Friday, 29 July 2016

Groundhog Day, the musical

As soon as I heard tickets for Tim Minchin’s latest project, Groundhog Day, had been released, I bought my ticket. I’ve not actually seen the classic film, so my thoughts are based on the musical as a standalone, having known nothing about the story.

I have really mixed feelings about the show, which overall are very positive but with a few question marks left over. I’m going to start with the less positive thoughts and move through to the highlights.

Firstly, it really was ‘a show of two halves’. Act One was fantastic: slick, laugh-out-loud funny, great staging and we spent the interval talking about how brilliantly the show had been done. Act Two retained the feeling of the show but felt incomplete. I think for me this was partly because I just wasn’t the biggest fan of the story. I like the concept but the context is a little odd and I found it very hard to identify with many characters. Even the main character I really enjoyed watching and thought it was played brilliantly but I wasn’t ‘rooting for him’.

That’s a personal thing which I’m sure many would disagree with, though.

Another thought on Act Two which really turned me off was the attempted suicide scene. It’s an integral point in the story and I understand they were going for the dark humour angle but this song took it way too far and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Having actor after actor dressed as the lead acting out different methods of suicide was just a no-go for me, and left me very unimpressed.

I also thought opening Act Two with a solo from a character who doesn’t feature hugely in the show was in interesting choice, as was the soloist in the scene with the homeless man in the park – both songs were sung well (‘Being Nancy’ was beautiful), but felt like they were floating and disconnected from the overall narrative.

My final point on Act Two is that the repetition element seemed less clever. There were a lot of scenes repeated where I felt too much of the dialogue was repeated before the ‘twist’ for that day was introduced, which really slowed the pace of the second half after such a fantastic Act One.

Moving on from these elements, I was thoroughly impressed I was by the staging of Groundhog Day. The rotating stage adds a fantastic visual element, mirroring the repetitive aspect of the story and making scene changes and choreography more fast-paced and interesting to watch. It must have taken some practice to not feel horrendously dizzy after every performance! The set and props were well-crafted and scene changes were very quick and seamless – I was a particular fan of the bedroom/guesthouse set and the all-American diner.

My highlight of the show was the song in the bar, which was hilarious but also with very poignant messages. These are the kinds of songs Tim Minchin really shines in – you’re laughing but they’re hitting a nerve at the same time. I also loved how the car chase was done in terms of staging – so creative and not like anything I’ve seen before.

The ensemble are incredibly strong. The group numbers had such strength and vitality, and all of the individual smaller characters were well-played and had their own brilliant moments. The song about spring being on the way ‘if not tomorrow, perhaps the day after’ was really beautiful and I’d have loved a reprieve of this at the end.

Phil Connors, played by Andy Karl, is a really interesting character in that he goes on an incredibly important personal journey and you want him to succeed but also don’t particularly like him that much, I didn’t anyway. That’s the character I’m talking about, not Karl. Andy Karl was a fitting leading man. He handled the broad range of emotions and moods required with ease, and it’s rare to see someone handle both comedy and dark moments so incredibly well without ever losing their character.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but for me Carlyss Peer wasn’t quite the right fit for Rita vocally. In terms of the straight acting scenes, she was spot on, but I found her vocals quite harsh, and on bigger songs in particular it was too much. In Rita and Phil’s duet towards the end of the show I thought the balance wasn’t really there, and found myself wishing it was another Andy Karl solo.

So there we have it, I think writing this has made me realise my feelings were even more mixed than I realised. It is undeniably a clever, well-crafted and funny musical, which surpassed my expectations. 

However, at the same time there were things which really stood out to me as uncomfortable or not quite right, and it’s left me a bit confused. I wonder if the best next step might actually be to watch the film to find the inspiration, but wonder if that takes away from the musical, as it should surely be able to stand alone for new audiences as well as film fans.

I’m really pleased I went to see it, and look forward to seeing where the musical will head next.

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Trip to Brighton

A couple of weeks ago, I took my first trip to Brighton for my birthday weekend.

It's a place people go on and on about and so many love, so I was really looking forward to it.

After to everything I've been going through recently it was the perfect escape from London and opportunity to slow the pace and take time to relax.

We arrived Saturday morning and had a cooked breakfast looking over the beach, followed by a stroll along the pier. Sitting and chatting on the pier was the perfect place to be able to mull over my thoughts and clear out some of the things that have been contributing to my state of mind over the last couple of months.

I loved The Lanes, although they weren't what I expected at all. They're such a maze of cute little shops and great to wander. I've got to say, I loved the way such a huge proportion of the shops in Brighton are independent. All the usual chains were there, but the overall feel was a very independent one with so many interesting things to explore.

We also enjoyed cupcakes at Angel Food Bakery, which I wish was closer as I'm ready to go again now, please!

