Tag Archive: Theatre


I used to have a bit of a fear. I didn’t like doing things on my own. I’ve got friends who would happily go to the cinema alone or eat in a restaurant by themselves but I never felt comfortable doing any of those things. I’d feel like all eyes were on me and I just the thought was enough to make me cringe.

As we get older, we do start to lose that horrible feeling of self-consciousness and realise that the world is not looking directly at us. If anything, we’re pretty invisible. Last year, I started going to the gym. At the first, it was with a friend, so any awkwardness could be laughed off, but when my friend could no longer find the time to gym, I was faced with the option of ‘go alone or stay at home’. I was tempted to jack it all in and vegetate in front of the television but the desire for a healthier lifestyle made me choose the first option. Initially, I was self-conscious but after a couple of solo visits I realised everyone else was too busy focusing on their own work-out to be scrutinising my sweat sessions. Hitting the gym became my ‘me time’, a chance to work out and spend quality time with myself.

I started to realise that I could do things on my own….

I’ve been desperate for a break away for years. I wasn’t fussed on where – abroad or closer to home – but I needed a trip away. When it became clear that going with someone wasn’t going to be possible, I decided not to wallow in self-pity at home but to bite the bullet and go solo!

So, I spent three days of the half term in London. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, the kind of people who travel alone all the time, but for me it was huge. I can be quite an anxious person, so the thought of being away from home, where so many things could go wrong, worried me for a short time after I’d booked the trip, but the possible adventures my trip could produce soon dawned on me. Being a huge theatre fan, I was determined to see a show or two whilst in the West End and I realised that I could see whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to compromise with anyone because this was my trip! I made all the decisions. So, on my first night I saw Les Miserables, a show I’d wanted to see for a years, and I was not disappointed. On the second night I saw David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho which was hilarious and extremely topical. Not once did I feel odd for being a solo audience member. In my time in London, I visited all the places I’d always wanted to see. I went to see Van Gogh’s painting in the National Gallery, spent a few hours in the British Museum, had a coffee at the Theatre Café and shopped in Covent Garden. I literally did not stop walking (just ask my poor feet!). I didn’t have to consult with anyone because each decision was my own to make – and it was very liberating!

So, if you’re the kind of person who would turn down the chance to do something great because it would mean doing it alone, take the plunge and be brave. This half term break has been the best for a long time because I didn’t let anything restrict my fun – I grabbed it and made the most of it! Not only did I have an awesome time but I learnt a bit about myself.  Travelling solo reminded me that I have strength, I can be brave and I can relax, and I can be comfortable in my own company. So my advice: Do it for yourself, go solo and enjoy!

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Warning: Spoilers within as well as references to explicit material.

Hello. My name is RebelliousG. And I would like to share with you the most amazing show.

In principle, The Book of Mormon sounds like it should be a pretty dull show. A musical about Mormons? Really? You’d be forgiven for guessing this show is an elaborate plot to promote the religion but, for those uninterested in changing faith, have no fear. This show is anything but an advertisement. And it’s certainly not dull. With tongue placed firmly in cheek, The Book of Mormon tells the story of smarmy, self-absorbed Elder Price and his loveable, clueless fellow missionary, Elder Cunningham, as they are deployed to Uganda on a hopeless mission to convert a village of agnostic Africans.

The opening Image result for book of mormon londonnumber welcomes us to the pristine and innocent world of Mormon friends as they practise their perky greetings. It’s a full on cheese-fest that’ll win anyone round immediately. It all goes a bit pear-shaped when, after dreaming of being sent to Orlando, Elder Price is packed off to Uganda and saddled with Elder Cunningham to dampen his mood further.

This is where things get a bit….explicit. The Mormons arrive in Uganda and meet a bunch of hapless missionaries who have yet to recruit anyone to the church, but stay positive by ‘turning it off’ – a useful technique of switching off all negative feelings, told wonderfully though a big tap number. Turn it off is the definition of a showstopper. Tap-dancing Mormons singing cheerfully about turning off their guilt, grief and suppresse
d sexuality. What more could you want? It’s topped off with the quickest costume change I’ve ever seen.

