Review: Romeo and Juliet

Article 19’s production of Romeo and Juliet is exactly how student drama should be done. The venue, (Rainbow Courtyard) the vision, the music, the acting, and Vita Fox’s direction contributed to an extremely high quality production that a professional company would have been proud to put on. This adaptation was set in 1966 and was filled with cute costumes, and an incredible score of music. The band, comprising of Sam Forbes, Lily George, and Ben Lyth, were fully immersed in the performance, from interacting with the actors to setting the tone of the scenes. Having a live band on stage brought so much to the performance; at one point during the play Juliet (Phoebe Ruttle) asked Forbes to play a more upbeat song for them to dance to. As the audience entered the venue they were asked to join the cast members for a dance on stage. There was a fair bit of audience interaction, but nothing cringe-worthy! Capulet (Touwa Craig-Dunn) handed out letters to members of the audience, and at points some of the actors would sit at the audience’s feet. For example, Mercutio (Becky Hansell) positioned herself between two people in the front row who had to awkwardly move their legs to make room for her.

13307484_844772532294364_2291179602293541567_n

The acting overall was of a very high standard. Benvolio (Elliot McDowell) and Mercutio (Hansell) brought some much-needed comic relief in the play, and Grace Hussey-Burd played a sultry Lady Capulet. Beth Gilbert gave a charming portrayal of the Nurse; she was particularly good when informing Juliet of Tybalt’s death, bringing real emotionality to the heartbreaking scene. Similarly, Catherine Butler shone in the role of the Friar. Towards the end of the play, when she becomes aware of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the pain she feels is palpable. Tom Ling and Phoebe Ruttle were wonderful as Romeo and Juliet. Ruttle was funny, feisty, and sensitive at different points in the play. There was a beautiful moment when the lovers were reunited and the band played ‘For What It Is Worth’ by Buffalo Springfield while the lovers kissed before falling asleep on stage. One of my only criticisms is that I wasn’t a big fan of the multiroling in the play. Alex Wilcox played both Tybalt and Paris, and Hansell reemerged on stage almost immediately as another role after dying as Mercutio. I found that this took away slightly from the sadness of Tybalt and Mercutio’s deaths.13265934_844772848960999_7472257150139106013_n

 

Several key moments during the play are highlighted by a lack of music and simple lighting with just two actors alone on stage. When the Friar tells Romeo about his banishment, she is positioned in the shadows sitting in the corner of the audience. On the other side of the stage, the Nurse kneels and Juliet leans against a pillar covered in fairy lights. This created a beautiful picture on stage during such an emotionally charged scene. Without a doubt, my favourite scene in the production was when the Nurse thinks she has discovered Juliet dead on stage with the band, who start playing ‘California Dreaming’ by the Mamas & the Papas. Capulet (Craig-Dunn) enters and crouches down on the ground, clutching Juliet’s hand and crying. Craig-Dunn demonstrates that he can play an emotional, devastated father, in addition to the frightening, aggressive man we saw earlier in the play. The scene ends with Forbes beautifully singing A capella. The sound of the pouring rain coming down on the roof seemed to add perfectly to the atmosphere.13256532_844772628961021_1640765927185909153_n

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Article 19 transported us back to the 90s with their fun spin on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production was awash with silly string, glitter, and double denim. The costumes were brilliant. Puck (Antonia Strafford-Taylor) was dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt, dungarees, and a bum bag. When she wasn’t rollerblading around the stage, she was playing with a Tamagotchi. The grandma in me was a bit concerned that Strafford-Taylor wasn’t wearing a helmet or kneepads when she was rollerblading, but luckily we didn’t witness any accidents!

Strafford-Taylor was full of energy throughout the play, constantly reacting to the other characters on stage and running around like a little sprite. She had a great relationship with Oberon (Alex Wilcox), almost like a father-daughter bond. There was a nice moment when they both appeared in the windows of the Room of Requirement looking down at the mischief they caused with the lovers in the forest. When Wilcox had to spy on the lovers, he threw glitter into the air and exclaimed ‘I am invisible!’ which was very amusing. The whole cast were covered in glitter by the end of the play.

midsummer 2

Vita Fox was outstanding as Helena. We felt her for in her bouts of sadness, but Fox also made the audience laugh with her quick timing and bitter remarks. When she kissed Demetrius (Dominic Ryder) at the end of the play, the audience let out a happy cheer. Fox made the Shakespearean language sound like present day English, which demonstrated impressive skill. Unfortunately, some of the other performers lacked clarity, notably Lysander (Reece Roberts) and Quince (Abby Gandy), who were hard to understand at points. In addition, Hermia (Arianne Brooks) was very natural, yet quiet, and perhaps too understated for the role. Brooks and Roberts seemed to lack chemistry. In the scene where Lysander tries to convince Hermia to let him sleep with her, a moment of potential heat or tenderness between the lovers was lost, as the directors opted instead for Roberts to perform a cheesy dance.

