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.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

To Operate or Not To Operate... That Is The Question

It's been quite a while since I've specifically talked about my health on my blog, and that would be because for the last year nothing too eventful has happened. There's been no major surgeries thankfully and not many hospital appointments either, all because things have come to a bit of a standstill because of my spine. For example. I still need a total left hip replacement but my surgeon is rightfully hesitant to proceed without as much knowledge as possible about my spine. And well, things with my spine haven't moved along much in this past year since I saw my neurosurgeon for the first time.

Maybe that sounds like a bad thing to you, my referral was lost and things have just taken a long time but actually, I've spent this year being very relieved that an appointment to see him again hasn't come through the post. I've been enjoying not having to think about a looming decision that I have to make, the biggest decision of my life so far. To operate or not to operate?

Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

For those who don't know I have a genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome which has caused me to develop several secondary conditions, one which is called a Tarlov Cyst. It's a type of spinal cyst that grows out of a nerve root, mine is in my sacrum area which is a triangle shaped bone at the bottom of your spine and my cyst is about 6cm x 5.5cm, which is quite big for it's type. The cyst is the biggest reason I that need to use a powerchair with tilt and recline, the pain it causes worsens upon sitting because of the pressure placed on the affected nerves. Some days it takes 5 minutes for this pain to become unbearable and other days it can take an hour, which is why the tilt and recline functions on my powerchair are so important, they allow me to relieve and manage my pain throughout the day.

Having a Tarlov Cyst isn't a rare thing, they come up as incidental findings on some people's MRIs but they become rare when they start causing pain, bladder and bowel function problems, reduced feeling etc. There's currently only one surgeon in the UK capable of successfully treating this problem, with I think 2 more being trained up, so it can take a while to see the right person, it took me 2 years but I know for others it's been longer. You also have the added problem of some doctors not believing they can be symptomatic, even when I became a powerchair user some of my doctors were still disbelieving and it's only this year that my spinal surgeon who operated on my Scoliosis has finally taken it seriously.

Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

I initially saw the neurosurgeon last year who confirmed how complex my case is and he wanted me to see another neurologist before we started any conversations about risky surgery. Well, that referral was never made for some reason and so it took me about 6 months to see this neurologist who said they would want to do ICP monitoring prior to any surgery, which involves screwing a bolt into your skull and inserting a pressure monitor to measure how much pressure there is inside your head, so if I said yes to spinal surgery I would be saying yes to that procedure as well. That really threw me. That was months ago now and I suspected that my referral to see my neurosurgeon again (but at a different hospital) had also been lost but it took me about 2 months and going through a multitude of numbers to get through to his secretary, which I managed last week. She reckoned that I could be seen within weeks now. That terrified me a little, I'm nowhere near ready to be deciding whether to have surgery yet.

If I have surgery I risk nerve damage, paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel control and more pain, as well as there being a chance that it just won't work and a chance that the cyst will come back. If successful though surgery could lessen my back pain meaning I could sit up longer and that might open the door to being able to return to education or maybe being able to have a part time job. Writing this down, the pros and cons I guess, has really helped me and I've figured out that thanks to the quality of life my powerchair has given me the biggest things left to gain from successful surgery are potentially being able to do an open uni course or working a part time job, but is that worth risking making things 10 ten times worse? Is it worth risking the quality of life I have now? I certainly don't enjoy relying on benefits but this year I've finally experienced things that I should have done years ago, I'm the happiest I've ever been and right now, I'm not entirely sure if it's worth risking that.

Photo by Maciek Tomiczek

Of course I won't make my final decision until I've thoroughly talked to my surgeon and got all the facts, and I can also say no right now and change my mind months or years down the line. It's also important to find out whether he thinks the cyst will continue to grow and cause me problems without surgery, I don't want to leave things too late and regret not having surgery when it was an easier and less risky operation to do. As you can see, there are a lot of different factors that go into this.

The main thought that keeps going round in my head though, is this; how does anyone expect a 21 year old to make a decision as big as this? And that's coming from a very mature 21 year old.
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