Friday, 14 October 2016

A Little Life Update

I didn’t intend to take such a long break from posting here, or any break at all, really.
I’ve been writing but not publishing. Writing as a way to try and process thoughts I don’t understand myself yet.
There’s been a lot going on over the last few months.
I’ve written on here about my journey with anxiety over a number of years, and about the fact that in June this year I completely crashed with my anxiety and depression.
There’s been a lot of rebuilding going on. A lot of pulling thoughts apart to their very roots and learning how to change them so they’re no longer damaging.
Finally, I acknowledged that I needed to face everything properly, rather than continuing to wear a mask and pretending I was ok.
It’s been going well.
I found a counsellor who understands me. He knows what I’m describing before I finish describing it. He doesn’t let me get away with taking the easy route, and he challenges beliefs I’ve been leaning on for years.
About a month ago, I realised that things were actually changing.
I was panicking, but the panicking was calming more quickly.
I was analysing the anxiety and depression in a helpful way. Rather than dwelling on a tricky hour or day, I was taking lessons from my reactions.
For the first time in a very, very long time, I was proud of myself.
A couple of weekends ago I spent the most incredible weekend away reflecting on how far I have come. On the fact there’s still a long way to go, but that the journey is finally heading in the right direction.
Then I hit a little road block. Quite a big one, actually.
I’m not going to go into detail but a little over a week ago someone shattered my confidence in the fact that I can get to and from work safely. Shattered my confidence in the act that I don’t need to fear every little movement around me every time I leave the house.
And did I take it all in my stride and logically analyse the fear and get on with everything?
No, I didn’t. Partly because I still have a lot to learn, and partly because anyone would react to what happened in their own way. I had a delayed reaction, but when it came it took the form of panic attacks, nightmares, and days of crying for hour after hour.
I spoke to a counsellor on Monday who told me I needed to let this happen, to let my body feel the after-effects of going through a traumatic experience. She said there’s a high chance I would have reacted this way even without the existing anxiety.
Since that conversation, I’ve tried to reclaim control.
But reclaiming control doesn’t mean being emotionless and fighting, fighting, fighting every feeling.
It means letting the tears come. Letting the vulnerability come out. Leaning on those around you.
I’ve been improving over the past few days.
The tears are less hysterical. The panicking is spreading out a little.
I’ve been reminded that I’m doing well, but that what I am on is a journey, and stumbling along the way (due to a horrible and random incident) is ok.
Am I ok?
Not really.
But will I be?
I will come back better than I’ve been in a long time.
I’ve just got to keep following the journey now I’m being guided down the right path.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Bodyguard, the musical

I’m going to start by laying my cards on the table: I was not a huge fan of The Bodyguard the musical. 

What I did like and enjoy was a tribute to Whitney Houston featuring one of my very favourite voices, Beverley Knight.

I know people absolutely love this musical and I desperately wanted to feel the same way but I just didn’t. I came away happy because I saw Beverley Knight and Rachel John perform stunning renditions of classic songs. That was the part I loved.

Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) is a firm favourite of mine, a position confirmed further when I saw her in Memphis last year. In Memphis her character, her songs and the rest of the cast were all fantastic. In this, she is one of only a couple of standouts, and the beauty of her role is not so much in the acting as it is in the music. She is a star, and she performs the role of a star well. One Moment in Time had me in tears, and I Will Always Love You was breath-taking.

Rachel John (who, in fact, was also in Memphis) takes on the role of Nicki Marron and also has a voice to remember. Run to You was a fantastic duet between the two sisters and one of my favourite moments. I’d say John was the most convincing in terms of her whole role, both the music and the acting – more so than any other cast member.

As for the rest of it? I’m not sold.

The musical is effectively the film but on stage, with a slightly simplified storyline and more songs. 

The problem is, it was made for film, and so comes across better that way. Shows like Ghost have made the leap from screen to stage and become their own entity, each fantastic in their own way. For me, this isn’t the case with The Bodyguard.

