Monday, 23 December 2013

What does Christmas mean to you?

When someone mentions the word 'Christmas' to you, what is the first word which pops into your head. Do you think of the food, the alcohol, the music and singing? Do you think of the fashion, cuddling up in Christmas jumpers and woolly hats? Do you think of all the millions of TV specials and films? Or do you think of Santa Claus or even the baby Jesus, who somehow seems to have been buried under all the consumer paraphernalia in this celebratory season?

To me, the most important thing at this time of year is family. And that's immediately where my thoughts turn in this festive period. This is a time, sometimes the only time in the year, when we are actually altogether and make the effort to spend some proper time with each other (which should probably happen a little more frequently but it's better than nothing right?!) We simply hang out, laughing, arguing, eating, drinking and generally having fun. We revert to our childhood selves and (ultra competitively) play board games and watch films. We go on walks, catch up on each other's lives and spend some quality time together.

Christmas can be stressful yet I don't think it should be. That's not the point. People rush around the shops, trying to find that perfect gift and stocking up on enough food to feed a small country. But I believe everyone should relax, stop a minute and just appreciate what is in front of them. Be thankful. If you are in the warm and dry, opening gifts, absolutely stuffed and surrounded by one or more loved ones, you are so much luckier than the majority of people on this earth. So just have fun and try not to kill each other in the process.

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Sunday, 15 December 2013


I'll be honest, it was the cast that really attracted me to go to see this play. I knew absolutely nothing about the play itself. And much as I would love to say I went to enhance my literary education, I really can't. Because when a cast is made up of Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle, Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint and Tom Rhys Harries, there's no way you can say no.

But ignoring that side of things for a moment, the play itself was absolutely fantastic. Hugely funny and gripping, it was an interesting insight into human character. Each character represented another part of society that you can find all around you, even if you don't work in a bar and the outcome was just so so funny.

Of course, a lot of this was down to the actors themselves. Daniel Mays' comic timing was spot on throughout and him and Rupert Grint had some great moments where they just bounced off each other. Grint was ok and played a character who was very similar to the Ron Weasley of the first couple of films, following the much brighter Potts (Mays) like a slightly lost puppy dog. Brendan Coyle on the other hand, couldn't be playing someone more different to his Bates from Downton Abbey. Keeping all the youngsters in order, with the slightest raise of tone, he showed his immense acting ability. Ben Whishaw was a scarily unpredictable character, who played out the sudden mood swings to perfection, sparring with Colin Morgan's character in a truly hilarious but frightening way where you weren't sure what was going to happen next. The pair of them acted beyond their years right to the sudden climax at the end. Morgan's final few moments on stage is one of the most heartbreaking and expertly acted scenes I have ever seen in theatre. And then finally, Tom Rhys Harries is a relative newcomer who, in my opinion, was one of the most impressive simply for his ability to hang upside down for around 20 minutes without passing out. No mean feat.

 As I have already said and can't stop saying, this play was just excellent. Excellent cast who acted excellently in an excellently written play...I think that just about sums it up. You have to go and see it. That is all.

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I always say that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is my favourite Roald Dahl book. Which is a cliché in itself and I am not sure how entirely true it is. It has been a very long time since I have read it, although the fact that my copy is extremely dog eared indicates that I may have read it a lot as a child. But since then, the plot of the original story, has been polluted by two very contrasting films and now this - the brand new musical.

Produced by the ever brilliant Sam Mendes, everyone was expecting a bit of a showstopper and I was not disappointed. I have to say it is a beautiful musical. That's the only way I can describe it. The sets are truly something to behold. Each room that they go into is absolutely stunning with huge scenery, daring props (that are very reliant on technology it appeared) and wonderful costumes that all made it a marvel for the eyes. It was totally gorgeous. The detail, the brightness, the was all exactly right. No other musical has been quite that big.

Another way that this musical is bigger than any other than I have seen, was by the pure breadth of what was included within it. You couldn't say that it fit one particular style because everything was there - there was rapping, electro music, street dancing, ballet, tap, funny bits, sad bits, slow bits, action filled bits...what a complete and utter rollercoaster. In the same way that the children were on a massive journey so were we and it really did keep you gripped until the end.

Talking of the children, having a cast where the majority of the leads are below 12, is always going to be a massive risk. But these kids were great. Talented, professional and true to the original characters, while at the same time, bringing their own bit of flair to each one. They were all kept dutifully in hand by a host of awesome supporting adults, with Willie Wonka at the helm, played by Douglas Hodge. His wonderfully whacky portrayal was a little more subdued than either of the films' versions, making him much more lovable, as I always felt like he should be. He played him with casual skill, making it look effortless as he bounced off the children and drew you into the world.

This was a very good portrayal that you had enthralled in a different world for a few hours...there was so much going on you didn't quite know where to look. However, I was wondering how suitable it actually was for children, despite the fact it is a children's book and has always meant to be for children. And there were a lot in the audience. But would they actually be able to keep up? Would they understand some of the events going on? And what's more, would they hear the odd swear word that crept into a couple of the songs. But for me personally, I loved the whole exciting production. And as I was the one who grew up with this book constantly on my bedside table, that is how it should be.

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Wednesday, 4 December 2013


At the beginning of my blog, in my very first post, I made a number of declarations about what I wanted to include here - - and one of those bullet points I haven't even touched on once in the whole year and a half I have been writing for you. So to fill the little creative gap, here is a little short story for you that I scribbled a few days ago. Enjoy.