Another stand out number is the ‘Hakuna Matata’-esque, Hasa Diga Eebowai, sang by the Ugandan villagers on the Elders arrival. Don’t be fooled though, the writers knew exactly what they were doing with this one. At first it sounds like the Ugandans are singing a message of jolly perseverance to an INCREDIBLY catchy tune, but the true translation of Hasa Diga Eebowai is soon revealed to the horrified Mormons as a great big eff-you to God. It then descends into a barrage of explicit insults at the ‘heavenly father’ which, annoyingly (well…OK…not really), is a bit of an ear worm. (You’re really gonna have to try hard to get this tune out of your head!) The lyrics might be enough to force even the most open-minded person to cringe but the message of Hasa Diga Eebowai is actually a powerful one. The villagers have to deal with genital mutilation, awful living conditions, the threat of a war lord and the AIDS outbreak. A powerful line from the song sums it up

‘If you don’t like what we say,

Try living here a couple days.

Watch all your friends and family die,

Hasa Diga Eebowai!’

Some people might judge this musical number as offensive and I imaginRelated imagee this is the point where people might walk out (two people did in our performance) but if you put yourself in their shoes, you can see where their lack of faith has come from. The song actually does
what theatre is supposed to – it makes the audience challenge their ideas and empathise. I loved it!

From a show that tackles topics such as rape, FGM, violence and intercourse with amphibians, it has a really warm heart. The show never cruelly mocks Mormons or their beliefs, nor does it preach to the audience. Elder Price collapses under the strain of his new environment, and even endures having his book inserted somewhere very painful in another darkly comic moment, and it’s Elder Cunningham who emerges the hero. Although he lies to the villagers and spices up the Book of Mormon by ‘taking the holy word and adding fiction’, such as threats of the fiery depths of Mordor and being struck down by Boba Fett, he gives them something to believe in which gives them strength. Whilst Elder Price might lose his faith, he, as well as the other missionaries and villagers, are given a new one. The Book of Mormon promotes the power of Belief and how, whatever you choose to believe in, it can help you through the toughest situation.  We’re also given the message to ‘take one day at a time’ and not worry about life after death.Image result for book of mormon london hasa

KJ Hippensteel was delightfully cheesy as the ‘all American prophet with the Donny Osmond flare’. It must be hard to find the balance between face-punching arrogance and endearing naivety but Hippensteel treads that fine line perfectly as Elder Price. David O’Reilly gave us some side-aching moments of comedy as Elder Cunningham and you could tell he was enjoying every minute of being on stage. Another reason the show is such is a hit is that its main characters are poignantly human and flawed. They both make mistakes, whether that’s lying or, in the words of Jesus, just being a dick. There are moments when you know you shouldn’t like them….but you still do! Alexandra Ncube is a power house as Nabulungi (or is that….Neutrogena? Or Nutella? Or Nigel Farage?), giving us some sweet moments with Elder Cunningham and tingles as she sings her heart out in Sal Tlay Ka Siti. I’ve also got to mention Stephen Webb who gave an excellent performance as the secretly gay Elder McKinley, with subtle comic timing, never over-doing it.

The show is held together tightly by an excellent supportive cast. The Mormon missionaries are a joy to watch, whether they’re tapping in Turn it Off, high-kicking in hell during Spooky Mormon Hell Dream or breaking our hearts as they prepare to leave the village after a disastrous mission. The actors playing them gave a masterclass in being a dazzling ensemble with eye popping footwork and super-quick costume changes.

So, The Book of Mormon comes with the highest recommendation. Put any preconceptions aside, they’re not needed. This is a refreshing piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops and shocks in all the right places, for the right reasons. You’ll be tittering at the dark comedy for a long time afterwards, just as you’ll find yourself singing about the most inappropriate things at the photocopier at work the next day. But it stays with you for other reasons too. Beneath all the grimness and cynicism is a very warm heart and an important message. Plus it’s got a kick-ass soundtrack.  The worst thing about seeing this show is the desperate urge to see it again!

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Last year I was totally won over by NBC’s live broadcast of The Wiz. In fact, I’m pretty sure I sang Brand New Day all over Christmas (complete with dance moves). So I was pretty excited when they announced this year’s live production was Hairspray – especially as I spent some time as a teenager obsessed with the show. Just to make me even more eager, Queen Kristen Chenoweth (of Wicked fame) was cast in the role of Velma.

So Friday night arrived, I’d resisted watching any clips on youtube so I could get the full first-viewing experience and the verdict was: pretty good.

