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I’ve always been partial to a good surprise. I was one of those children who secretly hoped for a surprise party or who would hint heavily to his friends that his birthday is just around the corner and wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone in his class sang to him? (Note: Rest assured, I’ve grown out of that.) I love surprising people too. I like to see their faces when I give them a meaningful gift or organise a treat for them. I’m a big fan of surprises – they break the monotony.

A few Christmases ago, my mum decided to tell me weeks before the big day that she had bought an iPad for me and I went ballistic. I was totally grateful for the cracking gift but I was furious that she spoilt it! Part of the joy of Christmas is the excitement and build up and she had casually demolished the mystery! Ooof! I was annoyed….

So, it’s probably not a surprise that I am totally anti-spoiler when it comes to TV. I don’t watch much TV, so the shows that I do watch mean a lot to me. And it means a lot to me that those programmes aren’t spoiled. I present to you, Case Study One: EastEnders.

Sometimes, particularly in these upcoming cold, dreary winter days, the thought of getting home, putting on my pyjamas and watching EastEnders (and thinking ‘Well, at least my life isn’t that bad…’) is all that makes the day bearable. I haven’t missed an episode for about three years. I know it’s a sad fact, but nevertheless, it is true. This week was a big week for EastEnders, with plenty of shocks and surprises promised. There was a lot of hype and, I admit, I was a bit excited. So you can imagine my disappointment when all the shocks and surprises were announced before transmission. I spent the whole week sighing and tutting as another storyline unfolded in the predictable or previously announced way. It shouldn’t have been boring, but it was. (OK, there were a lot of things wrong with last week’s episodes, but I maintain the stance that if everything had been kept secret I would have enjoyed the episodes a lot more.) Why do shows feel the need to leak everything beforehand? Alright, there is an argument that I shouldn’t go looking for spoilers, but we’re in an age now where even logging onto Twitter or Instagram can ruin a show for you – I didn’t have to look far. In the last few years, under the previous Executive Producer, some of the best storylines were transmitted by surprise. Look at the 30th Anniversary episode – they brought back Kathy. Iconic and memorable and a total shock. So, EastEnders, stop spoiling things for your fans! You CANNOT hype up a mystery ‘major character death’ and then, days later, announce an actor is leaving and not expect us to put two and two together. We’re not stupid.

On the topic of Twitter, I was getting increasingly agitated by the constant stream of spoilers in my news feed for Game of Thrones (which also happens to be Case Study two, for those of you keeping score of that). I understand people want to talk about it when they’ve watched it but what I don’t get is the need to spoil it for everyone. You don’t need to tweet (in detail) about it. You certainly don’t need to record clips from episodes into a snapchat story!! (I actually had to block someone for this – What kind of monster does something like that?!). Digital Spy also seem intent on spoiling it for others by revealing spoilers in their article titles or, even worse, writing a vaguely mysterious title about a possible death in the episode then spoiling it with a picture of the dead character in question! Stop! I will read your article but let me watch the bloody episode first!

There was a time when, keen for more information on plots and such, I would have gone looking for spoilers online but I have since discovered the art of watching spoiler-free. The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who taught me this can be a very rewarding experience. I enjoyed the episode so much more because I didn’t know what was coming and I was able to immerse myself properly. The same goes for the last season of American Horror Story. Despite each episode airing in the USA days before the UK, I was able to avoid spoilers and it made the season for me. I was totally obsessed with the show and it made me want to tune in each week. If I’d known what was happening, I’d have just been tuning in out of habit or to prove my findings correct, which isn’t quite the same experience.

My earliest memory of spoiler-rage is set in the school canteen. (This could be Case Study three, but to be honest, I’ve sort of lost track of that). I was (and still am) a huge Harry Potter fan and I used to buy each new book the day it was released, then spend as many hours as possible reading. I’d take the books everywhere – I’d read in the car, in the bath, in school during lunch time, and during 90% of the time I spent at home. I’d invested so much time in these stories and I really cared about what was happening. So, imagine my absolute (hormonally-assisted) meltdown when a girl in the dinner queue casually told everyone that Sirius dies in the fifth book. I was just pages away from the heart-breaking moment, and to hear it being announced (so proudly, by someone who hadn’t even read the sodding book) sent me into a rage! If she thought it was a good idea, she was gravely mistaken. ‘Oh! Thank you! Thank you very much for revealing that bit of information and saving me the trouble of finishing the book I’ve spent the last 48 hours reading during every waking moment. Phew! For a minute I thought I was going to have to enjoy it!’

