Wednesday, 27 June 2012

‘A Virtual Toast’

I’m thrilled to be one of the guest bloggers at the 19th Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. I’m especially honoured as, despite being from West Yorkshire, I’m not a ‘Hebdonian’ and so probably considered something of an ‘outsider’. I’ve noticed there are many talented acts this year both from inside and outside of the region. This year, I’m going to be concentrating on the ‘outsiders’. I’m writing this while on a short family holiday to Wales. We drove through hours of driving rain and appalling traffic to an area of Wales which had recently suffered from flash floods. Fortunately the area has since recovered. But when we arrived, we were shocked to hear how badly Hebden Bridge had been hit. I felt awful - for the people, their homes and their businesses, and most of all hoped the damage had been limited. My next thought was: what about the festival? I realised that many volunteers had worked extremely hard to make the festival happen, putting in their time and effort throughout the year. I wondered whether it would still go ahead, or was the damage just too great to repair in such a short time? After reading a series of reports, I was happy to learn how the people rallied round and were working hard to repair the damage. In fact every report contained a similar message, namely, how strong the sense of community was in Hebden Bridge and its surroundings. And it is clearly this prevailing community spirit that makes fantastic events such as the Arts Festival possible. As for the festival itself, I’m very much looking forward to the spoken word and music events this year. As an aspiring writer, I’ll be trying to attend as many as I can, especially the events featuring novelists, including the ‘New Blood’ talk, featuring five newly-published authors. As a seasoned festival/gig goer I’m looking forward to seeing several talented female singer/songwriters, including the world-famous Becky Unthank. I’m also excited about seeing the street theatre and visiting the open gardens with my young family. And so, before the fun begins, I’d like to raise a (virtual) toast to the community spirit of Hebden Bridge and wish them all a highly successful festival this year!

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Rip-roaring Regency Rom-com!

After our evening picnic, Mum and I settled down in our camping chairs and huddled under our many layers to watch an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice by The Chapterhouse Theatre Company. As we waited, we wondered not only whether the set would survive the gale, but also if such a lengthy, complex and character-rich story could work as a two-hour play with just eight actors.

Before I go any further, I’d better admit that I’m an Austen anorak, and so I’m hard to please when it comes to any Austen adaptations. For me, Jane Austen’s eye for detail and observational humour is hard to beat; but would this play deliver the goods? I needn't have worried. Laura Turner’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice brought Austen’s penchant for the ridiculous to the fore. And then cranked it up a level.

I laughed long and loud at the hilarious performances delivered by the supporting cast, in particular by Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennett. Liam Webster’s hilarious portrayal of Mr. Collins was a delight to behold. The talented Mr Webster also put in convincing performances as the infamous Mr. Wickham, Sir William Lucas and a highly entertaining footman. Helen Fullerton’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennett was equally side-splitting as she bustled around the stage shrieking “Mr Bennet!” and fussing over her four (yes four - no Kitty in this version!) daughters. The multi-talented Ms. Fullerton also played the roles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Gardiner. Grace Scott’s excellent portrayals of Lydia Bennett and Caroline Bingley were equally convincing as both the bitchy Caroline and the frivolous Lydia.

Most faithful to Austen’s original characters were Mr Bingley / Mr. Gardiner played by James Beedham (who also played Col. Fitzwilliam’s servant), and Jane Bennett / Georgiana Darcy, played by Clara Edmunds (who also played Miss de Bourgh). I was charmed by both performers. I felt that Elizabeth Bennett, played by Samantha Hopkins, was a little forceful in her delivery at times, although she shone in later scenes, especially during her angry refusal of Darcy’s first proposal and her feisty response to the fury of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Adam Grayson was suitably moody and distant as Darcy and perfectly sardonic as Mr. Bennet.

My only real criticism was that the story was a little condensed, but that is probably because the original story unfolds quite slowly. That said, most of the details were faithfully reproduced, with only the odd change. For example, in the play Mr Darcy reveals Wickham’s true character during his first proposal speech to Elizabeth. (In the original, Darcy supplies this information to her via a letter). I acknowledge that it would've taken too long for the characters to sit and read a letter every five minutes, so the information had to be included in direct speech.

The stage and props were minimal but used to maximum effect. I was impressed by how well the actors managed to use a couple of chairs, boxes, the odd picture and a desk to evoke the grandeur of grand estates like Pemberley and Netherfield. The musical accompaniment was also simple yet effective, with various members of the cast playing woodwind and brass solos to accompany a change of scene or a dance. All in all, Mum and I really enjoyed the performance – it was brilliantly acted and well-scripted. And no, the wind did not flatten the set, much (I’m sure) to the cast’s relief!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Oh Mr Darcy!

