Monday, 30 January 2017

Rent, St James Theatre

Rent has officially taken the top spot: best performance of a musical I have ever seen.

To put that into context, I averaged more than one a month in 2016 alone - I have seen an awful lot of shows in my 24 years!

The current touring production of Rent, which I saw during its London run at the St James Theatre, is truly outstanding.

I was slightly apprehensive before the show simply because I love the musical so, so much and have waited so many years to see it live. I was worried my expectations might be a little TOO high.

There was nothing at all to worry about.

We were on the front row, which for a show of this intensity was really quite incredible. We were almost under the feet of the actors, and right up close in their emotional moments. It takes a particular kind of skill, I think, to act in such an intimate setting. When your audience is inches away from you, you can't let things slip for a second.

It was incredible especially in the bigger group numbers to be watching the cast's movements be full of such freedom, while being constantly aware of the fact the audience were up so close, and therefore being careful not to kick anyone!

We were lucky enough to be right next to the hospital chairs in the emotional scenes of Act Two, meaning it felt almost like the characters were singing directly into our eyes.

I was also really impressed by the set, packed with so much detail and covering multiple levels. The ladders and various heights were used to brilliant effect - Out Tonight was a fantastic example of this - and I love it when the musicians are visible and a part of the performance.

The lighting worked really well to enhance the mood, every detail pulling together to create a slick final result.

I'm impressed I have waited this long to discuss the cast, because they were quite honestly phenomenal. I can hands down say they were my favourite overall cast, as an ensemble, in anything I've seen. It's such an ensemble show that really every character has to be spot on, or the whole performance is let down.

If I was pushed to choose my top four, it would (in this order) be Angel, Mimi, Tom and Roger. If I talk about everyone in depth I could go on forever, so I will focus on those and then mention the others!

Angel was performed by Layton Williams, who made me believe nobody could ever embody the role better than him. Angel is such a pivotal character, because there has to be that sassy, fun-loving side, but the audience has to completely fall in love with Angel and believe everyone else has, too. Without that, none of the emotion of Act Two has a leg to stand on. Williams handled the role with incredible confidence and maturity, and just took my breath away time and time again. 

Philippa Stefani, for me, was the perfect Mimi. It's an incredibly emotionally complex role, and another very physical one. Not only does she have numbers like Out Tonight, where she's hanging from the railings and embodying her sexual side, but she also has songs like Without You, bringing the audience to tears. Another physically challenging aspect of the role is the fact she's playing a drug addict who over the course of the show is getting more and more unwell. Stefani was mesmerising in her starring moments, but where she really pushed it over the edge into brilliance was in those 'in between' moments - the shaking, the sniffing, the frantic, darting eyes of someone who is struggling.

Roger is a key role with some of the very best songs in the show, and Ross Hunter's voice more than met the requirements. He combines that more raw, rocky edge with an incredibly pure higher range, and Your Eyes was a standout moment of the show. His chemistry with Stefani was very well played, and he was an ideal Roger. Tom Collins hasn't historically been one of my favourite characters, but Ryan O'Gorman's voice completely changed that for me. His gravelly, deep tone was quite honestly one of my favourite voices I've heard in a long time. He broke my heart in the reprise of I'll Cover You, and his relationship with Angel was so touching and believable that it really escalated the emotional later scenes.

I've chosen four characters, there, but I'm going to give quick mentions to others as the simple fact is the whole cast blew me away. Billy Cullum skillfully took on Mark's role as narrator - one which  always think is quite difficult as he's more of a commentator than a participant in many scenes, Javar La'Trail Parker offered a side to Benjamin I hadn't really appreciated before, and made me understand his side of the story, too.

Maureen (Lucie Jones) and Joanne (Shanay Holmes) made sure Take Me Or Leave Me was the showstopper it deserves to be, and I found their rocky relationship utterly believable. Additionally, the cast playing multiple smaller roles never let the acting slip, and you really could single out any one of them at a single moment and get the sense their character has a fully developed story.

I'm sure you can now see I could go on and on, but I will leave you with this:

The show broke my heart in the most wonderful, powerful fashion, and reminded me why I love music.

