Monday, 29 August 2016

A ChariTEA Party! ( & August's reading challenge.)

Ha ha you like what I did there?!

Tom Burke is both an avid supporter of Operation Smile, a charity which helps children born with a cleft lip/palate as well as being a supporter of Box Clever Theatre. Toms fans, or Burketeers, have been showing their immense support for both of these charities, and on 17th September 2016, they're holding a tea party in London in aid of Operation Smile. To coincide with the tea party, I'm reading what will be the theme of the party for my August reading challenge...Alice In Wonderland. (So I'm kind of hoping that Alice will be raising some money for both charities...hint hint!)

 Alice in Wonderland, a well loved children's classic, and even more so for me, because the writer Lewis Carroll was born and lived in the village of Daresbury, Cheshire...about 5 miles from where I grew up. There's a church in Daresbury where the stained glass windows show Carroll's famous characters, and I can remember going around the church looking at them whilst my dad happily recited The Walrus and the Carpenter and Jabberwocky from memory to me!

(For more information on Lewis Carroll check out this website )

Whilst this might be a children's book, it has an enduring timeless appeal for adults too. As the name suggests, it is full of wonder, but it does tackle the complexities of life that children face when growing up. A mathematician, Carroll made the book logical, but at the same time humorous and imaginative. Much of the writing is absurd, but that is why it has stood the test of time and remains a firm favourite for readers and storytellers alike. (That's the reason why it has been made into several films over the years!)

"what is the use of a book...without pictures or conversations?"

Alice in Wonderland tells the story of a young Alice, who, bored at sitting on the river bank with her sister who is reading a book without pictures, begins wondering whether she is too sleepy to go and pick daisies when she sees a white rabbit run past her. Nothing strange in that, unless you consider this white rabbit is wearing a waistcoat, and has a pocket watch, and can talk! Now Alice, being of a rather nosey bent, decides to follow the rabbit and enters Wonderland after falling down a rabbit hole after him.

What follows is a voyage into the unknown where we meet a myriad of the most fantastical characters in fiction. Whilst we are never going to come across a talking cat or caterpillar in real life, these characters symbolise some of the types of people we come across in everyday life. It is interesting to see how Alice copes and interacts with each of these different traits of human nature and how Carroll has managed to create a world where the real and unreal meet.

One of the first characters she meets is a very laid back caterpillar. He is delightfully vague and contradictory and it makes for an interesting conversation with Alice, he is like a child, answering a question with a question. Fish and Frog footmen are equally confusing to poor Alice as she wends her way towards the Cheshire Cat. Now anyone who owns a cat, knows that really the cat owns them. They are intelligent creatures, and none more so than this cat who can disappear into thin air leaving his smile behind him. He has a sense of unerring logic! " you see a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad." You can't dispute logic like that!

We all know someone who is a little unconventional! I had a conversation with Tom Burke once in which someone told him we were mad. I said I'd call it eccentric, he quite agreed and said he felt he was somewhat eccentric himself! I doubt even he could compare to the Mad Hatter and The March Hare though! These characters are so full of life, they have boundless energy and a huge sense of fun, but they're also rather rude and straight to the point with their personal remarks! I do however love the Mad Hatter, not least because he seems rather partial to tea just like me! As he says, "it's always tea-time", Oh how right he is!

Not everyone in Wonderland is nice though and Alice soon gets to meet the despicable Queen of Hearts who after declaring Alice should have her head chopped off, relents and asks her to join in with a game of croquet. But this is Wonderland, so it can't be an ordinary game of this game is played with flamingo's and hedgehogs rather than mallet and balls.

"We called him Tortoise because he taught us,"the poor Mock Turtle wailed at Alice as he told her his sorry tale as to how he went from a real turtle to a Mock Turtle, aided rather well by a Gryphon who thought Alice a rather stupid child. Alice finally awakens and recounts her imaginative tale to her sister, who rather than following her sister back into the house sits and ponders the tale she has just been told. She imagines her sister all grown up, with children of her own who she can recount this land of make believe to, and the joy they would get from the stories of the Wonderland folk.

