Gaslight

On Tuesday 17th January, I went to see the Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. As you probably know, musicals are much more my forte, however I have recently found myself really getting into plays, probably since A-Level English Literature when I watched a couple of plays on Digital Theatre for my coursework and really got into them.

Gaslight is set in January 1871 and tells the story of Bella Manningham, a young lady trapped in the clutches of her controlling husband, Jack Manningham. Bella believes that she is ‘going mad’ as a number of unexplained things happen to her, such as things going missing and either turning up is strange places or not turning up at all. One evening after her husband storms out following an argument, a visitor, Rough, calls for Bella. He introduces himself as a retired police officer who investigated a murder that took place at the Manningham’s house a number of years back and believes that the killer may have come back to get the Barlow Rubies, the very reason he killed Alice Barlow all those years ago. Bella soon confesses that odd things have been happening in the house, that she often hears footsteps walking on the deserted and forbidden top floor of the house and that the gaslights in the bedroom dim considerably at the same time and then come back up when the footsteps can no longer be heard.

Kara Tointon played the long-suffering yet incredibly courageous Bella. Tointon is an incredibly charming actress, with a number of notable credits to her name. Her ability to play such a dimensional and emotional character made you really feel her performance, empathise with the character and ultimately will her to win back her freedom. The character of Bella goes on a significant journey throughout the play, which is set in one evening. At the start of the evening, she is a rather naive, overexcitable young lady who is enthused by the idea of going to the theatre to see an actor she is fond of – or, in this day, a fan of. Soon after, we see a different side to the character as both she and the audience are manipulated to believe that she is going ‘mad’ and here, Tointon portrays Bella as vulnerable and almost helpless. When visited by Rough, her character changes again to the ‘Lady of the House’, prim and proper, which I interpreted as a mask for her vulnerability. We saw the character experience a wave of both relief and feeling of betrayal at the events which followed (but I shall not reveal because that would give away the plot) and then again retreat to her her previous form when faced with her husband once more. The final showdown between the two characters brings out the very best of Kara Tointon’s acting abilities, allowing the character to blossom and finally prevail.

Bella’s husband, Jack Manningham was played by the wonderful Rupert Young. Jack Manningham is a cruel bully of a character who manipulates the vulnerable to demonstrate his own power and Young plays this brilliantly. You knew something was not quite right about Manningham from his very first scene on stage. The way he spoke to Bella, the way he treated her, everything about their married relationship was just wrong and after Bella learnt about his past, you could tell how terrified she was of him, as was I , as an audience member. A fantastic and twisted performance from Rupert Young.

Keith Allen played the role of Rough, Bella’s visitor and a retired policeman determined to solve a case from long ago. Allen was a true delight to watch on the stage – he played a rather eccentric, yet serious character but provided a lot of comedy relief throughout the show which kept the balance perfectly. Rough is also a very mysterious character and not knowing all that much about him, made my thoughts go in a completely different direction from the actual conclusion of the play, which was an element I like – storytelling that keeps you guessing.

Overall, I really enjoyed this terrifying play and highly recommend it. The simplicity of only one set and the minimal effects and background goings-on allowed you to fully engage in the actors and their performances as well as focus on the story and where it might lead. The play is wonderfully written and at some points makes the audience doubt what is real and what is only in the mind of Bella. If you enjoy a good mystery and psychological thriller, then catch this play if you can before it finishes its run in Aylesbury on Saturday.

Another Book, Another Review

After reviewing the last book I read, I dug out a selection of four books I’ve had for a while and not yet got round to reading. I am now throwing the decision out to my lovely audience and am asking for your opinion on which book I should read and review next.

The options are in the photo below. Please leave your responses in the comments.

imag0274

Death of a Nurse by M.C Beaton

Set in Northern Scotland, Death of a Nurse is one book in the Hamish Macbeth Murder Mysteries and the first one that I have read. It’s being one in the middle of a series proves to be no real issue, I managed to pick up the general gist of the setting and characters pretty quickly, in fact, it’s not a hugely dissimilar setup from the BBC One drama Shetland, which I also very much enjoyed.

The main character, Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is a seemingly-ordinary, hard-working Scot who is often not afraid to voice his opinions. Although content, Macbeth is a rather lonely soul with only his two pets, Sonsie, the cat and Lugs, the dog for company. His sidekick, Police Constable Charlie Carter is what can only be described as ‘nice-but-dim’ and extremely clumsy, as he always seems to be falling over or breaking something but despite this, he bumbles along quite nicely in the crime-busting business and provides a few comedic moments in the book.

The story itself begins with the victim, Gloria Dainty, a private nurse meeting Macbeth, who grows quite fond of her. Soon after, she is found dead and left on the beach. The investigation into her death leads us down a number of unexpected twists, turns and shocks – including one rather gruesome detail involving the case’s final victim (yes, there’s more than one!) – before the pieces finally fall into place and the killer is revealed. Although the outcome is not predictable, I had an idea of who the killer was before the reveal and as it turned out, I was partially right and thoroughly enjoyed trying to crack the case along the way.

As a reader and a fan of crime drama on television, I always find the juxtaposition of a quaint, isolated setting and gritty drama the best fit. Something about the two elements just makes the story gripping, interesting and hard-hitting – though the number of crimes in such a setting may not be terribly accurate –  therefore I really enjoyed this book – I love a good mystery!

