Category: Wales


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Perhaps it’s because I missed out on the 80’s phenomenon that was Fame, being a child of the nineties, but I found the 30th anniversary touring production to be a bit of a mixed bag. Set in a New York school of Performing Arts, the story follows a bunch of wannabes as they negotiate the perils of being a Stagey in the 80s.

Led by Mica Paris as the home room teacher Miss Sherman, there’s no doubt about it that Fame does boast a very talented cast. Keith Jack shows off his impressive vocals in his role as serious thespian Nick. Jorgie Porter, of Hollyoaks fame, is able to demonstrate her dance skills in the role of snooty Ballet dancer Iris. Stephanie Rojas delivers a powerful performance as fame-hungry Carmen, and performs the title track with spine-tingling ease. Fame has a very strong ensemble, made up of mesmerising dancers and a cast that perform their own instruments throughout (which always adds a special something to any production).

The problem, for me, lies with the story. Maybe I’m just a bit too close to being a millennial to appreciate it, but parts of the story just didn’t sit right with me. For the first few minutes, when the characters are finding out they’ve been accepted to ‘PA’, I really struggled to piece together what on earth was going on! The first act seemed to be a mash up of events with a scattering of rubbish jokes in between. Then, just a few tracks in, I couldn’t quite believe I was listening to a song about a hard-on.

There are lots of characters who are likeable (hard-on singer not being one of them), such as Serena, the nerdy girl who longs to be with Nick and hapless but talented Schlomo, who is another audience favourite. Particularly heart-breaking is the scene where Schlomo meets Carmen after her return from L.A., which Simon Anthony plays very movingly. I should also mention the ‘Teacher’s argument’ duet, between Miss Sherman and dance teacher Miss Bell which was electric (but I’ve always been a sucker for a good musical argument).

Another big problem lies with the character of Tyrone. Jamal Kane Crawford can certainly move, that’s for sure, but I found it hard to sympathise with Tyrone after he refers to two separate female characters as ‘bitch’. After the second incident, when he has angrily squared up to Miss Sherman and shouted in her face, we are expected to clap along and enjoy a bouncy, jolly tune about how Tyrone wants to make it as a dancer. I didn’t want to cheer for him. I wanted him to sod off.

Whilst it is an enjoyable night out, the story does seem to be a bit of a mess, but it’s more so a fault with the script than the performers. For me, the show does improve as it plays out, with a stronger second act, building to a cracking finale. The whole cast performing ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ is genuinely stirring, especially for those who have ever been part of a theatrical clique. In this production, the curtain call to the famous title track was brilliant. The whole audience were on their feet, it was like being at a concert, and Mica Paris brought the house down. There were plenty of hardcore Fame fans in the audience whose enjoyment was very clear, so perhaps if you’re an avid fan of the film or TV series, this is for you. If you’re not, I’d still recommend going, for a night of live music and dance from a super enthusiastic cast.

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Home, I’m Darling is a fresh, original play from Laura Wade with all the makings of a classic. Directed by Tamara Harvey, Home, I’m Darling, is funny, thought-provoking and, in parts, quite sinister, and it certainly leaves the audience with plenty to mull over.

Katherine Parkinson plays Judy, a former business woman who has taken voluntary redundancy to spend six months living the life of a fifties housewife. Problems arise when six months turn into three years, and an obsessed Judy is struggling to hide her money woes from her husband, Jonny. As the couple have to choose between living the frugal, fifties life of their dreams or facing their problems in the twenty-first century, they also have to deal with Jonny’s confused feelings for his boss, Alex, and his desperation to get that important promotion. As the plot unfolds, there are plenty of hilarious moments from women uncomfortable in their time. Judy’s mother laments over her own mother’s post-war suspicions, including when a new dairy product came to Britain. (‘My poor mother. Frightened of a yoghurt’). Then, there’s Judy, who has totally lost touch with the present day. (‘People standing in doorways sucking on a biro’.)