In reality, Alice's sister was right. Children year after year enjoy hearing the tales that Alice encountered, and even as an adult, it's sometimes nice to take a cup of tea into the garden, and spend an afternoon going back to Wonderland!

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland: 
Thus slowly, one by one, 
Its quaint events were hammered out - 
And now the tale is done, 
And home we steer, a merry crew
Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! a childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far-off land.

Of course...if you haven't had enough of Alice's adventures, you can travel with her Through the Looking Glass to meet many more curious characters, the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Red and White Queen; Humpty Dumpty; and of course Tweedledum and Tweedledee! 

For details of the charity tea party see @burketeaparty on Twitter!

Three Plays - Frederico Garcia Lorca (Box Clever Challenge July)

Whilst I was in Bath, my friends Julie and Nikki told me that they had booked to see a play called Yerma by Frederico Garcia Lorca. I showed my ignorance by admitting I'd never heard of him, and so Julie kindly lent me a copy of her book so that I could acquaint myself with his work.

Lorca has a distinctive way of writing, and he has managed to encapsulate drama with poetry and song in his works. Tragically his life was cut short (he was assassinated in 1936) and so we don't know what further greatness he could have achieved in later life. Having read his plays, I thought it was only fair that I should enlighten others with his work too, and it seemed a befitting set of works for July's Box Clever Theatre challenge, as this is where theatre, literature, music and poetry all combine!  

In the book Three Plays, we enter the world of three different women who are disenchanted with what life has brought to them. They yearn for a life of equality, they crave freedom from repression, and they desire justice for the social failings around them.

Blood Wedding

"How can it be that something as small as a pistol or a knife can destroy a man who is like a bull?"

The play centres around the wedding of The Bridegroom and The Bride. These nameless characters are the main characters of the play, so it is interesting that we are not given any idea of their identity through names, it's almost like Lorca is keeping them at arms length. Their names don't matter, but their role and actions within the play do.

The matriarch of the play, The Mother is biased and selfish to the core. She insists that boys must be boys and girls must be girls. Girls should want to have children and spend their lives embroidering, playing with their children and maintaining ladies pursuits. They should not think for themselves, that is the duty of their husband. Her other son and her husband have been murdered, and she despises the Felix family who committed the atrocity. She does not want her remaining son to marry and leave her on her own in case one of the killers dies and gets buried near her husband. In her eyes, her husband could do no wrong, and throughout the play we can see that no-one compares to him, no-one could ever do any better than him. She wants the reader to suffer with her, until her worst fears are over, the death of her remaining son, and she can then live what remains of her life in peace.

"The three years he was married to me he planted ten cherry trees, three walnut trees by the mill, one whole vineyard, and a plant called Jupiter, with blood red flowers, but it died." Fitting that the flowers were blood red, as blood is the theme that flows in this play.

Her son is intent on getting married but he has chosen someone who once loved one of the Felix family as his bride. She is pure and beautiful, she is the perfect choice as a wife for him, but throughout the play you question whether she is as virtuous as she is made out to be. She was in love with Leonardo, a character who rides about at midnight. He married someone else, and now she is going to get married. Is there a purely innocent explanation why he rides around at night? Where does he go and who does he meet?  Just because she loves her intended, it doesn't mean that she doesn't still love the one that got away; therefore the marriage is not something she looks forward to. It's a big step for her to take, and she doesn't want to loose her current independence, to waste away like all the other women she sees around her. She is a strong woman, she has her own mind, and this marriage will mean her husband not only gains and traps a wife, but will also gain a large amount of land. there is a lot to be considered.

Mother: The Wedding vows weigh heavily
Bride: like lead

How hard it is for her to carry out this duplicity, to marry and be a faithful wife, but to stop having a life of her own, to forfeit her feelings and accept second best. The wedding night has a twist that is both expected and unexpected, ultimately ending with the knowledge that the importance of the orange blossom in her wedding crown was a truly significant part of the play.

