Mary Poppins the Musical

Mary Poppins the musical is basically all my dreams realised in the space of three hours. Combine that with dinner at Grossi Florentino and my beautiful girl friends as company and you have the best girls night out ever.

The expectations I had of this production were disgustingly high. I grew up watching Disney’s Mary Poppins movie. I swear I was born knowing the lyrics to all the songs, although some might argue with me on that one. Whatever the truth, it is an absolute classic. So the musical had a lot to live up to.

From the first chord, played by the live orchestra, I was entranced. The costumes, the sets and the lighting were flawless. Many times during the course of the musical we were left blown away by tricky little set manoeuvures which happened as if by magic (come on now, get into the spirit of it). I must admit, part of me was constantly comparing the action unfolding in front of me to the movie, but this can only be expected when you have watched the film more times than you have brushed your teeth, and it didn’t detract from the performance in any way. The scenes in the musical which weren’t in the film were a highlight as I enjoyed seeing how they had adapted old themes into something new, all the while keeping true to the feel of the story and the magic of Mary Poppins herself. 

Mary Poppins was the highlight of the show. Of course it is the part in the musical with the most to live up to, and Verity Hunt-Ballard was, dare I say it, practically perfect in the role. She carried the show through, just as Julie Andrews does in the film, and was the star of every scene. Obviously a professional performer of the highest level, she was ladylike, humorous, good looking and had the most beautiful voice. I left in such admiration of her that I would happily have morphed into being her, if such things were possible. 

Matt Lee, who played Bert, was also a highlight. He is a wonderful dancer and even though I was half expecting him to hold up a So You Think You Can Dance score card at any moment, he nailed the role. Fortunately for Lee, the role of Bert often entailed wearing a hat. He didn’t quite have the level of charisma that I love in Dick van Dyke, but was fantastic none-the-less. Lets be honest here, anyone who can tap dance upside down has got my vote. 

The children were gorgeous, as were all the supporting characters. Each was so vibrant and well played I could go through them all and sing their praises. However, special mention has to be made of Mrs Andrews, the evil nanny who plays foil to the darling Mary. She was so convincingly scary and evil that I had to keep reminding myself of the acting and musical talent behind the performance, to avoid leaving the theatre and proclaiming how horrible she was. Another stand out was the manservant in the Banks household. His dancing and singing were so clever and comical he left a lasting impression. He used his tall lanky frame to full affect, providing a bright spark on stage. 

I could go on and on, but I will suffice with saying once more how perfect and magical a night it was. So perfect that I have booked a ticket to go again…

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Amelie. The Soundtrack

I’m not going to tell you how amazingly good Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s masterpiece, Amelie, is.

I’m going to tell you that you must open iTunes right this instance and buy the soundtrack.

With the same uplifting and playful spirit as the film it is hard to stop listening. The orchestra version of the main theme, La valse d’Amelie, is so beautiful that I almost cried when it ended, through genuine sadness that it had to end. 

Listening to the tracks, I am struck by the musicianship of the writing and the performances. It is old school talent and it blows you away. I love old school, and anything French, so you can see why I am such a fan. The soundtrack has a French folky feel to it, and uses a variety of different instruments and styles of performance. 

Yann Tiersen is the mastermind of the music, a ruggedly handsome French musician and composer. He is classically trained, which accounts for the musicianship, and he has an impressive resume of work in many genres. 

The Amelie soundtrack is inspirational, delightful, and perfect for a dinner party or any time you would like to feel a little more fabulous and French.

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Bill Bryson

‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’

Published: Transworld Publishers London (2003)

ISBN: 9780552997041

‘At Home’

Published: Transworld Publishers, London (2010)

ISBN: 9780385608275

The first Bill Bryson book I ever read was Notes from a Small Island, a reflection on his travels in the United Kingdom. I loathed it. At the time of reading, my opinion was a little clouded by the immediacy of my anger, but the progress of time has removed the clouds and allowed me to see the truth. In Notes from a Small Island, Bryson does not speak overly fondly of Inverness, my all time favourite destination in Scotland. This personal bias was the main reason I didn’t enjoy the book. Fortunately, this was a realisation that occurred to me at the same time that a friend of mine insisted that I try Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, a rough guide to the history of science. I am so glad I did. It was a fantastic book which The Times Literary Supplement  rightly claims ‘represents a wonderful education, and all schools would be better places if it were the core science reader on the curriculum’. I enjoyed it so much that I bought Bryson’s latest book, At Home, as soon as it was released in Australia. At Home takes a look at history from the perspective of a home, and each room within a house. I even bought the more expensive hardcover version because I just couldn’t want for it to come out in softcover (in case you were doubting my levels of enjoyment and excitement). At Home did not disappoint, using a lot of the same techniques which appealed to me in A Short History

They are both such fantastic non fiction books because he writes about historical events and scientific discoveries or theories in terms of the people involved. He writes cleverly by playing on the voyeuristic human desire to delve anonymously into other’s lives (which is why gossip magazines are so universally criticised while being so universally enjoyed). In this way, Bryson tricks his readers into forgetting that they are actually reading a non fiction science or history book. In saying this, I would hate for you to now think that these books will give you a similar to experience to WHO or OK. They deal with complex, historically important  concepts and events. 