The scene between Titania (Nia Tilley) and Bottom (Benedict Churchus) was very entertaining. Churchus gave a wonderful performance as Bottom. He had the audiences in stitches with his singing as an ass, which was only intensified when Tilley awoke with the line ‘what angel wakes me?’ Regrettably Titania does not get enough lines or stage time, because I would have liked to see a lot more of Tilley. Her stage presence was captivating.

midsummer 3

Considering it was the first time the cast had run the play with tech in the Debating Hall it was a bit shambolic, but they pulled it off. Some of the scene changes at the beginning were rather slow, and it would have been good to have music on for longer in the opening scene as Hippolyta (Robyn Hughes) was on stage for a while in silence and we were left wondering when it was going to spring into action. Some of the actors seemed unsure of their cues, and at one point the side door was left open and you could see the actors running back stage, which made it look slightly unprofessional. However, this did not take away massively from the strength of the performance. There were some lovely elements, such as Snug (Nell Baker) performing a lullaby to send Titania to sleep, which was written by Ellie Galvin. Baker played guitar and sang beautifully. Laura Sharpe, the assistant director, created puppets for the fairies, which were a great addition to the production. At one point they were used as shadow puppets behind a screen. The effect of this was beautiful and I only wish that there were more moments of shadow puppetry throughout the play. Overall, there were some great performances and the actors had us laughing constantly. Another successful production for Article 19 this term!

Review: Decadence

This risqué two-hander directed by Rosie Solomon was thoroughly engaging to watch. Steven Berkoff’s play shows snippets into the lives of two couples, played by the same actors multi-roling. One of the couples is the upper class Helen (Katy Owens) and Steve (Joel Heritage) who take delight in hunting and gorging on expensive meals. The other couple is the working class Sybil (Owens) and Les (Heritage) who are plotting to murder Steve. The play is a series of monologues accompanied by exaggerated, stylized physical gestures.

decadence 3

In an interview with Burn FM’s Culture Vultures, Solomon said ‘the characters don’t show their true selves to the world.’ The set in the Dance Studio was full of mirrors; the mirrored wall was visible, as well as hanging mirrors on the other side, and a full-length mirror on one end of the traverse stage. The make-up was like French mime artists, which created a sort of mask for the characters. The set and make-up linked with this idea of falseness. The audience could see different sides to the actors in the mirrors, but ultimately they were hidden behind their heavy-duty make-up masks.

Owens and Heritage are undoubtedly brave. In one scene, Owens performs oral sex on a banana while standing back to back with Heritage who fakes having an orgasm. This was cleverly staged, as the audience could see the actor with his/her back to them in the mirrors. In another scene, Owens mimed horse riding on Heritage, whipping him, and bouncing up and down while delivering a monologue. This evidently required a lot of stamina. The scene itself was very amusing with Owens exclaiming lines such as ‘hunting is so f**king thrilling!’ and ‘some kid’s pet cat is torn to shreds!’ with a gleeful smile slapped across her face.

Heritage had great physicality. Particularly when acting like demons after having five shots. His movements and facial expressions were really expressive and entertaining. Additionally, in the scene where he eats a ridiculously extravagant meal with what feels like a million courses. After the meal he crawls about the floor and exclaims that he needs to be sick, piss, and sh*t all at once. He then spasms on the floor and shakes out his trouser leg. Despite this all being mimed the audience were still pretty revolted.

decadence

In one scene, Heritage has a racist rant where he shouts racial slurs, which I found the most uncomfortable part to watch. However, it was clearly in place to highlight what a horrendous character Steve was.

The transitions between the working class couple and upper class couple scenes were smooth and seamless. Owens and Heritage had great chemistry. Although, I thought that the characters of Helen and Steve were a lot more developed than those of Sybil and Les. The Sybil and Les storyline was slightly confusing and difficult to follow at points.

Overall, the production was really hilarious; members of the audience were cringing, slapping their knees, and laughing shamelessly. Solomon will be directing an original play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. I look forward to seeing more of her work!