In addition to this, the acting throughout the first half of Act 1 was really flat – it felt like everyone was marking their positions and no one was fully in character. This picked up after Nicki’s first song in the club, but by then I think I had got a bit disheartened.

I found the riot scene very odd, too. It was a very stylised scene, which is fine but it was completely detached from the rest of the show. There were no other similar elements and the style was very jarring. I also thought it was actually very unclear, and I only knew what was going on because of having seen the film.

My final ‘gripe’ was the bodyguard himself. Frank Farmer is played by Ben Richards, and for me there was none of the intrigue or excitement – I didn’t ‘get’ why Rachel Marron would find him so alluring. He did the strong and silent part well, but not in an attractive or compelling way. His karaoke scene was funny, but felt like a very random scene completely disconnected from the rest of his performance, rather than it being a glimpse into the man behind the strong exterior.

I’ll round off with some more of the elements I did like, though.

The set was great in its simplicity. There were a lot of sets and items altogether, but each individual set had one clear focus point at a time, and it was immediately obvious where you were and what was happening. The screen or wall across the centre of the stage was also cleverly used, half-closed during certain scenes or opening only by sections to reveal different scenes.

I was also really impressed by the lighting. Whether it was the light streaming through the windows in Rachel’s home, or the bright flashes of the opening concert, or the softer lighting of more intimate scenes, it added character to every single scene.

I also thought the show ended brilliantly. They know their audience: people who love the film and/or love Whitney. While the emotional ending of I Will Always Love You is visually spectacular, it was a great idea to round off the bows with a ‘party’ atmosphere. The cast sing and dance to I Wanna Dance With Somebody and the audience were with them every step of the way. We were on our feet and dancing and singing, and I’m pretty sure it would be hard to leave in anything but a good mood.

And that’s the thing, I did leave in a great mood. I know I’ve been pretty negative about certain aspects, but it’s not that I thought it was awful. It simply wasn’t everything I had expected. When so many people adore it, I think I had expected to be the same.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love the show itself.

What I did love was seeing great song after great song performed by two incredibly powerful female voices. Beverley Knight and Rachel John made this show. Without their voices, there wouldn’t be much left for me to enjoy.

Friday, 5 August 2016

A Year in London - The Update

Yesterday marked exactly a year since I moved to London.

I didn’t think it would ever be a move I would make, but it has led to one of the busiest years of my life and probably the one in which I have changed and learned the most.

The move was about breaking out of my comfort zone, and throwing off the comfort blankets I’d surrounded myself with.

Without challenging myself, I was never going to overcome a lot of the fears I had built up and learned to live with.

The timings suddenly clicked. I was really unhappy in my job, living alone with the flexibility to move, and there was nothing tying me to stay in the same place.

When the job hunt began, I was offered a role at a company I’ve admired for years, which sealed the deal and to London I came.

It’s been a year of extreme highs and some very real lows, and one year on I can say it’s been one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had.

I’m in a new city, facing ‘fears’ like the tube, living with strangers, and adjusting to a new workplace.

I’m living in a city I always thought was far too big, too busy, too fast for me.

I’ve been able to indulge more than ever in my love of theatre, seeing on average a show a month but often more.

I’ve been exploring parts of the country I’ve never been to before, not only in London but in Kent, Hertfordshire, Brighton, Canterbury…

Most people close to me (and those who have read recent posts) will know that it’s not as simple as having moved to London and everything improving as I face my fears.

Two months ago almost to the day, I completely crashed with my anxiety after a period of having done really well.

I think it was my body’s way of saying ‘Hold on. You’ve got too good at getting a bit better then pretending you’re ok. You’re not.’

I’d got really good at wearing a mask.

Yes, I’d progressed so far with my panicking and worrying, but with a lot of my issues and fears I’d just taught myself coping mechanisms and learned to hide them rather than actually addressing them.

I had to take some time off, and then slowly return to ‘normal’ life. Depression was added to the anxiety diagnosis, and I began to slowly rebuild my confidence.

It’s been hard.

Really, really hard.

I’ve had to lean so heavily on the people around me and I can’t thank them enough for the way I’ve been looked after and treated with patience and love.

