Well, it’s been some time

Not so long ago I intended to do regular things with this blog, like review the books I’d read and that sort of thing. At some point I will post the stories I wrote as part of my creative writing module as…well, why not? I posted my spooky story awhile back and I’ve been thinking about going back to it as while writing I was restricted by the word-count and based on my tutors feedback and other comments there was a lot more I could have done with it.

The good news is that after several months of casual & cover work, I’m now back into full time work as I start on a new show on Friday. I my OU module starts very shortly so I’m doing my best to get as much as the reading done. Struggling quite spectacularly with ‘Dombey & Son’, I am not a Dickens fan (although I do think the opening of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is one of the best openings to a story).

Anyway this is a bit of a non-entry, just a sort of “still alive” as I try to figure out what I want to do with this blog.

Book Review: ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

I have a confession – I greatly dislike Jane Austen. To me her novels are only one step up from cheap romantic trash novels. Pride and Prejudice is an utterly tedious read, Elizabeth is ridiculously shallow, it’s only upon seeing Pemberley does she start to begin to contemplate Darcy as a romantic match but the way people go on it’s as if it is the greatest love story since jam met toast. PD James managed to jazz it up a bit with her very enjoyable book Death Comes to Pemberley but it doesn’t change the vague romantic coupling of Elizabeth & Darcy – he has his pride (and a big house), she has her prejudice – what a marvellous couple!

I’m sure when Northanger Abbey was first published, the opening half of the book was a right hoot. Unfortunately for me it was a hard slog to get through and had I been reading it for pleasure that’s where I would have stopped. As with Pride and Prejudice the opening half of the book is chiefly concerned with the presentation of a young woman into society and all the trapping this brings so of the heroine Catherine Morland goes to Bath in the hands of family friends to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pump House and dancing. She gets herself wrapped up in the etiquette of the time which is a bit of a poor thing for her as she desperately wants a young parson (Henry Tilney) to ask her to dance but alas her big opportunity is thwarted by having agreed to dance with another man and she can’t break that agreement…even though he has buggered off somewhere to talk to a friend.

She has a few more missed opportunities before finally she’s able to get hold of Tilney and become BFFs with his younger sister. By being charming (or thought to be loaded) she gets herself an invitation to stay at Northanger Abbey.

This is finally where the novel starts to become significantly less tedious. Catherine is a vivacious reader, devouring Gothic romances upon Gothic romances. The idea of going to an abbey utterly thrills her and she conjures up visions of dingy hallways and dark corridors with secret passages. Henry spins her a tale about discovering a lost family treasure and Catherine can hardly believe it when she’s presented with such a thing! Sadly the lost family treasure turns out to be laundry receipts. Ah well, there’s another mystery – that of the missing Mrs Tilney! Mrs Tilney passed away suddenly without her family in attendance, General Tilney keeps her rooms still but does not wish to step foot in them. Naturally he was a cruel husband and is now keeping his wife locked away in misery!

All this Gothic parody is actually quite fun and I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as Austen quickly got back to wrist-slashing dreariness of society connections and romantic negotiations.  Poor Catherine is suddenly rushed back home where she mourns the loss of her new friend and potential husband all because family status is the important thing here, and the General has discovered he was mistaken about the Morland family status.

There are many things the novel allows for discussion, which I imagine why it’s a set text on my OU module but in a way it’s unfortunate it’s such a short novel and that the part which is really enjoyable comes so late in the book. The novel was published after Austen’s death and I can’t help wishing she’d had an editor who told her to cut all the rubbish about society and concentrate on the Gothic satire. I read an article about Val McDermid reworking it as a ‘teen thriller’, as a fan of her work I’m tempted to see what life she can breath into the first half.

Show Must Go On!

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Goodbye Everybody from the WWRY followspot team!

Sat 31st May 2014 saw the final performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ in the West End.

It was slightly unreal as on stage for both performances we had Brian May and Roger Taylor performing with the cast. It’s not the first time I’ve followspotted Brian May performing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Oct 2013 for the cast change) but this felt very different.

Someone in the audience recorded the final performance of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Show Must Go On’ – look out for a particularly awesome snap at the end of Bo’ Rap. I’m the side spot on the left (of the video, so Brian May’s right).