There were a few problems with this production but nothing to stop it being an enjoyable bit of fun with a very important message. Firstly, some of the new dialogue seemed a bit forced and cheesy. Hairspray is a naturally funny show, but some of the new ideas made it appear like the production team were trying too hard. I also don’t think Kristen was given enough to do.  I know I’m biased (because I really do bloody love her) but she has a lot of talent and I was waiting for her to be really showcased. (Don’t even get my started on how angry I am that they cut her bow). I felt like Ariana Grande was used as the star vehicle. I’m not saying Ariana was terrible, I’m just not sure the production company realised just how much talent they had in the ensemble cast. However, the main issue with Hairspray live was the ad breaks. I honestly felt like I was watching ad breaks interspersed with bits of Hairspray. I don’t know if NBC or ITV2 were to blame but it really was ridiculous and it killed any momentum.  Image result for hairspray live

Casting Harvey Fierstein as Edna, reprising his role from Broadway, was a nice touch and I loved the little references to the Hairspray canon. (Ricki Lake making a cameo, a plumbing company named after John Waters). The final number, You Can’t Stop the Beat, is meant to have audiences dancing in the aisles (or in this case, their living rooms) and, thankfully, it did. It was definitely a high point of the show, along with anything Jennifer Hudson sang and Welcome to the 60’s.

What is most striking about Hairspray is its relevance. It’s been almost 30 years since the original movie and its themes and messages about diversity and segregation are still important. Hairspray reminds that we are all equal – regardless of race, size, gender, interests etc. – and any one of us is capable of achieving any goal. It was a much needed tonic for 2016 and, after the dreadful few months our World has had, I can’t think of a more perfect show to end the year with.

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Rent is twenty. Still brutally relevant, it’s hard to believe it was written over twenty years ago.Lucky enough to see the opening night of this anniversary performance, I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen, having only seen the film version previously. However, what I saw was possibly the best theatrical experience in a long time.

To say the cast and crew have worked hard on this production would be an understatement. It’s clear a lot of love has gone into this show and their commitment and talent oozes out of every corner – from the intricate staging and choreography to the harrowing performances from the cast.

From the opening song we are immersed into the harsh environment of the characters in a way that is almost overwhelming. The aggression of the first song gives a clear message that this is not going to be a fluffy musical. Part of the beauty of Rent is its grit and rawness. With regular references to time running out and death, it’s hard not to be moved by Jonathon Larson’s lyrics. The pain in Collins’ words during the reprise of I’ll Cover You, sung powerfully by Ryan O’Gormon, is almost too much to bear. Anyone who doesn’t feel his anguish as he belts ‘when your heart has expired’ is made of stone.

Perfectly cast, each ensemble member shone, but a special mention has to go to Layton Williams who was absolutely kick-ass as Angel. Reinventing Angel’s song Today 4 U, he slayed with sheer sass, a killer strut and phenomenal high kicks and splits. Williams turned this song into a showstopper.

Other highlights include the Tango Maureen (sharp, slick choreography), a whirlwind La Vie Boheme  and a poignant performance from Philippa Stefani as Mimi during Goodbye, Love.

In the film, Over the Moon strikes as odd and a bit jarring, but Lucie Jones totally made it work in the stage show, complete with puppets which went down very well with the audience. Amongst the tears, there are some genuinely funny moments, subtly played by the cast. (‘Hey, Mark, remember this?’ as his ex-girlfriend Maureen mimes sucking from a cows udder. A natural moment that proves just how well the ensemble work together.)

This production is special. It has stayed with me since I left the theatre in a way that not many productions can achieve. The memorable performances beautifully depicted how, yes, life is bloody hard but, somewhere, there is hope. Considering this was an early performance, the quality was close to perfection, with only a few minor glitches with sound and lighting which will no doubt be ironed out during the next performances. Rent is beautiful, harrowing and joyful all at the same time, with stellar performances from a talented cast. It fittingly celebrates the show’s legacy and that of its creator Jonathon Larsen, and is a testament to just how important Rent is twenty years on.

Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.

November 2005

15 year old G is taking part in a compilation show with the town’s theatre society. I am compering and introduce two of my friends singing a song from ‘the prequel to the Wizard of Oz.’  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Defying Gravity and those opening bars certainly grab my attention.

‘I didn’t even know there was a prequel…’, I say to my co-host after the show. One of my friends plays a couple of songs from the soundtrack at the after party and I start to feel nauseated. ‘Oh, no, I don’t like it. They all sound like they’re on helium.’ Poor Kristin Chenoweth.

January 2006

I am obsessed. Caught in a twister of witches, flying monkeys and dramatic riffs. I have my own copy of the soundtrack and it is permanently in my portable CD player. I’m working in the evenings at my Grandad’s shop and, during quiet periods, I sneak into the back room, pinch a can of vimto and listen to more Wicked. The build-up of Defying Gravity sends tingles down my arms and I can’t get my head around how magical it sounds. I am actually in love with a song.

