Tag Archives: Review

REVIEW Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Irish-American dance sensation Michael Flatley catapulted Irish dancing into the mainstream with his first hit show, Riverdance, in 1994. He followed that up with the record-breaking, worldwide smash-hit, Lord of the Dance, in 1997, which has since gone on to break records and box offices around the world. Now the most successful touring production in entertainment history, its 25th anniversary tour chassés its way to Cardiff for a limited time this week.

The music begins, and clips from the production’s history are projected onto the stage as Flatley explains in voiceover how the story came to him in a dream, and how the show made that dream a reality. Then the stage darkens, and lights appear one by one, glowing orbs held by hooded druids that glide so ethereally you feel as though you’re walking through a dream yourself. Then the Little Spirit (Cassidy Ludwig) plays the titular tune on her magic flute and awakens ‘Planet Ireland’: a mystical, medieval fantasy world ruled over by the Lord of the Dance (Matt Smith), who is plunged into an epic battle for both heart(h) and home.

Drawing on Irish folklore, Flatley not only created the show, but produced, directed and choreographed it. There’s nothing quite like Irish dancing, and there’s nothing quite like Lord of the Dance: a mesmerizing spectacle from start to finish. The degree of athleticism, precision and timing on display is astounding, with the 40-strong cast showcasing an unparalleled level of skill and boundless energy. It’s dizzyingly good: I’ve simply never seen dancing like it. Smith steps into Flatley’s iconic shoes with ease; with unmatched bravado and charisma to spare, Smith weaves such a spell on the audience you simply have to join in with the dancing yourself.

There is only one Lord of the Dance, and he does not share power – but there’s a worthy contender for the throne in the shape of the Dark Lord (Zoltan Papp). Dressed like an embattled biker king, Papp brings a sinister swagger that had the audience booing (or, in my case, cheering) as if he were a pantomime villain. His duel with Smith is as thrilling a setpiece as you can imagine, and features some of the finest dance-fighting this side of West Side Story.

There’s not a weak link or a missed step in the whole ensemble, from Cyra Taylor’s mercurial Morrighan to Lauren Clarke’s sparkling Saoirse. Cassidy Ludwig brings a puck-like, playful charm to the Little Spirit, whose performance shines even more brightly than her glittery golden costume. The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman and Gerard Fahy, segues from lilting Celtic ballads one minute to ritualistic chants and sweeping epics the next, some of which is even performed live on stage courtesy of Giada Costenaro Cunningham and Aisling Sage’s first-class violin duets and singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess, whose heavenly interludes give the cast time for a spritely costume change.

It’s fitting that the last word – or should that be ‘dance’? – is left to the man who started it all, with a trio of projected Flatleys out-dancing one another, only to be joined by the whole cast dancing in unison. If, like me, you have a much-loved VHS copy of Riverdance in pride of place on the shelf, or if you’ve never experienced the thrill of Irish dancing before, then this is the show for you. Lord of the Dance is only at the New Theatre for a limited time, so join the 60 million people who have loved and lived this show for an encore like no other. There have been 25 years of standing ovations so far, and if last night was any indication, here’s to 25 more!

Lord of the Dance is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Wednesday 27th April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

REVIEW Dreamboats & Petticoats: Bringing On Back The Good Times! New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

With the pandemic having made the future uncertain, we’ve been compelled to look back at the past, to the glory days of our youth when everything seemed possible. That’s always been the magic behind Bill Kenwright’s smash-hit jukebox franchise, Dreamboats & Petticoats, based on the multimillion selling compilation albums. The latest installment, Bringing On Back The Good Times!, is the third in the series, but you don’t need to have seen the first two to enjoy this fabulous, feel-good show.

