Good Girl

Good Girl by Naomi Sheldon – Trafalgar Studios, London

I didn’t really know what to expect from this play, which I think made it all the better. I happened to be in London on short notice and essentially chose a play based on what time and where it was on, as I had a few other appointments to fit it around. Which seems like the worst reason to see a show ever, but it worked out wonderfully for me because Good Girl is absolutely brilliant.

The show details the life of the titular Good Girl (referred to as GG throughout) as she grows up, navigating her emotions and the expectations of the world around her. I laughed out loud so many times, Sheldon’s writing is incredibly relatable. It’s perfectly evocative of growing up in the 90’s with numerous references that could have been describing me and my childhood friends. The themes are pertinent for any time period and any place though. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this show.

Sheldon is alone on a podium throughout and is still consistently riveting to watch. She doesn’t need anything other than her own performing ability to keep us enraptured. While the majority of the piece is spoken with GG’s voice and point of view, Sheldon also brings to life various friends and acquaintances. Each character to clearly defined and recognisable, Sheldon is able to essentially converse with herself and still have it be easy to follow. Cos she’s so bloody good.

I haven’t connected with a show like this in a long time, it really is something special.

London baby! (the big Jerwood launch)

This week I finally got the chance to meet the other 39 recipients of a Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary (WJCB). And I got to do one of my new favourite things – business travel! Paid for trains and hotels will never get old. So it was back on to snapchat for more of those not so humble brags.

As with the other trips I’ve been on, the purpose of this lil jaunt was not as frivolous as my over-excitement about freebies implies. We were there to develop ourselves and to learn more about the year ahead. This all began with the official Jerwood launch at the super snazzy Jerwood Space, where we listened to some inspiring speeches. Hearing everyone praise the scheme and get excited about what we could achieve really highlighted how much of an opportunity I’ve been given. I think my favourite speech was from WJCB alumni Alice Parsons, it was lovely to hear from someone who had been through what we’re all going through. She really helped to drive home what’s possible for us.

The launch also allowed for us to chat to people in the industry and do a bit of networking. I’m still fairly awful at it but I’m definitely less ‘rabbit in headlights’ these days (and that’s only two months in, maybe I’ll be a proper extrovert by the end of this thing). As well as meeting more established industry professionals, we got to meet each other. We’d travelled from as far as Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff – we’re a spread out bunch! A major aspect of the programme is us creating our own network and collaborating, so all convening at events like this is vital. We had a lovely dinner together and shared our experiences. Nice to know that I’m not alone in my fears and also to hear what everyone else is up to.

The morning following the launch, we were up bright and early to head to The Place, one of this year’s host organisations. Here we had a jam packed day – I couldn’t possibly tell you about all of it. So here’s the highlight reel. The morning session was full of practical information that I reckon will be very handy in future. It was really cool to learn about the various routes people have taken into arts careers, reassuring to know it doesn’t need to be a set path. We also got the lowdown on how funding works, its priorities and a little advice on how to go about applying for it. My arm ached from the speed I was trying to take notes. I’ve not had to do that since uni, which was a fair while ago now.

 

IMG-6502.JPGSnowy views from outside The Place

After some tasty as heck pastries and cups of tea, it was on to speeches from the British Council. In a new pilot scheme for the 2017-19 cohort, the British Council have collaborated with the WJCB team to create 14 international placements within arts organisations throughout Europe. All 14 of the placements look so much fun and, perhaps more importantly, like they could be invaluable in terms of our development. Getting the chance to travel and understand arts initiatives in a broader context than the UK is so important. After the whole ‘Brexit’ debacle (a young person in the arts, not keen on Brexit? Shocking, I know) I feel it’s more important than ever to be forging relationships with our neighbours and ensuring that arts and culture become shared experiences. Competition for the placements will be fierce, every one of the other bursary holders is crazy talented and obviously we can’t all get a place. Therein lies the beauty of us creating a network amongst ourselves. Any knowledge, skills and contacts we gain on the international placements will be shared by the group. It’s all very exciting!

The final part of the day was my favourite. We got to meet alumni, hearing them speak about their time on the placements, their experiences afterwards and what we can do to make the most of it. In smaller groups we were given the chance to ask questions which was great. It meant I could let loose all my stupid questions in a more chill environment. I took away a lot of advice that I want to try and follow. And, in my favourite take away from the event, we’re now all in contact with each other, already discussing some incredible ideas for collaborations. Watch this space!

 

Revelations

Revelations by James Rowland – Vault Festival, Waterloo

Go see this play! It’s so bloody good! I loved it so much, even though I was crazy hungover from my birthday celebrations the night before. It essentially cured my hangover – a pretty powerful piece.

