Review: Dancing on Ice, The Final Tour at Newcastle Arena, 05/04/14.

Since its launch in 2006, I have been a huge fan of ‘Dancing on Ice’. So much so that every time I watched the TV show, I’d find myself ‘skating’ on the kitchen floor in my socks trying to recreate the magic.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the show live on at least four occasions (I’m thirty now, the old memory isn’t as good as it used to be, ok?) however, with the introduction of the insanely annoying Louie Spence  who took over from Jason Gardiner as a judge in 2012, I stopped watching the TV show. Despite all the glitz and the glamour (as well as the ever-present threat of danger – headbanger, anyone?), I just could not bear to watch the show with that insufferable eejit on it. Louie Spence tried to make the show all about him – and it shouldn’t have been.

However, when I found out that this year would be the final series, I tuned in. I was relieved to see Jason Gardiner back on the panel (although I know Spence was canned after just one season) and, despite his sometimes cruel comments, Jason’s feedback was delivered in a way that kept the focus on the skaters and how to improve their performance.

And so it ended with Ray Quinn being crowned ‘Champion of Champions’ just a few weeks ago. Now, the show is on the road for its final goodbye.

The seats we were allocated were in the Gods, with a limited view (despite no warning of this on the ticket website) and the steward I spoke to was unwilling to assist so I feel that our enjoyment of the first act was somewhat limited. However, it’s with all my heart that I thank the very kind lady who informed us about empty seats with a far better view beside her and her daughter. They were great company and my mum and I enjoyed the second half tremendously.

It’s interesting to see how the live show has changed over the years. We saw it the first time they came on tour in 2007 but, over the years, it has evolved into a slicker, more impressive show with bigger effects and better costumes. This year, Torvill and Dean not only skated this year but acted as comperes throughout the first section of the show, interviewing skating stars as well as taking comments from the Ice Panel. I must say, though, I find the judges redundant on the live tour – I’d prefer less chat and more skating.

That’s why, for me, the second half was far better. I love that, on the tour, the audience not only get to see show favourites like Ray Quinn and Beth Tweddle but they’re treated to numbers by the professional skaters. The pro sections are always my favourite part of the show. However, someone else stole my heart last night: Joe Pasquale. OK, he’s a train wreck – he managed to fall several times during the show and I’m not entirely convinced the falls were on purpose for laughs – but he came onto the ice alone during the second half and did a Skating for Beginners lesson. He was hilarious and wasn’t afraid to take the mick out of himself. And, I must say, he skates better than I ever could.

The curtain fell following a performance of Bolero by Torvill and Dean and it was with tears in my eyes that I left Newcastle Arena last night, I am so sad to see this wonderful show come to an end.

Vic x

Review: ‘String’ at Middlesborough Theatre, 04/03/14.

string

 

Imagine the most surreal play you could ever think of, think Vic ‘n’ Bob. Then add some Beatles lyrics. Then add Pip Chamberlin dressed as – potentially – the next Dr Who. Sprinkle with quantum physics. OK, now you have ‘String’ by Allison Davies.

As part of ‘Teesside New Writing Festival 2014′, ‘String’ was debuted at Middlesborough Theatre to rapturous applause from the audience. I can try to tell you about it but I fear it may not make a lot of sense. ‘String’ is in the moment, it’s absurd, it’s unreal and it’s hilarious.

Tio’s quit his job, just like his girlfriend Nina told him to do. However, a chance encounter with an indigent begins a very strange day (or was it a month? A year, perhaps?) for Tio. OK, we all roared with laughter but I’ve got to say that there were some really touching moments in this play, too. What can I say? Alli Davies has a real skill: crying with laughter one minute and then pondering the meaning of life in the next.

String

 

One audience member compared it to Douglas Adams’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ but, for me, Pip Chamberlin and his cracking costume (replete with clashing colours) put me in mind of a ‘League of Gentlemen’ sketch. If you know me, you’ll know that  a comment like that is high praise indeed.