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the story centres around sweethearts Laura (Elizabeth Carter) and Bobby (David Ribi), as their musical dreams threaten to keep them apart. While Laura’s chart-topping success earns her a starry residency in Torquay and equal billing with Frankie Howerd, Bobby is booked for the summer at the far-less glamorous Butlins in Bognor Regis, along with his old crew from St Mungo’s Youth Club. With both his career and his relationship in jeopardy, Bobby makes one final bid to save both: a wildcard run at becoming Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The show really captures the feel of the era, thanks to an energetic cast, playful direction, and magnificent renditions of some of the decade’s most beloved songs, from Pretty Woman and C’mon Everybody to Keep on Running and Mony Mony. Sean Cavanagh’s colourful set of scrapbooked ticket stubs and album sleeves, and Carole Todd’s zesty choreography, also capture the fun and flamboyance of the decade. It’s a non-stop party from beginning to end: a joyous celebration of the music that made us, featuring more iconic tunes than you can shake a (rhythm) stick at! Everything is played and sung live onstage, and you won’t find a finer ensemble this side of the 60s. Ribi is excellent as the budding Buddy Holly and Carter as the Lesley Gore-alike, while Alastair Hill as the roving eyed frontman of Norman and the Conquests is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the show, especially when paired with Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his beleaguered wife, Sue.

The song list is bursting at the seams with some of the most iconic tunes in music history, and they’ve never sounded better than they do here. For a band aptly called ‘the Conquests’, they really do take no prisoners – so huge kudos to Benji Lord on bass, Joe Sterling on electric guitar, Alan Howell on acoustic, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, and musical director Sheridan Lloyd on keys. There’s fantastic musical backup by Lauren Chinery and Chloe Edwards-Wood on sax (and dancing) duties, plus some bravura brass courtesy of Rob Gathercole and Mike Lloyd, the latter of whom also plays a tyrannical Butlins Redcoat who steals every scene he’s in (imagine if Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson joined the cast of Hi-De-Hi and you’re halfway there).

The songs fly so thick and fast that there’s often not enough time to applaud them all, which is what happens when the incredible Samara Clarke sings an utterly breathtaking rendition of Where the Boys Are. And while the music is staggering (Baby Now That I’ve Found You is a knockout), some of the show’s most powerful moments come from their a capella arrangements of Blue Moon (a real showcase for David Luke) and Come Softly to Me. Lord, Sterling and Gathercole playing twee Eurovision hopefuls was a standout (The Kennies were robbed!) and David Benson’s pitch-perfect Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ma crepe suzette’ bit had everyone in stitches. The cast also boasts a genuine star of the 1960s music scene: Mark Wynter (of Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl fame), who portrays Laura’s sagacious manager, Larry.

The show really comes to life in the second half, and while some of the ‘lead in’ dialogue is tenuous at best (‘How would you describe Laura?’ Cue ‘Pretty Woman’) but it’s all very tongue in cheek and who needs an excuse to sing Roy Orbison, anyway? If you experienced the music yourself the first time round, or if you’ve grown up listening to your parents’ or grandparents’ records, this show is a must-see. The 1960s aren’t just an escape: they’re a mirror. It was a time, like ours, filled with rebellion, political upheaval, and the threat of war on the horizon. The songs, and the performances, underscore the show’s clearest, loveliest message: that the good times will return, and better than ever.

Dreamboats & Petticoats Bringing On Back The Good Times! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through Saturday 16 April

REVIEW Stone the Crows, Chapter by Barbara Hughes-Moore

*Trigger warning: the play contains discriminatory slurs directed towards the GRT community, and some distressing scenes*