As the weather got cloudier, we headed into the Sea Life Aquarium. We timed it a bit badly as we were surrounded by the loudest, rudest huge group of 15 year-old tourists which ruined it a little bit, but it's a great aquarium and you could spend a long time there on a rainy day.

After heading back to relax, we ate out at Ask in the nearby Burgess Hill, which had the loveliest staff and the food was delicious.

With the weather fairly patchy, we chose to have a slow Sunday morning before making the journey back to London.

Although I had a fairly quiet weekend, I really enjoyed the break from London and the chance to finally see Brighton.

I've got to say, I don't think I would rave about it quite as much as some people do - it wouldn't rank among my favourite places, but the independent feel, The Lanes and the beach combine to make a really unique and interesting city.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Matilda the Musical

I think I enjoyed my second visit to Matilda the Musical even more than my first a few years ago.

I was worried that because I loved it so much first time round I’d have built it up too much, but it was every bit as brilliant as I remembered.

I also saw it from a completely different perspective this time, sitting on the third row, rather than up at the top back of the theatre.

I often describe Tim Minchin as a Roald Dahl for grown-ups, and I think his input is part of what makes the show so fantastic. It feels so authentically ‘Roald Dahl’, yet adds even more layers.

The musical is all about Matilda’s love of stories and storytelling and I think this is what makes it so magical. The wordplay is very clever, and the lyrics fantastic. Just listen to ‘The School Song’, preferably watching clips to see the staging, and you’ll see just how clever every moment of the show is.

What I love most about the musical is the added depth, and the story of the escapologist’s daughter – no spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet. Seeing Matilda’s creativity and the way she uses words and phrases she has picked up from other characters in previous scenes is so believable, and the story weaves incredibly throughout the story we already know so well.

It’s a show that delights children and adults alike, which again is done very cleverly. There were children near to me who were spellbound, but equally the adults were hanging onto every word. That balance is so hard to get right, and Matilda the Musical achieves it to phenomenal effect.

The cast of course includes multiple children for every role, and we saw a few of the adult characters played by understudies too so I will of course be talking about the cast I saw last Saturday.

Our Matilda was Zari-Angel Hator and she was just incredible. Her voice, her charm, her delivery of such a complex script, and her overall command of the stage was impressive, and there was never a moment where you were unsure she had everything under control.

The children in general perform to such a high standard it just blows me away. They’re carrying a show full of complex wordplay, with tight choreography and a many-layered score, and they handle it seemingly effortlessly. Special mention here has to go to Ynez Williams as Lavendar Brown, who was perfectly cast, and Oliver Llewelyn-Williams who was excellent as Bruce, especially in his diva moments of ‘Revolting Children’.

The adults of the show were equally well cast. Craige Els was a fantastic Trunchbull, and had us in stitches scene after scene. The decision to cast a man as Miss Trunchbull was a great one, and Els played the role well. 

The Wormwoods (Michael Begley and Laura Tyler) were just as grotesque as they should be, and Mr Wormwood’s rendition of ‘Telly’ was a highlight. Miss Honey was taken on by Charlotte Scott, whose voice was lovely but it was her acting that caught me – those tender moments with Matilda were well played and I enjoyed getting to witness them right up close.

Matilda is a show that will leave you singing the songs for days, and I guarantee you’ll have so many ‘favourite moments’ it will be hard to pick. If you really pushed me on songs, I’d say ‘Revolting Children’, ‘When I Grow Up’, ‘Naughty’ and the School Song’ are well up there, but then there’s less ‘showy’ songs like ‘My House which I also love.

When I originally wrote this review it was at least double the length and I came to the conclusion I just can’t write about all my favourite parts because we’d be here forever and the conclusion is just that it’s an absolutely fantastic show. The story, the songs, the cast, the stage – every element pulls together beautifully, and it’s a show you won’t forget.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

24 thoughts on my 24th birthday

24 sounds kind of grown up.

Didn’t I turn 21 five minutes ago?

This year has been a bit action-packed: new job, new city, new house…

I cannot wait for a trip away at the weekend.

I used to think 24 year-olds would be settled and have their whole lives sorted.

I’ve done a lot of learning about myself this year.

Those I’d count as the people I’m closest to now aren’t the same list as on my last birthday and that’s ok.

I can’t believe it’s a year since my last birthday, one of my absolute favourites (think Wimbledon and amazing friends).

Birthdays always feel like a fresh start, with new opportunities.

I feel like this is going to be a big year. There are lots of things going on in my brain and lots of plans both arranged and with the potential to happen.

I’m going to continue looking after myself. The last month has taught me how important that is.

I want to continue exploring. There are so many places even just in the UK I’m desperate to see, so I want to carry on the exploring I’ve been doing this year.

I’ve got some amazing people around me and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

I’ve been in my job for almost a year (a year in August) which has absolutely flown by and I’m so much happier than in my previous role.

