Sunday, 29 September 2019

My Head is Disconnected - David Lynch Exhibition @ Home Theatre - Manchester

29th August 2019, Home Theatre, Manchester, held a preview screening of Tom Burke’s latest film The Souvenir, followed by a Q&A session with Tom and director Joanna Hogg. Whilst I’d already seen a preview in July, I thought the Q&A would herald some interesting insights into the film, so I decided to go along and watch the film again.

Whilst waiting for the film/Q&A, I noticed that there was a David Lynch art exhibition being held. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to visit the exhibit that night and to be honest, I knew nothing about David Lynch, other than his name was synonymous with a TV programme I loved back in the 90’s when I was about 16/17.

Here was an opportunity to get inside the mind of the visionary TV & film director, and as I was about to find out, artist. The exhibit featured approximately 88 of his works dating from the 1960s to some of his current pieces. At the Q&A, I flicked through some postcards and thought the works might need, not explaining exactly, but maybe I required a bit of an insight into the artist himself to make the most of his work. I located a curated tour on the 28th September, the day before the exhibit ended. I booked a ticket to the tour for me and my mate and a full day of culture was planned around it…David Lynch exhibition, Dinner at The Ivy, followed by Macbeth at the Royal Exchange.

(For the eagle eyed amongst you, you’ll have noticed that I haven’t blogged about the Q&A evening. This is because whilst I was writing, some news about the night reached my ears and made me explode like a firework. As I continued exploding, the venom pouring from me reached my keyboard and made for an unpleasant read…so I decided not to publish it, or indeed any of the other blogs I had part written and were being tainted by my mood. After a month away from social media, bar the odd Instagram post, and cutting communication with the perpetrator of these immense feelings of despair and bewilderment (and anger…I get so angry when people lie about me) I feel it’s now safe to go back to the keyboard. Those posts lying dormant in my word files are in the process of being re-written and will get posted, but for now, I’m writing about my new exploits that have occured sans Burketeers!)

David Lynch graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, with a body of work which encompasses painting, sculpture, drawing and photography from the past five decades. Although he might be better known for producing films such as Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and The Elephant Man, he is foremost an artist, not just a film maker who dabbles in art as a hobby. This collection provided an interesting look at both the man, and an exploration into his mind, where everyday life can be transformed into dark, chaotic images which re-examine the world in which we live.

Pavilion by Emily White, Theatr Clwyd

Woo hoo, it’s Friday night and I’m down at the Pavilion. The drinks are flowing and “Omen” by The Prodigy is pounding out of the speakers at full blast…my feet and body moving to the beat of the music. As the disco lights flash, the pace slows down and Big Nell steps out from all the dancers gyrating on the dance floor to introduce us to the locals. “The girls are out: no coat, no tights and not much of anything else either.”

Oh, don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost the plot, I know my clubbing days are well and truly over thank goodness! No, I’m sat on the front row watching the second night performance of Emily White’s brand-new play. Set in the crumbling old hall of a once grand theatre in an old Victorian Welsh spa town, Pavilion tells the story of the locals who are gathering together for one last night at the Pavilion before it finally closes down.  


Oh I’m definitely feel like I am back in the early 90s! Tunes playing so loud you think your head will explode, whilst girls are trying to make out with the inept DJ who think’s he’s a God because the teenagers are flocking after him (in desperation!) Booze flowing as though it was going out of fashion (bottles of vodka hidden in handbags, sneaked in so you only had to buy a coke at the bar.) The inevitable fights breaking out on the dancefloor, guys punching each other whilst their girlfriends run off to the loo in close knit groups bawling their eyes out. I never really understood why girls would go and gather in a stinking toilet cubicle to put the world to rights, but here in the Pavilion, and other clubs up and down the land the following conversation can be heard:

Friday, 2 August 2019

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I’ve been watching this book doing the rounds on Twitter and reading comments about what a wonderful guide it is to assist you with living in the modern world. Do I need a guide to tell me how to live in the modern world? I already know the world has gone to the dogs, and as a cat person that makes me unhappy. This book is not going to change that for me though, nor tell me anything I don’t already know…is it?

If I pop into Tesco, I invariably end up going to the book bit first! I saw a book that had received rave reviews (and a friend had said it was good) that I wanted to buy. I noted it was part of a “buy two for a fiver” offer and obviously that’s a bargain not to be missed, so I decided to add Notes on a Nervous Planet to my basket as well so I could see what all the media fuss was about.

I had no intention of doing a book “review”, but things have been a bit crappy at home recently (family issue, starting a new job and having to make the awful decision to put Gerrard my beloved cat to sleep.) My way of dealing with things is to face reality and then go and bury my head in a book to stop me overthinking. (I can overthink things a lot if I’m not careful…why didn’t I say this…why didn’t I do that?!) As I read, I found that “Notes on a Nervous Planet” actually resonated with me, so I thought I’d stop moping around and share some thoughts with you all. This isn’t a book review as such…more about the things that sprung to mind whilst reading it! (And I started writing this before I went to see The Souvenir…but never finished writing it. I have now!)

We all look at how we can make our physical state better. We are told to go for a walk or to the gym, or if you are of a certain vintage you might remember the kids TV show where you were told to “switch off the TV and go and do something less boring instead!” We need to stop eating so much junk food, get more vegetables into the diet and eat less meat. Stop drinking as much alcohol, stop smoking, don’t self-medicate, all good advice; but how much of that advice contributes to our mental welfare?

How do we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?

Well that’s easy…stop using social media and I don’t need a book to tell me that! I have only used social media for about 5 years, and during that time I have found that it has gone from being an environment of fun chats with people, to it being a means of outdoing one another. I get fed up of getting bogged down trawling through either negative or inane comments. (I follow lots of save wildlife and the planet sites and some of the comments posted on them…OMG they fill you with you with dread and despair for our planets future.)

