Sunday, 30 August 2015

Kids' Week - Getting Children Into Theatres


Kids' Week is a fantastic concept that comes around every August. Any child aged 16 or under can see participating London theatre shows when accompanied by a full paying adult - it gets children into the theatre, hopefully fostering a love of plays, ballets, and musicals (all creative arts really), and is a great treat for the end of the summer holidays.

We've taken advantage of Kids' Week twice now. In 2014, my daughter Alice (3 at the time) and I went to see The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which we both loved, and which Alice still talks about to this day. This year we went to The Garrick Theatre just off Leicester Square to see Let It Be.

What a hit!

Let It Be is the story of The Beatles told purely through their songs, played by excellent sound-alike musicians in all the right costumes, in chronological order. The audience is actively encouraged to stand up, dance, sing along, take photos, and even video the performances. It is a totally immersive theatre experience that everyone, whether they know the songs of The Beatles or not, can get into.

Alice (now 4) has been aware of The Beatles and their music all her life. Our household doesn't really 'do' modern music, stopping somewhere in the early 00s, apart from the odd song here and there. 80s and 90s are my preferred decades, whereas my husband adores the music of the 50s and 60s, and especially The Beatles. Before yesterday (no pun intended), however, Alice hadn't been a mega fan, as such. She just enjoyed some of the songs. Now, though, she is obsessed. She has been listening to the music all day. She has been trying - with a little success - to pick out the tunes on the piano. She wants to see the show again.

Her favourite songs are Here Comes The Sun and "All The Lonely People" (otherwise known as Eleanor Rigby).

And that's what Kids' Week is all about. It shows children that there is a different form of entertainment out there than can lead them to open up their own creative outlets. And who knows where that will take them?




Sunday, 16 August 2015

Review: Life, Death & Vanilla Slices by Jenny Eclair


Mothers should never have favourites... 

I borrowed Life, Death and Vanilla Slices from my local library on a whim. I'd heard Jenny Eclair speaking on BBC Radio 2 about her new book, Moving, and I'd thought it sounded pretty good. The paperback isn't out until December, however, and the hardback has a queue of 28 people wanting to borrow it from the library, so I went for something else by the same author.

I'd only known Jenny Eclair from TV and radio, equating her voice and face with comedy and satire, and I had had no idea she was an author, so I didn't know what to expect when I began to read Life, Death and Vanilla Slices. From the first few lines, however, I was hooked.

This is, to use a clich├ęd term, a page turner. I was desperate to know what happened next in the life - such as it was - of Jean Collins, and her daughters Anne and (the favourite) Jess. Each new chapter brought smiles, laughs, and no small amount of tears - the descriptions of a mother watching her children grow until they no longer need her went deep.

The book is funny. Definitely funny. But it is heart wrenchingly, gasp-inducingly sad too. That's because it feels utterly real. This could have happened to your grandmother. Your next door neighbour. The woman sitting next to you on the bus. And, because some secrets are meant to be kept, even when they weigh you down for life, no one will ever know.

The premise of the book is fairly straightforward: an elderly woman is knocked down by a car and ends up in a coma. Her eldest daughter feels she should travel from London to Blackpool to be with her. Both of them reminisce (Jean in her coma, Anne in her life) about what has brought them to this point. The memories start off pleasantly enough, but in every family there are problems and secrets, and we soon find that Jean's second daughter, Jess, is missing (and has been for almost 30 years). But that's not the half of it. There is so much more, yet none of it feels melodramatic or like something from a TV soap; the most clever and wonderful part of this book is that it all seems absolutely real.

I didn't know how the ending would hit me - I had hoped for happy, at least happy for now if not happily ever after, but as the pages began to grow fewer, I had to begin believing that not everything would be resolved. At least not in a fairytale kind of way. I don't want to give anything away, but I was in bits, sobbing to myself on the sofa when I finally closed this book. Partly because the ending was sad, in a bitter-sweet and terrible way, but also because it could have been different. If the characters had done one thing, just one thing different in their lives, everything would have changed. For the better? Perhaps. For the worse? Who knows? But the point is, there were missed opportunities to speak, to act, to live. And that is the saddest thing of all.

5 stars


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Crocodiles in Cream


On 7th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the play Crocodiles in Cream at the Barn Theatre in Smallhythe Place. Smallhythe was the country home of the famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry, and The Barn was her own private theatre. These days, the National Trust has opened the theatre to the public, and there are often wonderful shows put on there.

Crocodiles in Cream is one such show.

This one man play details the life of Lewis Carroll during his time as a don at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he lived alone for 40 years. Superbly acted by the wonderful Kevin Moore, this was a different portrayal to the many other biographies of Carroll – the Rev Charles Dodgson – that have come before. The shy, witty, eccentric, funny, brilliant, yet tormented man that Lewis Carroll was is given a chance to tell his own story, to give his own side of himself, through his writing, letters, and poetry.

In Crocodiles in Cream we learn of Carroll’s love of photography, specifically taking pictures of the little girls he so loved. The play makes slightly uncomfortable viewing with twenty first century eyes and minds, and the audience must question whether they wish to take Carroll’s naivety – as he himself views it – as truth or not. Even Carroll himself admits that his contemporaries find it strange that he takes children to his room and on short holidays to Eastbourne, but he protests his innocence, explaining that they are simply friends. Yes in another of his letters to one girl’s mother, he asks whether the girl is ‘kissable’. And why, if there was nothing untoward in his relationship with the many children he heartily proclaimed to love, did so many parents soon prevent the man from making contact with them. This included little Alice Liddell’s mother. We learn that Alice herself, as an adult and with children of her own, ignored Carroll’s pleas for her to visit when she was in Oxford.
Through these letters, poems, and more, we begin to understand exactly how distraught Carroll was when Alice was no longer there to be his muse. When she grew up, when she left him – or was made to leave him.   


Moore gave Carroll a pathos that, notwithstanding the strangeness of the man’s relationship with the children, was heart breaking to watch.