It is a beautifully written piece. The interspersion of poetry throughout lifts it, creating a haunted atmosphere on a dark and deeply thought provoking subject.


There's a different feel to this play, it isn't as poetic, but there is still a plaintive, soul-searching tone to it. Yerma is desperate for a child. Nothing else matters. Nothing else plays on her mind. She wants a child, and whilst younger couples manage to have children as soon as they are married, Yerma continues to have no success year after year.

The play cleverly travels through her life. We feel her torment at seeing children all around her, as her friend becomes pregnant after five months of marriage but Yerma has to cover up her disappointment that after two years of marriage there is no sign of children. Her husband works away tending sheep, he does not share her feeling of misery that there are no children, he just wants her to fulfill her other home bound duties. She is trapped, both physically and mentally. Her husband does not like her to leave the house, and she can not stop thinking about her sterile environment.

Mothers have to suffer for children to grow up. "Every woman has enough blood for four or five children, if she doesn't have them, it turns to poison, as it will with me." We share Yerma's suffering as another year passes and we hear how easy it was for an old woman to have borne so many children. She loved her husband, but Yerma does not love hers. Perhaps this was the reason that she was forced to remain childless. The old woman tells Yerma to stop accepting her husband, to love him, if she loves him the children will come. She is empty, empty of feelings, so how can she bear children? But Yerma is not empty, she is full of hate, and the hate continues to grow inside her.

Again, as a woman, she is not allowed her freedom. She takes food to her husband in the hills and he does not appreciate it, he wants her to stop at home, to remain within the four walls doing things she doesn't want to do. But she is obliged to do these chores, she is his wife, it is her duty.

It is hard to understand why the women in these stories should be locked up, but them we learn about Victor, Yerma's first true love.  Again the woman at the heart of the story has been obliged to marry someone she does not care about, she has been forced into a marriage that is beneficial for the families concerned, not for herself.  Her husband by now does not trust her, he still wants her to stay indoors, so he decides that he will invite his two sisters to come and live with him and Yerma. Two women who he trusts to keep an eye on Yerma; two women who Yerma has to stay and clean the house with until it sparkles. That is what her life should be, a life full of cleaning. "I shouldn't say 'Forgive me'. I should force you, lock you up, because that's what a husband is for!"

There is melodious undertone to the gossipy chat of the washer women as they go about their work, some on Yerma's side, whilst others proclaim her barrenness is Yerma's fault. "Spoilt, weak, lazy women don't have children...they wear a sprig of Oleander in pursuit of a man who is not their husband." I like the way Garcia Lorca interweaves the symbolism of flowers into his writing. Oleander is a poison, it's destructive, and no more so in the continuance of Yerma's life. If she had stayed at home and loved her husband she would have the thing she most yearns, but she won't behave, she has her own mind and she speaks it and so she must pay the ultimate price, or so we must believe.

A further five years on in this drudgerous life and Yerma is still childless. She is trapped, her house has become a tomb, her husband does not even wish her to leave the house to go to the well for fresh water. He is unhappy and works hard and takes his frustrations out on Yerma, and it is clear that neither party loves one another. Yerma's anguish for a child has reached epic proportions, she is not envious of those around her, she makes that point clear, but she does feel deprived of the life that she wanted as a mother.

Victor has sold his sheep to Juan and comes to bid goodbye to Yerma. In a last bid of desperation she is helped to escape the confines of her home to visit Dolores the Conjurer. In a churchyard at night spells are cast for Yerma to bear a child, but the truth is that Yerma will never have a child with her husband; she needed to have married another to have had the life she so desired.

Yerma (spanish for barren) is a moving tale of the taboo subject of childlessness. Whilst at times it is harrowing to hear how Yerma is entombed in a life she does not want, it is also powerful in how much someone will strive for the thing that they hold so dear. It conveys the impact of how this tunnel vision can effect someone, madness takes over, and the obsessiveness becomes destructive rather than beneficial. It is also poignant that the character of Victor shows that had she taken a different path, if she had married Victor rather than her husband, she could possibly have had that thing she most craved.