Stone the Crows has had a fascinating journey to Chapter’s Seligman Theatre. Written by acclaimed playwright Tim Rhys, it debuted as a film starring Terence Stamp and Nick Moran and has now finally made its way to the medium for which it was conceived, in a breathlessly bold new production by Winterlight in association with Company of Sirens.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker (Oliver Morgan-Thomas) is a jaded urbanite who longs to escape the choking grip of city life, so he snaps up a ramshackle farm on the suburbs. While Tucker clings to the dream of peace, what he really wants is uncontested dominance – but this brash new king has a challenger to the throne: Crow (Boo Golding), a mysterious loner who worships the forest and is prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Directed with kinetic intensity by Chris Durnall, Stone the Crows is the transcendent culmination of everything Company of Sirens has worked to achieve. This is a play about borders: between people, between identities, between the urban and the rural, and between those who respect the land and those who gut it for profit. Even its setting transcends categories or definitions: Rhys terms it a ‘social jungle’, a liminal space in which the tangible and the psychological blur together.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

And Golding’s Crow is a character who embodies liminality. They exist free of binaries, expectations, demands. They adore the forest with an anchorite’s zeal, and spend the play’s first few minutes meticulously constructing a skeletal altar from twigs and branches in the manner of an ancient ritual. While Golding is mercurial as the wind, Morgan-Thomas is all iron and grit, hard as the city that built him; there’s a simmering machismo to his performance which suggests that rage, fed and informed by white supremacy, is never far from the surface.

Oliver Morgan-Thomas and Chris Durnall. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker’s particular evil can be seen in the awful, racialized abuse he directs at the Travellers who live and work on ‘his’ land. The title itself evokes a racial slur against Roma people (specifically the Romani communities of Eastern Europe). While it’s unclear to what extent GRT people were consulted in the making of the play, the creative team’s intentions are firmly in solidarity with these marginalised communities (and very firmly against despotic legislation currently making its way through Parliament), and Rhys and Golding depict the main character with empathy, nuance and complexity.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey

The visceral connection between its two central performers is the axis on which the story turns. While Golding shifts effortlessly between Puck-like trickster and vengeful spirit, Morgan Thomas’ laddish certitude grows increasingly sinister as the action unfurls. They mimic, complete, and predict each other; there’s a dynamism to their exchanges that, even when they don’t interact directly, renders their connection immediate and undeniable. It also means that when their characters do finally ‘meet’, it’s breathtaking.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey

Nature, though, is the master here, captured by Eren Anderson’s exquisite music. His soundscape beautifully weaves the gently unspooling song of the forest. He plays, at first, only when we are in Crow’s perspective, as if the primal music of the spheres flows only through them, and not Tucker. All we hear when Tucker speaks is the snap of a twig underfoot and the susurrus of rustling leaves. But then, when allegiances and sympathies start to shift, their melodies intertwine like roots.

Hypnotic and engrossing, Stone the Crows is a masterpiece of gorgeous brutality. The play leaves us at a threshold, and you must decide whether to turn back or to cross into the unknown.

Playing at Chapter through Friday 1st April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover by Sian Thomas

Four stars

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is one of those books I heard about over and over and over again and kept skirting the edges of to get away from. With her skyrocket into popularity, I found myself jumping through hoops to avoid her work, for no other reason than: I had a weird feeling I’d like it, and because I know she has so many books published, I simply didn’t have the time or money to fall into her work and out the other side, changed.

Then I got paid.

It Ends With Us was the kind of book floating all over booktok, appearing and disappearing in book group posts I would skim read; it was popular, easy to read, and seemingly either incredibly well-liked, or vehemently hated. I wanted to know why. Even when I was actively avoiding it, I wanted to know what it was that was happening to people that their reviews were becoming so mixed.

I thought, when I was reading it, that it would be down to its “chicklit” factor. The book itself being pink, and Hoover being notably a romance writer, I thought people were detesting it because it was a gooey, lovey dovey easy read, and not an absolute draining challenge of some such classic literature you’d find on a university reading list that I’m sure I would hate after half of the first page. I found myself believing this at one point, questioning if something that had so clearly rocketed into pop culture, wouldn’t it be too easy for me?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I’d been paid. My New Year’s Resolution was to read twenty books this here and here was a book I was interested in; I had to take the opportunity before it skirted me, the same way I had been skirting It Ends With Us. I bought it one day after work, snatching it from the shelf before I had a chance to think about it too long, rushing myself through the till before I had the chance to turn around and put it back.

