Hamilton: I went to the room where it happens

SPOILERS AHEAD

I had the incredible opportunity to watch Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre over the weekend. I’ve been struggling to find the perfect word that describes the overall experience, it’s just impossible. There are no words that can capture the beauty of this play. It was cleverly written, amazingly performed and sung. I cried so many times throughout, not just from the story but also because of how overwhelmed I was. I’ve been wanting to see Hamilton since it first came to London, imagining the scenes in my head over and over, and to see it come to life was just incredible.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count, and each song is detailed and helps tell the story. So the fact that there are no spoken words in the play wasn’t that surprising. However, most of the time each song was set in a different place, or time, and with different characters. So to jump straight into the next song was impressive. The play is physical theatre, which by definition means ‘a form of theatre which emphasizes the use of physical movement, as in dance and mime, for expression’, so there was only one set and furniture like writing desks, chairs, even the set of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding, was brought in during the songs as if they were dance moves. The actors managed to smoothly move throughout the play without error, as did the dancers, who were on stage for the majority of the play.

Another technique that was used in the play was a rotating stage. The middle of the stage would rotate, sometimes in different parts, and added to the story. One of the highlights was ‘Satisfied,’ where Angelica tells the story of ‘Helpless’ from her perspective, revealing her love for Alexander. Angelica stood in the middle of the stage, and the outer part started to rotate along with the rest of the cast, acting as if someone genuinely pressed a rewind button on a remote controller. This transition happened over only a couple of seconds, and it was flawless. ‘Satisfied’ is one of my favourite songs in the play, and Allyson Ava Brown performed it beautifully. The most moving part of the song was during the last rendition of the chorus, when everyone around Angelica is celebrating the wedding while she stands in the middle, her heart breaking in front of us.

Many other songs amazed me in the play, more so than they did when just listening to the soundtrack. King George’s songs came to life when performed in person. Before the play, I didn’t enjoy his songs as much and often skipped over them. However, Jon Robyns performed them in a way that was so sarcastic it was hilarious.

‘The Reynolds Pamphlet’ also stood out for me. It was already one of my favourite songs on the soundtrack, and the way it was performed on stage made me love it anymore. What stuck in my head was the image of Alexander standing in the middle while the characters flung their copies of the pamphlets at him, leaving him standing amongst the pile, while he tried to speak over them all, singing the words ‘At least I was honest with her.’

One word that I’d use when describing the play is powerful, and that is because of some of the lines that are spoken. ‘Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it just takes, and it takes’ is one of my favourites, along with ‘Dying is easy young man, living is harder.’ I just realised while writing this that both of these sentences are about death, so here’s on that doesn’t focus on dying: Angelica’s ‘At least I keep his eyes in my life.’

It wasn’t just the lines that hit me. Philip’s death had me in tears, even though I knew it was coming. I was crying from the moment Eliza arrived at his hospital bed and throughout ‘It’s Quiet Uptown.’ And then during ‘Hurricane’ where Alexander gives his last monologue before his death, followed by Eliza’s verses during ‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.’

I’ve only seen a few musicals, but Hamilton is one of the best that I’ve seen. After it ended, I spent the rest of the evening and the next day just replaying it all in my head, still in awe. If you ever have a chance to go and see this play, do it. You won’t regret it.

Review: Coram Boy

SPOILERS AHEAD

Winner of the 2001 Whitbread Award, Coram Boy relates the intertwining stories of Meshak Gardiner and Alexander Ashbrook, two young men of different abilities and backgrounds who nonetheless find their fate inextricably linked. Meshak, the mentally handicapped son of Otis Gardiner, helps his father dispose of unwanted children; generally infants whose mothers think that Mr. Gardiner will transport them to Coram Hospital, a newly-created facility to care for abandoned children. Able to convince the distraught mothers that their newborns will be well-cared for in exchange for a small fee, Mr. Gardiner later hands the infants over to Meshak, who then buries the children in the woods. Years of burying infants and selling older ones into slavery have made Mr. Gardiner rich, but one day he is accused of blackmailing the wealthy mothers of these children. Everyone believes that he was hanged for his crimes and that his son, Meshak, quietly slipped away. Not until years later do people realize what happened to the Gardiners and all of the abandoned children.

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Historical fiction is my favourite genre. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and so reading stories that allow me to live the lives based upon past events excites me so much. I’m currently writing a historical fiction novel myself, and for the setting, I’ve been inspired by the Forest of Dean, my home, and its surrounding areas. Coram Boy takes place in Gloucester as well as London, so it was nice to read a book of this genre that’s set in the same county as mine. I could see how Jamila Gavin captured two 18th century cities, both of which were clearly researched in meticulous detail, in their dirtiest light, exploring the lives of the lower classes instead of just focusing on the more privileged.

One of the things that stood out for me was the character of Meshak. He is described as a ‘simpleton’ and is treated poorly throughout the novel, particularly by his father. He has a strong moral compass, even though there are times when it becomes a bit warped (trying to keep Aaron from his parents to protect his ‘angel’s’ son, for example). He is plagued by the voices of the children that he buries, feeling guilty over the fact that he didn’t save them. Gavin capture this with chilling sentences like ‘He feels the need to be dead.’ For a boy as young as Meshak to think something like this is just heartbreaking.

While the story is told through an omniscient narrator, the majority of the events are experienced through the children’s perspective, which, in a way, makes some of the horrific events seem worse. When Meshak sees black slaves, for example. ‘It was human, wasn’t it? He licked his finger and smoothed it over the baby’s skin to see if the black would come off.’ The way that this baby is alienated because of his skin colour is shocking, and the way that Meshak innocently rubs him with his finger to see if the colour would come off shows the severity of the racism during this period.

Racism is also explored through Toby, a black orphan and Aaron’s best friend. Toby’s treatment at Mr. Gaddarn’s party is exceptionally saddening, as ‘the ladies adored him, and loved to bounce him on their knees, feed him sweets, and push their fingers under his turban to feel his extraordinarily crinkly hair.’ I never knew that black children were hired to be poked and prodded simply for entertainment during this time period, and, to say the least, it was appalling.

The characters of Alex and Thomas are two of my favourites in this novel. They both come from different worlds and yet are united through their love of music. I felt so sorry for Alex, as his father forbids him to follow his passion. I have to say though; there were times when I forgot Alex’s age and thought him as older, so the times when I was reminded of his age completely changed my image of him.

I also felt this way with Melissa, who, at the start of the book, is fourteen years old. She acts her age at the beginning, from joining in with her sibling’s games and experiencing her first period, but then also sleeps with Alex and gets pregnant. I could not imagine characters as naive as these having sex. Also, the fact that Melissa was able to conceal her entire pregnancy and birth is hard to believe tbh. There were moments when her youth was highlighted, such as when she thought she could raise her child at home without her parents noticing, not realising how noisy a baby could be, her focus on knitting cute little clothes for it. Not to mention her reaction to her growing ‘roundness’ and her disbelief when her maid informed her of her pregnancy. If anything, moments like this made it so much harder for me to believe this subplot.

I enjoyed Coram Boy, mainly because of the amount of history intertwined in this novel. Gavin covers a range of diverse perspectives when it comes to 18th century London, allowing the reader to explore this world in so many different ways. It’s a dark book that features some appalling attitudes amongst the characters, and Gavin conveys their beliefs in such a gripping way that you can’t help but feel shocked at some of the events. Aside from the issues regarding ages, I think this novel is beautifully written and an incredible read for both adults and children.