I didn't think I would get quite so emotional, knowing the story so well, but I sobbed my heart out! My dad definitely had a cry, too.

I feel emotional even thinking back over it to write this review, and that goes to show just what an impact it had. They're touring now, so please try and get tickets. You won't regret it for a second.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Book Challenge 2017: My Picks

In her thank you card after Christmas, my Auntie included a sheet of A4 describing the 2017 Book Challenge, which had been circulated by one of her colleagues.

I'm not sure who originally put the list together, but I'm taking up the challenge and reading a book per month, each based on one of the twelve categories. I do read a lot more than one book a month, but this will be a great way to get me picking some things I might not normally have come across.

The best way to kick this off seemed to be to choose my twelve books. I won't necessarily read them in the order shown below, but I thought I'd share them to hold myself accountable. I'll then share my thoughts each month on whichever book it is I've read.

My choices:

A book written by an author with the same initials as you
The Sorrows of an American, Siri Hustvedt

A book recommended by a friend (by my friend Jenny, in fact)
American Gods, Neil Gaiman

A non-fiction book based on a popular or topical subject
The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking

A book that has previously been banned
Beloved, Toni Morrison

A collection of short stories
Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro

A book with more than 400 pages
Don Quixote, Cervantes, translated by J M Cohen

A book with an unusual setting
The Book of Strange New Things, Michael Faber

A book by a writer from a minority group
Passing, Nella Larson

A book that's set in another country
City of Joy, Dominique Lapierre

A book by a female author
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

A book with a plot set around books, a library or bookshop
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

A book you chose based on its cover
Wicked, Gregory Maguire

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

La La Land

Like many, I was so excited about the release of La La Land, and finally went to see it last week.

Telling the story of Mia, an aspiring actress and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, it's a beautiful story about love, dreams and the hard work that goes into making something of yourself.

I have to admit that the first scene had me a bit worried. While I love the thought of people breaking into song and dance in a traffic jam, something about that opening number didn't sit quite right for me. I felt like the choreography was really at odds with the song, and the sound levels sounded not quite right, with the voices sort of getting lost in the instrumental. I didn't find it particularly easy to hear the words, and that made the scene feel quite long.

From that moment on, though, I was sold.

The overall look of the film is absolutely stunning. The colours are faded yet bright, and it really has that nostalgic feel of the old Hollywood movies. I'd also quite like to channel Emma Stone's outfits in everything I wear from now on.

This nostalgia for the golden age of jazz transfers beautifully into the music, which is rightfully the star of the show. The singing was spot on - especially from Emma Stone in her audition song - but it was the instrumental music which was the king. The music was absolutely breathtaking throughout, and I've played the soundtrack again and again since leaving the cinema.

And then to the casting of Mia and Sebastian - I thought Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were the ideal match.

Emma Stone was that endearing mix of dreamy and determined that the role really begged for, and her moments of fun in scenes like the pool party were really well-judged. I also loved her scenes in auditions, where she simply reminded us again and again what a fantastic actress she is. I had tears in my eyes during her big audition song, and though he may no longer admit it, my dad did too!

Ryan Gosling completed the duo brilliantly, and it was so easy to follow the emotional journey of his character, torn between a love of traditional jazz and the need to actually make a living. The fact he learned to play jazz piano for the role really elevated the whole film, for me. While his acting would have been incredible anyway, I think the film would have lost an awful lot had he not actually been doing the playing. But watching his exquisite playing and knowing the effort he had put in to living and breathing that role just took it to another level, for me.

Without giving anything of the story away, I've heard some people were unsure about the last ten minutes of the film. I've got to completely disagree and say I loved it. For me it was the perfect ending to the dreamy, nostalgic movie musical we had just been watching. I felt like it captured that juxtaposition of dream and reality well, and I actually found the ending quite satisfying. Not necessarily my dream scenario for the characters, but very believable and in keeping with the rest of the story and its emotion.

I'd love to know what you thought if you've seen the film, and in the meantime I'm going to play the soundtrack again...

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Recipe Post #8: Meatballs with Feta

Recently, I've been getting into cooking again and have been trying to test out new recipes regularly. So it seems only right that some of these recipe posts return to the blog!

