Friday, 13 July 2018

Bat Out Of Hell The Musical | Review

In the nearly 7 years that I've been writing this blog I seem to have done quite a good job of unintentionally hiding my love for musicals, my love for theatre. In fact, one of the first things I did when I got my new powerchair in February was go and see Les Mis for the second time, it was my first theatre trip in over 18 months and it was a long time coming. That trip played it's part in reigniting my love for musicals again, but it was West End Live last month that really kicked things off for me.

I was also reminded of how inaccessible theatre still is though, hoping to see Chicago but learning that I could miss up to half of the stage and finding that I couldn't even see Wicked due to the weight limit on their lift. Another problem that I have though is finding photos of what the restricted view from the wheelchair space in theatres will be, because nine times out of ten it is a restricted view and a photo can make the difference between me booking or not. So, combined with my passion for talking about musicals whenever I can, it seemed like the natural step to start reviewing both the actual shows I see and the access at the theatres, including photos of the view. I'm starting things off today with my review of Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell The Musical which I was fortunate enough to see at the Dominion Theatre on Wednesday afternoon.

"Winner of Best Musical at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2017, Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell has audiences 'taking to their feet for full-blown standing ovations' (The Mirror) night after night at London's Dominion Theatre. 

The romance of rock 'n' roll comes alive on stage as Strat, the forever young leader of rebellious gang 'The Lost', falls in love with Raven, the beautiful daughter of the tyrannical ruler of post-apocalyptic Obsidian. 

Bringing to live the legendary hits of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf this 'outrageous, nostalgic wild child of a rock 'n' roll musical' (The Times) is a fun, vibrant, boundary-pushing take on the traditional love story that can be enjoyed by all." 

BOOH (Bat Out Of Hell) was the first show that I booked after West End Live, whilst many of the shows that performed blew me away (and I have gone on to book several more) it was this one in particular that I found myself watching again and again on YouTube, I just couldn't get it out of my head. Considering the fact that Les Mis is my favourite musical, I was surprised to be so hooked by something so different. Their performance was loud and big with huge songs and eye-catching choreography. A small taste of just a few songs was more than enough to convince me that I had to go and see it in full. So, I was pretty over the moon to find out I could see it in just 3 weeks time (from the day I booked) and it would only cost me £15, and let me tell you, I got a lot for my money.

It's difficult to know where to start, just as it was difficult to know where to look at times during this jam-packed show. I was just half an hour in when I realised that this was a show that I'd need to see twice, to really absorb it all.

I want to get my negative point out the way first, it was something that I've read and heard about a lot so fully expected it. I don't know whether this prejudiced my view from the beginning but so many people have shared the same thought that I think a lot of it was just true. The book (theatre speak for the story/narrative) was thin and lacking in a lot of places. Had I not read and listened to reviews beforehand and done my research I fear that I would have felt even more lost during the performance, as I tried to piece together the storyline. The basics of it being a love story is easy to grasp, but the who, why and what of it all escaped me a little at times. I feel like some of the characters, in particular Zahara and Jagwire, didn't get anywhere near enough time to tell their story too, which seemed to be of importance but not enough to give them a little more stage time.

I can understand why some have said that they found it difficult to connect with and care about the characters, personally I found myself getting quite invested in their story, but as I say, it's understandable that others struggled. I do feel they could have done better with the story but my overwhelming thought is this; if I wanted an exceptional story, I'd watch a play.

When it comes to sets I've been blown away by both shows I'd seen previously for different reasons, the barricade in Les Mis is breathtaking and I remember looking up in awe at the Matilda set when I first entered the auditorium. But, BOOH is by far the most impressive set I have ever seen. I arrived at the earliest time I could, meaning I had a good 30 minutes to sit and take it all in before the performance began. Arriving early also meant I was treated to seeing some of the cast on the stage, cleaning the motorbike, before the performance had officially begun.

I really applaud the set designer, Jon Bausor, because technically it's complicated and is made up of so many elements but it just works. The songs are big so you need an equally big stage and set to really do them justice, this is not a small or shy show. It's loud, it's big, it's confident. There are some incredible elements of the set that I won't spoil but it includes a water element, a hilarious moment which involves some of the band and of course, a lot of fire! I really could talk about the set all day but it's so impressive that my words could never do it justice, it's something you have to experience in person.