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

Ciara Cohen Ennis gives a glowing review of Infinity Stage Company’s production of the classic comedy ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, a play by Richard Bean.

Infinity Stage Company’s One Man, Two Guvnors was a hilarious and enjoyable piece of theatre from start to finish. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of how Francis Henshall (Euan Codrington) manages to acquire two ‘guvnors’. One being Rachel Crabb (Zoe Head), in disguise as her late gangster brother Roscoe, and the other, Stanley Stubbers (Tom Inman), a posh boarding school bloke who Rachel is in a relationship with – despite him killing her brother! Head gives a comedic performance in disguise as Roscoe, with amusing facial expressions and a low tone of voice. The accents were consistently strong throughout the play, which is no mean feat, as Guild performances can often seem particularly amateur if the accents are shaky.

James Corden has previously played Francis Henshall, and although I haven’t seen the West End version, I imagine that Codrington gives Corden a run for his money. Codrington is constantly running around the stage trying to serve his two guvnors while keeping the two of them apart so they don’t catch on that he has two employers. His energy and stamina is impressive, particularly in the scene where he has a physical fight with himself, choreographed by Jessica Barber. Codrington pulls his own hair, slaps himself across the face, strangles himself till he falls on the floor, and then hits himself over the head with a bin lid. If that’s not commitment to drama then I don’t know what is.

Inman is another standout cast member. His portrayal of Stanley is absolutely hilarious and constantly has the audience in stitches. It turns out that he edited the script to say that he was at Harrow, instead of its rival Eton. Inman certainly had some great lines to work with such as ‘I wouldn’t trust a Spaniard alone with a Swiss roll’ and the not-quite-swear-words, ‘buggerello!’ and ‘country life!’

The play was very well cast, with strong performances from Brad Carpenter as the slightly clueless Charlie Clench, and Hannah Dunlop as his ditzy daughter Pauline. Pauline and Alan Dangle (Lucas Rushton) provided an entertaining subplot. Pauline was engaged to the late Roscoe, but since thinking he had died she entered into a relationship with actor Alan. Dunlop and Rushton were almost caricatures; Dunlop with her exaggerated blinking and Rushton with his hammy melodramatic declarations of love.

I can’t go without mentioning the audience interaction. Charlotte Boyer was selected from the audience to guard Henshall’s stash of food. She proceeded to be a very good sport by going up on stage, being forced to hide under a table, and then soaked with a bucket of water. I’m told that the amount of water increased each night. After the interval Boyer emerged from backstage in a much needed dressing gown.

The sixties costumes were great, especially for the female characters. Dolly (Olivia O’Neill) had a pink cardigan wrapped over her shoulders, and Pauline wore a cute floral dress. The elderly Alfie (Ben Evans) emerged complete with the classic Guild Drama talcum powder hair dye. This provided additional comedy at points when Lloyd (Charlie Harris) rubbed Alfie’s head and got talc all over his hands, and when Alfie fell on the floor he was engulfed in a cloud of talc.  The play was really entertaining, and James Harrington and Will Poysner did an excellent job of directing. It was telling that extra seating had to be brought in for the final performance because so many people wanted to see the show.

All proceeds of the play will go to Dignity in Care at the QE Hospital.

New Orleans Tourism: How to Spend 48 Hours

Originally posted on Pink Pangea.

Start off your day with breakfast at the Camellia Grill. You can sample the famousNew Orleans sandwiches, the Po’ Boy and the Muffaletta or try the delicious pancakes and omelettes. The people that work here will be sure to put a smile on your face, as they’re always extremely friendly.

Magazine Street

Two of my favourite streets in New Orleans are Uptown – Magazine and Freret. On Magazine Street you can find District Donuts, where they have different, exciting flavours of donuts every day. Some of the flavours include beignet, wedding cake, maple bacon, and more. I would also recommend the tofu slider for veggies. The Rum House is also a great place to go for cocktails and Caribbean food. For drinks, try the blueberry mojito at St. Joe’s, made with real blueberries. The patio ceiling of the bar is covered with cute red lanterns. If you like vintage shopping, check out Buffalo Exchange and Funky Monkey. In Buffalo Exchange you can bring in your unwanted clothes to swap for store credit and find some great bargains.

