MTC-Aylesbury Workshop With Harveen Mann

This week is half term and has been extremely hectic – in a good way of course! On Wednesday, we dashed back down from London so that I could go to a very special choir rehearsal – an acting through song workshop with star-of-the-stage Harveen Mann, known for her roles in Bend It Like Beckham and The Witches.

Recently, we have been working on the song ‘Louder Than Words’ from Tick Tick Boomwhich is a lovely song and has been a lot of fun and fairly challenging to work on. As it was half term, we were lucky enough to be allowed to use the main stage for our workshop so we had a lot more space and we were rehearsing on a proper stage – exciting!

We started off with our warm-up which was led by Harveen, who introduced us to a new one – ‘many men’ to the tune of ‘William Tell’. Try getting your tongue round that!

After the warm-up, the real work began! We did a sing-through of ‘Louder Than Words’, after which Harveen gave us a few pointers about how we could really tell the story through the song, which words we should be emphasising and how we could make a repeated phrase different each time. We then spent a little time analysing our posture when singing and Harveen taught us how to stand properly and most importantly for a lot of us, what to do with our hands. Top tip: never hold your music with two hands. Ever. A couple more run-throughs and the song was sounding so much better than it had done when we started – “like a different piece” was the feedback from Harveen and perhaps I am biased but I think she was right – I personally felt a hundred times more confident and comfortable performing it.

At the end of the workshop, Harveen very kindly allowed us to do a little Q&A session which was really interesting and insightful. She told us about how she got into acting, how she juggles an acting career with four other jobs (bionic woman?) and how brutal the business can be.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we were all just a little bit starstruck and all had the best time ever. On behalf of all of us at Aylesbury Musical Theatre Choir, I would like to thank Chris and Ashley for organising the workshop and Harveen for joining us for the evening – we loved it and hope you will come again soon!

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Photo credit to MTC-Aylesbury

An Inspector Calls

On Wednesday 15th February, my brother and I went up to London to see J.B Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre. As some of you may know, I am really getting into plays at the moment so I was very excited to see this one, a play I have heard mentioned a lot but never seen, read or studied.

An Inspector Calls is about Inspector Goole – who, one night, calls on the Birling family investigating the suicide of a young lady, Eva Smith. Initially, the family have no recollection of an Eva Smith but as the events unfold, it turns out that they all knew the girl but under different names. Goole shows each person a photograph of the girl, who they instantly recognise and as it transpires, they all unknowingly played some part in making the girl unhappy which ultimately lead to her death. The story then takes a dramatic and shocking twist when the Inspector leaves and the family all reveal their suspicions about him. On doing some investigating of their own, they soon discover that he is not from the local police and nor did a girl die in the infirmary that night. Yet another shocking (possibly slightly predictable?) twist came at the end, which I shall not reveal but I will say it left me completely and utterly mind-blown.

Liam Brennan played the role of Inspector Goole and did a fine job of the role. Although being the title and main role, you got to know very little about the mysterious inspector as he spent all his stage time pointing the finger at the other characters and accusing them of playing an indirect role in Eva’s death, a very clever way of diverting the audience’s attention to the Birlings and not who this stranger-from-out-of-nowhere is. Brennan demonstrated a lot of passion and anger in this role, two strong emotions which go hand-in-hand and works particularly well for his character, creating even more questions as to who he is and why he is feels so strongly about Eva’s death. A very strong performance of an eerie, even mildly-disturbing character who made it very difficult to decide whether he was to be loved or hated.

The role of Mr Birling was played by Clive Francis, a West End veteran with a whelm of credits to his name. Francis played the role of a rather snobbish, well-off man who refuses to accept his mistakes and responsibility, particularly his part in Eva’s death and brilliantly he played the role too. He was very convincing as a man who refused to admit his part in such a tragedy but would blame everybody else but himself.

Mr Birling’s wife, Sybil Birling was played by Barbara Marten, perhaps best-known for her role of Eve Montgomery in Casualty in the late 1990s. I have seen Marten in a number of different roles, most of which I have felt that she has been at the disadvantage of playing very similar characters, characters which I am never really keen on, such as Eve. However, I have been very impressed by her performance in The Bill and in a certain Casualty storyline alongside the brilliant Claire Goose. The first thing I thought when I saw Marten’s name in the programme is “oh, I’ve not seen her for a while!” to which my brother responded “she’s a witch”, about the character of Mrs Birling. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by her performance of a holier-than-thou, rather comical character and thought that she suited the role really well. Her partnership with Clive Francis as husband and wife was very well-matched and the two characters were very much the dark-comedy centre of the show, where and when required.

Carmela Corbett played the role of the Birling’s daughter, Sheila, opposite her stage-fiancee Matthew Douglas, played by Gerald Croft. These two actors played the characters as being very much like younger versions of Mr and Mrs Birling in their mannerisms and attitude, however, with one vital difference – their acceptance of their parts in Eva Smith’s death. Initially, Sheila and Gerald were very much far too busy wrapped up in their own lives and the perfect future they were going to have together, however, after Inspector Goole comes along and shakes things up a bit, they are forced to re-evaluate their lives and face the harsh truths of their idealistic world. The transition for the couple is acted superbly and feels extremely real.