May 2006

I’m getting ready to leave high school and in between revisingImage result for Glinda and Elphaba catfight for exams, my close friends and I are listening to Wicked at whatever chance we can get. In the art room at lunch time. On the steps to the main hall at break. We weren’t very popular (‘-lar’) and at one point a particularly gobby girl accused us of listening to ‘goth music’.  If only she knew. (and if only I took a GSCE in Wicked)

October 2006

Wicked is coming to the UK and after months of failed pestering to family members (I even told my mum I would never expect a birthday present again.  It didn’t go down well), one of my grandparents caves and reveals she has bought tickets for me and my cousin. I have to wait 2 weeks which feels like two years. We travel down to London and I am almost sick with excitement when the cab turns the corner and the Apollo Victoria is revealed, all lit up in green. The show is amazing and, aside from a man who most definitely wasn’t Munchkin-height sitting in front of me, it’s everything I hoped it would be. Plus, I saw Idina Menzel. Bonus awesome points. A week later, I am still so hyped that I write to the cast and they reply with personalised, signed autographs.

October 2009

3 years after my first viewing, I see Wicked again, this time taking my Grandma. When the stage lights up during Dancing Through Life she looks at me with big eyes and says ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ Defying Gravity continues to give me chills.

October 2012

I take my mum to see the Wicked tour in Manchester. She is a life-long fan of Oz, and spots Nessarose’s stripey socks before I do. Wicked is the show that keeps on giving – there is always something new to see.

Image result for galinda gifA few weeks later, I go again with my friends from the theatre group. They’re fellow fanatics and some of them are seeing the show for the first time. We rock up wearing witches hats and sing Defying Gravity on the street outside the theatre.

October 2016

So, it’s been ten years since I first saw Wicked live. I don’t know where the time has gone, but Wicked still has the power to make me laugh, cry and send tingles down my arms
. The music is the closest I have ever heard to perfection. It can sound magically whimsical one minute, poignantly moving the next, and end up dark and bleak. It bounces from joyful to devastating in minutes and you’ll never watch that famous melting scene in the same way again. There is always another nugget of awesomeness to spot in the stage show or the soundtrack. (This weekend I noticed the opening bars of No One Mourns the Wicked and As Long As You’re Mine are almost identical! It’s taken me 11 years to spot that.)

I was never really a big fan of The Wizard of Oz but Wicked sparked my interest in a darker, twisted Oz. It was from here that I became familiar with Wicked’s source material, Gregory Maguire’s book, which I have read and written about countless times. I love the way the story links with its predecessor – from subtle nods (‘lemons and Image result for elphaba gifsmelons and pears’ ‘Oh my!’) to more obvious references, like plonking a big old farmhouse in the middle of the stage. It’s a masterclass in storytelling. One of my favourite moments is when Elphaba, wearing her pointed hat from the Ozdust Ballroom, picks up the broom she has used to barricade a door and is shielded from the cold in a black cloak by Glinda. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, everything has come together and Elphaba is the Wicked Witch of the West. My favourite scene though has to be just before ‘No Good Deed’, where Elphaba and Glinda square-off following Nessarose’s death. (‘Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble!’. Bitchy! Elphie is fierce!)

In many aspects Wicked is beautiful but visually it’s stunning. The set design is genius, with everything from the grandeur and greenery of the Emerald City to the shadowy corridors of Kiamo Ko being strikingly atmospheric. Any show that has both its leading ladies flying (via broomstick or bubble) plus a giant mechanical dragon looming over the audience is alright by me.

Wicked is not just a wonderful production, but it’s a reminder of my teenage years. It reminds me of friends near and far, and the many nights of singing around the piano. Every October, as pumpkins are being carved and witches hats appear in shops, I get the urge to belt out those riffs and melodies. It’s become synonymous with autumn.

Ten years, countless drunken renditions of Defying Gravity, dozens of re-reads of the books, thousands of soundtrack-filled car journeys and 4 official viewings and I can’t get enough. Wicked has a reference for every occasion (does anyone else blast No Good Deed when they’re angry?). Defying Gravity has to be one of the most empowering songs ever. It packs enough punch to energise you in a second.

For me, Wicked is definitely a show that will stay with me forever. It’s part of my life and it was most prevalent during the time that shaped who I am today. Ten years ago, I might have been Team Glinda (I was inconsiderate and obsessed with what people thought). In 2016, I like to think I’m Team Elphaba and I have been changed for good.

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I solemnly swear that you won’t find any spoilers in this review.