My best friend
You know how they all say that you have a devil sitting on your left shoulder while an angel perches on your right...and you should attempt to ignore that little thing speaking into your left ear at all costs? Well, they're all wrong. None of you know anything. Who knows what rubbish you have been paying attention to.
I was lucky enough to be put right very quickly. Because in my left ear, I hear only one voice. That of my best friend, Annie King. She's just perfect, everything that I could ever dream of being: kind, generous, wise and intelligent, creative and determined. And absolutely beautiful - slim with long brown hair that shimmers down her back. Never a horrid word is uttered from her perfect red lips and her pearly white teeth are always on show as she beams at everyone around her. She makes everyone feel good simply by saying hello to them. By turning those startling green eyes on you, you feel...just great. And then she smiles and you soar up to become the luckiest person in the world.
Not that you could be. Because, actually, I am the luckiest person in the world.
She is my best friend and I can talk to her whenever I want. And she talks to me, whenever I need her. Some would call her bossy. I think she's helpful.
She always reminds me when I have forgotten to do something. Like that time I completely forgot about this essay I had to write.
'You're not allowed any dinner until you get it done!' she told me firmly.
Unfortunately it took me two days so I missed a few more meals than just that one, but it worked. I got it done. In fact, I was given an A for it. It was all down to her.
And she was always there to motivate me too. When I was training for the half marathon, she was completely in charge of my diet, ensuring that I got that perfect balance. For weeks my food was restricted and my training was upped. But it worked. I came third. It was all down to her.
We did some work experience together recently and were totally rushed off our feet. But we dragged each other through it.
'Here have some chewing gum. And drink lots of water. You'll forget about it soon.'
She was right. As normal.
It was really hard that week actually. So much to do, so little time, So, at the end of the month, we decided to let our hair down a bit.
'Let's celebrate' suggested Annie 'I haven't been dancing for ages.'
I slipped on a dress and Annie beamed sincerely at me, forcing me to do a shy twirl.
'You look gorgeous' she enthused.
I didn't. It hung lifelessly down my body, attempting to cling to my pathetically small curves. Annie looked amazing. As always.
We downed shots. Then some drinks. Then some more shots. The wooziness had been in my head before we'd even started so I knew I wasn't going to last the whole night. This time I was right.
We'd walked about half a mile to the club. Easy. But as we reached the bouncers at the entrance, I let myself down. My head smashed on to the hard tarmac and my legs began to shiver uncontrollably as my breathing became fast and shallow. In the distance I heard several yells.
'How much has she had to drink?' A crowd was forming around me.
'Basically nothing. She was fine.'
'Did she eat anything?'
I didn't catch the answer to that one. I looked to my left and let out a small sigh of relief.
Annie smiled down at me and stroked my hair.
'You're going to be just fine.'
I know I was. As long as she was there. And she was always there. She was always right.
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Thursday, 14 November 2013

List of performances I have been to see

This is for me more than anyone else and to show off just I am. So here I go

West End Musicals (in order of preference)
Hairspray - in Southampton and Norwich
The Lion King
Billy Elliot in Victoria Palace Theatre, London x2 and Southampton
Guys and dolls
Show Boat
Half a Sixpence - in Chichester x2 and Noel Coward Theatre, London
Miss Saigon x2
Made in Dagenham x2
Funny Girl
Jersey Boys x2
From Here to Eternity x2
Bend it like Beckham
Mary Poppins - in Southampton
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - in Southampton and Edinburgh
Book of Mormon
The Last Five Years
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels x2
Memphis x2
Once x2
Legally Blonde - in Southampton
Phantom of the Opera
Top Hat
Wicked x2
Wizard of Oz
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory x2
Grease - in Southampton
Chicago - in Southampton 
Urinetown the Musical
Kinky Boots
An American in Paris
Mamma Mia
The Commitments
Les Miserables x2
Kiss Me Kate - in Chichester
Mack and Mabel - in Chichester 
Matilda the Musical
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - in Reading
The Addams Family - in Southampton
Dirty Dancing
In The Heights
42nd Street
I Can't Sing. The X Factor Musical
Viva Forever

West End Plays
The Cripple of Inishman
Shakespeare in Love
A Mad world by Masters (RSC)
Nell Gwynn
Bug (London Fringe)
An Enemy of the People (CFT)
A Room with a View (CFT)
Sex with Strangers (London Fringe)
Forty Years On (CFT)
The Country Girls (CFT)
Sweet Bird of Youth (CFT)
Gloria (London Fringe)
The Ferryman
A Woman of No Importance
Belleville (Donmar Warehouse)
Translations (National Theatre)
The Play That Goes Wrong (UK tour at Bristol Hippodrome)

Henry V - starring Jamie Parker at Globe Theatre
The Tempest - 3 times - Globe Theatre
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Globe Theatre
Romeo and Juliet - Branagh Theatre starring Lily James at Garrick Theatre
Much Ado About Nothing - RSC at CFT
Love's Labour's Lost - RSC at CFT

Gigs (most recently viewed first)
Katy Perry with Iconapop as the special guests
Maroon 5 with Robin Thicke as the special guest!
Nina Nesbitt (unplugged Live on the beach)
Paloma Faith
Jason Mraz
Joe Brooks
Hackney Weekend - Jessie J, Professor Green, Bombay Bicycle Club, Ben Howard, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth, Plan B
Lucy Rose
John Barrowman

Comedians I have seen live (most recently viewed first)
Miranda Hart
Russell Howard
Sarah Millican
Rhod Gilbert
Daniel Sloss x3
Ed Byrne

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013


It is safe to say that I have been to see quite a few musicals. And, despite the fact that each one is very different in terms of stories and sets, the special effects and structure of each one runs in a similar vein to the rest. Therefore, I didn't think that much could surprise me any more. I was wrong. From the very beginning, Once proved to be totally unique and unlike anything that I had come across in the West End before.

