Category Archives: Culture

London Culture: Come From Away Theatre Review

Please note: I was given free tickets to see ‘Come From Away’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

‘You’re writing a show about giving people sandwiches? Good luck with that!’ was what Reg Wright, President and CEO of the Gander International Airport in Newfoundland told Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the Canadian writers of the remarkable, surprise-hit musical, Come From Away.

Come From Away tells the story of the hundreds of passengers who were flying to the USA on September 11th, 2001, and who were diverted to Newfoundland in the chaos following the terrorist attacks. We all remember what we were doing that morning the actors hum as the show opens, and a shiver goes through the audience, as we too remember. I was 14 years old, living on Long Island, New York, when my Dad called home from work early in the morning and told my Mum and me to turn on the TV. I’ll never forget that day and those immediately following the attack, where everywhere you went the news was blaring from a radio or TV screen, and shock and horror reflected in every face you met.

Everyone has a story to tell about where they were that terrible day, and in Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein explore the incredible true story of the 7,000 stranded passengers in Newfoundland. When 38 airplanes were diverted to Gander airport after the 09/11 attacks, the 10,000 residents of the Newfoundland town rallied to welcome the frightened and confused travellers. The Newfoundlanders opened their hearts and their homes to strangers for five days before the planes could fly again, and in the face of violence and terror showed compassion, humanity and respect that would never be forgotten by those stranded so far from their loved ones and their homes.

Come From Away theatre review
The cast of Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre, London. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy. Photo source.

In Come From Away, a cast of twelve switch roles seamlessly, playing parts as the local Newfoundlanders, as well as the stranded travellers, which heightens the sense of easy integration between the two groups. Although this is a musical very much about the importance of community, a few individual storylines emerge: a divorcee from Texas (Helen Hobson) finds herself drawn to a British oilman (Robert Hands) who takes a seat next to her (in real life, the couple ended up marrying); a mother (Cat Simmons) confides her overwhelming anxiety about her son, a New York fireman who is missing, to a sympathetic and caring Newfoundlander (Jenna Boyd); and a veteran pilot who blazed a path for female pilots (Rachel Tucker) reflects on her feelings about flying in the wake of 09/11.

Despite the heart-wrenching storylines, Come From Away never crosses the line into saccharine sentimentality. There is an honesty to this production that surely stems from Hein and Sankoff’s dedicated research. They distilled the dozens of interviews they had with both the Newfoundlanders and the airplane passengers into Come From Away, and each song and speech is shot through with the voice of authenticity. Harder subjects aren’t dodged: at the end of the show, the terrified mother learns her firefighter son died, and another passenger, travelling from the Middle-East, is treated with suspicion and subjected to a full-body search before being allowed to finally board his plane.

Come From Away theatre review
Robert Hands and Helen Hobson in Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre, London. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy. Photo source.

Come From Away shows how simple acts of kindness in an extraordinary moment can make an incredible impact. It highlights the power of community, as well as the importance of individual acts of compassion. In their article about writing Come From Away, Sankoff and Hein quote Shakespeare: ‘how far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ As well as offering a heartfelt homage to everything that was lost on 09/11, Come From Away offers a vital message for the present: individual actions can impact in the world, and we all have the ability to show a little more kindness to those whose lives we touch, albeit fleetingly.

Both my Mum and I so enjoyed seeing Come From Away, which we agreed is the best musical we’ve seen for a long time. Judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation the cast received on the night we went, the rest of the audience loved it too!

After huge success on Broadway, Come From Away is now showing in London’s West End. Tickets to the show may be purchased here.

Book Talk: Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates

I found this first edition of Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates in a secondhand bookshop a few months ago and have been eager to read it ever since. I thought it an appropriate read in the run up to Valentine’s Day, so picked it up last week and finished it in a few evenings.

I have actually read Love for Lydia before, as a teenager, after watching the old television series, but I could barely remember the plot. What a joy to rediscover this wonderful book in my 30s. I think H.E. Bates is sadly underrated; his work seems to have gone out of fashion, and when I looked up a new edition of Love for Lydia on Blackwells, I was disappointed by the dreary cover. However, it’s worth getting a copy, as this book deserves to be much more widely appreciated, and it’s a brilliant read for February.