Last week I took inspiration from Joe Wicks' first 'Lean in 15' cookbook, planning to make the 'Turkey Meatballs with Feta'.

Joe's recipe, I suppose for speed, called for ready made turkey meatballs, of which there were none in the supermarkets near home, so I adapted the recipe with beef meatballs.

After (mostly) cooking the meatballs - beef of course needed more cooking time than the turkey meatballs would have done - I chopped red onion, yellow pepper, green pepper and courgette. 

Into the pan they went, and were joined by the beef brisket meatballs.

Once the veggies were beginning to get to tender, I added a tin of chopped tomatoes and let it all simmer.

We actually made some sweet potato fries to accompany the meal, as it was to stretch between three of us (I doubled the recipe, which serves one, and we still had plenty!)

Once served in bowls, I topped with the feta and fresh parsley and we were done.

It took longer than 15 minutes of course, because of the beef meatballs needing to be cooked for about 20 minutes first, but there's no denying this meal was incredibly easy to make, and the feta was a great addition I probably wouldn't have thought of when making this kind of meal.

I'll definitely be making it again, thanks Joe!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Kitty and Max's 21st: Photo diary

Last night, my baby sister and her boyfriend had a joint 21st birthday party.

I thought I'd share a few photos of what came together to be an amazing night.

They had uni friends, friends from home and family, and it turns out multiple, simultaneous games of beer pong is the way to unite the age groups. Who knew?!

After drinks and speeches in the hall, there was a main meal of Thai Green Curry or Terriyaki Beef, and then the marquee was equipped with beer pong tables and a dancefloor.

Kitty, Max and both sets of parents pulled off a great night, and they all seemed pretty happy about it!

Happy birthday, you crazy pair, I hope you're not feeling too bad today ;)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Re-reading and watching Harry Potter

J. K. Rowling. I wonder if she ever realised what a phenomenon that little boy with the lightening scar and his stories would become. 

The first book came out when I was about 6 or 7, so I’m of the generation who well and truly grew up with the Harry Potter books and then the films.

But what is it about the wizarding world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter that still keeps us so captivated?

I don’t have the answer, but I felt the need to put down here just how much I love the books and (although to a lesser extent) the films.

They formed such a huge part of my fictional world as I grew up, and the anticipation for each new book was huge.

I have all the books sitting on a shelf back at my parents’ house, the final few particularly special due to the little birthday messages from my lovely grandad in the front who always used to encourage my love of reading.

I guess the point of this post was that I realised over the last few months that none of my love for the Harry Potter series has dwindled. Now in my early twenties and years after enjoying the stories for the first time, the series still holds a special place in my heart.

After years of wanting to visit, I finally headed to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford, and it was miles better than I had even hoped.

The magic, the beauty and the spectacle of this incredibly crafted world was being displayed and celebrated, and I of course couldn’t help myself from leaving with a Hermione wand – what girl my age didn’t want to be Hermione?!

The studio tour visit reminded me how special the books had been to me, and I spent the next two weeks of commuting re-reading the entire series back to back. I followed that by re-watching every film, back to back.

And it’s a world that just keeps on giving – the possibilities really are endless. The new series of films - kicked off by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - looks set to be brilliant, and I don't want to wait for the second installment.

When the tickets for The Cursed Child were released, I didn’t care that the first dates I could get were in April 2017 (about 18 months ago at the time) – there was no doubt in my mind I needed to secure those tickets and be a part of the audience.

I’ve got to say, I’m getting more and more excited now more and more people have seen the shows, and now we're only a couple of months away. It will be hard to resist reading the script which is sitting on my bookshelf, but I think I’m going to save it and wait to experience it for the first time in April.

Were you a part of the ‘Harry Potter generation’? Do you prefer the books or the films? And will you be heading to see The Cursed Child?

I can’t wait!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Dreams and Nightmares


I’ve been thinking more about them since an episode of The Odd Pear podcast a good few months ago (listen if you don’t, it always leaves me in a good mood!)

They were chatting about the point of dreams, the meaning of dreams and the fact they’d love to understand more.

Dreams regularly leave me completely baffled and maybe I should start recording them… although I think I’d start reading too much into them.

I only remember my dreams for a short time after I’ve woken up, but in that time they're all I think about.

