Thursday, 28 February 2019

Going Back To Education With The Open University

It was during my GCSE year at school that my body first decided to start being a pest, I was diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) a couple of years previous but it was during my most important school year to date that the chronic pain began. Surgery was booked for the Summer holidays so I could miss as little school as possible, and then cancelled hours before, and I finally had the corrective spinal fusion surgery in December, a few months into my A Levels. The recovery was meant to be 6-8 weeks, I should have returned to school after that time but I never did go back thanks to a slow to be diagnosed complication and the need to have a second surgery to correct it. Ever since then I've been aiming to return, additional surgeries and chronic pain have made that challenging up until now though.

Anyone who knows me well knows just how much I thrive in education, I absolutely love learning and have always enjoyed school as a result. Ever since I had to leave I've been soaking up knowledge wherever I can, with free online courses and plenty of reading, but it's never the same as being tested and challenged in an educational environment. I truly started to believe I would never return to education, but after 5 years of waiting I finally think I'm ready.

Studying with The Open University is something I'd been considering for several years and last month I don't know what triggered it but I found myself on the website looking at my options. When I saw that the deadline for applying for the next starting date in February (and that I wouldn't be able to apply until October after that) was just a few days away I decided to be a little spontaneous, and perhaps a little reckless, and I applied. It was an Access module I had applied for, a module I describe as me dipping my toes in instead of diving straight into the deep end with a degree. Deciding what to study might be the difficult part for some people, and it certainly had me thinking whether I'd made my decision too quickly, but Psychology and Sociology were 2 of the A Levels I started for several months and are subjects that have intrigued me for years and I've spent a lot of my own time reading up on them over the past few years. So, when I saw they did an access module centred around these topics, it was a no brainer.

The access module is a 30 week course made up of around 9 hours of studying each week, so it's a more gentle introduction into education for those of us who are lacking confidence, have been out of education for a while or didn't complete A Levels. It's a free course if you meet the criteria and are signed up to a full qualification, in my case I'm signed up to start a Psychology degree in October so far. Whilst I don't have to start the Psychology degree, of course the aim is that I will but it all depends on how I manage with the access module!

Right now I'm absolutely loving it, it's not challenging me as much as I'd like but that was to be expected since it's designed for people who have been out of education a lot longer than my 5 years. For me it's about building confidence though, just reminding myself that I am capable. The module is mostly about learning skills, things that I would have picked up during A Levels had I completed them, like essay writing, referencing and keeping to a deadline. I think all the writing I've done for my blog and other publications will really come in handy but I'm definitely ready to build upon it!

My first assignment is due next week so I'm working on that right now and I'll maybe pop back in a few months to let you all know how it's going but of course, the best way to stay updated is to follow my social media (@shonalouiseblog for Twitter and Instagram).

I can't tell you how excited I am to be in education again, let's see how these next 6 months go!

Learn more about The Open University on their website.

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.

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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