Urgh. It still makes me cross. I can hold a grudge.

I don’t understand this necessity to prevent people from enjoying something you have had the privilege of enjoying. If you have watched something awesome, why would you want to spoil it for someone else? The guy who streamed Game of Thrones over his snapchat story – what was he benefitting from that? EastEnders weren’t benefitting anything from their pre-publicity reveals. If they’d have kept some mystery people might have watched to find out the answers.

So there are no positives to spoilers. The clue is in the name. It spoils everything. So stop it. Stop it right now!

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A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

One thing I just cannot handle is bad manners. It might make me sound like a complete ancient person but I’ve been brought up to be respectful and polite, and aside from that I don’t see any reason to be anything other than nice to people.

So, coming home from a gym class on Friday morning, I open the door to my apartment block and there’s an older bloke in a suit standing right in front of me. He’s got this lofty, annoying expression, like I’ve just rolled out of the recycling area, and keeps his eyes fixed on the door frame. As an act of habit, I smile politely, say ‘good morning’ and step to the side to hold the door open for him. I then watched as, in what I can only describe as arrogant slow motion, the man walked straight through the door without muttering a word. As stereotypical Brit, that makes my blood boil. And as a stereotypical Brit, I then fumed ‘Thank you!’ and took my frustration out on the stairs.

To grind my gears even further, I was leaving the flat later that night, and as I reached the electronic gate at the side of the apartments, I could see this young couple heading my way. Incidentally, they were a beautiful couple – they had style and looks that made me, dressed in shorts and old top, feel like something from Fraggle Rock.  Regardless, the politeness gene kicked in once more and I stood there for a few seconds holding the gate for them.  Instead of reaching out to take the gate from me, the couple walked straight past and I suddenly understood what it must feel like to be invisible. It was like I wasn’t even there.

My fury aside, it reminded me that good manners is a dying art form. I live in a town that has a reputation for hostility. Sadly, it’s all true. You only have to walk down the main street and, unless you conform to the town’s ideas of normal, you’re guaranteed to have some snide comment spat at you. I often have to nip down to the local co-op and, despite being a regular smiling face, I’m still grunted at and have to catch my change. I’ve been on the other side, working behind the till in a petrol station whilst I was at University, and that was just as bad. I could never bring myself to enjoy the seven hours stationary behind a till, facing toothless demands for fags, regular arguments and abuse about the price of petrol and just enough pleases and thank yous to count on both hands. It costs nothing to say ‘Hello’ and smile, and to most people working in retail, a friendly face is rare treat.

Being polite is learned behaviour, and it’s something I certainly push in the classroom. I’ll go above and beyond to praise the child who holds the door open for me (whilst I’m carrying a tray of fruit and the rest of the class stampede past, often causing fruity avalanches), or the child who thanks you after waiting patiently for their carton of milk, because they need to see just how important being polite, respectful and kind is. I feel like we’re living in age where it’s more natural to be hateful than kind. A few months ago, after teaching a performing arts class, one of the year six pupils came over and thanked me. I was so taken aback and surprised. How lovely! To be thanked, out of the blue. But isn’t it sad that something as simple as a thank you was rare enough to shock me?

If you look around it’s surprising how rare manners are. I’ve worked in schools where, in the morning as I greet the children and their parents, the children walk past without even acknowledging the teachers on the door. But instead of calling the children out on their rudeness and modelling how to behave, the parents do exactly the same. I know life is busy and parents just want to drop their kids off and get to work but, it takes seconds to say ‘good morning’, but in those seconds your teaching your child basic respect.

These values might seem a bit old fashioned but it’s so important that they are instilled in children and they are taught respect. Good manners and respects comes in hand in hand with kindness and imagine a world without that! It’s not a world I’d like to live in, so, regardless of how rubbish a day we’ve had, it’s always important to be polite and a positive role model to any little eyes nearby.

