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Theatre Review: Fawlty Towers

25 Jun

I originally wrote this review for Durham Theatre Review, but due to technical problems it was never uploaded onto their site.  Undeterred, I decided to put it on here instead, in the hope that if any of you happen to be in the North East, and see that Ooook! Productions are putting on a play, you might go and see it! (And I don’t like my writing being hidden away either. Hey, I never said I was perfect…)

***

Fawlty Towers, once voted Greatest British Television Programme, is an ambitious project for any director to take on. But Michael Nower, producer Harriet Allen, and the rest of Ooook! Productions did an admirable job in bringing it to the Assembly Rooms stage, providing the promised ‘evening of exquisite hilarity.’

For the performance two episodes from the first series of Fawlty Towers were chosen, ‘Gourmet Night’ and ‘The Germans’. In the first half hour, hotel owner Basil Fawlty (Neil Robinson) attempted to put on a gourmet night, but spent most of the evening running across town to his friend’s restaurant after his chef passed out drunk. But it is after the interval that the cast really got into their stride as they acted out ‘The Germans’, the most famous of all the Fawlty Towers episodes, in which a concussed Basil tried (and failed) not to insult a group of German guests.

It is Neil Robinson who had the largest shoes to fill, and it is he who stood out most of the cast members, dominating the stage with his movements and facial expressions as well as the delivery of his lines. Nick Jennings (as Manuel) and Claire Bonello (as Polly Sherman) succeeded in capturing the essence of their characters, and Georgia Cassarino managed to make Sybil Fawlty’s laugh even more grating than I remembered it to be. With the help of heavy stage make-up to age his face, Alex Morgan made a convincing and hilarious Major, and despite having few lines to say, Abigail Hooper and Hannah Ryan adopted wonderful old lady walks to play Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs. There were also several supporting cast members who were required to play multiple characters, all of whom performed well and contributed to the humour of the production. There were a few minor slip-ups with lines being fluffed, but these were quickly recovered from, and may not even have been noticeable to those not scrutinising the performance in order to review it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this production was the set. The Assembly Rooms stage was transformed into a hotel, complete with reception desk, kitchen, dining area and bar, and even a car below the stage in the first act. This did admittedly make the stage feel a little crowded at times, especially when action was taking place in both the kitchen and the dining area simultaneously, but this problem relates more to the size of the stage than anything else.

The tech team had also pulled out all the stops, lowering subtitles from the ceiling for the Germans’ first scene, and creating a remarkably convincing kitchen fire during the second half, complete with smoke wafting into the front rows of the audience. The scene changes were sometimes a little slow and the interval certainly seemed overly long given that the play itself was only an hour long, but hopefully timings will be tightened up in the next performances.

First night hiccups detracted a little from the quality of this production, and the attitude in the box office was slightly frenzied, with no tickets or programmes to give out. But many of these kinks will undoubtedly be ironed out in the next two nights’ showings, and the amount of laughter and applause throughout the evening is testament to how much the audience enjoyed the show despite the problems. Fans of the original Fawlty Towers, and anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned British humour ought not to miss out on this!

 

#DiceGames: Day One

4 Jun

 Prompt: a moustached giraffe, ice skates, the Isle of Man.

(Disclaimer: This is my first foray back into flash fiction since exams, essays, and generally trying not to fail my degree took over my life. Be gentle with me!)


‘Welcome to the beautiful Isle of Man,’ the sign proclaims in peeling yellow letters, the first thing I see as I  step off the ferry. I blink at it, bemused. What am I doing here? And is that…a giraffe?

I close my eyes briefly, trying to clear my foggy head, but when I open them it is all still there: the sign, the fairground in the distance, the giraffe. Still bemused, I make my way over to it, only to nearly fall over in shock when it greets me with a cheery “Good day, madam!”

I am speechless, taking in the sight of this talking giraffe, which upon closer inspection is wearing a suit, a top hat, and a monocle, and sporting a rather fetching handlebar moustache. The mouth underneath that moustache is looking decidedly irritated actually, and soon the giraffe speaks again.

“Good day, madam!” He repeats, the cheer sounding a little more forced. “My name is Gareth, and I will be your tour guide for the duration of your stay on the beautiful Isle of Man!”

I can’t help it. As soon as I open my mouth, a snort of laughter escapes.”Gareth?” I splutter incredulously.

Gareth sighs. “I didn’t choose it, you understand? If I had, I would have been named something much more respectable, like Horace. But no, giraffes have to have names which begin with the  letter ‘g’ and so Gareth I became.”

