Ten top beach reads

Forget the lovely view: you won't be able to take your eyes off our selection of 2013's best page-turners



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'The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

A lot happened in the eight-year gap between this and Neil Gaiman’s last adult novel, most notably profile-rocketing ventures into cinema with ‘Stardust’ and ‘Coraline’. The hype could easily have sunk ‘The Ocean…’, but instead it demonstrates Gaiman’s knack for picking apart and preying on our juvenile fears. Fantasy for people who don’t read fantasy.

Click here to buy 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane’


‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith

We all know by now which literary wizard wrote this, but if she hadn’t been outed, would you have guessed? In a bid to escape the pressure of post-Potter expectation, JK Rowling hid behind pen name ‘Robert Galbraith’ for her first foray into crime writing. It seems to have done the trick, allowing her to write this genuinely thrilling, gripping detective tale set in London.

                                                       Click here to buy ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’


‘The Reason I Jump’ by Naoki Higashida

Written by Naoki Higashida when he was 13 (the writer is now in his twenties), this book reveals the inner experience of a boy born with a severe form of autism. Higashida was locked in a world of silence before being introduced to an alphabet grid which allowed him to spell out words and share the isolating, sometimes devastating experience of his condition. An enlightening read.

                                                       Click here to buy ‘The Reason I Jump’

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

'The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence

Being hit by a meteor at ten and having a psychic single mum makes Alex a rather unusual boy. This charming, moving story follows his unusual journey into adulthood.

Click here to buy 'The Universe Versus Alex Woods'


‘Joyland’ by Stephen King

Has there ever been a setting better suited to the macabre penmanship of the great Stephen King than a creaking, middle-America amusement park? A supernatural whodunit with a wonderfully pulpy edge.

Click here to buy 'Joyland'


‘Vampires in the Lemon Grove’ by Karen Russell

A collection of short stories ranging from the surreal to the really surreal, this follow-up to the American novelist’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel ‘Swamplandia!’ delivers everything from reincarnated American presidents to a sports tournament for sea creatures.

Click here to buy 'Vampires in the Lemon Grove'


‘One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis

On occasion, haven’t we all wanted to ditch our responsibilities, change our name and run off into a new life? Emily (or is it Catherine?) takes the plunge in this smartly written thriller.

Click here to buy 'One Step Too Far'


‘Big Brother’ by Lionel Shriver

Unsurprisingly, this book by the author of ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ isn’t brimming with sunshine. Still, there are no psychopathic teens in a story about a woman coming to terms with her brother’s life-threatening obesity.

Click here to buy 'Big Brother’


‘Unseen’ by Karin Slaughter

This fast-paced tale takes Detective Trent on an undercover mission to the Deep South, and the plot has more twists and turns than a tornado. 

Click here to buy 'Unseen'


‘Bones of the Lost’ by Kathy Reichs

Peruvian dog mummies, an airline club card and a dead teenage girl are among the unlikely elements in this rollercoaster read which sees Dr Temperance Brennan kick forensic-anthropological-ass. 

Click here to buy 'Bones of the Lost'

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Billy Elliot the Musical

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice

Current cast features Harris Beattie, Harrison Dowzel, Redmand Rance and Kaine Ward as Billy. Six years after it first stamped, swore, and pirouetted into audiences' hearts, 'Billy Elliot the Musical' continues to mark itself out as one of the best nights in town. Both as tough as a miner's fist after a Friday night booze-up and as soaringly sensitive as one of Tchaikovsky's swans, it's a gritty story of hope that works its magic by defying sentimentality and slaying stereotypes. Book writer Lee Hall has displayed a talent for comedy that has been noted by critics ever since he hit the radio airwaves with the less successful, but darkly Ortonesque 'Cooking With Elvis' in 1995. By taking the miners' strike as the backdrop to Billy's tale, he taps into a period of history that powerfully resonates as the last great iconic clash between left and right in British politics. What works so beautifully in 'Billy Elliot the Musical' is the miners' staunch embodiment of grimy-faced beer -without-frills masculinity – as threatened by the 12-year-old Billy's 'effeminate' attempts to express himself as a dancer, as they are by the rapacious, gorgon-style femininity of Thatcher. Hall and director Stephen Daldry exploit the gender clash to the full, both verbally and visually: so whether you're laughing at foul-mouthed ballerinas or miners in tutus, this is a glorious comedy – and near-tragedy – of dissonant values and shifting perceptions. It was Jamie Bell, of course, who so successf