Somehow the BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls managed to evade me but after a couple of prompts from people who know my interests, I managed to catch it this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

Using a focus group of year 3 pupils in Lanesend Primary School, Dr Javed Abdelmoneim uses a series of strategies to investigate how gender boundaries affect children.

Most disturbing is the opinions girls have of their own gender. The children saw men as strong and powerful whilst women were weak and emotional. According to the children, men could have ‘harder jobs’ – such as authority roles, like policemen or captain – whilst all women seemed destined to be hairdressers. One of the most memorable parts of the programme saw the children draw their own ideas of a mechanic, magician, make up artist and dancer. All of the children associated male characters to the first two professions and female characters to the second two. Of course, their preconceptions were changed when Dr Javed introduced a real mechanic, magician, make-up artist and dancer with opposite genders to the children’s ideas. The girls were in awe of the female mechanic whilst the boys enjoyed a tutorial from a male make-up artist specialising in SFX make-up. It was amazing to see the children understand that ‘anyone can have a chance to do what they like’.

The amount of times the children referred to males as ‘strong and successful’ was shocking, especially as they saw females as the total opposite. It’s sad to think young girls are starting their lives thinking so little of themselves. To show the children that biologically they were all as strong as each other, Dr Javed set up a fairground style strength tester. It was powerful to see one girl cry with ‘happy tears’ after she exceeded her expectations and one boy have a meltdown because he didn’t reach the highest score. It’s important to remember these children weren’t born with these ideas. As adults, we have programmed them to think that boys are stronger than girls. On supply, I’ve visited schools where boys were chosen to move the PE equipment because the teacher needed someone with ‘big muscles’ to help. I’ve seen girls left out of using gym equipment in high school, banished to the dark corners of the sports hall to do some aerobics instead. Is it any wonder the children breakdown when they realise these stereotypes aren’t true?

I’ve talked about my own experiences in school a lot, but it’s still shocking to think that happened just over ten years ago. Split PE sessions with ‘gender appropriate’ activities seems like such an old-fashioned idea but it was happening ten years ago! Although I may have been the victim of a bad careers advisor (and unenthused parents), I remember being told to choose another career path other than one in the theatre. It was heavily hinted at that the theatre was a world for women and, although I would have been happy to be involved in any way (actor, stage-hand, technician…anything!), I was persuaded to keep that dirty secret part of my social life, not my career. What struck me was just how excited the boys were to meet male role models from creative industries, from areas that are usually perceived as ‘female’, and vice versa for the girls. Why should they be denied the chance of following that route just because of the restrictions adults have put on gender? As teachers it’s our job to encourage and nurture each child. Breaking down ridiculous stereotypes and opening those doors to career paths should be part of that.

(As a little side note, I was at a course a few months ago where we were discussing curriculum topics. We were advised to think carefully to ensure the topic we choose inspired all learners and not to ‘choose fairy tales because the boys won’t be interested, or dinosaurs, because we need to keep the girls on board too.’ Well, in my opinion it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the right topic, it should be a matter of delivering the topic in a way that inspires all children. In January our class topic will be dinosaurs and I can already think of many girls who that will appeal to. I had lots of boys last year who loved learning about Little Red Riding Hood. The topic title shouldn’t matter, it’s the activities that draw them in.)

Having a quick scout on Twitter I can see that No More Boys and Girls has come under fire from a lot disgruntled people calling for an end to ‘gender neutral nonsense’. The Piers Morgans of the world are mistaking the programme for encouraging children to choose their gender, when that is not the case. The whole point of No More Boys and Girls is to break down stereotypes that are damaging our children’s view on the World and of themselves. Anyone who is happy for girls to believe they are the weaker sex and live a life feeling second-best, and for boys to live under the impression they must be strong and successful, then break down when they inevitably ‘fail’, needs to seriously consider their beliefs. It’s about raising a generation of confident individuals who aren’t afraid to embrace failures, and who can aspire to be whoever they want to.

Breaking down these boundaries is about nurturing confidence and self-belief, and it starts in the classroom and at home.

Right, it occurred to me that this year I have seen a lorra lorra theatre and, ridiculously, have only written about a few shows. So to catch up, this week I’m giving you four fast reviews for the productions I missed, but really did deserve to be talked about…..

