Monday, 30 November 2015

Billy Elliot

I can’t quite believe it took me so long to see Billy Elliot. Despite the fact I love musicals, and go to the theatre so often, I hadn’t seen a classic which ranks highly in many people’s favourites.
I put that right a few weeks ago, when my lovely friend Anthea came for a day trip to London, and we headed along to a matinee.

I think I was slightly apprehensive pre-show for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the film so much, and it’s so fantastically made, that I wondered how the stage version could compare. Secondly, having heard people rave about the show for years, I wondered whether my expectations had been set too high.

It’s safe to say my apprehensions were unnecessary.

Billy Elliot the musical has all of the heart of the original film, and manages to sustain that same juxtaposition of beautiful story of a young boy’s dreams against the political backdrop of Maggie Thatcher and the miners’ strike.

The show opens with Billy watching news reel clips, placing the show immediately within its context, and ‘The Stars Look Down’ is a great opening number. The combined voices of the male cast as the miners made a fantastic sound, one which was rousing and at times incredibly chilling. This is also true in ‘Solidarity’, which is one of my favourite songs of the show. This scene excellently presented the children’s ballet world and the strike alongside one another, and summed up a real sense of ‘them and us’, and the united front of the miners.

The set was another impressive feature of the show. Walls around the side of the stage provided the walls of Billy’s home, walls of the hall where ballet took place, and also as the rows of terraced houses in the village. A spiral staircase rising from a trapdoor added to Billy’s home, with a tiny bed set atop it to create his bedroom.  Other smaller parts to the set, such as the toilet cubicles and wire fences leading to the mines were pulled out from these side fixtures.

Our Billy Elliot was the fantastic Thomas Hazelby, and he honestly blew me away. He was immediately so likeable, and the audience were with him every step of the way. His dancing was, of course, stunning, as showcased in ‘Swan Lake’, performed as a duet with an older version of himself. The ‘Angry Dance’ at the end of Act One was one of the most breath-taking moments of the show, and for such a young man to portray such anger and frustration and violent passion in such a raw way was just brilliant. ‘Electricity’ was another of his standout moments, and was performed with complete confidence and passion.

Which brings me onto the other person present onstage during that song: Dad. Deka Walmsley was my favourite cast member, both in his moments of anger and his moments of pride. I was in tears at his reaction to realising his son’s dreams, and when he finally began to put his son’s future before his own. The father character goes on such a journey in the story of Billy Elliot, and Walmsley played the part to perfection.

Another beautiful moment I must mention simply because of my theatre buddy Anthea’s reaction: ‘The Letter (Mum’s Letter)’. This was so simple, yet so emotional and beautifully performed that she was in bits (she may tell me off for passing that one on!).

If you want to see an absolute classic, complete with slick staging and fantastic casting, I can now agree that Billy Elliot could potentially be one to book your tickets for! 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A Reflective Mood

Recently, it was the anniversary of a particular event, or series of events, that happened at a time when I was probably struggling the very most with my anxiety.

What the event was doesn’t matter, nor do the specific ins and outs of what happened, but what I wanted to try and put into words was how these dates felt, this year.

Firstly, I felt sad. I felt sad that what should have been a really happy occasion and memory is tainted by the way my anxiety made me feel. It completely took over the event, leaving me crying in my room, and escaping for long walks with my dad.

Secondly, the emotions and feelings came flooding back. I sat in my room remembering the events.
The transportation there and back made me feel trapped like I would never be able to get out. And every minute felt like hours.

I was convinced everyone was watching me, noticing what a nervous wreck I was, noticing me trying to slow down my breathing and stop my whole body tensing and shaking.

I was convinced I would be letting people down, the family and friends there with us. I thought I must seem pretty pathetic. In their opinion, all things considered, I had ‘nothing to worry about’.

There’s no logic to your thoughts when you’re at the mercy of your own mind, though.