For a start you were allowed up on to the stage -  which is every theatre addict's little dream. So of course, we took advantage and went up there to buy our pint at the fake yet real bar that was used as both a set and an actual bar. As we were doing so, the stars of the show came out and started playing together. As if it was a real Irish bar. In Ireland. But it wasn't. We were in London. At the theatre. Mind = blown. With all the actors, present already, the pre show rolled effortlessly into the start of the actual show without a big deal. A mere dimming of the lights and a brisk shooing of the audience from the stage and we were immediately thrown into the Irish world that encompassed Once. But to be honest, we had already been there for quite a while and this unique beginning gave the show such a realistic feel to it, that you felt a complete part of the action, rather than simply watching a spectacle in front of your eyes. It also helped that the leading lady, Zrinka Cvitešić, appeared on stage after walking through the audience, giving the impression that she was one of us.

This realistic feel remained throughout the whole production, as did the set itself, never changing from the bar scene at the beginning. There were very few props and lacked even an orchestra with the small cast (which was only made up of 15 people) accompanying themselves on the piano, accordion, ukulele, guitar, violin and drums. So if you have taken away the majority of things which make a musical great, the cast has to be superb, to make up for it. And luckily this one was. In particular, the two leads (Cvitešić and Declan Bennett who are billed simply as Guy and Girl) but everybody pulled their weight and proved their musical talent as well as their excellent acting abilities. They all led us on an emotional ride that just chucked you all over the place.

If you are looking for a massive, extravaganza of a showstopper, this musical is not for you. What you will get is an uncomplicated, unfrilly display of pure talent that will take your breath away. With fitting dialogue and truly beautiful singing, I was totally enthralled right up until the deeply unsatisfying (but elegant) end.

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Friday, 25 October 2013

Single life at university

One of my female friends asked me the other day 'What is it like to not have a boyfriend while at uni?' She is 21 years old and hasn't been single since she was 16. In fact, she will probably marry this guy. Therefore if I wanted her to be able to understand what it's truly like, I had to come up with a very simple analogy. So what I eventually told her was this:

Being single at university is like looking for a dress in a charity shop. You normally aren't intending to go there but have a wander around to see if anything fits. You can be in there for hours, sifting through piles of crap yet find nothing which is always very frustrating. But now you have started searching, you don't want to give up. Occasionally you find something you kind of like but it's not your usual style and it's not long before you get bored of it. And then, very occasionally, you find an absolute gem. Something that you wouldn't dream that you would find and is so perfect for you that you couldn't imagine wanting anything else. Again, it might not have been exactly what you were looking for but somehow you couldn't imagine living without it. Those feelings of love and excitement never get old and it makes it all worth it.

That's what it's like being single at university. Carry on sifting through the crap, girls and guys.

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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Why come to university?

Odd as it may seem, I am a little envious of 17 year olds right now. With school having just restarted they are approaching the most exciting time of their young lives – the exploration of universities, trawling the country for that perfect institution which can offer all the opportunities they want. If they want it. That is the big question that everyone is asking these youngsters – do you want to go to university? And their immediate response should be a resounding yes.
My own days of applications seem like a distant memory now, occurring almost four years ago as I prepare myself for my fourth year of Primary Education at Reading University. The past three years have been a whirlwind and this decision remains to be the best I have ever made. I chose to study Primary Education because I wanted to do something more than simply sit in a classroom (which I had been doing for the previous 14 years of my education) and within the course, I had a range of practical placements as well as the traditional lectures. Nowhere else could I have gained the breadth of experiences (both good and bad) that I did, which all helped me to grow into the adult that I am today. It is here that I am finally beginning to find out exactly who Charlotte Coster is. I thought I knew her pretty well by the time I’d left school, but over the past years she has continued to change in a way that surprised me. And she has done things, I never thought her capable of.
This is what university is all about – finding out who you are. It is so easy to look at the £9,000 fee and say ‘That is so not worth it, for a piece of paper.’ Which is completely true. It’s lucky that university is so much more than your final degree classification. It’s about finding a subject you love and doing it to death. It’s about doing an all-nighter because you’ve left that essay until the last possible second. And then getting the next one in a day early because you don’t want to give yourself any more grey hairs. It’s about finding a group of friends you can’t live without. It’s about learning to place more than vodka and pot noodles into your shopping basket. It’s about making mistakes and fixing them. And, most importantly, it’s about learning to live. And to be honest, that’s something that money can’t buy.
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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

About time

It's very easy to enjoy Richard Curtis films, although they do tend to be aimed at the same group of people every time. And clearly I am part of that group as I seem to like every single one.

To be totally honest though, I wasn't sure of this one. The trailer just showed it to be yet another mundane romantic comedy and I have kind of grown out of those recently. It just looked like any other. With significant traces of The Time Traveller's Wife, it seems that Rachel McAdams once again finds a time traveller for a husband. How does she manage it? I didn't think there were that many of them about.

But the trailer definitely does not do this film justice. What is sadly missing from those little clips is the warmth and humour brought on by the incredible talents of Bill Nighy, surrounded by an excellent cast. It is an adorable story and despite the idea being a little far fetched, it is vaguely realistic with compassionate dialogue and emotions that most can relate to. Domhnall Gleeson (who is basically unknown except for brief appearances in Never Let Me Go, Anna Karenina and Harry Potter) is an excellent leading man who sweeps us along with his humour and a lot of sensitivity.

It took a while for it get going and the slow pace at the beginning was a little dull. But once it finally did get into the swing of things, I fell in love with the cute story and the mix of emotions that it made me feel along the way. There were many laughs and a few tears (well, I don't cry generally at films...but I nearly did. So if I was normal I would have). One of the best moments was undoubtedly the message that it ended very abruptly with. It reminded you of what it believes to be the most important thing of all - love, friendship and living for today. And I agree with the film. You shouldn't regret what has gone on in the past, as you are unable to change it. Just live for now and work to change the future so you can live life to the full. If we all followed that, I am sure the world would be a much happier place.

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Top 10 items to pack for university

This time last year I wrote an article about what all first year students should make the effort to do in their Fresher's week (which you can read here So this year I thought I would be a good Samaritan once again and very helpfully tell you what to pack. In reverse order, here are the top 10 items that you just can't live without at university during your Fresher's year.