Nightmares are the worst.

I don’t remember having them too often when I was little, apart from a recurring one where I was having a picnic with my pet rabbit in a forest and a fox appeared (don’t ask!)

However, in the last few years I’ve had them much more regularly.

I guess you could put it down to pressure and stress, probably in some ways related to my anxiety and just being busy.

The very worst are the teeth nightmares. I’m not going to describe them but they’re truly horrific, and apparently a very common indicator of anxiety. If I have them, I wake up terrified and shaking.

I’ve also had some really stressful dreams in general, where I’m trapped in very awkward or embarrassing situations, and wake up unable to shake that feeling of unease.

The nightmares stick with me longer.

They pop back into my head during the day, whereas the nice dream float away.

Why is that?

And why do nightmares have such power over us?

A couple of years ago, when I lived in my flat not far from the town I grew up in, my sister called me in the middle of the night after a terrifying nightmare, convinced there was someone in the house (she was home alone).

Nothing could calm her down, and she ended up driving to my flat in the middle of the night to stay with me instead.

Why can we not shake nightmares even once we wake up and realise they weren’t real?

I don’t have any answers, but I really want to know.

Can anyone recommend anything I could read to learn more?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

I Don't Drink: An Update

I wrote a post almost four years ago about the fact I don’t drink.

I think it’s less unusual now than it was then.

Times are changing in the world of health, food and drink, and I’m no longer greeted with the same level of shock when I say I don’t drink alcohol.

I think a part of it is also because I’m no longer at university, a bubble where such a big part of the culture is nights out.

I’ve never drunk, and I don’t plan on changing that.

I still go out. I still enjoy myself, I’m happy being around others who are drinking. I’m just not interested myself.

There are so many reasons why I don’t drink, or maybe why I didn’t start when I was younger.

Now, at 24, the reason is simply that I never have, and I don’t regret that.

I can see the appeal of a glass of wine with a meal, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

I should make it clear that I’m in no way an adventurous person when it comes to drinks in general.

I drink water most of the time, occasionally apple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice or to push the boat out a Apple and Raspberry J2O.

That’s it.

No fizz. No tea. No coffee. No hot chocolate.

Call me fussy, call me crazy.

I’m happy with what I do drink, and to be fair it saves me money and calories to spend elsewhere!

What I don’t miss about being at university was how many people would ask me why I don’t drink.

In what way does it affect anyone else?

People make personal choices about all sorts of things, all the time, and this was one of mine.

I still socialised, I thought no less of anyone who did drink, so why did it matter?

To be fair, no one ever really pressured me or tried to make me drink myself, but I just found it odd how brazenly people would question me and look at me with such shock.

Now the reaction is more often ‘I wish I could do that’ or ‘Good on you’, and then the conversation moves on.

It’s so refreshing to feel like I’ve reached a point where I’m allowed to be my own person without explaining myself.

There will always be some people who believe they deserve to know everything, but they will never change.

What does change is your confidence in yourself.

I no longer feel embarrassed to say that actually no, I don’t drink.

I don’t get embarrassed only asking for orange juice on an evening out.

You do you, I’ll do me.

It’s a really nice place to be.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Reading List #42

It's been a while, but here we are with a fresh reading list post!

I can’t believe this is Reading List #42 – there are so many mini-reviews up on here now. The latest four reviews cover fiction and non-fiction, and each of them really impressed me.

Elephant Song, Wilbur Smith

In Chiwewe National Park, Zimbabwe, TV naturalist Dr Daniel Armstrong films the slaughter of an elephant herd. In London, anthropologist Kelly Kinnear is caught up in confrontation with a powerful conglomerate warning them of imminent danger in Zimbabwe. Armstrong and Kinnear form an alliance in an attempt to fight greed and corruption.

This was beautiful. The characters’ passion for the land and the cause was clear, and the way both the beauty and the terror of the country are described in juxtaposition with one another is fantastic. I found myself totally immersed in their world, and the plot itself was fast-paced.

