Tag Archives: Leeds

Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby at Leeds Grand Theatre

NorthernBalletGatsby

Gatsby has never been a character I especially get on with: I find him weak, dull and obscure. I know F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a classic and a favourite book for many, but the great unrequited love and the life spent trying to get closer to a lost woman doesn’t really do much for an unromantic pragmatist like me.

What the book does well though, is paint a teasing picture of the twenties, hinting at silks and pearls and champagne and swimming pools and mansions, leaving me lost in reveries of fabulous parties and all night dancing. I hoped that this Northern Ballet production of Gatsby would help to recreate that feeling and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The costumes in particular are gorgeous. Gatsby sports an impeccably tailored cream suit that looks closely fitted but allows for an astonishing range of movement, while Daisy graces the stage in a series of fantastic beaded, floaty or feathered drop-waisted dresses. The party scenes are all I could ever dream of: raucous, riotous, crowded, sexy and fun.

Gatsby isn’t the most simple of stories to tell and I was unsurprised to hear a few people around us googling the storyline in the interval. Despite being fairly familiar with the book I struggled a little, and thought it could have done with pruning down a little to keep the key themes cleaner and clearer. Still, the reunion of Gatsby and Daisy is beautifully done and leads to two incredible duets. Tobias Batley as Gatsby is good (although perhaps lacking a little vulnerability), but Martha Leebolt as Daisy is mesmerising. She plays the rebellious socialite perfectly, and the control she has over her body is astonishing to a ballet newbie like myself. I didn’t appreciate it at first, but when I saw her skid across the stage then stop abruptly en pointe, calf muscles taut and body erect, my jaw almost hit the floor. I can’t even imagine the physical condition she has to maintain to pull off moves like that! Other highlights were the burly Kenneth Tindall as jocular Tom, and Benjamin Mitchell as the spurned George Wilson, who pulls off some impressive moves with a car tyre (it’s ballet folks, but not as we know it).

You’ve only got a few more days to go see this, but I’d highly recommend it. Make sure you have at least a passing familiarity with the story before you go, to make sure you enjoy it as much as possible.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Now that I have to work in the evenings, I’m seeing a lot less theatre than I used to. I’ve spent a lot of time moaning about it, but not that much time actually finding ways around it, until last week when I plucked up the courage to attend a weekday matinee alone – and I couldn’t have picked a better show with which to start this tradition.

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It was an afternoon of firsts, actually: my first time seeing a matinee, my first time attending alone, my first time seeing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and my first time sitting on the front row at the theatre. It was also the first time I literally gasped as I walked in to the theatre, taking in the lavish set designed by Francis O’Connor. It seemed to pulse with potential – something was about to happen here. It’s a great testament to the skill of the cast that they managed to outshine that gorgeous stage. (My photo, taken hurriedly with an iPhone, does not do it justice in the slightest.) 

The play opens with Brick and Maggie, who are at Brick’s family’s plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The second Maggie (Zoe Boyle) appeared on stage, I judged her in a kind of bored way. Ah, I thought, you’re the spoiled, vain girl with a lesson to learn. But as she sparred with the unresponsive, emotionally absent Brick, her façade crumbled and I started to see the desperate, ruthless and vulnerable person beneath. She certainly captured my attention where other characters failed. Meanwhile Jamie Parker’s Brick was a very powerful kind of negative presence, a black hole on the stage sucking in energy and emotion and giving nothing back. Their arguments – primarily Maggie monologue – were so real I found myself cringing back in my seat from the anger and heat.

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As the night continues, we learn that it’s not only Brick and Maggie dealing in lies and subterfuge. Big Daddy, the smart but cruel and misogynistic patriarch of the family, believes he has received a clean bill of health, while his two sons know he has less than a year to live. Brick’s brother Gooper claims to want to help his father, but secretly has his eye on the plantation. As the pretence of a good natured family birthday party crumbles, both careful lies and careless truths come pouring out. The result is intense, gripping and richly rewarding. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this play since I saw it! (It’s also been pretty tricky to shake the Deep South-style accent, which added an extra layer of claustrophobic tension on stage but just sounds ridiculous in Boots.)

 

I can’t help but recommend this beautiful production by Sarah Esdaile. It’s only on until Saturday 27th, so you don’t have much time! Book your tickets here, now – even if you have to go alone on a Thursday afternoon, you’ll be glad you did once you emerge, blinking from the theatre.

