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Thursday, 14 February 2019

The American Clock at The Old Vic | Review

These tickets were kindly gifted to me by The Old Vic, however I am under no obligation to review the show or discuss it.

I think it's clear from looking at my blog and social media that I'm more of a musicals person when it comes to theatre but my wonderful experience of seeing A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic last month had me intrigued as to whether I would enjoy plays more than I had imagined I would. So, when the theatre kindly invited me back recently to see their latest production, The American Clock, I couldn't say yes fast enough, especially once I'd done a little reading and found out it centres around the great depression, something that fascinated me during history lessons at school.


'For them the clock would never strike midnight, the dance and the music could never stop...'

The American Clock turns, fortunes are made and lives are broken. In New York City in 1929, the stock market crashed and everything changed.

In an American society governed by race and class, we meet the Baum family as they navigate the aftermath of an unprecedented financial crisis. The world pulses with a soundtrack fusing 1920s swing and jazz with a fiercely contemporary sound, creating a backdrop that spans a vast horizon from choking high rises to rural heartlands. 

Visionary director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Hadestown) presents Arthur Miller's ground-breaking play about hope, idealism and a nation's unwavering faith in capitalism. - The Old Vic 


I have to applaud the triple casting of the family that this play centres around, the Baum family made up of Rose, Moe and Lee. It was a clever way of adding something extra to what is a fairly lengthy show, with a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was particularly impressed by Clarke Peters performance, he had the audience glued to him whenever he spoke. It was Francesca Mills who has stuck in my mind though, her performance in all 8 roles she played within the show truly blew me away as she demonstrated how versatile an actress she is, each character was distinguishable from the previous. As it was with A Christmas Carol it meant a great deal to see a disabled actor on stage, I truly applaud The Old Vic who seem to be far more committed to diversity on stage than most theatres.

As for the set, the revolve truly stole the show. It's been a year since I last saw Les Mis and appreciated the beauty of a revolve so it was a treat to see it being used so creatively within this production, and so smoothly too. There wasn't any sign of a wobble as they danced on the revolve as it spun around, mimicking a clock.


I'm not sure whether this is down to me favouring musicals or an issue with the play itself but I really struggled with concentration throughout, it felt a little never ending at times. 2 hours 45 minutes is a long running time, even for some musicals, so I was predicting that I'd perhaps struggle with the length and it was definitely a problem. I felt as though there was a lot of script that could have been cut, there were long scenes that seemed to serve no purpose and led to nowhere. Whilst I appreciated how much I learnt about this era I was hoping for a little more of a structured plot, it began to feel like just a history lesson at times.

This is such an important piece of history though, something that should never be forgotten and therefore it belongs on stage. If you have an interest in the era and can handle a lengthy piece of theatre, then this might be the show for you. Unfortunately I just struggled to grasp what others have seen in the show, but I was truly blown away by the quality of acting within it. 


The access at The Old Vic is largely the same since I last visited. I was in the same wheelchair space (N6) with a brilliant, up close and clear view of the stage. The work to improve the access at the theatre, as well as increasing the number of ladies toilets, has well and truly begun and many parts of the theatre are currently shut off. Access for wheelchair users has not changed though, it is the experience of everyone else that is a little different whilst the work is taking place. There are temporary toilets just outside the theatre and the bar has been moved into the auditorium, everything has been so well organised and you'd never know the extent of the work going on behind the scenes. I really applaud how well The Old Vic are handling the situation. 


The American Clock is playing at The Old Vic until March 30th. Find out more about the audio described and captioned performances on their dedicated access page.
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Monday, 4 February 2019

Grindr The Opera at Above The Stag | Review

Bringing technology to life in human form is not a totally new concept but bringing to life the app Grindr in the form of an opera is certainly something entirely new and not to be missed. This genius concept is the brainchild of Erik Ransom, the show explores the different relationships that gay men have with the app and also looks into topics like sexual health. Grindr The Opera is mostly about exactly what you'd assume it is, but with some sweet moments and clever entanglement of each characters stories.


Christian Lunn was nothing less than memorising in the role of Grindr, he transformed what is a very small theatre into something that felt more like an 1,000 seat theatre as he took to the stage in heels and the most incredible costume, they got Grindr's look spot on that's for sure. The only way that I could describe his voice is that it is out of this world, I've never heard anything like it and I don't believe I ever will again. Tom Blackmore and Tom Mann backed him up as Occulto and Dilectus, always hovering in the background and scheming, I implore you to keep one eye on them as their reactions to the main action happening on stage are sensational.


We're introduced to each character and what they are looking to get out of Grindr, before they are joined together throughout the show. Tom and Devon, played by Ryan Anderson and David Malcom, go from having a no strings attached encounter to having quite a sweet relationship, the tone of which is set by a gorgeous song 'You Can Leave'. Having seen Ryan in Bat Out Of Hell previously I was over the moon to see him in Grindr, where he is given far more opportunity to show off just how incredible his voice is, it is the role a voice like his deserves.