The House of Bernardo Alba

Bernardo's husband has died, and she is now in charge of an all female household. You would think that the tight grip on a woman's freedom and inequality would be released, but instead, it seems to tighten in this bitter tragedy. Bernardo is adamant that the eight year mourning period will be observed by her daughters, and they will not have any further contact with the outside world. "We will brick up the doors and board up the windows". The only person who will be allowed any freedom is Augustias, she has a large inheritance which has attracted a local man, but whilst he loves Augustias' money, his passion is ignited by her pretty sister.

As times passes, Bernardo finds it difficult to maintain her suffocating grip on her daughters. They are full of venom and hatred for each other, and a jealous woman is a dangerous woman. This play shows just how a woman, desperate to leave the jaws of hell can tear a family apart in the worst possible way. "A daughter who disobeys stops being a daughter and becomes an enemy". This is a drama which takes place from within Barnarda's home, but Lorca creates this powerfully repressive atmosphere from start to finish, ending in a crescendo. But even when events take their most dramatic turn, Bernardo is still more concerned about keeping up appearances. It is more important to her that the village think her daughter has died a virgin, rather than mourning the loss of her child or showing any emotional outburst.

The main focus of the play is repression. The women are repressed, both by their sex and sexuality. They are second class citizens. Sexuality is a natural phenomenon to both men and women, but in Lorca's play women are not allowed to give into their desires. Those who do are considered harlots, women of the night, and nothing good will become of them. This is clearly shown when there is a commotion in the village, and it turns out that an unmarried woman has killed her baby. Rather than the women sticking together and showing empathy to their kin, they are baying for this woman's blood. They don't stick up for each other, they are intent on punishing each other, at whatever cost.

It is desire that ultimately leads to tragedy, showing how lust can lead to a terrible ending. Bernarda is perfectly aware of her daughter's yearnings, even her elderly mother cries out that she wants to be married in order to be able to live a happy life, but despite this, she refuses to allow her daughters to express their feelings. Barnardo believes she knows best, but this suffocation of their natural desires only incites bitterness and hatred between the sisters. This is more noticeable because there is only one male character to focus on, Pepe. Because he is the only male allowed near this closed off house, all of the sisters pour their focus on him, hence why their bitterness grows and makes all of the characters rather ugly and not worth our sympathy.

Adela's character fights against this repressive regime and shows the reader that she believes she has a free soul. She has her own idea about what real love is about, but she is still somewhat confused. She thinks Pepe is in love with her, but knows he will marry her sister Augustias for her money. Adela is happy therefore to be Pepe's mistress, but it is difficult to know whether she really loves Pepe, or whether she thinks a relationship with him will bring her freedom from her mother. What is it she really craves, love or freedom? Is there a difference? This leads to an interesting question about a persons life and how it should be lived. Should a person succumb to leading a dull life, living by other peoples moral attitudes, or should they bid for freedom, live their own life as they want whatever the consequences? Sadly, we see throughout the play, that despite Adela's attempts to remain an individual, wearing a green dress whilst everyone is still in mourning black, she becomes increasingly more and more bitter throughout. In some ways she becomes a victim fighting against a lost cause.

As within Lorca's other plays, there are tell tale signs throughout that tragedy will strike. As we head towards the finale, we finally read that Augustias' engagement ring is not one of diamonds, but pearls. Pearls, symbolic of tears to be shed. Tears that the marriage will not lead to the freedom that Augustias thinks will happen."I'll soon be getting out of this hell". "Last night I was so hot I couldn't sleep".  They are acutely aware that they live in a constant hell living at home under the stifling control of their mother, but in reality even if they marry they move from one controlling force to another "Her fiance won't let her go out, not even to the front door. She used to be full of fun; now she doesn't even powder her face!" The pearls can also be seen as a symbol of the plays ending too, and a woman's desperate bid for freedom which will end in tears.

