Thursday, 31 October 2019

Do I look like the kind of clown that can start a movement?

I've been a fan of Batman for about 16-ish years or so by this point in my life, and first discovered it through watching the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. I was going through my Tim Burton phase that I think most teenagers of my generation that felt misunderstood went through, and Batman was one of the last of his films that I'd yet to watch which I wasn't too excited at the prospect of. Until I actually watched it anyway, then I fell completely in love with Gotham and it's residents and began fervently collecting the comic books as quickly as I could - which was difficult honestly, as comics weren't as prominent in the UK as they are today and it showed a great deal of determination on my part! I've always excitedly awaited each movie release, with mixed success - Christopher Nolan's trilogy will always be my favourites for their gritty realism, whereas Suicide Squad I prefer to forget the very existence of.

I initially had mixed feelings about the newly released Joker, mostly due to the amount of negative press it received leading up to its release, and my anxieties over what Hollywood was doing to such an important character in DC lore - especially after the hot mess that was Suicide Squad (yes I will drag that movie at every available opportunity, it was horrible). There seemed to be genuine concerns over whether Joker was going to try to legitimise this incel culture we have nowadays, but thankfully it ended up being far from that kind of narrative and shows that people shouldn’t be making assumptions about this film before they see it. In the few short weeks since this film's release it's become a movie that means a great deal to me for reasons I'm not even completely sure, I just felt so much, so intensely. I've seen it three times at the cinema so far, and fully intend to see it more which is a new experience for me - despite being such a huge fan of movies, I've only ever once before seen a film at the cinema twice, but I just feel like I can't see this film enough times and I want to savour the feeling of total immersion the cinema provides.

I don't feel like I need to really explain what this film is about - it's predominately a character study of Arthur Fleck's transformation into the Joker and gives one option as to a possible origin story. As such it's a difficult film to spoil as you know at the end he's going to become the Joker, but nonetheless I'd advise not reading further if you're bothered by potential spoilers as I will be talking at length about the plot.

I will say straight off the bat that this is a very uncomfortable film to sit through, but it's uncomfortable in all the right ways. It makes very valid criticisms about not only the poor vs rich, but also the way neurodivergent people are treated in society which was an aspect of the film that touched me the most. Arthur is portrayed as not only mentally ill, but also suffering from a brain injury and I just really liked this origin for the character of the Joker. Previously in both comics and movies he’s always felt like this kind of ridiculous character that would never appear in real life, and yet this film made him real. It was SO well acted by Joaquin Phoenix, he's absolutely mesmerising and obviously studied head trauma survivors. Most reviews that I've read seem to be skipping over that aspect and solely focusing on the mental illness, but it's stated several times - from his mothers hospital records we learn that as a child he was found tied to a radiator with "severe head trauma", and the card he hands to the woman on the bus states that his inappropriate laughter is caused by brain injury - and that is a legit symptom of brain injury. Making that the reason for his comic book style laugh was genius. I was so sad for him when he kept getting hurt and beaten for being "odd" when he wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, and this is the way disabled folk are treated every single day. It went there and I love it so much for that. I can understand if some want to keep Joker as a simple agent of chaos without purpose or motive, but if you are going to give him a backstory then this is it for me as it made him so believable and real.

Throughout the promotion of Joker I got the sense that they were trying to somewhat remove Joker from Batman with the many insistences that it was a standalone origin tale, but it was very firmly placed in canon and as a fan of the comic books I loved the side plot with Thomas Wayne. It set up the reasons for why Batman and Joker become arch enemies perfectly, and I loved seeing this other side to Thomas Wayne's character. Usually we only get to see him from Bruce Wayne/Batman's point of view, which is obviously hugely idolised as not only is he his dead father, but Bruce is from the same level of privilege as his father so wouldn't understand the perspective poor people had of him. He sees his father as a good guy who loves his city and wants to do everything he can to help those less fortunate than himself, whereas to Arthur Thomas is an out of touch entitled asshole who stands on the shoulders of poor people whilst referring to them as 'clowns', and possibly has an affair with Arthur's mother which he then covered up when she fell pregnant by having her committed and faking adoption papers - which I know is left up to interpretation, but I believe the photo Arthur finds of his mother as a young woman with a message from Thomas on the back is pretty damning evidence showing that the whole relationship wasn't Penny being delusional, and another example of how the rich can screw over the poor which is obviously a huge theme of the movie. Also, on subsequent viewings I've taken particular notice of Penny's story arc and when Arthur is looking through her medical notes at Arkham it briefly shows a note made by one of the psychiatrists that stated that Penny was insisting "I don't know why I'm here" regarding being committed, and I just really believe her and definitely think that Thomas Wayne is Arthur's dad which makes the whole thing even more tragic. Most reviews seem to think that the subway shooting was when Arthur transformed into the Joker, but personally I think it's when he kills Penny and no longer has anyone looking out for him at all and his realization that he's killed the only person that loved him. She was his final tether to reality, and without her he has no reason not to give in to the Joker side of himself.