Number 10: Toothbrush
Pretty self explanatory really - no one will like you or talk to you if you have stinky breath. Honestly, as if you have to ask...

Number 9: Ipod
Hugely useful for a number of different reasons. It can be a good ice breaker at the beginning, to start discussions about different music that you can be great if you join certain sports and are training or running for them. And finally it can be used in an academic sense as well. Some people like to record their lectures and this can then be uploaded to ipod and listened back. A good way of revising later in the year.

Number 8: Alarm Clock
There's no way you lazy first years will get out of bed without one. Especially now there are no parents to kick you out of it first thing. If you want to make those horrendous 9am lectures, you might have to invest in one.

Number 7: Diary/Calendar
Again, this is completely necessary to make sure you turn up to all your commitments at the right time, in the right place. And this is not just for academic ones either but social and society get togethers. There is a huge amount going on at uni and if you want to keep track of everything, this is a necessity.

Number 6:  A pair of trackie bottoms and a hoodie
Although during the first few weeks, Freshers tend to dress up in their best clothes for lectures, this urge doesn't last long. Believe me, older years look and laugh and you can always spot who the first years are. When you are bogged down with work and had no sleep for three nights straight because you are trying to finish an essay (or just have great stamina for going out) it will be a marvel if you manage to pull jeans on. These two items of clothing are a must for those slobby days when you can't be bothered to move. Or those stressful ones, where you can't leave your desk. Or, the worst of the lot, those hungover ones where you can't move without puking.

Number 5: Photographs
Leaving home can be a bit strange and discomforting. Make sure you have plenty of keepsakes to remind you of everything. And gradually over the year you will add to them with all your great Fresher's memories. Lots of halls don't like blue tac so make sure you bring white tac, frames and pins as well.

Number 4: A formal dress/suit
Most universities will have a Freshers' ball or formal of some kind. And will definitely have certain events throughout the year. So make sure you have a suitably stunning dress or suit to wow your fellow students with.

Number 3: Bottle opener
In an effort to get away from the stereotype of nobody actually being able to remember their freshers week at all, universities definitely won't supply this, even if they are kind enough to supply other cutlery. It's an absolutely must.

Number 2: Notebook
Fresher's is a once in a lifetime occurrence that won't be repeated so many people like to keep a diary or scrap book during their time to remember everything that goes on. I did and it's a lovely keepsake that I will hang on to for the rest of my life.

Number 1: ID (eg passport or driver's licence)
These days you can't get in anywhere without it. So if you don't want to feel left out when everyone else is off enjoying themselves, I suggest you remember it. And then try your best not to drunkenly lose it.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

When the world JJ Marshall

Recently I was asked by brand new novelist JJ Marshall to be the official reviewer for his debut novel and to let him know what I thought of it. I was honoured, especially as I had enjoyed the book so is what I said. Check it out and then buy the novel - it's really enjoyable =]

When the World Ends... is the debut novel from exciting new author, J. J Marshall. Set 100 years in the future, the 21st century earth as we know it now is slowly being burned up by the sun and the story follows 17 year old Alec Corbett’s struggle to prosper in the new harsh environment of space. Not only that, but there are more sinister forces at work beneath the surface, who pose a threat to all of humanity. And somehow Alec gets right in the middle of trying to stop it.
Being drawn into this futuristic world is quite an experience. The twisty-turny plot will keep you captivated from beginning to end and Marshall will completely absorb you into this make believe world that he has created. Through detailed description, he leaves no stone unturned and it is a credit to the depth of his imagination that translates every aspect of this new version of earth on to the page.
The main protagonist, Alec is likeable and well explored. His character sees the biggest progression as the novel continues and he has been given a sufficient amount of emotional depth to allow the reader to care about what happens to him. His dialogues with other characters are well thought out and help to continuously move the plot forward in a gripping way. The introduction of a main character reasonably late in the novel was an unexpected and exciting occurrence and I look forward to seeing her develop further in the remaining two books of the trilogy.
This book is a well written, gripping, plot-driven adventure and Marshall’s easily readable style makes it effortless to read. Within its pages there is something for everyone – from action to romance and everything in between. The author skilfully keeps you enthralled with shock revelations and a fast pace that makes it addictively entertaining. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how the story continues so make sure you don’t miss out on this thrilling new summer read.
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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

It's ok to be weird

The title of this blog post is actually a quote from one of my friends, which she said to me quite a few weeks ago now. But I have been saving up this controversial sentence as I thought it would make an interesting discussion. Because is it actually ok to be weird? Or are we actually living in a seemingly all-accepting society that is completely different just below the surface.

The society we live in now, appears to be (and is advertised as) the most free society of our modern era and us western women in particular can enjoy many more freedoms than we have done in the past 100 years or so. Now I am not about to get into an equality debate or a race debate or anything like that. Believe me, I have a lot to say on these issues so it's not probably not the best idea to encourage me. What I really want to talk about is the general acceptance of people.

I have found, that the older I get the less I care what people think of me and I think this is a part of growing up. When I was a child and more so when I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was please people. That led to people thinking I was two faced etc etc but it is much more complicated than that. It was that I didn't think myself to be good enough so I hid who I actually was and became what people wanted me to be.

However, as I hit university and became surrounded by quite a few others who were just as crazy as I am, the real me started to emerge. Which, quite frankly, is bordering on insane (although I do still say that it is training to be a teacher which has driven me to be this way). And we all agree that life would be a lot more dull if we were normal. But even if it wasn't, we shouldn't have to live to other people's expectations. For once, I think we should all be completely in charge of our personalities and not be drive to act in a way that society expects from us. Or by copying people who we expect to be the norm (such as on television or in magazines). It is our life and we should live it exactly the way that we want. So go on and have a go - do something whacky, behave inappropriately in public, have a laugh with your friends...generally it makes life far more enjoyable.

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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Interrailing around Italy!!!!