William Spencer and Dereck Walker make up the rest of the cast as Jack and Don, two very different characters who play an important role in Tom and Devon's stories. Whilst their stories might feel secondary I think Don in particular is a much needed character, we almost assume that since it's 2019 everyone is out and proud but Don is a representation of a man who grew up in different times and has been left with damaging opinions because of that. His duet with David Malcom was particularly powerful and I was left impressed by the way both of them acted the song. William Spencer is not to be forgotten, he made me laugh so much with 'Cum Dumpster', a song that really left no room for questions about the theme of this show.


At the end of Act 1 I did feel as though I wasn't sure where the show could on from there, I began to question if the show even had an interval as it felt like a natural stopping point but the connection of all the stories in Act 2 did prove it's importance for me. My only other criticism is the lack of diversity on stage, something that was briefly nodded to within the show itself as racism, transphobia and more are still issues on Grindr and within the LGBT+ community.

Grindr gets 4 stars from me for a fun and surprisingly sweet show, a genius concept and the most engaging and talented cast.


As for the access, Above The Stag (the UK's only full time professional LGBT+ theatre), was my favourite kind of accessible theatre, the kind that doesn't separate me from my friends. The bar and both theatres within the venue are completely accessible, with the wheelchair space in the main theatre being on the second row with an unrestricted view and if you're a wheelchair user like me you'll know how much of a rarity it is to sit so close to a stage with a clear view. The accessible toilet is plenty spacious enough and the staff were all really helpful, with one of them greeting me to explain where the wheelchair space was. LGBT+ spaces can so often be inaccessible for disabled people so to come across a completely accessible and LGBT+ theatre is a game changer and I'll be sure to keep an eye on their upcoming shows for a return trip. 

Grindr: The Opera is currently playing until February 23rd at the Above The Stag theatre in Vauxhall, book your tickets here.
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Friday, 1 February 2019

Powerchair Update | 1 Year On

Back at the beginning of my fundraising journey it seemed impossible to even imagine having had my new powerchair for a whole year, it all seemed so far away. One year on and it still hasn't quite sunk in that we raised £11,500 in just over 3 months. My life is unrecognisable compared to a year ago, I'm doing things that felt impossible, seeing shows every month, spending more time with friends and family and just doing more of the things I love. Life changing has always been an understatement when it comes to talking about the impact that your generosity has had on my life.

Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

This post is going to be a little bit of a long one because there is so much from this past year I want to talk about but first, let's go over everything I've been up to over these past 3 months!

It will come as no surprise that seeing shows, mainly musicals, has been the thing I've done the most over these past few months. My favourite show came to an end, I went on a quick trip to Manchester for a double show day and I went to a few cabaret/concert stagey evenings!

My whirlwind 6 month journey with Bat Out Of Hell The Musical came to an end on January 5th. It was a bittersweet day as the show has gotten me through one of the toughest experiences of my life and it became my happy place so I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye. However, closing day was also one of the best days of my life as I spent it with the people I love, friends I've made through the show, cast who have brought so much joy into my life and I smiled that night so much that it was difficult to be sad in the end (I absolutely cried like a baby throughout the last 2 shows though).


I also went on a quick overnight trip to Salford to do a double show day seeing Doctor Dolittle and Six! It was fate when I saw that Six was on at the same time as Doctor Dolittle when I was trying to find somewhere to see the now sadly closed show. I'd heard so many good things about The Lowry and it's accessibility and I was truly blown away, I was about 10m away from the stage at Doctor Dolittle, the closest I'd ever been to a stage and I honestly could have cried. I then saw the incredible Queens of Six in the evening, a show I've been in love with since the Queens performed at West End Live last year. It was incredible to see them on tour and to be able to see the encore (once everyone stands up at it's London home, the Arts Theatre, I can't see a thing even using my iLevel), which also meant I could finally take some photos of them doing their thing! It was the best evening and well worth the trip. I'm looking forward to many more Six trips and double shows day this year!


I also saw Heathers for a second time and I definitely enjoyed it more but it still wasn't for me and that's okay! Mum and I finally saw Kinky Boots just weeks before it closed in the West End and we were so happy that we did, it was such a feel good show and it feels like a real loss to lose it from the West End but thankfully you can still it during it's UK tour and I cannot recommend it enough.


I managed to squeeze in a Christmas themed theatre trip too, The Old Vic kindly gifted me tickets to see A Christmas Carol and talk about the access improvements they are making in the theatre this year, it was also my first visit to The Old Vic. As you'll know if you read my review of the show, I was truly blown away by this production. It brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my face, the parachuting brussel sprouts still stand out as a highlight for me. I also saw the Book Of Mormon for the first time recently, I booked it for the week after Bat closing which was a wise move as it was the lighthearted show I needed to pick me up! I laughed until I cried and ended up taking off my glasses in the end as they were on and off every minute to wipe away my tears of laughter. I'll definitely be heading back there whenever I need a laugh! I also revisited Everybody's Talking About Jamie last week for the second time for cast change, one more chance to see some of the fabulous original London cast. I went with Perry, someone you'll be familiar with from our Bat Out Of Hell video, and we of course filmed another video together about access at the Apollo Theatre. We had a lot of fun as per usual and you can expect many more Accessibility In Theatres videos from us this year!


