Monday, 15 January 2018

The Fear of Starting Again

I haven’t written since I handed in my dissertation five months ago. Well, I haven’t written anything to do with the ideas I’m storing in my head. I’ve done a few short stories when I’ve been set a deadline but, when faced with the vast abyss that is unemployment, I haven’t properly sat down and thought “I will write today.” And now I’m wondering why that is.

Being unemployed should have given me that kick to write – I have nothing else to fill my time, why not start a project I’ve been mulling over for years? However, I’ve felt a bit like a dried up, useless sponge over the past few months, with the shortest of stories becoming a drain on my mental capacity. Even this blog post has taken me three months to finish writing. And with most of my mental capacity going into job applications, it’s become even harder to work my way up to write for me and not for potential employers.

In the last few weeks leading up to my graduation, I thought I would give writing another go again, believing I had some ideas I would like to try out. However, within a few minutes of (not really) starting, I am overwhelmed with a sense of dread and decide that everything I write is terrible, cliché, or has been done before and, in true self-pitying mode, declared “what’s the point? Why bother?”, deleted everything and turned on Netflix instead.

This post doesn’t really have a story – I’m still struggling to write and I’m still technically unemployed. I am doing some volunteering though which allows me to be creative in different ways, through digital media and photography, and by researching things I’m interested in. I hope that this writer’s block or whatever it is lifts and I’ll be able to push on with ideas I want to actually flesh out. I guess it’s just a waiting game. Though if anyone has any ideas on how to move forward then I would be immensely grateful to hear them.

This post was originally called The Fear of Failure, but I’m not sure if that’s correct. Failure suggests an attempt to start something which I haven’t even managed to do yet. I haven’t even reached the first hurdle to fall at. I think I’m worried about being given the time and the opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting and waiting to do but suddenly it feels like I don’t have the time to achieve it all. The idea of starting means that I have to finish which is much scarier to me than failing.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Cicatrice Journal Launch Event

The journal cover page done by illustrator Ollie Hayes.
Check out his webcomic here -
And his illustrations here -

On Wednesday 18th of October, past and present University of Sheffield English Literature MA and PhD students, along with MFA students from the Ohio State University Creative Writing program, will join together to launch the online journal, Cicatrice. Made up of prose, poetry and creative non-fiction, Cicatrice imagines the inhospitable landscapes which are traversed across cultures and eras. We would like to invite you to the launch event taking place in Jessop West, Room G03, from 18:00 onwards on the 18th of October, where there will be readings, wine, snacks, and a particularly special, possibly cat related, quiz with prizes.

Cicatrice takes its name from the Latin meaning scar; it is a haunting reminder of past wounds that will never heal. The journal’s theme is inspired by the scars, both physical and mental, a world can create. These creative pieces delve into the harsh environments the personae become trapped in, sometimes unwittingly, or construct for others. They are the extremes of their worlds in which nothing, and no one, can grow, and eventually become scars on the landscape. Cicatrice brings together these cruel environments in a clash of cities, countries and centuries.

Over the past year, our MA class at the University of Sheffield has looked at the theory and practice of writing prose and poetry, as well as the creation of elements such as form and convention, and structure and perspective. Within our second semester, the focus was placed on world building which allowed us to grow and develop an idea through workshops in order to create a fully realised world, characters, and narrative. Cicatrice is the culmination of this work, alongside PhD students and MFA students from Ohio State University, giving us the chance to show off our freshly honed talents within a journal of our own.

We would like to welcome you to our launch event on the 18th of October in Jessop West, Room G.03 from 18:00 onwards.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Jane Eyre

Bristol Old Vic’s production of Jane Eyre started its tour two years after its transfer to the National Theatre in London in 2015. The company devised the piece based on the themes and characters they thought were important to include from the book. Although the book is so well known and has taken on almost legendary status, the play gives the story a modern twist through set and choreography.

The set is very minimal, consisting only of a wooden structure and ladders, with additional pieces of set and props such as chairs only being brought on when needed. For a tale as well-known as Jane Eyre, there wasn’t the need for anymore. An onstage band provided music and sound effects during the play – the music was totally one of my favourite parts of the whole production. It was evocative and cinematic as a mixture of period pieces and contemporary songs. All the choreography was slick, especially for the carriage sequences, and gave the production bursts of ferocity – much like Jane herself.

Nadia Clifford’s Jane Eyre is both strong and vulnerable. She is so certain of herself that it’s hard not to be bowled over by her force of character. However, she still has those human moments of doubt which are so perfectly shown through the ensemble becoming the voices in her head. Clifford is Jane from childhood to adult and never falters in her passion and strength as she remains on stage for the entirety of the three hour play. Jane’s coming of age is violent, isolated and constricting, all of which she fights against in order to become the person she knows she is. As a school teacher, she is compassionate – a direct contrast to the way she and her schoolmates were treated – and as a governess, she is stern but fair and softens to her young charge, Adele’s, enthusiastic energy.

