Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Only Fools and Horses The Musical | Review

Show rating: ★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★

I like to think that as a theatre goer I'm open to seeing anything, minus a few exceptions, but there are definitely shows that sit pretty far out from what I usually find myself gravitating towards. The shows I find myself returning to again and again tend to be pretty similar, usually quite modern and with some kind of dance element so, when my Mum wanted to see Only Fools and Horses the musical I was a little hesitant! West End Live came about though and their performance really had me hooked and wanting to see a little more. I grew up with the TV show constantly on in the background and my Mum adores the show so, off we went to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to see what it was all about.

I'll start off by saying that this is a definitely a production for fans of the show, you really do have to know the show quite well to be able to follow it all. They rely on the assumption that the audience already knows the characters and some of the iconic moments quite heavily so I think a regular theatre goer who just fancies checking it out might struggle a little. My Mum knew every single moment and I knew enough to get by, and it was clear from the audience reactions that most people there knew the show inside out. As such, whilst this is a musical, it's definitely not one that relies on it's music. It felt at times that some of the songs were definite filler songs, props to move things along to the moments that the audience are there for. There were a few standouts though, such as The Girl and the music I already knew such as Only Fools and Horses/Hooky Street and Margate were staged and performed incredibly well. Also, any songs that featured the dating agent/theatre announcer played by Oscar Conlon-Morrey were hilarious moments for me and really picked up the show when things had started to plateaued a little.

I really loved the staging of this production, they used their revolve in such a clever way to transition between each set, with most of the show being across a few key locations such as the market, the pub and Del Boy's home. Any moment the car was brought on stage seemed to be a highlight for a lot of people and it really showcased that this show knows it's audience and I really think that has been the key to their success. This isn't a show for musical theatre fans necessarily and that's okay because it seems there are more than enough Only Fools fans to fill the theatre night after night. I have to say, I think I would have been more disappointed had I paid more for our tickets than we do, most of the seats seem to cost more than £70 and I don't think I would have come away quite as impressed had we paid that.

Overall though, the show was a lot of fun and I'm really glad I branched out and saw something a little different! The use of the stage, the iconic moments and a few special moments made for a great theatre trip, sometimes all you want is just to watch something fun and not too deep for a few hours and this ticks that box perfectly.

As for the access, if you read my Heathers review last year you'll know that my experiences with the Theatre Royal Haymarket really haven't been great and I have to say I was really looking forward to them redeeming themselves, but it was not to be. The extent of the help of the staff started and finished with them letting us in the theatre and then showing us where the accessible toilet is. During this time the member of staff directed absolutely everything they were saying to my Mum, even when I was the one responding. I have never felt so small as when they were looking straight over my shoulder, as though I wasn't there. As was the case last time I was then left to struggle alone with the heavy double doors that led to the accessible toilet. Without my Mum having been there with me I've no idea how I would have bought a programme either and there was no offer of staff asking if they could get me a drink or if I wanted any merch. I was truly reminded of why I haven't rushed back to this theatre, I am left disappointed every time.

The wheelchair spaces in this theatre are at the back of stalls, with the overhang of the dress circle obstructing the top half of the stage/set. I missed a few things during Heathers last year because of it and missed even more with this show, with some of the more sweet moments happening up on the top part of the set, there were times where people were laughing and I had no idea what they were laughing at. The seat doesn't feel too far away from the stage but the restricted view was definitely an issue at times. The accessible toilet is still tiny and try as I did, I still cannot turn around in it so it's a difficult reverse out to make my way back to my seat. Wheelchair users can only access the auditorium so cannot access the box office, bars or merchandise.

Overall I'm glad I went along to see what this show was all about, and my Mum thoroughly enjoyed it! If you're a fan of the show then I think this musical is the one for you, it delivers on the iconic moments perfectly and the characters are brought to life in an authentic way. It was a fun show to see, it's just a shame that once again TRH let me down when it came to the access!

Only Fools and Horses the musical is booking until April 25th 2020, with Paul Whitehouse returning to the role of Grandad from January 2020.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Lungs at The Old Vic | Review

These tickets were kindly gifted to me by The Old Vic.

