Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Circus Starr | The circus with a purpose

This year has been the year of firsts for me since I got my new powerchair in February and 2 weeks ago I added another to my ever-growing list as I went to the circus for the first time! Circus' aren't something that have necessarily always interested me but I love gymnastics and acrobatics so on paper it seemed ideal for me. Circus Starr aren't like other circus performances though, they are inclusive, accessible and offer free tickets to allow disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable children to experience something that typically they might not get the chance to. I was kindly invited along to one of their Luton shows, part of their UK tour, to experience the show and what they do.

Circus Starr is a touring circus boasting world-class, professional artists from across the globe. It was first founded in 1987 and provides free seats for thousands of disadvantaged, disabled or vulnerable children, whilst helping to raise much needed funds for local charities - Circus Starr

Circus Starr are a not-for-profit organisation which supports local businesses and children's charities whilst operating a donated ticket programme that gives thousands of children the chance to experience the circus, thanks to the support of local businesses. The big thing for me is that Circus Starr's performances are relaxed performances, which are aimed at opening up live performance and theatre experiences for people with autism and other learning disabilities, we're seeing more and more theatres put on relaxed performances but I hadn't heard of a circus doing so before this. At Circus Starr children are actively encouraged to interact with the acts, cheer, applaud, move about and can leave and come back at any time to get some space.

Photo via Circus Starr

Another big thing is that on this tour they are bringing a Mobiloo along with them to every date, this is a portable Changing Places which allows disabled children and adults to use the bathroom. These unfortunately are still not commonplace, and I've covered this issue for nearly 2 years now, but having a Mobiloo along on this tour is a big step forward, and a very encouraging one too. It allows families who would typically not be able to attend, or would struggle and have to change their children in their car or elsewhere, to enjoy the experience knowing there are suitable and accessible facilities metres away.

Photo via Circus Starr

Circus Starr are wheelchair accessible too and the wheelchair spaces are front row which I love because in a theatre or at a performance the wheelchair spaces are rarely so close to the action. I had to attend in my manual wheelchair as we could only reach the venue by car and I will say that my Mum struggled to push me across the grass, it would have been nice to see some kind of mat put down leading up to the entrance to make wheelchair access a little easier.

As for the show and the acts, obviously it's been designed for people quite a bit younger than myself and my Mum but we really enjoyed it and felt some of the acts were exciting and daring enough to be entertaining to both the adults and children, I particularly enjoyed the audience participation and the parallel bars act. All of performers were incredibly talented and were really good at interacting with the children.

I do have a little bit of constructive feedback though! There were 2 things that surprised me during the show. Firstly, a balloon was popped during one act, which really shocked me as it's not something I'd expect at a relaxed performance, avoiding loud and sudden noises seems like something pretty key to keeping it relaxed. Secondly, on the flyer and in the show they said how they were deaf friendly but I couldn't spot a BSL or Makaton interpreter anywhere, perhaps I just didn't spot them though! The final act was a song that was partially signed though, and it was nice to see the audience giving the signing a go.

Overall though I really enjoyed the experience and it was great to see so many children having fun and being able to openly show their excitement! Organisations like Circus Starr are so important to allow all children to experience live performances. You can find out more about them, donate to keep them going and find information about applying for tickets on their website. They are touring the UK until 25th January.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Heathers the Musical | Review

Heathers the Musical, an all singing all dancing adapted version of the cult 1988 film landed on stage here in the UK back in the summer at The Other Palace originally. The hype surrounding this musical has been difficult to avoid and I found myself getting swept up in it when it announced it's transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, snapping up 2 tickets for the beginning and end of the run. I hadn't watched the film and barely knew the story but their West End Live performance of Candy Store in particular was enough to have me booking. But, did the show live up to it's hype?