I know that there have been a lot of complaints about the character of Joker being sympathised and pointing out all the ways in which he's actually a monster, but I feel like these people are missing the point. The Joker can have a sympathetic origin AND be all kinds of fucked up evil, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It's a sad fact that people who have been victims of abuse don't always stay victims their whole lives, but sometimes go on to become abusers themselves as it's all they've ever known. People are rarely born evil, people are rarely even born mentally ill, they can just be more prone due to family history. And the whole point to the movie in the first place is that if he’d been shown some compassion sooner and gotten the correct help he needed instead of being left facing such extreme loneliness that he literally has delusions of people being nice to him and having positive relationships, had he not continually been abused both individually and by the system, then maybe he wouldn’t have turned out like that. Because as Arthur himself states in the film, you can’t be surprised when mentally ill people go on to exhibit mentally ill behaviour. One of the big turns in the movie is when the mental health funding in Gotham is entirely cut, so the therapy and medication Arthur is taking to help him is cut off. He doesn’t even know where he’d even get his medication any longer. Add to that the casual bullying he suffers in his day-to-day life, from the casual aggression of the woman on the bus even after learning he was disabled, to the assholes on the subway, these people are all too common in real life. If anything comes from the success of this movie, I’d love for it to make people kinder to neurodivergent people instead of shooting dirty looks to outright bullying because you find their behaviour “odd”. Their dignity and safety is no less important than you feeling a bit uncomfy just because you don’t understand why they’re behaving that way.

Anyway, overall I really loved this move if you couldn't tell, I love the character study and it's such a compelling retelling of one of my favourite characters, and the ending takes my breath away every time. I know comic book movies have dominated the box offices for years now, and I've been bored by them for a while. Joker feels like the antithesis to those, a comic book movie that doesn't feel like a comic book movie, and as a fan of comic books I'm all for that honestly.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Seaside Rendezvous

A couple of weeks ago I travelled up to Whitby, an old seaside town in Yorkshire rich with history. I've always wanted to visit, and as it's only 3 hours away from where I live I decided to make the most of that and visited at the end of September to make the most of the quiet season before it got too cold.

It's a really beautiful place, and a day was just long enough for me. I didn't go inside the Abbey as it's just ruins and I felt like I could see enough from outside, but it was truly stunning to see it sat atop the moors. Goth festivals are held here twice a year, something I always longed to visit in my teenage years, and looking at the scenery it's clear to see why it's so popular. Close to the Abbey is St Mary's Graveyard, full of legend and folk tales with even a grave for Humpty Dumpty (the canon the rhyme is based on, not the egg!). It's clear to see how it inspired Bram Stoker to write the location as Dracula's entry point into England.

I've collected gemstones for most of my life, and was thrilled to find a few pieces of Whitby jet washed up on the seashore, something I'd hoped might happen but wasn't confident I'd be lucky enough as I'm sure you can imagine there's a lot of people looking for it! I think I struck lucky due to the storms the previous day and the sea being quite rough. I've always been inexplicably drawn to jet - it's rather plain to look at as it's just black, so it's certainly not as eye-catching as many other gemstones, nor is it sparkly, but it's always been the stone I'm most naturally attracted to (and after I learnt the properties of it I'm hardly surprised why!) As well as the raw pieces I found on the beach, I also treated myself to a jet necklace as it's a difficult stone to buy just anywhere and it felt like a nice way to remember my trip.

Whitby is a beautiful little town, like many places in Yorkshire. If you're ever travelling to England I always try to advise tourists to visit further North than just London, and don't think anybody could ever be disappointed with a visit to Yorkshire. Whitby isn't too far from the city of York, which is another of my favourite places!