Going into a musical like this people are likely going to have their favourite songs already and whilst I was very much aware of and had heard some of the album, I hadn't listened to the majority of the songs. Other than the big ones, Bat Out Of Hell and I'd Do Anything For Love, my favourites had to be Dead Ringer For Love and Out Of The Frying Pan which I think really showcased the talents of the emsemble and smaller leads. For me during those 2 songs the mixture of the vocals and dancing was perfect, and other than wanting Dead Ringer For Love to go on for longer, I can't fault them. What I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did was the duets between Falco and Sloane, parents to Raven who falls in love with Strat. I had a cover on as Sloane, the incredible Hannah Ducharme and as so often happens with covers, I never would have known she wasn't the main actor. The chemistry between Falco and Sloane was electric and passionate, and also offered up some comedic moments too that I hadn't expected to get from a show like this. Rob Fowler played the part of Falco perfectly in my opinion, he was sensational and it's obvious to me why he's been in the role since the show originally opened.

As said before, I was longing to see more of the partnership between Zahara (played by Danielle Steers) and Jagwire (played by Wayne Robinson), their duet Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad really stole the show for me and whilst it's clear that Strat and Raven are the main focus, I wanted more of Zahara and Jagwire. The power in Danielle's and Wayne's voices was astounding, they had so much stage presence.

Out Of The Frying Pan was also one of my favourites because it really gave the audience chance to be introduced to Tink (played by Alex Thomas-Smith), Ledoux (played by Giovanni Spanó) and Blake (played by Patrick Sullivan), all of whom gave outstanding performances that I think they don't get enough credit for. Giovanni looks like he was born to be in this show, he looks so at home in the role and his passion for it really shows. Patrick caught my eye from the West End Live performance and I was eager to see him again, I can't pinpoint what it is but there's something about him that just makes his performance so memorable. And then there's Alex who plays Tink, the odd one out in The Lost, and his emotional performance of Not Allowed To Love really had the audience invested in his character. 

And then there's Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington who play the leads, star crossed lovers Strat and Raven. Andrew Polec has this look in his eyes that draws you in, he plays the character so convincingly and with so much passion, you can tell he really believes in what he is performing. That kind of energy is infectious and found myself wanting to be up there on stage with him and the rest of the cast. They are big songs to live up to and he does it with ease. As I think people do every night, I found myself ending up with a little crush on him too!

Christina's character Raven really stands out in the show as her costume and makeup isn't quite as rock 'n' roll, and I like that as she transformed throughout the show they still kept her costume and makeup true to what the core of her character was. Her voice was enchanting and complimented Andrew's perfectly, again you could tell that she was having a lot of fun up on stage and there is nothing better than watching someone who loves what they do. There was just so much talent on stage it was unreal, it felt like a real treat to witness what I think will be a very big and long career for all of them.

One element of the show that has really stayed with me, as someone who identifies as bisexual, is that there are same sex dance partnerships. Never before had I seen 2 women or 2 men dancing together in a musical and it affected me more than I thought it would. It wasn't tokenism either, the environment and the story really fitted the decision to break away from the 'norm'. Those moments will stay in my mind forever I think.

For me the sign of whether I enjoyed a show often just comes down to whether I would see it again and I can confidently say that I will be seeing this again. Sure, the story lacks a little and is confusing at times but the music, choreography, vocals, cast, costumes and set make up for that, for me this is a musical that you really do see for the music.

When it comes to the access at the theatre wheelchair users have a few different options depending on whether you can transfer and if you use a manual or electric wheelchair. If you use a manual wheelchair and can transfer then you can sit in any aisle seat in the stalls, offering an impressive view of the stage. For electric wheelchair users and manual wheelchair users who can't transfer there is the Nederlander Box which is accessed via a side door, near where the stage door is. The box is large, the largest I've come across and can seat 3 wheelchair users and 3 carers. I had the box to myself during the performance I saw and so got pick of where to sit, I chose to sit in the furthest space back, so I could see as much of stage left as possible. A few metres can make all the difference in a theatre!

