Thursday, 22 February 2018

One year on.......

An anniversary; a date commemorating an event. A wedding anniversary, a birthday are joyful things Remembrance Sunday a sombre event, but the anniversary of a loved ones passing or a first Christmas without them is unbearable. Our lives are made up of anniversaries good and bad and this week marks a reflective one for my husband and I. It is one year since we miscarried our first baby and marks 12 months of further miscarriages, pregnancies and fear all interspersed with the joy of getting married and creating our first home together. I refuse to use that analogy of a rollercoaster but it certainly feels like we’ve been on some fast paced journey that hasn’t given us the choice to get off to breathe and reflect.

I have been teary over the last few weeks as the enormity of this anniversary has crept up on me. Sad at the hardship we have shared but yet proud of the way it has galvanised us and created this partnership where we feel safe and protected together, ready to fight off life’s challenges.

We are not special. We are not the only couple to suffer loss and struggles conceiving a child, indeed it is everywhere and our story is no better or brutal than anyone else’s. But we own it and I chose to write about it because to me writing is the only way I can collate my thoughts and begin to understand it all. In my opinion, people don’t talk about miscarriage and loss enough. Of course it is an insanely private thing, my late Grandfather certainly wouldn’t be one to advocate openly chatting about one’s issues, but knowing someone else has been through it can sometimes really help a person deep in the mire of it all.

As I read back through my writings from a year ago, and then from last autumn when it happened again, the words scream off the screen at me. It is so raw, painful and honest. I knew that feelings would lessen in time so I feel glad that I wrote back then to fully appreciate their weight. Some of it feels like it was yesterday but others are vague as my body has worked hard to protect me from the pain of it all and forced me to move on.

“I never thought that I would carry my first baby out of the hospital in a jiffy bag. My name written on it in biro, diminishing the significance of its contents. I am that one in four. The potential mother who isn’t.”

Is how I started my reflection on my first miscarriage. Miscarriage varies for every woman; it can be a quick event in the toilet at work or it can be a rushed to hospital in an ambulance. Unfortunately for me, it was the latter both times with morphine pumping through my veins, my body unable to deal with what was happening.

“As my pupils enlarge and the pain dulls I am carried to the ambulance, my pulse has gotten so weak that it cannot be found. I feel as drained and devoid of life as that vital sign implies. I am wrung out and out of fight. My skin is drained of colour as every part of my being has been sent to my abdomen to fight off this attack. But I couldn’t defeat it on my own, it has won.

Just like last time, the pregnancy matter is removed from me by a doctor. Undignified and sad, it is yanked out like old seaweed from a plastic bucket. That potential for life looking like it never stood a chance. It certainly didn’t in me.”

The self-loathing brought on by a miscarriage is also over-looked. You feel like a failure; a mother who cannot protect her own child, a wife who cannot make her husband happy and a woman who cannot fulfil nature’s purpose. I now feel devastated that I could say such things about myself and mean them whole-heartedly. But it is natural in those weeks after such an event, when the world feels bleak, to blame yourself and I certainly did.

The language used by doctors also doesn’t help; “pregnancy matter” doesn’t quantify the meaning of what I felt was inside of me. I will never forget the sonographer, as I lay on the bed on my 36th birthday straining to see some flicker of life from the mass on the screen, saying “I can’t condemn it as they has been some growth.” CONDEMN! Our second baby wasn’t some old building to be torn down. I understand that they see case after case like ours and it’s their job so emotive language cannot be part of it, but if I ever see that woman again........

However, today is to reflect and not dwell. Anniversaries are to be marked but they are not as significant as the original day. Things stay with you, perhaps even defining you in a new way but the pain can diminish with each passing year. Sadly in life these things happen, and to more people than we realise. Re-writing the Fairytale means to explore exactly that. I can honestly say that despite today’s anniversary I still feel like I am living my fairytale with my Prince firmly by my side. Life will always have the ogres, witches and storms, those fairytale ruiners, that real life creeping in. But there is beauty in survival. Beauty in living through certain events and discovering new strength that you failed to believe was within yourself. Life is never how you imagine it will be, but that’s okay because there will always be some good to be found from the ashes, even if it’s a teeny bit. Promise.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Rapunzal Let Down Your Hair - Hair Loss in Women

I had spent all of my life taking my hair for granted and most of my adult life trying to get rid of it; plucking, waxing, shaving, who wants to be hairy? Not me. I downright abused my hair in my career; working in the theatre it was bleached within an inch of its life, screwed up under wigs, back combed and hair sprayed twice daily. I didn't give my hair a second thought and took it for granted, in the way you do your parents, things that will always be there.
Peter Pan - abuse of the hair and the eyes
quite frankly! I mean, cycling shorts,
3,000 kirby grips and shiny tghts...vile!