I have devoured Cursed Child, barely putting it down in the 24 hours since it arrived. Initial responses were mixed. It made me feel a lot of emotions. I felt excited on opening the beautiful golden cover. I relived that childhood delight at a fresh Hogwarts story. I felt nostalgic at the initial references to the HP world. And then I felt just a tiny bit sad.

Cursed Child is everything a HP fan could have wanted from the very first page. A fresh new story combines old with new in remarkable fashion (…….and that’s all I’ll say on that matter.)

Revisiting the much loved characters of the series could have easily been a disaster but Cursed Child succeeds on every level. It doesn’t feel forced or gimmicky. We see some familiar characters, we hear of others, some don’t appear at all. It’s all very natural and never gratuitous.

The shift in format also works very well. Though some have argued that the absence of prose diminishes the magic of the story, I think it strengthens the drama. After all, this is a story that is meant to be viewed, not read. The dialogue is powerful and true to the characters. Ginny Weasley in particular sparkles through the page with her fiery wit. The struggle between Harry and Albus is beautifully written, as is the friendship between Albus and Scorpius. The pressure these boys are under, living in their parents’ shadow, is intricately explored with plenty of thought provoking discussions.

What’s remarkable about Cursed Child is that so much has been kept secret. It’s a testament not only to the creative team but to the fan base that nothing has been revealed. The best way to read/see this story is by being completely spoiler-free, something that’s very tricky nowadays.

On closing the book, I was a bit sad. Sad that this probably is the last time we’ll see these characters, though I was so grateful to be given one last visit, and overjoyed that it was a successful one. (Though I’ve said before Rowling has the upmost respect for her characters and her work – it was never going to be a flop, she wouldn’t allow that.) Mainly, I was sad that I hadn’t waited and watched the play first. Yes, I’ve loved reading the story, but seeing it would have been spectacular. The many twists, turns and reveals that happen would, I imagine, create a truly epic performance. There were moments in this story were I had to close book and take a minute to think ‘how on earth do they pull that off on stage?’. Experiencing this live must be very special (and that’s all I can say because I promised not to spoil).

So Cursed Child is a treat for fans but my advice would be to wait it out for tickets and resist reading (but if you are impatient, like me, you are forgiven). It’s a must read, but even more than that, it’s a must see, and I’ll definitely be getting tickets.

Mischief managed.

I don’t often get to go away, so when I do I like to squeeze as many things into my break as possible and I certainly did that this weekend in London. Z and I had excitedly booked the break a few weeks ago and the countdown has been on ever since.  So, apart from the selfies, giggling, bus-singing, celebrity impressions and a near death experience at the hands of a waitress, here’s a quick run-down of what we got up to…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southwark Playhouse

Our journey started with spotting Joe Woolford (from Eurovision..? We only mix with the A-listers, you know) at Chester Station. It was the start of many spots. Both of us get uselessly star-struck. I become mute and frozen with fear and Z develops this faux-suave swagger and becomes a bit over familiar.

This didn’t bode well for the main event of our trip – A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southwark Playhouse. There were two main appeals to this production which made us book our tickets a few months ago. The first was that it was a MSND, which is my favourite Shakespeare play, and secondly, it starred Freddie Fox and Maddy Hill. Well, my obsession with EastEnders obviously explains why I was interested to see Maddy but not a lot of people know about Freddie. Last year, during the run of Cucumber on Chanel 4, I had a bit of a mid-mid-life crisis. Mad busy with teacher training, I had a bit of an identity crisis when suddenly, on my TV screen, was this character that I recognised. I’ve never connected with a character so much and it made me a bit fraught to be confronted with someone I saw so much of myself in. It was bizarre and, even though I’ve bought the box set, I’m still not ready to re-watch Cucumber.  Cray-cray, right? .Anyway, mental-TV-melt-downs aside, I’d been a Freddie Fox fan ever since and I was really looking forward to the performance. The play was fantastic, possibly the best production of MSND I have ever seen. We were sat in the front row and the actors performed literally right in front of us (I had to lean back at one point to avoid being hit!). It was wonderfully intimate and a production which really grabbed the audience. There was no set, no costumes, and no lighting effects. Just seven actors and a bare stage.  Scenes were vividly described meaning the audience had to do a lot of work but it was SO effective. All the actors were incredible. I’ve got so much to say about this production I could easily write another post about it. If you’re in London this week – go and see it. To top our night off, we got to have a chat with Freddie afterwards. (Cue star-struck gawping and mumbling whilst Z takes charge of the conversation. Why didn’t I ask for a picture?!). He was very appreciative of our praise and very lovely. In the bar, we told the Director, Simon Evans, just how brilliant the play was and he humbly advised us to tell the cast. However, I wished I’d assured him that it wasn’t just the cast that was brilliant – his passion and hard work shone through so he was just as worthy of our high praise.