There are large speakers in front of the box that restrict the view of stage left, as well as the actual box itself restricting some of the view. The way the set is designed in an almost triangular way means that the set on stage left is completely restricted. During act 1 it wasn't much of a problem, I didn't feel like I was missing much. Something unique about this show is that some of it is filmed live and projected on to the set, this is on 2 screens during act 1 that cover both stage left and stage right, so wherever you're sitting you'd see one screen. It's mostly Raven's bedroom that is filmed and I assumed that since it was filmed, it wasn't visible to audience members but I've since found out that in fact her bedroom is visible on stage and I have to admit I'm a little gutted to have missed that due to my restricted view.

During act 2 was when my restricted view became more of a problem as the filming projected on to the set that I could see was removed, when more of the set was revealed thus losing a backdrop to project the footage on to. So, from that point on anything filmed, I missed. I had to piece it together through the sound, but it wasn't easy at times. There were perhaps at least 3 moments that come to mind where I felt I missed some important parts. BOOH and The Dominion Theatre have clearly recognised the restricted view and adjusted the price accordingly though, I think I would have been more annoyed had my ticket cost me more than what it did (£15). It was only upon talking to fans on Twitter did I realise that I had perhaps missed more than I thought.

The front of house staff couldn't have been more helpful during my time at the Dominion Theatre, I went to see BOOH alone which I had no problem in doing, I enjoy my own company, but it was lovely that during the interval one of the team was happy to chat to me and hear my mid show chat. Interval and post show chat is about the only thing I felt I missed out on by going alone and the fab staff were brilliant at helping me fill that gap. Should I have wanted them they were also able to go to the bar to get me drinks, or buy me a programme. There was an accessible toilet available just metres from the Nederlander Box, which is only used by those in the box, I've been in some theatres before where they've let everyone use the disabled toilet so it was a relief to see that wouldn't happen here. There isn't much turning space due to the shape of the room but even with my large powerchair I managed it.

If you're looking to have some fun and see a show without spending a lot then I think Bat Out Of Hell will be the one for you. The current cast have also been doing the show for a while now and whilst no cast changes have been announced I really recommend you book soon so you don't end up missing their incredible performance!

Find out more about the show and buy tickets on the Bat Out Of Hell website.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Why That Accessible ASOS Jumpsuit Is So Important

Very recently I wrote a post for Scope about accessible fashion and how highsteet and online stores mostly feature models and mannequins stood up, despite most of us sitting down at some point during our day. As a wheelchair user it's frustrating as clothes can look really different when you're sat down. The fit is different, clothes hang differently and suddenly every skirt and dress becomes so short that one tiny gust of wind would have you flashing the whole street. Now, not knowing what clothes will look like sat down is one thing, but never seeing yourself represented is another issue. We see diversity campaigns from brands all the time and as I've said time and time again, disabled people so often seemed to be missed off. We might be a minority, but we're a pretty big minority so, what's your excuse?

Source: ASOS

ASOS are known to be good for their diversity and at the beginning of the year we saw the start of them including disabled people within that. Mama Cāx, an amputee, model and blogger, was included in an activewear campaign alongside a host of other beautifully diverse people. I've followed her on Instagram for a while so to see her pop up in the ad was incredible, she might not have the same disability as me but I felt represented, I felt heard. 

So, when I came across a tweet today that showed a wheelchair user modelling on the ASOS website, well, I lost my shit a little bit. And then I read further and saw that the jumpsuit the models were wearing had been designed with wheelchair users in mind, cue me losing my shit again. Why? Because representation matters, it matters so much. I never thought I'd see the day that ASOS would be selling accessible clothing. For so long accessible clothing has been ugly, ridiculously expensive (okay, so the ASOS jumpsuit isn't cheap either, but at least it's cute) and generally unappealing. Using a model who is a wheelchair user is one thing, but actually designing something with disabled people in mind is a whole other amazing and important step. It's not the extra step either, it's the equal step. 

Source: ASOS

For a while now, across all disability related issues, progress has felt slow, too slow. People tell me all the time that things are changing and yes that's true, but they aren't changing fast enough. So, something like this is so encouraging. It's a start. It's a statement. Sure, this one wheelchair user doesn't represent all disabled people by a long shot but I'm certain this is only the beginning. I'd be surprised if we didn't see more disabled people, more diverse disabled people, popping up in ASOS ad's and on the website soon. For me this is them saying, we are listening and we are trying, and that's a lot more than what other companies are doing.

