Friday, 30 January 2015

Theatre Etiquette

I go to the theatre A LOT. It's become an almost weekly occurrence and one that I love. But there is one small (yet growing) problem which is starting to annoy me more and more - the rest of the audience. I have no idea why (as being able to sit still is something that I personally haven't had trouble with since I was about 6) but in almost every single show I have visited recently, I have been disturbed by one of my fellow theatre-goers. And that is a shame because we are meant to enjoy this special little world together, not get annoyed with each other.

Therefore, being the kind person I am, I have compiled a list of a few basic rules to apply when you are at the theatre. Stick to these and you won't go wrong.

Be on time
If I can do it, then you certainly can. I am the most disorganised, scatty, late-running person imaginable. I never turn up on time to anything. Except the theatre. Because, one, I don't want to miss any of it. And two, because it's not cool to punish those who have actually managed to turn up at the correct hour. Imagine how many people are jolted out of the little world they are trying to place themselves in because you have had to poke your bum in their face and squeeze past them.

I do admit - I was late just once to a show: The X Factor Musical (a review of which you can find here if you are interested But that was through a genuine mistake as I thought it began at 2.30 like every other matinee performance in the West End (it was actually 2.15). Luckily though, I didn't miss too much as it wasn't the best musical in London. However, if you are late to say, The Lion King, you will miss one of the best dance sequences I have ever seen.

Turn Mobile Phones OFF
Seriously just put them away for a couple of hours - it won't kill you. And putting them on silent is not enough either, because vibrating is almost as distracting as a ringtone.

As mobile phones take over our lives more and more, it is becoming more and more common for people to 'forget' to turn them off. And it is just tempting fate. A few months ago, I was watching a show, quite close to the front in the stalls of the theatre. Someone's phone went off a few rows behind me, in a magically still moment, filled with emotion. You know the ones...where the whole theatre seems to be holding it's breath. Well we were brought straight back down to reality with a stirring rendition of Default Tone. And it took a good minute for the stupid woman to turn the stupid thing off. The whole theatre heard. As did the actors. Well done, you idiot. Way to kill an atmosphere.

Don't eat sweets
Unfortunately it's not against theatre law to eat in the theatre. It should be. Because somehow people never open that packet in the interval or prior to the show starting. They always decide half way through a song that they are suddenly starving hungry and spend the next few minutes, searching through their bag and then rustling the packet. Don't. Can't you tell what a racket you are making?? Wait until the interval. Or think up a food that doesn't come in a packet. And doesn't crunch. And doesn't smell. You might be safe with a mint that you have pre-prepared by taking it out of the packet beforehand.

Keep Kids Under Control
The majority of shows are far too adult for children so if you are going to see Miss Saigon, Billy Elliot, Made in Dagenham or one like that you are reasonably safe. However, if you go to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wicked or most assuredly, Matilda you will probably come up against a few little ones.

To be honest, I don't think kids have much of a place in theatre...not until their attention spans have matured anyway. I unfortunately was sitting behind a little girl (probably around 6) at Matilda who had come with her grandparents. And I spent the whole of the first half, trying to see around her as she knelt up on her seat and bobbed around and laid her head on her grandmother's shoulder and whispered something to her grandmother....Big grrrrr. Luckily they didn't return after the interval.

Don't move your head around
Please understand that you are not the only one in this theatre. And very few areas of the theatre are tiered. So if you move your head it is going to start a chain reaction of all the rows behind you doing the same. Which is fine once or twice - obviously we don't want you to crick your neck or anything - but every 30 seconds is not cool. Stop it.

Don't tap or kick the seats in front of you
I get that some people are just really really into the music. And they probably don't even realise they are doing it. But stop it. It's annoying. And keep your shoes on. Anyone who takes their shoes off, or worse, puts their feet up on the seats, should be shot. Feet are gross. Put them out of the way, where I can't see them or hear them.

Don't put coats over the back of the seats
Especially not the seat in front of you. That's not your seat. You did not pay for that seat. It belongs to someone else and they may not be comfortable with a zip sticking into their backs.

Stand up/move out of the way when people are trying to get past
Don't just sit there. It's awkward for me as I have to invade your personal space. It's awkward for you who have their personal space invaded. And it's awkward for the people in front of you who get my bum brushing their hair. All in all it's very awkward.

I had this happen to me at the production of Matilda I went to see a few weeks ago. The lady, who was on the slightly plumper side to put it nicely, refused to move despite the fact she was only three seats in from the end (and it was her kids who were occupying the other two seats). Nor did she bother to stand up, not that it would have helped that much (oops, I have stopped being nice). I had to literally step over her knees. Luckily I have got long legs.

