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.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Knight to Remember

Normally I would use this blog as an attempt to sign people up for Live for 5 by chatting about the latest play I’d seen. Well, I hope that I will still be able to do that this time even though there are no more tickets left for this play – let alone Live for 5 tickets! The play I am talking about is No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter with the two lead roles being filled by two Knights of the Realm – Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart! This was the hottest ticket in town and I’m pretty sure half of Sheffield is going to the theatre over the course of the week. These two men could literally talk about toilet paper and people would still pay the money to go! You might remember from a previous blog post about my own experience trying to get these tickets on the day that they were released to the public back in March and, as I found out over the course of this week by doing some work experience with Sheffield Theatres, we were very lucky to get them when we did. I think for every performance, the theatre was full! So, although the run in Sheffield is now drawing to an end, No Man’s Land continues to tour round the UK and remember that if you are in Sheffield and aged between 16 and 26, then sign up for Live for 5 and you could see legends come to the theatre for just a fiver!

The joy when we first got the tickets!
The play itself was actually surprisingly funny – I’ve never seen or read a Pinter play before but he seems to be of a similar ilk to Beckett. I didn’t expect to laugh quite as much as I did – I was more expecting a dramatic conversation between two men rather than a comedy. But the timing and the chemistry between all four of the actors really kept the play fast paced and witty. From my point of view, I thought the play was all about memory and senility and set in the 1970s in a grand old house which I took to be like a care home, though none of the characters ever said as much. I’m not going to lie, I was never really too sure what was going on but I think the point was that the audience just sees a snapshot of these men’s lives at the moment that they intertwine – it’s not a complete story. The best way I can describe the plot (with a little help from Wikipedia!) is Spooner (Ian McKellen), a down-on-his-luck poet, is invited back to Hirst’s (Patrick Stewart) grand house after a night of drinking at the pub and becomes his house guest. In the morning, Hirst becomes adamant that he knew Spooner whilst at university and begins to reminisce about mutual acquaintances. All the while Briggs and Foster (Owen Teale and Damien Molony), Hirst’s man servants, also join in on the drinking and interrogate Spooner about his identity and his friendship with Hirst. It seems like such a complex plot for a play set in one room of a house and it is a very wordy play but the chemistry between the actors helps the audience to keep afloat of what’s happening.

Speaking of the actors, obviously Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were great! I mean, I think everyone was there at the theatre because of them (myself included) but Owen Teale and Damien Molony were also brilliant! Owen Teale was great as a slightly terrifying man servant and bodyguard – I think that has to be the most aggressive “we’re out of bread” I’ve ever heard, made even better with the frilly apron! Damien Molony as Foster actively encouraged Hirst’s drinking because it kept him in his position of power and he would try to move all obstacles so it would stay that way. Molony played Foster as a ‘Jack the lad’ type but one who ultimately just wanted power and leverage – which, you know, brought a bit of dark humour into things.

No Man’s Land is a witty play about, well, nothing and everything! And Sean Mathias’ version really brings that to light with the failings of human memory, whilst, you know, the comedic timing stops the audience from falling into the dangerous trap of an existential crisis! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a bit of a slower – though still funny – evening at the theatre and for anyone wanting to see stage and screen legends! Though be warned, tickets will sell out very fast for this one!

You can follow No Man’s Land on Twitter (@NoMansLandPlay) for updates about the tour.

Stay tuned here for a Lady Chatterley’s Lover update (Live for 5 tickets available!) in September and for any random adventures I might go on in the meantime!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

I Didn't Fall Over! A Graduate's Tale

This week I graduated from The University of Sheffield with a 2:1 in English Literature and, as were many people I suppose, I was very scared I was going to fall over on stage or at least forget where I was going. However neither of these happened and in all honesty, no one fell over at all during the ceremony! So, in this blog post, I thought I would sum up a bit of my university experience and someone somewhere might find it useful!

Hannah and I have managed to get a collection started!

