The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

May the power of the brolly live on!

@MycroftBrolly
British. Londoner. Campaigner. Gandhian. Tatchellite. Works at the Terrence Higgins Trust. EQView Arts Editor and Writer. Theatre (esp @NationalTheatre), film and TV geek. Sherlockian. All views my own.



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SherlockNight

The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
- Dinah Craik, in A Life for a Life (1859)


As Is, Trafalgar Studios - Review
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My EQView feature this week was a review of As Is at the Trafalgar Studios. As Is was the first AIDS play, written by William M. Hoffman as a response to the AIDS crisis overwhelming the gay community in the 1980s. Highly recommended. Theatre as social action!

My EQView review of As Is at the Trafalgar Studios is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/07/15/as-is-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

AS IS - REVIEW

As Is was the first AIDS play, written by William M. Hoffman as a direct response to the AIDS crisis overwhelming the gay community in the 1980s. Thirty years after first opening in New York, a new production of As Is comes to the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End.

The theatre space where As Is is being staged is intimate. As you enter, the walls are a blackboard where you can write the names of people you have known who have died of AIDS. If you want to, you can also write something about them. In this way, the theatre space itself becomes an ever-evolving temporary memorial to those who have died of AIDS (there is, as yet, no permanent memorial to those who have died of AIDS in London). This is just one of several ways in which you, as an audience member, can engage with, and participate in, the play.



Also as you enter, you hear a soundscape which takes you back in time to the 1980s, which is when the play is set, and you can hear how HIV and AIDS was talked about then, and how it was reported in the media. The phrases “the plague of AIDS” and “the gay plague” stuck in my memory.

The play is set in New York in 1985 and it opens with Rich and Saul, a gay couple, in the middle of a break-up, arguing over who gets what in terms of their material possessions. Rich is breaking up with Saul, to embark on a new relationship with a younger lover, Chet.

Rich is the central character in the play, and we follow him on his journey as he is diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. We see the impact of this life-changing diagnosis on Rich, his lovers, his family and his friends.

I found the scenes between Rich and his brother especially moving because these scenes brought into sharp focus how hard it can be to have a strong relationship with your siblings and your family if you have followed a different path, one which they find difficult to comprehend. You can see Rich’s brother battling his homophobia and his prejudices about HIV and AIDS and trying to reconnect with his brother. But it is depressing that his brother’s homophobia prevents him from remembering the name of Rich’s long-term partner, Saul, and from acknowledging the relationship Rich and Saul have together and what they mean to each other.

Rich’s story is deeply affecting as it could apply to anyone. Rich explains how stealthy HIV is, because one day he was running a marathon and feeling on top of the world, and the next day he came down with a flu-like illness which he was unable to shake off. We experience Rich’s highs and lows, and can understand how scared he must be, and how the fear of dying and death can be overwhelming. We experience all of his reactions to his HIV and AIDS diagnosis – anxiety, anger, fear, and, ultimately, acceptance.

Rich’s new relationship with Chet does not survive his HIV and AIDS diagnosis, and it is Saul, his ex-lover, who visits Rich at the hospital, is prepared to be with him and provide round-the-clock care, and who will love him truly, madly, deeply, right up until the end, come what may, and taking Rich “As Is”.

I understood a key message of the play to be the triumph of humour, hope and love, over fear, adversity and death, and this makes As Is an uplifting play. One of the closing scenes focuses on the life-affirming love that Rich and Saul have for each other, as proven by the fact Saul is prepared to be there with Rich when Rich is staring death in the face.

The theatre space is small and intimate and the action of the play takes place directly in front of you, in and around you. The way the play is staged makes you, as an audience member, feel an active part of the play, and involved with the action of the play. You can’t look away, and there is nowhere to hide; you have to engage with the play.

There is a very strong ensemble cast, most playing multiple roles, and all of them are excellent. Special mention has to go to Steven Webb, in the central role of Rich, whose performance moved me profoundly. He was outstanding.

What I admired and respected about this production is the creatives and cast are putting the play on as a piece of social action to raise awareness of HIV and to fight the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV today.

There is a diverse range of post-show talks and Q&As; health promotion material on HIV testing and living with HIV is available and prominently displayed; money is being collected for HIV charities every night; and rapid HIV testing is being offered and encouraged on Friday nights.

At a time when people are not talking openly about HIV, it is very helpful that the play is being used as a springboard to initiate dialogue and discussion around HIV, with a view to raising awareness of HIV and challenging stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

In summary, a play looking at the emerging AIDS crisis in the 1980s which remains current and relevant in 2015. As Is makes you reflect on how far we have come (eg understanding of HIV transmission, treatment options) but also consider what remains to be done (eg fighting prejudice, stigma and discrimination directed against HIV positive people). Writing that is funny, sharp, intelligent, and thoughtful; a very strong ensemble cast; staging that puts you at the centre of the action, making you engage with the play; and important messages for you to take home, act on, and which will stay with you for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

As Is, the first AIDS play, continues at the Trafalgar Studios until Saturday 1 August 2015.

Follow the link for more information on As Is and to book tickets:
http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/as-is/trafalgar-studios/

EQView Birthday Party
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EQView, the online LGBTQ magazine I write for, celebrated its first birthday with a BBQ in Brixton and a night out in London Town on Saturday 11 July (EQView launched on 1 July 2014).

The photo above is one of me and my fellow EQView writers chilling out at the BBQ before we left for Soho to paint the town red!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY EQVIEW :)


Oresteia, Almeida Theatre - Review
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My EQView feature this week was a review of ‎Oresteia‬ at the Almeida Theatre. It was an amazing night out at the theatre, with a piece that is hard-hitting, modern, relevant, resonated strongly, and which made a lasting impact on me. 5 shining stars!