Greetings, salutations. Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she's unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD turns up, the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it's murder being somebody... - Heathers the Musical 

Photo by Pamela Raith

My knowledge of the story of Heathers prior to seeing the show consisted of this; it's a dark comedy about 3 girls named Heathers and it includes a lot of murder. Not exactly the best synopsis is it? The story actually revolves around Veronica Sawyer, played by Carrie Hope Fletcher, and the show starts off at 100mph with Veronica finding herself becoming a Heather, the popular girls at Westerberg High. And then mysterious JD comes along and a lot of murder follows. 

My highlights of the show included the opening number 'Beautiful' with the reveal of the Heathers and Carrie's quick change from old Veronica to Heather's Veronica. 'Candy Store' was of course a favourite too, I was eagerly anticipating it and was surprised that it came so early on in the show, it did feel a little at times like the show had started in the middle of the story rather than at the beginning. I also enjoyed 'Freeze Your Brain' sung by JD, played by Jamie Muscato. A little spoiler alert, Heather Duke's transformation into the head Heather actually made me gasp, it was incredible and will stay in my mind for a long time. For me my highlights really were the most popular songs, ones that I'd heard before or seen performed before. It was the songs that I hadn't heard that I was so eager to love that ended up being a bit of a let down for me. I'm not sure whether it's me or the show, but I just never managed to get into the spirit of excitement that the rest of the crowd were exhibiting.

The show starts off with a bang with 'Beautiful' and 'Candy Store' and for me this sets it up for disappointment because I really felt that things went downhill after those numbers, I had my highlights throughout the rest of the show but nothing else quite lived up to those two, which concerned me since they were all within about the first 15 minutes of the show. I found myself losing concentration a lot whilst watching Heathers, I can't figure out whether this show simply isn't for me or whether it just has a long way to go. It's been a hit amongst it's fans, and amongst Carrie Hope Fletcher's fans and this has carried it through a sold out run at The Other Palace and a transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, so it's clearly doing something right but I just couldn't tap into that myself. For me the story became a little overly ridiculous at times and the stereotypes in it weren't to my taste at all, I wasn't confused but it did leave me just feeling disappointed and a little like I'd watched something completely different to the surrounding crowd who erupted into applause and cheers at every opportunity. 

As for the cast the standout's for me were Jodie Steele as Heather Chandler and Jamie Muscato as JD. Jodie had an incredible amount of power and control whenever she was on stage but she also made me howl with laughter during some of her post-death scenes. Jamie embodied JD perfectly for me, he was dark and mysterious but funny and he drew you in and made you feel both comfortable and uneasy when you developed a crush on a murderer. He was charming and terrifying. Carrie sang each song beautifully, I loved her in Les Mis but in Heathers, she left me wanting more. 

I really did go into Heathers ready to become a mega fan, I even booked a second time to see it in November as I expected to love it so much. Maybe I built it up too much, maybe the hype built it up too much, who knows, but I'm willing to give it a second try next month to see if further into the run I enjoy it more. On to the access at the Theatre Royal Haymarket now!

I hadn't been to TRH prior to seeing Heathers so all my info about access came from their website. At TRH the wheelchair spaces, of which there are two, are situated at the back of the stalls so, I was immediately concerned about the overhang of the royal circle knowing that some of the action takes place on a balcony during the show. To get to the back of the stalls wheelchair users enter and exit via a set of doors just to the left of the main foyer entrance, the main entrance is accessed via several steps so this was totally out of bounds for me. I was able to access my seat and an accessible toilet whilst inside but that was it, I couldn't get to the bar, merchandise and had I left my tickets at the theatre to collect on the day rather than having them posted, I wouldn't have been able to collect them myself so that's something to consider when booking.

As for my view, it's not a huge theatre in terms of depth so I didn't feel far away sitting in the back row of the stalls, I felt pretty close to the action actually. The problem was though, I missed everything that happened on the balcony. There is a moment in particular towards the end of the second act that appeared to be of importance, but I've still no idea what went on during that scene. The balcony was used a lot more than I had expected during the show.