Wonderland, Venue Cymru, LlandudnoImage result for Wonderland the musical

I’ll start with Wonderland because it’s got a bit of a tragic story.  I saw this in Llandudno in June and it was spectacular. Wonderland is the familiar story of Alice given a modern twist. Alice is a 40-something divorcee with a teenage daughter who enters Wonderland via a dodgy lift in her apartment block. She doesn’t take the trip alone as she’s joined by daughter Ellie and awkward love-interest Jack. Whilst in Wonderland they’re encouraged to go through the looking glass, a magical archway that exposes the other side of their personalities (cue Alice becoming stern and sensible and Jack transforming into a confident charmer.)

Wonderland boasted many memorably songs, particularly ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and ‘Finding Wonderland’, sung with passion and energy by a very talented cast. Rachael Wooding was a powerhouse as Alice, revealing Alice’s faults and insecurities poignantly. Bree Smith gave a cracking performance as the sassy Queen of Hearts, slaying with her performance of ‘Off with their heads’. Ben Kerr and Francesca Lara Gordon were also brilliant as the March Hare and Mad Hatter, giving us refreshing twists on the classic characters. The set pieces were gorgeous, fully immersing into the crazy world of Wonderland where anything is possible. Most striking was the way the famous tale of  Alice was re-worked into a modern setting, giving the characters (particularly Alice) a bit more depth along the way. Wonderland was a work of art and must-see, modern musical.

However, just a couple of weeks after seeing Wonderland, the tour was cancelled due to problems behind the scenes. There’s plenty of speculation online, but, whatever the reason, it’s a great shame that the hard work, commitment and talent of the cast and crew will go unseen.

Les Miserables, Queen’s Theatre, London

Image result for les miserablesThis was a bucket-list show that lived up to all of my expectations, and beyond. The star of the show is its musical score and I was not disappointed to hear Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music played by a live orchestra. ‘At the end of day’ saw the full cast launch into action with breath-taking harmonies whilst ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ gave the audience goosebumps you could strike a match on. Simon Gleeson was made for the role of Jean Valjean, whist Hollie O’Donoghue was perfect as Eponine, giving a beautiful performance of ‘On My Own’. Katy Secombe and David Langham stole every scene as the dastardly Thenardiers, providing much needed comedy amongst all the tragedy! The revolving set works really well, seamlessly taking the story across France and through the ages. The battle sequence in the second act is particularly stunning, with tense performances (and gun fire!) keeping the audience well on the edge of their seats. At one point it took all my will not to cover my eyes. The deaths during this battle scene are especially heart breaking (no spoilers), and many gasps were heard as the barricade revolved to reveal the true carnage. Les Miserables remains packed with emotion throughout and it ends in spectacular fashion with the beautiful finale. There’s no question as to why this show has been around for so long. It’s a must-see and a show that I’m sure I’ll revisit.

Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, LondonImage result for don juan in soho

Sex, drugs and David Tennant – what’s not to love? Though, admittedly, the main pull to this production was, initially, that is starred a certain former Time Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sparkling script and stellar performances waiting for me at Wyndham’s Theatre. Updated to 2017 and relocated to Soho, Don Juan tells the story of a privileged, hedonistic party-goer as he sleeps his way around London, picking up plenty of hookers and cocaine along the way. David Tennant was, of course, fantastic as the titular bastard, unleashing his inner-Russel Brand and being fantastically horrid to every other character, including his loyal aid, Stan, played excellently by Adrian Scarborough. The relationship between Stan and DJ is surprisingly endearing, though Stan, on the edge of a breakdown, is desperate for DJ to pay him so he can retire, he can’t help but stay by DJ’s side. Don Juan in Soho is strikingly contemporary, with references to the ‘strong and stable’ government we find ourselves trapped under today as well as several witty remarks about American politics. DJ deliciously berates the world we live in, stating social media, fake news and lying politicians as factors of a crumbling society in one passionately performed monologue that had the audience on the verge of shouting ‘Amen!’. DJ tries to explain to Stan that life is all about pleasure – shamelessly seducing the chavtastic Lottie (a brilliant comic performance from Dominique Moore) in a hospital whilst simultaneously trying it on with grieving bride Mattie in one ridiculously outrageous scene. Don Juan in Soho was theatre at its best as it forced the audience to think before they left their seats. It was engaging from the first moment, topical and surreal, and definitely one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Image result for the curious incident of the dog in the night-timeA really touching story told in a refreshing, and visually brilliant, way. Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog has been killed and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery. His mission sees him uncover a family secret, which in turn takes him to the terrifying world of Central London. Scott Reid was phenomenal as Christopher, giving a truly powerful performance, particularly as Christopher’s condition begins to take control. The modern and tech-heavy set pieces drew us in to the story using clever effects (a green box giving the effect of a football match on TV, a remote control train bringing London to life before our eyes) to add an extra fizz to the already sparkling performances. Surprisingly, Christopher has uncovered the culprit by the interval, leaving the second act to explore the secrets of Christopher’s family and the effects his ‘behavioural problems’ have on his loved ones. Anyone who doesn’t feel prickly-eyed throughout Act 2 is incapable of emotion. The emotional energy of the performances is sometimes borderline unbearable, and the sequences in London are also quite overwhelming, as we experiences flashing lights, loud noises and almost nightmarish scenes, we’re forced to view the world from Christopher’s point of view. This is a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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‘Darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow.’

