28 April 2017

The Idle Women of Wartime Waterways at The Cruising Association

It’s not often you are invited to see a performance piece inside The Cruising Association building, which is less of a theatrical space and more of a place for river lovers to meet up with a pint and discuss all things boat related before, heading to the locks  It is however, a very fitting place to watch a show about “the idle women”, women who manned, so to speak, the waterways delivering essential goods in World War Two.

I was drawn to this performance because I actually knew nothing about the idle women beforehand, despite my love of all things ‘40’s and being a big supporter of pioneering women.  The term ‘Idle women’, we were told, was actually coined for them much later as the name for a book, and is likely comes from the advertisements asking for women to volunteer to man the idle boats on the waterways.  

This was hard, manual labour, and judging from the real diaries that made up some of tonight's performances, it was was freeing and rewarding but very tough work.  They weren't always treated with the respect they deserved, as so often is the case in those times, and had to give up much of their ordinary lives.  
The performance was split into two parts, the first, performed by Kate Saffin was a one woman performance based on true facts about the character of Isobel, who gave up the life her mother and husband chose for her for a life on the boats.  The performance is stripped back and casual, with no set or lighting and although it takes the performance a little time to warm up, it is delightfully charming.  The script can be a little unimaginative dialogue-wise but there’s humour and plenty to learn here.  

The second was music and poetry performed by Heather Wastie again using verbatim extracts from some of the women’s diaries or books.  Heather embodied the performances physically to really bring out the personalities in her poetry.  Again it’s a charming performance that wins the audience over.

The women are currently traveling around one of the routes the idle women took for their cargo deliveries, stopping at various points along the way to share their performances.  Check the Alarum Theatre website to see if that are stopping off near you soon.


26 April 2017

Reading Wrap Up: January to March

My first ever post written here almost four years ago was a review of Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic, and ever since then books have been an important part of my blog.  Over the years I have made slight amendments to the way I have shared my passion for reading wit you guys, sometimes for every 5 books I'd do a summery, last year I tried a monthly round up but this year I decided to try something totally new and switch my wrap ups to my Youtube channel.

Now don’t get me wrong I am never going to be a “Youtuber” but over the last few months I’ve realised that there are some things that work better visually rather than just in text form, and it’s allowed me to add visual elements to my travel posts such as in my New York and Edinburgh posts.

So I thought for a year I‘d try and td my monthly round ups as videos rather then text explanations, then every three months I’d share them here.  So here’s what i’ve read so far this year:
January was a productive month for me, both blog and book wise. I had a good run with YA for the first time in ages and really enjoyed every book I picked up.
Fave: It's a close call but Butter really stuck with me. We Come Apart is beautiful too.
Fail: None, I loved them all.
February was a hard month for me, I took a real hit to my mental health that has left me unwilling to read or do much, but I still got a few books in.
Fave: Gone Girl
Fail: The Burning Ground
March was recovery, slowly I started feeling better and got reading.
Fave:It's a close one between Shoot the Damn dog and His Bloody Project
Fail: Metallica

So that’s everything I’ve read in the last three months, what are your favourite books so far this year?  Have you read any of the ones I have?  Let me know!

24 April 2017

Beauty Giveaway worth over £80!

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a giveaway, right?  I’ve been hoarding up a few beauty products ready for the chance to share them with you guys, and now seems like as good a time as any.  There’s no real reason for this one, but my birthday is just around the corner so let’s use that as an excuse if we need one.  Here’s what’s up for grabs:
The full Beauty Blogger’s Secret’s palette and nail polish range
You might remember that last summer I went to Cologne for the Beauty Bloggers Secret Party.  Well there we were kindly given the whole collection by Essence but I already had a full version I’d won in a giveaway, so you guys are getting lucky.  These sets are almost impossible to find in the UK so this is your chance to grab them!
Four eyeshadows from Lord & Berry
Four gorgeous shades from Lord & Berry to complete you to try out, some nice neutrals with a bit of spice to play around with.
No Thin Lips Lip Plumper  
This lip pump should get your lips looking luscious this summer. Just apply and let it do it's magic.

So there you have it, with a combined value of over £80 what are you waiting for. This competition is open to UK entries only, the winner will be contacted via email and if there has been no response within two weeks another winner will be chosen. Just enter via the Rafflecoper below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


20 April 2017

Miss Nightingale at the Vaults

I have quite a complicated relationship with musicals.  Truth be told I am just not sure if I really like them.  I always want to go see ‘the classics’ and there are days I find myself happily writing away listening to musical hits, and yet so often when I do go to see them I just don’t enjoy them.  They can be just too twee and sweet for my drama living self, and generally just too much!  