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

"She flies through the streets of the town and breathes with her frosty breath upon the windows"

I have a long personal history with the original story of The Snow Queen, certainly long before Frozen stole my heart. It's been my favourite fairy tale since I was a little girl for no deep reason other than it's a good adventure tale, and I've collected various book editions and film adaptations of it throughout the years. I've always loved fairy tales, being an illustrator they give my work endless supply of inspiration, and I've always especially been fascinated with those by Hans Christian Andersen as well as Russian fairy tales.

As part of my Illustration foundation degree back in 2012 we had to write our own brief, and I chose to illustrate a full 32-page book of The Snow Queen which ended up taking me on quite an adventure of my own and involved travelling around the country to study some real life reindeer (as they're not abundant in the UK!). This was shortly before Frozen was released, and as I'd poured so much of my heart into this illustrated book of the original tale I admit I wasn't too keen on Frozen when it first came out. Despite being 'inspired by' Andersen's tale, it bares very little resemblance and it wasn't until about 2015 when I gave it a re-watch and I finally understood the hype. It's been my favourite Disney film ever since then and has come to mean a great deal to me, especially the character of Elsa as she was finally a fictional character I could relate to in absolutely every way, and having felt like an oddball my entire life that really mattered. I also really love Prince Hans who is very similar to Elsa in many ways - two sides of the same coin if you will. In fact all of the main characters are incredibly complex and relatable, which is no doubt a huge part of the film's success.

I've mentioned in a couple of entries already, but for the past few months I've been learning Danish. My reasons for doing so have nothing to do with The Snow Queen of course, that would be absurd, but it did make me realise that I'd be able to read my favourite fairytale in its original language. I'm always a little sceptical of book translations since being a fan of The Phantom of the Opera for so many years and knowing that whether you enjoy the novel by Gaston Leroux is entirely dependent on which translation you read - the most widely available is the de Mattos translation which is so highly abridged that it verges on not making sense. (And if you're wondering, read the Lowell Bair translation and thank me later)

I'm far from any fluency in Danish (yet! I am hopeful!) but it definitely makes reading The Snow Queen more fun - and the fact that I already know the story so well is helping me learn new words as I know the gist of what it's supposed to be saying. I've become really passionate about languages, and although I'm certainly no expert on the subject I do want to share more of my journey with it on my blog, and what methods I've found do and don't work. Let me know if that's a topic you'd be interested in reading about!

This is one of my Secret Honey dresses - I've written about Secret Honey before, they're a Japanese brand who make beautiful clothing licenced by Disney. Some of their clothes are every day inspired by, whilst they also create screen and park accurate cosplay costumes. I generally collect the everyday items, although this Anna dress verges slightly more into cosplay territory, especially when worn with the blouse. A while ago that would've bothered me; my self-confidence was at an all time low and I had the mindset of 'I can't wear that, it'll look like a costume, when would I wear it, etc, etc' and I don't know where these thoughts came from honestly. I used to go out in full sweet lolita coords, I grew up never giving a damn what small-minded strangers with nothing better to do thought of me, and I don't know why my self-confidence took such a hit, but collecting these dresses and wearing them regardless because I like them has been a huge part in rebuilding it. I do enjoy the challenge of dressing this down into more casual looks, and it's bunad style suits my aesthetic perfectly. Although Elsa is my favourite of the sisters, Anna definitely has the better wardrobe of the two! I've collected the full set of Frozen Secret Honey dresses, and can't wait to see what they release for Frozen II!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Project 365: III

15/365 - Sunday 15 September: I got my signed Playbill from Moulin Rouge! professionally framed ♥♥♥ The frame was custom made as Playbills are awkward dimensions, and it's all sealed up at the back so it's safe and sound. I'm just so, so happy with it as it's so important to me as it represents so much and was signed by one of my favourite actors, and now I can display it with pride on my shelf and take it traveling with me and know it won't ever get damaged. You can see my little New York snow globe in front of it too!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes

I went into Liverpool last week for the day for no particular reason. Sometimes I think it's fun to just go somewhere with no purpose in mind, and just go with the flow and see what happens when you're there. I've visited Liverpool before, back in 2016 I think? I used to be really into vintage and the whole 1960s thing back then and mostly did all of The Beatles sightseeing there is to do. It's weird to think that I feel like a completely different person to that version of myself as I've grown so much since then, but I remember really liking Liverpool back then and that hasn't changed at least. It's got a good vibe, and the people seem really nice. I couldn't resist popping by some of the Beatles landmarks again and it was really fun seeing it all (and I was really impressed with myself for remembering my way around and not needing any GPS! I'm usually not to good at directions)

