WritingForums.com - Reviews of Feather Boy and Knight Crew by Nicky Singer


  • Reviews of Feather Boy and Knight Crew by Nicky Singer

    Review KNIGHT CREW
    `A story for this generation . . . written with love, passion and intelligence'
    --Benjamin Zephaniah
    Product Description
    After a gang feud claims its first life, violence escalates. But then the prophetic words of a strange old baglady start to come true, and Art and the girl he loves have one chance to make good, one chance to bring honour and peace to a murderous world. Fierce, tender and unflinching, Knight Crew breathes the passions of ancient legend into a contemporary wasteland - passions that can either create or destroy.

    KC - the opera

    INDEPENDENT

    Knight Crew, Glyndebourne
    (Rated 4/ 5 )

    By Michael Church


    Friday, 5 March 2010

    With wounded soldiers shipped in to Covent Garden by the egregious Joanna
    Lumley, and the idiocies of 'Popstar to Operastar' giving way to Kiri Te
    Kanawa's X-Factor search for talent on Radio 2, one might think that the
    campaign to widen opera's audience has been terminally hijacked by showbiz.


    But that would be to discount the heroic work done by opera-company
    education departments up and down the country, and above all by their
    brand-leaders at Glyndebourne. Glyndebourne's head of education Katie Tearle
    has presided over a series of brilliant events - starting on Hastings Pier
    in 1990 - in which local children have been induced to put on operas dealing
    with subjects which are as near the knuckle today as the rough-trade
    exploits of Don Giovanni were for eighteenth-century Vienna.

    This time round it's the story of King Arthur updated to a twenty-first
    century urban wasteland, courtesy of a libretto by Nicky Singer who was
    inspired by an encounter with a typically deprived and 'antisocial' youth on
    a Holloway estate: her realisation that 'respect' was simply a modern
    version of medieval knightly honour became the pivotal idea for a plot which
    translates Arthurian symbolism into terms of turf wars and street-gang
    rituals. This being very much a community project, the 50-strong amateur
    chorus has been selected first through workshops in schools and youth
    centres, then through 'skills' workshops, then through auditions, and has
    then been given a top-dressing of six professional singers; the 30 amateur
    players in the orchestra have been beefed up with 30 professional
    instrumentalists.

    The moment the curtain rises on Es Devlin's slowly rotating giant cube, onto
    which a desperate face is projected while the modern-day Arthur launches
    into a plangent recitative, we know beyond any shadow of doubt that we are
    in safe hands. The orchestral sound is marvellously translucent, the vocal
    line could have come from Britten: Glyndebourne's first
    composer-in-residence Julian Philips is a master of pastiche. And when
    Knight Crew make their appearance - dimly lit and drably costumed like
    creatures from the underworld - one senses director John Fulljames's
    characteristically sure touch.

    The plot turns on teenage love and valour against the backdrop of permanent
    war with a neighbouring gang. But it also has an other-worldly dimension
    represented by a bag-lady with the vision of a seer, whose senseless murder
    sets in train a series of mystical events which test the moral mettle of all
    concerned. With a knife which kills without getting blood on itself, and
    with a book which foretells the future, we are in the sort of magical
    territory which Harry Potter readers take for granted; what lifts this drama
    onto a different plane is the Puccinian intensity with which the characters
    are impelled to destroy each other and/or themselves, as events progress
    towards their mysterious denouement. One of the most poignant scenes has
    strong echoes of the Damilola Taylor tragedy.

    For a 'community' opera this is an extraordinarily accomplished piece of
    work, with the Mothers' Chorus - some of whom are the real-life mothers of
    the fictional gangsters - being outstandingly good (full marks to
    chorus-master Gareth Malone, otherwise known as presenter of the BBC's 'The
    Choir'). Soprano Claire Wild and tenor Pascal Charbonneau are wonderfully
    convincing as the chief protagonists, with mezzo Yvonne Howard doubling
    brilliantly as the bag-lady and Arthur's despairing mother. The endlessly
    mutating set with its skilfully projected climactic scenes recalls the glory
    days of English National Opera, the libretto trades intelligently on the
    monosyllabic terseness of street slang, and the music draws boldly on
    Bernstein and Stravinsky. Whether this new work 'has legs' is a moot point -
    it demands major skills and resources - but it's certainly a major
    achievement.

    Amazon.co.uk Review FEATHER BOY
    It is a rare writing debutant indeed that launches her first novel for children so conclusively and emphatically into the "must-read" books-of-the-year category. Feather Boy charts the first, truly character-defining sequence of events in Robert Nobel's short life so far. He is often the butt of classroom jokes and pranks--and being called Norbert No-bottle all the time isn't much fun either. He secretly wants to be somebody. To have a voice. To have friends.
    Robert's participation in the Elders Project begins a sequence of events that change his life forever. Selected members of his class are chosen to visit the elderly residents of Mayfield Rest Home--to interact with them, to find out about their lives and to "counter ignorant attitudes about such senior members of society". Robert's main attacker, Jonathan Niker, may think them all "vegetables", but Robert's own buried true-life personality is slowly unearthed by Edith Sorrel--a prickly resident who singles him out as her boy to talk to.

    Edith is considered quite mad, haunted by the unhappy memories of a past incident involving her old home, Chance House. Her son died there under tragic circumstances that Robert compulsively needs to find out about and examine. Yet Edith is a fascinating enigma. Clearly very ill, she confides all sorts about her life in Robert yet denies the existence of her doting husband at her bedside. As Edith's condition deteriorates and the Elders Project heads towards its conclusion, Robert is drawn deeper and deeper into her story. His visits to the derelict Chance House become more frequent, and one fateful trip to sleep there overnight as a dare with Niker heralds the first step on Robert's own journey to finding out about his real self.

    Nicky Singer's Feather Boy is more than just a story about bullying. It's bigger than that. It's about finding your voice, shouting from the rooftops about something you believe in, refusing to back down, helping a friend and never giving up. It's enormously uplifting, accomplished and satisfying. (Age 10 and over) --John McLay --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

    Review
    "!a brilliant debut novel that really does merit the category title of Book You Cannot Put Down." Ian Hislop, Blue Peter Awards Judge "Each copy should come with a torch for a spellbinding midnight conclusion." Telegraph "Inventive, original and full of surprises, it's the sort of dazzling debut novel that most publishers would fall over themselves to snap up!" T2 "Feather Boy is the most intelligent book for youngsters I've read for a very long time. Every 12-year-old will see a bit of themselves in Robert and won't be able to put this book down until Feather Boy's emotional, thought-provoking climax. Fabulous." Funday Times "This first children's book is a winner." Publishing News
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