The only slight initial issue I had was getting to grips with the Scottish dialect used by the majority of the characters, however, I soon got round it and that is no fault of the author or the book itself!

Would I read another book in the Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery series? Of course! There is something so cosy and welcoming about them, a combination of the beautiful Scottish setting, the characters and the entertainment it provides alongside the serious drama. Do I recommend this book? To anyone who enjoys a mystery – definitely! Grab a copy of this book and a cup of tea and I would love to know what you think.


imag0275

View and buy Death of a Nurse by M.C Beaton on Amazon

 

A Christmas Miracle

On Friday, I visited the Christmas Market in Birmingham and had the best time. I love how traditional all the markets are, all the gifts and food are handmade and the atmosphere is pure magic. This inspired me to write a little festive story which you can read below. Your thoughts on this are always greatly received and appreciated.

Merry Christmas everyone!


The city was engulfed in every colour light you could possibly imagine as evening drew in fast. The Christmas market was at its most magical at this time and no-one could walk past without so much as cracking even the smallest smile at the festivities.

Jolly the elf was skipping along the sparkling streets merrily, breathing in deeply to inhale the scents of Christmas spices, hot mulled wine and roast meats when he suddenly leapt into the air with joy and ended up face-first into a rather hard rubber-soled shoe. “Oh!” He exclaimed in surprise. Looking up, he saw a man, no older than thirty, he decided. “I am ever so sorry.” He apologised. The man simply shook his head, stood up and began to walk away. “Hey!” Jolly called. “Merry Christmas, sir!”

“Hmph.” The man grunted, without stopping or looking over his shoulder. Jolly blinked twice and followed the man. He ran and ran as fast as his elf-sized legs would carry him, took one leap and clung for dear life onto the man’s leg, just above the knee, causing him to stumble and finally stop. “What do you think you’re doing, you crazy…you crazy…” He burst out in exasperation.

“Elf?” Jolly suggested.

“Yes!” The man yelled.

“You mean you’re not bothered that there’s an abnormally small, magical creature talking to you right now?” He asked, rather taken aback.

“Don’t be ridiculous, this is all just some stupid Christmas joke somebody’s trying to pull off. Elf? As if!” He laughed bitterly.

“No it’s true!” Jolly began to explain. “Every year, Father Christmas sends some of his elves all around the world to spread the Christmas spirit and patrol the festivities and I can see that you, my friend, have a severe case of the Christmas blues.” He concluded.

“Christmas is for families.”

“What about your family?” Jolly asked sensitively.

“Mum died when my sister and I were small and we lost Dad in the New Year. Penny wanted a fresh start and moved to Canada in October. Christmas means nothing to me any more.” He told the elf downheartedly.

“Don’t you believe in Christmas miracles?”

Continue reading

A few weeks ago, I went into work like I would on any other weekday and was shocked by how cold the classroom was. Has someone left the windows open all weekend? I thought to myself. It will be warmer in the staffroom, I decided. How wrong was I? It turned out that the heating was broken. Great. Anyway, us staff spent the day sorting out our classrooms whilst the children enjoyed a day at home in the warm and in the afternoon, all staff in the school got together and did our own version of Band Aid and it was brilliant fun and a great end to the day. The video was then edited to promote how fantastic our school is and to raise money, so, I now present to you…Booker Park Does Band Aid!

I know this blog is supposed to be primarily about musical theatre, however, as some of you may know, I work in a Special Needs school. The video below is of a lovely little girl I worked with last year, Esme. She has a genetic condition called Rett Syndrome and a short feature was filmed about her on BBC News. I sincerely hope that features such as this help to promote awareness of rare conditions such as Rett’s.

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-15-17-38

Guess the show from the props table!

imag0213

Did you get it?

All this week I have been at Pendley Court Theatre in Tring working backstage for Vale Musical Society’s production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes and have spent the majority of my time at this particular table.

Get-in took place on Sunday where I spend three hours solid stripping wallpaper from set boards. Thank goodness for the rather large supply of hot chocolate, doughnuts and biscuits waiting for us in the foyer afterwards! Once the set was pretty much built and painted, the remainder of the cast turned up for a rehearsal which entailed all the staging of where everything and everyone would be positioned in each scene.

Monday was tech rehearsal day so very much stopping and starting constantly to ensure that lights, microphones and sound were all working properly and Tuesday was a full dress rehearsal with the entire band and all the props. I was a bit concerned that there seemed to be an awful lot of props to think about but actually as far as it goes, it was a pretty easy show.

Wednesday was opening night and so the five performances continued until Saturday. All went so well and there were no major mishaps (a couple of minor ones but even the professional shows don’t quite go to plan every night!) and everyone had such a brilliant time. From working with this group for the last six months, I had always been hugely impressed by how much talent everyone had, but they all stepped it up hugely during show week and I understand that there was some great audience feedback going round after each show.

Vale’s next production in May 2017 will be something very different – Aspects of Love which I am of course very keen to be involved in! For the next few weeks, I will enjoy having most of my evening back, however I know I will really miss the show and everyone involved.

Oh, and finally, there may be something very exciting coming up on the blog at some point before Christmas, so keep an eye out!