New Orleans Tourism: How to Spend 48 Hours
District Donuts; photo by kimberlykauer (Creative Commons)

Freret Street

Freret Street has loads of great restaurants; Origami for Japanese, Mint Modern Bistro and Bar for Vietnamese, Dat Dog for hotdogs, (they do everything from veggie to alligator!) and Ancora for Italian. Ancora has a pizza oven where they cook the pizza for you in less than 90 seconds! For live music, go to Gasa Gasa to see bands like Waxahatchee and Speedy Ortiz, as well as local Loyola talent. Bloomin’ Deals is another good place to go for second-hand clothes. Twice a year they do a bag day where you can fill up a bag with as much as you want for only $10.

New Orleans Tourism: How to Spend 48 Hours
Ancora Pizzaria; photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans (Creative Commons)

Arts District

Formerly known as the Warehouse District, the Arts District has many museums and galleries including the WWII Museum and Odgen Gallery of Southern Art. You can sometimes catch live music, and try local food and drinks at events hosted by the Ogden, while looking at the art. Every Sunday at the music venue, the Howlin’ Wolf, you can check out the Hot 8 Brass Band.

48 Hours in New Orleans
What do you want to do?

City Park

Hop on the red streetcar in the French Quarter to get to City Park. This is the home ofNOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) and a sculpture garden. In the autumn the park hosts Voodoo Music Festival, where bands such as Outkast and the Foo Fighters have played. In the winter, Celebration in the Oaks is held in the park. You can hear carol singers and see the trees covered in Christmas lights.

New Orleans Tourism: How to Spend 48 Hours
City Park Bridge III; photo by Jodi Grove (Creative Commons)

Be sure to visit Frenchmen Street for free live music every night, and the evening Art Market. Try the infamous New Orleans beignets at Café du Monde before wandering around the French Market for some souvenirs. Don’t miss the beautiful Jackson Square and Cathedral. If you need to take shelter from a summer downpour, watch a film at the Theatres at Canal Place. It’s a dine-in cinema where the waiters bring you your meal while you watch.

In the evening, head over to the Bywater to visit Bacchanal. It’s a wine bar that has a large patio and live music. Enjoy your time in New Orleans!

New Orleans Tourism: How to Spend 48 Hours
Ciara studied in New Orleans for a year.

Uni vs College

I’m currently doing a study abroad year at a college in Louisiana. It is a small Jesuit Liberal Arts School, so I won’t claim that I can speak on behalf of all colleges in the USA or universities in the UK, as they are all very different!

Some of the central ideas to the Jesuit philosophy are:

• A commitment to a faith that does justice – an awareness of the needs of others, and a readiness to place one’s talents at their service
• A personal concern for the whole life of each student
• A development of a broad liberal education
• An emphasis on critical thinking and effective communication
• Striving for excellence
• A philosophy that emphasizes actions rather than words

I was a bit worried about going to a Catholic college, as I do not practice any religion, however people of any religion (or no religion) are also welcomed here and not forced to go to any religious services or anything like that.

Some of the things I’ve learned about the differences in higher education from attending a British university and American college.

1. Timetables

For arts and humanities students, there are very few contact hours in the UK.

2014-09-21-timetable.jpg
An example of a third year timetable at a university in England

2014-09-21-timetable2.jpg
Some students are very happy about only going in to uni a few times a week (or even less)

At my school in the USA, you have to do a minimum of twelve hours a week and you often have the same class twice or even three times a week, with the same professor. Having more contact time can be good for people who struggle to motivate themselves in terms of independent learning (like me!)

2. In the USA you call most of the lecturers ‘Professor’ or ‘Dr’ and their surname, instead of calling them by their first name like in the UK.

The lecturers want to spend to getting to know you at small Liberal Arts Schools, they know your name and may even ask you to fill out a form with information about yourself so that they have a better understanding of your character.

3. In the UK you go to university, in the USA it’s ‘college’ or ‘school’.

4. You get a lot more homework in the USA!

There is homework after every single class and often there are reading quizzes and little tests. At first I thought this was a much fairer system of testing a student’s knowledge, rather than just having one exam at the end of the year, like some modules do in British universities. However, after being asked to read the introduction to a book and being told I will be quizzed on it, I’m not sure if this is the best way for me. It seems like you’re blindly memorizing specific facts about what you’ve read, and it doesn’t really matter what subject you study. It’s not the same as properly testing your skills by asking you to write a critical response to what you’ve read or outline the argument of the essay. If anything, it just seems to be a test to prove you’ve done the reading, rather than whether you’ve actually gained anything from reading it than can help you develop your skills. These kind of tests are in addition to critical essays though, as opposed to replacing them.