So normally when I get invited to review a new musical I’ve not heard of it will take a lot to make me turn my head towards it.  Miss Nightingale drew me in with four things, it’s set in the 1940’s, it revolves around an LGBT narrative, it’s being performed in The Vaults which is quickly becoming one of my favourite performing arts venues in London, and the company that created it are from Sheffield.  I just had to check it out.  

The Vaults provides a blank canvas for performances to wrap around and the company had done a great job here.  This is the largest seated performance I have ever seen at The Vaults, and from the ration chocolate bar I was handed on the way in, to the 1940’s decor in the foyer, to the modern twist on war posters around the theatre, the stage was set for what you are about to view.  Straight away it helps set the tone and time period of the show.

The story revolves around a northern nurse who comes to London to help with the war effort where she meets two men who can make her a star.  The two men fall in love beneath the backdrop of bombs, corruption and homophobia.  Don’t be fooled by the dark sounding plot, this is a hilarious music hall romp that made me laugh out loud more than I have in any theatre show of late.  

The cabaret club style, with big musical numbers when Miss Nightingale appears as her on stage persona, lift the whole performance with it’s upbeat tunes and hilarious lyrics, the music is written wonderfully.  The fact that I have had a song or two buzzing around in my head ever since having only heard them once is a great testament to this, it was literally toe-tapping fun.  Even the most cynical of London audiences find themselves won over by this northern charm a few songs in.  

The humour is very tongue-in-cheek, and although this initially gains just small titters, as the audience slowly relax into the style there were some real belly laugh moments, especially in the second act.  Don’t expect too much intellectualising here, it’s more ‘carry-on camping’ with a Yorkshire accent and much more charm.  

The second act allows the actors to show some real moments of dramatic tension. Conor O’Kane shines through in the role of George when it comes to the moments of real drama, which is balanced out by Miss Nightingale (Tamar Broadbent) for the comedic highlights.  Overall it was well performed by the cast.  

Even though the show was great fun it wasn’t without it’s faults, there were definitely instances where comic timing could really do with an overhaul and in general the performers seemed much more comfortable when working with the music then with the occasionally clunky dialogue.  A very minor point but as a vintage loving blogger I just have to comment about how the inauthenticity of the 1940’s hair styles on Miss Nightingale.  Yes it’s a little thing and I’m sure not everyone would noticed but it was a detail which bothered me and could be fixed fairly easily to add a touch of polish.  Also although the stripped back instruments fit in really well with the music hall style it did sometimes cause some sound balancing issues, especially at the start when the drums drowned out the vocals.  Thankfully this appeared to improve as the numbers moved on.    

If you are looking for a naughty but nice evening out with a few decent laughs and a good sing along, then look no further than Miss Nightingale, it is a delight.  Catch it at The Vaults until the 20th of May 2017.  

17 April 2017

Why I'm giving audiobooks another try

I loved audiobooks as a kid but never carried on listening to as an adult.  I’m not sure why, I just had it in my head that 'I don’t take books in properly this way', and while this is true for some books, I have started to realise that I can’t claim this about all audio books as I haven't really given them a chance.  I have vivid memories of listening to Sophie’s Snail on holiday as a child and announcing to my parents that I was going to be a ‘lady farmer’ as I listened to it over and over.  Furthermore I work in book publishing so I am keenly aware that audiobooks are the fastest growing book market out there, so there must be something in it right?

For Christmas I bought my boyfriend the audiobook of Nomad by Alan Partridge as I knew he’d enjoy them more it  them from the man's mouth instead of written down.  I ended up really enjoying listening to it while we drive, it was so funny hearing it voiced by the writer himself and because I was in a situation where I was concentrating already I easily took it in.  

I’d been thinking about getting an Audible subscription but was put off by their one book a month limit when BookBeat reached out to me to see if I wanted to try their services for a year.  They are new to the UK and work much like audible in that you pay monthly, but the big plus is that you can listen to as many books as you want, no cap!  The timing seemed to be so perfect I had to give them a go, here are a few reason’s why I’m going to give audiobooks another chance

It’s a great alternative to podcasts

I have become a podcast fiend ever since I first listened to serial a couple of years ago, now I listen to podcasts almost everyday, usually at work, and it has opened up my world to spoken world much more.  Listening to audiobooks just makes sense as the next place to go with this newfound love.