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Project 365: II

10/365 - Sunday 8 September: All of the animals were out in the lane. Autumn is the time of year I'm most grateful to live in the countryside.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

You'll float too

I often find myself wanting to write about films that I've seen as movies are something I really love a lot and are a pretty important part of my life, but I get put off of writing about them as I've always felt like the expectation is a review with proper analysis, and I'm ..... not like that. And because I'm not very good at analytical thinking, I end up feeling like I'm not allowed to talk about things I've liked because I don't have anything deep or insightful to say about it. But I also know that that's really dumb, I don't have to analyze something to death or pick up on minute themes and details to have a movie mean something to me personally, and if I want to gush about a movie I've enjoyed then why not? So that's exactly what I want to do more of on my blog, and share about movies I've enjoyed from time to time. And I definitely want to share about It: Chapter 2, partly because I wrote about the first one, and also because it's been such a highly anticipated film for me (I know it's been highly anticipated for people generally, but I don't care about those people).

I've been a fan of Stephen King for more of my life than I haven't by this point. I was in my final years of secondary school when I picked up Carrie, purely because it was on sale and I'd recently seen the film and so was intrigued. I didn't actually rate Carrie very much, I don't remember why as I haven't read it since, but I quickly picked up The Shining as it was another film I'd seen (I've been a fan of horror and ghoulies my whole life - as a kid I favored Goosebumps and Shivers books above all else, and I was pretty young when I moved on to proper horror movies. Most teens use their fake ID to buy alcohol, I used mine to buy R rated horror movies) and I loved The Shining, so much so that it ruined the movie for me. I've read the majority of King's books by now (except The Dark Tower as I'm intimidated by the size of it!) and It has always stood out as one of my all time favourites. I was always disappointed that it hadn't really had a film version - there is a mini series starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, but it's made for TV and desperately feels it, in the days long before TV shows had serious money pumped into them.

I loved the first installment of It (which you can read about here) and even back then was immediately eager for part 2. I'm also really glad that they split this into two movies - usually I'd roll my eyes at Hollywood milking a franchise, but It is a vast brick of a novel and I think a big part of why the mini-series failed is because it's too convoluted, switching back and forth between the main characters as kids and adults and telling their stories simultaneously. It works in a book that's split up by chapters and headings, and by splitting the film into two halves it's the best way of getting that across without confusing the plot.

Overall both movies are really accurate to the novel - there are deviations from the plot, and the ending of Chapter 2 was completely re-written (with constant jabs at King throughout the script for not being able to write a decent ending, with even King himself getting in on it with a cameo) but there's not a lot from the book that I really missed as most of the key elements were there, and those that weren't I could tell why they were omitted.

The biggest thing that I did really miss was I felt the movie could of done a better job of delving in to the insidious influence that Pennywise holds over Derry. In the novel there are several instances throughout the history of the town where really awful, terrible actions have been carried out by the residents, and it's all because of Pennywise feeding off of people's fear and hatred. The two main events caused by Pennywise are The Black Spot, a club frequented by African Americans that becomes the site of a racist massacre, and the homophobic murder of Adrian Mellon. The Black Spot is briefly glossed over in the first movie, easy to miss entirely if you're not looking for it. Chapter 2 opens with the murder of Adrian Mellon which plays out exactly as it does in the novel, but unlike the novel there's never any reason for the scene being there and it just comes across as gratuitous violence. Derry is supposed to represent everything wrong and hateful in American society, a haunted town with Pennywise orchestrating and feeding off of every negative event. And the movie completely misses the mark on that aspect, and simply tells a coming of age story with Pennywise targeting a few specific kids - their own personal nightmare, rather than society's.

Chapter 2 also wasn't as scary as the first movie. Although I love horror, I'm also a big weenie and deliberately saw an early showing of It so that I wouldn't have to go to bed straight after and feel scared, but for this movie I just wasn't scared at all. The worst scene for me was with Beverly in her old home, but I found most of the scares were ruined with really obvious CGI, which was a shame as I remember thinking how seamless the CGI was in the first movie. I appreciate that CGI is hugely necessary in a movie like this and don't mind it being used generally, but it was at the point where it interfered with Bill Skarsgård's performance and made him feel less threatening. And my final moan is with Harry Bowers, a plot line that just didn't really go anywhere or seem necessary and I wish he'd been used to better effect.