I’m dying to point out that Horace is no better a name than Gareth, but I keep quiet, figuring that I’ve caused enough offence for one day. Besides, Gareth is already talking again, outlining the day’s itinerary. It sounds jam-packed. And more than a little crazy.

“And then in the evening…” he’s saying now. “…we can go ice-skating! Do you like ice-skating? I love it!”

I’m just trying to envisage what an ice-skating giraffe would look like when another strange thing happens (as if I hadn’t had enough of those already today). It’s as if all of the colour begins to drain from the world, and in the distance a voice is calling my name.

“Jenny!” It repeats insistently. “Jenny, can you open your eyes for me?”

Baffled at this, for I’m sure that my eyes are already open, I am nonetheless able to obey, and see a figure standing over me, dressed in what looks like a pair of baggy green pyjamas.

“I’m Dr. Phillips.” She says soothingly. “I know that you might be a little groggy from the anaesthesia, but I want you to know that the operation was a complete success.”

“Where’s Gareth?” I croak out, my hold on reality still tenuous at best.

“Gareth?” The doctor’s brow creases in confusion and I realise my mistake. “There isn’t a Gareth here. I can call him for you if you like? Or Susan’s outside, I can get her to come in?”

I shake my head weakly, allowing sleep to pull me back under. If I’m lucky, I might be back on the Isle of Man in time for the ice-skating.

The Guardian Open Weekend

24 Mar
The guardian and the observer

Image: Flickr (michael.bruntonspall)

It’s every aspiring journalist’s dream to set foot inside the offices of a national newspaper. OK, so most of us are hoping to do so as employees, or at the very least doing work experience which we hope could lead to employment. But, for those of us who have yet to advance even that far up the career ladder, the Guardian Open Weekend is the next best thing.

For its inaugural Open Weekend (which, Stephen Moss tells us, we are all to feel nostalgic for when, some years down the line, it has thousands more visitors and is based in the Seychelles) the Guardian has thrown open its doors and laid on an impressive programme for those of us who snapped up tickets quickly enough. Personally, I opted for as many sessions on the future of journalism as possible (even if what I heard struck fear into my heart at times), but it is not just aspiring journos who are catered for. Saturday’s programme included talks on politics, sport and culture, and I bumped into a friend in the lunch break who was raving about the two sessions on crossword setting which he had just attended. And, I have to admit, my final session with feminist sex blogger Zoe Margolis and shoeless singer-songwriter Luke Concannon was one of the highlights of my day.

In keeping with the Guardian’s ethos, there is also plenty of opportunity for the attendees to contribute. Participation is actively encouraged, adding a new dimension to the discussions and allowing readers to challenge editors, writers, and guest speakers alike. And there is plenty to keep the crowds  entertained in the gaps between sessions (not that there were many of those today – although we were only allowed to book four sessions in advance, not all of the sessions were full and spare tickets were advertised on a board in the foyer). Outside; various food stalls, a graffiti artist and a floating bookshop. Inside; the delights of the Guardian canteen, an illustration board which was steadily added to, book signings, and an exhibition on the history of the newspaper. But for me it was just exciting to ride the escalator up into the great glass building and pretend that I belonged. One day I’ll be back…in fact, that day will be tomorrow. I can’t wait!

#DearValentine Week Four: She Smiled

26 Feb

Prompt: Surgical tools, a car, the countryside. This was also inspired, in no small part, by my addiction to Grey’s Anatomy.


She Smiled

Most people would be afraid if they found a complete set of surgical tools in the back of their boyfriend’s car. Actually, afraid is something of an understatement. Most people would either call the police, run for the hills, or do both simultaneously.

But, there being no hills in the vicinity (it was Norfolk, after all), she simply smiled, retrieved her lip gloss – the loss of which had caused her to find the tools in the first place – recovered the tools with the cloth, and went inside to make dinner.

The next day, when he suggested they go for a drive, she didn’t panic. Didn’t imagine her body lying in a shallow grave, the looks on her parents’ faces when her picture appeared on the evening news. She smiled, she accepted, and she sat in the front seat, determinedly not thinking about what she had uncovered the day before.

Eventually they stopped. It was a field, that was all she knew, and this part of Norfolk was mainly fields so that didn’t exactly help her with getting her bearings. She wasn’t worried though. She smiled, sat on the blanket which he spread out on the slightly damp grass, and made small talk about the shapes of the fluffy clouds floating above them.