It works so well for comedy

I never really read comedy books, and never really laugh out loud when I’m reading.  But with audiobooks the performance side of it can really bring out the comedy, especially in a comedic biography if the author is doing the voice acting.

I'd listen to books I would never bother to read

I don’t like reading fantasy, it’s just not for me.  However I would listen to it instead, the same most biographies. It’s not something I would buy and read but as an audiobook I would totally give them a go, which is where BookBeat's read as many books as you want system works better the Audibles in my opinion, if I don’t like it after a chapter or two I can just pick something else.

I can now read on the go

Have you ever tried reading while walking?  I have, it is not a good idea unless you want to get run over or fall and make a tit out of yourself.  With audiobooks I can listen on the way to the tube, and even on the tube if I download the book in advance, so there are no more wasted moments.

It’s perfect for the lightweight traveler

I am currently writing this on the train on the way back from a solo trip to Glasgow, the backpack I took with me has almost killed me!  I stupidly brought my huge paperback with me when I could really have just used the BookBeats app instead, lesson learned!  I think this would be great if you are flying abroad with hand luggage only where you are really limited, you can have a whole host of audio books ready to go on your phone.  Here’s a fun fact, I never use any of my bags that are too small to fit a paperback in so I’ve stopped buying them, with audio books this is no longer an issue!

A good back up for days when I forget a book

I hate these days! I try to make sure I always have a book with me as you will know from my post on how to hit your reading goals but it does sometimes happen.  At least when this happens now I have my audiobooks to reach for instead.  

So that’s just a couple of reasons why I’m hoping audiobooks might be, do you listen to audiobooks?  What do you like about them? If you are looking at giving them a try use this special link to get one month's free trial.
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10 April 2017

Old Key West Resort; Walt Disney World, Florida

I’ve visited Walt Disney World in Florida over 15 times, mainly with family.  My mum is a Disney fiend so it was an essential part of my upbringing, and throughout the years I’ve stayed in a variety of different accommodation.  Usually when traveling with family we stay in a villa, but when traveling with an ex I stayed in a motel on International Drive to fit in with a strict budget.  This most recent trip was the second time I have stayed on property at Disney World, and the first in one of Disney’s non-budget resorts.  I thought I’d give you an overview of all the aspects of this resort so you can see if you think it’s worth it.
Outdoor Theming
Old Key West Resort is themed on a romanticised version of the Florida Keys, shown through beautiful pastel shades that are so my aesthetic you would have think I’d designed it myself!  Each apartment has it’s own colour pallet with little rustic touches like striped balcony hangings and vintage style hanging lamps.  There are hidden Mickey’s within the woodwork of the balconies which adds a Disney touch to which could otherwise have passed for a deluxe hotel anywhere.  

The resort is surrounded by greenery, with palm trees everywhere making you feel like you are on your own private Island (if it wasn’t for the hordes of people!).  It helps separate you from the outside world and feel really relaxed.  This is further emphasised by the large lake that flows through the centre of the property, which runs right onto Lake Buena Vista, giving it a Floridian boardwalk feel.   
This shoreline style is further emphasised in the small details and signs throughout the property, with little touches like wooden promenades and hair wrap stalls adding to the feeling you aren’t on typical Disney property.  You could stay here, never attend a Disney park and be happy.

The one main area of whimsy comes from the main swimming pool, where a water slide is disguised as a giant sandcastle, and the sauna a large brightly coloured lighthouse, but more on this later.
The Rooms
We had a studio room which I shared with two other adults and one child.  This studio consisted of two queen size beds, a balcony, a small kitchen complete with microwave, a small closet and a bathroom with a bath.  This amount of space was pretty decent, in fact if we weren't locked in for over 24 hours because of the huge hurricane it probably would have been fine.  Spending that amount of time in there did leaving me climbing the walls but I think it would be hard to find a room that would leave me not feeling like that when you're forced to sit inside for that long.  
Theming-wise the rooms are a bit of a letdown compared to the stunning exteriors.  The rooms have some beach themed artwork but other than this they are fairly plain, they are also fairly dark which is a disappointment given the bright exterior.  The balcony was big enough for two but no more, it had a table and chairs set up and an ok view of one of the smaller pools.  The kitchen was adequate for breakfasts and quick meals, although we really struggled when spending 24 hours in the room because of the storm, but again this isn’t really what it is set up for.  The bathroom is large and lighter than the other rooms, the bath was a nice edition and came with Disney bathroom products which were a nice touch.
There is quite a lot of entertainment available at the resort, especially for little ones.  There's a schedule of children's entertainment that can be anything from pool parties, to film showings, to story time.  If you want something for the whole family you can find outdoor film showings and a campfire activities.  It’s not the kind of thing you can just leave your child at all day but there’s enough to keep them occupied while you relax near by.