London Pride

The Saturday didn’t quite start as planned. I was very brave at the start of our trip. I absolutely hate the idea of the tube – being stuck underground in a crammed tin can is not my cup of tea – but I tried it for the sake of my friend. However, Saturday morning my worst fear happened. Our train stopped in a tunnel. Cue panic-stricken-G. Thankfully our stop only lasted 4 (very long, sweat-inducing) minutes but I vowed never to tube again! *shudders*

We visited King’s Cross, the Harry Potter shop and platform 9 ¾ , where we spotted our next famous face – Harriet Thorpe.

We stumbled on Pride by accident, only finding out the week before that it was even on. I’d never been to a festival like this before but I had such a great day. The atmosphere was incredible – nothing but love and enjoyment. Just what we needed. Everyone was happy! My town is no stranger to closed-mindedness, so it was fantastic to be in a place where everyone was accepted. We had an amazing view of the parade, which was so overwhelming, I cried. (Sensitive Stanley got emosh over the Orlando tribute bus – a lovely tribute.) The highlight was of course the Ab Fab float featuring many Patsy’s and Edina’s. It was lovely to see all kinds of people lining the streets – whatever religion, whatever race, whatever sexuality. We even spotted a little old (straight) couple with pride flags painted on their cheeks. Aww.

After the parade, I got to visit the Theatre Café, a place I’ve wanted to go to for years. We were lucky enough to be there during a visit from the cast of a new musical, Exposure. Neither of us were brave enough to tackle the open mic but I do highly recommend the brownies!

Our Saturday ended soggily. We’d traipsed around London – visiting all the usual landmarks (armed with selfie stick) like Big Ben, the Eye, Leicester Square, Parliament Square etc – but eventually the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched. I’ve wanted to see Book of Mormon for a long time so we entered the ticket draw (fab idea) but that’s where our luck ran out. We left ticketless and soaked. (Also, I hate to say it, but I do feel a bit annoyed theatres can get away with charging so much for their tickets. I’m a total theatre supporter but there was no way I was paying £150 for a ticket for Book of Mormon. It’s a shame these awesome shows can’t do a bit more for their fans by lowering the price.) So, anyway, we ended up getting totally lost. The buses back to Hammersmith were diverted due to Pride so the quest to find the bus stop led us all around London (and mostly in the opposite direction to where we should have been. But we did see Kitt Harrington so all was well).  By the time we got back, we were desperate for a drink.

Shopping Sunday

After a hectic Saturday, I was in need of chilled day. We visited Holland Park (home of Edina Monsoon, darling) and the Kyoto Garden which was absolutely beautiful.  A real island of peace and tranquillity in a hectic city. We then bus hopped to Harvey Nic’s and Harrod’s where I got totally carried away collecting London-themed treats for my new classroom. Back in Hammersmith, we had dinner at Villagio (amazing carbonara) before hitting the town for a few drinks. That was the plan anyway, but we spent so much time wandering round that we got too knackered to drink and went to bed. (26, I promise. Not 66. 26.)

Monday was a rush to Euston, but we did have time to spot Matt Baker and have breakfast at Patisserie Valerie. Fabulous.

Anyway anyway anyway, a fab time was had by both. Now, back to reality….*sigh*

This week it was announced that viewing a live theatrical production will no longer be a requirement of some GCSE Drama courses as of September.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that I think that’s rubbish.

How can students be expected to value and appreciate the magic of the theatre without ever stepping inside one? I go to the theatre regularly and the pre-show buzz and atmosphere is just as exciting as the performance. It’s all part of the experience.

Exam boards have said teachers may opt to show students recordings of productions instead but, in my view, that is no substitute for the real thing. Yes, recording of works released by companies such as National Theatre Live are an excellent resource for our schools, but students still need to be given the chance to witness a live performance.

When I was studying Drama at A Level, our class adored those theatre trips.  Those visits gave us invaluable insights into the workings of the theatre as well as broadening the content of our viewing. We’d sometimes organise trips between us but that would always be to see a musical, so we missed out plays. The trips organised by our tutors were always plays by the best authors and companies. Our tutors introduced us to incredible work that we might not have chosen to see ourselves. I remember seeing The Overwhelming by Out of Joint theatre company. It was such an intense piece of theatre that I still think about it today. If my tutors hadn’t organised that trip, then I wouldn’t had that opportunity. (It also featured Andrew Garfield – Spiderman!)