I’d seen the first two instalments of Rowland’s Songs of Friendship trilogy before and also absolutely loved them, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a storytelling piece, with just Rowland and a loop station onstage (full disclosure, dunno if this is actually what it’s called, it’s a cool little thing that he uses to record himself singing onstage, layering to create a song at the end. I think loop station is right). You forget how sparse the staging is, the writing transports you into each setting. I know the stories being told aren’t true but while you’re watching it you believe every word.

The play is about Rowland being asked to donate his sperm to his friends and the questions that raises for him. It is at times hilarious and at times heart-breaking, much like his previous two shows. He’s a charming performer, completely in control of the material and the audience. It’s such a warm show, I challenge anyone not to leave beaming. It also features a pretty daring use of nudity. It’s a bold choice given how stuffy us Brits often are about nakedness but it totally works.

It can’t find anything to fault with the show. Its main strength is Rowland himself and how engaging a stage presence he is. But my writing isn’t doing it justice, so just go and see it please.

 

 

The Ferryman

The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth – Gielgud Theatre

The Ferryman was my first ever West End play. And before I discuss the piece itself, I’m going to go on two rants about things I noticed re: the West End. Feel free to skip ahead. Firstly, oh my gosh those tickets prices. I knew the West End was pricey, I’d heard tell of this and accepted it as a given. But I didn’t realise quite how pricey. The majority of tickets for this performance were around the £60 mark and a lot of these were not especially good seats. For £60, I want to be able to reach out and tap the actor’s shoes. Not be sat up on a vertigo inducing balcony miles away from the stage. And some tickets were £94! I know the productions on the West End are of a large scale and cost a little more to produce, which is reflected in the pricing. I was still shocked at the seeming lack of effort to make the show affordable though. £95 tickets just mean that the same wealthy audiences will keep returning and you’re unlikely to attract anyone new, particularly younger audiences or those from lower income backgrounds. Diversity in the arts should cover those working in the industry and audiences, and the West End (in my tiny experience of it on this play) seems to have absolutely no interest in it. The only lower-priced offerings were restricted view, or extremely restricted view. I got a £25 restricted view ticket and actually ended up getting a decent seat, I just had to lean forward a bit and accept that stage right was a mystery I’d never know. However, it still discomforts me that this is the only way of attending affordably. I know restricted view seats being the cheapest is common in theatres. That’s fine (but seriously architects, get it together and stop making theatres where some of the seats can’t actually see the stage). However, many theatres now offer these restricted view reduced prices along with cheaper tickets for younger audiences or unwaged patrons, amongst others (NT, The Bridge, RSC etc). Not seeing some of the performance shouldn’t be the only way of seeing a West End show cheaply. I don’t like the idea of grouping all those who’ve had to pay less together. It feels almost like a quarantine (albeit a nice one, I got chatting to a girl also my age who’d plumped for the same price ticket, she was much friendlier than the lady sat in the pricey seats who tutted at me for simply sitting down – genuinely thought these people only existed as TV caricatures). Spending the show unable to see sections of the stage because apparently you can’t afford to see everything means you spend the whole time being reminded that this experience isn’t necessarily for you. You aren’t who they’re trying to draw in here. Maybe I’m being bitter, or overly sensitive or whatever. But to me, £25 is still quite a lot of money and too much to not be able to see a decent sized portion of the stage (but I was close enough to really see the expressions on the actors faces and smaller details in the set, the seats could definitely have been worse!). Also, if I’m mistaken and there is in fact a scheme to get cheaper access to West End tickets for young/lower income audiences, please do show it me! But restricted view seats don’t count. That’s just a way of filling the auditorium and making sure folk can’t complain when they’re unable to see, that’s not an access scheme.

Rant number two time. Strap in lads. Shaftesbury Avenue is a terrible place. I’ve never seen anywhere with such an uncomfortable blend of rich and indifferent tourists, fancy venues and restaurants, and extreme poverty in the form of rough sleepers occupying every available doorway. People seemed irritated by their presence, rather than concerned for their welfare. The juxtaposition between those sleeping in the doorways and the theatre patrons strolling past was jarring, and made me keenly aware of my own privilege. I gave some change but that’s never really enough and likely not going to impact anyone’s life positively in the long run. So I need to do more on that front in terms of volunteering because at the moment I’m not doing enough. I hope the theatres and other places drawing in so much money around that area are doing their bit. The other aspect I was quite uncomfortable with was the sleaziness. The huge Windmill club advertising its table dancers. The phone boxes covered with astoundingly graphic prostitute adverts. I saw some tourists taking photos of their daughter stood next to one of the ‘iconic’ red phone boxes. They seemed not to have noticed the flyers. I also saw what I am fairly certain was a human poo. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say it had ended up higher than I believe a dog could have gotten it. A truly disgusting sight. I wasn’t expecting streets of gold but I really wasn’t expecting what I got.