Within this production, the focus is not put on Jane and Rochester’s relationship, but on their human emotions. The struggle for them to be together and to admit their feelings for one another is far too relevant for a modern audience. Tim Delap’s Rochester is angry, brooding and is an imposing figure, yet he never overwhelms or overpowers Clifford’s Jane. They are perfect sparring partners – finding common ground with their wit and their words.

But let’s talk about Bertha – Rochester’s first wife. Melanie Marshall is compelling to watch and stays on stage for almost the entire play. She is a figure in Jane’s life from childhood, always watching over her and she remains a shadowy figure in the background even after Jane and Rochester get their happy ending. Forever seen as the ‘mad woman in the attic’, Marshall’s Bertha shows no sign of insanity; she knows exactly what she is doing and that makes her dangerous, not mad. Whilst all the other characters wear dark blues, Marshall is resplendent in a bright red dress. She is the fire that consumes the house. And what a singing voice! Although Bertha has no lines within the play, Marshall sings a mixture of folk and contemporary pop songs with the onstage band as she reinforces herself throughout Jane’s life.

Jane Eyre was a really good production and I’m so glad I managed to catch this production live and for £5 too!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Based on the BBC Three documentary, ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’, the Crucible’s new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a riot of fabulous, feel good sass! Set in Sheffield about a teenage boy trying to break into the drag scene, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a coming of age story about acceptance and staying true to yourself. Yet Dan Gillespie Sells’ toe-tapping soundtrack and Tom MacRae’s quick witted script stops it from becoming too clichéd.

John McCrea’s Jamie has an easy confidence and humour which makes it hard for the audience not to love him within the first few minutes of the first act, and very easy for him to outmanoeuvre the school bully and the conformist views of the school later on in the play. Jamie knows exactly who he is and what he wants to do (quite the feat for a sixteen year old!). However, because of this, he soon bulldozes through his friends and family to make sure that everybody is talking about him – producing at times some outraged gasps from the audience. The journey that Jamie goes on isn’t one of self-acceptance but one of compassion and acceptance of other people’s choices.
John McCrea and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie.
Credit Johan Persson.

Jamie’s mother, Margaret (brilliantly played by Josie Walker), is truly a hero throughout the play. She encourages Jamie throughout and never lets anything stand in his way; even if her protection can sometimes backfire. Walker’s solos are full of raw emotion; handling her vulnerability as she tries to do everything for her son and the love she feels for him. Even though she doesn’t take part in the big group numbers, she demands the audience’s attention when she is onstage.

Lucie Shorthouse is quietly brilliant as Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s studious best friend. Although she takes part in the larger group numbers, it is her solo in the second half when she is given the chance to truly shine. She is not as loud and extroverted as Jamie is but she has a fierceness which is unleashed in the final confrontation with the school bully and elicited many a cheer from the audience – she basically said what I’m sure many of those bullied would have liked to have said!

Although it is the big group pop numbers that get everyone dancing along and leaves the audience on a high, it is the slower, softer songs which really get to the heart of the play. Like I said at the start of this post, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is about acceptance and it is not just Jamie who is looking for it. The characters all have their own obstacles to overcome and it is Jamie’s passion which inspires them to all become superstars in their own right.

With the success in recent years of other original musicals – This is My Family and Flowers for Mrs HarrisEverybody’s Talking About Jamie is just another example of how strong Sheffield Theatres’ musical game is. 

Saturday, 14 January 2017

There's No Business Like Show Business!

This is a very late post but there is still one week left to catch Annie Get Your Gun at The Crucible
It’s that time of year again – the Christmas musical at The Crucible is in full swing! This year it is Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, (very loosely) based on the life of Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’. This year’s musical was extra special for me as I got to go on a behind the scenes social media event a week before the musical opened which was hugely exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it!

This behind the scenes look encompassed seeing the costume sketches and the costumes themselves being made as well as watching a small section from the technical rehearsal and getting a sneak peek at the set. It was huge amounts of fun to see how a musical is put on stage and listening to some of the music live under the stage.

'Chaps on Chaps' has to be my favourite thing ever!

Walk through the Annie Get Your Gun doors!

Annie Get Your Gun is a high energy, fast paced and action packed production which can’t help but put a smile on your face! Anna-Jane Casey takes centre stage as Annie and is at once feisty and vulnerable – reminding everyone that although she is new to the business of show business, she still has claws. She seems to have unlimited energy in the number ‘I Got the Sun in the Morning’ which she sings, dances and is hoisted into the air. She is absolutely magnetic upon the stage and her voice is incredibly powerful. Ben Lewis is the proud Frank Butler and gets the show off to a joyful start with ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. Cleve September and Lauren Hall are beautiful as Winnie and Tommy, a young couple kept apart by Winnie’s older sister. The ensemble is fabulous and I am insanely jealous of all of their acrobatic skills! Annie Get Your Gun has a lot of heart and there is still one week left to see it so I would definitely recommend it if you want something to brighten your day! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Wipers Times

It has been quite a while since I last wrote, hasn’t it? Life has got pretty busy with the start of my MA course but with my first portfolio handed in and done with for now, I will chat to you lovely folks about The Wipers Times which I saw at Sheffield’s Lyceum a week ago.

