Friday, 30 January 2015

Review | Merchant of Venice at Almeida Theatre

Viva Las Vegas!

What happens when you combine Elvis, Vegas, Shakespeare and former Headlong Artistic Director Rupert Goold? Why a remake of The Merchant of Venice set in Las Vegas of course! Rupert Goold is now pretty established in his tenancy as Artistic Director at the Almeida Theatre and this is not the first explosively vibrant set we've seen nor will it be the last. The charm of Goold is in the exaggerated characterisations and the brilliantly diverse settings and adaptations. The sticking point is that sometimes the productions are so over-the-top they make my teeth ache and he has a tendency to stick to a similar set design at its core - same old tricks every time. 

And I have to be honest, at the end of this production I couldn't work out if I loved it or hated it. It was definitely the best adaptation of this under performed Shakespeare play I've seen but the characters were verging on caricatures: Jessica a hopeless geek, Shylock the stooping slimy Jew, and Antonio seems doubled over with the weight of life before he's even faced the trials of this play. At some points it's like we've accidentally wandered in to Titus Andronicus and the scene where Shylock's call for a pound of Antonio's flesh borders on an episode of Homeland. All a bit grim. 

This for me is the issue - just as the play reaches its darkest point, the incredibly exaggerated character of Portia comes wandering in. And that for me is the crucial problem with this adaptation - it can't decide what genre the play is: comedy or tragedy? Without clear direction I end feeling confused and unsatisfied. For me great theatre should move you: to laughter, tears, action. This adaptation just didn't drive up that passion in me.

The Merchant of Venice is on at the Almeida Theatre until 14th February. For more details and to book tickets visit the Almeida's website.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Health | Sweatshop Run Club

For the last 32 weeks, I have been the member of a group who meets once a week during our lunch breaks to collectively help ourselves feel better. I am a member of Sweatshop's free running clubs which take place across the country in Sweatshop stores. I've been lucky enough since June to have the flagship branch of Sweatshop ten minutes from my office. Sweatshop Trump Street organise 9 free runs a weeks - a lunchtime run every day at 1pm - a 5k along the north bank of the River Thames and 4 evening runs covering different distances and abilities at 6:30pm Monday-Thursday. 

So for 32 weeks now, I have dragged myself out during my lunch break and hit the streets in my trainers taking on the bankers on their salad runs, the midday shoppers and the tourists to get my card signed and get a run in. The principle is simple: anyone, of any ability, can turn up and run for free. The first time you go you will be given a card with which to get your attendance signed off - maximum of one a week. There are then milestones when you are given prizes for reaching. So if you run 5 times you'll get a run club t-shirt from Adidas. Run 25 weeks and you get a Lucozade nutrition pack, 30 weeks gets you a foam roller and if you manage 50 you'll get a pair of trainers of your choice from Sweatshop worth up to £100. The only catch is you have a year within which to achieve it. It's all a bit addictive once you start and sees daft beans like me hitting the London pavements on Christmas Eve (with my poor husband who I dragged along with me) and commuting in even when I'm on holiday to get in my run (such as a very enjoyably quiet one on 2nd January).

Last Wednesday I went to the Cambridge Sweatshop intermediate/advanced group which was a 5 mile run with interval training in the middle and a coach finishing with a cool down session. It was totally brilliant and has spurred me on for the rest of my training. Group support and encouragement is so helpful when you are training for a goal or when it's raining and you don't fancy going outside. Sweatshop run club has got me out in boiling hot conditions, when it's been raining, below freezing and during holidays. Honestly, there is no stopping me now!

So why not lace up your trainers and give SRC a go - they're fun, they're free and the guys you meet are pretty inspirational.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review | DV8's John

Are you ready to enter the world of John? Are you ready to hear about the life of a member of the forgotten areas of British society? This is a tale of abuse, prison, debt, loss, grief, hardship and some light at the end of the tunnel.

Physical Theatre company DV8 bring their unique mix of movement and truth to this verbatim piece telling the story of John’s life through his own words. They overlay speech with movement seamlessly so by the end dancing is just a normal way to watch the interaction of one man’s life as we flick through the pages from birth to present day.