But in my mid thirties it suddenly wasn't. It started with hairbrushes full of lost hairs, pillows covered in it and then clumps of it coming out when I showered. My hair has always been fine and rather limp but over a year it became scraggly and akin to those mullets sported by stereotypical characters on the Jerry Springer show. This continued for over a year before I let myself admit it was a problem.

It felt truly scary and I left it too long. I tried to explain it away; finding any might right itself it might be a hair cycle, it might be my contraception, anything Google could spew at me. 

In this time my confidence fell away, there were contributing factors such as a career change and a tumultuous relationship but I didn't realise how much hair could define your self confidence. All the swishy hair adverts made me feel ashamed; I certainly didn't feel “I was worth it.” Despite women being able to do whatever they goddam like with their hair these days - a friend shaved hers off for Cancer awareness, another dyes hers a different colour each week - there seemed to be some primal thing in me that believed long shiny hair = attractive female. In the Victorian era women’s hair marked their status and femininity; long hair was seen as sexually alluring and at a time when most of the body was covered up their hair was a way of attracting a partner with your vitality and health. And sadly, I don’t society has changed that much.

I felt vulnerable, unattractive and wanted to be invisible. But my hair loss wasn't down to my contraception, career change or anything else I tried to pin it on, it was caused by stress. I was and continue to be lucky that it wasn't due to medical treatment or a malignant disease so please don't think I am trying to equate my feelings and experiences to those of people who are living through hell. However, I do want to highlight the fact that the stress we encounter from day to day can take its toll on bodies in different ways. For some it's IBS, migraines or insomnia but for me my hair follicles started to shut down from the prolonged period of tension I was allowing into my life. My condition was similar to Telogen Effluvium, where 3 months after a period of stress or a shock your hair follicles stop working and enter a resting phase, but a more chronic condition called Diffuse Hair Loss where the situation continues until the underlying problem is resolved.   I recently read about a woman who's fiancĂ© broke up with her and the shock caused her to lose all the hair on her body, infact a quick Google shows countless stories like mine, I had no idea.

Stress is a dangerous thing because you don't notice it creep up until it's unbearable and the stroke or heart attack has already happened. The feelings of anxiety and heart palpitations become part of your routine and so this becomes your new normal.

I went to a specialist and was told ‘yes I was balding and to sort the stress out in my life.’ Something my mum had been telling me for years but I guess I needed a man who was paid £100s an hour to say it. Poor parents, we never listen and yes they seem to always be right in the end.

So I had to sit down and be honest with myself - what was the root of this stress. I waded through the excuses, battling the whole way and ignoring the glaringly obvious until I had to admit to myself that I was with the wrong person and our deteriorating relationship was wrecking us both. The adage that ‘you work through stuff and stick with things’ only works when you are with the right person. With the wrong one you become twisted, battered and broken and apparently it takes clumps of hair and an objective over paid outsider to make you see that.

It wasn't an easy transition, it took a lot of courage, therapy and yoga to take those tentative steps and throughout it all the hair kept coming away. It didn't suddenly get better, I thought I had made the decision so therefore I'd have a swishy mane of hair by morning but 2 years on I am still slightly limp haired but at least it isn't coming out anymore. I now only use organic and natural products, I have had to embrace my natural mousey hue and I haven't seen a hair dryer or straightening iron for an age. In fact I look rather feral and windswept most days but at least the wispy baby hairs signify new growth and they are staying put.
Luckily my sister bought me a Jason Donovan
wig so I have back up!

I've learnt how fragile we are. Our bodies are capable of incredible things; marathons, childbirth and old age, but we can only control them to a point and then nature takes over. A process I am truly trying to get to grips with and I've recently been given yet another painful reminder that the body will do what it wants, I am not in control of it or nature.

But back to the hair - take care of yourselves; learn to notice changes, become mindful of what feels wrong, your gut will tell you and if you ignore it your body certainly won’t. We only get one life (as far as we know) so you owe it to yourself to live well and enjoy the time you have. We all know that it can be taken away in an instant so why fill our time with stress, commuting and misery? Don't take things for granted; your parents, your body or your hair!

A new beginning.....