Parkinson gives an electric, and poignant, performance as Judy. When we meet her she is the epitome of perfection, serenely cooking breakfast in her gingham palace, before waving her husband off to work with a peck on the cheek. As the story unravels, so does Judy. Near the end of the play she is dishevelled and terrified at the prospect of stepping foot into 2018 (she doesn’t even know what ‘Bake-off’ is!’). Although some might be frustrated at her retreat into this male-dominated world of a fifties housewife, Judy maintains that it is her choice, therefore it is a feminist choice. She is likeable and you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she makes mistake after mistake in a desperate attempt to keep her fantasy alive.

Judy’s friend Fran acts as a mouth-piece for the audience, gently questioning Judy’s choices and even dipping her toe into the fifties pool herself. Fran’s husband Marcus undergoes quite the transformation as he moves from cheeky, ‘huggy’ chappy, to creepy sleezeball. Drysdale gives an excellent performance as Fran, particularly as she is torn between the love for her husband and the allegations set against him. Sian Thomas is striking as Judy’s frustrated, former-hippy mother, Sylvia, who is fraught at the prospect of her daughter living the ‘repressed’ lifestyle she fought against. Sylvia’s monologue about the forgotten drawbacks of the fifties, and the ridiculousness of modern nostalgia from those who weren’t even alive in the era, is particularly fantastic and delivered so passionately and naturally that it is easy for the audience to forget they were watching a scripted performance.

Home, I’m Darling is a rare thing of beauty. There were no stand-out performances, (although Parkinson was, of course, incredible) because every cast member was a joy to watch. Everyone was playing with honesty which led to a very natural and believable production. It’s not just the acting. Everything about it dazzles. Home, I’m Darling opens up many hot topics for debate, from an uncomfortable case of sexual harassment in the workplace, to the reasons behind Judy’s obsessive, almost fetish-like passion for her fifties fantasy, to the grey-area of Jonny’s feelings for Alex.

Home, I’m Darling is a modern think-piece that will leave you chuckling and jiving long after the curtain call.

 

It’s Wales Comic Con season – one of my favourite times of year. Unusually for Wales, it’s a glorious day, which makes the always-cheery Comic Con atmosphere even more potent.

We’re lucky to have such a positive event in Wrexham, especially one that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. For such a special occasion the organisers had pulled out all the stops to attract some huge names (Val Kilmer, Hayley Atwell, Sylvester McCoy to name three). The unfortunate last-minute cancellations which often blight this kind of event did nothing to dampen spirits, and when I arrived on Saturday the excitement was palpable.

When I first started coming to Comic Con about six years ago, I remember I had to queue for 3 hours just to get inside. I’d since become savvy to this and made it a tradition to arrive extra early and enjoy the parade of cosplayers from a spot near the front of the queue. This year I was naively relaxed about the need to queue and, after arriving just after 11am, I joined a queue so long it showed me parts of the Glyndwr Campus I’d never seen before (and I studied there for three years). Despite the mega-queue, there were very few complaints and organisers worked super-hard to get everyone inside in just over an hour. Shout out to all the cosplayers who must have been absolutely sweltering in their heavy costumes (Stormtroopers, Lady Olena Tyrell, Marvin the Martian and Catwoman to name a few!)

The main hall was packed to bursting and I fought my way past superheroes and the odd villain to get to my favourite stall, Goblin Dreams. This is a real gem of a stall which has some truly gorgeous things to offer, especially the handmade mini costumed dragons. This year I bought a beautiful Phantom of the Opera dragon to add to my collection.

One thing that I did notice this year was that due to the huge crowds within the main hall the access for wheelchair users was poor. There may not be much the organisers of WCC can do about this but I did notice a lot of people struggling to move through the hall. It did make me think whether WCC need to reconsider their venue. Glyndwr University is a perfect spot for this event so I wouldn’t suggest moving but perhaps expanding across the campus. Although Welsh weather is never reliable, it was a beautiful day so it would have been nice to see more outdoor events. The heat was so stifling inside the main hall and the vendors tent that it became uncomfortable to stay indoors for too long. It would have been good to see organisers think on their feet and expand into the outdoor spaces.