‘She had long coils of black hair that fell across her shoulders….She seemed, I thought, about fifteen. It was my first mistake about her.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is set in the inter-war years and starts on a snowy, late February day in Evensford, a factory town in Northamptonshire. The young male protagonist, Richardson, is working as a journalist for the local newspaper (a job he loathes), and when he spies the arrival of the wealthy Aspen sisters and their niece, Lydia, who live in a beautiful house surrounded by parkland on the outskirts of town, he’s persuaded by his boss to seek an interview. So begins his friendship with Lydia Aspen, whose aunts are delighted she has the company of someone her own age. Richardson teaches Lydia how to ice-skate on the frozen river and quickly becomes infatuated with her.

As the days blossom into spring and summer, their love grows, but as autumn blazes and frosty winter nights return, Lydia grows increasingly interested in two of Richardson’s male friends. Lydia’s selfishness and Richardson’s jealousy spark events that have tragic consequences, and Richardson must come to grips with his own character and place in the world before he can fully understand his feelings for Lydia.

‘The sun went down a moment later in a plunge of wintery magnified fire that left on the ice, the snowy meadows and the cold sky a wonderful afterglow. A lichen-like green hung above the sunset, and the shadows, all across the snow, became of indigo brilliance before finally dissolving. A biting moment of dispersing day, exhilarating and almost cruel, hung in the pure stark air before the first star sparked into green sky above the sunset.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have read. Elements of the story are apparently loosely autobiographical, which perhaps explains the raw, honest portrayal of the young narrator. The novel is told from the perspective of an older Richardson, who can look back on his early manhood and reflect on his own shortcomings and naivety. By the end of the book, Richardson is able to make a commitment to Lydia that speaks of maturity and mutual understanding, rather than blind puppy-love.

As always with Bates’s prose, what truly stands out are his poetic descriptions of an idealised British countryside. Richardson shares Bates’s love for flowers and landscape, and his observations of the changing seasons are breathtakingly lovely.

Ever since interviewing the fantastic Laura Freeman about her memoir on food and books, I’ve been more aware of descriptions of food in the novels I read, and here again Bates shines. From the burning hot jacket potatoes and sizzling fish and chips that Lydia and Richardson laugh over as they first get to know each other, to picnics of cheese and bread and curd tarts, and Richardson’s first taste of champagne (‘slightly on the dry side’) one memorable New Year’s Eve, Bates’s recounting of meals invariably made my mouth water.

‘That night Nancy cooked us roast sirloin, with beans and new potatoes and a lot of excellent gravy, with a dessert of tarts. There was a refreshing smell of peasmint in the air. The meat, roasted in the old range, with coal, was crisped at the edges, and you could taste the delicious fire-burnt crusty juiciness of it on the long red sides….. Tom had brought in some beer, and between beer and beef and plum-fat slices of curd-tart I began to feel blown and hot and sleepy.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

I couldn’t recommend a better Valentine’s Day read, and if you’re still in need of a special gift for a loved one, there’s a rather gorgeous first edition, signed by the author, of Love for Lydia here. Otherwise, the paperback is available through Blackwells.

What to read next…

If you adored Love for Lydia as much as I did, here are some suggestions for what to read next:

  • The Darling Buds of May series by H.E. Bates. These five books, unlike many of Bates’s novels, are still in print, and they’re delightful reads, chronicling the adventures of the loveable Larkin family in the Kentish countryside. Start with The Darling Buds of May.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Another wonderful coming of age story, this time told from the perspective of a young girl.
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The young Charles Ryder, starstruck by the aristocratic Sebastian and Julia Flyte, has similarities to Bates’s narrator.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can find me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase.

Bath’s Best Bookshops

One of the (many) things I love most about Bath is its wealth of fantastic bookshops. I wanted to share four of my favourites with you here. I popped into all these bookshops on my most recent trip to Bath and, as a result, came back to London staggering under the weight of a stuffed suitcase!

1/ Topping & Company Booksellers

Topping & Company Booksellers is my favourite bookshop in Bath that sells new books. A well-curated selection of beautiful books stretches floor to ceiling in this delightful shop, so that tall ladders are needed to access the top shelves. The staff are friendly and helpful, and plenty of events are offered throughout the year, as well as a regular fiction reading group.

What seals the deal for me is that complimentary tea (beautifully presented on a tray with teacups, teapot, milk jug and biscuits) is offered to those shopping. I very much enjoyed drinking a cup of the refreshing brew as I decided what I wanted to purchase (in the end, I went for a lovely Christmas anthology).