I’m going to be doing some cover work at the Aldwych over the next couple of weeks so I’m not as unemployed as I feared I would be (it’s quiet out there for spots at the moment, what with various shows closing).

Game Reviews: ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ & ‘Gone Home’

I’m an unashamed fan of first person action shooters, the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games remain on my all time favourite games list. The recent additions to the CoD & MoH franchises have left me cold as the single player experience has been very lacking (I completed the new MoH in 24hrs over 2weeks) so I’ve been quite wary of recent shooters.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game which has been on my radar for some time, the original teaser trailer quickly got my interest and soon the reviews were praising the storyline. I played the demo and was sufficiently impressed with the game play so added it to my Steam wishlist and waited for it to be in a sale. Once there, I bought it and as I was still in the middle of my latest bout of serious Sims 3 addiction I left the game unplayed for some time.

Some reviews were critical of the graphics but not having a super-powered gaming laptop this has never particularly bothered me. I found the sand covered almost post-apocalyptic landscapes of Dubai and the beautifully designed hotel interiors very evocative and contributed greatly to the atmospheric corruption and decay. The environment was nicely destructive as well: cover is destroyed, you can shoot out the glass windows and drown your enemies in sand, grenades will kick up a sand cloud momentarily blinding everyone…

At times the battles are relentless and the two assistants didn’t seem to offer that much help but once you got the hang of the controls and learnt to use the environment to your advantage it soon got not quite as relentless. For some reason sprint & use cover are mapped to the same key and there’s no way of separating them so there were several moments when I wanted to get into cover but ended up sprinting into the heart of the battle.

On the surface there is nothing really separating this from any other shooter but what makes it stand out is the story. You’ve been sent to find out what happened to the 33rd, a company of soldiers who were sent to aid in the evacuation of Dubai, and continue the evacuation if possible. Upon arrival you’re attacked by local insurgents who seem locked in a battle with the remaining members of the 33rd. As you progress you find out more and more unsettling things to the point where you’re no longer sure whose side you are actually on. You see and take part in many, many terrible things and as you do so you find your character becoming more unhinged – his comments during battle become bizarre and his executions more extreme. The conclusion of the game shocked me greatly (in a good way).

For what could have been just an above average entry into the FPS canon, Spec Ops: The Line rises above with a truly engrossing and clever story.

At the complete opposite end of gaming is Gone Home a beautifully designed and construction interactive story. There are no monsters to kill or murderers to uncover but there is a lovely interactive environment where you can open cupboards, switch on/off lights and put on cassette tapes. You arrive home to find your house empty with a mysterious note from your sister telling you not to worry about her or look for her. As you walk around the house you find letters, notes and hints which reveal slowly reveal the story of the family. At times I was unnerved by the game and started to imagine I was going to discover something horrific around each corner. There are some reveals in the story which the game could have made more of as there was a lot going on but it all seemed shoved aside, there is a particular discovery about the original owner of the house which I feel could have had more of an impact but the story isn’t about him. Once you’ve discovered the story I don’t think the game has much replay value but it makes for a very engrossing hour or so and the mechanics themselves are very simple.

 

Stuck with Britain’s Worst Train Company

I am an unfortunate customer of Southeastern trains. I say ‘customer’ but I don’t actually have a choice in my rail service provider so I suppose I am a subject of Southeastern trains.

This year Southeastern have been crowned Britain’s Worst Train Company with only a 40% customer satisfaction rate. Southeastern hit back and said we’re only unhappy because we’re on the way to work. I’m usually unhappy I have to go to work using Southeastern trains, it’s only Wednesday and so far my train to work has been late every single day! It’s a surprise when things are actually running on time.

The biggest problem Southeastern trains have is their lack of communication. You don’t know if the train is delayed because the train is delayed or if all trains are delayed because of a bigger problem. Arriving at the platform to see ‘delayed’ on a much earlier train makes your heart sink as you now have to play the guessing game – is it just that one or is everything screwed? Should I start seeking an alternative route or is the next train going to be here? Do I risk waiting to see about the next train? If the next train does arrive do I still have enough time to get to where I need to be?