My EQView review of Oresteia at the Almeida Theatre is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/07/08/oresteia-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

ORESTEIA - REVIEW

Last week I went to see Oresteia by Aeschylus, in a new version created by Robert Icke, at the Almeida and I genuinely had one of the most amazing theatre experiences I have ever had in my entire life. I am very thankful I got to experience this production, I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I have no hesitation in awarding it a maximum five stars.

I had not even intended to write a review of this production but, having experienced it, I had to put pen to paper to at least attempt to capture some of the magic that took place on stage.

I had no prior knowledge of Oresteia before seeing this production – all I knew was that it was a Greek tragedy. I have seen Greek plays and tragedies before but, overall, I would say that I am very ill-informed about, and have very little knowledge of, Greek theatre.

In the post show Q&A, the Director Robert Icke said his goal was to make his productions equally accessible to everyone – to first-time theatregoers, to those who have no knowledge of the play, and to informed theatregoers who know the play in depth. He succeeded in achieving this ambition. I had no prior knowledge of the play, but this new adaptation and interpretation gripped me right from the start, and did not loosen its hold on me until its conclusion. I had no trouble following the action of the play or understanding the dialogue and the meaning.

Oresteia is a piece which contains big ideas and themes, examined through private and public prisms, personal and political spheres, and we see the impact of words and actions on individuals, family, and wider society. Big moral dilemmas are posed, and the themes of revenge, retribution, justice and mercy are explored in depth.

Oresteia opens with a big moral question – is Agamemnon, the King, willing to sacrifice his beloved young daughter, Iphigenia, for the sake of his people and the greater public good? It is foretold that Iphigenia’s death will ensure Agamemnon wins the war, and the taking of one innocent life (Iphigenia’s) will save the lives of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Agamemnon’s countrymen.

After much agonizing, Agamemnon agrees to sacrifice his daughter but this unleashes a bloody trail of murder and destruction that will plague his family down the generations for many years to come. This one act, the taking of his daughter Iphigenia’s life, will lead to his own murder at the hands of his wife, Klytemnestra, and then the murder of his wife Klytemnestra at the hands of his son, Orestes. Blood breeds blood.

We start with this one unjust act, the taking of Iphigenia’s life by Agamemnon in pursuit of the greater public good, and we then follow the repercussions of this act on Agamemnon’s family down the generations.

Oresteia culminates and climaxes in a trial scene, where Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, is on trial for murdering his mother Klytemnestra, an act he carried out in revenge for his mother murdering his father. We the audience are asked to decide whether Orestes is innocent or guilty, whether he is mad, whether his actions are justified, and what punishment he should suffer for his crime.

The play feels very relevant and contemporary – so much so, it could be a piece of new writing rather than something that was written over 2,000 years ago. The actors wear modern dress and the set is modern and minimalist. Everything feels very now. This has the effect of drawing the audience right into the heart of the play and its action, because the world on stage is very much our world.

Oresteia is not one single play, but a trilogy of plays, and this production has a very long running time of 3 hours 40 minutes. I can honestly say, hand on heart, when I experienced this production, I was totally engrossed in the play’s action, and I did not notice the time passing. The incredibly long running time simply flew by.

The intervals and the breaks in the production are very strictly timed and there are digital clocks in the theatre and in the foyer area counting down the time, in seconds, to when the action resumes. This made the play feel as though it was taking place in real time, and it lent the production a real immediacy and urgency. It also created a buzz.

For me, the quality of a production can be measured by the quality of its actors, and I truly value a strong ensemble company, creating a special energy on stage on any given night, working together and feeding off eachother so each actor gives of their best. This was definitely the case with this ensemble and, on the night I saw the production, every actor delivered an exceptional performance. It was one of the strongest ensemble performances I have seen in a long time.

In summary, an amazing night out at the theatre, with a piece that is hard-hitting, modern, relevant, resonates strongly, and which made a lasting impact on me. Theatre at its best, reaching the parts others cannot reach. 5 shining stars!

Oresteia plays at the Almeida Theatre until 18 July 2015 and is part of the Almeida Greeks Season.

‪#‎AlmeidaGreeks‬

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
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My favourite quote from the whole series. It really resonated with me :)

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 7 – Review
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In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 7 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the thrilling final chapter, which highlights the value of true friendship and enduring love.

My EQView review of Episode 7 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/07/01/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-7-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - EPISODE 7 - REVIEW

BBC One’s lavish Sunday night period drama about English Magic and Magicians, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, concluded on Sunday with a real corker of an episode. The final instalment was very eventful and incredibly exciting and highlighted the value of true friendship and enduring love.

The episode opens with the great and the good complaining about Strange and his actions, about the damage he has done, and the danger he has brought, by bringing the ancient magic of the Raven King back to England. He has opened up doors between the two worlds, and this may prove to be a Pandora’s Box, unleashing evil back into England. Sir Walter Pole bitterly regrets his involvement in English magic saying that, with hindsight, he fears he should not have interfered and should have left well alone. With the tide of public opinion turning against English magic, Norrell returns to his native Yorkshire.

Strange has returned to England and is hiding in Norrell’s household. Strange’s powers are much weakened, his strength is failing, and he believes he is dying. Strange desperately begs Norrell for his help because he stands no chance of rescuing Arabella without it. Norrell, a kind soul, agrees to help and the two magicians shake hands to seal the deal. Their partnership is reborn.

Back in Lost Hope, the Gentleman is spoilt for company having the twin jewels of Lady Pole and Arabella. But Segundus and Honeyfoot have been working hard to rescue Lady Pole, and when her missing finger is returned to them, they are able to break the Enchantment and bring Lady Pole back home. The loss of one of his most precious prizes angers the Gentleman making him mad with rage.

