Friday, 19 July 2019

Present Laughter at The Old Vic | Review

Disclaimer: Previously I have been gifted tickets for The Old Vic productions but I purchased my own tickets for Present Laughter.

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

'I knew how deep your longing must be to have someone really to love you, to be with you, when I saw that dreadful prostitute come out of the spare room.'

'That was not a prostitute. It was the husband of one of my dearest friends!'

As he prepares to embark on an overseas tour, star Garry Essendine's colourful life is in danger of spiralling out of control. Engulfed by an escalating identity crisis at his many and various relationships compete for his attention, Garry's few remaining days at home are a chaotic whirlwind of love, sex, panic and soul-searching. - The Old Vic

At the beginning of this year my theatre experience was turned upside down when I saw my first play, after insisting I was solely a musicals person. It was A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic and I walked out with a new found appreciation for plays and the emotions they could make a person feel. Since then The Old Vic have kindly sent me to see another 2 plays and whilst I've found them enjoyable, they haven't quite captured my imagination in the same way. However, that was all changed again when I saw Present Laughter recently.

Present Laughter is my first Noël Coward play and I really had no idea what to expect. From responses on social media I knew it would be funny but I had no idea how much it would grip me and make me cry with laughter. Andrew Scott was the reason I was drawn to this play, I'm a Sherlock fan and for years have been left speechless by his on screen performances, so I jumped at the chance to see him perform live. I might have gone for Andrew Scott but when I left, I left impressed by every single element in the show and every single person on stage. Matthew Warchus did such a remarkable job of directing this play and making it the all round emotional experience it is, it ticks all the boxes and I was so shocked to hear this was the first time he had directed a Noël Coward.

The play follows actor Garry Essendine, played by Andrew Scott, as he enters an identity crisis. Throughout the show you see all of his relationships with various people and how they all intertwine. In the programme Matthew speaks about how in the original script Garry's sexual relationships with both men and women were more subtle but the decision was made to make it more obvious this time and it really worked, as well as it being important bisexual representation. Andrew felt so natural in the role, when  he came on stage you felt his presence immediately and you could hear a pin drop as the audience were just so captured by him, myself included. His performance truly left me speechless, he portrayed complex emotions beautifully and was fabulously camp and over the top in just the right moments. Nothing was ever too much or too little. I don't use this word often but his performance really was perfection.

This extends to the rest of the cast too, Monica Reed made me laugh so much and the way Indira Varma held herself on stage was enchanting. In a play centred around a man you might expect the women to be somewhat in the background but for me there were several portrayals of strong women in this production. I also remembered Abdul Salis from seeing him in The American Clock and it was wonderful to see him in a role that portrayed so much raw emotion, he really showed his flexibility as an actor and I hope I get to see him in another OV production in the future. But truly, every single person on stage gave as good a performance as the next, it really was the definition of a team effort.

Photos by Manual Harlan

As for my highlights, there were a few moments I loved. I won't spoil anything but there was a moment with a wheelchair that made me laugh so much as a wheelchair user myself, I think the rest of the audience were horrified (and amused) but I found it rather relatable and therefore even funnier! A big part of the show is also the theme of the actor/fan relationship, something I would love to see portrayed on stage more as it's such a big part of theatre. Obviously this play is set in a time very different to now but I think it touched on some important messages and showed how difficult the actor/fan relationship can be, from both perspectives.

And oh how I laughed! It's the first comedy play I've seen and by the time it got to the interval I was ready and eager to book to see it again as soon as possible. Someone was clearly on my side as despite it being near enough sold out, I managed to grab the wheelchair space for a performance next week. This show really is the joy that everyone needs in their life, but also balanced by complex emotions and stories. For me, this is what a play should be. It made me feel everything possible. The combination of the cast, the writing, the direction and the breathtaking set (seriously OV, 10/10 for all your sets) made this one of the best shows I have ever seen, and most certainly the best play.

If you've not already booked you've got until August 10th to catch this masterpiece, this is one show you should be sure not to miss out on. Head to The Old Vic website to buy your tickets.

The access at The Old Vic is much the same as usual, with the work to improve their accessibility still ongoing, but this is the first time I'm giving my reviews an accessibility rating as well as a rating for the show itself so I thought it would be good to have a detailed look at The Old Vic's current access, as well as it's plans for the future.

