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    Theatre and Ballet

    Brief Encounter at the Birmingham Rep


    There are worse ways to spend a grey, and drizzly Saturday, but wrapped up in Kneehigh Theatre and director Emma Rice’s retell of the 1945 Noel Coward film Brief Encounter is not one of them. The play is warm, at times funny, and sensitively portrays the ordinariness at which two married strangers can meet and fall in love.

    The story is based around two people, Laura and Alec, who both lead fairly ordinary lives in pre-war England. They meet at a train station cafe, where Laura has something in her eye and doctor Alec helps her remove it. They sense an instant connection and arrange to meet again, where their friendship becomes something more, despite being married to other people.

    Director Emma Rice and the cast do a superb job of portraying what is really a fairly ordinary set of circumstances but builds into something which is ultimately life-changing. Laura is a bored housewife, stuck in a routine, but Isobel Pollen does a great job of showing Laura’s resignation to her role without suggesting that she is seeking anything more. Alec is more vocal about his irritability at his life, with Jim Sturgeon lighting up his character when he talks about his Thursday hospital visits being an almost an escape from his life as a dreary GP.


    It’s a strong retelling, with filmic elements used, a nod to the source material, which itself was based on a one-act play. What could ultimately be quite a serious and sombre tale is lightened by the interplay between other characters in the railway station cafe, the proprietor played by Lucy Thackeray and Beverly Rudd’s Myrtle, and the objects of their affections the platform manager, played by Dean Nolan, and Jos Slovick’s cheeky Stanley. Coupled with the romance between Laura and Alec, this allows the audience to see three types of love story in one play.

    The tender performances of the two main characters is typically British and does a wonderful job of showing a love story unravelling without placing any morality on their choices, save the turmoil already felt by Laura in the scenes when she returns home to her husband and child. But it feels less about the affair and more about her regimented role as a wife and mother compared to the freedom she feels with Alec.

    The narrative is helped along with live music, which also frequently helps to lighten the mood. Songs between Myrtle and Stanley are sweet and playful, and a particularly memorable racy song between Dolly the cafe owner and Albert the platform manager allows Dean Nolan to show off some dance moves. And despite a small aerial piece during Laura and Alec’s blossoming romance, the stage play strays away from too much fantastical elements, though uses props and stage pieces well. The way the actors roam around the audience and interact, as well as the use of the floor space directly in front of the audience really helps bring captivate views.

    Kneehigh and Rice’s treatment of Brief Encounter is a captivating and tender retelling of a problematic love story, which is gripping, enchanting and well worth seeing.

    Brief Encounter is at the Birmingham Rep until 17 February. For more information or if, like me, you would like to book tickets click here.

    My Thoughts, Stories

    Sunday Brew #1

    Sunday Brew (1)

    I’ve been pretty terrible at blogging recently, and of all the blogs this is the one left to the bottom of the pile.  But I wanted to start trying to blog more here, do more of a diary style update, pulling together some thoughts on films, books, theatre and such.  I saw a weekly round up work well on another blog, so thought I’d give it a go.

    What I’ve been doing…

    You’ll see from the below, that I’ve spent a lot of this week being wrapped up in stories – Waterstones Birmingham had two author talks I added, Alwyn Hamilton on Monday and Pierce Brown on Wednesday, both promoting new books.  I also went to the cinema. A lot.

    I had a bit of a dodgy tummy earlier in the week, but was glad to make it for lunch with my friend Sarahat Medicine in Birmingham and had a very nice croque monsieur and Chelsea bun – something I’ll hopefully write up for Full to the Brum.  I’ve been trying to cook more, so lunch at work has been a slow-cooked orange curry – another vegan dish to try and get some vegetables in at lunch.

    What I’ve been watching…

    If I haven’t been at work, chances are this week I’ve been wrapped up in a story.  It’s Oscar season at the cinema which means there is a glorious amount of things to see at the cinema; so much so that I’ve ended up seeing six films this week.  Tuesday saw a preview of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which was on at such time that I managed to squeeze in a viewing of The Post beforehand.  With the weather being so utterly miserable on Saturday, I decamped to the cinema for the day and then rounded off with a trip to see Phantom Thread with my mum on Sunday.

    I have this lovely idea of writing up my thoughts on all the films in long reviews, but given how slack I am on blogging recently, and how lop-sided my cinema viewing habits tend to be year-round, I think I might just try and include them in round ups.  So, here goes:

    The Post felt poorly paced, with the first half too slow, and the two stars were perfectly adequate but didn’t pack the punch we’ve seen from them in other films – not enough screen time was given to Streep’s character to convey the brave choices she made as a women, who never asked to be there, in a man’s world. Could do better.