 

The Guardian are running a little project about theatre criticism alongside this production. You can read more about it here and if you’ve seen the play, tweet your thoughts and read other people’s reviews using the #catreview hashtag. You can also let me know what you thought about the production below – I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

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World Book Night 2012 in Leeds

It’s here again! Tomorrow is World Book Night 2012, when tens of thousands of givers across the country will distribute half a million free books among their local communities. Come Wednesday I’ll be at a local Girl Guide group telling them why I love I Capture the Castle; meanwhile on Monday night tons of other book lovers are organising fab events throughout our fair city.

World Book Night at The White Swan, Leeds

In the city centre we have an event from @LeedsBookClub and the one and only @Gazpachodragon. As you can see from the poster above, it’s at The White Swan (awesome ale alert) and starts at 7pm. Prepare yourself for endless literary fun and grab yourself a free book to see what all the fuss is about! Plus, I heard there would be cake…

Up in Headingley @BookElfLeeds is looking to repeat last year’s success at Arcadia Bar. Again, there will be free books, plus the incredible Travelling Suitcase Library and a buffet. The word on the street is that cheese on a stick will feature heavily, which is good enough for me. Again, it starts at 7pm and full details are here.

If you’re already a total bookworm, then popular book blog For Books’ Sake are holding an event at Café 164. You can swap books from 2pm and from 6pm is a literary quiz. With prizes! Book your team’s place by tweeting @cafe164. More info here.

Finally, the gang at @WaterstoneLeeds are celebrating in style! They’ll be open til 8pm and offering 10% off all full priced books between 6pm and 8pm. They also have a quiz, plus an open mic for random reads – grab your favourite book passage or poem and share it with everyone. Again there’ll be free WBN books, wine, nibbles and activities for kids.

That’s a ton of World Book Night fun in Leeds tomorrow! Unfortunately I think anyone would struggle to get them all in but I’m sure there’s scope for a bit of party hopping. Have fun deciding, and, most importantly, get into the spirit of the night. Read the books, enjoy them, pass them on, and introduce someone to the joy of reading.

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We Are Poets at Leeds Town Hall

As many of you will know, the Leeds Young Person’s Film Festival has just begun we’re now well in the throes of the 13th Leeds Young Person’s Festival the 13th Leeds Young People’s Film Festival is now almost over (it took me a while to get round to writing this, okay?). It’s just one more of the many exciting events that our fair city bestows upon us each year. I’m a bit tardy in blogging this, but last Friday I went along to one of their first events, We Are Poets. It involved the screening of a documentary, hosted by the fabulous Benjamin Zephaniah, supporter of the documentary and poet extraordinaire, and followed by a Q&A session with some of the people covered in the documentary.

The film is about a group of teenagers who belong to Leeds Young Authors, a performance poetry group in Chapeltown. A group of these teenagers were chosen to go to Washington DC to compete in Brave New Voices, the world’s most prestigious slam poetry competition.

Benjamin Zephaniah gave some short opening remarks before the film which were beautiful, and which prepared us for the experience perfectly. I loved some of the things he said, and I desperately wish I knew shorthand so I could have got them down more accurately. Among other things he told us how great he thought it was not that these kids were getting familiar with the great poets of the past, but that they were learning to write their own poetry. And not just for the sake of it, not just for something to do on a Tuesday night, but because these teenagers have something deep and something important to say.

He said that despite today’s children being the Twitter generation, young people’s voices are not being heard. But no matter what technology is developed, no-one can stop us from returning to the first art form, the spoken word. This is so true and I hope it’s something that the young people ofLeedswill remember: that they do have important things to say, and no-one can ever stop them from saying them. This linked really nice with a scene in the documentary with another respected performance poet, Saul Williams. He reminded the young poets that although people will try to label their art as street poetry or slam poetry, what they are doing is poetry, pure and simple. They are performing their poems in front of people, just as the ancient poets did before the advent of literacy, and they shouldn’t feel that they are anything less than poets.

Zephaniah’s final words reminded us that the film itself was as much an art form as the poetry, and it was true that as we watched, it was obvious how much had gone into telling a beautiful, inspirational story. Not only did the film get across the incredible talent that each teenager has, it shows us each of their personalities, their political opinions, and most of all their journey as they go from writing poets with their mates in a conference room in Chapeltown to performing at Brave New Voices to standing on a stage in front of the White House.

I was pretty much blinking back tears the whole time I was watching this. Not only was the story of the Leeds Young Authors incredibly inspirational and moving, but there were gorgeous dashes of poignant humour, and a distinctly humbling reminder that our city is packed with wonderful people who give constantly of their time and talents to help our young people. As we watched the poets struggle with obstacles such as fund raising, nerves and censorship, there were always figures in the background urging them on; not telling them what to do, but telling them that whatever they chose to do, they would be supported.