I’m rare to quote the Daily Mail, but their theatre reviewer Quentin Lett’s described the play as 'A National DISGRACE: Sleazy. Amoral. And paid for by you!' Best advert for a piece of theatre ever? If the Daily Mail disagrees with it it has to be grounds to see it. This is the story of the lost, the last and the least. The story of a member of society who our society has forgotten about and I think it should be celebrated that DV8 have chosen to focus on such a character.

That said, there are moments which I think take it simply too far and there is a whole side story about a gay couple who run a sauna which I wouldn't suggest is the best thing to take your prudish grandparents to. Verbatim, however, is about telling the true story - not manipulating someone's tale for your own agenda and DV8 have remained true to what they have heard for which they should be applauded.

I believe John is a fantastic example of verbatim theatre: honest, shocking, enlightening and true to the original speaker's voice and story. A triumph by DV8.

John is on tour now. Tickets and tour information below.

Brighton Dome: 28th-29th January 2015
Warwick Arts Centre: 4th-6th February 2015



Friday, 16 January 2015

Baking | New year new you: Vegan cinnamon rolls

The new year is all about creating new goals and helping get back on track with being who you want to be whether that is in body, mind or spirit.

As a newly discovered health buff there is nothing like embracing the new year with gusto and enthusiasm and excitement. To start my new year off in the best possible way, I'm trying to start my day right with good breakfast choices. As part of my vegan before six lifestyle, I have been trying to find delicious alternatives to picking up a croissant at the station on my way to catch my train. These little beauts are the perfect on-the-run breakfast.

Vegan cinnamon rolls
Makes 24 mini or 12 large

1 pack instant yeast
1 cup almond milk
125g 'Pure' (dairy free butter)
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups plain flour
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
50g & 1 tbsp caster sugar (Tip: Gone sugar-free? Replace the caster sugar with agave syrup instead spreading it across your rolled out dough before sprinkling on top the cinnamon)

How to make them
1. Melt the butter with the milk making sure it never reaches boiling point. Leave to cool until room temperature.
2. Add the yeast. Leave for 10 mins then add 1tbsp sugar, the salt and stir.
3. Add the flour 1/3rd of a cup at a time. If you've got a mixer this is the perfect thing to use it on as the mixture can be incredibly sticky but with enough kneading it will form a ball eventually.
4. Take another mixing bowl, coat it in rapeseed oil then cover the top of the bowl in cling film and lave to prove in a warm place for an hour. It should roughly double in size,
5. Roll out the dough in to a rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Top with 50g caster sugar and the cinnamon.
6. Starting at one end, tightly roll the dough up in to a sausage. Use a serrated knife to cut the dough in to inch sections and position in a well greased oven proof dish. Place the rolls next to each other leaving a couple of centimetre gaps between each of the rolls.
7. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (fan). Leave the cinnamon rolls to prove for a second time for 15 minutes.
8. Bake for 25 mins in the oven.

And done! They'll keep for a couple of days but personally I just freeze them individually taking one out the night before I'm on my way to work. The perfect healthy-ish breakfast - vegan, easy to grab on your way out the door and so delicious you won't mind sacrificing your usual pastry treat for these little dreams.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Review | Golem at the Young Vic Theatre

“Move with the times or you’ll be left behind!” 
1927 bring their fusion of intricate animation and meticulous performance to the stage once more at the Young Vic to ask what the impact of technology is on our nation and ourselves. But is it right to ask such bold questions about technology in a performance so reliant on that format?

An unnamed location in an unnamed time. Robert, a nerdy, awkwardly spoken boy of an unknown age buys another one of his friends apparent inventions. It’s the only thing he spends his salary on, apart from rather disgusting greasy spoon lunches. But this invention is different, this clay man – a cross between a personal assistant and a robot, is changing and evolving as the days go on. Something else may be controlling this golem – someone other than Robert.

Log on to Facebook at the minute and most people are desperately trying to claim back their privacy through statements about who owns their content. Viral content on websites like Twitter and YouTube continue to make internet sensations out of relatively mundane situations and individuals: what do you think about this trend in modern technology? When the media and police can hack your calls without you knowing should we be worried?

1927’s weird and kooky mix of bold animation and simplistic characters provides this play with a rich sub-text that enables your mind to wander and ask questions about your own life and your own interface with technology. Personally I love that quiet space that is created for thought and my own imagination but it’s not for everyone – there isn’t the same security in this performance that you might get in something more traditional but honestly: that is what is exciting.