2/ George Bayntun

When I lived in New York as a child, my Mum would sometimes order secondhand children books for me from the UK. I acquired many vintage Chalet School and Abbey Girl books as Christmas and birthday presents in this way over the years, and I still own the majority of my collection. One of the British bookshops my Mum would order from was George Bayntun in Bath, a bookshop that specialises bookbinding and rare first editions, but which also has a fantastic range of more affordable secondhand books.

I was so excited to visit the bookshop in person in October, and it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. George Bayntun is housed in an old Victorian building, and the large upstairs is beautiful with its impressive bookcases, wooden floors and exposed plaster walls. There’s still an excellent range of vintage school stories in the basement, as well as plenty of other treasures, so do make sure to visit if you’re ever in the area (George Bayntun is conveniently located very close to the train station).

On my last visit, I came away with three gorgeous 1940s editions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice (you can see them here).

3/ Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop

Another delightful bookshop selling new books in Bath is Mr B’s. Twice named as the UK’s best independent bookshop, this place is a labyrinth of delights for bibliophiles. Rooms filled with books sprawl upstairs and down, and there are comfy chairs to sink into and deliberate over what to purchase.

Apparently, Mr B’s was first dreamed up by two honeymooners – Nic and Juliette – who, after visiting The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, decided that perhaps they should give up being lawyers and open a bookshop instead. Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop opened in Bath in 2006 and became an instant hit.

I was particularly impressed by the fabulous children’s section, which – along with lots of wonderful books – featured imaginative displays and fun, quirky details (I loved the books piled high in a bathtub!).

4/ Bath Old Books

Whenever I’m in Bath, I like to a pay a visit to Bath Old Books, located in the beautiful Margaret’s Buildings, very close to the Royal Crescent. The bookshop is tiny (though do remember to check out the basement too), but has a lovely selection of secondhand books. I’ve found a few treasures there, including a charmingly illustrated copy of English country lore.


Next time you’re in Bath, I definitely encourage you to check out at least one of these charming bookshops (and do remember to bring a large suitcase…).

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath.

London Culture | ‘Caroline, or Change’ Theatre Review

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Caroline, or Change‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I was excited to see the revival of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s  musical Caroline, or Change in the Playhouse Theatre last week, as I’d read several spectacular reviews. The show did not disappoint, and I was also surprised that it’s an appropriately festive performance for December, as a Hanukkah supper is a memorable scene from Act 2, and Christmas carols mix with blues, Motown and klezmer in a truly dynamic musical performance.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Caroline, or Change is set in Louisiana in 1963. The Civil Rights Movement has been gathering momentum for years, but change is slow to come to the sleepy Louisiana town where Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Sharon D Clarke) is the black maid of a liberal white Jewish family. Kushner in fact drew on his own memories of his childhood in writing the musical, which explains why Noah Gellman (Isaac Forward), the young son of the house, has such a prominent part within the piece. Noah, grieving for his dead mother, turns to Caroline for a friendship that she, in her role as employee, finds hard to give.

Tensions mount as Noah’s step-mother, Rose Gellman (Lauren Ward), in an effort to teach Noah the value of money, tells Caroline that she can keep any spare change that she finds in Noah’s pockets. The nickels and dimes that Caroline saves from the washing machine, although small change to the Gellman family, make all the difference to underpaid Caroline, who is a single mother with three children to feed. And yet being forced to take a child’s pocket money is a soul-diminishing experience that adds to Caroline’s resentment at her restricted world of ceaseless drudgery.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibodeaux in ‘Caroline, or Change’. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Sharon D Clarke’s performance as Caroline is truly remarkable. Not only is her incredible voice mesmerising in its power, but even her silences vibrate with unspoken words. Clarke, as Caroline, performs her duties with a brooding sullenness that speaks volumes; her unhappiness and frustration boiling just below the surface until her emotions finally break free and ring out in song. Caroline is shown as incredibly isolated; much of her days spent alone in the hot, steamy basement of the Gellman’s home.

Without any real company beyond that of Noah’s, Caroline personifies her daily companions: the washing machine, drier and radio, which spring to life and act as her alter-egos, both chiding and encouraging her decisions. Many of the most memorable scenes of the musical take place in the basement, with the animated domestic appliances belting out spectacular tunes. I especially enjoyed the performances of Dujonna Gift-Simms, Tanisha Spring and Keisha Amponsa Banson as the ‘radio.’ The women made a dynamic trio brilliantly reminiscent of the Supremes.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Ultimately, Caroline, or Change is about the hope of change to come, the wish for a better future. Caroline’s daughter, Emmie (Abiona Omonua) is the embodiment of this hope, as she refuses to be seen as anything less than equal to her mother’s employers, and carries utter conviction in her fierce determination to grab hold of a life different from the generations of women that came before her.