Besides, if I didn’t like it, there is a cute phone-box-library right by my house, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, would like it more than me.

I kept it. I’m keeping it forever, tucked nicely into the pink section of my bookshelf. Because I liked it. As I, ironically, knew that I would.

It Ends With Us is a fun book at first. A real page turner as one relationship blossoms right before the reader’s eyes and the other notable relationship come sneaking out of the shadows, piece by piece. I admit, I’m no high class literature snob (except for when I want to be), so when the blurb said something much more wordy than simply “Man A meets Man B and which one will it be at the end?” I had two main thoughts: I’m too good for this and this is going to be a great read for me. I got over myself quick when I found I was six chapters in the same day I’d started reading, and had the feeling that by that time tomorrow, the book would be finished.

I had heard a lot of different opinions on Colleen Hoover’s writing style, and I had initially been worried that I wouldn’t like it. But admittedly, the writing style is easy and quick. Not plain, exactly, but simple. Easy to follow and, as I found out, easy to get lost in. The book is fast paced with short to mid length chapters (which I certainly appreciate, I always felt like short chapters feel more like the book is moving, rather than longer ones), and with its page-turner ability, I found the book was over far sooner than I’d expected.

The story progresses as (no spoilers): Lily meets Ryle and they hit it off. It’s great, until. And also in the mix is an old friend of Lily’s she was once in love with.I know it sounds very chicklit-y. It is. But that’s honestly what made it fun for me. I’m excited for the sequel to be released and seeing what happened to the cast of characters next.

There are a few things I have noticed in my last few reads, and this one, that have pulled me from my escapism of reading and placed me squarely back in real life. I’m not sure if it’s a trope in and of itself, but I’ve noticed a prevalent “rich best friend” character appearing; funding or enabling the main characters lifestyle, existing for exuberant gifts, there for not much more of a purpose than “be rich” and “be convenient”, which is a shame. I get the feeling that it’s easy, that Rich Best Friend nullifies a lot of typical people-problems, but I find this also voids a certain aspect of relatability to the cast of characters. But honestly, that was the only flaw I saw in the book – everything else about it was compelling and emotional, intriguing and fun!

Sian Thomas

Madam Butterfly, review by eva marloes

WNO Madam Butterfly – photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Under the direction of Lindy Hume, the Welsh National Opera’s Madam Butterfly is set in an imaginary dystopic future to convey the cruelty of imperialism. The opera is no longer set in Japan but in an exotic oasis for the pleasure of wealthy American men. It reminded me of the 1964 Russian propaganda film I Am Cuba by Mikhail Kalatozov. In the film, Cuba is the seductive playground of rich Americans, a country turned prostitute by Batista. Although too propagandistic in narrative, the unorthodox cinematography of I Am Cuba, with its extreme wide-angles and complex tracking-shots, made the film unsettling and powerful. Alas, Lindy Hume’s anti-colonial vision for Madam Butterfly loses force by decontextualising the drama.  

The opera begins with women in white short tulle dresses and tall pink wigs. Among them is Cio-cio-sa/Butterfly, who is to wed American soldier Pinkerton. The action takes place in and around a two-storey rotating white cube. Hume sought to emphasise the exploitation of Butterfly who is sold as trophy bride and quickly discarded. Butterfly is a victim of a misogynistic colonial society. Yet, by erasing Japan from Madam Butterfly, the colonial othering of Cio-cio-sa is lost. Relationships of power are all dependent on context. They cannot be abstracted. Cio-cio-san is the trophy bride because she is a Japanese young girl to be collected like a colourful butterfly. 