Lorca's three plays are all interesting insights into the lives of women and full of atmosphere and poetry. They make interesting reading, but poetry should be heard, and having read these plays it would be interesting to see how they appear on stage.

Yerma is currently playing at The Old Vic in London until 24th September. It has received a number of rave reviews and is sold out. Whilst it has a modern twist, it shows that Lorca's writing still has a presence in today's world.

The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester has a production of The House of Bernardo Alba from 02/02/2017-25/02/2017

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Happy Birthday Mr B! (Dog Portrait)

No, not THE Mr B; but I was commissioned to draw a dog as a present for someone, and I got very excited about it. People say I should be more confident about my abilities, so when I was asked if I could draw animals (or can I only draw Tom Burke?!) I said yes I could...rather confidently. (I was thinking about how I spent my teenage years drawing horses, and therefore a dog would be fine...wouldn't it?)

I was given a few pictures of the dog, but one in particular really stood out. It was cheeky and quirky and would make for an unusual drawing, and I thought it really showed off the character of the animal.

A few weeks later and I was at a rural retreat in the Lake District looking after my friends dogs. It was the perfect place to hide away in peace and quiet and start on the drawing. At home I would have my cat parking himself on my art pad...he hates being ignored, and I knew this was one picture I had to be stress free about. (I potentially was about to ruin some poor persons birthday if this drawing turned out badly.) And so sketching began. I'm pleased to say that I ended up feeling rather pleased with the finished result, although still somewhat apprehensive about what my client thought, and more importantly the birthday boy.

Well my client was pleased, and so was her dad. I was so relieved and pleased at the same time...and so I thought it would be nice to share the different stages of the drawing.

An idyllic setting to start the drawing; a bit too red I think; looking better; back home to finish it...not such an idyllic setting but it'll do!

Now it's gone too purple!; that's a better colour; the finished article. (And finally, the photo I took inspiration from!)

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Frocketeer - Making Dresses!

I heard the designer Hayler Nebayer (BBCs The Musketeers) refer to a dress she had designed for the character Constance; as the "Frocketeer". I rather loved that term, so I'm stealing it for the title of this entry!

Some people have asked me why I'm not around on Twitter or Facebook anymore. Well the honest answer is I've been too busy (let's face it, even the blog posts are few and far between!) I'm not one to sit around much, I like to be busy, and since going back to work I've found that I've been having difficulty in keeping up with all of my various commitments. Somethings had to give and I'm afraid unless I'm tagged in a post, then I'm missing a lot of Twitter and Facebook.

Now, some people when they see something, they feel inspired but they never give it a go. I'm not sure why. Fear of failure, too bone idle... I'm not like that! I see something and if I'm inspired and I can, I will give it a go. Well that was how things were towards the end of the TV series The Great British Sewing Bee! I suddenly decided to get my sewing machine out and I've been doing a lot of sewing over the last few months. I still have loads of fabric in a huge pile to get through, but I thought I'd share some of my recent endeavors here with you. (The photo's are not great - my work space is rather dark and even outside it was getting ready to pour down, so the dresses have been thrown rapidly onto the mannequin and pictures snapped!)

Spots before my eyes....

Front and back views of polka dot pencil skirt and ruched halter top, and a classic 50's style "swing" tea dress (all fully lined)

Getting all ruffled!

Vintage Ruffle Fabric shift style dresses 

One For All...

Left over Fleur de Lys fabric inspired me to make a musketeery type top! (The core fabric was used to make a lined circular skirt)

Tom's fav...& a teepee! 

Two dirndl skirts. (Look at that for pattern matching!) Tom was complementary about the first skirt...I daren't imagine what he'd make of the second!

So that's it for now. I'm currently seeing what I can do with 15 metres of taffeta. I have my sketch book at the ready...and I think I have an idea or two!!