Well…not quite. Darkness, yes, but there were plenty of laughs at the WMC in Cardiff on Friday night. I’ve been reading a lot on twitter about The Addams Family musical so I was really excited when, by pure luck, I bagged two tickets for last Friday.

As the orchestra struck up the familiar theme tune, what was initially clear was just how well cast this show was. Samantha Womack is a perfect Morticia – cool and sultry throughout – whilst Cameron Blakely makes a terrific Gomez. Both actors have sizzling chemistry together (proven with a sexy tango) and match each other with each witty punchline. They both resurrect these iconic characters perfectly. Perhaps surprisingly, ‘Love’ is a key theme of this production, most prominently the love between a family, and Blakley shows Gomez’s love for his daughter,Wednesday, beautifully, particularly during the song ‘Happy/Sad’, where he reflects on the memories he has of his young daughter, such as the first time she set fire to the Jehovah’s witness, evoking the dark humour we associate with the family.  (Another example, when Alice asks if the Addams’ have a little girls’ room, Gomez responds with ‘We did, but we had to let them go.’)

At first, Wednesday’s (Carrie Hope Fletcher) change of character is a bit awkward, but all becomes clear when Wednesday belts her showstopper number ‘PRelated imageulled’, explaining that her change is a result of her love for Lucas. As the show progresses, it becomes clear Wednesday’s sadistic side is still lurking as she tortures her brother and gets very excited about potentially shooting Lucas in the head with her crossbow (all in the name of love, of course).

Valda Aviks was also fantastic as Granny, particularly during her ‘Full Disclosure’ speech. It was a smart move to address the ambiguity around Granny’s connection to the family from the cartoons and movies, by having Morticia refer to her as Gomez’s mother before Gomez retorts with ‘My mother? I thought she was your mother?’.

 

Les Dennis gave a great performance as Fester and his story thread of being in love with the moon was typically ‘Addams’ and, at the end, quite sweet. Dickon Gough also deserves a mention for his scene-stealing performance as Lurch. Lurch doesn’t speak but became a clear audience favourite thanks to Gough’s comic timing and surprising hip action in the finale number. (One complaint – where was Cousin itt?!). The main cast are supported by an excellent cast of ancestors, complete with choreography reminiscent of Thriller.

As well as the familiar quirky characters, the show boasts a catchy score. Andrew Lippa nails the new music and each number feels very natural to the characters. In particular, the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ is a definite ear worm and the final number, ‘Move towards the darkness’, will haunt you after you leave your seat.

What’s also impressive is the way the gothic Addams mansion is brought to life on stage via moving staircases and hidden entrances. The suspended moon above the Addams family home creates an eery and dramatic scene.

Overall, The Addams Family is a treat for theatre fans with a gorgeous score, fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

Watch the opening number here

Watch the trailer here

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Image result for 42nd street londonI had an unexpected and very last minute trip to London last week.  Amongst the walking, talking and dining, I found myself at the Theatre Royal for a surprise tap-dance down 42nd Street.

I had very few preconceptions about the show, and I didn’t really have time to consider it too much, but I knew I was in for an old-fashioned, high-kicking performance. Four rows from the front, I had perfect seats (courtesy of TodayTix rush tickets) which gave a great close-up view of the stage.