 I remember sitting in a tiny café with my dad, looking out over a beautiful view, chatting and mulling everything over having had a sleepless night. I’d woken up with nausea that was overwhelming, with a chest so tight every breath hurt.

I couldn’t eat, so each mealtime again felt like a performance. In reality, no one really noticed. In my head, everyone was staring, noticing I wasn’t acting normally, thinking about how ridiculous I seemed.

Thirdly, I felt frustration. I felt angry. This was initially directed at myself. How could I have let it get so out of hand? How could I have let myself be drawn so deeply into these thought patterns? And then the frustration was at the illness. Why me? Why ruin an event that should hold nothing but happy memories? Why not just leave me alone?

And fourth? Fourth came pride. And the pride was made up of two parts.

The first reason for the pride: nobody knew. Nobody knows. Aside from my parents, no one else at the event would have had a clue. Despite my thoughts at the time, I can look back now and see nobody had any idea. I didn’t ‘ruin’ anyone else’s time. I didn’t taint anyone else’s memories.

And the second? Looking at how far I’ve come. I try to do this often, because I think it’s one of the most powerful things you can do at whatever stage you are in your ‘journey’ of dealing with an illness like anxiety.

Travelling still makes me nervous, I’ll admit. I have to know the route, the journey time, that there’s the opportunity to pause before continuing if I need to. But I can do it. I went through months of almost weekly trains between Manchester and London, and now I commute on the tube at rush hour every single day.

Have I had days I’ve jumped off to breathe? Yes. Have I had days I’ve dreaded getting on, or times the tube has stopped with no explanation in a tunnel and I feel the panic slowly creeping up and taking over my body? Yes. But I do it, every day.

Social situations don’t leave me panicking constantly in the days before, and I don’t spend the entire time looking at the door, repeating to myself ‘you can get out, you can get out, you need to get out, you need to get out’. Do I have days I don’t want to socialise? Of course! But does everyone? Also, yes.

I’m in a very, very different place to the one I was in a couple of years ago in these months leading up to Christmas. 

And you know what? I am so, so proud. 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ghost, Guildford School of Arts

Having missed out on seeing Ghost, the Musical when it was in London and touring, I was excited about getting the chance to see it performed by the third year Musical Theatre students of Guildford School of Arts this month.

The Ivy Arts Centre at the University of Surrey boasts a lovely auditorium, and the stage was set with some industrial-looking steps at the back, and three hanging gauzes, or curtains, all of which were moved around and used as set throughout the performance. Other items, such as bankers’ desks, and the sofa and fridge in Molly and Sam’s apartment were swiftly moved on and off the stage by cast members. For a show hosting so many scenes and locations, the set design and props had been carefully thought through.

As expected, the cast as a whole put on a stunning performance. The culmination of their years at the university, this musical showcased the standard of talent that will be moving forward into the industry. Choreography by Claira Vaughan allowed chorus members to shine, most noticeably in the songs ‘More and More’ and ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout a Miracle’.

A personal favourite of mine, and judging by the audience reaction, of many, was Bernadette Bangura’s fantastic portrayal of Oda Mae Brown. This was one of those occasions where you can’t imagine anyone else embodying the role. She completely owned every note, and every word muttered under her breath in reaction to the ridiculous situations she was finding herself in.  Her scenes provided light relief from the more emotionally heavy parts of the musical, and Bangura’s performance was phenomenal.

Carl, played by Edward Hewlett, is a character who, to use a real cliché, ‘goes on a journey’. Having never seen the film, I didn’t know the story of his character, and Hewlett played the transition from reliable friend, colleague and confidante to a man caught up in jealousy and greed well. I felt his performance was stronger in the first half – the ‘nice guy’ was a role he played particularly well – but I enjoyed his voice throughout.

Sam and Molly needed to be cast carefully, to both achieve a believable love story as a pair, but also to individually answer to the vocal demands of the roles, and an ability to take the audience on the emotional rollercoaster of a tale so many know and love. GSA got their casting spot-on. Taite-Elliot Drew and Jessica Paul had me hooked from the minute they began their rendition of ‘Here Right Now’, and I thought the interplay between the pair was sustained well.