75% of Southeastern customers don’t bother to complain and of the 11% who do complain 55% of them are unhappy with how it was handled. I complained once about a journey which caused me to be very late for work (I only just made the start of the show) in response Southeastern gave me a voucher offering me £2 off a ticket for a future journey. At the time I was paying Southeastern £55 per week and a travelcard costs £7. I complained about this and only got a sorry you are unhappy letter.

This is supposed to be an age of communication, it’s even easier for companies to interact with their customer base and respond to concerns…unfortunately Southeastern are still trying to grasp smoke signals.  

Reminiscing

When I was young, I wanted to be a hedgehog.

I didn’t understand that the mantra “you can be whatever you want to be” had limits.

I don’t remember going through a phase where I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman. I don’t ever remember wanting to be something. Once, I wrote down that I wanted to be a cricket umpire as I was fed up of the teachers asking me! I wanted to shout “I’m only fourteen! I don’t know what I want to be!” and I think a lot of people have felt the same.

I’d been involved with youth theatre for many years but I definitely didn’t want to be a performer. I hadn’t really given much thought to how productions are put on and my experience with theatre was simply the annual pantomime at the Liverpool Everyman (it was a rock n’roll Liverpool themed panto – Rockin’ Robin and the Babes of Hale Wood will forever be cemented into my brain). I’d seen Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat but it hadn’t made a huge impression on me.

When I was fourteen, my school announced it was doing a trip to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I decided to go along and the moment the chandelier rose from the stage I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that – not the performing, I wanted to make the ‘magic’ happen. I briefly became a Phantom ‘Phan’ and scoured message boards for information about how it all happened and how you could do that for a living.

Eventually I found out about stage managers, lighting technicians and all sorts of wonderful technical positions.

At sixteen, I went to Preston College to study technical theatre. I’d been stage managing at the youth theatre for a good two years by then and hadn’t really explored the other aspects of theatre. I thought I wanted to be a stage manager and focused my first year on those roles. That first year was also the year I saw my first West End productions – We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre and Bombay Dreams at Apollo Victoria. The following year I was picked to light the big outside directed production, after a brief moment of panic and frustration because I’d never lit anything before I soon realised that I not only really enjoyed it but I was quite good. Going to see two more iconic West End productions (Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre and the Lion King at Lyceum Theatre) cemented my feelings about lighting.

I made the wrong choice in choosing to study stage management at drama school, I probably should have chosen lighting design or lighting production but if I had, I wouldn’t have met the person who got me my first West End job so I think I’ve been very lucky to have spent the last ten years working on several large scale West End productions.

I am still disappointed about the hedgehog thing though.

The Game We Play

480x608x72567_10152303195248117_972834758_n.jpg.pagespeed.ic.2CpEk4E_bDWell. It’s that time again. Time to dust off the ol’ CV and walk around the West End handing CVs to stage door keepers, hoping that you’ve got the timing just right so your CV is the first one the Chief sees.

The first show I worked on to get its notice was Dirty Dancing and I decided not to stay until the end. I took a job on a new musical called Lend Me a Tenor which unfortunately got its notice four months into the run – so far the only show I’ve opened and closed. The next show was The Wizard of Oz. We found out it was closing via the posters – no one ever actually came and told us that we were closing!

It’s a strange feeling when you do finally get confirmation that you’re going to be out of work. During the lead up to the actual meeting there are rumours flying around the theatre, the West End and annoyingly on message boards like Broadwayworld and WhatsonStage. When the announcement is made or the poster is put up at stage door letting you know there is a full company meeting you know what’s coming – now it’s really just a question of when.

Dirty Dancing got five months notice. Lend Me a Tenor got two weeks. I’m not sure what The Wizard of Oz was, I think the date went up on the posters maybe six months before. We Will Rock You has three months, which has been the biggest surprise. I always thought that WWRY would be the type of show to go out with a huge advertising campaign but things have changed a lot in the West End.

WWRY has been a fixture in the West End my entire professional working life and was the first West End production I ever saw (in 2002, not long after it opened)I never really thought that I’d end up not only working it but seeing it out at the end.

It’s going to be very strange going past the Dominion Theatre and not seeing Freddie.