I’ve been focusing on really looking after myself and actively making changes to completely overhaul the way I think of myself and the world around me.

On Monday, my counselling finally starts and should supplement the huge steps I’ve been making on my own over the past two months.

I need this person to challenge me. I need to make my brain realise just putting on a mask and ‘coping’ is not enough. I want to free myself of these thoughts that have tied my down for so long.

I want to go out for a meal and truly enjoy choosing something from the menu; I’ve not eaten properly for three years.

I want to plan a busy week without knowing I will be completely and utterly drained by the end of it.

I want to sleep better; I can’t remember the last time I had a night of unbroken sleep – over the past couple of months I’ve averaged 3 to 6 hours a night.

I want to fully enjoy everything I do without constantly checking I know the exit route, or wondering whether something is about to happen.

Most of all, I want to allow myself to just be me. To be happy. To be healthy.

This year I’ve had some of the best days ever, and some of the worst.

My feeling today, at the end of this first year, is that things ahead look good.

They look really good.

The process I’m going through right now is hard, but I’m on the path to facing and overhauling thinking that has been troubling me for three years or more.

I’ve got amazing trips away and events and plans coming up.

My second year in London will continue to see growth, and will be a year in which I learn more and more about myself.

I’m ready.

Monday, 1 August 2016

10 tips for finding a room to rent in London

Finding a place to rent can be a bit of a nightmare.

Finding a room to rent in London is on another level.

It’s definitely stressful and it’s definitely fast-paced, so almost a year after moving I thought I’d try to share some tips.
  • There are places out there. It can be very easy to panic as places move quickly and the process can be overwhelming, but people are always on the move and there are options out there if you keep calm and look properly.
  • Know what you want. Do you want an extension of university life, living with people who are also going to be your friends, or do you want a quiet place you can head home to after work or socialising? Think carefully about the type of environment you want to be in.
  • Visit multiple places. So many places look ok online, but the reality can be a different story. I saw places that looked about triple the size online, I went to a house where the other three occupants smoked and left beer bottles everywhere, I went to one house that was hidden away down a creepy alleyway I wouldn’t have felt safe in alone.
  • Know what you’re getting yourself into. What’s the agreement with the landlord? Are bills included? What’s the minimum time you have to agree to live there for, and what’s the notice period if you want to leave?
  • Live-in landlord or not? This is something I will write more about in the future, but you might want to consider this one carefully. If they do live there, you can be sure issues with the place will be fixed quickly as they live there, but you might feel like you’re invading their space, rather than living in a place on equal footing.
  • Check out the area. Think logically about where the house is based. Will you feel safe heading home alone at night? Is your commute to work doable and affordable? Are there shops and other conveniences within easy reach?
  • Use multiple sites. Don’t restrict your search – cast a wide net so you can choose the best options of everything.
  • Set up your own advert. On a lot of sites there’s the option to set up your own advert as well as browsing through room adverts. I did this and the best places I saw were through people contacting me rather than the other way round. I found these people were being a bit more picky about the types of people they wanted to live with, so both sides knew it was quite a good match before I even went to see the room.
  • Budget carefully. Think very honestly about what you can afford to spend on rent. Take into account bills and travel expenses, then add on any socialising. London is an expensive city, and you need to try and strike that balance of living somewhere that meets your needs but isn’t swallowing up every penny of your budget every month.
  • Keep calm. It’s hard, and I definitely didn’t keep as calm as I should have done. Know that it’s a stressful process but it’s doable and you will find something that meets your needs.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Groundhog Day, the musical

As soon as I heard tickets for Tim Minchin’s latest project, Groundhog Day, had been released, I bought my ticket. I’ve not actually seen the classic film, so my thoughts are based on the musical as a standalone, having known nothing about the story.

I have really mixed feelings about the show, which overall are very positive but with a few question marks left over. I’m going to start with the less positive thoughts and move through to the highlights.