Overall I really loved it though! I think they did a great job of adapting it to the screen, which is a bigger task than most give credit for as adaptations that stay too close to the novel usually suck as it's a different medium, but at the same time you've got to keep the original fans happy. The casting was phenomenal, the adult cast really did look like the kids grown up and at no point did I wonder who was supposed to be who. I really loved their chemistry and the dynamic between the older and younger versions, everyone was perfect and personally I thought the humour was great. Richie and Eddie were my favourite, and I loved the angle given to their relationship in the closing scenes.

I can't wait until it's released on DVD and I can watch the two movies back to back as I think that's how they'll play best. Chapter 2 probably doesn't stand up as a movie in it's own right, like you couldn't just see that one and understand what's going on, but I also feel like the clue is in the name with it being called 'Chapter 2' and there's no reason for it be a stand alone movie. I only mention it as I know that's been a bit of an overall complaint, but I don't see how it's a criticism myself.

I guess I did end up getting a little more analytical in this entry than I expected, but it's only because I know the source material so well! I'm looking forward to writing more about film and reflecting on the things I'm watching in a more personal way.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Project 365

I've been messing around with my domain name, I hope everything's working OK! Anyway, I've wanted to try my hand at doing a 365 project for years, and have dabbled with smaller term photo a days now and then but have never been able to commit to a full 365 as a full year has always felt too much commitment. But after coming back from New York I felt really inspired to give it a go, and I know it's not the typical time to start something like this but I also think surely there's no wrong time either? You just gotta do it when you feel like it or you never will.

I guess part of why I felt inspired to start this after coming home from New York is obviously I was documenting a lot when I was there, so it already started a bit of that habit in me. Also I feel like this is a year I'm going to want to remember, and I've learnt from looking back on the photo a day posts I have done that it's my favourite way of documenting because they're full of the smaller day to day memories, so are special as they're more personal. Also I simply want to get used to using my camera more, to get more comfortable carrying it everywhere and taking photos in public, and to also get used to taking photos on manual. I've had a DSLR for about 10 years, and I'm ashamed to say I've only ever used it on Auto and still don't understand all of the different settings, so I figure it's a great chance to learn all of that. Especially as I find myself relying on my point and shoot camera more and more as that's how I use my DSLR anyway, and I'm often unimpressed with the colours and so feel a need to cover them in filters. And I just really love seeing other peoples 365s so why not do my own!

001: Friday 30 August - Sorting through my New York memories, and creating a sketchbook spread of my tickets in my sketchbook.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

New York, Part II

I was in New York for five full days, and so was able to see four shows while I was there (although three different ones, as I saw Moulin Rouge twice!) The first show I saw after arriving was Wicked which is my favourite musical. I'm a bit of an Oz nerd in general and really love the original L Frank Baum books, and I really love where Wicked has taken these characters and developed them (including the novel by Gregory Maguire, although I confess I've only read the first one as Elphaba and Fiyero aren't in the others...)

Wicked Gershwin Theater
Wicked Gershwin Theater

I was really glad I picked Wicked first as it felt kind of comforting and allowed me to ease in to the differences between Broadway and the West End. It also felt really special seeing my favourite musical in the theatre where it originally opened and as such the original production, or as close to. My first impression of the differences between Broadway and London was mostly just the sheer scale of the theatres themselves. London's theatres are obviously really old buildings, and because of this they're really small and can be really uncomfortable to sit in. The Apollo Victoria where Wicked is played is one of the largest theatres, and yet it's probably about half the size of the Gershwin. I was sitting third row from the stage in the orchestra/stalls and could stretch my legs out in front of me and had plenty of elbow room and it felt like a real novelty. What I do like about the Apollo Victoria though is that it's all green - the carpet, the chairs, it's all green because it's Wicked, and I was mildly disappointed that the Gershwin didn't go to that level of extra. Also from outside the Gershwin is pretty underwhelming - compare that to that, you know?

I was really happy to see that the London production is almost an exact replica. I don't know what I was expecting, but the only differences where things I already knew about. There were some really minor costume differences (Fiyero's collar on his green suit, Madame Morrible's bustle, really minor stuff that only a fanatic would notice), and obviously some minor staging differences just as the Gershwin is so much bigger. In Defying Gravity Elphaba and Glinda come up from a trap door which makes it feel more obvious that they're in an attic, and after Elphaba's levitating spell the broomstick rises up through the stage - I always expected this to be a better effect than London where it floats through the air from the wings, but it just looked like someone lifted it out of a trapdoor and was kind of underwhelming. The one thing I really did like about Broadway was Fiyero's entrance. In London Avaric pulls him in on a cart, whereas on Broadway Avaric is riding the Sawhorse, which probably seems like a small difference but it's pretty huge as it's a reference to Baum and foreshadows Fiyero becoming the Scarecrow and is just a really nice nod to the original Oz lore (and makes Avaric look more like a chauffeur than a man servant).

