I spend more time laughing than typing when writing!

Click here to find out more about the Plank

Click here to watch The Plank

Click here to watch other Eric Sykes clips


Globe: Life in Shakespeare’s London – Catharine Arnold

Rather than being a book about Shakespeare this is a book that tells the history of  theatres in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime; starting with the opening of Theatre in Shoreditch by James Burbage.  There is also a chapter on Sam Wanamaker’s ambition to open The Globe and another on the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London in 2014.

It is an odd mix of storytelling – imagining the young Will Shakespeare visiting London for the first time on an errand in 1586 – and history based on known facts from civic records, diaries and letters.

Sometimes I would find this annoying but I actually quite enjoyed this book.  I think it’s because the author is very clear about when she is making things up and when they are based on fact and her storytelling has a different voice from when she relates historical fact.

I really enjoyed learning more about the Burbage family and just how instrumental they were in the development of theatres as we know them today.  I had heard the name before but not appreciated that theatre was a family thing not just an individual.

The author explains more about the problems experienced by companies of players during the Tudor period; things such as plague epidemics, political tensions, plays that offend important people at court and the rise of Puritanism.

The book is also good at introducing some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and putting his plays into context amongst theirs.  Sometimes, given the reverence shown to Shakespeare in some quarters today, it is easy to forget that in his day he was another playwright amongst many others.

Ir was fascinating to learn more about modern Globe theatre and the struggles Sam Wanamaker had to get it built.  I admire his tenacity and am saddened that he never got to see it finished.

Would I recommend this book?  I’m not sure.  I wouldn’t rush out to buy another book by this author on the strength of this one.  On the other hand, if someone gave me one of her books to read it wouldn’t languish quite as long on my “books-to-read” pile as this one did.  An enjoyable but not compelling book.

Click here to find out more about The Globe

Click here to book tickets for The Globe