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed is Bryson’s inclusion of seemingly inconsequential, but very interesting facts, asides and connections between people mentioned  which would not be included in traditional text books. These are amusing, coincidental and add a lot to the book and the readers enjoyment. 

There is a lot to be learnt within the pages of both books. Perhaps I should mention here that I am not an avid non fiction reader, so for me to heap this praise on Bryson’s books is even further proof of their readability. After reading, you will be in danger of coming out with obscure but very appropriate and intelligence boosting facts in future conversations. Any book that results in this is a win in my opinion.

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Hey Good Looking, What Ya Got Cooking?

One of my least favourite parts of the paper is the pull out magazine style booklet that is obviously aimed at women, and contains ridiculous columns about all those things women should be interested in. Cooking, Children, Clothes and Sex. In the most recent one of these columns which I struggled through in a moment of weakness, I was told in a very direct manner that reading cookbooks in bed was extremely unsexy. So unsexy in fact that it will surely be the demise of intimacy in my relationship if this nasty habit is persisted with.

My first reaction was to question whether I was a culprit of this heinously un-womanly and unattractive habit. I’m actually not. But only because I struggle to read anything in bed, cook book or otherwise. My best effort is one page before the eyelids are drooping. In other sections of my day however, I am an avid cookbook reader. And in no way do I see what is so unattractive about reading a cookbook anywhere in the house. As women we are expected to be able to cook but told off for reading cookbooks? Oh, the confusion you cause me society. Is it also unsexy for men to read cookbooks in bed? Or is this taboo only applicable to the fairer sex? And lets be honest, what is so unsexy about reading a cookbook in bed? What if you were to read a cook book in bed…naked? That’s pretty sexy. Or what if the cook book consisted of sexy recipes? You know, like oysters. Or fondue (which is a very sexy way to eat, by the way).

I can think of so many other things that could occur in bed which are A LOT less sexy than reading a cookbook. Wearing socks in bed isn’t sexy. Dutch ovens aren’t sexy. Reading cookbooks shouldn’t be included in this list.

Please, correct me if you think I am wrong. Tell me if you are so repulsed by your partner reading cookbooks in bed that the intimacy is dieing in your relationship. Personally, I would be rather excited if I found my boyfriend propped up in bed with Nigella Lawson on his lap.

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Irene Nemirovsky’s ‘Suite Francaise’

First Published: Editions Denoel (2004)

Translation: Sandra Smith (2006)

ISBN: 9780701179939

War Stories

Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise is another book set in WW2. 

However, I believe it is not ‘just another war novel’.

By focusing on the wartime experiences of a wide variety of French people, from farmers to aristocrats, and soldiers to writers, she provides her readers with a different perspective of the war. She writes from a French perspective that delves deeply into the experiences of the people at the heart of the country. 

Nemirovsky writes beautifully; her stories sing to you from the pages. She introduces interesting and multidimensional characters that colour the novel in many shades. There is a strong contrast made between the French people and the German invaders. The German soldiers see themselves as a dispensable part in the great machine of war. The French people are solely focused on their own individual experiences and survival. This contrast is part of what allows us to see so clearly the affect WW2 had on French people at an extremely personal level. We see the pain of mothers waiting on sons in prison camps to come home, the internal struggles of war widows who cannot admit that they have fallen in love with a German soldier, the desperation of a wealthy French family to retain their dignity amidst the turmoil of evacuation, and the eagerness of young French boys to assist in a battle the futility of which they cannot see. It is these perspectives that make Suite Francaise ‘not just another war novel’. 

The Translation

The original novel was written in French, and while the English translation by Sandra Smith is wonderful, it is unavoidable that a translation can be slightly disappointing.  As when watching a Hollywood film set in a non-English speaking country but which uses English speaking actors (Valkyrie anyone?), at times it is hard to completely lose yourself in the story due to a certain lack of authenticity. An example of this comes on p.266:

(German soldier speaking to French woman)

“…I only play well if I have an audience. I’m truly…how do you say it in French? A “show-off”, that’s it!”

This sort of thing is unavoidable in translation, so in no way am I criticizing Smith. Even so, I can’t help mentioning this disappointment I feel. Perhaps I should spend less time complaining and more time learning French? 