An Ode to Social Media
When anger trawls the internet,
Looking for a hook;
It’s time to disconnect,
       And go and read a book. (Matt Haig)

So, should I stop using social media? Would it make my life better? I use social media to advertise my artwork that I have for sale, to share pictures of interesting places and events I have been to that I think others might enjoy. I even “advertise” when I have a new post on my blog as people tell me they enjoy reading it and like to know when a new post is available!

I’ve met some wonderful people via social media and I feel guilty that I don’t engage with them as much as I did in the past; so there are benefits to its usage, but what I’m most surprised about is how addictive

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Souvenir (Film by Joanna Hogg)

There is a cinema within walking distance of my house. I can’t remember the last time I went there. I’m not really a cinephile, I'm happy watching the classics on TV or DVD. The Souvenir by Joanna Hogg is not a mainstream film, but obviously I wanted to see it because Tom Burke was the male lead in it. The film isn’t released in the UK until 30th August 2019, although my local Curzon cinema was showing it 20th July, at 11am. I say my local Curzon cinema…it’s 40+ miles away, but what is 40 miles to see a film when I’m prepared to go to the other end of the country to see Tom in a play?!

My friend and I met at the cinema, got a cookie and a cuppa (served on a china plate) and went forth into this intimate cinema screening, where there were small side tables by the seats…and reclining chairs! I’m so easily pleased. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film, I knew the subject matter was likely to be harrowing, but at least I would be in comfort when my eyes started to leak.

Where purity of soul meets morality...

To put some context into the film, “The Souvenir” on which the film is entitled, is an enchanting painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, completed in 1778. It depicts a young girl who has received a letter from her lover (which lies discarded on the ground) carving her lovers initials in the truck of a tree. Her devoted dog, a spaniel, a symbol of fidelity, stares towards her. The sale catalogue of 1792 states the girl is the heroine of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie (or New Heloise.) The protagonists are Julie, of privileged descent and Saint Preux her tutor and a commoner. The story follows a complex maze of feelings and intellectual debate, where purity of soul is entwined with morality, and the fate of these two lovers is left to the effects of the society in which they live. (If you haven’t read the novel, think along the lines of when Tom narrated Pamela by Samuel Richardson – as I’m sure many readers will have listened to Tom’s work!)

This small painting measuring a mere 19x25 cm is housed in the Wallace Collection in London, and whilst small manages to evoke a serious of emotions and questions. How will this love affair work out for this girl of such innocence and purity? Will it end in joy or sorrow? Is there more to this girl than meets the eye? Is she as fragile as she looks, or is there a hidden strength and determination to her?

British director Joanna Hogg uses her own life experiences to produce a film which is mesmerising, xxx and xxx about her early life as a film student, and echoes elements of the painting. Honor Swinton Byrne plays Julie, the awkward, yet privileged film student, whilst Tom Burke plays her suave and sophisticated older boyfriend Anthony. But looks can be deceiving, there is more to Tom’s character than meets the eye, and there is a hidden strength apparent in Honor’s portrayal of Julie. These are world class performances and worthy of all plaudits that both actors have and will receive for this film.

I was transfixed

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams (Victoria and Albert Museum - London)

I love fashion in the creative sense of the word. I love the history of fashion. I enjoy looking at timeless pieces and seeing the creativity and attention to detail. I also enjoy making my own clothing…things unique to me. There is a beauty and wonderment to carefully constructed garments that does not exist in the overly mass-produced tat that we find on the high street. That’s probably why you may find me at a fashion exhibition, but you’re not likely to entice me out of the house for a spot of retail therapy.

The V&A is currently exhibiting over 200 Haute Couture garments under the title Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams. Tickets for the exhibition have been hard to come by, and it is so popular that the V&A has extended the run until 1st September 2019 and has already sold out (this from its original closing date in July!) You cannot begin to imagine how impatiently I have been counting the days to see this celebratory exhibit of Dior’s couture collection.

The exhibition starts with Dior’s famous Bar Suit “The New Look”, ten of his most famous looks during the period 1947-1957 in “The Dior Line” and the influential role the romanticism of Britain played to his work in “Dior in Britain.” In these first few rooms we get a sense of the former Hollywood glamour of the 40’s and 50’s, and sight of Princess Margaret’s gown that she wore for her 21st birthday portrait.

The house of Dior has had many artistic

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

I've ended up going AWOL yet again!!

I know it's been a wee while since I posted anything (again!) but after my recent mammoth theatre session I realised I didn't actually have any new plays booked until August. I's appalling behaviour, but seeing as I am currently not working (and I'm avoiding the other half asking me if I've actually bothered to look for a job to pay for all my trips...although depressingly it seems something is on the horizon) I'll be watching a couple of NT Lives instead of running down to London and this includes Andrew Scott in Noel Coward's Present Laughter which I'm really looking forward to.

Gerrard the grouch
 As I have a bit of spare time, I figured it was time to knuckle down and finish the Introduction to Photography Course I started about two years ago. I passed with 99.44%...which means I now know which way up to hold the camera. I've now moved onto a portrait photography course which has already stalled at the introduction stage. Whilst I'm not that interested in taking pictures of people, I do want to get my animal/wildlife photography up to scratch. Sadly Gerrard is only compliant when asleep, so I'm going to have to find a better subject matter to work with. (Even the local buzzard is more patient than G, which is a shame because he's actually a pretty, albeit grumpy, cat.)

Some of my nature photographs have been transformed into abstract prints which you can now find on my new ArtWow site,

and of course there's still the Redbubble site which has a nice new shoe design print which was inspired following a recent trip to London.