Things are fast hurtling towards a climax. Strange and Norrell succeed in finding a path through to Lost Hope, and they find their way to the Enchanted Ball, which will be the scene of the mighty battle between Good and Evil.

Strange finds Arabella and kisses her passionately. This breaks the Enchantment as Arabella remembers who she is and recognizes Jonathan as her husband. Strange shows Arabella a way back to the real world through a mirror which grants her safe passage back to Venice.

Now the real battle is fought between the Gentleman and Stephen. Whilst the Gentleman tries to persuade Stephen that the prophecy is for Stephen to be the King of England, and the Gentleman to be the King of Lost Hope, Stephen realizes his true destiny is to defeat the Gentleman. Stephen is much stronger than the Gentleman, and overpowers him completely, encasing the Gentleman in a tree. Stephen is triumphant, the Gentleman’s spells are broken, and Strange and Norrell are transported back to England.

For most TV series, this would be a “and they lived happily ever after” ending, and the series would have ended there. But Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is not any TV series, and its storylines and themes are more complex. Strange and Norrell have returned to England, but they are trapped within Norrell’s house, unable to leave. Strange is greatly weakened, his strength failing, and Norrell stays with him and comforts him at the end, as only a true friend could and would. As the end draws near, and blackness engulfs them, this display of true friendship is truly touching, particularly coming from a naturally solitary person like Norrell.

Arabella is living in Venice and returns to the house where Jonathan was staying during his sojourn in Venice. Whilst looking down at her own reflection in the well, her lost husband’s reflection appears, standing beside her, and they talk. Arabella was taken away and Jonathan saved her and fetched her safely home. But Jonathan is now lost, unsure where he is. Jonathan tells Arabella he is happy to see her fully recovered and restored to her old self. He does not want her to be a widow, but to be happy. Before he disappears, Arabella promises if he does not find a way back to her, she will come in search of him and bring him back, just as he did for her.

Jonathan is gone, and we do not know whether Arabella will succeed in rescuing him or whether he is lost forever. We as an audience are heavily invested in this young couple, Jonathan and Arabella, because we have known them and followed their love story from the early days of their courtship. Therefore the scene is heartbreaking, as Jonathan and Arabella, two young people very much in love, are parted without knowing whether they will ever see eachother again.

There is a real symmetry to the closing scene, as it echoes the opening scene of the series, with a return visit to the Society of Magicians in York. The Society does not know where Strange and Norrell are and whether they will return, so the future practice and stewardship of English magic lies in their hands. The ancient magic of the Raven King has returned to England in abundance and they must ensure they use this magic wisely and well.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’s closing episode was very eventful and incredibly exciting. The two English magicians, Strange and Norrell, were transformed from bitter rivals to the closest of friends; Stephen broke free from his chains and defeated the Gentleman; Lady Pole and Arabella Strange escaped their Enchantment and returned to the real world; and the ancient magic of the Raven King returned to England. All this in under an hour!

A truly exceptional adaptation from book to TV of a complex fantasy novel with a myriad of important themes. The adaptation was true to its source material, the writing was sharp, the ensemble of actors was excellent, and the special effects were special. I enjoyed every minute of all seven episodes and from now on I will really miss spending time in the company of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell on Sunday nights!
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London Pride Parade: Saturday 27 June 2015 - My best photos
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Yesterday was the London Pride Parade and I marched with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).

We were lucky enough to be joined by some of the key cast members from the film Pride (including Andrew Scott!) and Owen Jones.

The photo above is of me, at the end of the march, meeting one of my Pride Heroes, Peter Tatchell. A couple of my best photos are below.

The stunningly beautiful LGSM banner:



Me at the start of the march with other members of the LGSM contingent:



If you want a fuller selection of images of the London Pride Parade yesterday follow the Gay Star News link to the 18 best pictures from the London Pride Parade:
http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/here-are-18-best-pictures-pride-london270615

Follow the link to the London Pride Website with full details:
http://prideinlondon.org/

London Pride Parade: Saturday 27 June 2015
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rakspatel


Its the London Pride Parade tomorrow and I can't wait!

After much agonising, I have decided to march with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).

My heart won over my head in the end! I feel very strongly in my heart that LGSM should be leading the Parade to acknowledge the 30 year anniversary since they did so with the Miners Contingent and to celebrate the film Pride. I can't change London Pride politics but I can show my support and solidarity by marching with LGSM and the trade union blocks. It is also very important to me that I do Pride as Protest to recognise and acknowledge the history of Pride.

The over-arching theme is Pride Heroes. I made my own placard (pictured above!) with my own personal 4 Pride Heroes - Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, Terry Higgins, and Peter Tatchell (of course!).

Pride List
- "I HEART Pride" green t shirt courtesy of Brighton Pride
- Rainbow Hat
- Rainbow flag
- Whistle
- Slogan "Victory to the Miners!"
- Song "Power in the Union" by Billy Bragg

All systems are GO!

Follow the link to the London Pride Website with full details:
http://prideinlondon.org/


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 6 – Review
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In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 6 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, where Jonathan Strange goes mad in Venice and the Magic of the Raven King returns to England.

My EQView review of Episode 6 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/06/24/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-6-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - EPISODE 6 - REVIEW

BBC One’s lavish Sunday night period drama about English Magic and Magicians, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, continued this week and could easily have been titled “Jonathan Strange goes mad in Venice”. Strange flees to Venice, in pursuit of madness and his beloved wife, Arabella, whom he is determined to bring back from the dead.