Frozen The Musical
Frozen The Musical Frozen The Musical

The other show I saw was Frozen, which is a Disney film that really means the world to me and simply calling it 'my favourite movie' sounds too lame for how strongly I feel about it. I never expected to have the opportunity to see this show when it opened, so you can imagine how excited I was!

The set design was really amazing, there was so much detailing in the wood carving around the stage and I loved how the lighting effects made it look like it had been frozen. So much of the design, both stage and costume, was inspired by traditional Norwegian and Sámi designs and I really love the whole vibe it gave the show. Because it's such high fantasy it gives it a grounded sense of realism. The Northern Lights were before the show, and Oaken's Store was during intermission. I sat first row of the mezzanine, right in the centre, which felt perfect as I was close enough to get the detail but far enough away to appreciate all of the lighting and staging effects, of which there are A LOT to create Elsa's powers.

Frozen The Musical

Although I hadn't seen Frozen on stage before, I'm very familiar with the soundtrack as I listen to it more than the movie version (is it some kind of blasphemy to admit I perfer Caissie Levy to Idina Menzel? 😬) and it was such a buzz getting to see something that I know so well and hold so dear to me unfurl on stage in a new but familiar way. When Vuelie started, and for most of Let The Sun Shine On and Do You Want To Build A Snowman? I was actually crying because I just love Frozen so much and hearing and seeing it live just completely overwhelmed me.

Caissie Levy wasn't on that night and Elsa was performed by the understudy Charissa Hogeland. Her Elsa was very timid and soft spoken and it suited her perfectly (she also looked perfect in the costume, which I know isn't super important but I believed she was Elsa). Otherwise it was the regularly billed cast, and it was a real thrill seeing Patti Murin as Anna - she seems so much like Anna in real life and is so perfectly cast. From what I've seen of pictures and videos I wasn't sure how I felt about Olaf and Sven - they work as puppets, and it mostly looks kind of dumb, but I have to say actually seeing it on stage it totally works. Olaf was really endearing and Ryann Redmond completely disappeared, I kept trying to watch her but my eyes kept drifting to the snowman she was operating.

My only gripes were with Kristoff and Hans, which is a shame as I'd had high hopes from listening to their additional songs on the soundtrack that they'd been better developed (and I must add that my disappointment had nothing to do with the actors who were both amazing, but the way the characters have been written for the stage). The reason why the characters in the movie are so popular is because they're so complex and realistic for it. Kristoff is kind of an asshole to Anna when he first meets her and really doesn't care about her plight - and when you consider that he's a indigenous Sámi man who's been ostracized his whole life, why would he? Him gradually learning to care for Anna is his main character development, and so it just felt really out of character in the musical for him to almost force Anna into accepting his help, and they just tried too hard to make him the typical 'Prince-Charming, look-how-helpful-I-am-there's-nothing-bad-about me' character and so he lacked any depth and didn't really develop as a result. He was just boring.

And then there's Hans. Prince Hans, along with Elsa, is my favourite character from Frozen. He is one of the most intriguing yet cheaply used characters Disney have ever created, which is a big part of why he's so polarising to audiences. I could write a whole essay on how complex a character Hans is due to him being morally grey, a victim of abuse, and Elsa's one true equal. I love the song's they've given Hans in the musical which I think is what got me so hopeful he'd had a better treatment than the movie gave him, and I fully accept that there's many subtleties that can be provided in film that just won't come across on stage and so things need to be stripped back. I get that. BUT HE HAD NO GLOVES. I know how absurd that sounds, but it was the first thing I noticed when his character came out on stage. Gloves are HUGE symbolism in Frozen, Elsa is forced to wear them to conceal her powers and true feelings, it's Anna removing her glove that causes her to freak out and freeze Arendelle, and she removes her final glove as she's liberated in Let It Go. All of these details are still in the stage show!! It's still important symbolism!! So why isn't Hans wearing his freaking gloves??? He is the only character other than Elsa to wear gloves, and the only time he removes one is when he reveals his true intentions to Anna and thus shows his true self like Elsa does earlier in the story. His gloves are a major part of the story!! Of his character development!!! Also his lines are so rushed. It's clearly the direction, but during the reveal scene he barely draws breath between saying "True loves kiss!" and "Oh Anna, if only there was someone who loved you" and then he just launches into his spiel unfurling his whole plan, and it's just like, do you wanna let the audience take a moment to let any of this sink in?? Also his coat bothered me too. It's basically the same as the Arendelle guards, just with extra cape layers to single him out from the ensemble. In the movie he wears his own coat in his own colours with his own insignia, which marks him as the outlier. It just felt really lazy from the costume department and direction, and it hurt a lot as he's a character that means so much to me. He deserves better, and it was such a letdown as his additional songs are so awesome. I must stress that it was an amazing show though! The whole cast were fantastic, and if you're not as emotionally invested into the characters as I am I'm sure you won't even understand what I'm upset about.