It is safe to say that I have wanted to go to Italy for a very long time. Ever since I can remember, in fact. And I am not even sure why because until fairly recently, I have not even known what there is to see in Italy. But since my teenage years, I have become obsessed with the idea of going. And finally this dream of mine has come true - what a total dream it was.

We went literally everywhere starting in Venice - such a beautiful town. Full of the most beautiful views and canals. I loved the lack of vehicles on the roads, due to the fact that most people travelled by boat which left the pavements and roads completely free. Plus, I was in my little piece of heaven because Venice is full of the most beautiful architecture. I am a sucker for beautiful buildings, squares and bridges, so I was in my element here.

Next up we travelled to the nearby town of Verona and the 24 hours we spent here was definitely not enough. It is an undeniably cute town, filled to the brim with culture, music and literature. I was able to visit Juliet's square and house (although she was a fictional character, Shakespeare based both his main characters on real people) which delighted my literary nerdiness. Plus we were able to get tickets to watch the opera in the Roman arena for that evening - with the beautiful backdrop and the amazingness of watching a Verdi opera in Italy, it made for a pretty perfect evening.

Bologna ended up being a complete joke. Our instructions told us to get the no. 25 bus from the station and it would stop right outside our hotel. So we got on to the correct bus but ended up going the wrong way out of town. So we got off it, swapped to the other side of the road, and travelled back through the centre of Bologna, this time getting off at the right stop. But what a local had told us would be a 20 minute walk turned into an hour and half's walk to our hotel (part of it following the motorway). Needless to say we were extremely grumpy by the time we had checked in and eager to get out of that silly town. So all we saw were the brief glimpses from the bus window but I did see some of the many porticoes that my guide book had described to me.

So we headed on swiftly to Florence. This was one of the places that I was most looking forward to and I saw an incredible amount of beautiful art this weekend including some excellent Botticellis. I climbed a million steps to the roof of the bell tower which hurt a lot but was so worth it for the views of the town. Another highlight was the Pitti Palazzo, the stunning home of the Medici family. Elaborately decorated and accompanied by huge stunning gardens, we spent hours there. Was totally gorgeous. We spent our final night there up at Michelangelo's square watching the sun go down over the city. It was truly lovely and made even more special because I spent it with my American friend Laney who I hadn't seen since March while she'd been rushing around Europe. She returns to America in two weeks time so I am glad I got to see her before she runs back across the pond.

Next we headed down (on a double decker train) to Naples. But actually we didn't spend a lot of time in the city itself. The evening we arrived, we went for a wander and finally I felt that I was in real Italy (rather than being in a touristy equivalent). We had the best pizza ever that first night, not overly surprising considering that it is the Home of Pizza. The next day we had a day of historical education, visiting Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Vesuvius. I climbed a volcano. Was an incredible experience, lending us some beautiful views. And it is the only active volcano on mainland Europe. Walking around Pompeii was one of my favourite experiences as well. It was so huge with so many well preserved buildings. It is incredible to think that once upon a time, this was a busy living town, and then in mere hours everything was wiped out. Weird. After an extremely active day soaking up history, the following one we decided to soak up some rays on the island of Capri. Not far off the coast of Naples, it was an excellent respite from the general craziness of the holiday with lots of sunbathing and swimming involved. It was the first time I had set foot into the Mediterranean and was just what we needed.

That evening, trying to seat ourselves so we avoided our worst areas of sunburn, we set off for our final stop - Rome. This was actually very like London in it's buzzing nature and I could actually see myself living there. It was wonderful, had the best ice cream ever and was just buzzing with famous sites and general busy-ness. We had our one and only proper meal with dessert and everything so we got a taste of Italian tiramisu (which is so much nicer than the English one btw). And my favourite place had to be the Trevi fountain. It was quite stunning and watching all the tourists pose around it was very amusing. The colosseum was also, obviously, quite exciting to see and when we were up on one of the top levels, we were (un) lucky enough to be caught in a thunderstorm which was quite a spectacular backdrop to something that is very beautiful in itself.

As you can probably tell, I adored every second I was in Italy. I had so many incredible experiences and saw so many things, that I will never ever forget. I have built it up in my mind, so much for so long and it would have been very easy for me to be disappointed. But I wasn't - it was a perfect, hilarious, crazy holiday. I couldn't have asked for a better one.

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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Healthy Addictions

As you may have noticed from my blog, I like going to the theatre. Quite a lot. This reached a whole new level recently when I booked to see 5 shows in about 6 weeks. Which included three west end shows and two Shakespeares at the Globe. And it just made me think...when does something change from a harmless hobby to an obsession/addiction?

When you say the word addiction, you automatically think of bad substances...such as alcohol, drugs and smoking. But if you look at the actual definition, addiction is said to be the 'act of being enslaved to a habit, substance or activity.' So actually we could probably say that we are addicted to a huge variety of different things that fall under each of those three subheadings. Somehow though, most of those items/habits are acceptable in the eyes of society and nobody minds.

Activity is the key word in that definition because every addiction starts with the enjoyment of an activity. It then becomes a habit and eventually you are unable to stop. Partly because you are still enjoying the activity, partly because of the addictive nature of the substance and partly because it has now been integrated into your daily routine that you don't want to move. Same as brushing your teeth, or putting on makeup in the morning, you now have that drink with that meal or the cigarette at 11am.

In particular, I would say that most of us are 'addicted' to some everyday habits, that we do all the time without even noticing. And we don't label it as an addiction because of the negative connotations of the word. I don't think all addictions are a bad thing though. For instance, if you are addicted to a song this is a harmless activity and causes a huge amount of enjoyment. Which is the main thing really. But whatever you are addicted to, as long as you are happy, then I don't think it really matters. Society should do away with all the negativity and embrace your addictions to everything that you love and worry about the consequences later. In my case, I think I might as well just move a bed into the theatre.