There is also a games arcade with a few games available, but there aren’t many and you do have to pay to use them.  The reception has a small tv set up with classic Disney cartoons playing, which is good to keep your kids occupied while you check in, and you can also indulge in some pin swapping here too.  There's a 24 hour gym on site but as I never even glanced at it so I can't really comment on it, I like my vacations chilled!  The Community Hall offers pool, ping pong and more and you can check out equipment to play bigger games like volleyball or football.  You can also sign out DVD’s to watch in your room from here too which is an added bonus.  

In general this is a great resort if you want to do activities away from the park, it has lots of sports courts and it’s near by the golf courses, you can even hire a bike.  
Swimming Pools
There are a variety of pools throughout the resort of which I used two.  The one directly outside our apartment was a standard smaller pool, with towels and recliners available.  It also has a hot tub which is a nice edition.  The pool was generally quiet so it was great for relaxing, some days I had it all to myself which was very enjoyable.
On the other end of the spectrum, the main pool is busy and great for children specifically.  The stand out feature is the sandcastle shaped water slide, a draw to brave kids and playful adults a like.  The pool here is less generic, and even has a lighthouse nearby that contains a sauna.  The children's pool is also a lot of fun and very popular, expect to find most of the children's poolside entertainment happening here.  
Disney transport is pretty standard throughout, however Old Key West has a few extras.

Starting with the ordinary, Old Key West benefits from both the Magical Express (a coach that picks you up at the airport and takes you to your resort) and Disney Bus Transportation that will take you to each of the four main parks and the Disney Springs shopping area.  To get to other places, such as hotels or water parks, you will need to take a bus to one of the parks and take a bus from there onto your final destination.  If you look online it will usually tell you the fastest way to do this.  Busses run about every 20 minutes and can get pretty busy, especially at park opening or closing, so make sure you factor this in if you want to be there for rope drop in the morning.  

What is unique here is the edition of the boats.  You can get on one from the large lake in the centre of the property that takes you to Disney Springs and back, which is a nice alternative to the bus, especially when you have been on them all week.  The concierge also has a golf buggy which they can use to help deliver you and your luggage to your room.  
Food, Drink and Shopping
The main attraction food-wise is Olivia’s, a seafront style restaurant set in the main hub.  I only ate here once when we were stuck after the storm, and the food wasn’t great but I can’t really give it a full review as they only had a partial menu on offer.  I was disappointed that there wasn’t an outside seating area as it seems to be the perfect place for it, and the decor inside I found a bit drab.

Near by there is a quick service location called Good’s Food to Go that supplies fast food throughout the day, I ate here a few times with my dining credits and it was actually pretty decent as far as fast food goes.  It’s also the place where you can fill up your reusable cup if you are part of the dining plan.  Next door you will find the Gurgling Suitcase Bar which although small, is a nice place to sit on an evening and have a cocktail or two, although it does shut rather early.
Lastly there is one shop onsite which does stock some limited food options if you want to eat in your accommodation, such as cereal and pop tarts.  It does have a lot of snacks and a decent array of merchandise from across the four parks, as well as some that is specific to the resort.  

So there’s my round up of Disney’s Old Key West Resort.  It’s a beautiful pastel heaven and a resort I’d definitely come back to.  What’s your favourite Disney hotel?
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6 April 2017

Custody at the Ovalhouse

‘Another black man dies in police custody.
Apparently no-one is to blame.’

So goes the tagline of the newest production to open in South London’s Ovalhouse, a simple tag line that brings forth tension and drama, however the rest of the play falls just short of the mark unfortunately.

The play is centered around one family’s reaction when 30 year old Brian, a son, brother and fiance, dies during what should have been a routine traffic stop.  Leaving the audience asking the questions: 'what went wrong?', 'Why was he even pulled over in the first place?', and 'what can be done to bring the police to justice?'.  We follow his mother, sister, brother and fiance as they learn the horrific news, and discover how it shapes their life moving forward.  