Those trips also gave us an excellent chance to bond as a group. We were preforming together regularly so it was important that we all got along and doing something that we all loved gave us the opportunity to get to know each other. So it benefitted us socially too!

Most importantly, watching a live production enables the craft to be modelled for the students.  They need to see the control of an actor in character, the energy of an ensemble and, most of all, the hard work that goes into a production! Recordings can deliver a shade of the emotional impact of a play but, in my opinion, nothing beats sitting in a theatre and immersing yourself into a world.

If exam boards want to cut the live viewing then surely this move is akin to training teachers without putting them in the classroom.

So regular readers of my blog will know that the theatre is very close to my heart. Last week, I came to a shocking realisation that it’s been two years since I was last on stage – that’s my longest break since I was 14! Coincidentally, I was talking to a pupil this week about their similar love of performing and it got me thinking about my early responses to drama in school. I bloody loved it. I remember taking part in several year 6 performances and then in year 7 things really kicking off when I joined the school drama club and played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol! My whole youth seemed to have been spent on a stage so why didn’t I pursue it further?

The simple answer is – I wasn’t encouraged. My family (grandparents, aunties, cousins etc) were supportive enough, but they were always going to be, they’re my family! So even if I was totally talentless they would still support me! My parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me being involved with the theatre.  I don’t know if it was the fear that I’d turn into a fabulous, sashaying queen or the worry that I’d enjoy the dressing up too much but neither seemed fussed on my early ambition to be an actor. I was gently steered towards a ‘more stable career’.

I could see their point. The world of performance is notoriously difficult to crack and if I wanted speedy independence I was going to have to be earning as soon as I could. But I remained enthusiastic, full of youthful gusto and naivety. I wanted to be on the stage!

This whole anecdote is relevant (I promise) because my first major knock in confidence in become an actor came from a teacher. Someone whose job it is to nurture and support our aspirations. I had a fantastic drama teacher in high school. Caring, passionate and encouraging – everything a drama teacher should be. The fact she is still in touch with so many of her pupils (myself included) is a testament to the impact she had on us and she remains one of my personal teaching role models. MG was always supportive, but it was another teacher who delivered the first slap. I’m hesitant to pin the blame entirely on him, but it was his delivery of some bad news which, I will always remember, left me feeling deflated about my hobby for the first time. I realised that drama just wasn’t taken seriously. In our third year of high school we had to choose which subjects we would study at GCSE level. My friends and I had waited for this moment for three years. We’d learned a lot about the GCSE Drama course and couldn’t wait to read plays, watch performances, explore methods and ideas, and, of course, do all that whilst having a great big laugh with each other and MG. However it was not meant to be. Eight of us were shuffled into a tiny room where this particular teacher – Mr P – carelessly and tactlessly told us the drama course wouldn’t be running that year and we should chose something else. Naturally, we argued back but the decision was made. For ridiculous reasons, I had to do Business Studies instead. Skills I have never used. Two years wasted.

At a careers evening, I excitedly shared with the careers adviser (aka Aspiration Destroyer) my plans to study drama, perhaps go to stage school and follow a career in acting. She shut me down straight away. ‘Oh no, perhaps a plan B. Acting is such a difficult industry to get into. Chances are you won’t go very far. What else do you like doing?’

Needless to say I left the school absolutely crushed. By the time I left aged 16 I had been totally convinced that my beloved hobby would be nothing more than that. I stumbled into college with little confidence in my ability and barely any sense of where I wanted my life to go. It took a long time to recover from that. Thankfully, I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at A level and my passion was rekindled thanks to two dedicated and encouraging tutors. But I still didn’t quite feel confident to make that application to drama school.

My point is, our time in education should be a time where we explore ourselves and our passions and begin to establish our ambitions, but instead my time in school turned out to be very damaging to my aspirations. I was not encouraged enough. I was aware that acting was a tricky career choice but I was passionate enough to want to give it a go. Perhaps it would turn out that I wasn’t quite cut out to succeed, but now, how will I ever know? It seems a career in anything creative is deemed too risky an option by schools. The same goes for writing. I have written stories from an early age, so why wasn’t I encouraged to follow that path? I must have had some skill to have done well in creative writing projects in school, college and university so why was it that the first real push I had to follow a career in writing was when I was 21? The day my creative writing lecturer took me aside and told me to consider forwarding my work to agent will go down as one of the proudest days of my life. I’d been told my work was good before but never by someone with so much experience. He believed in me and that belief has gone a long way.  Now, as a teacher, I know how important it is to be like Mr Lecturer and MG and how damaging it can be to have Aspiration Destroyer’s attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the career I have chosen, but I regularly wonder how different things could have been. I have friends in similar situations, who were dissuaded to follow their dreams and are now totally lost or totally miserable. I also have friends who have took the leap, trained at drama school and are now living in London or seeing the world. I just can’t help but envy that. Whilst I truly enjoy my day job, I live for those weekends where I can work on a writing project or sing with my friends or do impressions of Cher over WhatsApp. I love to entertain and, of course, that is partly a requirement of being a teacher!