Don't sing along with the songs 
This is not a gig. I repeat this is not a gig. It is therefore, not suitable to either enter roaring drunk or, even worse, to roar out the songs. I have paid a lot of money to hear the professionals do it. I would actually like to hear them.

Don't talk
All I have to say to you chatterers is... SERIOUSLY? Save your reviews until after the show. I am really not interested if 'a particular note was a touch flat'. What I am interested in is the subsequent dialogue I am now missing.

There are many many more little tips that I could easily have written here but I thought I would just stick to the key ones. 

All you really need to remember is to be considerate of those around you. You are not at a gig, and you are not at home. So make sure that you remember that you are not the only ones present and that people will probably be disturbed by if you make a racket and a rumpus. Including the actors. So just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. And let everyone else do the same.

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Disney Debate

I mentioned in my last post, how much I had enjoyed Into the Woods and it got me thinking - just how suitable is Disney for young children?

I firmly believe that no childhood is complete without Disney. And I am not alone in thinking that. The majority of children embrace every single Disney movie, new and old - that is how huge a part of our culture it is. Children adore it. Every little girl wants to be a princess and Disney just brings it to life in a beautifully vibrant way...complete with entertaining dialogue and catchy songs which your kids will sing at you constantly until the next film comes out. Each one has a similar formula and you always know there will be a reasonably cute, happy ending.

But delve a little deeper and the real Disney comes to light.

Lots of people have noticed the adult themes of Disney. That is nothing new. And lots of people say that this is to entertain the parents who take their kids to see Disney films. But I don't think that's true. I believe it's for adults full stop. Sure kids can watch it as well, but it is really aimed at the adults.

When you are a child, you miss all the euphemisms, the inside jokes, the relations to real life and the running gags. There are whole parts of the characters which the children fail to see because they are not as observant and don't understand some of the references. Which means they are missing out on major parts of the story.

You will notice also that all the main characters are adults as well. There are very few which feature children in the main spots. They are all at least in their late teens and have very adult aims. Such as, ascending a throne (Frozen), looking for love (just about every Disney movie), leaving the childhood home (Tangled), trying to start a business (Princess and the Frog)...I could go on. Disney has taken really simple every day occurrences that adults will understand and made movies out of them. Because frankly, a movie made up of childhood issues, would be a little bit boring wouldn't it?

I kind of see kids watching Disney movies like trying to read a classic when you are a teenager. You can read it certainly, as you have eyes and can read the words. So you can definitely enjoy elements of it. But you can't actually appreciate the majority of it, and you miss out on the true depth that the author originally intended. Which means that your experience is sorely lacking and you would definitely have to give it another go, when you are an adult, so you can appreciate it fully.

(All logos and characters courtesy of the Disney Corporation)

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Friday, 23 January 2015

Four (CH)Oscar-worthy films

I love love love the beginning of each year. It is the perfect time, when it is all cold and rainy outside, to wrap up warm and head into the cinema. Not only is it super cosy but it is also Oscar season and all the best films seem to come out as the new year dawns. Once all the Christmas movies are out of the way, of course.

And so far this year, there have been some great ones which I believe might be in the running for an Oscar and are definitely in for a (CH)Oscar (yes that does stand for a Charlotte Oscar. This is going to be a new thing).

So first up...biopics have been pretty great. At the end of last year we had The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, which was about the life of Alan Turing. And then on New Year's Day we had The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, which was all about Stephen Hawking. I always admire anyone taking on the immense responsibility of being involved with a biopic. Whether that's the actors, or behind-the-scenes production staff or the scriptwriters, because they all have to work that much harder to ensure the movie is a success. This is especially the case if the characters involved are still alive, as Stephen Hawking and his family are. You are not at liberty to play a character as you want because they are not a character at all. They are real people, who will at some point be watching the movie. And if you make a mess of it...well, I couldn't even imagine the embarrassment that would ensue.

Needless to say, with biopics they bring in the best actors and they just work a lot harder to add a little bit of class to the productions. The people they are depicting, have led extraordinary lives. Where they have achieved some extraordinary things. So it is only fair that the team give a suitable amount of effort which these wonderful people deserve. The film celebrates those achievements that many people may be slightly uneducated about. I knew very little about Hawking, and nothing about Turing before watching the films. Yet I came away emotionally invested in their stories, of love and loss and slightly more knowledgeable about their wonderful work which has shaped our lives today. It is important that people do learn about them, and where better to do that than in a cinema?