Whilst I was in London I watched the play Rosmersholm

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Duck Variations & The Bay at Nice, Theatr Clwyd

@Theatr Clwyd

It was America versus Russia in this double bill of one act plays from Suitcase Theatre, but not the usual East meet West showcase that David Hare created!

The Duck Variations by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo) might sound on paper to be rather dull. Two old men, sat on a park bench, converse about the world, using ducks as an analogy for everything that’s going on around them. George is opinionated, and prone to believing everything he reads in the newspapers, so he is often prone to disseminating misinformation to the more poetical Emil. Where George talks, Emil listens, although when Emil does speak it is with the wonderment that often only still exists in small children.

This is typical early Mamet territory, contemplative characters, speaking in short snatches in the naturalistic way people do. The conversation meandering off course and back again, bits are repeated, bits overlap, there are bits where you think “what are they talking about?” And of course, there are those moments of silence as a conversation starts to fall flat. This naturalistic way of talking on stage is actually hard to do in a convincing manner, but both male leads managed the stop start exchanges effortlessly. As a member of the audience, you felt you had sat on a park bench across the way and were watching a slice of real life in front of you.

“You know, for centuries prior to this time man has watched birds.”

Just as Chekhov elicits pathos, Mamet’s 14 variations on the theme of ducks awakens something inside. Watching these two men philosophising about the world and relating it to the life of a duck was both bizarre and cleverly intertwined. Watching the birds flying in formation, their talk leads them to discuss the fact that the lead duck will at some point fall behind, they won’t be the leader anymore, they’ll go to the back of the pack and at some point they will inevitably die, whilst some younger bird will become leader, and the cycle will happen again. Then there is the tale of the ongoing

Monday, 20 May 2019

Strangers on a Train Set - The Lowry, Salford

I don’t think I was the little girl my mother had longed for. Ideas of wearing pretty dresses and playing with dolls were thrown out of the window very early on. I would proudly push my pram down the road with her, but it didn’t contain a doll; that had been defaced and beheaded long ago…no, my pram was full of cuddly toy animals. If I wasn’t playing with them, I would be playing with my train set. Yes, a train set, a clockwork locomotive designed to keep me away from my older brothers’ electric train set. My train was really boring….it just went around in a little circle. Now my brothers’, well they had a huge trestle table with a hole in the middle, and lots of tracks with points and signals…countryside painted on the walls surrounding it, endless amounts of Modroc used to create hills and valleys, freight trains, steam trains that puffed little clouds of vapour, diesel trains…it was great fun, even when I was shouted at to keep my little sticky fingers at bay!!

Neither of my parents drove so the train was the preferred mode of transport. British Rail weren’t too good at being on time so connections were always missed, and so to pass the time, me dad and I would go train spotting. I’d scribble numbers in my notebook whilst dad shouted them out to me, and then at the end of the day we would cross them off in a special book we’d buy from John Menzies (yes I am that old) at Chester railway station. At the end of the year you would see how many numbers you had crossed off in the book before starting again the next year!

I don’t train spot anymore, but the sight of a steam train always brings great joy and when a diesel locomotive roars past me if I’m sat at a station, I test myself to see if I can still remember what class of engine it is. Suffice to say, a heady mix of trains, theatre and crime novels was too good to miss; I figured this would be a fun-filled way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

LipService Theatre (Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding) have been described as the Laurel & Hardy of literary deconstruction. Having watched Mr Darcy Loses the Plot a couple of years ago, I can see why. Their knowledge and ability to turn the mundane into something hilarious is one to be appreciated; part stand-up, part live acting and part film projection, it is a perfect heady mix of virtuosity and jubilation.

Strangers On A Train Set pulled into The Lowry, Salford Friday 17th May 2019 and departed on the 19th May 2019 to resume its tour around the country. For those of you who have never seen LipService, then be warned, it has developed a bit of a cult following around various venues, so grab your tickets quickly when you see them heading your way or you’ll miss out on a treat.

Derek and Geoff (Fox and Ryding) are two model train enthusiasts who have been invited to Salford to showcase their 00 gauge model railway, and recreate some classic railway journeys via steam locomotive or Geoff’s favourite, his modern Virgin Pendolino. 

When it comes to their trains, no detail goes unnoticed. For authenticity, Geoff has lovingly scuffed his Pendolino with cat litter, to

Friday, 10 May 2019

Stones in his Pockets – by Marie Jones (Theatr Clwyd)

In a small rural town in County Kerry, Ireland, a Hollywood film crew descends and monopolises the town. The locals are thrilled, they might only be earning £40 a day as a film extra, but this place has now become the land of opportunity, dreams of becoming a famous actor could now become a reality.

The play centres around two characters, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn. Charlie had been running a small business renting our movies, but then a blockbuster chain moved in, with more choice and more copies of films. After going bankrupt, Charlie grabbed his tent and started wandering around Ireland and now here he is, an extra on an American film, with the opportunity of submitting a film script to someone big in Hollywood.

Jake has recently returned to Ireland following some time in New York and he is mesmerised by the star of the movie, Caroline Giovanni. Caroline swans in, the glamourous girl from Hollywood, and despite proclaiming that she wants to perfect the Irish account and give a realistic portrayal on screen, she and the rest of the American crew are only concerned about finishing the movie on time.

At the start, the community is excited to have such famous people in their midst, but soon the novelty starts to wear off and they start to feel used and abused. Jobs in this part of the world are scarce, so the crew know that £40 a day is a lot to some of the folk, so they can treat them anyway they want.
One evening in the local pub, a teenager, Sean Harkin, who is completely in awe of Caroline tries to speak with her. Caroline, who has gone the pub to “get an authentic feel for the locals” cannot help but be the Hollywood diva she is, makes a scene

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rosmersholm - Duke of York's Theatre, London (Henrik Ibsen)

Edvard Munch – Love and Angst

Well it's been a very busy few days, but let’s face it, you don’t really care about days 1-3 of my little jaunt to London, you’re here to find out about Tom’s new play aren’t you?!