I went AWOL for a bit. Sorry about that. Life went weird and instead of writing my way through it as I normally would, I shut down, hid under the duvet and put all my energy into emerging out of the other side. And on my emergence I found something great, so I am ready to reset and refresh and I’m starting with a revamp of this blog.

 I was told over the last few years that life isn’t a fairytale, it’s tough and hard, get your head out of musical theatre land and settle for reality. That’s a bit mean isn’t it? And also completely untrue. Because I have learnt that fairytales DO exist but only if you are ready for them. My life turned into the last few scenes of a rom-com last year when I met my now husband; we courted, got engaged and married in such a joyous haze that I had to admit that every novel, film and poem I had read about love at first sight and ‘the one’ was based in truth. With all that feet sweeping and cloud 9 living, my writing got lost; angst is a wonderful muse whereas happy endings just seem like bragging.

So as I mature into this new role as fully fledged grown up I find my desire to create catch light again. ‘Rewriting My Fairytale’ is a nod to my hopes for that perfect life and enjoying the adventure when you truly become the leading lady of your own story. 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Deck the Halls with................

This week I have bought my Christmas tree from a farm and decorated it whilst watching Love Actually so my festive levels are soaring nicely. I feel like we have all been waiting for December, desperate for a reason to feel utterly joyful and to spread some love around after the onslaught of the previous 11 months.

Last year the Christmas offering at The Rose Theatre, Kingston brought me out of a bleak hole, rather like Moley, and so I was looking forward to topping up my festive levels with their new production of Wind in the Willows. The Rose has had a knockout year; Hollywood directors, high class productions and promises of more to come.

After the hustle and bustle of Kingston’s markets the pastoral scene that greets you on entering the auditorium is a welcome respite. Once again, the use of projection aids the creation of a make believe world on their versatile stage with a babbling brook and luscious green amid a light jazz soundtrack - despite devouring a Wagamama’s 30 minutes before I could almost taste the hot buttered toast!

The adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic by Ciaran McConville has the Disney/Pixar factor; witty, fast paced and with winks to the adults too. The children squealed at the falling snow and Poop Poop (well, I did too actually – I don’t want to ruin it for you but the song is utter genius) whilst the adults enjoyed the dangers of ‘impromtu affairs’ and a tribute to Titanic. Lovely work Mr McConville!

The costume designs by Peter Todd have inspired me to dress like a rabbit in 2017; he made a beautiful job of suggesting animal characteristics via 1940s Britain, seriously, you may well see me sporting a floral tea dress teamed with an eared hat! The whole design is understated and gorgeous and pulls you into this gentle tale of friendship and loyalty.

That's GSA dance training, that is!
I was happy to see my old GSA friend, Mike Taibi in the cast stealing the show with his versatility as a baddie, an old nag (see I knew all that time in War Horse would pay off,) and a cameo as Lady Austin that leaves you wondering why you need to go see any other Christmas show to see a dame. The Youth Theatre are astoundingly talented and match up to the touching performances of the adult cast. The physical work is particularly impressive.

I don’t need a Facebook “review of the year” to tell me about my 2016; moments in this production did that for me. My whole year was there; the idea of coming out from underground to find an adventure, realising the value of home, seeing Mr Badger welcomed into the arms of Mrs Badger who has been waiting for him and meeting someone that makes you smell orange blossom water, the scent of a friendship that will last forever. All of life is found in this tale, that’s why it’s a classic. These are the qualities people are craving at the end of 2016; no need for big presents just grab someone you love and have a “just in case” picnic.

This year, of all the years, we need reassurance that there is good in the world and a reminder of the key values needed for survival; friendship, love and the appreciation for the simple things in life. This production of Wind in the Willows has them in abundance and I promise you that you’ll leave the theatre hopeful of a happier 2017 (and with a memory of the gorgeous Mike Taibi in heels!)

Wind in the Willows is playing at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until January 3rd 2017, get tickets here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Hasn't he done well? Edward Harrison at The Rose

There’s an old adage that actors are competitive – they don’t like to see each other do well and are only bitterly thinking about their own failures when they say “well done on winning your Olivier Award dear,” through gritted teeth. (Think All About Eve or Showgirls.) Well that’s utter tripe.

Most actors you meet are genuinely thrilled when a pal gets a super job; they understand all the years of graft, self doubt and physical theatre classes at drama school that they have endured and so are bouncing off the walls and speedily booking tickets when a job comes off.