WNO Madam Butterfly Alexia Voulgaridou Cio Cio San Peter Auty Pinkerton photo credit Richard Hubert Smith 

In addition, there is a lot more to Cio-cio-san than Hume’s direction implies. She is here painted as a victim, disregarding how 15-year-old Cio-cio-san, notwithstanding being still a child, escapes her family and clan. She goes against her home society to affirm her own will. She stays loyal to her American husband and to his country to the very end. The tragedy lies in the fact that she finds her downfall in her loyalty and shame. Alexia Voulgaridou gives a rounded performance making one forget the awkward futuristic setting designed by Isabella Bywater. 

Voulgaridou gives an impeccable performance as Cio-cio-san. Her voice is powerful and agile; it develops in intensity as the tragedy unfolds. Her interpretation is subtle and convincing. Kezia Bienek, as Suzuki, is also noteworthy. She conveys the melancholy of her role as Cio-cio-san’s sister perfectly. Together, Voulgaridou and Bienek deliver a beautiful duet full of warmth.  

Julian Boyce as Imperial Commissioner and Tom Randle as Goro give solid and sophisticated performances, less impressive is Peter Auty’s Pinkerton. Excellent is the orchestra conducted with fervour and depth by Carlo Rizzi. The impressive performances, the orchestra, and Puccini’s music make one forget the contrived setting. 

REVIEW: Caerphilly Castle Visit with Time Credits by Sian Thomas

On January 10th, I took a trip to Caerphilly Castle. Having never been there before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – my knowledge of castles extends to, and ends with, Castle Coch and the sparing glance I give Cardiff Castle when j hustle passed it in the city centre. I paid four Time Credits (per person) to get in, and I’d say it was wholly worth it.

Arriving there was amazing, it was so much bigger than I thought, and all of the greenery and animals made it feel almost magical. The long stretching bridges and the reflection from the sun off the water in the moat in its glaring way was amazing; the cold day almost turned warm with how picturesque and summery the scene looked in front of me.

The castle itself was winding and really inviting, it leads you through it without you knowing it has. Every room connects to the other with its own feel of secrecy and intrigue. I found myself wondering more than once whether to go up or down a set of rocky, spiral stairs, where I’d end up on the other end of them and how I’d get back to go the opposite way, but that worry was hugely unnecessary as I was always lead back around to discover it all, whether I noticed the decision was made by my own feet or by the castle floors or not.

My favourite parts were the stretching balcony, almost like a corridor in its length but giving you a view of the greenery and moat on one side, and the courtyard below on the other side every few steps, the corridor that felt more like a cave; enveloping and private, and the very top of the towers (it was just a shame that some of the rock had eroded away enough for the actual top to be blocked off – but despite that, being at such a height in such a space of land was honestly incredible).

From the gift shop, I bought a small pink dragon. There was an area right where you start your trail where you can look into an enclosure from above and see a few dragon statues. They’re so bright in colour and give you honest piercings looks (the kind that make you think the eyes are following you).

Sian Thomas

Review: Cinderella, Riverfront by Gemma Treharne-Foose

Cinderella, playing now at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre

When it comes to getting in the festive spirit, Newport might not always be the first thought that pops into your head. But Newport’s Riverfront venue was full of festive cheer this week as the City served up the first Christmas Panto of the season – the biggest the city’s arts team has ever staged.

One of eight venues run under the City’s ‘Newport Live’ banner, the Riverfront sits on the banks of the River Usk, and you can glimpse the city’s distinctive red ‘Steel Wave’ sculpture by Peter Finch from the windows of the café and terrace. For Cardiff and Valleys audiences, the Riverfront won’t be front of mind when it comes to theatre and the arts, with the WMC, New Theatre, Sherman and RCT’s Park & Dare and Coliseum venues hosting their own festive programme of new and family favourites. For many round my way, a trip to Porthcawl is an annual tradition that just can’t be broken.

So why go to Newport?

The Riverfront is far from a one trick pantomime horse. I had been before with my daughter to spend our Tempo Time Credits at a family cinema event and had a great experience. The venue has two theatre spaces, a dance and recording studio and ample accessible space to visit its café and hold events and workshops.