And the things I collected!

Thursday, 29 August 2019

New York, Part I

Last week I was in New York, which even now feels like a surreal sentence to say and now I'm home it half feels like it was all a dream. I've always wanted to visit New York and see a show on Broadway. I don't know if I've got a 'bucket list' per se, but it's just always been a life goal of mine. I've been a fan of musical theatre for most of my life, since I saw the Oliver! revival on the West End as part of a school trip when I was 7 years old. I grew up just outside London and each year my school would trek into the city centre for a matinee performance, a privilege which I took for granted. I was probably about 16 when it went from being something I casually enjoyed to something I was passionate about, and I had wanted to make it my career but life had other plans (which looking back I'm thankful for as I prefer just being a fan, it keeps the magic alive).

I regularly travel into London to see shows, and of course New York has always seemed like the bigger, brighter option. Last November I decided that I'd had enough dreaming and wanted to put things into action. Moulin Rouge had premiered for a limited run in Boston earlier that year, and I was really excited at the prospect of it being adapted to the stage as it's always been one of my favourite movies, and it was starring some of my favourite American theatre actors such as Aaron Tveit as Christian. I had already felt a little envious watching everything unfold second hand through my computer screen, and decided to turn those negative feelings into something positive. I promised myself that when Moulin Rouge opened on Broadway, I'd be there and would see it with it's original cast. It didn't have a date at that time so I still had the comfort of it feeling a way off. For about a week anyway, and then the dates were announced and panic set in! I realised that I was going to have to buy a ticket on a random date and hope that I could scramble together a trip around it. And that's basically what I did, buying bits of the trip as and when I could afford it and hoping it would all come together. And I did it!

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

I still can't describe the feeling of actually walking down West 45th St and seeing the Al Hirschfeld up ahead and everything I've worked for and the emotional journey I've been on to get that point and the sheer surrealness of I'M ACTUALLY HERE, THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. Seeing Aaron Tveit walk on stage and know that this is actually him, and he looks exactly like he does on my screen but he's real and standing less than 2 metres in front of me was like an out of body experience. I got a face full of confetti from Danny Burstein's cane twice, I got to look up and see Karen Olivo descending from the heavens on her swing, it was all just so amazing and I was just sat there in awe throughout most of the show letting it all wash over me.

So, was it perfect? No. As a fan of the film it fell a bit flat in some areas and I didn't like parts of the soundtrack, but as for the overall experience of the show it's the best I've ever had just for what it meant to me to be there. And it's only after thinking on it afterwards that I realised bits I didn't like so much, I didn't care when I was actually watching it as it didn't matter.

I was nervous about the soundtrack as I knew they'd updated it to include more modern songs, and I was worried that might ruin it. In my view the reason the original movie works so well is because it uses mostly old songs it doesn't date it even though it was released 18 years ago. The new songs did work a lot better into the soundtrack than I expected, but I guess only time will tell how well it will age and how relevant it will still be in 20 years. The set was absolutely stunning, there was so much detail in all of it and you can tell it's a really lavish production with a ton of money being pumped into it. The entire cast were amazing, I loved how the ensemble stalked the stage at the beginning before the show opened and sitting second row in the orchestra made it feel almost foreboding. And because it is so different from the movie it definitely makes it it's own thing and worth seeing so there is definitely that in it's favour.

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

I'd heard horror stories of the stage door, but as I was front of the orchestra I got out quickly and beat the crowds. The cast were fairly quick to come out after the show, and Aaron was actually the first. He doesn't allow photos as it would take too long to get through everybody, which I was a little thankful for really as it meant you could enjoy your time with him without everyone sticking cameras in his face. I gave him my artwork which I was super shy about as no one else was giving anyone anything, but he was really complimentary and he was very gracious and kind. I met a few more from the ensemble cast too, but quite honestly I was just on a high that I'd actually met my favourite actor and he was just as nice as he seems.