    The Shape of Water was gloriously shot and Sally Hawkins was superb.  But I’m getting a bit bored of this nerd-boy ‘boobs’ trope which just felt out of place at the beginning of the film.  The story is about outsiders finding love, but I found myself more interested in the relationship between Elisa and Giles, than the romance between Elisa and the monster.  The side-plot involving Russian spies felt like it was there to bulk out the plot, and whilst there was a lot I found problematic about this film I also didn’t entirely hate it.

    The Greatest Showman was probably the film I enjoyed the most purely for being a nice piece of throwaway escapism on a dreary Saturday.  Sure it wasn’t a faithful retelling of Barnum’s life and it very much fell into the rags-to-riches trope, but the songs, the dancing, the costumes and the stories of outsiders finding a place to fit in was a nice place to spend an hour or so. And I don’t think it pretended or tried to be anything more.

    Downsizing seemed entirely confused as to what sort of movie it wanted to be; the film was meandering and missing any kind of coherent narrative. I’d give it a miss.

    Darkest Hour felt like a vehicle to get Gary Oldman an Oscar and he would well deserve it for this performance. But I don’t feel like it added anything new to what feels like a well-trodden tale of history.

    Phantom Thread was not as styled as Shape of Water, but I enjoyed the aesthetics of this – the grandeur of the couture and the central house.  The storytelling was eerie, but drifted along and felt less narrative and more a snapshot into dressmaker Reynolds’ complex relationships with the women in his life: his dead mother, stern sister, and revolving door of muses until he meets Alma. Oddly entrancing, but likely not to be everyone’s cup of tea.

    I’ve also watched a few episodes of Altered Carbon on Netflix, which appeared on Friday.  Before that I was dipping into Limitless, a tv series based on the 2011 film, itself based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn.

    What I’ve been reading…irongold

    I’m woefully behind on novels, so I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on Pierce Brown’s excellent Red Rising series (which I started over two years ago), in time for his talk at Waterstones this week.  He was promoting Iron Gold, the newest novel set in the Red Rising world, and one I’m eager to read – although I think I might have to try and read some of the others on my shelf/kindle first, as if I stay in that world too long it’ll be hard to read something else after.

    I’ve also been reading a lot of articles online. I thought about trying to keep tabs on all of them, but that would be impossible, so here are five I found particularly interesting;

    Birmingham, Music

    Stumbling across live music


    I love living in a city for so many reasons, but one of which is the richness of live street art and music that you can stumble across – sometimes it’s part of a festival and sometimes it’s just because.  Last night whilst I was ambling around the city centre, trying to decide what I should do for dinner, I spotted three people setting up equipment for a gig.  It’s not uncommon to see people playing around this area in Birmingham, but usually it’s a soloist with maybe a single amp, mic and possibly a guitar; a drum kit and enough kit for a full gig is quite unusual.  That, and the make up of some of the band, made me want to stick around to find out more.  Plus, I still hadn’t decided what to have for tea.

    Unsurprisingly it turned out they were a rock band, and the man in front of me was right in his assertion they looked like they were going to be worth sticking around for. Once they’d told the group of bemused onlookers who they were, I did a quick online search and turns out StOp,sToP! have quite the following. I stuck around for a few songs, ignoring my rumbling tummy, and thoroughly enjoyed their rendition of Proud Mary in particular.

    Stop Stop Birmingham 2

    In a week when terrible things have happened in our fellow second city, armed police patrol the streets and trains, we’re told trauma centres are on high alert, and the country’s threat level is raised to critical, a rock band plays a free gig in Birmingham city centre. It feels ridiculous and defiant, and as the crowd sung and danced along, it felt like the right.

    Birmingham, Stories, Theatre and Ballet

    The Red Shoes at Birmingham Hippodrome

    A couple of weeks ago, I went to the press screening of Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes ballet, on behalf of Polaroids & Polar Bears, a local arts and culture magazine.

    I naively assumed it was about the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale about the girl who wears the cursed red shoes and didn’t bother to look anymore into it because I was supposed to go with my mum and I figured she’d know.  Only she cancelled on me as she had a meeting, so I ended up going with my friend Ian.  Turns out it’s based on a film, which I’ve never seen – but my friend Louise has righted that by getting me a copy for my birthday.

    Anyway, if you want to read my thoughts on the ballet, head over to Polaroids and Polar Bears!




    Halloween event at Waterstones 

    As someone who quietly kinda loves Halloween, but isn’t so keen on having to dress up, I was excited to hear Waterstones Birmingham had arranged a witch-themed author talk and singing for the night itself – authors Laure Eve, and Katharine & Elizabeth Corr.