It’s position just a few minutes away from the Friar Walk shopping development is also a great way to get in some Christmas shopping and a pre-theatre dinner in walking distance to your show.

One thing you might notice about the Riverfront, though? The staff are great. I mean really great and genuinely interested in you and your experience. It’s something I haven’t noticed as much in some of Cardiff’s more famous venues. Perhaps they don’t have to work as hard for your custom…

That’s not to downplay what others are doing, but I really did notice a marked difference. Riverfront/Newport Live staff greet you, look you, look you in the eye and ask you about your day, ask you your thoughts on the show. There was a definite family feel in this venue that I hadn’t been expecting.

So this year’s show? An impressive turn from some familiar faces to audiences, with Gareth Tempest returning to this year’s performance as Prince Charming (being a former member of the children’s chorus at Riverfront in 2004) and Newport native Keiron Self as Buttons.

Actor Richard Elis (Eastenders, The Bill, Casualty and The Bill) does a fantastic turn as Candy, one half of the awfully endearing ugly sisters alongside Geraint Rhys Edwards as Flossie. Any Welsh speakers who love his silly and sassy Welshie portrayals and skits on ‘Hansch’ will be tickled pink to see his face in the programme.

Elis and Edwards have fantastic energy and sassy pants to go with their comic chops. They don’t even have to be speaking to make you cackle.

Between them and Keiron Self as love-sick buttons, there are plenty of quips, cheeseball lines, puns and innuendo you’d expect to see at the panto – not all of it hilarious, mind! The show’s setting in ‘Newport Bay’ by the sea is interesting and the set and staging is very well done, with the ensemble cast and choreography by Angela Sheppard bringing the show to life. I’d like to have seen more comedy spread to the female cast members as well…the traditional panto format shouldn’t save all the funny nuggets for the men. Trust me, Newport women are hilarious (my Newport family being the case in point!).

There’s a standout scene where Keiron Self is locked out in the rain and climbs up onto the roof while Cinderella is serenading the crowds. A beautiful bit of physical comedy. Of course, Cinderella and Prince Charming provide the schmaltz and the cheese, but their vocals are lovely and warming.

This year’s panto is part of a great 2019/2020 programme and I’d encourage you to consider it for your next night out.

Cardiff gets all the love and attention – it’s time to spread the love! Newport should no longer be the Ugly Sister when it comes to Theatre (ohhhh no it shouldn’t!).

Support your local arts venues, folks – and maybe….consider changing your usual haunt this year for a lovely little panto set in ‘Newport Bay’. Trust me, those Ugly Sisters will keep you chuckling long after the glitter’s been put away in January.

Cinderella is playing until 4th Jan 2020, see more at Riverfront

Review: Heartsong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

Review will include spoilers.

An incredible continuation of a phenomenal series. I have to begin with applause – for one thing especially. The flow. I noticed as I began reading this book that something was different – not that it was a different character, place, situation – I expected all of that. I understand well enough the creative decision TJ Klune made to have the series circle multiple characters rather than just Ox and Joe, and I wholeheartedly respect it! But I definitely could tell the difference from the beginning of this book compared to the others. Once I realised what it was I was in awe; as Robbie’s memories became less hectic, and as he became more trusting and open of the Bennett pack, the story began to feel less choppy, and much more smooth. The transition into this was so effortlessly made that I hadn’t fully noticed it until I was about half way through the book. I don’t know if this was something that was done on purpose (if it was, that’s amazing and inspiring), but it truly was incredible; it felt like honest craftsmanship coming straight through the pages and falling into my lap. I love it, it makes TJ Klune feel like an author to really look up to.