I felt that both characters grew throughout the show, with Drew and Paul both pulling out their best performances in Act 2, although that’s not a criticism of their earlier scenes. Taite-Elliot Drew played ‘alive’ Sam nicely, but came into his own once he was alongside Ode Mae Brown, and had a purpose in trying to help Molly believe. Jessica Paul beautifully captured the combination of vulnerability and strength of Molly, and her voice, one I’ve been lucky to hear many times, is beautiful. ‘With You’ had me in tears, as the song always does, but Paul’s rendition of ‘Nothing Stops Another Day’ gave me a new appreciation for the song, and showed off her voice fantastically.

Sam and Molly’s final scene together was well-measured – it didn’t try and push the emotion too far. The scenes before it had laid the foundations for their emotional goodbye, allowing them to pull back slightly and allow the raw emotion to come through. I, for one, was in tears.

Huge credit goes to the entire cast, but also to their director, Adam Lenson, who clearly played to the strengths of his cast, and allowed them all to be part of a show they can be truly proud of.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Sleepless Nights


Everyone loves it, and the health and wellbeing benefits are well-documented.

But I’m just a bit rubbish at it.

I’ve never been a big sleeper. For as long as I can remember I’ve been an early-riser. Even if I’d had a late night, I’d be up bright and early.

That in itself isn’t a problem; I’m a real morning person, and find my mornings to be so productive.
However, as the years carried on, and as times became a bit tougher and my anxiety began to make itself known, any chance of a good sleep BEFORE the early wake-up went out the window.

That’s when being an early riser becomes a problem. Because even if I hadn’t calmed my thoughts enough to fall asleep until 3am, I’d be wide awake at 6am.

Once or twice, that’s ok. But when you’re going night after night after night of between three and five hours of sleep, it starts to take its toll.

I know some people can barely function without a full eight hours of sleep, and that’s definitely not me. I sometimes look back at periods where my sleep has been particularly bad and wonder how on earth I was still functioning, turning out a high quality of work at school and university, or doing full working weeks.

There comes a point though where you can’t keep that up. Even if you CAN function, it’s not healthy.

It catches up with you.

My immune system definitely suffers when I’m sleeping badly, and I can be much more emotional too. You can also see it in your appearance – my skin and hair are just more lacklustre, and I don’t look ‘myself’ to those who know me well.

And where’s my sleeping at now?

It’s up and down. But it’s not great.

And I’m all out of sync. I’m exhausted at 7pm, but wide awake at 3am. So yes, on the nights I sleep throughout that time I’m getting a good amount of hours. The problem is, that period is certainly not unbroken sleep, and I usually wake multiple times.

I’ve tried the usual tricks, like a dark room, at the right temperature, not surrounded by electrical devices. I’ve tried to do calming things before sleep. But I’m still just not very good at it.

So this is going to be my new focus. I want to make my sleeping pattern a bit more ‘normal’, and improve the quality of my sleep. I just know that with how bad my sleep is currently, upgrading those nights to proper nights of sleep will do me the world of good.

My first step is not letting myself doze off straight after getting in from work, I’m going to try and stay up a little later, and not let myself get up when I wake up at 3am feeling like it’s 9am.

And after that… I’m not sure yet.

It’s going to be a process.

But that’s what I’m working on.

Let me know any tips (not of the medication variety, please).

Here’s to getting some good nights of snoozing!

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon has made it into my list of Top Five Favourite Musicals.

Possibly even my Top Three.

I was blown away by the originality, comedy, music and cast of this phenomenal show, and I’m going to attempt to sum up why.

A religious satire, The Book of Mormon is the story of two young Mormons, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, during their mission trip to Uganda. Whilst in Uganda, they attempt to introduce the people they meet to Mormonism, whilst also going on personal journeys, questioning and learning more about their faith.