The shows standout quality is its sheer spectacle. The sets and costumes are absolutely dazzling and during several musical numbers it’s hard to be anything but totally absorbed. The lights, moving set pieces, harmonies….It really is mesmerising. During one sequence a huge mirror is lowered to firstly, reflect the audience, and then tilted to show the dancers lying on the stage floor carrying out a very intricate synchronised sequenced. It was so impressive even the mirror got a round applause!

Tom Lister and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson gave great performances as theatre producer Julien Marsh and clumsy chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Sheena Easton was also brilliantly bitchy as the acerbic actress Dorothy Brock. I really enjoyed Jasna Ivir’s performance of Maggie Jones, delivering her witty one-liners with perfect comic timing (On musicians ‘Let’s just say they’re in a pit… and there’s a reason we keep them there!’)Image result for 42nd street london

Musically, the show boasts lots of catchy numbers, many of which I wasn’t familiar with until I’d seen the show, but caught myself humming many times since. ‘Go into your dance’ and ‘42nd Street’ are big tap numbers that get the audience going, but it’s ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’ that really steals the show. Ear worms a-plenty in this show!

The overall plot, a chorus girl getting her big break in a huge Broadway show, is a bit flimsy in parts, particularly some of the songs in the ‘Pretty Lady’ musical (What is the plot of that show?!), but that doesn’t distract from the energy and passionate performances of the cast.  42nd Street is a spectacular night out of good old fashioned West-End magic.

Watch the trailer here

Image result for Pink Ranger gifWhen I was a child I was obsessed with Power Rangers. Many weekends were spent high kicking and karate chopping in the garden attacking imaginary Zed Putties. My favourite ranger was the Pink Ranger. I thought she was awesome and kick-ass. I didn’t even think about her suit colour or the fact I was a different sex to her.

I just thought she was great.

My mum and dad did not approve and I was bluntly pushed towards the blue ranger with all the subtlety of Rita Repulsa’s transition to Dad-Eye-Candy in the new film. (Whole different blog post there.) But regardless of what my parents thought, I still thought she was great and, in a very child-like way, she was a bit of hero for me (until I grew out of my Power Rangers phase).

And then as I got into my teens the Doctor came along, bringing with him a range of heroes and role models for me to fantasise about (Errm…excuse me. Not like that.). How awesome was Rose? Loyal and quick-thinking. Donna Noble – hilarious, sensitive, self-less and selfish at the same time. Awesome characters – I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like them just because I’m a guy.

I was sixteen when Torchwood started and I was instantly obsessed. Part of the pull for me was the relatable characters – including Gwen and Toshiko, both fearless and flawed, making terrible decisions but fighting their way back on top and learning from their errors, however painful.

I didn’t think that because they were women I shouldn’t admire them. And who wouldn’t want Storm’s powers in X-Men? She’s brilliant!

So, my point is, it shouldn’t matter what gender your favourite TV character is. I’ve got girls in my class who love Spiderman, but somehow that is a bit more acceptable in society than a boy who likes Wonder Woman or Elsa or Clara Oswald. It shouldn’t be. One girl in my class LOVES Doctor Who, she’s actually obsessed with Matt Smith and David Tennant. If a six year old child is able to look past gender then so should adult fans of the show. A female Doctor has been on the cards for long time and, judging by how incredible Missy turned out to be, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s take on the time lord. A role model is a role model and gender should not be a factor. We admire these characters for their personalities and their responses to various situations, so there’s no reason we should be discouraging boys from watching Doctor Who now that the main character has changed sex.

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So, it was Sunday and I was in the cemetery. Not how I spend every Sunday but I ended up talking to a lovely lady. During conversation, she asked where I worked and when I told her she replied with ‘A teacher? Oh I couldn’t do your job. You all work so hard, hats off to you.’

It’s at that point that I realised this was the first time a stranger had reacted like this to my career choice. I usually get some sarcastic quip about holidays (honestly, come on, give me something original) or ‘your lot are always complaining, aren’t you?’. It felt lovely to be complimented. Then, as I was recovering from the shock of the incident, the same thing happened again tonight at the gym. This time it was another lovely lady who ‘couldn’t do [my] job. It must be very tough.’ (And…she was a nurse, so I reciprocated the sentiment!). So, twice in one week I’d had very rare positive comments about my career. I had to write about it.

