Number 16 | See a random play …

Until last Thursday, the best thing I’d ever seen on stage involved Philip Schofield in a loincloth. I also don’t tend to go and see things more than once. Then ‘My Country’ happened.

When my friend Jenni asked me if I wanted to go and see a play about Brexit as she had a spare ticket, my original response was a resounding no. I don’t really *do* politics. I vote, I voted in last years’ Brexit kerfuffle, and I believe in what I’m voting for, but that’s where my affinity with politics ends. I’m someone who doesn’t really watch the news and I never feel as well educated as other people when it comes to discussing politics. But I accepted the free ticket offer to see ‘My Country’ at Leicester’s Curve theatre for two reasons – one, it was a free ticket to something and I was skint. Two, as I’m trying to do new things this year, ‘see a random play with a political bent to it’ definitely counted as a new thing.

And thank goodness I saw it. In the days following the Brexit vote of last year, a team from the National Theatre spoke to a series of people nationwide to hear their views on our country. The interviews provided honest, emotional, funny and extreme viewpoints and the wonderful Carol Ann Duffy collated them into 80 minutes of pure genius.

I’m a bit shit at writing reviews (as you might have gathered from that ‘Hamlet’ one I did) so this is less a review, more a collection of my thoughts. There have only ever been a couple of things I’ve seen on stage that have enamoured me so much. One was ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ – to be fair, I was eight and it was my first time seeing a proper West End musical at the London Palladium. It also featured the aforementioned Philip Schofield, who until then I had only seen in a broom cupboard with his hand up Gordon the Gopher. ‘My Country’ shot to the top of my ‘best things I’ve ever seen list’.

It’s not flashy. It doesn’t have special effects. It’s essentially seven people in a room. The simple plot is that Britannia (Penny Layden) has called a meeting to listen to her people ahead of the Brexit vote – Caledonia (Stuart McQuarrie), Cymru (Christian Patterson – who now follows me on Twitter, the legend), East Midlands (Seema Bowri, getting a huge cheer from the Leicester audience every time some local landmark was mentioned … Feast India, anyone?), North East (Laura Elphinstone), Northern Ireland (Cavan Clarke) and the South West (Adam Ewan). A passionate debate rages as these highly talented actors bring to life, verbatim, the speeches of real people of the UK, from both sides of the vote.

Although obviously a political piece, it seems to have something for everyone. Hilarity runs alongside the emotion (and f**k me, it’s emotional). Irish dancing, ‘My Little Pony’, something about the Angel of the North being “twatted” (apologies if that’s a huge misquote), somebody doing a “jobbie” in Britannia’s helmet, whisky drinking, an amazingly choreographed routine to ‘Under the Moon of Love’ and the *best* Boris Johnson impression you will ever see outside of the man himself.

The play isn’t designed to come down on one side of the debate or the other, or to change the way you think about it all. What is does is present both sides of the argument in an intelligent, compassionate and actually enjoyable way. I laughed, I cried, I wish to hell Cavan Clarke could teach me his smooth Michael Flatley moves.

There are a few dates left to see ‘My Country’, and I know I’m going to try and go at least once more. Please beg, steal or buy a ticket. I promise you, it’s worth it.

**Dates can be found following the link on ‘The Links’ page.

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Number 14 | Be a theatre critic …

Having never written a theatre review before, I gave it a go for ‘Hamlet’, which was performed at The Little Theatre a few weeks ago.

Where to start with a review of last night’s opening performance of ‘Hamlet’ at The Little Theatre … With a severely raked stone-effect set and various bits of rope and netting hanging down around the back and side wings (fantastic set design from Kevin Jenkins), the stage is set for a dramatically different retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy. As the actors line up across the front of the stage, a theatrical fanfare sounds and King Claudius and his wife, Gertrude – Jane Durant, perfectly cast as always – make their way forward from the two back entrances to the auditorium. Applause comes from each of the characters … apart from Hamlet, played to outstanding perfection by James Hill, who spends the majority of the play simmering with barely contained internal torment.

In this intense set, a brilliant ensemble of actors plays. Hamlet is understandably a little cheesed off that his uncle Claudius (a magnificent Ken Huggett) is now King of Denmark due to the murder, by Claudius, of Hamlet’s father. From this quite simple starting point comes tragedy after tragedy. Shakespeare doesn’t seem to have held back with this one – madness, suicide, murder, secrets, ghosts and yes, even some pitch-black comedy.