Show rating: ★★★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★★★★

This is one seriously overdue review thanks to a bad case of tonsillitis which put me out of action for nearly a week but, regardless of how late this post is, this is one show that I just have to showcase after it truly blew me away. With a cast of just two and a bare stage, Lungs is certainly more of a stripped back production compared to the all singing, all dancing shows I usually gravitate towards and that is exactly why I loved it so much.

'I could fly to New York and back every day for seven years and still not leave a carbon footprint as big as if I have a child. Ten thousand tonnes of CO2. That's the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I'd be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower.'

The ice caps are melting, there's overpopulation, political unrest; everything's going to hell in a handcart - why on earth would someone bring a baby into this world? 

Directed by Matthew Warchus, Claire Foy and Matt Smith perform in Duncan Macmillan's hilarious emotional rollarcoaster of a play about a couple wrestling with life's biggest dilemmas.

This play has been described as an emotional rollarcoaster and that description couldn't be more fitting, never have I been taken on such a journey of high's and low's in this intimate way before. Essentially what you're witnessing is a 1 hour and 20 minutes long conversation, you almost feel like you're eavesdropping. The configuration of the seating really contributes to this too, I can only imagine how great that feeling must be for those seated on the stage, with a front row view into a couple's most precious and heartbreaking moments.

The barely there set is made up of solar panels and serves as a reminder of the big topics this play handles, such as climate change. The audience witness this young couple weigh up the pros and cons of bringing a baby into a world made up of political unrest and an unstable climate. The timing of this production couldn't be more relevant. There is another side to this play though, the way they handle the details of communication within a couple is something I've never seen on stage before. Everything was just so raw and compelling, I found myself invested in the couple's life in just a matter of minutes. It is more than just an emotional watch however, there are twists and turns that made the audience gasp and genius comedic moments from the very start as we realise that the opening scene takes place in Ikea. 
Photos by Manuel Harlan

As for Claire Foy and Matt Smith, I simply cannot think of two people more perfect for this production. Their incredible chemistry, seen on screen in The Crown, transfers on stage perfectly and it felt like a real privilege to witness two actors who know each other so well and therefore bounce off each other with ease. The script is not an easy one to perform but it felt like they'd been performing it for years, not days, as they relaxed into the roles so well. They convey emotion in a beautiful way and handle the difficult topics carefully whilst adding humour and lightness. I take my hat off to them as they truly gave a masterclass in acting. 

As for the accessibility, this is my first review since the work to make the theatre more accessible has been completed! I talked about it in depth in a recent post so if you want a more detailed look then head on over there, but here is a brief overview of what to expect if you're a wheelchair user. 

Rather than using a dark, tucked away side entrance patrons requiring step free access now enter through the beautiful second entrance on Waterloo Road, which still makes me heart happy every time I turn the corner and see it. From here you can take the brand new lift down to Penny, the bar and cafe, and the new accessible toilet, or up to the new foyer. There is a seating area in the step free section, as well as the box office and from here you can access both sides of the stalls. There are now 10 wheelchair spaces, 2 of which are situated next to each other so there is plenty of seating choice. I was in Row N, somewhere I've sat many times before and as always it was an incredible unrestricted view of the stage. You can also now book access tickets online if you sign up to their free access membership, something I really recommend doing. I've already used it to book tickets online for A Christmas Carol and it is so much easier than ringing up! The access at the theatre now is simply incredible and I'm really excited for their future plans to improve it even more. 

Unfortunately you don't have long left to catch this incredible play, it closes on 9th November but if you can squeeze in a trip there are still a few odd tickets on the website, as well as there being a lottery on Today Tix. Look out for returns on the website too! 

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Process Of Finding My Powerchair | AD

AD - This post is sponsored by CareCo, all opinions are my own. 

In the UK and across the world increasing numbers of disabled people are having to fund their own wheelchairs, a problem in itself, but this also means that researching and finding a suitable wheelchair also comes down to the individual. This can be daunting and I know that I had no idea where to start, as well as my lack of knowledge meaning I initially chose the wrong type of powerchair for my needs. In the hope of helping others to get it right the first time I wanted to share my experience of the process that is finding yourself a suitable wheelchair, the mistakes I made and how I finally got it right!

