‘Go, Set a Watchman’ – a wager on Lee’s legacy?

Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ caused a veritable storm in the literary world when it was first published in 1960. Fifty five years later and the news of the imminent publication of a recently rediscovered sequel, ‘Go Set a Watchman’, has caused just such – if not a greater – stir. With millions, including myself, already pre-ordering their copies even four months before its publication, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ has cemented itself in the bestseller lists.

But the publication of a sequel to a novel such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, which holds such a special place in so many bookshelves, must surely be a risky move? Especially amid the speculation that the novel is being published against the publicity-shy Lee’s will.

Indeed, it does seem somewhat peculiar that news of the novel’s discovery has only come to light after the death of Lee’s older sister Alice, who took care of her financial affairs and was her chief adviser. Not only this, but the fact that Lee is 88 years old, practically blind, profoundly deaf and has suffered from a stroke could certainly lead to questions being raised over whether she is being taken advantage of.

The seemingly cryptic title has been a source of some perplexity. It is actually a biblical quotation from Isaiah 21:6, a prophesy of the fall of Babylon: ‘For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.’ It could be assumed that Atticus is the ‘watchman’, the source of moral guidance in Maycomb. But what to make of the quotation being from a passage professing the fall of Babylon? Could it be referring to the ‘fall of Maycomb’ and the rapidly changing Southern way of life?

As for the novel itself, it is set twenty years after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and concerns the grown-up Scout’s return to Maycomb from New York. It was from the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood in ‘Go Set a Watchman’, which publishers preferred, that ‘Mockingbird’ stemmed. This may be the root of another worry – could it be a bad omen that publishers chose originally not to publish ‘Go Set a Watchman’? Will it just be another disappointing sequel?

Lee had previously been regarded as one of the greatest ‘one hit wonder’ novelists, along with Emily Bronte, Sylvia Plath, Oscar Wilde (who although he was a prolific playwright only wrote one novel) and Margaret Mitchell. Now her previously untarnished reputation is being risked.

Fans of Harper Lee have had to wait over half a century for a sequel and the stakes are high. It would seem more than a challenge for a second novel to live up to one such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

By Rose Grossel

Matilda, the Marvellous Musical

Heart-warming, quirking and thrilling. This spectacular show is bound to make everyone laugh, cry and sing. With the dynamic performance it bring s to the Cambridge Theatre, described as ‘irresistible and ingenious’, this musical is thought to be the best new musical to see. Bursting with humour and charm, it is the perfect show for adults and children alike.

‘Matilda the Musical’ is obviously meticulously planned, in order to allow its audience to have as much pleasure as possible. As soon as you enter the Cambridge Theatre, it is obvious that the space has been designed for children and adults to enjoy. The walls of the theatre entrance are covered with brightly coloured chalkboards, with doodles both by the staff and the children themselves. This decoration immediately makes everyone feel at home, sparking that childish feeling inside us, this ensures that the production is bound to be a success. When passing through the doors to find your seats I was welcomed by the sight of a beautifully arranged stage, bordered with blocks of letters in every colour. In the centre of the stage, were glowing letter with spelt out Matilda, hanging from the ceiling. As the letters flew up and the production continued, I say an array of  innovative ways which the stage was used.

First, a bathroom cabinet frame shot up from the floor and then library bookshelves wheeled in from the side. Soon an incredible set of school gates came to the front the swings fell from the ceiling. Lastly a whole ‘back garden’ came on the stage, each time appearing and disappearing as if by magic.

The most impressive thing for me was the true and ability these young children have. I can only imagine the time and effort they had put in, in order to produce a performance which requires such precision of choreography, as well as the restraint needed to create prefect renditions of the songs composed especially for this musical.

One of my favourite scenes in the performance had to be the ‘school song. It plays on the idea of learning the alphabet phonetically. The piece which saw the ‘older children; climbing a school fat while others pushed through letters of the alphabet, matching them with the phonetic sounds, demanded such precise timing from the dancers, so that they would not fall from the gate, but instead created a miraculous performance.

Matilda has always been one of my favourite children’s books, but the making of this marvellous musical as immortalised its popularity which is able to transport everyone back to their childhood. Matilda brings the whole family together, inspiring all who watch it.

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War Horse

The well-known tale ‘War Horse’ written by Michael Morpurgo is now being shown at the New London Theatre. This beautiful and haunting tale of a horse named Joey, who is forced to leave his home and experience the horrific reality of war, only to be followed by his owner, has now been perfectly transformed on stage, as if the words of the book have formed into reality.

This performance is one that can make even the stiffest of lips tremble, with its stunning imagery, and tear-worthy tale. By the interval, the puppets of horses seem real, and I was in a trance, wishing that the performance would continue.

One of the elements of this production, which made it particularly emotional for me, was the use of song within the play. In certain sections of the performance the cast would hum or sing a section of a war song, highlighting the significance of that moment, and heightening the sense of desperation and hope, felt by the soldiers.

‘War Horse’ is presented through the perceptive of the soldiers as well as the terrible time from the home front which people experienced. The effect of seeing parents grieving as they realise their son has run off to war, side by side with a scene of Arthur Narracott fighting and desperately searching for his horse, was so very poignant.

Another pinnacle moment of this play is the story of the German soldier who finds Joey, he then befriends a French girl and her Mother, only to be forced away from them by his fellow soldiers. This scene is soon followed by one of German and British soldiers declaring a truce in order to free Joey from barbed wire. This single moment brought me to tears. The ability to create friendships one moment and having to return to war the next – seemed so trivial and yet contained more meaning than many books can convey in their entirety.

Many people would think that leaving your family to fight in a war only to try to find a horse, is ridiculous. However, the connection created by the actor and the puppet horse – handled so flawlessly – is so realistic, it would convert the worst of cynics.

Never before have I been so moved by a single production, I could not believe my eyes when I saw how realistic puppets were. Only experiencing the play for yourself, will you ever understand the combined sorrow and joy, the production brings.

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