Theatre programme for Ibsen's Rosmersholm, 1893 by Edouard Vuillard
Well, first of all, there's a small, but interesting diversion, as Monday started with a trip to the British Museum to see the work of another Norwegian, the artist Edvard Munch.
When I cruised around Norway a few years ago, his most famous painting The Scream seemed to be everywhere. It has become a universal symbol for anxiety, and this collection of prints in a collection entitled “Love and Angst” showed Munch’s exploration of his personal experiences of death and suffering throughout his life. It seemed the perfect introduction to get into the mindset of the evening’s play, which was to be a Norwegian writer’s exploration of human suffering.

Munch found his native homeland restrictive to his liberal ideas. He moved throughout Europe, just like Ibsen, and in fact he developed a friendship with both the playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg, which gave him an interest in the theatre. Hypnosis and the power of suggestion was becoming increasingly looked into in the 1880’s this can be seen in another play that Tom Burke has been in, August Strindbergs Creditors, which again explored how easily a man can be manipulated by a woman. 

Whilst Munch fell out with Strindberg, he developed a particular interest in Ibsen’s plays, his dark art shocked society, and Ibsen’s plays which focused on dark subject matters such as immorality, adultery and hypocrisy made them an ideal working partnership when it came to stage set and theatre programme designs. 

Henrik Ibsen 1902
Following Ibsen’s death in 1906, the German director Max Reinhardt asked Munch to design the sets for Ghosts, one of Ibsen’s earlier plays. Munch felt a close bond with the character Osvald who had inherited syphilis from his profligate father. Having watched his sister die, and as a family dealing with grief, Munch was able to transfer his own feelings of tragedy onto Ibsen’s characters. When he met the elderly Ibsen in 1893, he was told “Believe me – you will have the same fate as I – the more enemies, the more friends.” And in the 21st century that is to be believed, both Ibsen and Munch still have a huge following, and in today’s confused and troubled times, they seem more popular than ever.

Rosmersholm – Henrik Ibsen - 1886

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

“I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”

I studied Rosmersholm back in the 90s and thought it was one of the most striking plays I had ever read. I have always been obsessed with horses, and I was fascinated by the idea of white horses being the ghosts of the house of Rosmersholm, whether they be the ghosts of past, present or future, that fear of seeing this mythical beast resonated with me. That sense of foreboding is nothing new, think of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The white horse, the red horse, the black horse, the pale horse.)

These ghosts of foreboding

Sunday, 5 May 2019

All My Sons – Arthur Miller (The Old Vic, London)

If you’ve read The Crucible blog, you’ll know I was really excited to see All My Sons. As I’ve said previously, I’m not very familiar with Arthur Miller’s work, so in preparation I made the mistake of watching a previous version of the play (available online) starring David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker. It was fabulous!

Based upon a true story that Miller’s mother-in-law had seen in an Ohio newspaper, Miller wrote All My Sons in a vain bid to write a commercially successful play. All My Sons appears to be heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, a play whereby a family has various skeletons in the closet which have to come out! In Miller’s story, two American business men conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines built for military use.

Money talks in this play… Joe Keller (Bill Pullman) has been exonerated of knowingly shipping damaged cylinder heads to the American air force, which have contributed to the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II. Instead, he blames his partner

The Crucible – Arthur Miller (The Yard Theatre, London)

I am not going to pretend that I know much about Arthur Miller. I know he was an American playwright, once married to Marilyn Monroe and he wrote The Crucible, a drama based on the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692/93. (I know about that because we read it at school and took a school trip to the theatre in Manchester, or maybe Liverpool, to watch it!) But apart from that, I don’t own any Arthur Miller books, so I was happy to go with my friend’s recommendations and have a “Miller” day in London.

First stop, The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. Now I have been to this quirky little theatre before to watch Three Sisters After Chekhov which was amazing, but I knew it was a small fringe theatre and so I didn’t raise my hopes up too much on this production, I was saving myself for the evening’s blockbuster!

You’re a witch.
                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.

                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.
                               Stop saying that.
You’re a witch.
                               You’re scaring me.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.

As I took my seat on the front row, I realised this was not going to be the place to take a naughty snapshot of the stage, especially as I was practically sat on it! The opening image is rather striking in its simplicity. A set of red chairs, with the names of the characters emblazoned on the white backrests, are set up as though ready for a service in a small pastoral church. A crib is front, centre stage. The nine actors gradually take their chairs and introduce us to their duel-roles as they swap seats to take on the numerous characters they portray. They start off telling the story in their own accents, gradually slipping into American accents as they explain the context of Salem and the Puritans of Massachusetts, their isolation, their internal tensions and lack of stability leading to the events that unfold during the rest of the play.

I thought this was an interesting but unnerving start to the play, especially as one of the main narrators was sat within touching distance and I wasn’t really sure where to look…do I stare her out, do I look at the others who aren’t speaking??!! I was a little bit anxious if I’m honest…but then as I settled into the play, I realised this was a good thing. I wasn’t just watching the play…I felt complicit

Saturday, 4 May 2019

All About Eve - Noel Coward Theatre, London

“Nothing is forever in the theatre. Love or hate, success or failure…whatever it is, it flares up and burns hot and then it is gone.”

It’s true that people are often more interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the movies and the theatre, than what they see on screen or stage. Actors are a strange breed if you’re not living in their world…when you speak to them at the stage door are you really speaking to them, or are you speaking to another version of them? When they hug you and say, “it’s wonderful to see you again” do they really mean it, or internally is every fibre of their being screaming “oh dear God no, no, not you again!!!!”