The penultimate episode begins with Jonathan Strange being declared a Fugitive in England, and his Book of Magic, with a dedication to his beloved wife, finally goes on sale to the public. Norrell, having failed to stop the publication of Strange’s book, resorts to magic and the books disappear as soon as they are purchased. By making the books vanish in this way, Norrell ensures Strange’s ideas about English magic do not see the light of day.

Meanwhile, Strange has fled to Venice, but he is a changed man. The death of his wife, Arabella, has left him a broken man. Strange, when Arabella was alive, was a confident young man, happy and content, looking every inch the true gentleman, finding his true vocation and path in life. Now in Venice, Strange has immersed himself in his experiments, driving himself on and on, not eating or sleeping properly, and appearing dishevelled, unkempt and mad.

Strange personally witnessed how King George’s madness enabled him to see into other worlds, and now, in a bid to find Arabella, Strange is chasing after madness himself. Strange’s aim is to conjure up a Fairy Servant and ask him to bring Arabella back from the dead. Strange realizes Fairies are wicked and dangerous but he knows he needs their help to bring Arabella back.

Strange edges closer and closer to madness and, as he does so, he is able to see, hear and talk to the mysterious Gentleman. Strange has conjured up the Gentleman and can ask him for anything he desires. Strange wants to bring Arabella back from the dead, but the Gentleman is clear that is outside his remit. Strange begs, but the Gentleman stands firm. Strange talks to the Gentleman and it suddenly dawns on him that Norrell was the last English Magician to have dealings with the Gentleman. He realizes the Gentleman helped Norrell bring Lady Pole back from the dead.

Through sheer determination and dogged persistence, Strange discovers a path through to the Lost Hope Ball, where he finds Stephen, Lady Pole and Arabella. Horrified, Strange realizes Arabella has been enchanted by the Gentleman and is doomed to dance forever at the Lost Hope Ball. Strange has journeyed to other lands, he has seen where Arabella and Lady Pole are held captive, and he has witnessed their enchantment. He is rewarded for his efforts by being cursed himself, encased within a spell of the Gentleman’s making, and unable to break free.

Back in England, Norrell continues to agitate against Strange to anyone willing to listen. Norrell claims Strange is playing with forces he does not understand, and dabbling in Black Magic which will bring catastrophe and disaster down upon England.

The episode ends with a truly stunning sequence. Strange says “Tell Norrell I am coming”, and hundreds of Black Ravens, last seen in Venice, break through Norrell’s mirror at home and into England. These Black Ravens may symbolize Strange’s return to England, but they are also a clear sign that Ancient Magic, the Magic of the Raven King, is returning to England after a long absence. Strange has succeeded in restoring the Magic of the Raven King to England but what has he unleashed, and are these forces for good or evil? Will Strange, Norrell and the other English Magicians be able to control this Magic, and will they use it for good or ill?

All will be revealed in the final episode next week and I, for one, cannot wait!

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell concludes next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 5 – Review
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In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 5 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which focused on the battle between Strange and the Gentleman for Arabella’s heart and soul. And Strange and Norrell’s feud goes from bad to worse, landing Strange in prison.

My EQView review of Episode 5 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/06/16/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-5-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - EPISODE 5 - REVIEW

BBC One’s lavish Sunday night period drama about magic, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, continued this week with an episode focusing on the battle between Strange and the Gentleman for Arabella’s heart and soul. And Strange and Norrell’s feud went from bad to worse, landing Strange in prison.

Episode 5 has a very powerful opening as we are plunged right into the heart of the Battle of Waterloo. We experience first hand the cut and thrust, the agony and ecstasy, of War. Jonathan Strange (Merlin) is in the thick of it and responds quickly and effectively to the cries for help coming from the soldiers, using practical magic on the battlefields to fight the enemy. The breadth and depth of his magic is simply awe-inspiring. We are on the edge of our seats, as Strange and the British officers narrowly escape death. The scene closes with the end of the War, both Strange and Wellington amazed to have survived.

Back at home, with his War exploits at an end, Strange attempts to pick up where he left off, focusing on his beautiful and intelligent wife Arabella and their marriage. The husband and wife are working in partnership, writing a Book of Magic, with Strange supplying the words and Arabella the illustrations. Little do they know disaster is about to strike and they are soon to be parted!

Lady Pole is happier in her new home, Segundus’s asylum. Segundus and Honeyfoot have made a breakthrough and realized Lady Pole is not mad. She is not talking gibberish but telling Fairy Tales, narrated from the Fairy’s point of view. Lady Pole attempts to get a message through to Strange – that his wife is in mortal danger and he must not, under any circumstances, make the fatal bargain with the Gentleman. But help arrives too late for Arabella because, before Strange receives Lady Pole’s warning, Stephen has spirited Arabella away in the dead of night and taken her to the Gentleman and the Lost Hope Ball.

When Strange realizes Arabella is missing, he and his household search the countryside looking for her, and they find Arabella’s doppelganger, conjured up by Stephen and the Gentleman. They bring this fake Arabella back home, not realizing their mistake. Having been out walking in the bitter cold for some time, this fake Arabella is dangerously ill, and dies very soon afterwards. The real Arabella is alive but, having fallen into the clutches of the Gentleman, is doomed like Lady Pole to dance forever at his Lost Hope Ball.

Arabella is the centre of Strange’s life, she is his reason for living, and everything he does is for her – Strange even took up magic as an occupation merely to please and pacify her. Arabella’s death leaves him a broken man. Strange will not accept she is dead, he is desperate to restore Arabella to life, and uses all the magic in his armoury to bring this about. But nothing seems to work and Strange writes to Norrell frantically, pleading for him to come and help him in his time of need for the sake of their past friendship. Strange is remembering Norrell’s success in bringing Lady Pole back from the dead (he is oblivious to the heavy price that was extracted in return).