The Birling’s youngest child, Eric, was played by Hamish Riddle. Eric is a very simple character ultimately with a good heart which unfortunately in the play had dire consequences which were bound to haunt him. Riddle played the role very sensitively whilst providing a lot of emotional depth to the character and made him a joy to watch and perhaps a little underrated against his fellow cast members. Eric was perhaps the most deeply-affected by the play’s tragedy and Riddle conveyed his every emotion perfectly.

The entire play is set in one evening and takes place on the same set throughout – a cobbled street and the dining room in the Birling’s very grand home. The house was designed similarly to a doll’s house, right down to the way it opened up and closed. Music played a part in the show as it really elevated the mood and created suspense, however it’s simplicity of being just strings was extremely atmospheric.

An Inspector Calls is running in London until Saturday 25th March 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre. It is an extremely tense piece of theatre but so exciting and something that every theatre and literature lover should go and see – it is a true classic and I do not know why I have never seen it before.

 

The Women of Bletchley Park

I have always found the wartime work at Bletchley Park fascinating. I don’t know why, I have no idea what triggered this fascination but it is something that, especially considering it’s time, was quite remarkable. I have since been to Bletchley Park and watched a number of series and films based on the works there and as you can probably tell, all of these have inspired the story below.

This story was originally submitted to the Dangerous Women Project, a project exploring the power of women and how they may be interpreted as dangerous. Unfortunately, my submission was not accepted, so I’m sharing it with you lovely lot instead.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment!


“Goodness gracious!” Mr Hartman cried out as smoke proceeded to rise from the pot in front of me. I looked up sheepishly. “If you had a brain you’d be dangerous!” He laughed heartily, yet in an unforgiving manner. I was thirteen at the time of this incident. It was one of many. I always had a rather creative knack for Mathematics and Science at school, well, that’s how my teachers put it anyway, but it seems that knack only got me into Oxford University to study Mathematics and I only graduated with a First. I decided right then at that moment that I must, in that case, be dangerous because I was human and I had a brain. The fact was, you can’t live without a brain, so all humans must be dangerous.

Six years on from that particular day and I was in my second year at Oxford. I was walking along the great hallways one blustery afternoon, minding my own business when I found myself jolting as I realised I had speed-walked head-first into a group five boys, all of which were in the year above me. I looked up at them, startled and mumbled an apology. One jeering boy handed me my stack of books that had scattered themselves across the corridor and I quickly carried on in the direction of the residential halls. As I walked past, I heard one of them say, in a deliberately loud voice, “if women had brains, they’d be dangerous.” That was it. That must have been what Mr Hartman meant all those years ago, ” if women had brains they’d be dangerous”. Full marks for your subtlety, Sir.

It is now November 1939 and Britain is in the midst of war. Since leaving university, I have struggled to find work, even as a secretary because I am a woman. Just twelve months later, I received a letter inviting me to an interview at a place called Bletchley Park, however, the exact requirements of the job were suspiciously brief.

The following week I took the train on an hour’s journey to Bletchley and was buzzing with excitement after the interview. As it turns out, Bletchley Park wanted to recruit the most intelligent people in the country, women included, to work there during the war in an attempt to crack the Germans’ coded messages to help Britain win the war. Furthermore, the following day, I got a telegram offering me a position there. I have only eight words for my old Science teacher and those boys in the corridor at Oxford: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Comedy About a Bank Robbery

It is 1958 and an invaluable diamond has been left in the care of the local bank in a town where everyone is a crook and nobody can be trusted – no issue, right? Ha!

I went to see Comedy About a Bank Robbery on Sunday 22nd January at the Criterion Theatre in London. My friend and I managed to get £40 tickets in Row F of the stalls from Get Into London Theatre. Brilliant.

Initially, I was a little unsure what to expect but after hearing so much hype about it, I went in with an open mind and was not disappointed. Being a Sunday matinee, a number of the understudies were on but as I know from past experiences, this never has a negative effect on the show, the understudies are just as good, in some cases even better, than the main actor.

Jailbird Mitch, played by Henry Shields, teams up with Cooper, Greg Tannahill, as they plan to rob Minneapolis City Bank and steal the diamond. Of course, this is further complicated by Mitch’s girl and bank manager’s, Henry Lewis, daughter Caprice, played by Ellie Morris, falling for Sam, Gareth Tempest, the son of receptionist/PA, Ruth, Holly Sumpton. How very complicated!

This group of actors are truly a joy and a pleasure to watch in such a hilarious piece of theatre combined fantastically with a few 50s pieces of music throughout the show, which only added to the quirkiness.Each actor plays a very different role yet each have the knack of comedy timing down to perfection – a scene that I found particularly comedically written and acted was the scene where Sam disguised himself as Mr Freeboys and was telling ‘his’ life story to Caprice’s boyfriend, Mitch as acted by Caprice from behind Mitch’s back. Perhaps the most rib-tickling ten minutes of my life ever, utter genius.

Chris Leask definitely deserves a mention for his role as ‘Everyone Else’. That’s not a character name, he literally played everyone else and was brilliant. It must be extremely challenging playing a number of different roles, however small, however he managed to get every single one distinct and identifiable.

At the end of the play, a couple of the actors were collecting for LAMDA, so my friend had a very brief chat with the marvellous Jonathan Sayer, who played the role of Warren and was as lovelier and courteous man as he is a brilliant comedy actor.

Comedy About a Bank Robbery is currently booking up to the 27th October 2017, however I have no doubt that it will extend later on this year so there really is no excuse not to grab yourself some tickets and go and have a good old laugh. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

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.

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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.


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