There are those of us who think they must be fed up of us if they were honest, that they are just being polite, it’s just part of their job when they leave the stage door to smile and pose for pictures. Then there are those who genuinely believe the actor is as thrilled and excited to see them after the show, as they are to see the actor. And then there’s the Eve Harrington’s of this world, so honest, so sincere, but behind the laughter and the smiles they want something more than a hug and a selfie, and by God they’ll make sure they get it, even if it means riding roughshod over everybody.

Based on the 1946 short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, All About Eve tells the story of how one obsessed fan manipulated her way into the life of the Broadway star Margo (Crane) Channing. Eve’s behaviour is rather desperate, her desire to become friends with Margo is all consuming,

Monday, 22 April 2019

Orpheus Descending – Tennessee Williams - Theatr Clwyd

The Greek God Apollo gave his son Orpheus a lyre; which he played to such perfection that nothing could resist the music he played. He fell in love with Eurydice, a woman of exquisite beauty. They married and for many years they were supremely happy. One day Eurydice was wandering in the forest when a shepherd called Aristaeus saw her and became beguiled by her beauty. He chased her, she tripped, was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus took to lamenting his grief by playing his lyre until Apollo told his son to travel to Hades and visit his wife.

Orpheus took to the stygian world and upon finding Hades played his lyre and poured out his grief to him. Hades was moved by the sound and told Orpheus he could have his wife back. She was to walk behind him and he was not to turn to look at her until they had both exited the underworld, or she would have to return to Hades. Orpheus was nearly at the exit when he thought he had been duped by the Gods, so he turned, saw Eurydice, and then she returned to the underworld forever. Orpheus tried to re-enter the underworld but could not as a mortal. He died and the Muses saved his head in order that the living would remain enchanted by the beauty of his song.

This Greek myth formed the basis for Tennessee Williams’ lesser known play Orpheus Descending, which is a co-production between my local theatre in Mold, Theatr Clwyd and The Mernier Chocolate Factory in London.

There is often a reason why some plays are performed lass than others. Looking back at the reviews of past productions, the play is not met with much enthusiasm. It has been described as long-winded…it plods along with an extensive cast of superfluous characters wafting in and out of this slow-paced play. It was therefore with some in trepidation that I went to watch this latest attempt to bring this play to the masses. It didn’t help that as I took my seat, an usher came over to me to apologise for forgetting to say the first act was “rather long…it lasts 1 hour 40, but after the break the second act only runs for 40 minutes!”

I need not have worried. Tamara Harvey may not think that she is a genius, but I was completely engaged throughout the first 1 hour and 40 minutes. The time flew by as I was whisked away to the Deep South, to watch a story about life and death, love and loneliness, prejudice and narrowmindedness. It is a reminder of the current climate of hate that seems to constantly occupy news headlines these days.

The stage is at ground level, so the front row of the audience and the actors are on the same level. As the lights go up, Uncle Pleasant (Valentine Hudson) sets the scene for our tragic tale. We are in the centre of a Mississippi store; the owner Lady Torrance is bringing her husband home who is recovering from an operation. Local gossips Beulah Binnings (Catrin Aaron) and Dolly Hamma (Laura Jane Matthewson) are setting up a welcoming party. As they chat and unpack the hampers, we realise Lady was the daughter of an Italian man who sold liquor to some blacks. A group of locals found out and torched his home, his vine yards and his garden filled with little white arbours where folk would drink and party the night away. He died in the middle of the fire; and his daughter did not know that she married the man responsible for her father’s death.

The gossip is interrupted by the arrival of Carol Cutrere (Jemima Rooper) a woman who is too strong-willed for this backwater. The locals have run this bad girl out of town, but here she is, turning up like a bad penny, all dressed up in leopard print, red lipstick and high heels. There was something in the defiance of this character that I loved. It didn’t matter what people said about her, what stories they made up to manipulate feelings and bad will amongst the rest of the community, here she was, head held high, carrying on regardless. There was an inner strength that we sometimes forget we possess, one that stops us being the victim of abuse, one that encourages us to fight for what we believe in.

If the townsfolk didn’t like the appearance of Carol Cutrere, it was nothing to their reaction of seeing the stranger Valantine Xavier (Seth Numrich) rocking up with his guitar and snake-skin jacket. To them he’s just trouble, and you already know in a backwater full of jealousy and hatred, it’s not going to end well for him. This type of townsfolk can’t bear to see anyone happy, but Lady (Hattie Morahan) can see a flicker of hope with the arrival of the young man. She dares to dream he could be her ticket to liberation, but she is constrained by her domineering husband and the community, so anything she tries to do won’t be easy.

Williams’ rich dialogue is sometimes hard to listen to in these modern times. Referring to wops and niggers as though they are second-class citizens, dehumanised from the rest of society, but this racial viciousness is necessary. It shows the pettiness, the malice, the hatred of anyone different in the community. This language makes you want to rally against this small-minded clique, to rise up and give them a shake, to tell them to stop being so blinkered. But it also makes you realise that a lot of those narrow-minded, insular prejudices are still in existence, nearly 80 years after William’s first draft was written. Just take a quick flick through Twitter, or even closer to home, private messages full of tittle tattle of mythical proportions, creating melodramas within small circles of friends because people are so insecure of themselves. They have to try to cut down the Carol Cutrere’s of this world to stand half a chance of survival.

The first version of this play called Battle of Angels bombed. It was rewritten but the newer version’s exploration of the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and the evil, material world of darkness still failed to meet with a positive reception. In order to succeed, the play requires a fast-pace, which keeps the poetic nature of William’s writing, but allows us to engage and then move on from each character. This production delivers that. Parts of the play which could become farcical instead become a spiritual lesson in humanity.