Firstly, it really was ‘a show of two halves’. Act One was fantastic: slick, laugh-out-loud funny, great staging and we spent the interval talking about how brilliantly the show had been done. Act Two retained the feeling of the show but felt incomplete. I think for me this was partly because I just wasn’t the biggest fan of the story. I like the concept but the context is a little odd and I found it very hard to identify with many characters. Even the main character I really enjoyed watching and thought it was played brilliantly but I wasn’t ‘rooting for him’.

That’s a personal thing which I’m sure many would disagree with, though.

Another thought on Act Two which really turned me off was the attempted suicide scene. It’s an integral point in the story and I understand they were going for the dark humour angle but this song took it way too far and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Having actor after actor dressed as the lead acting out different methods of suicide was just a no-go for me, and left me very unimpressed.

I also thought opening Act Two with a solo from a character who doesn’t feature hugely in the show was in interesting choice, as was the soloist in the scene with the homeless man in the park – both songs were sung well (‘Being Nancy’ was beautiful), but felt like they were floating and disconnected from the overall narrative.

My final point on Act Two is that the repetition element seemed less clever. There were a lot of scenes repeated where I felt too much of the dialogue was repeated before the ‘twist’ for that day was introduced, which really slowed the pace of the second half after such a fantastic Act One.

Moving on from these elements, I was thoroughly impressed I was by the staging of Groundhog Day. The rotating stage adds a fantastic visual element, mirroring the repetitive aspect of the story and making scene changes and choreography more fast-paced and interesting to watch. It must have taken some practice to not feel horrendously dizzy after every performance! The set and props were well-crafted and scene changes were very quick and seamless – I was a particular fan of the bedroom/guesthouse set and the all-American diner.

My highlight of the show was the song in the bar, which was hilarious but also with very poignant messages. These are the kinds of songs Tim Minchin really shines in – you’re laughing but they’re hitting a nerve at the same time. I also loved how the car chase was done in terms of staging – so creative and not like anything I’ve seen before.

The ensemble are incredibly strong. The group numbers had such strength and vitality, and all of the individual smaller characters were well-played and had their own brilliant moments. The song about spring being on the way ‘if not tomorrow, perhaps the day after’ was really beautiful and I’d have loved a reprieve of this at the end.

Phil Connors, played by Andy Karl, is a really interesting character in that he goes on an incredibly important personal journey and you want him to succeed but also don’t particularly like him that much, I didn’t anyway. That’s the character I’m talking about, not Karl. Andy Karl was a fitting leading man. He handled the broad range of emotions and moods required with ease, and it’s rare to see someone handle both comedy and dark moments so incredibly well without ever losing their character.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but for me Carlyss Peer wasn’t quite the right fit for Rita vocally. In terms of the straight acting scenes, she was spot on, but I found her vocals quite harsh, and on bigger songs in particular it was too much. In Rita and Phil’s duet towards the end of the show I thought the balance wasn’t really there, and found myself wishing it was another Andy Karl solo.

So there we have it, I think writing this has made me realise my feelings were even more mixed than I realised. It is undeniably a clever, well-crafted and funny musical, which surpassed my expectations. 

However, at the same time there were things which really stood out to me as uncomfortable or not quite right, and it’s left me a bit confused. I wonder if the best next step might actually be to watch the film to find the inspiration, but wonder if that takes away from the musical, as it should surely be able to stand alone for new audiences as well as film fans.

I’m really pleased I went to see it, and look forward to seeing where the musical will head next.

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Trip to Brighton

A couple of weeks ago, I took my first trip to Brighton for my birthday weekend.

It's a place people go on and on about and so many love, so I was really looking forward to it.

After to everything I've been going through recently it was the perfect escape from London and opportunity to slow the pace and take time to relax.

We arrived Saturday morning and had a cooked breakfast looking over the beach, followed by a stroll along the pier. Sitting and chatting on the pier was the perfect place to be able to mull over my thoughts and clear out some of the things that have been contributing to my state of mind over the last couple of months.

I loved The Lanes, although they weren't what I expected at all. They're such a maze of cute little shops and great to wander. I've got to say, I loved the way such a huge proportion of the shops in Brighton are independent. All the usual chains were there, but the overall feel was a very independent one with so many interesting things to explore.