Firstly, let’s establish the fact it’s from the creators of South Park – if you’re not up for that sense of humour, there’s no point booking a ticket. Is it sometimes crude humour? Yes. Does it push the boundaries? Yes. Do you sit there thinking ‘I shouldn’t be laughing at this’? Yes. But is it clever, satirical and absolutely hilarious? Yes, yes and yes. It’s offensive, but it’s universally offensive; every character is a parody, and all groups are laughed at.

I want to focus another moment on how clever the book and lyrics are of this musical. The humour is so well crafted, and there are so many cultural references and one-liners that minute after minute of the show if funny as it is gripping. Story-wise, it’s great, and character-wise, I was hooked.

I also loved that the writers’ passions for musical theatre came through – so many songs allude to or parody songs from other musicals. Some are very obvious, such as a certain Lion King favourite, and some are more subtle, such as nods to Wicked’s Defying Gravity and even The Sound of Music’s I Have Confidence. If you don’t know and love lots of musical soundtracks inside out, you will still love the show. But if you DO, it just adds a whole other layer of appreciation for the skill of what’s been created.

‘Hello’ sets the scene for the rest of the show to perfection. I love how the layers build as more and more boys join in, and the uniform grins of the men on stage left me confident from song one that we were in for a treat.

Nic Rouleau played the role of Elder Price with a commanding air of confidence, and delivered obnoxious line after self-obsessed line brilliantly. As he began to doubt himself, we as an audience were with his every moment, and ‘I Believe’ was a real stand-out moment of the show. The balance of heart and humour in this song is spot-on. ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me)’ was another of my favourites, and Rouleau’s voice does songs like this justice.

Beautifully complimenting Rouleau is the other half of our main duo, Brian Sears as Elder Cunningham. How anyone could fail to fall for this bumbling, socially awkward, desperate-to-please boy is beyond me. Cunningham gets some great one-liners, and his story of growing up and realising his own self-worth is a touching one.

The other cast member I want to mention is the stunning Alexia Khadime, who plays the role of Nabulungi. Her voice was fantastic, and she portrayed the youth and innocence of the role convincingly. ‘Sal Tlay Ka Siti’ was a powerful ballad, and showcased Khadime’s voice well, and I can’t review this show without mentioning my absolute favourite song: ‘Baptize Me’.

Khadime and Sears stole the show with this duet, where Cunningham is welcoming Nabulunghi into the church. The connotations throughout were hilarious, and the wordplay was done so cleverly. They acted the song with such passion, and it needed to be done with confidence to pull off the humour! I’m not going to say more than that, as you need to see it to fully appreciate it, but let me tell you I can’t get it out of my head, and I still laugh every time I hear it.

I could go on and on, but really my message is clear: get a ticket. I was so impressed, and cannot get the songs out of my head. A fantastic musical. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Changing my TV Habits

I’m changing up my TV habits.

The thing is, I realised fairly recently quite how many hours I spend watching TV shows and it is honestly shocking. It’s my default to ‘put something on in the background’, and whilst I still do this with YouTube videos or music, there’s more of a feeling of being able to dip in and out of things.

A TV series is a commitment.

Once I’m into a programme, I need to watch every episode. I need to know when the new season starts. I need to watch the latest episode before anyone on Twitter spoils it for me.

And the problem with Netflix is there’s always a new series to watch. And all of the episodes are ready and waiting. Binge-watching has almost become a sport.

The release of a new season of Orange is the New Black leads to the update tweets of how many episodes people have stormed through by the end of the first morning. And it can be hard to turn down that temptation when the next episode is all cued up and ready to go.

You don’t even need to move; it autoplays in fifteen seconds.

A few months ago, I looked at the amount of TV shows I was watching or waiting to return. And I looked at the shows I had started watching on Netflix to fill in the gaps between episodes of shows I had to wait a whole week to see the next episodes of. And the amount of hours that viewing time adds up to is just ridiculous.

So I then thought about which of those TV shows I actually love, and look forward to, and which I watch because I’ve got into the routine of doing so, or even more commonly, because I was bored.