Eventually he stopped talking and gave her an unfathomable look.

“I’m just going back to the car.” He said. “I won’t be long.”

She just smiled.

True to his word, he reappeared after a few minutes, hands behind his back. He looked at her, spread out on the blanket, still smiling, and his face fell.

“What?” She asked. Her tone wasn’t accusatory, it was simply amused.

“You know.” He said dejectedly. “Don’t you?”

She kept smiling, bit down on her bottom lip, and nodded almost imperceptibly. He groaned.

“It was supposed to be a surprise!”

He held out his hands. In one was the bundle of surgical tools, in the other a bunch of bananas.

“I knew how worried you were about our first day, and I wanted to make you feel better. One of the second years suggested this….and why are you still smiling?”

She laughed at the irritation in his voice, and pulled him down beside her. And she kept smiling afternoon, as they performed life-saving surgery on the bananas and quizzed each other on medical terminology. She had known better than to be afraid of surgical equipment. She was a trainee doctor after all.

#DearValentine Week Three: His Moment

18 Feb


Prompt: a gun, a tuxedo, an abandoned fairground.


His Moment

He’s standing next to the carousel, the gun weighing heavy in his pocket. His mouth is dry, his palms sweaty, and he wipes them on the lining of his rented tux, hoping that his nerves aren’t as obvious as he thinks they are. This is his moment. He can’t afford to screw it up.

For the longest thirty seconds of his life there is silence, and he forces himself to remain in position, eyes trained on the gaudily-painted candyfloss wagon, until footsteps alert him to their arrival. He turns, smiles, faces the newcomer.

Drawing in a quick breath, praying for his voice not to fail, he speaks.

“Hello Jack.”

His hand darts to his pocket, withdraws the gun, holds it to the other man’s head.

“Goodbye Jack.”

A shot rings out, drowning out the sound of his pounding heartbeat.

Jack crumples to the floor.

Silence falls.

But a moment later the silence is broken again, this time by thunderous applause. It continues, and he remains frozen in place until the curtain falls.

He barely registers the next few minutes; standing in line with the rest of the cast members, bowing for the delighted audience. Slipping out of that awful tux and back into his comfortable jeans and hoodie. Congratulating the others, accepting their praise with as much modesty as he can muster. It’s a blur of happiness, and he doesn’t think that it can get much better.

But the door opens and she’s there. She ignores Ben Russell, considered by most of the female population of their school (along with some of the males) to be the sexiest man alive, and walks straight past Matt Davis, who is shirtless and displaying his impressive abs to the room at large. The girl of his dreams walks right up to him, throws her arms around his neck, and kisses him passionately.

He had thought that things couldn’t get much better. Now he knows they can’t.

16 Feb

Image: youandmecharlie.com

 A message for myself as much as anything, as I’ve been feeling a tad uninspired of late!

#Dear Valentine Challenge Week Two: Remembering

11 Feb

Prompt: a box of chocolates, plane tickets, the Eiffel Tower.


Remembering

She couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered. It had been her dream ever since she was a little girl, something which she thought could only happen in the movies, but which she’d fantasised about anyway.

Still, it had managed to remain safely within the confines of her imagination for years, not even shared with her closest friends. Until she had had too must “champagne” (air quotes heavily in use) at the office Christmas party and had, in the space of two minutes and thirty seconds, disclosed her most carefully guarded secret. She hadn’t really expected him to remember though, at least not in such detail.

The box of chocolates in their innocent gold wrapping, a seemingly unimaginative Valentine’s Day gift. The plane tickets nestling beneath the bottom layer, discovered only when the chocolates had all been eaten. The candlelit dinner on the top level of the Eiffel Tower, with the carpet of lights stretching out below them and the string quartet playing quietly in the corner. The ring in the champagne glass (real champagne this time, no air quotes required). The promise of forever.

Her dream proposal. She hadn’t been able to believe it.

Couldn’t believe not only that he’d remembered, and after all this time, but that he’d given it to another woman.

Perhaps it was time to stop believing in fairy tales.

 

#DearValentine Challenge Week One: Office Gossip

5 Feb

Somehow, I managed to miss the beginning of ‘Timony Souler’s new writing challenge, #DearValentineBut although I’m too late to sign up properly, I only missed the posting date of the first prompt by a day, so I decided to participate anyway. This week’s prompt was: a note, a photograph, the docks.