When Norrell heard Strange was writing a Book about Magic, he immediately tried to dissuade prospective publishers from having anything to do with it, describing the book as “seditious” and “dangerous”. Childermass informs Strange that Norrell is doing all in his power to stop the book and this drives Strange into an aggressive fit of rage – for Strange the book is a tribute to his dearly departed and beloved wife. Strange’s fury knows no bounds and he materialises in Norrell’s house, threatening and attacking Norrell and his friends. Strange is promptly arrested and put in prison. Strange and Norrell’s feud has gone from bad to worse.

Another exceptional episode, opening with a mind-blowing set piece sequence at the Battle of Waterloo, and focusing on the battle between Strange and the Gentleman for Arabella’s heart and soul. In this episode we discover how much Arabella means to Strange and how deep his love and devotion for her are. Having failed to bring her back from the dead, he very reluctantly buries her, but we know he will fight long and hard for her when he realizes she is not dead but has merely been spirited away and ensnared in the Gentleman’s evil enchantment. Who will win the battle for Arabella’s heart and soul and can true love triumph in the end? All will be revealed next week!

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 4 – Review
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In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 4 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which continued this week with an episode where the two Magicians, Strange and Norrell, start out as close colleagues but end as sworn enemies.

My EQView review of Episode 4 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/06/12/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-4-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - EPISODE 4 - REVIEW

BBC One’s lavish Sunday night period drama about magic, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, continued this week with an episode where the two Magicians, Strange and Norrell, start out as close colleagues but end as sworn enemies.

At the end of Episode 3, Lady Pole attempted to assassinate Mr Norrell because of what he had done to her. Episode 4 opens with this fact being covered up and a story being put about that a French spy shot at Mr Norrell in revenge for his successful magical interventions in the War. Plans are quickly made to send Lady Pole to an asylum, where she will be out of harm’s way and unable to commit any further atrocities.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are summoned to attend on King George III to see if their magic can help him overcome his malady. Mr Norrell is firmly of the opinion that “Magic cannot cure madness”, but Jonathan Strange has a more open mind and wishes to see if there is any way he can help.

Their commission to cure the King brings into sharp focus Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’s differing approaches to the practice of English magic. Mr Norrell wants “Modern magic for the modern age”, whilst Jonathan Strange is keen to explore the Black Magic of the past and to follow the paths of the Raven King.

When Jonathan Strange returns to see King George III alone, the King helps Strange find a way back to the old World through mirrors, and Strange rediscovers the “King’s Roads”, the dark paths and highways of the Raven King. This is a strange, mysterious and magical world, and once Strange has found his way into this world, he is keen to return and explore it further despite the obvious dangers.

Jonathan Strange is drawn towards the ancient ways of the Raven King and the practice of Black Magic, at the same time as Mr Norrell and Lascelles are working away on a book setting out “Norrellite Magic for the Modern Age”, the only form of magic they deem acceptable and respectable.

Jonathan Strange profoundly disagrees with the ideas expressed in the Lascelles book and he reviews the book, denouncing its contents and the magic it advocates. Strange realizes he will have to break free from Mr Norrell, branch out on his own, and follow his own path. Only then can he explore the Black Magic he wants to practice, the medieval magic of the Raven King. For Strange, this ancient magic is truly wonderful and belongs to a Golden Age of English Magic. Compared to this, Mr Norrell’s modern magic appears dull, mundane and commonplace.

With Jonathan Strange denouncing Mr Norell’s book in print and in public, their collaboration and partnership is at an end. Mr Norrell will pursue the practice of modern magic and Jonathan Strange will attempt to follow the paths of the Raven King and rediscover medieval magic.

Throughout this episode, we get a firm sense of the deep love between Jonathan and Arabella Strange. They are a very modern couple and their marriage is a meeting of hearts and minds. Towards the end of the Episode, Jonathan Strange is willing to give up being a Practical Magician, and return to being a Theoretical Magician, so he can spend more quality time with his wife.

But we all know what happens to the best laid plans! Just as Jonathan and Arabella resolve to focus on their marriage, Strange receives a summons. Napoleon has returned to France and captured Paris. Strange is the Army’s Magician and his services are urgently required. So much for Strange enjoying a quiet life of domesticity!

In this Episode, it becomes clear the two Magicians have diametrically opposed views on the direction English Magic should take. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell split and go their separate ways – Mr Norrell to practice “Modern Magic for the Modern Age”, and Jonathan Strange to try and rediscover Medieval Magic, the Black Magic of the Raven King. As the Episode closes, we focus in on Mr Norrell, who now sees Jonathan Strange as his sworn enemy. The battle lines are drawn and there can only be one winner. Let battle commence!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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Fanny & Stella, Above The Stag Theatre - Review
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rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a review of Fanny & Stella, currently playing at the Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall. Fanny & Stella tells the true story of Victorian cross dressers Frederick (Fanny) Park and Ernest (Stella) Boulton, two young men who dared to be different, whatever the cost. A very enjoyable and fun night out. Go and see Fanny & Stella – you will be entertained and educated, and I guarantee you will have the time of your life!

My EQView review of Fanny & Stella is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/06/08/fanny-stella-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

FANNY & STELLA - REVIEW

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story is a new play with songs, currently playing at Above The Stag Theatre, which tells the true story of Victorian cross dressers Frederick Park (Fanny) and Ernest Boulton (Stella), two young men who dared to be different, whatever the cost.

The way the story is presented is very effective, as it empowers Fanny (Frederick) and Stella (Ernest) to tell their own stories. When you sit down in your seat, you are transported to a Victorian Working Men’s Club where, for one night only, Fanny and Stella are going to inform and entertain you by bringing their real life stories onto the stage. They tell their stories warts and all – their rise to fame and their fall from grace. You know right from the off that you are embarking on a fabulous adventure and that you are in for one hell of a ride!