I already loved this series, and have for a while now, so I knew I was in for a great story when it arrived. To speak from a place of real honesty, this is a series to experience rather than read about second hand. The way the emotions of the characters – of every character – come through the books so clearly, stark and vibrant, is fantastic. The book is full of feeling, there really is no shortage of it, and it’s refreshing to see, especially since a lot of the “main cast” is male. This is something I’ve always adored about the writing style, there is no fear in it. Characters are everything and anything, given real time to process things and react to them, and each of them is so individual and unique – there are traits in everyone that are recognisable and easy to relate to, and I love it.

Ox has my heart, as always, so he remains my favourite characters. It’s been such an experience to see how, through other’s character’s stories, his is still growing and moving forward behind the scenes – and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what it all is going to accumulate into. I love how he’s progressed through the series, the way he’s changed from shy and insecure to this Alpha character now is unparalleled. I feel proud of him and his growth, almost.

I don’t think anyone could even try and convince me not to give this book five stars, there was so much in it to enjoy: the making, breaking, and repairing of character’s relationships (most notably Kelly and Robbie’s relationship being strained and strengthened), watching a hero’s journey move forward, Carter being amazing (I’m very excited to see what happens with him, next), and even things like watching how the “bad guys” are moving on from fabled things of nightmares to real, honest figures of terror. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book, another hit – I’m sure – in this phenomenal series.

I know this review isn’t too plot-detail heavy (I don’t want to ruin things), but I stand by what I said: this book is to be read by you, not by me telling you what I read.

Sian Thomas

Review: My Bright Shadow by Patrick Jones by Sian Thomas

Though I do adore both writing and reading poetry, I admit to having not previously heard of nor read any work by Patrick Jones. That being said, being presented the opportunity to discover him, I took it quickly. Not knowing a poet wouldn’t stop me from learning of them – besides, the process is always enjoyable. Poetry in itself is enjoyable. I’m always excited to read more, and I’m glad I did.
After reading through the whole anthology, I definitely decided on some favourites! Namely: Plume Angel, The Smell of Sundays, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts, Lovesung, The Presence of Absence, Mothering, and When are all in my favourites, for a bunch of different reasons.
Plume Angel was the first one to show Patrick Jones’ use of white space, which is a technique in poetry I both utilise (often) and really love to see. It makes the poem much more interesting, when your eyes are darting all over a page rather than just going in one expected direction. I loved the feel of this poem – it was very gentle, from the get-go. The first stanza was my favourite one, but my favourite line was, “tiny talismans / crashed to / earth / from an icarused flight”, solely due to the image of falling people and falling feathers. There, despite the softness, was also a great sadness to it (which is understandable, based on how the book itself and all the poems were born from a son’s experience of a mother with leukaemia). In a similar vein, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts also has this feeling with peppered in lines that I find really satisfying. For example, “clinging to sepia stained memories / bleeding frames and flickering effigies / hearing voices from forgotten melodies / is yesterday to be our only legacy” I found to be a lovely line, with a lot of emotion threaded inside and around it – especially considering the sounds that comes from reading or speaking them, which further created an positive impression and reaction from me.
Throughout each of the poems I found that drew me in was a consistent and understandable melancholy. The feeling was crafted really well, and also waded in and out with other things, too. Regret, wanting to go back, feeling the pressure of time and how we should be cherishing the seconds we have (which I do love, as a theme, it has a tendency to humble me and very quickly). The poetry was impressive, with really nice flow and images, although seeing the white space was definitely my favourite thing to take note of.
Lastly, Lovesung was one of my favourite poems, because it opened up a discussion I’ve been having within myself a lot lately. It came for my questioning if poetry and writing is an escape, and if it is – if it works? It came head-first towards my own habit of reading and writing to escape the endless refresh of bad news on Twitter, and the constant background noise of the world running all too fast away from me. And I really liked it, because it almost felt like being seen, and being coyly nodded at in a “I do this too and it’s nice and we maybe probably won’t tell anyone” kind of way. I loved it.
I’m giving the book three stars because I found some of the poems harder to untangle than others. I know full well this is a subjective area, full of people with subjective thoughts, but though these poems were well written and used really lovely language, some of them (for example, The Presence of Absence) did give me trouble in trying to decipher what – in that moment – was happening. I could understand the general sadness and regret leaking out of the poems, but other lines were more puzzling than expected. Which, having said this, could be seen as either good or bad by anyone else – but for me it did disrupt my enjoyment of treasuring the past and dwelling on actions and the present. Because of the grief hanging off some of the poems, I did find it a bit difficult to fully engage, however, this doesn’t take away from my admiration of this collection being published at all, when each pieces is so deeply, deeply personal. That’s worth respecting.
I’m glad I got a chance to read this work. I do love poetry and reading it is always an experience to be had. I had fun, and enjoyed what I saw. I would read it again.