I'm looking forward to spending my evening in the company of Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Well, almost! In truth, I'm attending an open air performance of Pride & Prejudice at Oakwell Hall, performed by the Chapterhouse Theatre Company. No matter how many times I read the book or watch my favourite adaptation (the classic BBC version from 1995 - Keira Knightley? Pah!) it takes me through the full spectrum of human emotion and I rejoice at the outcome every time. I'm really hoping that the two main characters are all that I want them to be, as well as Lizzy's family, the Bingleys and the infamous Mr. Wickham. I also hope that the weather holds, or it will put a serious dampener on the proceedings! It's a shame the weather is so inclement, but I believe that the smouldering Mr. Darcy is worth braving the elements for, don't you ladies? ;)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The End!

'The End' - I have been longing to write those two little words for two-and-a-half years, since I began the first draft of my children's novel. I began it while I was expecting my daughter, followed by a 'break' to focus on motherhood and several other life events that collided with it. At Easter 2011, to get myself kick started, I joined my local writers' group, which did the trick. Over the last year and a quarter I have drafted 44 chapters to add to the original 10, bringing the total wordcount to over 80K. And on the stroke of midnight between 9th and 10th June, I finally got there. To say I feel elated doesn't even cover it. After seeing my email with the final chapters attached, my husband called me from his night out to join me in my 'celebration'. There may not be any party, or even any champagne, but I feel fantastic - it's as if my whole self is smiling! I know that the hard part is yet to come, but for now I'm going to sit back and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling I've achieved without even a single drop of vino! :)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Jubilee madness

The Brits are a funny lot. Most of the time we sit and grumble about how rubbish everything is: the weather, (all) politicians, the state of the roads, you get the idea. And yet the last few days have been what I can only describe as an 'explosion' of patriotism, the extent of which I can't recall seeing before. There was a fair bit of interest around last year's royal wedding, with reasonable numbers of flag wavers, but it was nothing compared to the activity of the past few days. I'm not a revolutionary, nor am I a monarchist, so without particularly strong views either way I've watched it unfold as a casual observer, and found the whole thing utterly fascinating. I was invited round to my neighbour's garden party yesterday, the whole of which was decked out in a riot of red, white and blue with Land of Hope and Glory belting out of the stereo while the guests toasted Queen and country. I managed to dodge the toasts as I was dodging in and out to collect a shopping delivery! So, I was watching from a safe distance as my neighbour nearly set half the garden ablaze with the largest Chinese lantern I've ever seen. It fell back to earth several times, nearly setting fire to a giant parasol and a string of bunting before flying off on its merry way. The day before, my plans had fallen through and I found myself watching the Thames River pageant. I will admit it was a spectacle once all the boats were on the river, but after a while, it got a teeny bit boring - the commentators were clearly running out of things to say - not meaning to be cruel, but my husband and I were half-wishing for the bridge to get stuck (or something equally amusing) to liven it up a bit. Of course it didn't and everything went swimmingly (please excuse the pun!) It will be interesting to see if the Brits continue to fly the flag for Team GB throughout the summer. I suspect it will depend mainly on our athletes delivering the goods. No pressure then!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

And now, the end is near...

No, it's nothing fatal! Both my current freelance contract and the first draft of my children's novel are nearing completion. Part of me feels a little sad about reaching the end of my freelance project, as I've really enjoyed working on it and with the people I've met along the way. I have a strange, almost nomadic existence, as I get to know people in a fairly intimate way in a short space of time, but am obliged to leave quite suddenly once the interview or working partnership has ended. That said, I get great satisfaction out of seeing the end result once it's published. ("And every stop I make, I make a new friend" - apologies for the obscure reference, but anyone old enough to remember The Littlest Hobo will know what I'm 'barking on' about!) As far as the children's novel goes, I'm starting to feel excited at the prospect of having almost completed a first draft! I've written over 52 chapters, equating to roughly 78,000 words - I never knew I had it in me! Of course it will end up an awful lot shorter than that, and I'm half-dreading having to 'murder my darlings' as the expression goes, but I'm sure it will be worth it once it's finished. And with this lovely, long bank holiday weekend stretching out before me like a long stretchy thing, I've really got no excuse to not finish it, have I?