Frederick Park (Fanny) and Ernest Boulton (Stella) were two young Victorian men who dared to be different. Known to their friends as Fanny and Stella, and to the tabloids as the “He-She Ladies”, they loved to dress as women. They performed on stage as female impersonators, and went out on the town, to theatre and social engagements, still dressed as women, hoping to pick men up for sex. They were much admired and Stella in particular had many suitors, including Lord Arthur Clinton.

Fanny and Stella were arrested at The Strand Theatre in 1870 and put on trial for homosexual offences. They made their first court appearance dressed in their evening gowns. But the prosecution could not prove that they had had anal sex, which was then a crime, and wearing women’s clothing was not a crime, so they were acquitted. Justice was done!

Fanny and Stella were real people and I appreciated, valued and respected the way in which the play covered all aspects of their lives – their parents, their families, their friends, their suitors, their love lives, money, jobs, and their ambitions and aspirations. This was an in-depth and rich exploration of Fanny and Stella’s multi-faceted lives.

The songs are a real riot – incredibly clever and very funny. They move the story along at a rapid pace, enable the audience to join in and participate, ensure the show is a lot of fun, and give the production that elusive X factor. Songs include “Sodomy on the Strand”, “Those Funny He/She Ladies”, “Has anyone seen my Fanny?” and “My Mother”, and they are all so catchy I guarantee you will be singing them in the interval and as you leave the show!

All the actors in the production are excellent but special mention has to go to Marc Gee Finch (Fanny) and Robert Jeffery (Stella) who make convincing women and work very well together as a double act. They convey how colourful and charismatic Fanny and Stella were as characters and as women, and they also tug at your heartstrings when you think about how sad it is that Fanny and Stella had to suffer so much just for wanting to be themselves.

For a fringe production, the costumes and the set are a real treat and an absolute delight. Fanny and Stella’s dresses are to die for and Marc Gee Finch (playing Fanny) and Robert Jeffery (playing Stella) wear them with real style and aplomb. The staging and set is excellent too, and I especially loved the use of the closets to reveal surprise characters and interiors. Walking out of the closet, and leaving it behind, at the end of the piece was a stroke of pure genius!

All in all, a very enjoyable and fun night out, where you will also learn a lot about hidden LGBT history, and appreciate just how much progress has been made on LGBT rights in a relatively short space of time. Go and see Fanny & Stella – you will be entertained and educated, and I guarantee you will have the time of your life!

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story plays at Above The Stag Theatre until Sunday 14 June.

Above The Stag Theatre is the UK’s only full time professional LGBT theatre.


My interview on Fanny & Stella with the playwright Glenn Chandler can be found here:
http://eqview.com/2015/05/29/fanny-stella-glenn-chandler/

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 3 – Review
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rakspatel


In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 3 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which continued this week with an excellent episode, much darker in tone, with viewers led to believe the Dark Arts and Black magic are in the ascendant.

My EQView review of Episode 3 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/06/03/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-3-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - EPISODE 3 - REVIEW

BBC One’s Sunday night period drama about magic, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, continued this week with an episode focusing on the Dark Arts and Black magic.

At the start of Episode 3, London society has noted Lady Pole’s “strangeness” and gossip is rife about why she remains aloof from society, shuts herself away and about the state of her mind. Arabella, Jonathan Strange’s wife, is one of the few people permitted to visit Lady Pole and she becomes a close friend and confidante.

Lady Pole is unable to tell Arabella what has happened to her (she ends up talking gibberish), and so she tries to explain through embroidery, stitching a tapestry depicting herself, the Gentleman, Stephen and the ghostly Last Hope Ball. Lady Pole is distraught when her elaborate embroidery work is destroyed overnight.

Whilst Arabella is trying to unravel Lady Pole’s dark secrets in London, her husband, Jonathan, has journeyed out to the War in search of Wellington. At first, Wellington does not have much time for the magician sent out to help him, but when Jonathan starts working his magic, Wellington sees his potential, nicknames him “Merlin”, and starts asking for very specific pieces of magic.

Jonathan enjoys the War to begin with, especially practical tasks like making a road. But misfortune strikes, Jonathan loses his closest servant and all the books Mr Norrell lent him in one horrific explosion, and all he has left to guide him is one book, “The History of the Raven King”. This is the only magic book he owned, given to him by Arabella.

Using the Raven King book, Jonathan practices Black magic in the later stages of the War, bringing dead soldiers back to life. These near zombies, his own creation, disturb Jonathan greatly. He knows this magic is dark and dangerous, not the “respectable” magic Mr Norrell tried to teach him, and he is unable to control it.

Arabella is the constant in this episode, unifying the diverse characters and the multiple storylines. She is Lady Pole’s closest friend and confidante. She is Jonathan’s wife, and Mr Norrell intercepts the letters between Jonathan and Arabella, so he knows what is happening to Lady Pole and what is going on in the War. Finally, the mysterious Gentleman is strongly drawn to Arabella and desires her for his own.

This episode ends on a cliffhanger when a deranged Lady Pole, driven almost out of her mind, fatally shoots one of the main characters (I won’t say who!). Is this character really dead or can magic, whether black or white, come to the rescue and bring him back from the dead? If he is restored to life, what penalty will have to be paid this time around?

An excellent episode, much darker in tone, with viewers led to believe the Dark Arts and Black magic are in the ascendant. Jonathan resorts to the Black magic of the Raven King to help win the War, Lady Pole and Stephen are under the evil Gentleman’s power, and Arabella is in real danger of being drawn into the Gentleman’s dark web against her will.