The play begins with group movement, repetition and physical theatre that sadly just screamed A-Level drama class.  This beat-poetry-style beginning missed out on some of the power that it could have achieved if it was allowed to stand alone, without the puppet-like movements, which distracted from the emotion and harsh reality of the text.  
The actor’s performances started off a little unrefined, but thankfully this improved greatly when the group movement was left behind and they relaxed into the play.  By the halfway point the performances had all improved greatly, as the actors really came into their own.  Each had moments of strength that allowed them to show their true skill.  There was some genuine laugh out loud moments here that were well paced to break up the darker moments and draw out Brian’s personality as seen in the eyes of his loved ones.  There are some moments of power, the use of ‘it’ within the police statements for instance.  This dehumanisation, although hardly subtle, created a build-up of tension which could have been explored in more depth.  

The set design was particularly well conceived, especially for a small black-box style theatre.  The modern and abstract set really shone out as one of the better parts of the play, setting moods as well as physical space.  

Watching life continue after such a painful tragedy was eye opening but I was constantly left wishing it took it all the way.  Unfortunately, key moments of drama and tension were left un built upon, so I was left feeling a little flat.  Braver decisions could have been made to really push the envelope here, instead it was left with an ok performance, but not a great one.  

4 April 2017

The Sense of an Ending: From Book to Screen

The Sense of an Ending is a book I first read in September of 2013, I remember it well as it was one of the last books I read before I made my career change from technical theatre into book publishing.  It’s strange how things like this can stick in your mind.  I remember reading the book, I remember the time frame, I remember the cover, but I actually can’t remember the content of the book in detail.

So when I was invited to an advanced screening of The Sense of an Ending I was hoping it would, ironically as it turns out given the subject matter, jog my memory.  The filmic version stars national treasure Jim Broadbent in the role of the not-so-lovable main character Tony Webster, alongside other acting talent including Charlotte Rampling and Harriet Walker.  Just incase you know nothing about the book or film, here is a short synopsis:

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), divorced and retired, leads a reclusive and relatively quiet life. One day, he learns that the mother of his university girlfriend, Veronica (Freya Mavor), left in her will a diary kept by his best friend who dated Veronica after she and Tony parted ways.

Tony’s quest to recover the diary, now in the possession of an older but equally as mysterious Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), forces him to revisit his flawed recollections of his friends and of his younger self.

As he digs deeper into his past, it all starts to come back; the first love, the broken heart, the deceit, the regrets, the guilt... Can Tony bear to face the truth and take responsibility for the devastating consequences of actions he took so long ago?

After the film I settled in for a post-show talk with a group of fellow book bloggers, to discuss the film’s adaptation from the Man Booker Prize winning book.  I have to say this was one of the best and most organic chats of this type I have been in, it felt like a book group and everyone really took time to listen to each other’s opinions, which really helped us delve deeply into the issues raised.

Both the book and the film tackle the complexity of first loves, memories and relationships, but does the different medium show the audience different shades of intention?  Possibly.  The film fleshes out characters other than Tony (the book is told just from Tony’s point of view so you have to take his word as verbatim) which allows you too see their motives more clearly and understand them better.  I think Tony’s actions become more unsympathetic because of this, his self-centered and stubborn nature really shows when viewed through the gaze of others.

One thing that the film does really well is linger with its pacing.  It’s something that is used constantly in books but is harder to achieve in film.  To linger in scenes and pauses without making the film feel slow or boring is incredibly difficult, but it has been achieved beautifully here.  It takes a brave director to do this and an even smarter one to get the pitch right.  It has a very book-like pacing that allows you to focus on the characters and gives you time to reflect.

Producing a book to film adaptation is difficult because us book lovers and audience members get a picture in our heads when we read, and a film can never show what we have conjured up inside our minds.  Personally I try not to get too caught up in the details and think they should be viewed as separate things, a straight up reproduction would be pointless.  Of course there were some changes, but nothing that changes the overall feel and main story behind the book, which I believe is exactly what an adaptation should achieve.  It seems the author would agree as he stated “The best way to be loyal as a filmmaker is to be disloyal to the book; I’ve always believed that”

It’s a beautiful, thoughtful film, whether or not you have read the book, and is well worth a watch.  It is out now at cinemas across the country.  Take a look at the trailer to learn more.
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