Usually when I go to theatres there is a dedicated member of staff to assist disabled patrons, they are there at the beginning, during interval and at the end to assist with things like buying a programme, getting a drink from the bar and opening doors. Whilst at the beginning I was asked if I wanted a drink from the bar, after that I was pretty much on my own. I managed to flag down a member of staff during the interval to ask about programmes (which are wildly overpriced so for the first time I didn't buy one) but I had to struggle alone, with assistance from other patrons eventually, to open the doors to access the area where the accessible toilet is situated. And then again at the end no one arrived to open the 2 sets of doors so I could leave the theatre, other patrons helped me out again in that instance. The accessible toilet was also small, when you entered there was a small corridor and then it turned into a square shape, I was unable to turn around though and couldn't drive up to the side of the toilet to side transfer either. I have to be honest, overall I wasn't impressed by the access, especially when I compare it to my other experiences at different theatres.

So, maybe Heathers just isn't the show for me! Those who love it seem to really love it but personally, I left with a feeling of disappointment for the first time ever. We've all got at least one show that we don't click with and mine is Heathers.

Heathers is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until November 24th, buy tickets here.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Six The Musical | Review

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived is cemented into the mind of so many but, how much do we actually know about the women who stood beside Henry VIII during his tudor reign? The Queens' stories have been forgotten again and again in the retelling of this history, or rather his-story, but they are having no more and have stepped up to tell us their story. You'll learn more in this 75 minute pop concert style musical than you will from any school history lesson, and you'll learn whilst having a ton of fun.

Written by up and coming young writers (and quite frankly, geniuses), Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six has stormed the world of musical theatre after dominating at the Edinburgh Fringe over the Summer. I've been eager to see the show since I was introduced to it at West End Live, the witty humour, sass and girl power that the cast got across in just one song was enough to have me hooked and the full show did not disappoint.

Photo by Idil Sukan via Six

Six has everything; clever humour, catchy songs, a diverse and talented cast and an infectious energy that makes you want to be up on that stage with them. Marlow and Moss have taken what is quite a sad story in many ways and turned it into a pop concert that would rival any of the young girl band's out there right now. Each Queen takes their turn throughout the show to tell their story, in the form of a song, and battle against each other to see who had it the worst and as we find out, they all went through some pretty tough times and were horribly mistreated by Henry. And what is the most sad is that a lot of what they went through is still relevant today, hundreds of years later. I really felt that every single member of cast embodied their Queen perfectly and convincingly, they truly became them on stage.

Photo by Idil Sukan via Six
Photo by Idil Sukan via Six

Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon) started the party and her sass and power had the audience behind her from the first note as she strutted around like Beyonce. Millie O'Connell (Anne Boleyn) was so convincing as Boleyn, and she had a lot of confidence, as well as a quirky edge, and her humour and facial expressions are something that cannot be missed. Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour) made me cry with her performance of Heart of Stone, she had total control over the room and there was complete silence as she stood still on the stage and poured her heart out. Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves) was a standout for me with Haus of Holbein and Get Down, they truly need to be seen in the show to be appreciated, she'll have you wanting to get up and dance as she dominates the stage. Aimie Atkinson's (Katherine Howard) song All You Wanna Do has been on repeat in my head since the moment I heard it, it's heart breakingly relevant to the world as it is now but her pony tail sass is there to brighten it up and make it the pop hit it is. I had the swing superstar Grace Mouat on as Catherine Parr (covering Maiya Quansah-Breed) and her song unites all the Queen's as she decides how she wants to tell her story, you learn so much about how much of a leader Parr was for women, and I think that really sums up the whole show. This is their chance to tell their story in the way they want, not in the way that history has told it. This show truly was a life changing experience as my eyes were opened to the other side of the coin.