People say to me all the time that disabled people are the minority so you can't market anything to them. Well, I say to those people, look at the reaction to this on social media. Read the tweets of disabled people, listen to how much this means to us. I'm already close to popping the jumpsuit into my basket, and I don't even have anywhere to wear it. Make it and we will buy it. 

And now I ask to all the other big brands out there, if ASOS can do it, why can't you?


Friday, 29 June 2018

Exploring Oxford & Visiting Quantum

It's hard to believe but it's already been 5 months since my Quantum powerchair was delivered, I guess it's true that time flies when you're having fun! I've done so much in the short time that I've had my chair but I've also had the pleasure of getting to know the team behind it all as well. It's fair to say that I'm a pretty big fan of my Q6 Edge 2.0, and Quantum in general, and if you tell me that you're in the market for a new powerchair then you'll be sure to get the full sales pitch from me! My powerchair has changed my life so much, as you'll read in my update post, and it's just made me even more passionate about everyone having the right wheelchair.

So, when I was invited up to Oxford to meet the team, see the buildline and explore the city, I couldn't say yes quick enough! The process of how such a complex powerchair goes from being just an order, to being a fully functioning piece of equipment within weeks fascinates me and I was looking forward to seeing where my chair was just months earlier. I realised that I really don't think about how everything I own comes to be in my hands enough, so I was interested to learn more about the process and the hard work that goes into a company like Quantum.

Day 1

Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

I travelled up to Oxford in the morning on Day 1, surprisingly it was only an hours train journey from London Paddington. We couldn't have got nicer weather for the trip, thankfully not as hot as it's been this week but warm enough to worsen my sunburn from West End Live the weekend before! I met up with Nycole and Mike from Quantum, who I had lunch with the month before, as well as the photographer, Maciek Tomiczek, who was going to join us for the first couple of hours. Oxford just looked beautiful with the backdrop of blue skies, I couldn't have asked for a more stunning location to explore and take photos around. Everywhere you looked there was just the most incredible architecture, we easily could have spent a whole weekend exploring everything there was to see.

We saw The Bridge of Sighs, Radcliffe Camera, the Ashmolean Museum and of course the colleges. I took my DSLR with me and was never short of buildings to photograph, I can only imagine how inspiring it must be to study in that kind of environment, surrounded by so much history and breathtaking architecture.

 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

For lunch we headed to the covered market and found a little cafe called Brothers, being the typical 20 something I am, I opted for avocado on toast and let me tell you, it was the best avocado on toast that I've ever had. I can highly recommend it if you're visiting the area! Earlier on in the day Nycole mentioned Ben's Cookies and with it being just metres away from Brothers it seemed rude not to visit and try one. I assumed, wrongly, that it would be a little like Millie's Cookies but believe me, Ben's would win over Millie's any day of the week. I had a dark chocolate fruit and nut cookie and it was like tasting a little chunk of heaven. Again, 10/10 would recommend if you find yourself near one.

 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

After lunch we headed to Christ Church and looked around various parts of it, including Bodley Tower, which has a staircase within it that was used for some scenes in Harry Potter. The staircase leads up to the Ante-Hall, which is also known to have inspired the Great Hall in Harry Potter. We were also able to see the Cathedral which was just as breathtaking. We unfortunately couldn't see everything due to how old the buildings are, but the access for everything we could see was great and the staff couldn't have been more helpful.

After that we headed up to the top of the Westgate shopping centre to get a totally different view of the city. Again, if you're visiting then you should definitely head up there for a bite to eat or a drink, it's a really lovely space, especially when the weather is as gorgeous as it was that day. We opted for The Alchemist and I had the most extravagant G+T that I've ever seen!

 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

After an hour or so to rest in my hotel we finished off the day with dinner at Farmshop in Bicester Village, where we were joined by Tim, the Senior Director of International Sales who splits his time between the US and UK. It was my first time visiting Bicester Village and I can totally see why it's called a village because it really does look like one, I can imagine it would be a magical place at Christmas. The food was perfect to finish off a long day and I really enjoyed getting to know Tim, hearing about how the US Quantum team read my blog also and enjoyed my 3 month update post. It was really nice to hear that my words had made an impact on so many of the team, it's probably one of my favourite posts on my blog.

