Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Storyhouse: The Secret Seven Review

When Storyhouse announced that its first Christmas show was to be a live stage adaptation of The Secret Seven, it was as if a childhood dream had come true. The classic Enid Blyton stories were a firm favourite of mine growing up.

As much as I loved The Famous Five, also famously written by Blyton, The Secret Seven just felt more relatable to me. They made their plans in the garden shed, their adventures were set locally with parents often getting in the way, ruining their best laid plans with talk of bedtime and chores! By contrast the Famous Five spent a questionable amount of time alone, visiting strange island’s and doing what they pleased.  So, whilst the Famous Five books are arguably more widely known and may have been a more obvious choice for an adaptation. I think we can all relate to those early childhood dreams of seeking adventure, sibling rivalry and getting told off in front of your mates by your Mum. More so, than being packed off for the summer to a great Aunts, following bearded strangers and finding hidden treasure anyway.
I was lucky enough to attend the press evening of the Secret Seven with my daughter, Seren who has never read the Secret Seven books before, so was looking at the show with a completely fresh pair of eyes. I am thrilled to say she loved it just as much as I did, so much so that she has now added all of the books to her (still ever growing) Christmas list.

Seren is an avid reader, just like her Mum, and she always say’s that the best stories are the ones where you feel as if you are transported into another time and place. Where you feel like you are part of the adventure itself, and both Seren and I can honestly say that Glyn Maxwell’s stage adaptation did just that!

Directed by Storyhouse’s very own artistic director Alex Clifton, The Secret Seven is set at Christmas in the quintessentially British village of Cherrydale, and the austerity of a post WW2 Britain. It is here the seven friends unwittingly stumble into the adventure that they have been so desperately looking for.
Despite the lack of a saucy pantomime dame or a nativity donkey in the show, it really does feel very Christmassy! I’m not sure if it was the Christmas carols, or the beautifully decorated trees which set the scene, as you enter Storyhouse that did it. Or, if it was the set cleverly designed by James Perkins adorned with branches, twinkling fairy lights and dark corners.
I could almost feel the warmth and cosiness of Peter and Janet’s garden shed, see the snowy rooftops. and feel the cool crisp air of Cherrydale at night.
Seren also really enjoyed the use the cast made of the stage, climbing telegraph poles, being strung from the ceiling, going down into the stage floor, running on and off the stage. The set felt ‘bigger’ than it actually was because of it.
The story itself starts with Joko the baddie – there’s got to be a baddie in a Secret Seven story and Joko is certainly that – and Goldie, a young girl who is a clown in the local circus, and who he has stolen. Goldie never speaks, yet Seren said she still understood everything Goldie was trying to say. An understated and yet captivating performance by local student Evangeline Hartley. We learn that Joko wants his revenge on Cherrydale, and he is going to steal all the presents from the children on Christmas Eve using Goldie to do it. The opening scene was dark in both mood and lighting, but then kidnapping a girl from the circus and keeping her in an abandoned house will do that I guess.
Joko played by Nick Figgis and had a bit of a Jonny Rotten, cockney wide by persona going on for him, he also played the role of Peter and Janet’s Dad, I had no idea!  As the bad guy, Joko doesn’t redeem himself in any way as you would expect in a Christmas show, unlike his somewhat bumbling buffoon of an accomplice Nimms, played by Joel Sams. A hapless, blundering council employee, and you could see he was wondering what on earth he’s got himself involved in with every arm jerk, face twitch and blinking eye.

The Secret Seven come across their sinister plan one dark, cold evening and make a pact to not involve their parents or police and solve the mystery themselves. so standard Secret Seven behaviour! In the books, as much as I loved the adventures they had, it did kind of feel to me that the characters of the seven kind of morphed into one another, They were sometimes almost secondary to the story. That is definitely not the case in the stage show, they seven really do come alive in every way!

Pic: Mark Carline 

I mean who knew Barbara was so loud and bossy and had such a strong Scottish accent? Brilliantly played by Molly Logan.  Who knew Jack was from Liverpool and was so forgetful and clumsy. George Caple who plays him and Anton Cross who plays a nervous, excitable George were very funny together. Especially in the scene where they stumble across Nimms in the midst of stealing Christmas gifts, who then tries to pass himself off as an elf!  Pam see’s things a little differently than the others, and seems younger. Played by Aryana Ramkhalawon who portrays her as innocent, excitable and sweet and talks so fast you can’t keep up!  And then there is Colin, slightly superior, know it all Colin. Great performance here by Kaffe Keating, his lines made for some real laugh out loud moments. Of course, we have the ‘‘heads’ of The Secret Seven. Kind, responsible Janet played by Harriet Slater and her brother Peter played by Harry Jardine. Someone who seeks adventure, and wants to be brave but is also a little unsure of himself.  And who could forget the most important member of the Secret Seven society? Scamper! 
OK so there was no real dog on stage for the whole performance, much to Seren’s disappointment BUT puppet Scamper isn’t a bad substitute at all, in fact he is amazing! He looks so realistic and we see him  communicating with his owners in barks. we think we hear “Mum” at one point to get her attention. He also plays an important part in the mystery, guarding Goldie and seeing off Joko, and we get to see real Scamper at the end.