  1. 126 Victoria Street, SW1E 5EA
  2. £19.50-£95. Runs 3hrs
  3. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Dec 19
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The Book of Mormon

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

Nic Rouleau is Elder Price and Brian Sears is Elder Cunningham from Feb 2 2015. Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aid

  1. Coventry St, W1D 6AS
  2. £37.50-£95. Runs 2hrs 30mins
  3. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Mar 7
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War Horse

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice

Five years on, the National Theatre's 'War Horse' has become ubiquitous. The toast of the West End and Broadway, as I write this it's sold out at the New London Theatre for the next two months – by contrast, you can book to see 'Matilda' next week. Its enormous success has negated the impact of Arts Council funding cuts on the NT, to the extent that the show has started to be singled out by some commentators as an example of 'safe' post-credit crunch programming. And, of course, there's the Steven Spielberg film, a curious affair sparked by the director's genuine love of the play, in which he gives Michael Morpurgo's 1982 a lavish screen treatment that has everything bar the one thing that made the play so special in the first place. That is, of course, Handspring's astonishing life-size puppets. Skeletally modernist in form but utterly, magically alive thanks to their talented army of puppeteers and Toby Sedgwick's phenomenal choreography, they are the true stars of Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott's production. Without them, Morpurgo's tale of how Devon-dwelling teen Albert Narracott signed up to throw himself into the meat grinder of World War I – in order to track down his beloved horse Joey – would be a likeable, humane, slightly formulaic introduction to the catastrophe of the war. With them, it is something different entirely, a virtuoso spectacle that combines grit and charm in equal measure. Joey is a multifaceted delight and the clumsy wheeled goose which shares

  1. Drury Lane, WC2B 5PQ
  2. £15-£62.50. Run 2hrs 35mins
  3. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Oct 24
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Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

  • Free

The Grinch would have a real job stealing all the Christmas from Hyde Park's massive tribute to festive fun, which is back for 2014. Entry to Winter Wonderland is free, and a wander past the fairground rides, around child-friendly Santa Land (including Santa's grotto) or through the Christmas markets is a real treat for anyone feeling the spirit of the season, as long as you're ready to hear all those songs as you potter. Other attractions at Hyde Park's annual sparkly Christmassy addition include a Giant Observation Wheel and two circuses – 'Christmas Circus' and 'Cirque Berserk' – from the family-friendly Zippos Circus. Winter Wonderland's ice rink, the biggest outdoor rink in the UK, surrounds the Victorian bandstand and is illuminated with more than 100,000 lights. The Magical Ice Kingdom is your chance to get up close to some real ice and snow, meeting some mythical frozen beasts as you explore a chilly forest. Along with the 60-metre observation wheel, rollercoasters and fairground rides will keep thrillseekers happy. A good alternative for those who prefer to stay on solid ground are the selection of themed bars with real fires, except for the Ice Bar (for obvious structural reasons) where even the glasses you drink from are made of ice. If you're skating, be aware that while there's no minimum age for skaters, under-12s must be accompanied by someone 16 or over and the smallest skates for hire are children's size 9 (adult skates go up to size 13). You can use your