All I can say is … Roll on Episode 4!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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Fanny & Stella - Meet the Writer - Glenn Chandler
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rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is an interview with Glenn Chandler, the playwright of Fanny & Stella, currently playing at the Above the Stag theatre in Vauxhall. Fanny & Stella tells the true story of Victorian cross dressers Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young men who dared to be different, whatever the cost.

My EQView interview with Glenn Chandler is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/05/29/fanny-stella-glenn-chandler/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

FANNY & STELLA - MEET THE WRITER - GLENN CHANDLER

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story is a new play, currently playing at the Above the Stag theatre in Vauxhall, telling the true story of Victorian cross dressers Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton (Fanny and Stella), two young men who dared to be different, whatever the cost.

I saw the play with songs recently and I thought the writing, the songs, and the acting were exceptional (review to follow). It made me want to find out more about the play and so I interviewed Glenn Chandler, the playwright, to find out how and why he came to write the play.

EQView: What is special about the theatre and why do you love writing for the stage?

Because it’s different every night. A television film or a movie remains the same every time you look at it. A theatre piece is something which is constantly evolving. And besides, I like being hands-on, writing for and working with actors.

Your productions often play at Above The Stag. What do you think is special and unique about Above The Stag?

It is London’s only LGBT theatre and hats off to Peter Bull who started it. Gay themed plays will always have a home.

When did you first come across the case of Fanny and Stella?

While I was producing Cleveland Street The Musical, which I also wrote, at the old Above The Stag. One of the rent boys at the Cleveland Street brothel had mixed with Boulton and Park and put his name to a pornographic memoir in which he described their relationship. I began researching them for a book initially – but then thought theatre was the place for them!

What research did you do into Fanny and Stella’s story and into the Victorian period during which the play is set?

I read the whole trial at the National Archives in Kew, and spent many hours at the British Library in Colindale (now closed) reading accounts of the magistrates’ procedings. The papers reported their lives and activities in enormous detail. I was stunned to discover that Park had a brother who had been arrested for fondling a policeman! It obviously ran in the family.

What drew you to Fanny and Stella’s story? Why did you want to put it on the stage now?

I think now is absolutely right. LGBT issues are prominent – and by luck we coincided with the referendum on gay marriage in Ireland. I wonder what Boulton and Park would have thought of that!

The subtitle for the play is “The Shocking True Story”. What do you think is “shocking” about Fanny and Stella’s story?

It was shocking at the time, to the Victorians. Not to us. Sodomy was something they didn’t like to discuss, and the details of such cases the newspapers deemed unfit to print.

Why did you decide to tell Fanny and Stella’s story as a “play with songs” rather than as straight drama?

Straight drama demands that you have to get serious and make “dramatic points” and it all has to mean something. With songs, you can get serious, make dramatic points and mean something, but at the same time tell the story in a much more light-hearted and fun way. Besides, Fanny and Stella were theatrical and sang in public – they would not have dreamt of a show about them without songs. I’m pretty sure anyway.

How did you find the right person to compose the music and write the songs? Did you input into that process?

Steven Dexter the director introduced me to Charles Miller the composer. I hadn’t worked with either before. It worked amazingly well. One song ‘Sodomy on the Strand’ I wrote the lyrics before breakfast, emailed them to Charles, and by lunch he had set it and sent it to me as an MP3 file. I’m sure it doesn’t always happen that way! I think his music is superb and very, very memorable, judging by the audience members I hear humming it in the bar afterwards.

Fanny & Stella was one of the rehearsed readings that Above The Stag staged last year. Did you make any major changes following the reading?

I made a few changes, as one does, but the shape of it remained the same. Some people at the reading asked why I didn’t just tell the story of them straight through, ending in their demise. I wanted to tackle how they must have felt after their acquittal, and show them telling their own story.

How did you find the right actors to play Fanny and Stella? Were there any qualities in particular you were looking for?

They had to be good actors, be able to sing well, and look good dressed as women! It wasn’t easy. But Robert Jeffrey and Marc Gee-Finch, who had never met before, are now a double act who could perform on any stage!

Why do you think Fanny and Stella’s story is relevant to a modern-day audience?

Because we need to be reminded of where we came from, and what it was like in the past. I was never taught gay history at school. We should all be taught it now. Fanny and Stella teaches it in a light-hearted, fun way. What better way to learn history?

What audience responses have you got so far to Fanny & Stella?

Audience reactions have been brilliant. Not heard a bad word yet. And believe me, that’s rare!

What next for Glenn Chandler?

Not saying! A couple of projects I’m working on, one which stems indirectly from Fanny and Stella, but I’m keeping mum about them at the moment. Sorry!

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story plays at the Above the Stag theatre in Vauxhall until Sunday 14 June.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode 2 – Review
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rakspatel


In EQView this week I reviewed Episode 2 of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and found it drew me further into its tangled web of magic and mystery.

My EQView review of Episode 2 of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/05/28/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-episode-2-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL – EPISODE 2 – REVIEW

BBC One’s lavish new Sunday night period drama, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, continued this week and drew me further into its tangled web of magic and mystery!

Episode 2 opens with Mr Norrell at the height of his powers, fully involved in England’s War effort. The French are completely fooled by his latest pièce de résistance – a seemingly endless fleet of ships made from rain. Back in England, Mr Norrell is showered with praise and enjoys basking in his new found fame.

But evil forces are at play, and the bargain Mr Norrell made with the Gentleman at the end of the opening episode, to restore Lady Pole to life, returns to haunt him. Lady Pole is alive but she is not at peace, and her illness gets progressively worse throughout the episode. When she tries to explain what has happened to her, she ends up speaking gibberish, and neither doctors nor magicians can help her. Sir Walter summons Mr Norrell, but all he can say is there is nothing he can do as Lady Pole has gone mad.