The Old Vic currently has 2 spaces available for wheelchair users in the stalls, I've sat in N6 for every production I've seen there and it has always been an incredible view. It's close to the stage and there is no restriction in my opinion. Entry to the theatre for wheelchair users is currently via a side entrance, which gives you access to the auditorium and the accessible toilet. Access to the foyer areas is not possible for wheelchair users at the moment. The accessible toilet has a concertina door, as the space itself is not particularly big. I am a powerchair user and I can just about turn around to come back out, although others may find it easier to reverse in or reverse out depending on how you transfer. Patrons with mobility difficulties can also use this entrance. There are audio described and captioned performances for every production The Old Vic puts on, as well as relaxed performances for shows like A Christmas Carol. I also didn't know this before but you can actually contact The Old Vic to ask about whether any of their shows contain triggering themes, this isn't something I've seen before and I think it's great!

I've rated the access for how it is currently but I have taken into consideration that work is currently ongoing to make the foyer areas like the box office and the cafe accessible for wheelchair users and other disabled people. There will also be an increased number of wheelchair spaces, taking them from 2 to 10! Work is also being done to double the number of women's toilets as well, including adding another accessible toilet. I truly cannot wait for the work to be completed later this year and to explore the theatre further. There are also even more plans for the future, I think The Old Vic could end up being one of the most accessible theatres in London in the end.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Powerchair Update | What Happened To My Old Powerchair?

Disclaimer: The upgrade to my own powerchair and my old powerchair being donated was provided by Quantum for free, but I am not paid by them. 

In a powerchair update last year I shared with you the exciting news that Quantum (the company who make my incredible powerchar) had kindly offered to upgrade my Edge 2.0 powerchair to the newer model, the Edge 3.0. I actually ended up being the first person in the UK to have the powerchair and the upgrade has been incredible for me. I was hesitant to accept it though since I had fundraised for my powerchair and I only had it because of the kindness of others, so I wanted to make sure that I was honouring that if I went ahead with the upgrade. Well, between Quantum and I we came up with an idea, they offered to take the base of my old powerchair and add seating and anything else needed so we could donate it to someone. It's so important to me to pass on the kindness shown to me and so this was the perfect way to make sure that the gift given to me would not go to waste, to me I was seeing it as being able to change not only my life but now someone else's too. It's taken a while to organise but I am so over the moon to say that we found someone and have delivered the chair!

I've known Faith online for a little while, we'd talked occasionally and I was aware of her situation with her own NHS powerchair from our conversations when I got my new chair. She was an example of how even when you receive NHS help, many people end up with the wrong chair. She hadn't been measured properly so it didn't even fit her, causing a great deal of discomfort. It defeated it's own purpose, a wheelchair is something that is meant to give you more freedom but like with my own first powerchair, Faith's was limiting her. She needed something that was measured to her, designed to fit her life and her need's and something that would enable her to enjoy the things she loves doing most, like going to concerts and festivals. It's not much to ask for, but the NHS just couldn't deliver. So, she was a natural choice when I was trying to find someone. My situation prior to receiving my current powerchair was very similar to hers and so I knew how much of a difference a new powerchair would make to her life. I was so excited to be on the other end of things!

Once we'd offered Faith the powerchair Quantum were able to get someone out to her to measure her properly, making sure the powerchair was right for her life and then we got the ball rolling! Finally a month ago myself and a few of the Quantum team travelled up to Leeds to deliver the chair to Faith, a day I'd been looking forward to ever since we made the decision. I will remember that day and Faith's reaction to seeing the chair, and sitting in it, for the first time for a long while. The joy and relief was clear to see and I immediately knew that it was going to the right home. Almost instantly she said she was sitting differently because it was made to fit her. Like me, Faith really puts her wheelchair through its paces in what she does and I know for sure that this will enable her to do things that have been difficult or impossible before now.

Faith's powerchair also has the iLevel function, something I now use on a daily basis to help me do everything from give standing ovations in theatres to hugging my girlfriend. It has made an undeniable difference to my life and I'm over the moon to see it change someone else's life too. I already know that it will transform her experiences at concerts and festivals, as well as in her everyday life.