I’m getting used to this whole London thing. I’m 11 months in and settling in this city I always thought was too big for me.

I’m going to carry on putting effort into the friendships that matter, and stop stressing out so much about the ones that don’t. Friendships should go two ways.

I want to carry on building on the healthy habits I’ve been introducing over the past month. I don’t want to let myself get back to the place I found myself before.

I want to be more open to trying new things. I’m a creature of habit and want to start to expand my horizons a bit more.

This will be the year I venture back onto a plane. After five years and various reasons including but not exclusively my anxiety, I need my sunny holidays back.

My gratitude journal is already helping to change my mindset so much, and I want to continue to view things positively even after the worst days.

I want to carry on learning about money. I feel like I’ve only recently started to really get my head round budgeting properly, and I have a lot still to learn and healthy habits to create.

I want to carry on reading as widely as I have been recently. I’ve fallen back in love with reading on my commute and have been reminded just how special it is to truly switch off and escape into a book.

I need to both pace myself and push myself – it’s a balance I’ve been working on and need to figure out properly.

I want to make this a year of happiness and health, surrounded by people I love.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

La Tasca, West India Quay

One thing I love about London is finding those pockets that don’t feel like you’re in a big city at all.

Canary Wharf during the week is so busy, but at the weekend all is calm.

West India Quay is an area that reminds me a lot of Liverpool, and house some great restaurants along the river.

A couple of weeks ago my dad came to visit, and we headed over that way to sit in the sunshine outside La Tasca, West India Quay.

It was my first La Tasca trip, and although I’m not able to eat widely at the moment because of what’s been going on with my anxiety, the trip confirmed I need to return as soon as I’m eating more again!

Between three of us we ordered six dishes to share which was a good amount, we’d maybe have added one more if my appetite was at its normal levels.

The menu is extensive and varied, and I was really impressed by the price for the quantity and quality of food we received.

We ordered:
  • Pan Del Ajo (garlic toasted breads)
  • Triple Cooked Patatas Bravas
  • Calamares
  • Goat’s Cheese and Smoked Tomato Ensalada
  • Gambas Pil Pil (king prawns in garlic, chilli and oil)
  • Brocheta De Pollo (skewered chicken, pepper and onion in a secret glaze)

The food all came quickly, and the smell was incredible.

Every dish was so vibrant and clearly very fresh. All three of us were very happily satisfied by the end of the meal.

I know La Tasca is a firm favourite of so many people, and I’m looking forward to going back when I’m ready to try more menu items.

What are your dishes of choice?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Art of Colouring In

Colouring books.

When the magazines and adverts first started telling me that’s how I’d be relaxing and that colouring books for adults would be so popular, I paid no attention whatsoever.

And then my sister bought me a mindfulness colouring book last Christmas.

Armed with my coloured pencils, I decided to give it a bit of a go while watching tv.

And I fell for it.

It really works.

As someone who has anxiety and in general is and over-thinker and likes to be occupied, it provides that perfect balance between having a task to focus on but that task being creative and relaxing.

Once I finished that book, I moved onto others. Harry Potter ones inspired by my trip to the studio tour and a Narnia one because I needed a break from flowers and nature.

There are so many options out there, and my doubt was definitely proven wrong.

Do you use colouring in as a way to relax?

Friday, 1 July 2016

Hello, July 2016

Hello, July.

I’m really, really glad to see you.

You’ve always been my favourite month, my birthday month, my happy month.

June was really hard.

In June I hit a brick wall when it came to my anxiety and depression and I had to press reset.

I spent two weeks sleeping, reading, learning.

I returned to work. I’m building up my food intake. I’m building healthy habits. I’m learning to cope.

But it’s been a hard, hard month.

There have been achievements during it and I’ve learned an awful lot, but I’m ready for the fresh feel of a new month.

I’ve come out of June with a new outlook.

Rather than masking my problems and pretending I’m fine, I need to tackle them properly. Fully. For good.

Take on those deep-rooted issues I’ve spent three years just masking and ‘getting on with’.

It’s been hard, and there’s a long road ahead, but long term these changes will make a huge difference to my health and my happiness.

So, July. I’m glad to see you.

I’ve got the best month lined up.

I’m seeing Matilda the musical for a second time, which I love and adore, sitting three rows from the stage.

It’s a theatre kind of month actually, I’ve got three shows on the cards!

I’ve also got my birthday. 24.

My mum’s birthday follows a week after, and she’s coming for a day trip later in the month which I cannot wait for.

A trip from one of my favourites, Jenny, is also happening this month.

I’m exploring somewhere new in my first trip to Brighton and my excitement levels are high for the trip.

It’s basically a month filled with things and people I love, and it’s exactly what I need right now.

I’m really happy to see you, July. I think you’re going to be great.

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