Irene Nemirovsky’s Life

I love this book. I love the stories, the sadness and the style. But it is not only for this reason that I urge you to read Suite Francaise. What makes the novel even more intriguing is the life of Nemirovsky and her own wartime experiences. 

Irene was born in Russia in 1903 to a wealthy Jewish family. They were forced to flee Russia after the revolution and spent a number of years in Finland and Sweden before settling in France after the end of WW1. Here her father rebuilt the family fortune and Irene married a Russian born Jew also living in France. In 1939, along with her husband and two small daughters, Nemirovsky moved to a small German occupied French village and converted they entire family to Catholicism. These measures to ensure her family’s safety were futile. Irene and her husband were both taken to Auschwitz and died there in the gas chambers in 1942. Her young daughters were taken into hiding by their governess and managed to survive the war. It was while living in the village of Issy-l’Eveque, before being taken to Auschwitz, that Nemirovsky wrote Suite Francaise. She intended for it to be a 1000 page, five-part novel, but only managed to partially complete the two parts that we are left with today.  The handwritten manuscript was taken by her eldest daughter Denise, (who was only 5 when Irene was killed), in a suitcase she had on their flight from the Germans. It was taken as a memento of a lost mother and it wasn’t until the girls were grown themselves that they realized what this memento really was.  Suite Francaise was eventually published 60 years after it was written.

This story only adds to the poignancy of the novel. Nemirovsky’s insight into the personal struggle of the French people during war was inspired by her own tragic experience.

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I Strongly Dislike Long Weekends.

This is serious statement, and if you, like me, work in hospitality you will understand the exact level of seriousness with which I write it.
In fact, if you work in hospitality and I wrote the title of this post as my facebook status update, you would certainly hit the ‘like’ button. Although, it might be better if you disliked it, then maybe the two negatives would somehow create a positive. 

Long weekends are in my list of dislikes because, unlike you Monday to Friday, 9 to 5ers out there, I work on weekends. And my long weekends are like your Monday mornings. Busy, depressing, and fueled by a ridiculous amount of coffee. Add to this equation the fact that I work in Lorne, a lovely little beach town where half of Melbourne decide to spend their long weekends, and I’m sure you are beginning to empathise with my dislike. Did I mention that the half of Melbourne who come to Lorne also bring their multiple children, dogs and four wheel drive trucks that have never previously been out of the city and which seem to be quite confused when confronted with real gravel and potholes?

So now you are on my wave of dislike, let me tell you what one of the worst repercussions of these hectic long weekends are for me. 

I have no time to read.

Hence the lack of reviews. I’m not going to apologise, rather suggest that the next time you meet a friend in the city who told you they went to Lorne for Easter Weekend, punch them in the sternum*.

Thank you. Now I can go back to my reading in peace.

*I don’t promise to take any responsibility for loss of friendship or any retaliating punches you may recieve.

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Bryce Courtney’s ‘The Story of Danny Dunn’

Published by Penguin Group Australia (2009)

ISBN: 9780670073344

I don’t need to tell you that Bryce Courtney is a master storyteller as I am sure you are well aware of this, but I want to. Courtney’sThe Story of Danny Dunn is such a good example of his skill that I can’t resist. 

It is a war story, but not in a conventional sense. War takes up only a minimal part of the plot, but shapes so dramatically the entire novel. The Story of Danny Dunn is one of what happens after the battle has been fought. The setting begins in Sydney during WW2 and spans over the next 4 decades. Danny is the golden boy of Balmain, the suburb in which he grew up. With good looks, sporting talent and brains he bears the hope of his community and family on his shoulders. When the war starts, he is itching to join up, like any Balmain Boy should be. Against his mother’s wishes he enlists, and is destroyed both physically and mentally by his time spent in a Japanese POW camp. Danny returns home with countless demons that threaten to derail him. Instead of turning to drink or drugs like so many others, Danny focuses this energy into his family and a career in law. He is driven, stubborn and single minded. However, years of success and work are still unable to destroy the demons. He is unable to eradicate the negative affect they have on his life and this is expressed most strongly in the relationship with one of his twin daughters, Samantha. 

This is a story of how the atrocities suffered in war have such a devastating, lifelong effect on those involved. Primarily, the soldiers but also their parents, spouses and children. The Story of Danny Dunn tears at your heart and causes you to lament the generations scarred my mindless fighting. 

There exist many other elements of this novel which cushion the central theme. Humour, an honest portrayal of the realities of human life and relationships, and the obvious amount of research Courtney has put into the mentality of society at the time feature prominently. 

Whether you are a die hard Courtney fan, or haven’t read any of his work, read The Story of Danny Dunn. If not to experience the empathy that is shown for the victims of war and to gain an understanding of the affect war has on society, then at least read it to experience the story telling genius that is Bryce Courtney.

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