Friday, 27 September 2013

And They All Lived Happily Ever After: A Fairy Tale Friday Night is Music Night

Once upon a time, the good people behind Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night decided to give us a magical treat with a special programme dedicated to fairy tales. With music from Rimsky-Korsakov suites to Disney classics performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, current Wicked star Louise Dearman and my favourite fairy tale prince Hadley Fraser, what more could a girl want? Luckily, my genie granted my wish and transported me to the very apt Mermaid Theatre for the recording.

Our charming narrator for the evening Samantha Bond took us through the history of fairy tales, from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve penning Beauty and the Beast deep in the French woods in 1740 to the adventures of chicken farmer L. Frank Baum, via the undisputed champions of the genre, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. In keeping with Friday Night is Music Night's famed eclecticism, there was an incredible range of music from Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov ballets, to a jazz version of Some Day My Prince Will Come from Snow White. Hadley enjoyed reuniting Thumbelina and Tom Thumb in a small-but-mighty medley, before whisking us off to Hushabye Mountain, while Louise stopped the show with her version of The Wizard and I from Wicked. Having grown up with Disney, though, their versions of the fairy tales will always be my favourites, so I was grinning like the Cheshire chat through highlights from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and my recent favourite Tangled. Of course the evening could only end with Night on Bald Mountain, made famous by Fantasia, and completely spellbinding when performed by the full orchestra. 

 Once Upon A Time will be broadcast on Radio 2 at 8pm today and will be available on BBC iPlayer after. More information and clips available at

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Mr B's Reading Year: Part 2 - The Polish Boxer

A story is nothing but a lie. An illusion. And that illusion only works if we trust in it. 

Between extensive travelling and a summer in the Social Programme Office, my Mr B's Reading Year blog has lost its way (though I have received and read five books now with the same enthusiasm as ever), but now I'm back to normality it's time to catch up. I was instantly struck by my second book, The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon, on the strength of the cover, the blurb and Mr B's personal recommendation. I remembered reading about Halfon's visit to the bookshop several months ago and being intrigued by this Guatemalan literature professor, especially as my knowledge of literature from his country only extended as far as Nobel Prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias.

Halfon's stories are as addictive as the smoke that permeates through all of them. I rushed through the whole book in one afternoon desperate to know where the semi-fictional Eduardo's search for answers would take him next in this series of interconnected stories. The Polish Boxer has everything I look for in a book: an engaging, flawed  but likeable first person narrator, an eclectic mix of characters (including a girlfriend who draws graphs of her orgasms and a Serbian half-gypsy classical pianist), and observations of the beauty, sadness and absurdity of every day life.

As an aspiring literature teacher myself, I was particularly struck by Halfon's very honest reflections on the futility and vacuousness of academic conferences at times, the point of teaching literature to a class full of students who don't care, the moral implications of simply studying literature when there are people really suffering in the places we study, and his having to put this out of his mind to get on with his job and still appreciate the power of stories. The Polish Boxer is therefore quite a melancholy read, but the fleeting moments of unexpected human contact that proliferate through the stories are fascinating and oddly beautiful.

Learn more about Mr B's Reading Year and how to get one for yourself here.