Naxos Theatre presents…

Logo of Naxos Video LibraryWhilst making myself aware of what library resources we have via the Source today I came upon ‘a gem’. Now I quite understand if you don’t think this tidbit of information is mind-blowing, because, let’s face it, we all appreciate different things.

If someone mentioned in passing that they had found a fantastic library resource all about the history of football which showed vintage games of yesteryear, you would probably find me in the foetal position banging my head on any available wall (not as easy as it sounds!).  But theatre productions – now, that’s a totally different ball game (every pun intended).

I clicked on Music, audio & video and chose the option Naxos Video Library. I then selected the option Genres and Programmes which showed me Theatre.  I would have had much more immediate fun if I hadn’t clicked on Opera, Monuments/History/Geography and Feature Films first, but maybe I had to wade my way through the potential of these first to truly experience the excitement I felt when – alphabetically by playwright’s surname – I found plays and theatre productions I had never heard of before. Some of these productions go back as far as 1960 with the most recent being a Shakespearean play put on at the Globe Theatre in 2011.

Cover of Much Ado About NothingAnyway, back to the 1960s and 70s…  Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman, Ingrid Bergman, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jason Robards, Walter Matthau are just a few of the American actors who ‘trod the boards’ in their younger years before Hollywood beckoned. Some of the offerings are literally on stage sets, whilst others are televised versions of plays.

Chekov’s The Seagull , Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are just a few of the more recognised plays, but there are also playwrights and plays I’ve never heard of before.

After much dithering I’ve decided to watch the 1979 production of Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill’s ‘classic American drama of love, revenge, murder and suicide’ with hopefully not a football in sight!

Have a look at the Naxos Music or Video Library next time you are on the library website – there’s a HUGE amount of material to cast your eye over.


I (sorta) heart road works

Photo of road works
Road works in Hercules Street, Shirley.
Photo by Valerie Livingstone.

Some people might think that I love road works with all the road cones, big trucks and stop’n’go men.

I do, sort of. It is a sign that things are being repaired. There is a great website to help you get around the city and suburbs. With a bit of planning, you should be able to get to where you want to go without too much difficulty.

What I don’t like is being detoured down streets I have never been down and sent off in a direction I don’t want to travel in.  When I find I’m speeding down the road at a top speed of 20 km/h, I try not to stress over the fact that I’m going to be late. Sometimes, no matter what road I go down, I get stuck in a slow line of traffic, going the wrong way.

My solution is talking books. I get to hear quite a few on my way to work. At the moment, it’s Three Men in a Boat, but I have listened to Agatha Christie and Torchwood.

When you are delayed by road works, what do you listen to?

P.S. Not enough road works in your life? CTV have turned our road cones into an entertaining short film.

It’s not what they say, it’s the way they say it

Some people choose books by their covers; I often choose talking books by their narrators.

A bad narrator can ruin even a good book, and if you are unlucky enough to get a poor performer and a mediocre work, it’s excruciating.  Particularly if sex scenes are involved.

Good narrators bring the book to life with their faultless timing and great characterisations.  No easy task and I speak from bitter experience, having narrated a few Books for the Blind in my youth.  I remember one attempt at a German accent which still makes me wince when I think of it.  For a talking book, narration is a skill quite as important as writing, and arguably more difficult to find.

What makes a duff narrator?  Well, since I listen while driving, I especially dislike the sleep-inducing effect of monotonous voices.  Fake accents, nasty nasal or whiny voices, mispronunciation, overacting, underacting and bad timing also bring about road rage.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I prefer male narrators for most books, simply because they do a better job of female voices than female narrators do when impersonating males.  I suspect it’s something to do with the vocal cords, but for every male narrator who makes his females sound like drag queens, I find half a dozen females whose attempts to sound masculine are forced or ludicrous.  I gave up on one historical novel, not only because Henry VIII had an American accent, but because the narrator made him sound uncannily like Yogi Bear.

Cover of "A king's speech"But there are some great narrators too, including:

  • Alex Jennings, who can read a Dickens or Dostoyevsky with a cast of thousands and yet give every character their own voice.
  • Tim Curry reads the Lemony Snicket books with great verve.
  • Jonathan Cecil does a great upper-class twit Bertie and omniscient Jeeves in the P. G. Wodehouse books.
  • Simon Slater – some people found Wolf Hall  difficult because they couldn’t work out who was speaking – you won’t have that trouble with this audio version.
  • Juliet Stevenson – a fine and versatile narrator.

One thing I love about the OverDrive downloadable audio books is being able to listen to an excerpt and find out in advance if the narrator’s voice is as annoying as a child asking for ice-cream in a supermarket queue.

Who are your audio stars? And do you agree with my preference for male narrators?

Lionel Shriver on book clubs

Book groups are a social phenomenon. In this excerpt from Roberta Smith’s interview with Lionel Shriver, you can hear Shriver’s thoughts on book clubs and how they bridge the gap between the solitude of reading and ordinary socialising.

What do you think – would you ever join a book group? Could there be a bloke’s book group?  Discuss!

“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive”

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes

With these immortal words the public were introduced to the most famous of double acts: that of Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson. They remain as popular as ever with the Victorian setting enhancing rather than diminishing their appeal.

 Since their appearance in 1887, they have been portrayed by formidable actors. Many swear by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, although the latter’s portayal of Watson as a bumbling, aged idiot has its critics.

A more impressive couple on Granada TV were Jeremy Brett with firstly, David Burke and then Edward Hardwicke. Unfortunately, Brett became too obsessed with the role and along with the demands of work made him severely ill. The need to shoot around his later absences made some of the later TV episodes disappointing and confusing. However, it must be stressed that they are still more than watchable.

The definitve pair  has to be (and I will brook no opposition) …

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