Come on: roll up, roll up and prepare to be afraid.

Golem is on at the Young Vic until 31st January 2015. For more details and to book tickets visit the Young Vic's website.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Review | 2071 at The Royal Court

The stage is set. The audience expectant. Apart from most the audience aren’t sure if what they are about to witness is theatre or a lecture. At the Royal Court this evening climate stage is taking centre stage – Chris Rapley, a professor of climate science at UCL is performing a monologue in front of a series of projected graphs directed by the inspiring and challenging Katie Mitchell. I’ve come to see 2071 at the Royal Court – a play that asks if there is any hope for the human race in the face of climate change. The title of the play comes from Rapley asking what will the world look like when his granddaughter is the same age he is? What catastrophes could be in store for our planet?

As a Western country, we can have a preference and desire to sometimes close our eyes and ears to the potential consequences of burning too much fossil fuel so I found this portrayal fascinating as it endeavoured to be purely scientific. The audience, in just 60 minutes, are presented with all the facts and details to understand the true situation of climate change and given the chance to decide their own outcome and path.

There is something both terrifying and quite freeing in this and I loved Mitchell's direction which was simple, clean and therefore incredibly powerful. Was this theatre? Others may argue it isn't but I left feeling empowered to instigate change, compelled to think about what I'd heard and encouraged to tell others.

We have the power to change the course of human fate - if we are simply bold enough to stand up and take responsibility. 2071 will challenge you to do just that - open your ears and listen to the truth of the situation: it might just surprise you.

2071 returns to The Royal Court for 3 performances from 23rd-24th January. For more details and to book tickets visit the Royal Court website.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Health | I am a runner

Welcome to January. For the already fit amongst you this will no doubt be the season of dread. The New Years resolutions are in full grip across the nation, gyms that were beautifully quiet two weeks a go are now bursting at the seams, the gentle lunchtime run has suddenly become a fight to the death against flashy-kit-wearing newly resolved fitness fanatics. 

In 2014 I became a runner. I don't mean professionally, nor do I mean that I created a New Years resolution that altered my life. I began running back in 2010 where, on a whim, I entered a marathon and suddenly found myself with a training plan. I had been working for a boarding school at the time and was asked to take part in their cross country race. Having played sport at uni but never really run I thought - 3 miles; easy! It took me over an hour and I was so completely shocked at my inability that in that moment I thought I had to prove to myself that I could be fit because if I didn't do it now, I'd never do it.

Ready to run to work
Fast forward to 2013 and I had run a marathon, 2 half marathons and a handful of 10k and 5k races. But I was still painfully slow and I would fall in and out of training through injury and simply lack of drive. Then in January 2013 something began to change my running pattern: I transformed the way I ate. I joined Weight Watchers at the time as I was getting married in the June and felt I still ate like a child - desperately in need of sugary snacks to survive the workplace. I learnt what a difference increasing the amount of fruit and veg I eat can make on my diet, health and, as a consequence, weight. The week before my wedding I broke the hour barrier at 10k, now a stone lighter, and practically wept for joy.

Then in 2014 for the first time ever I followed a training programme - not to the letter in terms of activity but I did hit the mileage required each week and began to run regularly. I went in to the Cambridge half marathon in March hoping to beat my PB of 2:33 and ran 2:14. I was totally shocked at how quick I was. Guttingly, two weeks after that race I had horrible foot problems and had to pause the running completely for 6 weeks after medical advice. But that made me look back to my diet and I embraced a new diet I'd heard about - "Vegan Before 6".

Royal Parks Half Marathon 2014
I started training again in June joining both a Sweatshop Run Club and running my local Parkrun regularly and worked towards breaking my PBs at 5k, 10k and half marathon. 
At the Royal Parks Half in October I ran 2:01. Then I did the Saffron Walden 10k also in October and smashed my PB achieving 52mins. This week I broke the 25 min barrier at 5k achieving a 24:56 time at Cambridge Parkrun.

So now I am a passionate runner, I think about running when I'm eating, I run to work, I follow a training programme, I care about split times, I'm passionate about getting others to try running and I own lycra shorts. In short, now I am a runner.

Hampstead Heath Parkrun on Christmas Day 2014