Photo by Idil Sukan via Six

As hard as I tried I truly cannot fault this show, I think it's come about at exactly the right time and it's incredible to see a new British musical written by a young duo, with a diverse all female cast, take off. The original cast recording came out recently and I was about to see a different musical when it was released and I have to admit to spending those 3 hours dying to get out and listen to the album! What I really admire and applaud about Marlow & Moss is their ability to write several different styles and genre of music within one show, they take you from Beyonce style hits to a huge ballad with ease, it flows so well and nothing is out of place. In the programme they've included each Queen's 'Queenspiration' and you can absolutely see each artist within the songs, in fact Jordan and Russell from From The Wings and Perry O'Bree reacted to the album on Perry's YouTube and commented on how some songs echoed Lily Allen, Nicki Minaj and more, all of whom are quoted as being the Queen's inspirations. I truly cannot wait to see what Marlow & Moss do next together, with one hit musical already under their belt I can see them doing big things in the industry.

Photo by Idil Sukan via Six
Photo by Idil Sukan via Six

On to the access at the gorgeous Arts Theatre in the heart of the West End, it's not a theatre I'd been to before and there was some conflicting information about their access online so I wasn't 100% sure what to expect when I arrived, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. It's a very small theatre so there is only one wheelchair space, which is located at the back of the circle, the furthest seats away from the stage. To access the space you go through a different set of the doors which are just to the left of the main entrance, staff will show you round and to your seat. The confusion I had was about whether I'd be able to access the box office, bar and cafe which are all within the same area, so I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived and I found I could get in. The theatre doesn't have a stage door so the bar/cafe is used instead so I was very relieved that I could access it so I could do stage door after.

As for the accessible toilet, this is where the problems are. My powerchair isn't massively big, it's very narrow but maybe a little longer than the average powerchair, but I rarely have problems accessing accessible toilets with adequate space, however the one at the Arts did not have an adequate amount of space. You go down a short, but very narrow, corridor to access the toilet and when the door opened I really didn't think I'd fit. I managed to drive in, unable to turn at all and I only just managed to shut the door behind me, there was no room to side transfer and I couldn't even stand properly to transfer in the way that is comfortable for me. Instead I had to shuffle over and leave my feet on my footplate because there was no room to place them on the floor. It truly wasn't much bigger than a standard cubicle, I understand that it's an old theatre that is likely a listed building but I think it's deceiving to call it an accessible toilet when I think even a manual wheelchair user would struggle inside it.

As for the wheelchair space, that was plenty spacious enough and I had no trouble seeing the stage for the majority of the show. Being at the back of the circle did mean I felt a little disconnected at times though and this was most true during the encore. As soon as everyone stood up I did what I usually do, I used the iLevel on my powerchair to rise up to allow me to see over everyone's heads. However, even when I did this I could barely see past everyone, I saw the Queen's occasionally when they came to the left of the stage but other than that, I couldn't see a thing. I can only imagine how disappointing this will be for manual wheelchair users and powerchair users who don't have a rise function, you really wouldn't be able to see a thing for the last song. I was disappointed but thankful for those filming the encore on the front row, meaning that I have been able to watch that song, just not in person as I would have liked to. Other than during the encore though the wheelchair space wasn't a restricted view thanks to how small and intimate the theatre is, so I was thankful for that. My ticket for the performance cost £11.50 (although this was preview price and they are now £24), I'm definitely going to be making a few more return trips before the show leaves to go on tour in just a few weeks.

Photo by Idil Sukan via Six
Photo by Idil Sukan via Six

I really cannot fault this show and think that it's going to be perfect for everyone, no matter your age and whether you're a regular theatre goer or not. Marlow & Moss are quite frankly geniuses and the whole cast truly are Queens!

Six the Musical is performing at the Arts Theatre London until October 14th, you can then see it on tour in Kingston, Southampton, Salford and Glasgow across various dates until the end of the year. Listen to the original cast studio recording on Spotify and iTunes.
Blogger templates by pipdig