The Gentleman claimed half of Lady’s Pole life for helping Mr Norrell bring her back from the dead. Every night, as Lady Pole sleeps, she is doomed to dance the night away with the Gentleman at his ghostly Last Hope Ball. Lady Pole sees this as a fate worse than death, saying she was “better dead than as I am”.

The most important event in this episode is that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell finally meet. Strange’s instinctive magical powers make him Mr Norrell’s equal, because although Strange has never formally studied magic, he is able to practice effective magic. Mr Norrell, having witnessed the magic Strange can perform, agrees to take him on as an apprentice and promptly develops a 10 year study plan for him! To Strange’s profound disappointment, The Raven King and Fairy Magic are not on the curriculum.

Although the Magicians start out as friends, it is inevitable they will become rivals. Sir Walter consults Strange when Mr Norrell is away, and when Mr Norrell is too indisposed to help with a ship that has run aground, Strange springs into action, conjuring up sand horses in one of the most breathtaking special effects sequences I have seen on British TV in a long time. Strange’s magic and his can do approach impresses everyone.

The English politicians are keen to send Strange abroad to the battlefields where he can be of most help. Although initially very reluctant, Mr Norrell changes his mind when he sees this as a means to get Strange out of the way. Strange, like an eager puppy, bounds off to War, anticipating excitement and adventure. Strange would much rather be out on the battlefields with the Army, actively putting his magic to the test, than poring over magic books in Mr Norrell’s library, restricted to only studying those aspects of magic Mr Norrell deems appropriate.

The Gentleman returns towards the end of the episode and makes his presence felt. He is particularly drawn towards the youth and beauty of Arabella Strange. The audience are left pondering the questions – who is the Gentleman, what does he represent, what is he after, and how many more people will he drag down into the depths?

A thrilling episode, which developed key characters, moved the story on, was packed with action and adventure (and mind-blowing special effects), and introduced us to the Gentleman’s dark world. I can’t wait for next week’s installment when I’m hoping we will find out more about the mysterious Gentleman. Let the magic continue!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Review
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rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the BBC’s new lavish period drama. It was a wonderful box of delights - pure magic!

My EQView review of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/05/18/jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL – REVIEW

On Sunday night BBC One unveiled their new period drama, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, a lavish 7 part adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 award winning first novel. And what a box of delights it was!

The intertwining stories of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell take place in 19th century England and, right from the opening sequences, this adaptation draws you into that familiar yet strange and mysterious world. This is a period drama with a difference – it revolves not around money, marriage and manners, but around magic. This focus on magic makes it both unique and very special.

The story opens with Mr Segundus visiting the prestigious Society of Magicians in York to enquire “Why is magic no longer done in England?”. Segundus wants to know why magic is now only found in the pages of books, rather than being practiced out in the streets and on the battlefields. The answer he receives is that the role of these gentleman magicians is to study magic not to perform it – they are theoretical magicians not practical ones!

Not content with this answer, Segundus sets out in search of the two English magicians he has heard about and tracks down Norrell, who has been busy buying up and hoarding all the books on magic and is proud to call himself a practical magician. When Segundus returns to tell the Society of Magicians in York about Norrell, they challenge Norrell to prove his magic, which he is able to do by making the statues in York Cathedral come to life. After proving his magical abilities and credentials in York, Norrell decides to go to London to offer his services to help England’s War effort.

There are a few delightful scenes which follow, where we see the quiet, reclusive and introverted Norrell, a Yorkshireman, arriving in London and having to break into London society. London society is shown to be very superficial and shallow, and its worst attributes are represented by the duo of Drawlight and Lascelles, who decide they will take it upon themselves to introduce Norrell to London society’s movers and shakers. The London scene is one long social swirl and all poor Norrell wants to do is to retire home and immerse himself in his magic books!

We are also introduced to Jonathan Strange in the opening episode, who is to be the second practical magician in England. Strange, when we first meet him, is a man who is in search of an occupation and a purpose. His intended bride, Arabella, is adamant he must make himself useful before he proposes. Luckily for Strange, his father dies at this very opportune moment, making him an estate owner and a landowner overnight, a firm foundation on which to build. Also, fortuitously for him, Vinculus, a street magician from London finds him, and foretells that he is going to be a magician. Maybe Strange’s vocation has found him rather than the other way round!

Initially Norrell’s offers to help with England’s War effort are met with cynicism by Sir Walter Pole, who fails to see how a magician can be of any help. However, Sir Walter experiences a deep personal tragedy when his fiancée dies a few days before they are due to be married. Norrell comes to the rescue but to bring the bride-to-be back to life he has to accept the help of the Gentleman, and promises him half of her life to come. Chillingly, to seal the deal, the Gentleman takes half of the lady’s little finger as surety. Sir Walter is overjoyed at the return of his bride-to-be, but what terrible price will she have to pay, and will the cost be too much to bear? Norrell runs off, depressed and unhappy with the deal he made.

In summary, this TV adaptation lived up to, and far exceeded, my expectations. It conjured up a mysterious England, a place where magic thrives. All the actors were excellent, bringing their characters to life, and perfectly translating them from page to screen. Special effects were used sparingly but, when employed, had maximum impact and were magical. And the opening episode ended on a real cliffhanger because you were left wondering what terrible price Lady Pole would have to pay in the future for the deal Norrell made with the Gentleman. The audience does not know who the Gentleman is, or what he represents, but he bore a strong resemblance to the Devil and was certainly from the dark side!

An excellent opening episode. I cannot wait to see how the story unfolds next week and what further mystery and magic lies in store. If you missed it on Sunday, catch up with it now before the second episode screens. If you don’t, you will be missing out on a treat!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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