5. There are no lectures in my timetable in Louisiana, however there are occasionally guest speakers that come from different colleges across the country to give specialist lectures. The seminars have around twenty students and are quite like sixth form classes. In the UK, you have lectures every week, with around 200-300 students in, for certain subjects.

6. Most Americans will not understand you if you ask them ‘what modules are you taking?’ In the States, they call them ‘classes’.

7. In North America, they have fraternities and sororities. I am not going to join one, so I can’t talk too much about them, but I was surprised to discover that some of them do a lot of volunteering and community service, and raise awareness about particular issues, such as domestic violence. In some colleges they live in houses together and in other colleges they are split up and can live with whoever they want.

Student City guide: Birmingham

What’s the big draw?

Birmingham sometimes gets a bad rep despite being the UK’s second city. Some cynics have even argued that the best thing to come out of Birmingham is the train to London, but this is definitely not the case! The city centre is full of shops, restaurants, clubs and music venues, while Birmingham’s cultural diversity is reflected in the arts, it’s the base of the UK’s first South Asian Music Performance and Dance company, SAMPAD, and there are annual festivals of jazz, comedy, poetry, film and literature.

What’s the nightlife like?

Symphony and Town Hall are great places to catch some live music and comedy. Bands and artists such as Fairport Convention, PJ Harvey and Laura Marling have performed here. The Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham is also host to some major events that are open to the general public, including a comedy night with The Noise Next Door and Matt Richardson, and Black Voices, an a capella group who performed during Black History Month. Some of the best places to go for an alternative night out include Snobs, which plays everything from indie hits to motown classics, and the Rainbow Warehouse, where Groove Armada, Fourtet, Gentlemen’s Dub Club and other acts have performed.

 

What can you do in the day?

At the Birmingham University campus, you can find the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which holds various exhibitions of traditional and contemporary art as well as classical music concerts. Just outside the centre of town, in Digbeth, there are a variety of vintage and retro shops such as Urban Village and Mr Bird’s Emporium in the Custard Factory. The Custard Factory is known as Birmingham’s creative quarter, as it also has a theatre and the Dome Club, where you can watch films in 360 degrees. The new library is also definitely worth a visit, it has everything from Feel Good Fiction sessions to yoga classes!

Where’s the best place for non-millionaires to live?

Selly Oak is where the majority of students live in Birmingham, as it’s cheap and only a five-minute walk to campus. There are many different pubs scattered across the Bristol Road, like the Bristol Pear that often hold open mic nights and comedy stand ups organised by students. There’s also an Aldi and a variety of fast food outlets, including Chick Inn and Rooster House. For booze, Drinks To Go is famous for its friendly owner who dishes out lollipops to customers. What more do you want?

Is your Halloween costume culturally appropriate?

When you were planning your Halloween costume this year, did you consider whether it may be seen as offensive by people of another race or culture?

Some people may argue that it’s hard to know where to draw the line with fancy dress. Emily Howard, a student at the University of Birmingham believes that there are different degrees of costumes that could be described as “culturally inappropriate”.

“I think it’s fine if a Caucasian person dressed up as Jasmine, but then something like painting your face black is inappropriate.”

Urvi Yadev agrees, “I think it is inappropriate for someone to dress up as an Indian. I would think they were doing it as a joke and I would be offended. I would not approach them or ask them why they were dressed like that. I would just feel hurt.”

In the McMaster University of Canada’s bookstore, Halloween costumes were sold on campus with descriptions such as “Sexy Indian Princess’ and ‘Eskimo Cutie”. These are exactly the type of costumes that people may take offence to.

A medical student, Gemma Batten, says it is “pretty common” to come across white girls “wearing bindis in clubs or Native American-style headdresses to festivals and parties”.

The Native American population in the UK is tiny relative to that in America, and our curriculum teaches us so little about American history that very few people here are actually aware that Native Americans are an oppressed race. The combination of this leaves people completely ignorant to the problematic nature of dressing up as Native Americans, and it’s important to educate them about this.”

Some people may think that wearing a bindi, sari or headdress is acceptable if they are appreciating another culture and simply expressing that they think their traditional clothes are beautiful. It is easier to justify wearing clothes of a different ethnic group if you visit another country and get to understand the culture and speak to the locals. However, Halloween does not seem like the correct time to be sporting these kinds of clothes, when often the costumes available are “sexy” versions of ethnic attire and people are supposedly meant to look frightening.