Stop Thinking, Start Living, Richard Carlson

This was recommended to me by my GP when I very fist spoke to him about my anxiety, as he knew I love to read, and find reading a really helpful way to process things. It’s packed with case studies, very simple, and speaks directly to you, the reader.  Carlson discusses life as being like a pendulum, and all thoughts affect your feelings. Once you realise your thoughts are what are sustaining your low mood, or whatever mood it is you’re experiencing, the thought is that it will become easier to find balance. Something that resonated with me was that for healthy psychological functioning it helps to realise that happiness is our default state. It’s a constant part of you, which has been covered up by negative, habitual thoughts you take seriously. Low moods can always happen, but they don’t last forever. This was a short book, and didn’t give me all the answers as anxiety and psychology in general are so complex and multi-faceted, but it gave me a boost, and was an uplifting read whilst waiting for my next appointment.

Beloved, Toni Morrison

In Kentucky, in the mid-1800s, slavery has come under attack. Sethe lost Beloved in violence and has returned to the scene for retribution.

I had been told to read this novel so many times, and when I finally did I could see why it gets spoken about with such awe. The horror of the context and of the scenes of infanticide is blended with the beauty of myth, and the transient nature of time. This is brilliantly crafted and one I think I will return to.

Butterfly, Sonya Hartnett

Fourteen year-old Plum is awkward and angry, and hates what she sees in the mirror. When she meets her sophisticated neighbour, she begins to change, but her family still won’t treat her any differently. Plum’s relationship with her new mentor then has unexpected consequences.

Hartnett totally gets inside the head of a confused fourteen year-old, here. It’s s coming of age tale that flows well, and I read in one sitting. I wasn’t too sure about certain elements of the plot, but overall the tone was spot on.

Any ideas what  should move onto next?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Doing something that scares me

Today I'm doing something I'm really scared about.

Making appointments for something I'm really scared about.

This year will be the year I truly get on top of my anxiety.

I've written about it to some extent on here, and those around me know it's been having an impact on my life for far too long now.

At the moment I'm spending time making decisions that are all about looking after myself and taking those positive steps.

Will these calls today solve everything I've been going through?

Of course not.

But they're a step in helping to work through something I've been finding really tough.

The little steps all matter.

Come on 2017, we're in this together.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Online Overwhelm

I’ve got a bad habit when it comes to the online world.

I’m a hoarder.

I’ve spoken before about my relationship to excess ‘stuff’.

I think my online life is the same.

We look at so much regularly – various social media accounts, email accounts and websites – via laptops, phones, tablets…

There’s so much information and entertainment out there, how do you know when to stop?

There’s so much to consume and to learn and to read.

I’m a serial bookmarker.

Pressing that little star at the top of the browser is so easy.

I’ve got so many things to read later.

And the list build and builds.

Every now and then I have to set aside actual time to go through and digest some of the things I’ve been saving.

The problem is, there are some really great things on the internet.

So many articles, recipes, so much advice, so many ideas.

I subscribe to the newsletters of so many amazing people, all of whom share the work of other amazing people.

Sometimes my inbox alone could leave me with so much to read it would last me a few tube journeys and commutes to wade through it.

Sometimes it’s important to remember you switch off.

You can’t consume everything.

You’d keep going forever.

It’s not essential to read every single great article that drops into your inbox.

Don’t let it become a chore.

As soon as I’m feeling pressure to read things that really I’m only reading for pleasure, I take a look at that list of bookmarks and delete everything except the things that really excite me, that I’m desperate to read.

Enjoy the work of others, and enjoy the online world, but don’t let it take over.

It’s something I’m still learning, but I’m getting there.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

It's been a while

Happy 2017!

It's been quiet on this little blog for a large part of 2016 - it's been quite a year.

I've had some of my very happiest moments and some of my very hardest, and the last six months in particular have been challenging. 

But not challenges I can't beat.

One of my resolutions going into the new year is to write more. Whether it's here, in journals, in emails, or just to keep on my laptop.

When I write, I can work through how I'm feeling. I can focus in a way I can't during any other activity, and shut out more of the anxiety.

So I need to do more of that again.

That's just one of a few positive things I want to spend more of my time on in 2017, but it's the one it felt most fitting to share here and now.

However cliche it may be, this year more than ever before I'm so ready for a fresh start with this new year.

Watch this space...

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