Those who have enjoyed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire or Summer and Smoke should not be put off by this lesser known work and instead embrace the poetry of William’s writing and the all-encompassing staging of the play where the actors and audience become one.

Orpheus Descending

Theatr Clwyd Mold  15 April - 27 April 2019
Transfers to Menier Chocolate Factory, London 9 May – 6 July 2019

Monday, 15 April 2019

Kiss Me Quickstep - Theatr Clwyd

I love Strictly Come Dancing. I’m not one of those mega fans who can recite who appeared in each series, nor can I tell you who won each year, but as a piece of easy watching entertainment as the winter nights draw in, it ticks many boxes for me. Fabulous costumes, dancing, great music (although some memorable tunes have been reduced to screeched pastiches by the in-house singers) and a host of people (many of whom I have never heard of) trying to learn a new skill. 

When I was at school, I made costumes for the dance troop in my spare time. I think my teacher hoped I’d have a career in fashion or costume design, but sadly my school didn’t offer A-Level Textiles, plus my confidence in my artistic abilities plummeted during my 6th form at school. There were people out there far more talented than me and I had no-one telling me to believe in myself or pointing me in the right direction, so sewing became a pastime for pleasure. 

When I saw a play called Kiss Me Quickstep at Theatr Clwyd, I felt I would be spending a night blown away by fabulous costumes, music and dancing. I arrived to take my seat and was told I would have to wait until the safety curtain was raised. I was a little bemused. I thought the stage was going to be traverse style…which to be fair it was…I just thought I’d be sat below stage level…not actually on it! Once I got over the initial shock that I would be sat on the stage, on the front row with the rest of the audience able to see me I settled down to take stock of my unusual viewpoint. I felt as though I was one of the judges, ready to hold up my score card each time a couple danced! I tweeted a photo of where I was sat and someone responded by sending me one from the's looking back atcha!

Kiss Me Quickstep takes you into the world of ballroom and Latin dance competitions. We are transported to the Blackpool Winter Gardens and the National Amateur Championships and the private battles three couples have in their quest to raise the winning trophy. There are the reining champions, Lee and Samantha; the new partnership of Luka and Nancy; and the ever-hopeful Justin and Jodie who up until now have danced in the shadow of Lee and Samantha. Just like at real competitions, the actors sat on the stage changing from their track suits into their sparkling dresses. But it seemed they also brought some excess baggage with them too. 

Watching you, watching me!
Samantha is still mourning the loss of her mother and is unable to compete without slyly drinking vodka from her water bottle. Justin and Jodie arrive at the competition despite their car falling apart and breaking down enroute, and it seems that they are so deep in debt the chances of them being able to fix the car or buy a more reliable mode of transport is as much a pipe-dream to them as winning the competition. Poor Nancy is trying to have success in the shadow of her bullying father who has recently paid for Luka to come over from Russia to become her new dance partner as the last one wasn’t good enough!

All of this makes for the premise of a great story, but despite sitting in the thick of the action I found the play a bit dull. The characters were rather wooden and one dimensional. It seemed that their trials and tribulations were a bit boring and there was no underdog to root for. Everyone seemed to be on an equal footing, each with their own revelation that you’d already worked out for yourself. There wasn’t enough chemistry for the audience to believe that Samantha and Jodie had been best friends at school, or that Luka and Lee are clearly gay. This was skirted around, and bearing in mind the furore that has beset Strictly Come Dancing about same sex couples, this would have been the ideal ground to explore this narrative.

When we get to the quarter finals a couple is eliminated and Nancy’s dad continues to interfere in her routines on the basis that he is trying to ensure she doesn’t win the competition. It all seemed rather confused and dreary which is a shame as there were some really good dance routines, but they were too short and crammed into the second half. The chorography extended beyond the Jive, Foxtrot, Paso Doble etc as crew members wheeled dress racks in a routine across the stage to create dressing rooms for the contestants, and it was nice to see local community dancers take to the stage to give the impression that there were more dancers in the competition, but this didn’t salvage the play.

I enjoyed the dancing and the costumes, and it has to be said the cast gave superb performances from this lacklustre text, but I found the story rather insipid and not full of the glitz and glamour I was expecting. In the words of former Strictly judge Len Goodman, I would give this production a kindly “Severrrrn!”

Ian McKellen on Stage - Theatr Clwyd (18/03/2019)

Sir Ian McKellen...with an 'E' a legend of stage and screen. I thought I was blessed to be able to see him in London (on my birthday!) playing the titular role of King Lear, but that wouldn't compare to seeing him treading the boards of my local theatre in Mold.

It's Sir Ian's 80th birthday year and he's celebrating in style, visiting 80 theatres up and down the country which have a particular meaning to him. As soon as I received the email that he was coming to Theatr Clwyd I told my hairdresser to get a move on so I could rush home and book a couple of tickets. By the time I got home I'd missed the front row seats, but I managed to purchase two seats on row BB, and the way the seats were arranged, technically you were kind of on the front row view-wise!!

Later that evening I told my other half I was seeing Sir Ian and that my friend Nikki would be joining me. Now everyone on here has probably gathered that my OH isn’t a theatre goer, but I had committed the cardinal sin. "But, but, but, that's Gandolf he exclaimed!" Oh dear God, there would be no end to it if I couldn't get him a ticket, so back online I went. I was stunned, the tickets were not on general sale and within 12 hours were practically sold out on both evenings. I found a seat on row A for him which he was happy with...and so he should have been, it cost nearly three times as much as my ticket (a £10 bargain!)

"You shall not pass.”