As we flocked out of the cinema, there were collection buckets for donations to help this year’s team raise enough money to compete at Brave New Voices. I put everything I had in my purse in that bucket, and was thrilled to see £5, £10 and £20 notes being thrown in left right and centre. Leeds Young Authors, as far as I’m concerned, deserves every penny anyone throws at it. Arts and creativity may not matter to our government, but so many of us have seen the good things they can do within a community.

I honestly can’t recommend this film enough. Keep an eye out on the website for future screenings, or alternatively you can pre-order the DVD on Amazon now.

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Leeds Pub Quizzes: Dock Street Market

When: Mondays at 8pm

Where: Dock Street Market, Dock St, Leeds

The cost of a round: Bizarrely, licensing problems meant there was no alcohol on sale that night, so alcoholic drinks were purchased from the off licence. Soft drinks are £1.50 but the most popular menu items are the teapot cocktails, which range from £12 to £16.50.

The quality of the crisps: Kettle Chips, usually a very respectable choice but they’d sold out of salt and vinegar which was very disappointing.

The cost to enter: It’s free!

The questions: Eight or nine rounds of six questions with standard subjects such as sport, general knowledge, geography and literature. Musical intros are NOT my strong point, but luckily my friends are slightly cooler than I am so all was not lost. The questions started easy in each round and got significantly more difficult; a nice balance, I thought. They did tend towards the kind of question where you either know it or you don’t, rather than the type where you can make an educated guess or where you’re racking your brains for half an hour because you know that you know it. I don’t know which is more frustrating, though!

The experience: This was different to your average pub quiz because Dock St Market isn’t a pub, really; it’s more like a college café that happens to stay open at night and serve booze. It was quite chilled out with a friendly crowd, and it’s quite a small venue so it felt pretty cosy. It was a nice change of atmosphere, really. The drawback was the limited seating. We were lucky to get a table! But, you can’t penalise a place for being popular, so I’d just advise getting there early. The quizmaster spoke clearly, which is a huge plus for me, and it was all quite light hearted and laid back. The food is delicious; one of us who hadn’t eaten ordered a goat’s cheese salad which was just incredible. The game of bingo in the middle is inspired, and very rowdy, although I do apologise for the false alarm when I claimed I had a full house. I didn’t. With prizes for team names, the quiz, a bingo line and a full house, it’s fairly hard to go home empty handed, although we managed it.

The verdict: Overall I had a cracking night. Dock St Market has a great atmosphere and is really friendly and fun, and the bingo game added a nice twist to the evening. 4.5/5

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Mary Shelley at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Not only am I a bit of a bookworm, I’m quite stubbornly feminist, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go see Shared Experience’s new production, Mary Shelley, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The poster, featuring a dishevelled Kristin Atherton as Shelley staring insolently into the camera, sparked in me a curiosity about this woman, who at just 19, wrote a haunting, classic novel about man’s fascination with creating life.

From the very opening scenes, all eyes are on Atherton, who plays a vibrant, irrepressible Mary, full of dreams and aspirations, and nursing a fervent admiration for the mother she never knew. She’s energetic and wilful and smart, as one would expect the offspring of the feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical political philosopher William Gibson to be.

The setting is fairly domestic, to begin with: Mary, her half sister Fanny and her step sister Claire are reunited when Mary returns from a visit toScotland. The house is all abuzz with news of a visitor: the young, handsome, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who admires Godwin’s politics and wishes to help him out of his debts. Of course, we all know what happens next: Mary and Shelley fall in love, and despite Shelley’s wife and children, decide to go away to be together. When Godwin’s lack of support becomes clear, the pair are forced to run away in the dead of night, taking Claire with them.

It is in the crucial scene where Godwin tells Shelley that his running away with Mary is impossible, that we see his struggle. Years earlier he wrote freely about the affairs his wife (Mary’s mother) had, and then went on to encourage Mary to read all about them. Yet faced with this real, liberal daughter, a product of the upbringing he gave her, willing to run away with a married man, we see how much society has worn his ideals down. He is more sensitive to the pressures of society, and the realities of business than Mary ever will be. He shuts Mary out of his life, and refuses to have any more to do with her.