I found Caroline, or Change, a thought-provoking musical with fantastic performances, and if you enjoy a music-filled night at the theatre, then I definitely recommend adding this show to your list. Caroline, or Change is running at the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End until 6th April 2019. Tickets may be purchased here.

Tea & Tattle | Ann Mah Discusses The Lost Vintage

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the journalist and author, Ann Mah, to discuss Ann’s bestselling book, The Lost Vintage. Having grown up in America, Ann developed a love for France from a young age, and she now splits her time between Washington DC and Paris. Her memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, describes the year Ann spent travelling through France and sampling different regional dishes of the country.

Ann Mah

I read Ann’s latest novel, The Lost Vintage, before my trip to Burgundy earlier in October. It was the perfect book for the occasion, as it’s set in Burgundy and tells the story of Kate, a wine expert who is studying for the Master of Wine exam. Kate travels from California to Burgundy to stay with her French relatives who own a vineyard, so she can brush up on her knowledge of Burgundian wines.

The vineyards that inspired The Lost Vintage

Whilst there, Kate discovers a hidden room within the family’s cellar, full of priceless bottles of wine that were hidden from the Nazis during WW2. But Kate also uncovers some disturbing information about her family – could one of her ancestors have collaborated with the Nazis? The Lost Vintage is a gripping book full of beautiful descriptions of the Burgundian countryside, as well as fascinating information about French food, wine and history.

The Town Hall in Meursault, where much of Ann’s novel is set.

In today’s discussion, Ann tells about the inspiration behind the book and why she become so fascinated by France’s history during WW2. It’s a brilliant discussion that’s sure to please any Francophone.

The Lost Vintage Giveaway!

I’m so delighted to say that Ann Mah is very kindly giving away some copies of The Lost Vintage to four lucky Tea & Tattle listeners (two in the USA and two in the UK). To enter to win, simply:

1/ Follow Ann Mah on instagram: @annmahnet.

2/ Follow me on my books-only instagram account: @mirandasbookcase.

3/ Like the above photo of The Lost Vintage on my instagram feed and add a comment, tagging a friend who you think would enjoy the book too.

4/ Make sure your instagram profile is public so the entry requirements can be checked.

The giveaway is for USA and UK residents only, and the winner will be announced on 6th November. Good luck!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This Friday, instead of the usual Tea Reads, I’m bringing you a special Tea & Tattle episode, where I’m catching up on the latest news, chatting about some of my recent Jump for Joys and cultural recommendations, and also sharing a list of books that I think are perfect to read in the autumn.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead of you, and that listening to this Tea & Tattle helps to make it just that bit cosier!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea & Tattle: Charlotte Jacklin of Betty Magazine

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the blogger and podcaster, Charlotte Jacklin. I first came across Charlotte’s work when she was editing Betty Magazine, which was one of my favourite editorials to read. Charlotte created Betty with her business partner, Charlotte Melling, but after having her baby daughter, June, in 2017, Charlotte made the decision to go her own route and relaunch Betty Magazine as an online blog.

As well as writing her fabulous blog, Charlotte co-hosts the podcast, The Fringe of It, which topped iTunes charts when it was first released. The podcast features informal chats between Charlotte and her friend Liv Purvis, as well as inspiring interviews with other creatives.

I also love Charlotte’s instagram account, which features fantastic style inspiration, as well as updates on her everyday life and insights into building a creative business. I know many people appreciate Charlotte for her transparency and honesty online, as well as her friendly, down-to-earth personality. If you ever need a bit of cheering up, then watching a few of Charlotte’s instagram stories will invariably do the trick!

In today’s discussion, Charlotte tells me about her love for fashion and how she’s developed her own sense of style over the years, as well as how giving birth to June has made Charlotte braver in pursuing her business and life goals. We also chat about being open and developing an authentic voice through blogging and instagram, as well as what has surprised Charlotte most about podcasting. This is a great episode for anyone who is seeking to be a little braver in their own life and who would love to learn more about navigating a successful creative career.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

London Culture | The Wider Earth, Natural History Museum

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘The Wider Earth‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

If you’ve got children and are hoping for some fun (and even educational) entertainment over half-term next week, then I’ve got the perfect theatre suggestion for you! I was lucky enough to be given tickets to see The Wider Earth, a play about Charles Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, which is now showing (highly appropriately!) at the Natural History Museum.