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

Because Moulin Rouge was so important to me and I had so many hopes pinned on it, I saw it twice. I knew the first time I'd just be in awe of the whole adaptation, and so the second time around I could take in the details as I knew what to expect. I also sat further back in the orchestra, so I was still close enough to be absorbed into everything but far enough away that I could take in the whole stage this time. I love being close to the stage as it feels so intimate and I get truly lost in it and entirely forget the whole audience behind me, but there's definitely a benefit to being further away too so I liked having both experiences.

And obviously I had to buy a few things to remember it by!

I did see other shows that I'll write about in another post, but as Moulin Rouge was so important to me and my whole reason for going to New York, and special as I met my favourite actor, I wanted to give it it's own post. It also made me think about how I'd like to incorporate more of this kind of thing into my life. I don't want this to be a once in a lifetime experience that's now in my past, I want to be this happy again, I want to make the effort to travel to see my favourite performers instead of wishing they'd come to me. And if that means cutting back in other areas and traveling long distances for just a day or two, then I think it will be worth it. Hopefully I can make the opportunity happen again!

Monday, 22 July 2019

The emotion it was electric, and the stars they all aligned

I ended up breaking my self imposed 'no theatre until NYC' rule and went to see Wicked on Saturday as several members of the cast were leaving. I wasn't originally going to go to their final show, but decided last minute that I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by and bought a ticket literally the day before.

I've grown really attached to this cast, and have seen them 6 times in total over the past 10 months. They're the cast I've seen whilst I truly fell in love with Wicked, and a lot of their portrayals are no doubt tangled up in my own interpretations of the characters themselves. Wicked and the world of Oz in general have really helped me to find my way out of a dark spot and rediscover myself and my interests, and this cast has been a big part of that journey. Back in September of last year I'd been reveling in the Wicked OBC and L Frank Baum's original novels, and although I'd seen Wicked 8 years before, back then I wasn't really a fan of it and couldn't remember much. I hadn't been to the theatre in years when I decided to go again and it felt like finding my way home. And it was this cast, and I can't thank them enough. Wicked is something that came into my life just when I needed it most, and this cast change feels almost like the end of a chapter. Not of Wicked of course, I can't imagine that, but I guess of that period of my life and the changes that are about to come.

As my booking was so last minute there weren't many seats left to choose from, so I was sat further back in the stalls than usual but it was quite nice actually. I definitely prefer being up near the front, it's just so immersive you completely forget about everyone else in the theatre and there are so many small details you just can't see further back. People kept going to the toilet and the ushers were wandering round and it was all a bit distracting this time, but I liked that I got to fully appreciate details in the set and lighting design that I usually don't notice from up close. Like the Time Dragon, I never realised that he moved so much throughout the show, I was only aware of him being used at the beginning of each act before. And a lot of things were clearer from further away, like the tornado and Dorothy's house flying past, details I was aware of but are much blurrier up close and make much more sense from a distance.

The best part of it though was definitely the atmosphere from the audience. We're generally a bit reserved in this country so I wasn't expecting much, but people were really wooping and there was thunderous applause at the end of basically every song and for Glinda and Elphaba's entrances. It really made it special and I was so glad to be there and get to experience it all first hand, it was definitely a show like no other. They also gave speeches at the end, and it was difficult not to tear up along with them, it was all just really emotional.

I was hoping to stage door and took my programme and a Sharpie with me for the occasion. I've never stage doored before due to anxiety so I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm really glad I did it. It was crazy busy as everyone had the same idea, and I was second row back so didn't want to bother too many people asking for photos as it was difficult. Sophie (Glinda) was kind enough to take one high enough to get me in it, and by the time Alice (Elphaba) came along people were leaving after they'd met her so it spaced out a little and I was able to get a nice shot. And it wasn't anywhere as awkward as I'd feared, it was literally just saying hello, asking to sign, I loved your performance, thank you, etc, it was so fast paced there wasn't even time for much else. So if like me you've always been too scared, don't be, there's honestly nothing to it and everyone was so lovely!

I'm so glad I made the last minute decision to go and didn't miss this experience! And the next time I see Wicked will be at the Gershwin Theatre in New York where the show first opened, which just feels so surreal to me right now!
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