Truth is, us teachers have a bad rep. Even my own mother thinks my job is easy. On passing my PGCE she said ‘And now you’re a part-timer. Finish at 3pm and for most of the year you’re on holiday.’ Great. Thanks, mum. I’ve got other family members who refuse to believe that I don’t walk into work at 9am and put my feet up at home by 3.15pm. I’ve joined a profession that is rapidly losing its respect. (Disclaimer: Thankfully I do have family members who know exactly what my job entails. I’m one of three teachers in my family.)

But why? We’re working harder than ever to provide an education for the next generation but for some reason what we do is seen as easy. A job anyone can do. Not only are we putting every effort into educating and caring for children (which is why we all went into the job in the first place) but we’re having to deal with deadlines, paperwork, red-tape and ever-changing schemes and systems. So, forgive me if I’m a bit insulted when people insinuate I don’t deserve my holidays.

Whilst I was training, the main point the trainees brought back to the lecture hall was how firm a grip parents have over classroom management. The craziest of actions are carried out all through fear of offending a parent. I’ve heard plenty of complaints of well-experienced teachers being forced to apologise to a parent for moves that were only undertaken with the pupils’ best interests in mind. I’ve heard many a rant about parents swearing and threatening teachers for ridiculous reasons. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any of that this year and my bunch of parents have been very kind and supportive, but I know I wouldn’t have heard horror stories like these if I’d have entered the profession twenty years ago.

Then you’ve got the children. I thank the teaching Gods every day that I don’t really have to tackle this problem at Primary level as our behaviour strategies are always very effective, but hearing from colleagues in secondary schools is enough to keep me tucked safely in the foundation phase. It can be very hard for teachers to gain respect from their teenage pupils.

The fact is people just don’t regard teachers with the same respect they used to do. So what is it? What is causing people to think a teachers life is an easy one? I don’t have the answer, but as a profession we need support, from everyone, to ensure our work is the best it can be, because nothing is more important than educating the future generation.

And next time you meet a teacher, please don’t mention the holidays.

 

Last weekend I finished my first ever set of reports. It was a scary process, reviewing each child’s progress and writing my little summary at the bottom. It gave me a chance to think about each child, how they’ve grown, their little quirks and characters, and how they might continue to progress next year. Dangerous territory for a Sensitive Sidney like me.

My biggest fear in September was that we’d reach this point of the year and the children will have learnt nothing! Thankfully, that isn’t the case, and each one has progressed in their own way. They’re not alone, as I’ve picked up a few pointers for my own personal development too. I always knew that organisation was a key to this role, but I underestimated just how organised I needed to be. We’re talking way beyond the Monica-Gellar-Organised that I operate with. I’ve certainly upped my game this year and still feel like I’ve got a way to go.

Despite all the courses and meetings and observations and paperwork, my biggest learning curve has come from the children. It’s fascinating to see how their brains work and, as well as lots of laughter, we’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments too. I’ve learned so much about how a child thinks (and I’m sure this is far from the end of my learning) as well as how I operate. They’ve taught me that there’s no point being stressed or grumpy or miserable because it all works out in the end. On the (rare) days that I’ve stomped into work under a thunder cloud, they’ve helped me bring the sunshine back by 9.15am. When I’ve been flapping round amongst the paperwork, they’ve calmed me down. And on the days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t carry on, they’ve sung a song, told a joke, pulled a face, or come out with a cracking one-liner that has made me remember why I became a teacher. They always make me feel proud.

What has surprised me the most is just how much I’ve loved being in the foundation phase. I was tentative at first, being so used to working in KS2, but this is definitely my jam. I love the scope for fun (as well as learning) and watching the children grow and achieve has been a privilege. In September they were fresh into the system, coming in from Reception where things are a bit less controlled, but they settled in quickly and now they’re heading into Year Two with an exciting enthusiasm for learning and being creative.  We’ve had tears, hysterical laughter, wails of despair, cheers of joy, a missing aubergine, a magical postman, giant toilet paper, a wandering tortoise, terrible jokes, the odd tantrum, silly faces, serious faces, grumpy faces,…

…And at the end of it all, I’ve realised I really don’t want them to go.