The Wipers Times tells the true story of soldiers from the 12th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters who, during the First World War, find an abandoned printing press in the Belgian town of Ypres (called Wipers by the British soldiers) and decide to print a satirical paper about the war. Left in the very capable hands, and the obvious heirs to The Wipers Times’ humour, of Private Eye’s Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, the soldiers’ voices and the magazine’s jokes shine through without being overly sentimental or nostalgic – in fact, the jokes are all too relatable, even 100 years on.

The play is a theatrical rewrite of Hislop’s and Newman’s 2014 television screenplay of The Wipers Times (I checked – it’s on Netflix and definitely worth a watch!). The TV film obviously has the advantage of being able to use different locations and very helpful subtitles to let the viewer know when and where the action is taking place. However the play handled all of these changes really well by the soldiers moving the composite set to represent the newspaper office post-war as well as all the war time locations. During these set changes, the cast sing a range of spoof First World War songs which Nick Green so expertly crafts to add to the gallows humour of the play.

The Wipers Times smoothly combines plot with sketches based on actual ads from the paper with a music hall variety act tone – “do you suffer from optimism?” probably being the most well-known. Definitely one of my top moments had to be the miracle at Christmas tale with a very aggressive Father Christmas literally pelting a hapless soldier with snow – it tickled me a lot! The satire is just spot on and pretty much all the jokes made within the play are the soldiers’ own from the paper. Even if you have next to no knowledge of the First World War, I would still recommend going to watch it! During a Q&A session after the performance, Ian Hislop commented that it was easy to dismiss or patronise humour from history but the humour of The Wipers Times is just so cuttingly British that it will make anyone laugh!

The production is touring until the 19th of November so definitely go if you can – if you can’t, I would highly recommend the TV film available on Netflix instead. And if you're interested in reading The Wipers Times then the original documents have been digitised. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Operation Crucible: A Testament to Sheffield's Strength

Hello again! This blog was written for Sheffield Theatres about Operation Crucible.

Operation Crucible tells the story of four steel workers who become trapped in the basement of Sheffield’s Marples Hotel which was bombed during the winter of 1940. The Crucible’s Studio space becomes the workers’ foundry and their prison. Although the story of the workers is fictionalised, the emotions behind it are unequivocally human and real.

Kieran Knowles’ debut play is fast paced and combines physical theatre with energetic dialogue. The four male characters’ camaraderie is formed within the foundry and remains unbreakable even with football rivalries, and this provides a great deal of good-natured teasing. However the moments of stillness throughout the play cut through this and remind the audience why this story is being told. The lighting effects are superb and cut very quickly from bright flashbacks to the darkness and silence of being trapped with only candlelight to see. The audio track of falling rubble and bombs in the distance also emphasises the claustrophobic nature of being buried and makes the long silences all the more deafening. The audience are reached out to and engaged directly by being brought into the story from the very start through the characters’ reflections on Sheffield’s industrial heritage. The sparse set allows the actors to become everyone and everything they encounter – the machines within the foundry and the people working within them. The actors themselves become Sheffield. The play is as much a celebration of Sheffield’s industrial heritage as it is a lament for those who lost their lives within the Blitz. The title, Operation Crucible, takes its name from the German codename for the strategic bombing of Sheffield and other cities known for their munitions factories. These characters’ professions were protected because of their importance to the war effort and this is addressed within the play as the men contemplate whether or not they would have wanted to join the army. However the play does not just focus on the impact on the male workers; the women of steel also have their moment. Their scene highlights how the foundry was incredibly important for everyone who lived in Sheffield and how the women were just as capable at their jobs as the men. The teasing, fast dialogue continues right through. Operation Crucible is a play that at its heart celebrates the strength of Sheffield to carry on in spite of adversity.

Funnily enough, the play premiered in the Finborough theatre in London before coming to Sheffield, which saw the play receiving different reactions from the audiences and humour being found in different places. Sheffield is a proud city and this sentiment carries out into the audience; most of whom are from Sheffield and were either alive or knew someone alive during the Blitz. The human experiences told build and gather momentum throughout the play and so the audience become totally invested in the lives of these four men. Operation Crucible received a standing ovation from the audience and it is an emotive piece of theatre that everyone living in or from Sheffield should definitely go see.

As young ambassadors, we had the privilege of meeting the cast – Salvatore D’Aquilla, Kieran Knowles, Paul Tinto and James Wallwork – for a Q&A session after the performance. This was really interesting because we were able to hear in detail about the research process for the production and how the storylines of the characters changed from men who were unable to go to war because of medical reasons after finding the story of the Marples hotel and how steel workers’ professions were protected. It became important to tell this story as Sheffield was beginning to forget its own history and this was the biggest loss of life on a single night within the city. The steel heart of Sheffield beats once again as this significant event in the history of the city is relived through the eyes of ordinary working men and tells the story of Sheffield’s industrial heritage.