Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman

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Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman

Bray Titania.jpg
Buy Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: While the artwork here doesn't always coincide with the script, thus throwing some young readers off, the artwork will stay with them till they're grown up.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 36 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Pavilion Children's Books
ISBN: 9781843653295

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Equus, Waiting for Godot and A Mid-summer Night's Dream – three very distinctive plays, and my favourite three, out of which you won't often get me choosing just one. But were I to do so, it might actually be the last, for the simple reason I would delight in playing any and all characters from it. Yes, I know Hermia and Helena look a bit implausible now – but I put it to you stranger things happen on stage… Some of the strangest things involve a player himself, a lowly actor who gets given an ass's head and is forced to be the enamoured of a fairy queen. It's this section of the play that this book concentrates on, in quite stunning form.

First, the text. I really liked the way Jo Manton summarises the original – quoting from it directly when necessary, abridging or paraphrasing, to get all the salient plot points as clearly as possible, while still managing to carry some of the spirit of Shakespeare. It's a clear piece, and I defy anyone with any level of knowledge of her source to find fault with it.

But that's not the core reason for this publication, as a three-page introduction proves. This is designed to reissue Phyllis Bray's artwork that accompanied the Manton when it was first published in 1945. And wonderful artwork it is, too. No, her characters' faces aren't the prettiest, but boy can she give life to forms, and decorate pages most appealingly. She borrows the flighty, flappy bits of fairy from Victoriana, while also giving the audience she was working for something of the more modern they would recognise as current. Certainly her Titania and Oberon look as definitive as can be.

If anything, however, there is a slight flaw in the illustrative nature of the book. In using a couple of double-page spreads in the middle, things get out of kilter. We see the rude mechanicals four pages before we read about them, and similarly Bottom's ass gets decorated and admired way before the script gets round to mentioning that. It's only a problem inasmuch as this is an all-ages-friendly adaptation, designed to appeal and cater to the young, and they may want for more clarity as to what they're seeing. It makes the volume, even if it's laid out as originally designed, less perhaps a perfect accompaniment to the text and more an album of linked artwork.

It's only for the younger audiences I mention this, and find this an issue, but the flow of text and art may have coincided more. Either way, nothing really detracts from that art. I didn't know the illustrator before now, and may have got to this stage never having seen any of her works, but this was a wonderful corrective. The essay about her is for the adult reader, proving this is an academically-minded reissue just as much as it is a fairy tale for the young. But however you approach these pages, there is no denying their quirky, lively and ageless appeal.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

There is a fuller adaptation for the young in the series we met with at The Merchant Of Venice (Shakespeare Stories) by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross.

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Buy Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman at Amazon.com.

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