Edward Harrison in rehearsals
for All My Sons at The Rose, Kingston
Someone from my old world who is doing jolly well is a lovely man called Ed. Edward Harrison. (check out his website here) We met years ago; him a LIPA graduate and I hailing from down south via GSA; there was no Anchorman style drama school rumble we had a mutual friend in the gorgeous Owain Rhys Davies and used to hang out sometimes. He’s done some amazing jobs and even achieved the holy grail of working in New York; (I’m not jealous I’m not jealous I said to myself even when I heard it was twice!) firstly with Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth and latterly in the critically acclaimed version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Ed continues to be a successful working actor and is currently appearing in The Rose Theatre, Kingston’s production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller.

I love Arthur Miller’s plays and am off to see the show next week so I had a little chat with him about it.

It's very exciting to be part of the first Miller play ever produced here! (The Rose).....It's such a powerful, intricate play....a bedrock. All Miller's play's are layered and complex and so the detective work with regard to what the character is thinking and revealing has been fascinating.
 With our director, Michael Rudman, we've found a state of repression and control - so you're watching these people trying to keep the lid on for whatever reason. It's tricky, but rewarding when it really cooks.

The last play I saw at The Rose was thoroughly modern; will Arthur Miller have the same pull? I personally think that all good drama is consistently relevant and I can’t help thinking that the American Dream themes of Miller continue to echo as November 8th draws near. Ed agrees...

He writes about people in love, in crisis, in search of truth, or peace - universal and timeless - that's why he is brilliant. All My Sons is about many things; namely family, courage, truth and deceit. There was an obsession with money and business in America at the time and you can draw real parallels about what that does to good people and where any sense of morality fits in all that.

What’s lovely about Ed is that he’s reached the stage in his career where he is able to balance it with real life; he’s engaged, passionate about pursuing his craft and yet still in touch with many of his LIPA crowd whether they’re still involved in the industry or not. It’s bloody lovely to hear about his well-deserved success and you can see him at The Rose, or maybe grabbing tea in the Wagamama's next door, from November 2nd - November 19th. Ticket details are here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

People Call It Ragtime......

You all know how much I love Thom Sutherland, I gushedly blogged my admiration a few years ago after seeing his production of Mack and Mabel at Southwalk Playhouse. Well since then his star has been in ascendance - justifiably so – from awards, to Broadway and now Artistic Director of The Charing Cross Theatre. (The Players to us thesbs of the naughties!)

Working with Thom years ago I was inspired by his passion, the rewards of which are constantly seen in his emotionally driven productions. You can be in any space and he will tug upon your heart strings, revealing the fundamental human story within a long lost musical or classic tale -memories of heaving sobs (The Notebook style) sitting in Catford watching the final moments of Carousel prove my point perfectly.

In recent years I have taken myself off on solo dates to see his work, there really is nothing more pleasant than a solo culture date; spending time with yourself, expanding your mind and enriching your soul should be on the NHS, but it can be equally pleasant to share a theatrical date with a rather lovely gentleman. If only so you can have someone to debrief and bat opinions about with afterwards!

This is where I found myself on Monday night – the press night for Thom’s new production of Ragtime with the aforementioned lovely gentleman. The theatre was as hot as the themes Ragtime explores; racial tensions, immigration, prejudiced society, changing perceptions and dreams for a better life. Surely there isn’t a more relevant piece of musical theatre in London at present to shine a light upon our current sad state of affairs? It felt quite shaming to watch Tateh and his daughter arrive on the boat full of hopes and dreams only to see them met with wary looks and challenges......

And that’s where Thom is clever – by getting down to the basic human stories of a piece without the bells and whistles, leaves an audience free to reflect upon how the human condition hasn’t really changed. It’s not just Ibsen, Shakespeare and Chekhov who do this, musical theatre can too. One of the best moments in this production is as the company surround the audience at the end of Act One, the lyrics of Till We Reach That Day resonate beautifully and don't allow us to escape the potency of the message. This production should be compulsory viewing to our government, Brexit voters and potentially voters on November 8th, we can all be reminded of Tateh’s dream for the perfect movie from time to time.

So is this production any good? I have to admit that Ragtime isn’t in my top 10 musicals but with Thom’s touch it works; his direction is fluid aided by the fantastic, ever-changing, set. Using actor-musos works perfectly to bring the Ragtime to life; it’s a topical trend but never fails to be awe-inspiring to watch these insanely talented folk. Howard Hudson does yet another incredible job with the lighting – creating filmic images with shadows and gloom to guide the action, he really is a clever man.