So when a child tells me what they want to be when they’re older – policeman, dancer, brain surgeon, pirate – I tell them to go for it. I tell them that if they really want to do that then they should do everything they can do achieve it. We need to push arts in school and stop being so scared of those creative subjects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand more times. It isn’t focused on enough. Yes, literacy and numeracy and digital competency are important but so is culture and the ability to express oneself. If we don’t encourage this generation then in a couple of decades our theatres will be empty, radios will be silent and TV screens devoid of artistic talent! (I’m dramatic. It’s been proven.) Seriously, it needs to start in schools. We need to be fostering a passion for drama and the arts and supporting those with a taste for it.

 


I’d never seen a Tennessee Williams play.  It’s not something I’d noticed before but when I left Theatre Clwyd on Monday night I realised just how deprived I’d been.

My friend and I had, on a complete last-minute whim, got tickets for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  We’re so lucky to live so close to Theatre Clwyd and we really don’t visit as often as we should. (I realised my last visit was to see Avenue Q – almost a year ago!) It’s a beautiful theatre and the front of house staff are always very friendly.

The set for the production was absolutely beautiful, focusing on Brick and Maggie’s bedroom with a rich sunset as a backdrop, which subtly darkened with the plot. The Mississippi skyline was so stunning I could have watched it all night.

I was surprised by the amount of comedy in the play. I didn’t know much about Cat (and I purposefully kept it that way after booking tickets, to avoid spoilers) but I’d heard it was heart-breaking and bleak. This was very true, but there were still some lovely, natural comedy moments – such as Maggie constantly referring to her nieces and nephews as ‘no-neck monsters’, Brick subtly labelling Gooper and Mae as ‘huffers and puffers’ in the bedroom, and Big Daddy’s frustration at Big Mama’s cheerfulness and fussing. A lot of the light-heartedness carries an underlying poignancy. We laughed as Big Daddy rolled his eyes at Big Mama and chided her for being so jolly, but when he cruelly refuses to blow the candles out on his birthday cake and accuses her of never loving him, we’re suddenly given a dark insight into their marriage, and can’t help but feel sympathy for Big Mama.

Desmond Barrit and Abigail McKern are perfect as Big Daddy and Big Mama. At times I thought the dialogue could easily have been performed with melodramatic cries and over the top wails, but every beat was grounded and natural. Big Daddy’s passion and, well, arrogance for life when he thinks he is in good health is heart-breaking and even more so when Brick delivers the news that he is actually dying. Barrit delivered a truthful reaction to this discovery, conveying delicately Big Daddy’s utter devastation.

Another strong focus is the relationship between Maggie and her husband, Brick, who gets slowly drunk throughout the play. Maggie is frustrated with her marriage as Brick refuses to sleep with her, and it’s heavily hinted that Brick is repressing his sexuality and was in fact in love with a fellow football player. Gareth David-Lloyd brings a sharp coldness to the haunted Brick, whilst Catrin Stewart shines as the exasperated Maggie, delivering her catty remarks towards Brick and his family with pure venom.

Catrin Aaron is also brilliant as pushy-mum and interfering sister-in-law Mae. It’s never quite certain whether her and Gooper’s apparent attempts to get their hands on Big Daddy’s inheritance are real or bad mindedness and jealousy on Maggie and Brick’s part, but nosy Mae provided some wonderfully comic moments as she regularly comments on their relationship.

Cat certainly gives a very bleak comment on family life as this family seems to be built on ‘mendacity’. The final scene leaves the audience frustrated as Maggie and Brick continue to remain in their dangerous and uncomfortable position (like cats on hot tin roofs) and Big Daddy’s health takes a turn for the worse. Brick reluctantly agreeing to remain with Maggie – despite despising her – and giving her a child to make his dying father happy is tough to watch and makes for a miserable and suffocating ending.

So, my first Tennessee Williams play was brought to life perfectly by a stellar cast and an incredible creative team. I cannot fault this production and, after leaving Mold with a promise to return more often, I’ve already booked tickets for the next production at Theatre Clwyd.