We also enjoyed cupcakes at Angel Food Bakery, which I wish was closer as I'm ready to go again now, please!

As the weather got cloudier, we headed into the Sea Life Aquarium. We timed it a bit badly as we were surrounded by the loudest, rudest huge group of 15 year-old tourists which ruined it a little bit, but it's a great aquarium and you could spend a long time there on a rainy day.

After heading back to relax, we ate out at Ask in the nearby Burgess Hill, which had the loveliest staff and the food was delicious.

With the weather fairly patchy, we chose to have a slow Sunday morning before making the journey back to London.

Although I had a fairly quiet weekend, I really enjoyed the break from London and the chance to finally see Brighton.

I've got to say, I don't think I would rave about it quite as much as some people do - it wouldn't rank among my favourite places, but the independent feel, The Lanes and the beach combine to make a really unique and interesting city.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Matilda the Musical

I think I enjoyed my second visit to Matilda the Musical even more than my first a few years ago.

I was worried that because I loved it so much first time round I’d have built it up too much, but it was every bit as brilliant as I remembered.

I also saw it from a completely different perspective this time, sitting on the third row, rather than up at the top back of the theatre.

I often describe Tim Minchin as a Roald Dahl for grown-ups, and I think his input is part of what makes the show so fantastic. It feels so authentically ‘Roald Dahl’, yet adds even more layers.

The musical is all about Matilda’s love of stories and storytelling and I think this is what makes it so magical. The wordplay is very clever, and the lyrics fantastic. Just listen to ‘The School Song’, preferably watching clips to see the staging, and you’ll see just how clever every moment of the show is.

What I love most about the musical is the added depth, and the story of the escapologist’s daughter – no spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet. Seeing Matilda’s creativity and the way she uses words and phrases she has picked up from other characters in previous scenes is so believable, and the story weaves incredibly throughout the story we already know so well.

It’s a show that delights children and adults alike, which again is done very cleverly. There were children near to me who were spellbound, but equally the adults were hanging onto every word. That balance is so hard to get right, and Matilda the Musical achieves it to phenomenal effect.

The cast of course includes multiple children for every role, and we saw a few of the adult characters played by understudies too so I will of course be talking about the cast I saw last Saturday.

Our Matilda was Zari-Angel Hator and she was just incredible. Her voice, her charm, her delivery of such a complex script, and her overall command of the stage was impressive, and there was never a moment where you were unsure she had everything under control.

The children in general perform to such a high standard it just blows me away. They’re carrying a show full of complex wordplay, with tight choreography and a many-layered score, and they handle it seemingly effortlessly. Special mention here has to go to Ynez Williams as Lavendar Brown, who was perfectly cast, and Oliver Llewelyn-Williams who was excellent as Bruce, especially in his diva moments of ‘Revolting Children’.

The adults of the show were equally well cast. Craige Els was a fantastic Trunchbull, and had us in stitches scene after scene. The decision to cast a man as Miss Trunchbull was a great one, and Els played the role well. 

The Wormwoods (Michael Begley and Laura Tyler) were just as grotesque as they should be, and Mr Wormwood’s rendition of ‘Telly’ was a highlight. Miss Honey was taken on by Charlotte Scott, whose voice was lovely but it was her acting that caught me – those tender moments with Matilda were well played and I enjoyed getting to witness them right up close.

Matilda is a show that will leave you singing the songs for days, and I guarantee you’ll have so many ‘favourite moments’ it will be hard to pick. If you really pushed me on songs, I’d say ‘Revolting Children’, ‘When I Grow Up’, ‘Naughty’ and the School Song’ are well up there, but then there’s less ‘showy’ songs like ‘My House which I also love.

When I originally wrote this review it was at least double the length and I came to the conclusion I just can’t write about all my favourite parts because we’d be here forever and the conclusion is just that it’s an absolutely fantastic show. The story, the songs, the cast, the stage – every element pulls together beautifully, and it’s a show you won’t forget.
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