Firstly, it's good to know what is out there so browsing websites online such as company specific websites if you have any recommendations to go on or websites such as CareCo to get an idea of the more basic chairs out there is a good starting point. Once you know your options you'll have a much better idea of what you want and need. One of the most basic questions you need to ask yourself is, do I need a manual or electric wheelchair? Most people start with some kind of manual wheelchair, but that doesn't mean it's right. I originally bought myself a £200 out of box manual wheelchair that I naively thought I could push myself, how wrong I was. I could manage on smooth surfaces like in a supermarket but even then I certainly paid for it in pain and fatigue in the days that followed. Pain, fatigue and strength will all play a part in this decision, as well as what your postural needs are. In an ideal world you'd have some sort of assessment by a professional, but I know this often isn't an option.

If you need a lot of support like a headrest or need the ability to tilt or recline in your wheelchair then a powerchair may be better suited. Manual wheelchairs fit in cars better however, so that's also something to consider. It's all about figuring out what your priorities are. For me, I don't drive so I needed something that would fit on the bus with ease and through my narrow front door. I also knew that to relieve my pain I needed to lie down and so the recline and tilt functions were vital. Think about your everyday life and what you need out of a wheelchair to achieve your goals.

Now, I don't know much at all about manual wheelchairs but I can talk about what my journey looked like with finding a powerchair! Powerchairs are broken down into 3 wheel configurations: front wheel drive, mid wheel drive and rear wheel drive. They all have different functions and suit particular lifestyles, so the best place to start would be figuring out what configuration fits your life best. Mid wheel drive powerchairs have a very small turning circle, ideal for indoor use and on public transport, the latter being the reason why I went for one. Front wheel drive powerchairs handle outdoor terrain and small steps best and some find rear wheel drive powerchair easier to drive. It all comes down to where you'll be using it. I live in a city and spend a lot of time in London and using public transport, so I had no use for something more catered to an outdoor environment, the turning circle was a priority for me.

If you drive then that will play a big factor in what kind of powerchair you'll need, and a lot of people these days are choosing lightweight folding powerchairs that fit into non-adapted cars for this reason. They are often cheaper powerchairs as well, although they don't offer a lot of postural support they are ideal for with minimal needs and for whom getting it into a non-adapted car is a priority. Powerchairs like the Fenix Lightweight Powerchair are similar in that they dissemble into multiple pieces for those tight on space at home or needing to put it in a car, and it offers a little more postural support with the backrest being height adjustable. These powerchairs aren't for everyone but they meet the needs of ambulatory wheelchair users in a way that the industry has not in the past. And if you find you'd be more comfortable with a mobility scooter then CareCo has options too, including folding mobility scooters.

Other important things to consider are also things like the range of the powerchair, how far will it go before the battery dies? Also, how much postural support will you need? Some of the more specialised powerchairs come with a variety of supports you can add, there really are an incredible amount of ways you can personalise some powerchairs to meet your needs perfectly. Electric functions such as tilt, recline, electric leg rests and a rise function are also things to consider. If you have chronic pain you may find some of these useful for relieving your pain when out and about, as is the case with me.

So, you've done your research, what next? Set up some demos! Now depending on what kind of powerchair you've decided on this might not be possible, especially for out of the box models, or you may find you need to find a store in person to try them, something I recommend doing, but for some places there is information on their website about setting up an at home demo. Having a demo allows you to try out the chair in your space, for me that meant inside my home and in the area around my home to test things like the suspension and comfort. After just one demo of a few chairs I was able to make my decision, but for others this process takes longer and do not be afraid to take your time, it's a big purchase!

Once you've chosen your powerchair, depending on the make and model it could be delivered within a few days or for more high spec powerchairs that require you to be measured and the powerchair made to order, it will likely be weeks or months. For me I know it was more than worth the wait though, the feelings of independence and comfort were even greater than I expected. Having a powerchair that suits my needs has been life changing, and that's what it's about really, finding something that suits your needs. The right powerchair for you is out there and hopefully this post will help you find it!
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