  1. Hyde Park
  2. Mon Dec 22 - Sun Jan 4
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Matilda the Musical

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

'My mummy says I'm a miracle,' lisps a pampered mini-me at a purgatorial kiddies' birthday party at the outset of this delicious, treacly-dark family show. The obnoxious ma and pa of its titular, gifted, pint-sized heroine are not, of course, quite so doting. But 'Matilda' must be making its creators, playwright Dennis Kelly and comedian-songsmith Tim Minchin, a very pair of proud parents. Opening to rave reviews in Stratford-upon Avon before transferring to the West End in 2011 and snatching up Olivier Awards with all the alacrity of a sticky-fingered child in a sweetshop, Matthew Warchus's RSC production remains a treat. With hindsight, Kelly and Minchin's musical, born of the 1988 novel by that master of the splendidly grotesque Roald Dahl, is a little too long and, dramatically, a tad wayward. But like curly-haired little girl in the famous nursery rhyme, when it is good, it is very, very good. And it's even better when it's horrid. The past few months have seen some cast changes, including, alas, the departure of Bertie Carvel's tremendous Miss Trunchbull, headmistress of the dread Crunchem Hall School, former Olympic hammer-thrower and a gorgon of monumental nastiness, complete with scarily Thatcher-esque tics of purse-lipped gentility and faux concern. David Leonard doesn't quite match the squirm-inducing, hair-raising detail of Carvel in the role, but his more butch, granite-faced version is fantastically horrible nonetheless. And if Paul Kaye as Matilda's loathsom

  1. Earlham St, WC2H 9HU
  2. £24-£85. Runs 2hrs 40mins
  3. Wed Dec 24 - Sun Dec 20
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Southbank Centre Christmas Market

  • Free

You’ll find plenty more than baubles and gingerbread to tempt you in the 50 wooden chalets that will make up the Southbank Centre Christmas Market this year; sheepskin rugs, local mead, door wreaths and even lobster mac ‘n’ cheese will all be among the goodies on sale along Queen’s Walk. The market is just one part of the Southbank Centre Winter Festival, and there will be special editions of the Real Food Market on various weekends in the run up to Christmas, too. Find more Christmas markets and fairs in London  

  1. Southbank Centre Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XX
  2. Mon Dec 22 - Sun Jan 4
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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

Three theatres, three casts, one major disaster and seven Olivier Awards on, the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel about Christopher Boone, the teenage ‘mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’ remains a thing of unbridled wonder.The occasion for this re-review is the end of the enforced layoff inflicted upon ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. The show figuratively blew the roof off when it transferred from the NT to the Apollo Theatre, but unfortunately the ageing ceiling responded by literally collapsing, necessitating a change of venue and months off. Hopefully, that episode will provide a footnote. The most important thing is that Simon Stephens’s adaptation remains high tech and high quality. The first Christopher, Luke Treadaway, will always cast a huge shadow, and incumbent Graham Butler can’t match his coiled spring energy and manic otherness. But if Butler offers a gentler, more ‘normal’ hero, his superficial lack of strangeness means that it’s all the more heartbreaking when his nameless condition – presumably Asperger’s – leaves him suddenly, unexpectedly broken, unable to cope with something as simple as a human touch.  Ultimately ‘Curious Incident’ is a tragedy about a family torn apart by the pressures of looking after their son. Nicolas Tennant and Emily Joyce are excellent as Christopher’s bumblingly selfless dad Ed and agonised mum Judy, driven to put her own wellbeing before that of the child who will never love

  1. Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 6AR
  2. £15-£57.50. Runs 2hrs 40min
  3. Mon Dec 22 - Sat May 23
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Made In Dagenham