For me, Earl Carpenter as Father steals focus; my Javert from our 2009 cast hasn’t lost any of his statuesque, commanding presence. I bloomin’ love his voice, rich and powerful and a welcome addition to this score. I can’t really recall the Father character from previous Ragtime productions, Earl’s performance made me understand it much better; What A Game is a masterclass in understatement and scene-stealing. He is constantly thinking and doesn’t need to display Father’s turmoil, it is just there in his eyes; indeed I barely watched Anita Louise Combe’s powerful final verse of Back To Before (wonderful vocals) because of the compelling stillness and pent up sadness of Father downstage right, this was the one moment of the show when I welled up. There’s a reason why certain performers endure, my gentleman put it perfectly “he is the Rolls Royce of performers...” reliable, classy and classic.

But enough about Earl! Ragtime is yet another hit to add to Thom’s increasing repertoire and it is so worthy of a watch. Take yourself on a solo culture date or go with someone who makes your heart smile but just go and enjoy the score, the performances and the message. It’s gonna sell out quicker than Glastonbury after all those 5* reviews, so hurry up!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Good Canary gives us a good shake-up

We all get stuck in ruts and routines but sometimes life sends you a curveball to shake you up a bit. Although highly comforting, I think it can be good to be shaken away from your safe place. We can often cocoon ourselves in so tightly that we miss exciting opportunities that could change our perspective on life and our direction. 

This has certainly happened to me since the last time I last rambled on here, less of a curveball and more of a juggernaut actually found me over the summer, and despite being ripped from my moorings, I am thoroughly enjoying this surprising turn of events.

Amid my turbulence came an invitation to see The Good Canary at The Rose Theatre, Kingston and with reflection it seems a fitting production to experience at this time. It certainly isn’t the usual fare for outer London suburban audiences, less chuckling Ayckbourn and more Channel 4 gritty drama. Indeed, some folk sat around us seemed surprised not to see Stephanie Cole, or the like, reciting a jolly tale with a predictable ending but I love that The Rose has such exciting productions, they invigorate audiences and theatre in general - just what we need in my opinion. Only yesterday, I read that The Rose has more exciting productions for their next season including an adaption by April de Angelis of the highly popular Elena Ferrante novel, My Brilliant Friend.

The Good Canary, like the title suggests, is a bright yellow blast of a play rattling around in a cage, a story that reels you in and spits you out exhausted by the end. Zach Helm‘s script explores the relationship between Jack, an up and coming writer, and his wife Annie, who struggles with drug addiction and mental illness. I am always drawn to dialogue between a couple spiralling into self-destruct mode (scenes in Matthew Perry’s The End of Longing earlier this year left me devastated me with their accuracy) and there are certain moments in The Good Canary that capture the despair as Annie and Jack fail to communicate. Most interestingly, is a scene where no words are spoken at all.

It’s an invigorating, ice bucket challenge of a production, a fresh and exciting addition to The Rose’s season. Not to mention a huge coup to get the legendary John Malkovich as director. Actors must have been falling over themselves to get this gig, as I imagine the punters were on press night to grab a selfie with him. So was his direction worth his fee? I bloomin’ think so – it is fast paced and utterly suited to the text. Malkovich seamlessly engineers the actors amid big screens and projections; the effect is ultimately filmic and terribly fitting. I was led along and engrossed in the action. The play really worked for me in the sections where the medium was embraced; the mania of Annie doing housework on a high as the projections morphed in shape and a seamless almost dance of the drinks party as the guests slink around social conventions.
Steve John Shepherd channels  Jeff Goldblum as Jack’s agent  and the party-hosting mogul is played by Michael Simkins, (you know from my past blogs how much I adore him) here he is suitably suave and sexy and I wished to see more of him on stage. In fact, many of the other characters felt on the sidelines, you don’t get to find out much about them or their back stories (to discover more about Sylvia’s character would have been fascinating, a great cameo from Sally Rogers) but maybe that’s how it’s meant to be; the self absorption of Annie may mean that people around her appear two dimensional in her world. Just a thought.     

But in spite of the movie star director and sexy Simkins, Freya Mavor is the main attraction and the reason why you need to go and see this play. She gives a powerful performance as Annie – focused, physical, raw and mature. Doing that eight times a week and twice on matinee days is quite a feat and without giving anything away, her performance at the end of Act 2 is exceptional.

So as I embrace opportunities and take the metaphorical ‘bull by the horns,’ so should you. Go and see a play this week. Go and see this one. Don’t slope into autumn, not yet, there’s plenty of time for Hooga, rugs and boxsets, get to Kingston this week to see a truly exciting piece of theatre.