So the evening I'd been waiting ages for arrived. Nikki, OH and I went to the Glasfryn for dinner and Nikki and I got tipsy on a bottle of Prosecco! We excitedly sat down. All we could see on stage was a large funny it would be if he burst out of the box we giggled. Suddenly the lights went off, we were sat in a pitch-black auditorium, and the sound of Sir Ian’s voice boomed through the darkness…”You shall not pass”…Gandolf was suddenly in the room with an enraptured audience. He held the great tome aloft as he quoted its contents. I was stunned…remembering lines for a play was one thing, but remembering great swathes of text? I sat feeling a little ashamed that I have never read the Lord of the Rings, or indeed The Hobbit. It turns out I’m in good company…neither has he!

We were then regaled with tales from filming Lord of the Rings. All the people that have told him they religiously read the text every year; including Christopher Lee, and just how fond he was of Legolas when he saw him. Ahhh Legolas...the only reason I watched the entire franchise!!

"Being an actor was never the plan, I just fell in love with the magic of the theatre. I had to be around it and the rest just followed.

And so we progressed onto Sir Ian's life. His childhood, his dream of becoming an actor after watching the magic of Peter Pan come to life on stage. His early days of acting up in his hometown of Wigan. How back in the day you had a touring box, hence the box on stage, which would contain all you needed...props, costumes etc to go on stage. And that of course was why he couldn’t jump out of the was too full of what he required for the evening's entertainment. I smirked at how well he knew the minds of his audience.

I thought he had chosen Theatr Clwyd as he must have performed there, but no, that night was the first night he had trod the boards of the Sir Anthony Hopkins Theatr. So why choose Mold...a theatre in the middle of nowhere, in a town no-one has heard of.  Well it turns out that as a child he remembered holidays down the road in Conwy, and his father walking the nearby Snowdonia Range. He had spent the day reminiscing in Conwy...and I think that set him up for an excellent evening of storytelling.  

"Has anyone here been to Buckingham Palace?"

A cheeky glisten is in his eyes as he good-naturedly enquires of the achievements of the audience. He’s not showing off; he’s sharing an intimate moment of when he received his knighthood. There is no pretentiousness in his tale, he is still the down to earth person he was growing up in Lancashire, but he is someone who has stories most of us can only dream about, and here he is, in his armchair recounting tales that are very personal to him.

Sir Ian launches into a rendition of Gus the Theatre Cat by T S Eliot while sitting in his foldaway chair. It always chokes me when I read it, ever since I was a child and I got Andrew Lloyd Webbers stage play on Vinyl! Sir Ian is playing the voice of Gus in the new film version of Cats which is set to grace the cinema screens in 2019. His ability to recite poetry is sublime, this is continued with his reading of Sir Edward Manley-Hopkins’ The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo – the lament for lost beauty and youth which brings the first half of the show to a close. (Whilst it was wonderful to listen to, I must be honest and say I still prefer listening to Richard Burton’s rendition!)

"Go to Flint Castle; there I’ll pine away"

After the interval it was time to bed down with Shakespeare. Sir Ian has had an extraordinary career as a Shakespearean actor. He invited us to shout out the names of all of Shakespeare’s plays, curious to know if we could remember them all, including the obscure ones. He did note there were some members of the audience who having directed Shakespeare and should know them all...and were therefore not supposed to shout out!!! Just to illustrate how many plays Shakespeare wrote, he rummaged in his box and brought out copies of each text! As a title was shouted out, he would pick up the relevant book and give an insight into a story whilst  he had performed the play, or indeed at times he’d put the book down, give a withering look and say “I have nothing to say about that one!”

I was sat wearing my Macbeth t-shirt...hmm should I shout that out? Maybe if I did the theatre would fall know what theatrical folk are like...maybe I'd be better shouting the Scottish play...but then what if he's not superstitious?  By the time I'd finished deliberating someone had beaten me to it (the Scottish play they called out)...and his anecdotal response made me realise that it turns out not all the acting fraternity are particularly superstitious after all!!!!

I then started thinking obscure plays... Troilus and Cressida...yes I'll shout that. But then I thought...did Shakespeare write it?? Deep down I knew he did...but what if he didn’t...hmm maybe I shouldn’t have had that Prosecco. So I remained tight-lipped, and as we got further through the plays I couldn’t remember everything that had already been shouted out...I didn’t want to duplicate an I left it to the folk sitting near the director to continue shouting out! Self-doubt...a terrible affliction, but then I don’t pretend to be a master of Shakespeare, or indeed any playwright.  I also know that I have a terrible memory for best to shut up, enjoy the evening and indulge in watching others have fun. (You don’t always have to be the gobshite to be part of an evening’s entertainment!)

I thought that Sir Ian would restrict his local anecdotes to the earlier part of the show, but as he picked up a copy of The Tragedy of King Richard II, he said, “you know this has particular relevance to this theatre?”

He then started to recite from the end Act III, Scene II.

By heaven I’ll hate him everlastingly
That bids me be of comfort anymore.
Go to Flint Castle: there I’ll pine away;
A king, woe’s slave, shall kingly woe obey.
That power I have, discharge; and let them go…

Act III, Scene III – Wales, before Flint Castle

So that by this intelligence we learn
The Welshmen are dispers’d and Salisbury
Is gone to meet the King…

Flint Castle is just down the road from the theatre in Mold.  This was a master at work. A man with a long life in the theatre, but with no heirs and graces, just a great memory, and the ability to share the most pertinent pieces of literature with his audience.

And then the evening drew to a close...Sir Ian stood on stage with his big yellow collecting bucket. “The money you have paid for your programme will go to this theatre, and the money you put in this bucket will go to the theatre too.” How amazing of him...each performance would benefit the theatre he was playing at. An extraordinary gentleman was standing in front of us. He had entertained us with tales of his youth, his career, his sexuality for two and a half hours. It was hard to believe that this man standing in front of us was in his 80th year.