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

Much like the epithet ‘the best David Bowie album since “Scary Monsters”,’ describing a show as ‘the best British musical since “Matilda”’ is becoming one of those platitudes that sounds a bit less enthusiastic every time it’s trotted out.Nonetheless: ‘Made in Dagenham’ is the best British musical since ‘Matilda’, a funny, messy, surprisingly idiosyncratic movie adaptation that’s powered by a lot of heart, a lot of jokes, a fair few clichés and a fantastic performance from screen star Gemma Arterton.That said, your love of Rupert Goold’s production is likely to hinge less on Arterton’s sweet, sassy, self-doubting Rita – reluctant leader of the 1968 sewing machinists strike at the Ford plant in Dagenham – and more on Mark Hadfield’s unabashedly broad portrayal of Labour PM Harold Wilson. Barely present in the film, here the ludicrous, ineffectual Wilson represents the acme of the anarchic humour that playwright Richard Bean has injected into his very free adaptation of the 2010 film. It's very silly, and wryly nostalgia for Old Labour and the foibles of the Britain that 58-year-old Bean grew up in – the ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ writer has unmistakably imposed himself on the show.It’ll be up to you whether you think the Bean-sourced silliness compliments, undermines or makes up for the more conventional main story of Rita and her colleagues, who strike for equal pay after Ford downgrades its female machinists to ‘unskilled’. Clichés abound: sassy Essex ‘girls’ with lovably incomp

  1. Adelphi Theatre The Strand, WC2R 0NS
  2. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Mar 28
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  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

Phill Jupitus takes the role of Caldwell B. Cladwell from Dec 1. For a musical about how the human race is likely to wipe itself out very soon, ‘Urinetown’ is a whole lot of fun. Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s show (golden) showers the audience with pee-related puns and takes the piss out of its own love story with gritty bravado. The musical is set in a dystopian future where municipal toilets are controlled by Urine Good Company and people are forced to pay to use the loo. When an uprising is led by handsome young toilet attendant Bobby Strong – who falls in love with Hope, daughter of the head of UGC – the town’s money-grabbing elite are shaken and everything the townsfolk knew begins to change. ‘Urinetown’ is an anti-musical. From the beginning, Jonathan Slinger’s sullen, snarling cop Officer Lockstock steps through the fourth wall to apologise for ridiculous plot oversights. Jamie Lloyd’s slick production plays heavily on these elements: wry appeals to the audience and comic-book double takes abound – it’s musicals themselves that are the source of much of the show’s satire. Although there’s a lack of individual standout songs, the numbers are bold, big and best when the whole cast is singing. ‘It’s a Privilege to Pee’ is brilliantly rousing. The cheeky energy of soul-tinged ‘Run, Freedom, Run’ in the second half makes it one of the best tunes of the night. Slinger is a highlight – his Cheshire Cat smile is horribly foreboding – and there’s much to love elsewhere in the

  1. Apollo Shaftesbury Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 7ES
  2. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Jan 10
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King Charles III

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice

The royal family is a soap opera that the whole nation loves to tune into – even the Scots. And Mike Bartlett’s audacious new comedy imagines their next episode as if it were Will Shakespeare scripting ‘The Thick of It’. Elizabeth II is dead, Charles III finally ascends the throne and promptly clashes with a handsome, populist Labour PM (sorry Ed, his name’s Tristram). Parliament is hellbent on restricting the freedom of the press but, in agonies of conscience, Charles Eyoreishly refuses the Royal Assent to Tristram’s law - resulting in constitutional chaos, royal family meltdown and, ultimately, a very British coup.On one massively enjoyable level, this is a gloriously, victoriously vulgar piece of light entertainment. Director Rupert Goold marshals a faultless cast, whose ability to re-create public characters who are both brilliantly recognisable and startlingly different would make Alison Jackson weep with envy. It’s Westenders: a Buckingham Palace soap opera whose sharply scripted showdowns are gilded by glamour and money, and dignified by influence and power.Beneath its nosey, speculative veneer it’s also a fantastic example of the freedom of speech that Tim Pigott-Smith’s humane, agonised Charles so ingloriously defends. Royalty – tax-supported by the masses – is uniquely, unelectably personal. And this goes beyond mere lampooning of Harry’s posh twerp chums, or Charles’s unusual gardening habits. Transferring from the Almeida to the West End as Scotland votes on the U

  1. Wyndham's Theatre Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA
  2. Mon Dec 22 - Sat Jan 31
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