The museum has installed a custom-built theatre to host this production, which features a cast of seven, as well as incredible puppetry by the Dead Puppet Society. A basic stage setup was brilliantly amplified by the use of watercolour-style projections that made stunning backdrops to the drama.

Bradley Foster, Marcello Cruz and Matt Tait in The Wider Earth. Photo by Mark Douet.

The Wider Earth is written and directed by David Morton, and he shows Charles Darwin as a 22 year-old student in Cambridge, who is delighted when he’s given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue his passion for nature and science by taking the post as resident naturalist on the HMS Beagle on its voyage to far-flung corners of the globe.

I felt this play was clearly written with an educational view in mind, so the script is serviceable, but not overly ambitious. Morton, however, does a good job at showing how Darwin’s experiences on the voyage and the deductions he made from his observations of the lands and animals he encountered, led him to write the world-changing On the Origin of Species. Bradley Foster, who plays Charles Darwin, is engaging and perfectly combines an attitude of youthful zeal with a very serious desire to seek out truths.

It’s the visual experience of this production that truly makes it stand out. I was extremely impressed by the painterly projections that were used to add further detail and mood to the various settings. The puppets were beautiful, too, and brilliantly operated by the actors. It was lovely to hear the gasps of appreciation from the young audience when the particularly striking large puppets were used.

Bradley Foster as Charles Darwin in The Wider Earth. Photograph: Maisie Marshall/Rex/Shutterstock

Although much of the action of this play takes place on board ship, I also greatly enjoyed the details about Darwin’s home life, particularly his engagement to Emma Wedgwood. I’d had no idea that Emma Darwin had originally been Emma Wedgwood, part of the famous Wedgwood family, and in fact as soon as I got home, I ordered a biography of her in order to discover a bit more about her life. David Morton did a great job in fleshing out Emma’s character in a short space of time, and his emphasis on her passion for abolishing slavery and involvement in the abolitionist movement definitely peaked my interest. I’m looking forward to reading her biography when I get the chance, and it seemed fitting that I should leave the play on a quest for more information, even if about one of its more peripheral subjects.

The Wider Earth makes for a brilliant afternoon or night out for all the family. I would say it’s most appropriate for those age 10+, as though those younger would love the puppets, the dialogue would be difficult to follow. I definitely had my teacher cap on whilst I was watching it, and I think it would also make an excellent outing for schools for Year 6 and up.

Tickets for The Wider Earth may be purchased here. The play is showing at the Natural History Museum until 30th December, and both matinee and evening performances are available.

Tea Reads: A Visit From the Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Reads here.

My Tea Read choice for this Friday is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson called A Visit From the Sea. I’ve been inspired by my trip to Penzance (I’ll be travelling to Cornwall as this Tea Reads episode airs) to choose this poem, as there’s a fun connection between Robert Louis Stevenson and a Cornish pub in the area. Have a listen to the episode to find out more!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea & Tattle: Emma Block Discusses the Joy of Watercolour

Tea & Tattle: Emma Block Discusses the Joy of Watercolour

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This Tuesday on Tea & Tattle Podcast, I’m joined by the author and illustrator Emma Block, to discuss Emma’s fantastic new book, The Joy of Watercolour. Emma started getting work as a freelance illustrator when she was only 17, and she’s gone on to develop a fantastic business and works full-time as a freelance illustrator in London.

Emma Block

Emma regularly teaches sold out water-colouring workshops in the city; I’ve been to a few of them and had such a fun time learning the basics of water-colouring and brush lettering.  Over the years, Emma has collaborated with many notable brands and fashion influencers, who love her highly recognisable, soft and feminine illustration style.

In August, Emma published her first book, The Joy of Watercolour, which shares tips and painting projects to help people get started with water-colouring, or to take their illustration practice to the next level. It’s a beautiful book, and I’ve been having a lot of fun working through Emma’s guides for beginners.

In today’s discussion, Emma tells me about the inspiration behind her book, what she’s learnt from teaching water-colouring classes to 100s of people, how to find your own unique illustration style, and how she’s developed different strands to her work as a freelance illustrator over time. This is a brilliant listen for anyone who loves water-colouring, or who are keen to give it a go for the first time and develop their own creativity.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.