As I walked towards the bar I could see a great crowd surrounding him. I could have barged through all those camera phones to have a word with him, but was it really necessary? People were wanting selfies… (I'm not a huge selfie queen as you all know) and his hands were full with a collecting bucket so making him put it down to sign a programme would be rude. If I introduced myself would it really matter? He won’t remember me, he can already see the delight in everyone’s faces so he knows he’s entertained everyone. If I gushed at him “Oh I loved your rendition of Gus, it made me shed a tear” it would be more for my benefit than his…a sense of entitlement almost. So instead I sat at the bar with Nikki and my OH and we watched the crowd, and we watched Sir Ian, and we were content. There is a time and a place for chatting to an actor, and for me, this wasn’t it.

"An Invitation to Dinner"

I don’t know if you have ever played the game "who would you invite to dinner?" I have, and unsurprisingly most of the people I would like around my table are actors! Sir Ian is on my list, obviously Tom Burke (and his parents as I imagine they have some great tales to tell), David Suchet, and the late, great, Alan Rickman (who Sir Ian paid homage to in tonight’ show.) I think they get a seat around my table because they lead extraordinarily fascinating lives, (although I suspect most of them think their lives very dull and normal.) Couple this with the fact that they know how to deliver a tale so that is highly entertaining, it makes sense to invite them round your table…no-one wants a dull dinner party! Whilst the spirit of the game is just a bit of fun, I have been blessed to listen to Tom telling hilarious anecdotes and after an evening of Sir Ian McKellen on stage, I felt that I had spent an intimate evening amongst friends, and Sir Ian was at the head of the table!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Wise Children, by Emma Rice @ Storyhouse, Chester

“We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 
And then we'll take it higher …
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue”

Or were we? As the tune rocked out and the audience jigged along in their seats, all the lights went out! As this was an Emma Rice production, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a part of the show. But several seconds later and a few quips from the actors, the audience realised that this was an ironic blip to what had been a highly charged and entertaining evening.

“Oh and we were just getting to the good bit!” quipped Gareth Snook – aka Dora Chance. A few minutes later, someone had obviously shoved 50p in the meter and the lights came back on…actors hurriedly rushed back to their places to carry on as though nothing had happened…and then the runaway caravan developed a mind of its own and nearly pushed poor Lady Atalanta who was sat in her wheelchair off the stage! I don’t know why I was giggling…I was in the front row and nearly had the cast sitting in my lap!

These technical glitches apart, Wise Children was a totally different theatrical experience to what I am used to. I always think that I’m not a fan of musicals…but then I can merrily rattle off a list of the musicals I’ve actually rather enjoyed. Whilst Wise Children is not advertised as a musical, there are a number of songs and routines throughout that keep the production moving at a high tempo. At the interval I said to my friend that it was a shame there wasn’t a soundtrack to buy as the cast sounded exquisite and there were occasions I found myself wanting to sing along (despite not knowing the lyrics!)

Wise Children is a book by the acclaimed novelist Angela Carter, it is also the name of the theatre company Emma Rice created upon her well-publicised departure from The Globe in London. Shakespeare purists lamented her appointment and proclaimed she had destroyed Shakespeare. I can’t possibly comment. I have never seen a play performed at The Globe and I’m most definitely not a purist when it comes to Shakespeare. In fact, the only times I’ve ever truly enjoyed his work have been when actors and directors have stepped outside the box and put a new spin on it (Andrew Scott in Hamlet being a perfect example of this!)
Some might have thought Emma Rice would disappear without trace from this “fall from grace,” but in Wise Children she has shown herself to be innovative, brave, bold and an obvious lover of the late Angela Carter, who herself was not one for sticking with tradition.

 “Happy Birthday to us. We used to be song and dance girls.”

Wise Children could be regarded as a love letter to the theatre. It is April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday, and in Brixton twins Nora and Dora Chance (Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook) and celebrating their 70th birthday. They have been invited to their father’s 100th birthday party; himself the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time and also a twin!
On the stage, acrobats, clowns and performers are limbering up. An old style caravan sits upstage and two young girls arrive, skipping, laughing and dancing. The performers head towards them but are stopped in their tracks as the girls start singing:

“I have sharp teeth within my mouth, inside my dark red lips. And polish bright hides my sharpened claws, in my fingertips…”

These are not girls to be messed with, and the carnivalesque air starts to show a darker side, that there is more to the girls than meets the eye, then the door of the caravan opens and we are transported to 49 Bard Street Brixton, the home of Nora and Dora Chance. This is their life story, through the highs and the heartbreaks of love and mistaken identities, this is a roller coaster of emotions celebrating all that is good about showbusiness, family, hope and the need to forgive.

Nora and Dora know who their father his, but he has never acknowledged the fact – that is, until they receive an invitation to his 100th birthday party. This is their chance to tell their story and although time may have aged them, Murfitt and Snook are playful and sassy as they chronical their lives.

It becomes clear that Dora is the one with the common sense as puppetry and a talented cast take us back in time to pivotal points in Nora and Dora’s tale as share their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions with us. Katy Owen (Grandma Chance) brings the twins up in her own unique style and she is ever much the scene stealer as the over-the-top streetwise gran!  (Think Catherine Tate’s “gran” character and you’ll be both shocked and having hysterics as she teaches you a thing or two!)

There are various musical numbers such “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Electric Avenue” that make you want to get up and sing. And there are various beautiful touches of genius, when the cast are waving flags to represent flames, or Peregrines “Rupert Bear” trousers fading in colour as he gets older, to butterflies flying around the stage. This was a production full of imagination, storytelling, fun and laughter, and perfect for transporting you away from the drudgery of the day.

Storyhouse - 19 March 2019 - 23 March 2019
Richmond Theatre - 26 March 2019 - 30 March 2019
Belgrade Theatre - 02 April 2019 - 06 April 2019