University is hard. There are so many changes within the three years and suddenly, after eighteen years of support at home and at school, we’re left to our own devices. This takes a while to get used to and to really feel at home at university – this is totally normal. People take things at different paces and personally, Freshers’ Week in my first year was incredibly hard for me to deal with. As an introvert, I found the week draining and, although I tried to make an effort talking to people and throwing myself into the life expected of me as a student, it did take a huge toll on me. I remember halfway through the week calling my mum in tears because I was just so overwhelmed. Thankfully I had really great flatmates who, at the end (or near the end) of our degrees, I’m still in contact with and they really helped me to settle in and we will always know six o’clock to be tea time! So don’t be worried if you don’t magically settle in as soon as you move in – you will fall into a good group of people eventually. If you are worried, don’t be afraid to find help. There are those support services in place at university so use them! And they’re free so even more reason to use them if you need to. The support is there to be used so never pass up the opportunity if the occasion calls for it. And never forget the support that your family and friends will be able to give you as well – university is scary for everyone, people will be able to understand your worries.

When people think of students, what comes to mind is drinking and nights out, and I’m not going to lie, there is the expectation that that will happen. However, never feel pressured into fulfilling that stereotype. It may sound cliché but you do you. I didn’t go out out in my first Freshers’ Week and I managed to make some great friends by doing other things – we watched movies and went out to lunch and went shopping. And also, no one cares if you don’t want to drink and if they do, they are not worth being around. I’ve had plenty of sober nights out and I’ve been able to enjoy myself so if you’re with the right group of people then how sober you are doesn’t matter – you have a good time whatever. Then again, if you do want to drink then know your limits – no one wants to be saddled with that really drunk friend who does stupid things. I have been that friend a couple of times and I have not lived it down (sorry guys – you know what I’m talking about!). But, in the midst of partying, remember you’ve also come to university to work. And your degree is something that you want to do – remember that. Let no one put you down about it. If it interests you and helps you in what you want to do in later life then that’s all that matters. This may sound contradictory but also remember that you have to relax at some point as well. Yes, university is about the work but you’ve got to blow off steam when exams and assessments are getting you down. Find a society that interests you and gets you out of the house. In my three years of being at university, my biggest regret is probably that I didn’t join in more with societies. I always said I would but just never pushed myself that far. So go do something. Carry on with something that you did before university or start something completely new! Employers like to see well-rounded CVs so, even though the final grade helps, remember that that’s not everything. The experiences and the opportunities offered to you during your degree are just as important as they give you the chance to learn new skills which might be more applicable to the career path you want to take. And remember to have fun! As the chancellor of my university told us at our graduation – university is not the best years of your life. You have your whole life ahead of you. You take the path you want to take. I have no big life plan honestly – I know I want to be a writer at some point, but other than that I don’t really know what I’m doing! I’m twenty-one and I burst into tears on the phone just the other day trying to sort out bills for my flat. Yes, university sets you up with some skills for life but there are some that can’t be taught – you just have to live them. Other career paths and choices do that as well so if you know that university isn’t for you then you will learn all you need to know to look like you know how to adult and perhaps even quicker than those at university. And as a very wise friend told me last month – no one has their dream job in their twenties, so don’t panic of things don’t suddenly fall at your feet. It takes a while just to set up how you want to live your life and you may find that your dream job changes or adapts depending on where life takes you. Nothing is set in stone so, although it’s easier said than done, do not worry about what the future might hold. You have the power to control your life.

This is my favourite picture of the day because its not posed!

Now, on a more personal note, anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely reserved when it comes to emotions, so if you’ve been my friend whilst at university, you may not know just how much you mean to me. Whilst I’ve been at university, I’ve realised that I’m not cute, I’m practical and personally, I find it quite embarrassing to say things like I love you even to people I’ve known for my entire life so, although I know it is extremely cowardly to do it online and in writing where you may never see it, just know that I do care about you guys and I have really appreciated the support and the wonderful memories that I have of us all. And I am extremely proud of us for getting this far – we graduated and I couldn’t have done it without you all helping me through the ups and the downs! So thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

Personally, I think university has been the best experience and the worst experience of my life so far. I have never felt more exhausted and drained but then I have also never felt more confident, more self-assured and happy with where and who I am at this point in my life – even if I still can’t talk to people over the phone! It sounds so ridiculously cheesy but it’s the truth.