Sian Thomas

Review: Every Word You Cannot Say, Iain Thomas by Sian Thomas

Iain Thomas is my favourite writer. Author. Poet. He honestly seems to be an advocate for self-love, for loving others, for recognising good from bad and good from great, for love, full stop. He seems to be an advocate for enjoying whatever it is you find in this world that you enjoy. I enjoy his work, more than I’m sure any language can help me spell out, and yet each time I try.
On my bookshelf, there is: I Wrote This For You, I Wrote This For You And Only You, I Wrote This For You Just The Words, I Wrote This For You 2007-2017, How to be Happy (Not a Self-Help Book. Seriously.), and 300 Things I Hope. And somewhere on my makeshift bookshelf because my real bookshelf is far too small for my wants, is I Am Incomplete Without You. I’m excited to add Every Word You Cannot Say to either of the shelves. I literally find myself unable to say that there’s any other author out there who I have followed this closely, for this long, and been so consistently delivered greatness on simple pages between a simple cover by.
I knew it was coming, the release of this book, and like many I did have to wait my turn to get it. When I did, I was in Waterstones, halfheartedly hoping they would have it (I was not convinced that they would). And I saw it, all the way down the bottom, way to one side: bright blue, jutting out, so different to the greys and blacks and whites (and one bright yellow) that I had grown used to associating Iain Thomas’s name with. I snatched it up and gave it the common flip through, and I loved the look of it and the feel of it and the way it felt exactly like all the other books of his I’ve read: like it was sure to give me something amazing. Which it did.
I ate this book up. Read it quick, flicked through again for an age, put sticky notes on the pages of my favourite pieces, used a highlighter on the ones I really didn’t want to part with. Like on page 131, “There is no register in the sky keeping track of whether or not you got angry as many times as you were supposed to. / You get to decide what eats you up. / And you have no obligation to kindness. / You can be kind as often as you want. / Kindness is not a currency, and if you treat it like one, then that is not kindness. / Within you, there is all the kindness you will ever need.” Or, page 80, “Maybe, in the story of your life, someone has written: / You cannot say why you loved them. / Only that you did. / Only that you don’t anymore.”
This book felt so new, and so fresh and different, somehow, from the other ones, despite still creating a warm and homely feeling in me as I read it, exactly like all the others had. I loved that, that kind of feeling from these books and these poems in particular, I always believe that that is irreplaceable – after all, I haven’t experienced it anywhere else or with any other author. I loved that there was playing with form, structure, even colour of the text. The drawings peppered throughout were lovely, and always in the right places.
I wish this is what all poetry did, that this feeling I got from this book is what I got from each one. I know that would make these books less special, but like I said: Iain Thomas really seems to be an advocate for love. I’m almost convinced he’d understand. And even still, this is one slice of favouritism I am not entirely ready to give up. This is why I gave it five stars. I always will.
Iain Thomas has a real skill here, an honest craftsmanship that I wish I could come close to. Some days, I try to (see: the centos I submitted to university groups, just so I could spill out a fraction of what I feel for this writing when it was my turn to talk).
I love the book. I knew I would.

Siân Thomas