And again, I was pretty shocked.

And I cut back.

I’ve not quite cancelled Netflix. I’m just finishing one show I’m watching currently, but then that’s it.

And when it comes to TV shows running in ‘real-time’, I’d say I’ve cut back what I watch by about four-fifths. And I still watch plenty!

I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been doing some re-assessing of how I’m spending my time.

And I spent a lot of hours mindlessly watching things I wasn’t even fully engaged in.

I’d rather use that time to do something else, thanks very much.

Have you done anything similar, or are you a TV fiend?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Musical

Growing up, I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I loved the book. I loved both films (although I have more love for the original).  And so when the stage show began I was a little apprehensive. It hadn’t been long since I’d seen Matilda, which was so incredible I didn’t want to risk seeing a Roald Dahl show which just didn’t quite live up to expectations…

However, my parents and sister went to see it, and I got a bit jealous hearing them going on about how much they’d loved it. So I booked my seat.

Let me start with what I enjoyed. The show is incredibly true to the book. The visual effects are fantastic. The set is stunning.

The characters were larger than life, just as in Dahl’s stories, and the five children in particular carried this off very well. I had a soft spot for Verruca Salt, because she’s always been my favourite, horrible child. The story is the one we know and love, with no attempt to embellish or alter. This I was happy with, as I’d have been a bit heartbroken to have the story altered. I know some stage adaptations do vary slightly, and it works well, but this was one story I didn’t want to be touched. The overall feel of the show was as if you were watching the book come to life, which is exactly what the show needed.

The visual effects were great, and I’m sure it was no mean feat figuring out how to do it all! Mike TV did shrink, the glass elevator did fly, and even little Charlie’s letter to Wonka flew away above the audience.

The set was brilliant. The Buckets’ house filled the stage, complete with huge double bed for the grandparents, and featured a little bedroom for Charlie at the top of the stairs. Wonka’s factory rooms cleverly occupied the stages within seconds when needed, and the edible room with the river of chocolate was intricately designed. I particularly liked the use of the ‘television screen’ box for the segments about each of the children as they discovered their golden tickets.

So why do I sound a little, well, underwhelmed?

After all, have I not just listed lots of things that impressed me?

Well, yes. But I still left feeling a little flat.

And this is in no way down to the actors; the acting and singing was great.

Nor was it down to the set; the stage looked incredible.

Nor was it down to the telling of the story; it was the story we all know and love.

What let me down was the musical. The musical as a whole.

Because I felt like it was a fantastic SHOW. But NOT a fantastic musical.

Had it been a straight play, I think I would have raved along with everyone else.

But as a musical?

Put it this way: there was no stand-out song.

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree, but for me personally none of the stand-out moments were anything to do with the music.

And that’s surely one of the biggest components of a musical?

I couldn’t name any of the songs.

I didn’t come away with any songs repeating in my head.

And for me, that’s the true fun of a musical, when every element pulls together, seamlessly linked by a fantastic soundtrack.

Without that fantastic soundtrack, I just can’t rank Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a show I loved.

I liked it. But I didn’t love it.

I’d love to know what you thought?

Thursday, 5 November 2015


A month or so ago, my parents came to visit London and we wanted to see a show. I quickly suggested Memphis, having been tempted by all the posters dotted around the Underground, and we weren’t disappointed.

The show opens as it means to go on, with a radio DJ welcoming us into the lively Downtown, at Delray’s club. Cue shock as Huey (Matt Cardle), a white man, enters this club on ‘the dark side of town’, soon winning over their trust singing about his love for ‘the music of my soul’ – what was, at the time, referred to as ‘race music’.

Set in Memphis in the 1950s, the show is set against a backdrop of extreme racial tension, challenged by the growing relationship between Felicia, a promising young singer, and Huey, an aspiring radio DJ. What follows is a beautiful story both of a fight against racism, a love story, and a story of family loyalty, all taking place among the vibrant Memphis music scene.