The crowds and queues, however, just go to show the success and growth of the event over the last ten years. People are travelling from all over the country to Wrexham and that is fantastic. However, it is sad to see the guests capitalising on that growth, as I couldn’t help recalling my first visit, when selfies were free and autographs were averaging at £15. This weekend some guests were charging fans £20 for selfies and £30 for autographs. I suppose they have to make their money somehow! Some of the guests were sat alone when I wandered through, which did make me wonder if people were too scared to talk to them through fear of being charged per word.

Cynical gripes aside, I do really love this event and I am being very picky. I always take away from Comic Con a feeling of safety and community. In recent years there has been a notable increase in police presence but, in my opinion, that is unnecessary as there is never any noticeable trouble (besides with all those Stormtroopers strutting round, there’s no need for police). It’s not just physical safety, but the safety to be whoever the hell you want. You could rock up dressed as a Pikachu and no one would judge. Everyone is welcome and it’s just what our town needs.

 

I’ve said before that fun and enjoyment are a key part of learning and must be a priority of any teacher. Well, last week I experienced solid proof of that theory.

I’m in my second year of a Welsh course for teachers which focuses on raising personal Welsh ability as well as providing ideas and activities which can be used in the classroom.  I’ve always enjoyed the course, but at times it has been tough. Particularly during the periods where everything is just so hectic in the classroom. Last week, we were all invited to an overnight stay at Glanllyn as part of the course. Our Head was very generous and allowed us to escape the Christmas concert chaos.

I love Glanllyn and I’m always one of the first to volunteer when 20161125_104317the annual trips come round. The sunrise over Lake Tegid is one of my favourite views – it’s impossible to watch it and feel miserable. What made this trip special was that we travelled down after work, which meant it was dark when we arrived and we were able to forget where we were, making the opening-the-curtains moment the next morning all the more breath taking.

Anyway, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was feeling a little…well…tired on Thursday night. A hectic week, Christmas concert costume calamities and a streaming cold meant that I travelled down to Glanllyn feeling exhausted, slightly stressed out and the intention to spend the evening being grumpy.

Thankfully that didn’t last long. We met in the staff parlour, Big Brother-style, entering in dribs and drabs with lots of surprised greetings and anxious exchanges over what we’d let ourselves in for. At eight o’clock we clambered onto the mini-bus and headed to a rural Welsh pub. A clever idea – we had to order all of our drinks in Welsh. This was something that got easier as the night went on.

The pre-Glanllyn gloom soon lifted and by ten o’clock we were singing Welsh songs with the local choir, getting super-competitive over a Welsh quiz and laughing a lot. We also spoke lots of Cymraeg.  So, basically, despite being unenthused on arrival, we were all able to relax, have a fab time and practise our Welsh. It was just what we needed and a rare chance to socialise with other teachers.

The next morning, although some of us were slightly croaky, we were up and laughing by 8.30am (mostly at the ridiculous conversations we ended up having the previous night. E.g, responding to a local mechanic’s comment about how much he enjoyed ‘beicio’ [biking] with emphatic ooohs and aaahhs and cries of ‘Dw i’n hoffi teisen!’ [I like cake]. He soon corrected us.)

The morning consisted of team building activities which, again provoked lots of laughs, plenty of Welsh and awoke the competitive beast inside all of us. We were blindfolded, posted through holes in a giant spider’s web and instructed to build a rollercoaster from bamboo and guttering. There was also a very traumatic incident when the egg we were looking after (named Michelle) was egg-napped by the opposing team. It did not go down well. Cue lots of text-threats (in Welsh) and a dramatic egg hunt that would put the Easter Bunny off his job.

There was lots of silliness but it was such a beneficial experience. I came home on Friday feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, ready to head back to the classroom and test out my new Welsh vocab. Speaking Welsh in that informal environment made it so much easier. We all agreed that it had boosted our confidence and the socialising had brought us together as a group, making us less afraid to make mistakes in front of each other. We also got to share ideas and thoughts about the classroom – so it was also an excellent chance to network and build links.