After this point, Mary seems to fade into the background a little. Perhaps because we never see her talking to anyone outside her family, she seems to lose some of her spark. Poverty and motherhood have matured and changed her. She becomes eclipsed by the other dramas happening around her, and we get caught up in the stories of Claire and Fanny. Claire is played marvellously by Shannon Tarbet – she’s flighty and bubbly and incredibly self-possessed, Meanwhile Flora Nicholson’s Fanny is perfectly kind, gentle and proper. Fanny is overshadowed by both her sisters, and as she becomes increasingly torn between the two halves of the family she almost becomes invisible. I felt for her the most. Her story is the least well known, but it’s the most relatable and the most human, and it’s so sad.

The set is limited but inventive. Shelves packed with books dominate the stage, and a long dining table at the front serves whichever purpose it is called upon for: it is at various times a bed, a boat, a desk or a gravestone. The oversized, eclectic furniture and the imposing bookcases give the whole stage a gothic feel that matches the story so well.

At just about three hours, this isn’t a short play, but it didn’t feel anything like that long. I was completely absorbed in the story and the characters all the way through, which is very rare for me. I never watch a film all the way through, and even at good plays I’m generally clock watching towards the end.

Not everything was perfect; there were moments that rang slightly false, and I would have liked to see a little more of Mary and Shelley falling in love, as it was all a bit sudden for my liking. Regardless, I’d give this a hearty five stars, and recommend it to anyone.

Mary Shelley is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in the Courtyard Theatre until 7th April 2012.

 

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Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

I think everyone who blogs knows that feeling you get when you’ve been at it a while: you can’t find anything good to blog about, you can’t find any time to write and you’re convinced it’s pointless because no-one’s reading it anyway. Well, the thing about blogging about cultural events in Leeds is that as soon as you sense that malaise creeping over you, you attend an event that leaves you chomping at the bit, desperate to get to a computer so you can tell the world how exciting it was. Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging, which I imagined would be a light hearted laugh at teenage girls, was actually one of the most exciting theatre events I’ve been to in a while.

As soon as we walked in, my husband rolled his eyes. You literally couldn’t move in the lobby for teenage girls in leggings with huge hair, squealing with excitement. As we filed in to the theatre, making a quick detour to check out Georgia’s bedroom which has been set up in the café seating area, the first thing we heard was Lady Gaga pounding from the speakers. Four girls in school uniform were bounding about on stage, then running through the audience handing out stickers. They grabbed groups of girls and dragged them down to the stage, to teach them the famous Viking Inferno dance routine (or something). It was impressive!

Once the show began it was a riot from start to finish! I expected to smile indulgently at childish humour and a bit of slapstick comedy, but this had all the genuine fun and wit and realism of the books it is based on. Every two minutes I found myself laughing hysterically, sometimes along with the rest of the audience, sometimes with just the ones who had spotted a cheeky piece of double entendre. (When Jasmine argues with her bird spotting boyfriend, Georgia says something like, You argued with Owl Boy? What happened? Did you forget to polish his beak? This was mainly met with blank stares, apart from about ten of us who laughed, and then laughed even more at how inappropriate we felt.)

Georgia and her friends are refreshing, normal, fun teenage girls. When the boys from the neighbouring school run their bikes into them and call them slags, only to be told it’s because the boys fancy them, they rightly laugh and proceed to completely ignore them. They hysterically navigate school lessons that are a minefield of double entendres. They have snogging on the brain – why doesn’t anyone want to snog me? Am I doing it right? They argue about boys, only to make up within about 5 minutes.

And oh, the boys. It was hard to tell who was the most popular: Robbie, who is lead singer of the Stiff Dylans, until he comes over all eco-warrior and moves toScotland, or his replacement, Massimo, the Italian Stallion with muscles like bricks and an accent that melts Georgia like a chocolate button dropped in a hot espresso. Whenever either of them appeared on stage the whole theatre erupted in screams – I’ve literally never seen a reaction like it in a theatre. It was pretty much as I imagine a One Direction concert to be – jumping and dancing and screaming. If I were to go again I think I’d brush up on my first aid as I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before a mass fainting episode.

Despite the theatre being declared a Tweet friendly zone, I didn’t see a lot of phone action going on. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the stage! I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see such huge numbers of teenagers excited and enthusiastic and passionate about live performance; I hope they hold on to the way Angus Thongs made them feel, and seek that out in future years. At times I thought Naomi Petersen overacted Georgia’s more dramatic lines, until we walked out for the interval and I saw two girls, probably both 15ish, talking at the tops of their voices, with eyes wide, and arms flailing everywhere: ‘Did you SEEEEE him! No WONDER she calls him the SEX god! He is SOOOOO FIT!!!’

I had an absolutely fantastic time and I’d go see it again in a second. I’d recommend it to anyone, old or young, as a rip-roaring evening with something for absolutely everyone. It’s on until March 3rd at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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