 Photo by Maciek Tomiczek
Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

Day 2

Day 2 was all about visiting the HQ, meeting the rest of the team and seeing the buildline where my powerchair was at the start of the year. I have to start off by saying that it was such a friendly environment, it really felt like it had the atmosphere of a small business, when in fact a look at the stock in the back will tell you that they need a bigger space to work in because they are doing so well.

I had a look around the showroom, with the Pride Mobility i-Go folding powerchair catching my eye the most. I'm in a few FB groups for wheelchair users and a day doesn't go by where people aren't asking about folding powerchairs, personally they don't fit my needs but they fill a gap in the market and people can't get enough of them! I also had the opportunity to try the 4Front, Quantum's latest offering to the powerchair market.

For those who don't know, you've got 3 options when it comes to powerchairs: front wheel drive, mid wheel drive and rear wheel drive. My powerchair is a mid wheel drive, which offers the smallest turning circle of the 3 and the 4Front is a front wheel drive, as the name would suggest. It drives very different to a MWD chair and it was my first time ever trying one out. Personally in terms of aesthetics, I love the way FWD chairs look but for me I just can't get used to how they drive and the larger turning circle! I think it's fantastic that Quantum are offering something for those who prefer a FWD powerchair though, and it still comes with the incredible iLevel system that I've come to love so much. I imagine the 4Front would perform really well outdoors!

As we looked around the buildline the team explained that for a while they were working in one long line, having to go back and forth between different stations and ultimately, adding on a lot of time to the process. They changed things around though and moved everything into a U shape, saving time and making the whole process a lot more efficient. As a result they are now down to just a few weeks from ordering to the powerchair being ready, they even completed a chair with iLevel within 24 hours recently! It was good to hear that they really believe in the importance of getting people their chairs as quickly as possible, they absolutely understand how much of a difference they make to people's lives, it was nice to see that there is a real human element within the company.

Whilst all of this was happening I was actually borrowing a Pride Jazzy Air to get around as Tim had suggested the night before that they borrow my Q6 for a couple of hours, make some upgrades and fix a few problems (I managed to lose a screw whilst tackling some pretty rough cobblestones in Oxford the day before!). I've already got backpack clips on my chair and the cup holder and phone holder attachments but one of the accessories that I completely forgot about when ordering was the USB charger. It's the upgrade that got the biggest reaction when I mentioned it on Twitter! They managed to tuck it away under my left armrest, so now I can charge my phone wherever I am! I remember when I had my old powerchair I used to see a woman on the train a lot who had a pretty cool tech set up with a phone holder, iPad holder and USB charger connected to her powerchair, I remember thinking how amazing it would be to have something similar. Independence and comfort are of course pretty high up on the priority list for me but it's these little extras that really make me love Quantum even more.

I also had my castor wheels, the small wheels at the front and back, changed for new ones after they found out how many miles I'd done in just 5 months (200 miles, if you're wondering). They were surprised that's for sure! I also had the drive wheel accent colour changed from the standard silver to black and I can't believe how much of a difference it's made to how my powerchair looks. It's so much sleeker now! As much as I love the bright colours that they offer, for me I just love how sleek my all black chair looks, especially in photos. Again, not high up on the priority list but my chair is an extension of my body so these things matter.

And then just like that it was time to get the train back home! I really enjoyed getting to know the team more and seeing the behind the scenes, as well as getting to explore Oxford for the first time. I think I'll definitely have to come back for a weekend at some point.

The trip showed me that I definitely went with the right company when choosing my powerchair, and it just made me feel even more passionate about everyone having as much choice as possible, rather than the choice of the same 2 powerchairs everytime on the NHS. The iLevel function on my chair is something that the NHS flat out don't fund, they don't see it as medically necessary but in terms of independence and being social, you couldn't put a price on it. Hopefully the introduction of personal wheelchair budgets will see this change soon.

For now though, I'm looking forward to teaming up with Quantum more this year!
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