I truly knew we'd made the right decision when Faith sent me a text a couple of weeks back after she'd gone on a 5 mile trip down to her local canal and shop, the joy was clear to see. Sometimes it's the simple things, going to the local shop was one of the first things I did in my powerchair. Whilst it doesn't compare to the things I do on a weekly basis now it proves how much of daily life disabled people miss out on when we don't have the right equipment.

I will keep you all updated on how Faith is getting on with the chair across social media (@shonalouiseblog on Twitter and Instagram). I'm so excited to see all the adventures she goes on! Look out for another powerchair update from me in a couple of months too, it's almost 18 months since I received my chair! I can't wait to share what I've been up to in the last 6 months.

Friday, 31 May 2019

All My Sons at The Old Vic | Review

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

My third play of the year! This time last year I would not have guessed for one second that I'd be going into June having seen 3 plays in just 5 months. I've always insisted that plays aren't for me, and whilst I am definitely more of a musicals person I've really surprised myself by how much I have enjoyed branching out of my comfort zone and appreciating some different shows.

It is also always a joy to visit The Old Vic, the building work to make the theatre more accessible and add more toilets is still ongoing and it is so exciting to see how much work has gone into it and how much they clearly care about accessibility. I cannot wait to visit this Autumn when the work is completed! Although, I've at least one more trip before then to see Andrew Scott in Present Laughter, but for now, let's talk about All My Sons.

I will admit that I didn't know much about Arthur Miller prior to seeing two productions written by him this year, but I am definitely glad that I now feel as though I've learnt a lot through my own research and watching the plays. It's interesting to watch something that was written so long ago, very far from the kind of writing I am used to in the productions I see.

'You don't realise how people can hate Chris, they hate so much they'll tear the world to pieces... '

America, 1947. Despite hard choices and even harder knocks, Joe and Kate Keller are a success story. They have built a home, raised two sons and established a thriving business. 

But nothing lasts forever and their contented lives, already shadowed by the loss of their eldest boy to war, are about to shatter. With the return of a figure from the past, long buried truths are forced to the surface and the price of their American dream is laid bare.' - The Old Vic

We have to talk about the set first, I am amazed every time I visit The Old Vic by their flexibility in how the stage and seating can be configured, every show I've seen has been set up in a different way. Sometimes there's been seating on stage, once there was a revolve and other times the stage has come up through the middle of the stalls! I'd seen photos of the set prior to seeing the show and had already been blown away but when that house came on to the stage at the start of the show it really took my breath away. The skill and preparation that had gone into the set was astounding and I applaud everyone that made that happen.

At school I was always fascinated with 1900s American history, whether it was the roaring 20s, the great depression or the years that followed after, so this kind of story was right up my street. Act 1 to me felt like context, you learnt a lot about each character's background and how they ended up where they are, which is of course important but I felt as though this didn't need a whole act to do. The story picked up pace quite quickly in Act 2 though, it was higher energy and I felt myself being a lot more engaged and invested in the story. There were so many raw emotions being portrayed that it was difficult not to find yourself immersed in their lives. Despite the fact that it was a little predictable at times this wasn't something that bothered me as the quality of the acting was incredibly high.

It was such a treat to get to see Bill Pullman, Sally Field, Jenna Coleman and Colin Morgan perform on stage, supported by an incredible cast. They all really made the performance what it is, to have 4 actors on stage who can portray emotional so exceptionally was such a delight and something I'm glad I didn't miss.

It's still true that I favour musicals over plays but the more I visit The Old Vic, the more I'm enjoying watching something that looks so deeply into what is being portrayed. Something that requires all of your concentration. I recommend everyone visits the theatre at least once to experience it, even if you are sure you're only a musicals person!

As for the access, things are much the same as my previous 2 trips. The building work is still ongoing so getting into the theatre is tricky for everyone but for the most part the team are doing a great job of organising things. I was sat in N6 again with a great view of the stage and the staff got me and the other access patrons in slightly earlier to make things easier. I am definitely counting down to when the building work is finished though, when I will finally see more of the theatre and have choice of 10 wheelchair spaces! Yes, 10! It's an exciting time.

All My Sons is playing until 8th June at The Old Vic, tickets are still available for a few performances on the website and day seats are available from 10am at the box office each day.
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