Each actor is worth noting, but standouts include Graham Muir as Horatio – Hamlet’s best and most faithful friend – and Ellie Bowness, double-cast as Polonia (a gender reversal of Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes) and the light-relief gravedigger. Horatio’s grief at the very end of the play is tangible, and comes in sharp contrast to the frat-boy attitude of Hamlet’s other two pals, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Marisha West and Francesca Leone respectively). Both Muir and Bowness are fantastic to watch, even when they’re in the background of a scene.

Another well-deserved mention must go to Ophelia (Shannan Mitchener) and Laertes (Stuart Bryan). Ophelia’s descent into madness – singing to herself as she lays her head on her brother’s shoulder – is nothing short of beautifully tragic, and Laertes’ reaction to her death and burial is heartbreakingly superb.

Director Pip Nixon has put together an amazing show with smooth yet dramatic scene changes, a clear focus, and a cohesiveness that is both impressive and unmatched. The lighting design of Rob Thirlby and the costume design of John Bale enhance the show in their own ways. The cast are clothed in black, neutral clothes, with the odd splashes of colour thrown in. The spooky appearance of the ghost of the murdered king is made all the more creepy by some terrific lighting, and everything complements everything else.

I encourage you to go see this production. Amateur Shakespeare productions tend to be a bit hit and miss, but this sterling effort from The Little is definitely a hit, as proven by the comments overheard during the interval. If you want to escape from the ongoing political crises and shuffle into Elsinore Castle for a couple of hours, then come out and support these fine players.

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Number 13 | Drink coffee with hipsters …

On behalf of work and as a result of scoring a free ticket, I attended the London Coffee Festival. The official reason was to research tea and coffee for our new coffee bar that we are opening. The unofficial reason was to get some free stuff and have a day out in London.

After an uncomfortable Mega Bus journey down to the capital, I soon found myself in Brick Lane attempting to find the old brewery in which the festival was being held. When I finally found it and got it … Bloody hell. People everywhere. Coffee everywhere (unsurprisingly). Pretentious wankers everywhere.

I don’t like coffee but I do like tea and free stuff and luckily that was everywhere. There were also a lot of hipsters talking about coffee like it was wine – “great nose”, “can really taste the caramel”, “tastes straight like it comes from Pharaoh’s arse”. I got roped into a taste test of four different coffees (of which I got two right!) and spent a long time chatting with some lovely women from Bolton who run a delightful tea company.

And that’s kind of it. After a nutritious tea of some chicken nuggets and a tiny Coke I was back on the Mega Bus and heading home, slightly wired because it would have been wrong not to take advantage of all of the free samples.

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Number 12 | Get glammed up for an awards evening …

On Monday 3 April I was lucky enough to attend the Leicester Comedy Festival awards evening on behalf of The Little Theatre. Here’s a little thing what I wrote about it.

The Leicester Comedy Festival was a massive success for every venue that hosted a show during the two weeks that the Festival was in town, but none more so than our very own Little Theatre!

Nominated for ‘Best Venue for Over 200 Capacity’, we were up against stiff competition from the likes of The Y Theatre, Curve and DeMontfort Hall … And yet we ONLY WENT AND WON!

Your glamourous theatre representatives, Colin Bowles and Emma Bamford, attended the awards evening at the Registry Office in Leicester to join other nominees from the comedy scene and to hear who the lucky winners were. We met up with Julia Meynell along the way, the designated rep for ‘The Sooty Show’ – being down in Somerset, Sooty (or rather, Richard Cadell) was unable to attend the event. A shame, as he ended up winning the ‘Best Kids Show’ award, which Julia gracefully accepted on his behalf, causing some disappointment among the crowd when they found out she wasn’t actually Sooty. Colin himself won the award for ‘Best Promoter’ for ‘Captain Colino’s Comedy Playhouse’. The whole evening was compered by the incomparable Barbara Nice, a stalwart of the Leicester Comedy Festival scene.

All in all, a great night was had! Congratulations to all the winners.

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Number 11 | Get very, very muddy …

On Saturday 1 April I decided to take part in the Wild Mud Run at Osmaston Hall, Derbyshire.

I did zero training for this and it was still the most fun you can have in mud whilst, at the same time, being horrifically painful.

Lots of obstacles, a metric fuck-tonne* of mud to wade through (several people lost their trainers), FIRE to jump over – the only warm bit of the course) and an amazing finish – a jump from pretty high up onto a massive inflatable pillow.

This doesn’t strictly count as a ‘new thing’ as I’ve done a similar thing before but never this one so I’m counting it on a technicality basis.

It. Was. Amazing. I was cleaning mud from places for days.

*the scientific term

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