Peter holding the beautiful golden haired spaniel Scamper in his arms, singing Christmas carols? I’m got to admit I got a bit teary eyed. Much to my Daughters dismay!
Now, as much as I hate to say it and you really should never have favourites when it comes to children. As outstanding as all the cast were in their performances, even down to smaller parts such as Peter and Janet’s’ parents, and the ‘Greengrocer’ another local student Thomas Martin, who comes to Peters aide with solving the crime. (A very funny moment when you realise why he’s called the greengrocer!) There were two characters that stood out for me and they were Jack’s sister Susie and her friend Binkie played by Rebecca Birch and Tillie-Mae Millbrook. They were an absolutely hilarious comedy duet, who bounced off each other on stage oozing fun, personality and feistiness! A real ‘whatever boys can do we can do better’ attitude, my daughter loved them and Binkies lyrics! I loved the way that despite the fact they were dismissed by Peter and Jack at the start.  it is thanks to Binkie and Susie the Seven solve the mystery!

As expected the story ends with the Seven saving the day, and Christmas, and some fun audience participation, carols and even Santa thrown in too! All you could want from a festive show.
Some may have raised eyebrows that your typical Christmas panto was not on the menu for Storyhouse’s very first Christmas. For me? it felt absolutely right that instead, it celebrates it with a world’s first on stage adaptation of a much loved children’s classic. 
And what a job they did. 
Well done Storyhouse!

Thanks to Storyhouse and @Shitchester  
By Rachel O Kelly @mrsrachelokelly

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

We Need To Talk About The Elf....

Let me start off by saying that I absolutely LOVE Christmas, it really is my favourite time of year.
I love decorating the Christmas tree, the Christmas films and Christmas carols, I love visits to Santa's grotto, and browsing the Christmas markets. Markets where you find yourself forking out £4 for a cup of mulled wine that you don't even like, but drink anyway because hey it's festive!
I love the old Christmas traditions that we have, such as a family walk down to  Eccleston village where we grew up, and new PJ's on Christmas Eve.
To new family traditions such as Christmas Eve boxes, tracking Santa, and our family and friends getting together on Christmas Eve in the local pub, then going home to leave a baileys out for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph.
Oh, and how could I forget a Christmas Baileys? You can't put up the Christmas tree in our house without a Christmas film on the TV, and a big glass of Baileys it's the festive law. Also, another thing I never drink at any other time of year, but for some reason must have at Christmas!

I try to do everything I can to make it special, and put a huge amount of pressure on myself to try and make it  'perfect'  for everyone. Why I do that? Well that's probably a therapy session I can't afford right now because, you know it's Christmas.....

So bearing all this in mind, you might find it surprising that there's one thing I just can't get on board with.

Elf On The Shelf.

I know, I know! This possibly makes me a terrible parent as it seems most people LOVE him, and really enjoy doing it. I get that he brings a lot of wonder and magic to children, especially to the little ones, who must wake up in anticipation each morning to see what mischief he's been up to.

Not this much, hopefully.

I just find the idea of him, a bit, well creepy, here's why.

1. He's not heard of or spoken of ALL year, then he just turns up unannounced on the 1st of December, to stay in your home all month. Bit rude if you ask me.

Hello! I'm here to be an annoying little t*** for the next 24 days!

 2 He's a toy that comes to life at night. Now that might have worked out OK in Toy Story, but there's also this guy.

And I know which one Elfie remind of, and it's not Woody, or Mr Potato Head.

3. He is there to basically silently judge you and your parenting.,and then report it all back to the North Pole, I don't know about you but do I really want Elf telling Santa that Mummy had a nervous breakdown at 11 pm whilst making a nativity costume? Or  that Mummy drank maybe a bit too much Baileys whilst re arranging all the xmas tree decorations? No, No I don't.

Yeah, well don't judge me you creepy little tattle tale!