I also went to 3 stagey cabaret/concert evenings, the first being the West End Live Lounge at The Other Palace which feels like ages ago now! We went along to support 4 cast members from Bat Out Of Hell and were treated to an evening of the most stunning music from performers from a huge variety of shows. It was such a lovely evening made even better by how accessible The Other Palace is, I didn't miss out on anything and that always makes for an enjoyable night!

No surprise but the second stagey evening was also supporting Bat cast members, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, in launching their album, Vision Of You. They performed a few songs at The Theatre Cafe, somewhere that was finally made wheelchair accessible a few months back, and it was a lot of fun followed by celebrating a friends birthday and my first Friday night at Bat, a day to remember for a while!


The final one was Guys Sing Dolls at The Space West End which is within Studio 88 just off Leicester Square, another beautifully accessible venue! Myself and some of the friends I've made through Bat went along to support Ryan Anderson, previous Bat cast member who is now starring in Grindr: The Opera. The evenings theme was leading ladies songs, the twist being that all 3 performers were men! It put such a different spin on the songs and we laughed so much that night, whilst enjoying some sensational performances. That's another venue I'll be sure to return to.


Now, moving on from theatre (I promise, I do other things!), in November I headed to Manchester with Quantum to attend Kidz to Adultz North, an event put on for companies from the disability industry to exhibit their products. I went along to be on Quantum's stand to basically talk about how much I love my chair all day, and I do love talking about my chair so it was a lot of fun. I know I'd have valued speaking to an actual user of the powerchair when I was choosing mine so I hope those I spoke to did as well. I also got to see a lot of friends and I'm looking forward to doing it all over again at Naidex in March!


I also took part in an exciting photoshoot for a feature in the Evening Standard all about how technology has changed people's lives. I'm a big advocate for technology and social media and how much of a lifesaver it is for disabled people so I couldn't say yes fast enough. I absolutely did not feel cool enough to be involved when I arrived at the photoshoot but the end result was the most badass photo of people who have changed their lives with technology. It was so empowering to be in a room full of people doing so much good!


One of the first big things I booked when I got my new powerchair was to see Christine & The Queens perform in Birmingham and it came around so quickly! It was my first concert with my new powerchair and it was so much fun. It was several hours before they came on stage though so my tilt and recline functions definitely helped and it was something I never would have been able to do in my old powerchair.


If you read my 2018 round up post then you'll already have a good idea of just how much I've crammed into this past year. When my powerchair was delivered a year ago I joked about how I was going to catch up on the years of missed life and experiences, not expecting that I would actually deliver on that statement. At first I didn't know quite what to do with my new freedom, I went into the city centre a lot and accepted more media invitations like going on the Channel 5 news but it took me a while to realise that so much more of life was open to me, I guess I just didn't know where to start! After being stuck at home so much for years it was exciting but also terrifying.

My first theatre trip with my powerchair was a big deal and an emotional day, I took my Mum to see Les Mis for the first time. She'd wanted to go for basically all of my life and I'd almost given up on the hope that I would get to take her one day, so when we raised the funds needed for my powerchair I said 'what the hell' and booked Les Mis for February 2018. My Mum cried from start to finish and I will truly never forget that day because not only did your generosity allow me to experience all these things, but it allowed me to experience them with the people I love. That of course was the start of a slippery slope as I saw 10 shows a total of 41 times throughout this past year and have even started reviewing shows and the theatres access on my blog. And yes, I absolutely am aiming to beat that number in 2019, challenge accepted.


I've also found myself taking part in several different photoshoots throughout the past year including my one with Kaye from Fordtography within the first few weeks of having my powerchair and my Behind The Scars photoshoot with Sophie Mayanne. I've grown in confidence so much thanks to my powerchair and I'm saying yes to things that I wouldn't have even considered with my old wheelchairs. Having a chair that fits me, that works for my life, that actually looks nice has made me feel the most me I ever have.

I've also been able to see friends that for so long have only been faces I know online, I was able to attend the launch of the Shaw Trust Disability 100 Power List that I was included in, I went to West End Live and London Pride for the first time and I went on my first night out at 21 years old. I've been in London just about every week over these past few months and that's something I never thought would be possible, I've lived a 20 minute train journey away from central London all my life and yet the prospect of going there terrified me but now, it's like popping into town. One of the biggest things is I was also able to build a relationship with the company who make my powerchair, Quantum, they've been such a huge support and have welcomed me with open arms.


Sure, £11,500 is a lot of money but reading back my update posts has shown me that you could never put a price on the impact that my powerchair has had on my life. I feel like I've really blossomed over this past year and so many more doors seem open to me now, I'm even going back to education in just a few days, something I truly thought was impossible. I don't exaggerate when I say that I feel like a completely different person, a better person. I went into 2018 believing it would be the worst year of my life after a lot went wrong in my personal life but getting my powerchair turned things around, it came about at exactly the right time.

All that's left to say really is thank you, whether you donated or just shared a post it all helped me get to this point. I hope that these updates have shown people how much just £5 or a retweet can help someone. I might have started the fundraiser but it was all of you that made this happen and I will be forever grateful.
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