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Les Miserables

They say that you should always the read the book before you see the film because the book is normally better but if you see the film first, that is all you will keep in your head. And I totally agree with the statement. The same can also be said for the theatre - you should always see the musical on stage before you see the film of it.

Les Miserables is one of those musicals which I have wanted to see for a long time...since I first gained my interest about the French revolution through A level History. And when Danielle Hope took over as Eponine last year I wanted to even more. But somehow I didn't get around to it until the day before yesterday, a good five years since those sixth form days, one year since Danielle joined the cast and four months since I saw it on the big screen. Which meant, completely by accident, I was comparing it to the film all the way through. Not just the actors, but the way it was done, the staging, the scenery, even the lighting...

Indulging my comparative brain for a moment, I am not sure that I preferred it to the film. At times I felt the stage version was extremely bitty, jumping from one scene to the next with complete changes of scenery sometimes only for a verse of a song which was just a little distracting. Although I do understand that this is the nature of the show, it is definitely more suited to a film where changes in camera angles and scenes are far more common. I also think that the emotions portrayed in the songs during the film were far more strong than I could see in the live show. The benefit of having a few takes to get it right (if necessary) meant that the film actors threw all of their soul into their performances so the audience became completely involved with the emotions they were displaying. This is particularly the case for Eddie Redmayne's Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream. Saying that, the show performances were definitely not wooden, it was just impossible for them to throw of much of themselves into the role every day of the week as far as the film actors could.

However, ignoring the film as best as I can, the stage version of the musical is pretty awesome in its own merit. And so so different to any other I have seen. Gone are the cheerful songs and bright energetic dance sequences. Gone is dialogue full stop. What remains is a gritty, realistic and very classy piece of theatre which has been very cleverly directed. The dim lighting throughout reiterated the suffering of the characters in the musical and gave you a feel of the terrible poverty in which they lived. This was used to particular effect during Empty chairs at empty tables where Marius was in a dim spotlight while all his friends appeared softly from the mist, only to disappear back into it again by the end of the song. A very effective portrayal of the ghosts who are haunting him. Furthermore, I was continually impressed by the slick scene changes throughout the whole show. As I mentioned earlier there were a huge amount of these, and were all done so smoothly through the combined use of a revolving stage and a clearly talented backstage team. Finally the acting was rather brilliant, particularly from Danielle Hope...I have been a fan of hers ever since I saw her on the TV talent show Over The Rainbow in 2010 and she did not disappoint as a somewhat more tragic Eponine than Samantha Barks portrayed in the film. And I found her death scene truly top notch. 

As it is quite mentally draining (with so much death) you definitely have to be in the right mood for this musical but when you eventually go, it is so worth it to see a truly fantastic piece of theatre. It is unlike any of the other 'happy' musicals in the West End at the moment and definitely worth a trip.

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Thursday, 18 April 2013


At the moment I have to say I am a bit of a busy bee. I have four 3rd year university essays to complete by Monday which I only started (stupidly) on Sunday so am a bit pushed for time. But when I saw that Hairspray was in Southampton, I could not resist. It was one of my favourite movies when it came out, back in 2007 and I just had to see how well it transferred to stage (having missed the boat while it was in the West End). Luckily for me though, the tour meant that I had a west end cast right on my doorstep and to say I am glad that I went is a huge understatement.

Hairspray is the perfect feel good musical. Vibrant, colourful, unfailingly cheerful it is perfect for anyone (like me) who is a little stressed and in need of a brain break. I was expecting it to be good but I wasn't expecting to feel so chilled and happy after it. Saying that, I was also slightly exhausted. The dances were energetic and never ending, switching from one crazily full on routine to the next, coupled with wordy songs. I am surprised that the cast weren't on the floor by the end.

I honestly can't fault the cast. Normally there are one or two who stand out but this time, I literally couldn't say just one. I have never seen such a coordinated cast who were so in sync with each other and all to a similarly high standard. The lead, Freya Sutton was fresh and perfect, all the more impressive as it was her musical debut. Luke Strifer and Josh Piterman (playing Link Larkin and Corny Collins respectively) were wonderfully handsome living up to Zac Efron and James Marsden's standards. Mark Benton and Paul Rider (who played Edna and Wilbur Turnblad) were a perfect pairing, hilarious and well matched. I loved that Benton didn't try to make his voice female as John Travolta did instead embracing it's masculinity to add to comic effect. Lauren Hood (Penny Pingleton) was also very funny and her and Sutton bounced off each other perfectly. The inclusion of Marcus Collins playing Seaweed (who of course, was runner up on the Xfactor a couple of years ago) was one of the big selling points of the tour, attracting teenage girls far and wide. And he definitely didn't disappoint. His dancing was not quite as clean as some of the other west end stars but he was still great. And finally, Sandra Marvin (playing Motourmouth Maybelle) was fabulous. One of my favourite moments in the film is when Queen Latifah sings I Know Where You've Been. It is the one poignant ballad in the whole musical and brings home the seriousness of the topic of race, amongst all the dancing and cheerfulness and I didn't think that anyone could sing with quite the same emotion. But I was wrong. Marvin played this perfectly and her assured quotes encouraging perseverance for equality are still relevant today.

There were some great new additions, in terms of songs, to the musical but the only thing which disappointed me a little bit was the lack of the dance routine in miss Baltimore crabs, and also the way it was sung by Lucy Benjamin. She didn't have the same authority and airy snobbery that Michelle Pfeiffer had in the film. On top of this I wasn't impressed by the deletion of New Girl in Town which was one of my favourite songs in the film. But this was more than made up for by Don't Stop the Beat which was absolutely fantastic. Despite these very small criticisms, I couldn't have asked for a better time really. It is the ultimate feel good musical and you will leave just wanting to sing and dance. There's still months of the tour left going all around the country so make sure you go see it.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Why does everyone hate The D Word?

