The Transition by Luke Kennard: a reflection of issues of a highly possible near future

The first thing I noticed when picking up Luke Kennard’s debut novel the Transition was, as it so often is with any book, the cover. It certainly stands out – the blue cover with plain white writing and a weird circle would be expected more of a textbook than fiction.

The premise in itself is very interesting, which is always a good start. The novel is set in a near future, where there is a secret program that goes by the name of the Transition, aimed at people who have committed crimes in an attempt at reformation of character. In this program, you and your partner live with a couple older than you, who attempt to teach you their ways. Karl and his wife Genevieve are the couple who are subject to the Transition in the novel, after Karl is convicted of fraud and a tax infraction. The novel explores their experience through the Transition, the problems that they face, and the truths that Karl uncovers.

One very interesting thing about the book is that you are kept as in the dark as Karl. He discovers things that are somewhat fishy about the Transition, but his mentors, Janna and Stu, have responses to any and all of the queries he raises. It is up to you as a reader, as it is up to Karl, to believe whichever side you find most reasonable. The better side is more defined at the end, but the ambiguity throughout leads to uncertainty as to how the novel will end. Normally, I can predict the ending of any plot, and so I was a little wary to finish this book as any ending I could imagine was unsatisfying – if there’s one thing I hate, it’s an unsatisfying ending. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. It made perfect sense, and now I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Kennard also explores the issue of mental health very tactfully within the novel. However, it would have been nice to have Genevieve as not so much of a damsel in distress all the time, requiring Karl’s constant supervision (at least, in Karl’s opinion). Her success is depicted as a result of mania before depression, which is not unrealistic, but it would have been nice to see her have some further character development. I understand that her not having any development is representative of the cyclical nature of her mental health issues, but even the slightest development would be appreciated – something to show that she is a capable unique person in spite of her mental health issues. Regardless, the manner in which everyone treated Genevieve with relation to her mental health issues was the most truthful and good to see – the way Karl describes people ‘running for the hills’ when she takes a turn for the worst is not dissimilar to the way I have seen people act both in my own personal experience and in the experience of others. The treatment of mental health in the modern day is something that we seriously need to address, and Kennard certainly highlights that through this.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes being afraid for our future as the human race. Kennard’s switch from poetry to prose seems effortless, and I look forward to reading any future novels that he writes.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: the metatheatrical masterpiece brought to life

To be perfectly honest, when I saw that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was on at the Old Vic and I had the opportunity to get tickets, I was motivated to accept the tickets due to a combination of my inner Shakespeare fangirl and my love for Daniel Radcliffe without any knowledge of the play itself. Granted, I was interested in going to the theatre – I adore the theatre, and if it was cheaper I would be there at least once a week. But I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed that night.

The play opens with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, paused on their journey to Hamlet’s castle, after being summoned by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to try and knock some sense into Hamlet. From the rise of the curtain through to the end of the first act, they are portrayed as clowns of the show, as Stoppard takes full advantage of their limited involvement within Hamlet to create a life for them. The first act is amusing, but the same lines in the second act become melancholy as the characters realise their helplessness in preventing their own doomed fates, at the whim of whatever being is controlling their narrative.

Radcliffe and McGuire’s chemistry is amazing, the rapport between them flowing naturally and creating great humour. Although Radcliffe’s cinematic training is clear throughout – he did not project enough, and his voice was lost somewhere in the stalls, often failing to reach me in upper circle. Oftentimes it felt like McGuire was carrying the dialogue due to this, but this was in part due to the natural balance between their characters.

David Leveaux made the stage at the Old Vic extradionarily deep, which at first appeared to me to be somewhat strange. But the production used this fully, with the travelling troop entering from the back and leaving via it, as well as dividing the stage with a half curtain to separate the two central characters from the main action.

The performance of David Haig was also standout. His character, combined with Alfred, played by Matthew Durkan, were the ones that generated the most laughs throughout the show due to a combination of Stoppard’s brilliant dialogue and their performances.

The chaos of the final moments of the play are beautifully punctuated by Theo Ogundipe’s yelling of Horatio’s final lines of the play, leaving every audience member stunned and barely able to remember the jokes that they had laughed so hard at in the first act. 

This is a performance not to be missed.