The finished products, in both cases, were absolutely beautiful. Both were touching and had funny moments. They were interesting stories looking into their friendships, work and general well-being on top of the Hollywood-esque love stories that seem to be an absolute MUST. Yet these were slotted in seamlessly and fit within the whole arc of the story, so you didn't mind so much. Each movie had me in tears by the end, and both are two of my favourite films.

Next up is Into the Woods, starring well...everybody. I loved the fact that there was a mixture of British and American actors who all fit their part wonderfully well. The casting was just so brilliant. And all had their moment to shine. Some people may be wary that Disney have taken hold of a very popular musical. But they did not destroy was excellent. I loved the songs, the acting was pretty spot on, the film was fairly faithful and Sondheim was heavily involved throughout (even writing a new song for it).

The final film is another music-y one - Whiplash. This tells the story of a 19 year old drummer who is in college and striving to be the best at any cost, pushing away friends and family in the process. He is aided and bullied by his teacher and this relationship alone is what makes the film so so enthralling. It raises such interesting questions as to what's important in life and how far you are willing to go to achieve your dreams. And what you are willing to sacrifice. Throughout the whole movie there is a really interesting power struggle between the talented youngster who is trying to be the greatest, and the talented teacher who is trying to discover a great. The acting is truly superb. Miles Teller (of Divergent and Footloose fame) is definitely one to watch. And I have to admit that I definitely did not expect to enjoy this film so so much. It had me enthralled from beginning to end, I even held my breath at points. Plus, it has now made me absolutely desperate to go and see some jazz - where you can find some of the most emotive music ever written.

So there you have it, my favourite films of 2015 so far. And we are only three weeks in. I am so excited for many more: Insurgent, Cinderella, Mockingjay Part 2 and Me Before You to name a few. I think I will spend my life in those dark rooms. But what better way could I spend my time?

Movies, especially great movies like the four I mentioned above, have a way of inspiring me. I come out of the cinema, feeling that I can take on the world and win. Feeling that I can do anything I want. Feeling that I can write beautiful, emotion-filled stories that people will care about for years to come. And most of all, feeling that I too could be an all-singing, all dancing, drum playing, machine-building theorist. If I wanted to be that is.

(movie posters courtesy of IMDB)

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Friday, 16 January 2015

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour - 11th January 2015

'It can be argued that Jack the Ripper was a social reformer.'

I didn't know all that much about Jack the Ripper, but this was definitely not what I was expecting to hear when I embarked on my first ever walking tour of London. It (or rather He - my lovely tour guide, Richard)  took me around the back streets of the East End, pointing out various unassumingly ordinary locations where the murders happened in the 1880s. And he clearly relished telling the stories in grisly detail, making the more squeamish of us (me included) make faces in horror. These murders were horrendously grim and I now know why he was nicknamed Jack the Ripper (I know - slightly obvious, but as I said, I know literally nothing about him).

Richard, the tour guide was informative and charismatic as he led us on the 1.5 hour tour. He told the stories of each murder with well practiced and eloquent skill, and the amount of detail he knew was amazing. He is a self proclaimed fanatic and has apparently been pretty obsessed about Jack the Ripper since the age of 12. Which really does show in his tour. He is so passionate and knowledgeable which makes the tour all the more entertaining. And the 1 and a half hours whizzes by as you are so keen to learn about all the victims.

He is aided by what he calls RipperVision, and his is the only tour which has this additional element within his tour. It is basically a little projector which he then uses to show us images from the time. He project these on to walls, sides of vans, anywhere that has a flat clear surface so we can compare the modern London to the Victorian London where Jack the Ripper caused havoc. This additional and unique element is fantastic as it really does bring the events that Richard talks about, to life. We are able to see the old versions of the street we are standing in, right before our eyes which I think is very important for the events to be seen as history rather than myth. So it was a nice touch.

The £10 fee for this tour is more than worth it. It's entertainingly spooky, very informative and can easily be booked online here Just a couple of tips for when you do go on the tour - firstly wear layers. I can not stress this enough. It is the middle of winter, it is dark and you are outside for the entirety of the tour. I completely underdressed, as usual and was absolutely freezing. Secondly - bring an umbrella. You know what the British weather is like, rain can strike at any minute. And it did for us. Despite this though, you are guaranteed a fantastic time. I certainly had more fun than I was expecting and it really is a great way to learn a little more about the history of the city that we think we know so well.

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