Voices in My Ear

19 Aug

I came online this morning to the news that Benedict Cumberbatch will be voicing Shere Khan in Andy Serkis’ adaptation of “The Jungle Book” for Warner Bros.

To say I was overwhelmed was putting it mildly.  “The Jungle Book” was amongst the first movies my mother ever took me to see.  I was fascinated by the dark velvet tones of George Sanders’ voice as Shere Khan.  It left me with a life long love of deep male voices, and a fascination with vocal acting.

It also left me with a preference for animated movies over live action.  With live action, quite often the actors can be chosen for their looks.  In animated films their voices damn well need to be up to the task.

“The Jungle Book” still remains my favourite.  The rich tones of George Sanders, the slight softer, but still rich voice of Sebastian Cabot.  The vultures with their Liverpudlian accents.  Phil Harris’ lively, but laid back tones as Baloo.

My second favourite is “Robin Hood”.  Phil Harris giving voice this time to Little John.  But the really outstanding vocal talents in that movie are Peter Ustinov as Prince John and Terry Thomas as his sidekick Sir Hiss. 

To my way of thinking, voicing an animated movie, or doing a radio play, is the true test of an actor’s talent.  No-one can see your face, so your voice has to do the work for you on so many levels.

The same goes for audio books.  Almost the worst mistake that can be made is for an author to read their own work.  A fantastic book can be reduced to the most appallingly dull drone.  Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and Sir Derek Jacobi are all brilliant readers of audio books.  Each of them have voices with layers of tone and richness which makes them an aural treat like no other.  I don’t know if Roger Allam has ever done audio books, but he needs too.  His Douglas Richardson in the BBC radio show “Cabin Pressure” is one of the highlights of the show.

In animated movies, radio plays, and audio books the actor’s voice should flow softly into your ear like warm honey.  Swirl around your mind and settle in to your memory.  George Sanders did that to me over 40 years ago.  I am hoping that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan will do the same.

Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories

17 Aug

“Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories” originally started life as eleven separate ebook novellas, which were, thankfully, gathered together into one paperback volume.  The book is yet another souvenir for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013.

“Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories” is a real treat for Doctor Who fans.  As it says on the cover there are eleven stories, one for each incarnation of the Doctor.

Being an anthology, the quality is a little up and down.  There are three that I enjoyed more than the others.

‘The Third Doctor: The Spear of Destiny’, by Marcus Sedwick, sees the third Doctor and Jo Grant heading back to the proto-Norse period for an encounter with Odin and others.

‘The Eighth Doctor: Spore’, by Alex Scarrow is set in a small town in Nevada in the USA.  The Doctor swinging his UNIT credentials around and acquiring a temporary companion.

But my favourite, the one on which my total enjoyment of the book pivots, is ‘The Tenth Doctor: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage’, by Derek Landy.  The Doctor and Martha come across an alien who has created a world from the imaginations of others, mostly drawing on books they have read.  When the alien battens onto Martha’s reading memories, the story turns hysterically funny.

There is something in “Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories” for every Doctor Who fan, and if you’re going to buy a few books as mementos of the anniversary, you could do a lot worse than buying this one.

Hamlet is a Sell Out

11 Aug

Okay, I expected Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch to sell well.  I DID NOT expect it to sell out.

20,000+ people were in the queue at one point.  That was when I knew that the Barbican had a situation without precedence on their hands.

A few of Benedict’s fans have been saying that everyone should have known it would sell out.  I don’t agree.

Firstly, the tickets went on sale twelve months in advance for what is a three month run in one of London’s largest theatres.  There is no way in hell that any sort of sales projection could come up with a complete sell out of all public tickets within a matter of hours.

Think about it.  All tickets (membership AND public) were gone by the first day of public sales for an old, undoubtedly a classic, play that isn’t being staged for another TWELVE MONTHS.

You’d have to be bloody Nostradamus to see that coming!

A Slight Trick of the Mind

10 Aug

I am truly at a loss as to how to describe “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Akira Kurosawa is probably the best description. But even that really doesn’t begin to touch it.

In “A Slight Trick of the Mind”, Sherlock Holmes is 93 and his memory is failing.

The book doesn’t so much have a plot as an obsession with death… and bees.

The narrative flits between Sherlock Holmes at home in Sussex, his recent trip to post- WWII Japan, and events of 1902 involving a married woman that he is mildly infatuated with.

Only Sherlock Holmes stands out.  The other characters are vapid and shadowy, and at times I found myself wondering if any of them were real, or if they were all just figments of a demented old man’s imagination.

There is no real mystery to be solved.  The book is mostly just the meanderings of Holmes’ mind in his twilight years.

I shut the book when I had finished and thought “What the hell have I just read?”  Pretty sure that’s the first time I have come away from a novel completed bewildered.

I do wonder how the hell they’ve managed to turn this novel into a script for the movie “Mr Holmes”.  There’s nothing there to work with.  It’s all smoke and mirrors; mist and metaphors.  I’m not sure I really want to find out.

Hamlet at the Barbican

7 Aug

Having been amongst those fortunate blessed to get a ticket, expect a number of blogs throughout the next twelve months as more news comes out about casting, staging etc.

To say I am excited right now is an understatement.

Roll on August 2015 and Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican.

This is going to be the most quickly passing twelve months on record. :D

Vikings

27 Jul

“Vikings” was written as a companion volume to Neil Oliver’s excellent BBC documentary series of the same name.  However, it is a worthwhile read in its own right.

The book traces the Vikings from their earliest roots down all their divergent paths.

Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Vikings are all covered, usually separately, but sometimes together where their historical paths overlap.

Neil also takes a good look at Icelanders, who are the most obvious descendants of the Vikings.  Probably the most memorable part of this section is Neil’s encounter with hakarl – basking shark which is buried for 3 months and left to rot.  He gives an entire page to descriptions of the sensory experience of eating the stuff.  In the documentary, his face was a picture when he ate it.  In the book he describes the experience so minutely that you get the feeling that this is one particular experience that will remain with him for the rest of his life.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Vikings, the history of Scandinavia, and the history of the United Kingdom.

Roseblood

22 Jul

Set in 1455 at the dawn of what history calls the War of the Roses, or, more accurately, the Cousins War, “Roseblood” is a bit of a change for Paul Doherty.  It isn’t really a mystery, what is truly is is a medieval political thriller.

Simon Roseblood is a taverner, alderman, career criminal, and loyal servant of the House of Lancaster.  Amadeus Sevigny is a clerk indentured to Richard, Duke of York, leading light of the House of York.

Amadeus’ masters want Simon Roseblood bought down, but as a much larger threat looms over both houses, Amadeus and Simon join forces to protect England and themselves, regardless of personal allegiances.

There are a lot of plot threads in this book, and I admit that at times I got very lost and very confused.  Mostly, I think, because I was expecting a murder mystery, when the book really is a political thriller.  Each type of book really needs a different mindset when reading.  Frankly, I was in the wrong headspace when I started the book.

This is certainly one of the best books Paul Doherty has written in a while.

It stands alone, but Paul has ended it so that it is possible that it may be continued further into the War of the Roses.

“Roseblood” has interesting and engaging original characters, and his take on historical characters is fascinating.  

I highly recommend it.

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