By this, I don't mean dick or any other naughty word beginning with 'd' (literally could not think of another one...maybe I am too innocent) but something even scarier - The Dentist. And yes, I did mean to capitalise both words.

It is a hugely scary event when that time of the year rolls around and you are off to see The Dentist...I can't honestly think of one person who enjoys it. Which is unfortunate, because, generally, they are quite nice people. I suppose you would have to be, to choose to be hunched in a small room all day staring into people's cake holes. It is a very odd fetish to have and not something I could ever imagine myself enjoying. Think of the amount of germs they are faced with every day as they get breathed over by everyone from little snot-ridden kids to sick elderly men.

But why is it that people hate The Dentist so's not like you have to do the breathing in and probing round. All you have to do is lie there. It's actually quite comfy and there's normally nice music playing. Despite this, I can not say I enjoy it either. I dread it. A lot. Mostly because I have crap teeth - who else's teeth came through with holes already in? That's just not fair. The aspect I hate most is the powerlessness of your position. You can barely breathe, you definitely can't swallow and I can't get up and run away without getting impaled by that stabby thing they always use. How rude of them.

Then again I am luckier than some so I shouldn't complain and I have been blessed with some really lovely dentists who took real good care of me. So I am trying to see it in a new light. Hopefully one day I will accept that they are doing me a favour and will stop wondering whether that odd tasting polishing thing they do, is in fact, going to poison me.

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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Live, laugh, love

This is a quote that seems to be terribly in fashion at the carpe diem or YOLO used to be (don't even get me started on them, that's a whole other blog post and we could be here for a while). I have seen it literally everywhere from notebooks to little wooden plaques to hangy-on-the-door things to full blown canvases. So why is everyone obsessing over it so much? And more importantly what does it mean?

One way it can be written is (to) Live (you have to) Laugh (and) Love. And this is what makes up life. I don't think you can have a truly compelling life unless you do all three of these things. With love, it doesn't have to even be a person, although I should say a person is preferable really. But it could be an animal, a job, a hobby...anything that makes you happy =] which I know is not always the case in relationships. But if you care deeply enough about anything, it will make life worth living.

Laughing is one of the most important things you can do in life as well. And I don't mean little giggles, I mean proper, going-to-die-because-I-can't-breathe laughing. It makes life so much better and also allows you to forget all your little problems. Mostly because you are worried where your next breath is coming from and whether you are going to suffocate as a result. All my favourite moments in my day are when I am surrounded by people I love and they say something which is just so totally mind blowingly hilarious that is so unexpected that you can't stop for about half an hour. I don't know if it's just me but somehow I tend to do this alot when I meet up with old friends.

Finally: live. This is so simple yet so easily forgotten. With all the stresses of jobs, uni, school, relationships and everything else going on, it is so so easy for life to pass us by. Every now and then, forget the everyday little things that go wrong and just simply live. Stay in bed the whole day reading your favourite book, visit a town you have never seen, book a last minute holiday, act spontaneously, call someone you haven't talked to in a year, go out for dinner...anything that you want. Remember that life is yours to be lived in any way you choose. And, to coin that terribly clichéd phrase, you only live once. So use it wisely and do everything that you want to. No one is stopping you other than yourself.
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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Top 5 de-stressing books to read over Easter

You might have noticed that I haven't been very active on here recently. And, as usual, I have only one excuse for that - UNI. It just takes over my life in a completely debilitating way so that even when I procrastinate and am not doing work, I can't actually do anything else either. Boo. But I have been released now for the holidays and can do what I please (to a certain extent). For me, that is travelling, going to the theatre, blogging, writing creatively, singing and reading. So I have come up with a small selection of books that are great for that period after a stressful term and allow you to relax with enticing stories and just are complete page turners. =]
5. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
This book literally has something for everyone – love, loss, war, grief, humour and poignant moments which is possibly why it has been such a massive hit. It is a hugely involving, addictive read. And once you have read that, watch Eddie Redmayne in the television adaption of it so you can de-stress a bit more.

4. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
This is definitely a chick lit for the ladies, but good all the same. And it isn’t your average love story either as it involves a jealous ghost, a naked painting and a friendship that spans across generations. I know you are intrigued.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
When writing a list of top books to use as a de-stressing tool, a Harry Potter simply has to be there. JK just has this remarkable ability to involve you within another world, so completely and utterly that you forget everything going on around you. Easy to read and a great story to boot, this third one of the series definitely would be my choice but any of them will do. 

2. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
One of my favourite books, that my A level teacher managed not to ruin for me when I studied it under her. The film looks pretty good with a star studded cast including Carey Mulligan and Leonardo Dicaprio. But, as is the case with almost every film, this book can’t be beaten. It manages to embroil you in the 20s culture full of vibrant colourful parties and forbidden love. It really is a fascinating look into human relationships and society as a whole.

1. The Fault in our stars but John Green
John Green's books are seriously good. This latest novel follows the lives of two teenagers, Hazel and Gus, fighting cancer. I am not normally a fan of this type of novel but, although thought provoking, this is almost entirely upbeat, focusing on life rather than death. And this is a rather rare perspective for this genre.  Beautifully written, this is definitely the best modern publication I have read in a while.
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Friday, 1 March 2013

I Give it a Year

To be honest, my amazing news of being appointed the Online Editor of Spark*'s Film and TV section, has one major downside which I did see coming. And that is, I am not allowed to write for them anymore. I just have to do my editing work, which is fun but writing has always been my passion. It isn't just the free cinema tickets that I have received, honest. But I am actually missing the film reviews that I am no longer writing. I still automatically critique every one I go and see but now I have no outlet to publish it. So I might be putting a few here.

The most recent film that I went to see was I Give It a Year. I don't normally bother to pay for the cinema to watch chick flicks as I save them for pyjama days when all I want to do is curl up, stick on a DVD and eat ice cream. And this was a perfect film for one of those days.