    The topic was firmly on witches, feminism and friendship, with the authors dressed up as witches from cult films like The Craft (Laure) and Practical Magic (Katharine and Elizabeth) and host Jamie as Maleficent, plus a few of the audience had dressed up too – I’d come from work, so it was just some novelty skeleton earrings for me.

    I’d finished The Graces by Laure Eve a couple of days before the talk and was interested to hear more about the book.  Laure talked about the idea that witchcraft in popular culture like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Craft, and indeed her own novel, gave ‘ordinary’ girls the chance to be something more, something powerful, and why witches seem to have a feminist and outsider appeal to them.  It paralleled an article Laure has written for Buzzfeed, which is probably a better read than my memory.

    Both The Graces by Laure Eve and The Witch’s Kiss by Katharine & Elizabeth Corr all have strong elements of friendship about them.  I haven’t read The Witch’s Kiss yet, but this was certainly something I found interesting in The Graces, which was more of a focus than the romantic element of the story.

    Laure, Katharine and Elizabeth all talked about the research that goes into writing novels about witches, with Katharine and Elizabeth’s novel focusing quite a bit on anglo-saxon witchcraft, but all authors admitting that their computers’ search engines are rather colourful.

    The talk ended with a series of questions about Halloween, with some general fingerling about Halloween, witches and suitably spooky reads, which means I’ve added even more to my ‘to read’ pile, including Cell and The Sun Dog by Stephen King.

    Both The Graces and The Witch’s Kiss have sequels coming out next year; roughly February for The Witch’s Kiss and September for The Graces.

    And then I got my books signed…


    #FeminisminYA with Alwyn Hamilton & Samantha Shannon

    Waterstones Birmingham are really spoiling us young adult novel readers this year.  After a fantastic talk earlier in the year about the nature of feminism and female positive friendly authors, the bookshop put on a talk hosted by #FeminisminYA creator Mariam Khan, plus authors Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon.

    True to nearly all the talks I manage to get to, I’ve only read Alwyn’s Rebel of the Sands, but it was one I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s the story of Amani who is frustrated living with her uncle in a remote town, in a land where magic still filters through the desert nation of Miraji.  One evening she meets an intriguing foreigner in a shooting contest, a place where she, as a female, has no place being and ends up escaping Dustwalk, the backward town she lives in, for an adventure where she learns her true power.  I think the best description I’ve read of it is ‘Middle East meets Wild West fantasy’ and it’s so rich and colourful that it made a really great read.

    Mariam did a really good job chairing the discussion and lots of really great questions were asked.  She started with one about “strong female characters” a phrase I think we’ve all come to dislike and both authors talked about how problematic it is; Samantha Shannon talked about how the comparison with other female characters flattens them and diminishes the characteristics of both, and Alywn Hamilton talked about how the phrase is wrongly used to imply masculine traits in female characters.  A similar discussion was brought up about the phrase ‘feisty’ when used to describe, almost solely, women.

    feminisminyaMariam also asked the authors their feelings on whether the characters in their books are role models and whether there’s a sense of double standards with female characters in YA novels and if they’re allowed to be considered as such.  There was also discussion about the role of Katniss from The Hunger Games and how lazy journalism means ‘strong female characters’ are almost all compared to her, in a way that male protagonists aren’t constantly compared to Harry Potter.  On a more positive note, Samantha told the audience about a message from a reader who took inspiration from her character Paige and how it inspired them to change their own life – which really makes me want to read the book now!

    In Rebel of the Sands, Amani talks about the frustration of being female and, as the character spends a lot of time dressing up as a boy, as soon as it is revealed she’s female she loses her authority.  It’s a very telling line, and feels applicable even in 2016, but it inspired Alwyn talked about how much she enjoys the ‘female characters disguised as boys’ trope.

    The evening was a real success with lots of interesting topics that made me go away and think more about the books I read and the descriptions of female characters.  It also made me go back and watch Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech; “‘So, why do you always write these strong women characters?’ Because you’re still asking me that question”.


    2015 film round up

    Ever since the 2013 film challenge I seem to have decreased the number of films I’ve seen and 2015 carried this on; although with 34 films at the cinema-ish is still pretty good.

    The year started off typically with a lot of the films that I thought would be Oscar nominated, and I was right.  Personally of the films I saw that were Oscar nominated, Whiplash was by far my favourite for how much it kept me holding my breath and engrossed in the film.  There were also lots of big blockbuster movies; Mad Max, Jurassic World and Ant Man, as well as rom-coms like Pitch Perfect 2, Trainwreck and The Duff and a couple of documentaries like Internet’s Own Boy and Amy.  Actually, looking back it was a more rounded list than I’d realised.

    Anyway, should you be interested, here’s the full list is below (or clickable here).

    Screen shot 2016-03-26 at 13.58.54