4. He's a pretty poor house guest.
He contributes nothing to the running of the house, or any stimulating conversation. Yet he vandalises your house and craps in random places. So not that much different to having a toddler, or a cat really

It was the cat. Honest.

5. He's a hypocrite.
He's fine to trash the house, and get up to all sorts of naughty behaviour yet if the kids do it he reports them to Santa!

Let's face it if you came down and the kids did this? They'd be in the shit.

6. He is high maintenance.
You see, the Elf doesn't just sit on the shelf, no, he has to be found in some really interesting and inventive (also known as time consuming) places each day. As if it's not a busy enough time of year anyway, with day's filled with the school run, work, doing the food shop. Buying presents, wrapping presents. Christmas fayres and nativity's. You also have to find the time to scroll through pinterest looking for 24 clever Elf ideas and hating yourself.

Great. Just got to find the time today to dry this little shit before tonight's fun and games start....

7. And what if you've gotten into bed, and you've forgotten to move the bloody thing?


8.  He's basically a smiling dictator there to scare your kids into behaving, or he'll take his creepy ass back to the North Pole and tell Santa not to bring them any presents. Elves aren't creepy dictators! They are like Buddy from 'Elf', or Patch from 'Santa Clause The Movie'!

9. If left in the wrong hands Elf could cause some serious psychological damage.

10. Despite all this, if my daughter didn't find him just as creepy as I did, then you can guarantee I'd be on pinterest til the early hours looking for ideas, and documenting his every move on facebook.


Friday, 20 October 2017

I Haven't Always 'Got This Mama'

I see this on social media All. The.Time.

"You've got this mama"!

I mostly see it on Instagram in those perfectly filtered little squares, posted by someone who looks EXACTLY like she has indeed  'got this . Often accompanied by bunch of pretty peonies with a link to where you can buy them, naturally #AD

One post I read, was by a reasonably well known 'Mom Blogger' .

It was about how she will sometimes stop to connect with other 'Moms' when they look like they're having a bad time. Maybe their toddler is kicking off in the supermarket, or whilst they are out for lunch or something. She stops to look at the Mom, "really look at her" (which to me just sounds a little bit like staring.but there you go) Then she hugs the Mom and say's "You got this, You're doing a great job"!

No one has ever done this to me. Ever.

No one stopped me when my then toddler was mid meltdown in Starbucks, and I was trying to navigate a pram, overpriced coffee and a 3 year old out the door. One who has suddenly lost the ability to walk, talk or be reasoned with.

No-one ever hugged me and told me I 'got this' when my daughter was in a wheelchair and I couldn't get around the aisles of the local supermarket. Where I managed to knock a carton of cream out of someones basket and all over the floor. That lady didn't look like she wanted to stop and hug me, quite the opposite in fact.

No one came over to me in the park when I was watching my child take part in what appeared to be some sort of crips vs bloods showdown over the play equipment. No -one shouted over and said "Hey mama you got this"!

Because the truth is? Right there and then in those moments I hadn't 'got it' at all.

I wouldn't have wanted anyone 'really looking at me'

I wouldn't feel comfortable with any awkward hugging or motivational speaking from a complete stranger.

Do you know what I'd have liked? Just 'The look'

You know the one I mean, It's done in that very British way of firstly completely ignoring the other Mum so they don't think that you're judging them. Then you panic that this looks exactly like your judging so you spend the next few minutes desperately trying to catch their eye.

And when you do? You give 'the look'. That small smile and sympathetic eye that says "We've all been there" nothing more needs to be said, nothing more needs to be done.

Because I don't always feel like I'm doing a 'great job'. I don't always feel like I make the right decisions, taking a wheelchair out in the pissing rain food shopping, and visiting the play park after a busy day hyped up on Haribo should of taught me that.

And that's normal right? It's normal to not always go around patting yourself on the back on the wonderful job you're doing at work, life and parenting.

If you do? Well as my wise Nana once said "The problem with pedestals is they can be too easy to fall from"

I don't always feel like I got this.
I don't always feel like I'm doing a great job.
Sometimes it feels like everyone is doing a better job than me, and there's actually a secret 'proper Mum club' I haven't yet gained entry too.

And that's OK.

It's OK to not always 'Got this Mama'

And if I see you? And you're having a moment when you haven't  got this either? I'll give you the look, I'll pass you the cup that's rolled on the floor in the cafe, hold the door open in Starbucks.
Definitely not push past you in the supermarket or judge you for having a kid that's involved in a zip wire stand off in the play area.

Like I said, we've all been there.

Rachel x

Is it just me or am I just showing my age because when I hear the word "Mama" this is what I see.

OK, so I'm definitely showing my age.