Office Gossip

It’s all that anyone in the office can talk about, unsurprisingly really. Why on earth would Barry, who wears string vests under his suit jackets, chews with his mouth open, and seems incapable of continuing a conversation for longer than thirty seconds, why would he have a picture of a beautiful woman on his desk?

“Maybe it’s his sister?” Someone suggests, but this suggestion is quickly shot down. How could that gorgeous creature possibly be related to Barry?

“Maybe he’s stalking her.” This whisper spreads across the office, and heads nod in agreement. It can be the only explanation.

Emily, the giggly girl who was hired to be the boss’s assistant, but who seems to do nothing but gossip and dispense phony relationship advice, creeps over to the desk and studies the photograph. “There’s a note on the back!” She announces, as the assembled crowd hold their breath. “I think it’s a love letter!”

There’s a collective gasp, some quiet murmuring, and then someone speaks up. “He probably faked it.” The voice is malicious, it belongs to Roberta in Accounts, who hasn’t had a date in thirty years and probably never will again. “He just wants us to think he has an admirer. Why else would he have left it out there for everyone to see?”

More quiet murmurings. No-one likes Barry, but no-one much likes Roberta either, so they’re reluctant to pick sides.

“Well we’ll soon see.” Emily declares, with the expected giggle. “According to this note, he’s meeting her at the docks tonight. If he comes in looking like the cat that’s got the cream, then we’ll know that it wasn’t made up.”

But Barry doesn’t come into work the next day. In fact, he doesn’t come into work ever again. And when, a few weeks later, the body of a fat man in in a suit jacket and a string vest is pulled out of the water at the docks, the whispering in the office quietens guiltily. Only for a day or two, though.

#Nightgale Challenge Week 4: The Journal

26 Jan

PROMPT : Writing is Immortality

Keats – “But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retarts: Already with thee! Tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,”(Ode To a Nightingale)

(For the first three installments in this mini-series, see A Cure For Death, Dinnertime Conversation, and The Churchyard.)


The Journal

I stand in the doorway of the room, the room that was my sister’s. The room that bears no trace of her ever having lived there, apart from the book with the faded leather cover which rests on the crisply-folded linen sheets. Swallowing, I perch on the bed beside it, and cautiously touch the cover.

Two nights before, Elisabeth had been in a strange mood, methodically filling the pages of the little tome, hurried and yet oddly serene. The next morning she had been gone, leaving only the book behind. I flip open the cover, and see an inscription in her handwriting, clear and smooth but with a tendency to disregard the lines.

“To be deciphered only if I should fail in my quest.” I read, feeling a growing dread in the pit of my stomach. “For while I am still able to die, these words will live on forever, and allow anyone who wishes to continue this pursuit to do so.”

Fingers trembling, I turn the page. I do not know for certain if Elisabeth has ‘failed in her quest’, but I know my sister, and I don’t believe that she would have left the book unless she believed that failure was likely. But as my eyes fall on the next page I give a sound that is part-chuckle, part-groan. ‘Decipher’ was the correct word; the book consists entirely of diagrams and drawings, explained with a series of complicated symbols, the like of which I have never seen before in my life. This book may contain the cure for death, but to understand it one would first have to understand Elisabeth.

Sounds

20 Jan

This is a little something which I wrote in this week’s creative writing session. The prompt was “the most beautiful sound in the universe”.


Every day I am surrounded by sounds. The whistle of the kettle boiling the water for my morning coffee, the rustle of the newspaper as my husband turns its pages, the stomp of my son’s shoe-clad feet on the stairs. Outside on the street there are yet more sounds: horns blaring, doors slamming, people shouting. After a while it all turns into one indiscernable roar of noise. I cannot escape it, even if I plug my ears. It just continues, the sounds reverberating inside my brain.

Sometimes, when it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, I go downstairs and sit at the kitchen table. Even then, alone in the dark, there are sounds. My husband’s snoring, audible despite the heavy oak door between us. The slow steady beep of the smoke detector. Dripping, from the tap which we never seem to have time to fix. An occasional wailing siren, splitting the night in two.

It is at times like these that I close my eyes and remember. I remember my childhood, in a village so small that the local bus was barely more than an oversized people-carrier. I remember sitting at my bedroom window, staring in the direction of the city, where the life and the energy and the people were, and longing to be a part of it. I remember the silence of the nights there, broken only by the birds singing as daylight approached. I remember that birdsong, the only sound in an otherwise silent world. The most beautiful sound in the universe.