All in all, a very simple but positive experience. I think if schools were able to run events like this for their staff it would not only boost morale but strengthen those bonds between staff members, which would obviously have a positive impact on the children. My enthusiasm for the Welsh language was reignited and I couldn’t wait to share my skills with the class as well as gush to them about the beautiful environment I had stayed in. If we’re passionate about Wales, then the children will be too.

The week started in London. Packed with people, jostling and bustling, the hub of everything. It ended in the middle of Wales, nothing but green, the odd sheep and the small matter of 24 eight year olds. My surroundings may have shifted but I was no less busy. This was not a jolly holiday where I could put my feet up and enjoy the view. This was a year 4 residential.

Now, don’t be fooled, I love residentials. I only have vague memories of trip to Fishguard in year 6, but I have clocked up four as a staff member so far, and each one has been brilliant. I couldn’t pick a favourite between Nant BH, Pentrellyncymer and Glanllyn – each has been filled with fun and, most importantly, fantastic food. (I mean it – you get fed well at these places. If I had to pick a favourite activity it would absolutely be breakfast/lunch/dinner time).

My home for two nights last week was Pentrellyncymer. As with all three residential experiences, the staff were brilliant, giving expert advice whilst acting as figures of trust (and fun!) for the children and staff. I’ve never met a miserable instructor and this latest batch were wonderful with the children.

I know I’m not alone in believing that learning cannot be limited to the classroom and there is so much that can be taken from residential visits. Children are given the chance to experience activities they may never do. How often do you start you day canoeing and end it gorge walking? Naturally, some of the children are a bit nervous at the start, but by the end they are converted to outdoors warriors. A stand out moment from the last visit was a girl pulling herself over a waterfall, waterproof trousers overflowing with large quantities of river, but with a great big grin across her face. She didn’t complain, she thought it was hilarious. She had transformed into Jungle Jane. Admittedly, I never thought I’d enjoy the kind of activities we undertake on these visits, but from my first trip I was addicted. I love watching the children’s faces as they learn a new skill or conquer a fear and I love getting soaking wet in the river or scrambling to the top of the climbing wall. It’s such a change of environment from a classroom. It’s great for the children to experience the beautiful Welsh countryside too. We’re so lucky to live a short car journey from stunning views and a passion for our country should be instilled as early as possible. Wales just has so much to offer!

It’s a tough job, for the instructors, to convert what can be a frightening experience into one of adventure and enjoyment. They always manage to do it with style. This trip was particularly successful, especially as it was Year 4’s first trip away.  We only had one or two tears and even they were quelled with a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of toast. It’s easy to forget just how scary that first night away from home is, but the centre staff do such a good job that it is rarely an issue.

My favourite thing about these trips (apart from the food….did I mention it’s amazing?) is the fantastic bonding opportunities they provide. You can see connections strengthening between the children as they take part in team building exercises and rely on each other for support during the more demanding activities. I also think it’s a great chance to develop that important teacher-pupil bond. Earlier in the year, I went to Nant BH with year 6 and I certainly felt like my relationship with some of the class had strengthened on coming back. You are their figure of stability and trust more than ever whilst they are away from home. Although the instructors know what they’re doing, they’re strangers to the children at first, whereas you are a figure of familiarity and they therefore rely on you to support them. Sometimes you find the ones you struggle to connect with in school end up softening on these trips. I’ve certainly seen that happen. You also see these children in a different light when they’re away from home. This week I’ve seen an often anxious and nervous girl reach the top of the climbing wall, smiling all the way. I’ve seen a quiet year six boy become the leader of a canoe fleet. (That’s right. He became a Viking.) The change can be incredible and wonderful to witness.

It’s not just the children the benefit! Those late night chats whilst you wait for the children to nod off are the basis for staff bonding – highly important, especially when aided by a buffet of chocolate. We always end up giggling at the end of the day, recounting our adventures and sharing tales. It’s a vital team building exercise!

So, a lot can be learned from a good residential. The children pick up fantastic skills and they also get a taste of independence – being given the opportunity to make decisions and look after themselves in a safe, supervised environment. For staff they are an endless treat and I can’t wait for my next one.