The music of this show is simply stunning. I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times since seeing the show and would rank it as one of my favourite show soundtracks (and believe me, I’ve seen a LOT of musicals!) Particular favourites are ‘The Music of my Soul’, ‘Love Will Stand’ and ‘Steal Your Rock and Roll’.

We were lucky enough to go whilst Beverley Knight was still playing as Felicia, alongside Matt Cardle’s Huey. Knight, firstly, was as brilliant as I had expected her to be. Her voice is just phenomenal, and she handled the character of Felicia so delicately, playing her more ‘sassy’ and her more emotional scenes beautifully. Rolan Bell, too, who played Felicia’s brother Delray, had an exquisite voice - so deep and distinctive - meaning I can’t stop listening to ‘She’s My Sister’.

The absolute stand-out of the show, for me, was Mr Cardle. We all know he can sing, from his X Factor days, but I had no idea what to expect from his acting. Performing with a faultless accent throughout, he presented the wacky, at times uncertain, at times naïve, but always passionate Huey to perfection. His dance moves were full of enthusiasm, and it was totally believable that this was a character who just loves and adores music.

The rest of the cast were all fantastic singers, of course, but the dancing was my real favourite – routine after routine, from the most tightly choreographed to those appearing more ‘freestyle’, were so high-energy, and there wasn’t a cast member who was only half-committed.

The story of ‘Memphis’ had numerous unexpected twists, and was a full-rounded story taking the audience through every emotion in the book. My mum was sobbing, and she’s not someone that cries at t show or film easily! We felt every emotion, from elation to sadness to horror to sympathy, and I would have watched it again the very next day if I could.

I recommended the show to so many people, and am gutted it has just closed. I hope it will tour, or be revived, as it would be such a waste to lose a show of such quality, which appears to have been loved by audiences and critics, alike. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Hello, November

Where did you come from?

I feel like we only just welcomed in October. Seconds later, it was gone.

This year has absolutely flown by. Everyone’s saying it, and I’m going to say it again.

I can’t even think what happened in October. I know over the past few months I’ve been to the theatre a lot, as anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter will know.

I’ve been working.

I’ve been continuing to get into the swing of London life.

I’ve been seeing friends.

I headed home for a weekend to see my dad for his birthday (I’ve just got home, he was a Halloween baby!)

 Just getting on with day-to-day life really.

The days are strange at the moment. When I look back, time is flying by, but the days themselves whilst I’m in them seem to stretch on forever. I think the clock change definitely played a part in that, as last week I was completely out of sync.

Let’s just chat about the clock change for a moment: I’m not a fan!

The weather affects my mood hugely. Last Monday, I was genuinely feeling like I could cry. Just because it was just pitch black outside. When the days begin in darkness and end in darkness, I feel like I’m running out of time, like I have zero time to do anything at all.

And I don’t like the dark. I’m not afraid of the dark, as in I don’t sleep with the lights on or anything, but I don’t like it being dark outside. Everything seems a little more uncertain. I’m very on edge. I’m not a fan. And commuting home seems more stressful in the dark!

I’m hoping that the Christmas lights switch-on on Oxford Street (where I work), which I think is around now, might help with that.

Instead of thinking ‘it’s so dark’, I can think ‘I’m so excited about Christmas, aren’t the lights pretty?’

And on that note: I’ve done my Christmas shopping!

Well, not all of it.

But as I was heading home for the weekend, I thought I’d get my mum, dad and sister sorted so I could take them home on this trip and leave them there, rather than try and carry them with all the clothes and other things I’d need over the Christmas period when I head home in December!

So big tick for my organisation there! I did get some funny looks clutching my Christmas wrapping paper at Westfield in October but hey, at least I won’t be running round like a headless chicken on December 24th

I’m sure you’ll be a great month, November.

I’ve got a couple of theatre trips planned. Cinema trips. Food plans. Shopping plans. Plans with friends and family. In fact, it’s an action-packed month according to my diary!

Here’s to a good one.
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