The show itself was lovely. I didn’t know much about the play prior to seeing it, I’d just heard it was good. My sources proved reliable. The acting was brilliant, particularly Mark Lambert as Uncle Patrick Carney. He was so warm and joyful throughout I found myself wanting him to be my Uncle. Despite dealing with the topic of the troubles the play isn’t short on moments of fun, many of them centring on Uncle Pat. Sam Mendes (director) aims for realism and more than achieves it. You feel truly immersed in 1980s Ireland, like you’re sat amongst the family yourself. The comfort the actors have built around each other made them so believable as a real family. The set was incredible as well. It was detailed and impressive without coming off as showy, it enhanced the realism rather than creating a spectacle of itself. The happiness the family environment evokes makes the end all the more affecting.

Now – potentially some spoilers here, in terms of staging rather than plot. They use a real goose, a real rabbit and a real baby onstage. It’s an impressive feat to work with such unpredictable co-stars and have it seem effortless. That said, some of it actually served as a distraction rather than enhancing the play, for me anyway. Post the appearance of the rabbit I found myself pondering its safety, how they’d got it to stay so still, how it stays in a pocket without getting hurt, is he a professional acting bunny, if so, how do they train him, or is he just someone’s pet? All these questions racing through my mind, and then I realised I’d missed some of the dialogue. So maybe not the intended effect there. Well done to little showbiz bunny, truly stole the scene.

The play demonstrates the ease with which people can be drawn into committing awful acts they don’t truly understand, along with the perils of operating in black and white terms on matters where so many shades of grey exist. Definitely recommend.

Quick final point for anyone who’s seen it: the character of Tom. Is he supposed to remind me so strongly of Of Mice and Men’s Lenny? His narrative arc almost has shades of Lenny’s as well.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar by Shakespeare – The Bridge Theatre

I managed to secure a last minute, and cheap, ticket for this through the Bridge’s Young Bridge scheme. £15 to see Michelle Fairely, David Morrissey and Ben Whishaw in an impressively inventive Shakespeare epic is not too shabby at all. Well done on the affordability front Bridge! Boo hiss to the West End (see previous post).

As to be expected, the performances were all brilliant. I’d have been shocked at anything less from actors of such well-established high calibre. It’s not an easy environment to perform in either as a large portion of the audience are right in amongst the action, sometimes very much getting in the way. One of my favourite performances of the night was not actually from one of the leads: I thought Leaphia Darko did a great job in her turn as Portia. Incredibly emotionally affecting in very short time. Adjoa Andoh as Casca was also great, alternating effortlessly between comedy and menace.

I bought one of the promenading tickets. Being in amongst the action was thrilling and intense. The battle scenes in particular really make you feel their energy and panic. It was something I don’t think I’d have experienced so keenly sat down and away from the action. The scenes in which Marc Anthony or Brutus are addressing a crowd are also greatly improved by having a crowd of non-actors surrounding them. Every emotion the speeches are supposed to elicit from the Romans actually comes to be in the audience. It’s impressive stuff.

That said, constantly moving around was sometimes distracting. I’m so used to seeing theatre in darkened and still rooms that people moving around me drew me out of the performance. Something about standing also seemed to have made a few people more comfortable with talking during the show, even when they were stood literally centimetres from the performers! Being quite short, my view wasn’t always good. The play is performed on raised stages (very well done to the stage crew by the way, getting so many people out of the way so quickly to bring in props/allow the enormous stages to rise is no mean feat! They got an onstage bow at the end which was lovely and much deserved). But even with raised stages, if people rushed too close together and I was stood behind a tall person, I could see nowt. You could still get a great view though if you ensured you stayed on the outskirts of the throng, free to reposition yourself as needed. Overall though, I think the promenading ticket was worth it. The atmosphere more than makes up for the occasional bad view and distractions. I’ll likely watch the NT Live broadcast to see anything I might have missed.

The play manages to make Shakespeare feel fresh and pertinent without feeling cloying. Some adaptations that try too hard to link to what’s happening in the today’s world can appear forced but this doesn’t. The links made felt appropriate and the modern staging adds to the story. Highly recommended and well worth signing up to the Young Bridge scheme – it’s free as well.IMG_6260.JPG