The film opens with the wedding of Josh and Nat (played by Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne) and we are able to see how their relationship progressed through the montage of romantic scenes that are displayed. However it becomes apparent that they got married too quickly. And this isn't helped by the love interests that both of the couple have: through Josh's ex-girlfriend (Anna Faris) and Nat's hot client (Simon Baker). As both swallow their feelings and struggle not to cheat, they go to see a marriage counsellor (Olivia Coleman) who wasn't really that much help.

Heart warming and very realistic, this is one of the most cynical rom coms that I have ever sat through as we watched the characters fall out of love with each other rather than in love. It was extremely refreshing to watch the very human emotions being portrayed for once. There were also some really hilarious moments, particularly from Coleman who often advised them absolutely shockingly. I wasn't expecting to like this film at all but the humour and sarcasm made it for me. If you need something that is not complicated to follow at all this is perfect. You can just sit back, relax and let the hilarious reality of married life wash over you. And it has a really satisfying, although slightly unexpected ending (which is an achievement in itself. Nothing unexpected EVER happens in chick flicks).

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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Shrek the Musical

Whenever I hear that a musical is closing, I just can not resist to go and check it out. Even if it had never occurred to me to go and watch it beforehand. There's something about the finality of it and the fact, it may never return to the stage. And so it was with Shrek which is closing tomorrow after two years in the West End. Despite knowing that this is actually going on tour around the UK afterwards, I knew that I wouldn't bother to travel to it so couldn't help but go and check it out at Drury lane last night in one of its final performances.

To be honest, I think there is a reason that it had never entered my head to go before now because it is very very aimed towards children. It had farting and burping and bickering and some very obvious jokes that the children in the audience absolutely adored. There were some nods to the parents as well though with some quite sexual connotations in some of the jokes that would have been well over the children's heads (luckily) but made us adults giggle as it seemed so out of place in a kid's story. Donkey and Lord Farquaad also had some really hilarious moments.

What I really enjoyed, as a complete theatre geek, was the nod to many other musicals which it gave. That made me laugh a lot, because they popped up in wonderfully abstract locations that somehow made sense within the production. Whether it was a tiny bit of music, a spoken well known phrase, or even a prop/costume in some cases. It was perfect for people like me and reasonably clever.

I think if I was 8-10 years younger, I would enjoy the musical a whole lot more, in the same way that I adored the film back then. It was very faithful to the film and the songs were fittingly upbeat for the children at whom it was mostly aimed. I was very very impressed with the sets and special effects that were some of the best I have seen, moving smoothly from scene to scene without a hitch despite the frequent changes and complicated-ness of the sets. Finally I wanted to say a massive thumbs up to the actor playing Lord Farquaad, Neil McDermott whose knees must be killing him.

Despite my reservations, I can't say that I didn't have a great evening it's just that I would not necessarily pay to see it again. And that's always the tell tale sign of a great musical.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Good morning and top of te morning to ya.
Oh Dublin how I love you and how I wish I could afford to live in you and just sit in pubs all the time. It seems like the perfect laidback life where no one has any worries. It was literally so good to get away from university life and go into a very different world. And I may have only spent a weekend there but I felt utterly relaxed in this vibrant city.

In those three days we did cram in a lot of touristy things - we were on one of those awful tourist buses that you see zooming around London all the time. And I am proud to say I was one of the most stereotypical of the bunch, sitting on the open top deck and clicking my camera at everything. We visited Trinity College, St Patrick's Cathedral, Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol (who my housemate was convinced that it was pronounced goal), Guinness Storehouse, Connaught Road and of course, the Temple Bar area. I only had three aims as well: to have a proper Irish Coffee (so yum - I am going to start drinking all my coffees like that); hear a traditional Irish Band (I heard several, they were all amazing. And I drunkenly danced to Galway Girl. Evening was made) and to get with an Irish man (I had to - I just melt when they speak to me, however good looking they are). And I achieved all those aims, so I was happy.

I wasn't expecting to have that much time sober to be honest, but we did fit in quite a bit. And we had a huge laugh. I love the place and I want to go back. And that's all really - if only England was just as friendly.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Billy Elliot

I realised the other day that my blog has a huge risk of starting to sound completely repetitive. And also, that I would make the worst critic in the world. My problem is that I just am too easily impressed. Recently I have been to quite a few West End musicals and I just can't stop marvelling at how much I enjoy them. Every single one has a slightly different charm, whatever the story, and I seem to like every single one of them.

Billy Elliot is my latest obsession and, honestly, I didn't think I was going to like it as much as I actually did. It was one of my favourite films when I was a kid but I really had no idea how they were going to transfer that well to the stage. I didn't know any of the music at all and was pretty amazed at the result. 

Billy Elliot is the most realistic musical that I have seen - all the rest have been set in a fictional place whereas this was placed up in a very grim northern village. Where obviously it was not very socially acceptable to be the incredible dancer that the title character is. It's not only the fictional boy that is intensely talented though. I was completely overwhelmed by the ability of the young actor as well. His singing voice did need a little more training but his northern accent and his acting were pretty spot on. And his dancing was just something else. In Billy Elliot there are a number of long solo dance sequences that include a mixture of modern, tap, stage and ballet as well as a huge amount of others with the rest of the company. He has to be proficient in all of these, and this young child was definitely more than that. He was truly superb from beginning to end and I have never been more depressed that I will never be to the same standard.

The rest of the cast must be congratulated as well - it was just perfection all the way through. It is not exactly what you would call a cheery story, considering the majority of it is about hardship but there were some really funny moments and the ending was just the right amount of poignancy to make this musical something truly special. I, for one, was blubbing like a baby in the final song, and I never cry in public. So that is an achievement in itself. The songs were fantastic and it was all brilliantly acted with believable emotions from everyone involved. Just perfection. Now go and vote for it to be on the shortlist for the Olivier Awards 2013.

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