Not only is ‘String’ hilarious, it’s thought-provoking and intelligent. The cast and crew involved have been very brave in taking this project on, it’s in no way average but I expect many would have shied from it, afraid to be different.

It’s gone for now but I have a feeling ‘String’ will be connecting us all again soon.

Vic x

Getting to know you: Beccy Owen.

For those of you who read my blog posts for Live Theatre in January, you’ll know I saw several cracking performances of music, theatre and film. However, one that really made an impact on me was Beccy Owen. Beccy shared the evening with poets Ann Porro and Hannah Silva, reading some of her own poetry in what I call ‘the first act’ and then, in ‘the second act’, Beccy performed songs off her new album ‘Imago’. As soon as I got home, I downloaded the album and I just love it. 

Today, the brilliant Beccy has given up her time to introduce herself to you lovely readers. 

Beccy Owen

Beccy, For those of the readers who haven’t been lucky enough to encounter you yet, tell us about yourself please. 

I’m a piano-based singer/songwriter. I write heart-on-sleeve, literate ‘pop’ music (pop in the sense that it has a strong melody and I like to play with the notion of creating ‘earworms’ in songs)
 
I became a musician by accident about 12 years ago whilst writing a PhD. I enjoyed academia because it meant I could luxuriate in language, but I didn’t enjoy spending so much time alone, chasing hares down rabbit holes, only to feel like I wasn’t having a huge amount of impact or connection with the ‘real world’, whatever that is. Songwriting became a necessity through my first encounter with clinical depression and it’s been my joy and salvation ever since – and I still get to luxuriate in language, only now I have melodies and beauty and a more compact form (100,000 words is far too many!)
 
I’m now on my fourth solo album and am writing a second album with my band Sharks Took The Rest. I never imagined I’d be able to make a living out of music, I just took as many different opportunities that came my way as possible and it’s lead me down a very interesting, creative path. I feel extremely fortunate.
You sourced your album ‘Imago’ in a really unusual way. Tell us about that.
I crowdfunded, which means I asked members of the public to donate towards the making of the record before it came out in exchange for all sorts of rewards. These included original Imago artwork, personalised poems, and some very unusual Imago merchandise – from baby bibs to oven gloves to high-vis vests. It seemed to capture people’s imagination and I raised just over three and a half grand in three months, which meant I could afford to get the record mastered at Abbey Road, as well as put it out on CD and vinyl. The vinyl is out this week in fact www.beccyowen.bandcamp.com
imago
At Live Theatre earlier this year, you performed songs from your album and poetry. Which was more nerve-wracking? 
Definitely the poetry. I felt very exposed and I’ve never done a poetry gig before. Many of my songs start out as poems – the lyrics are often the starting point for me – so it felt like a natural progression, but I’m so used to SINGING the words, not just saying them. I have a lot of admiration for performance poets. There’s a purity to what they do. I went to see Kate Tempest last week in Leeds and came away very inspired by what’s possible regarding the interplay of poetry and music.
‘Imago’ seems like such a personal record, how does it feel putting it all out there for people to listen to?
I’ve got through a number of emotions. When I first started making it, I was concerned that it might be too raw. I’ve made records that are much fuller, musically, with full orchestration and lots of backing vocals. With Imago it felt important to keep the songs relatively simple and exposed, because the story was the thing – my own experience of non-violent domestic abuse from the first flush of love, to the sense that something isn’t quite right, to the phase of being completely controlled and codependent, to the ultimate disintegration of the relationship. I was lucky to get out when I did, so now the record is made, I feel like it’s some kind of line in the sand for me, personally. It also deals with some of my experiences of mental illness, and people have fed back that all of the above has had a lot of resonance with them. It doesn’t hold back at all, and I’m proud of that. I hope, ultimately, it’s also defiant and uplifting for people to hear.
imago
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
You Can’t Afford To Feel It. There’s no chorus and the piano is just a repeating, three note riff, so musically it’s one of the simplest songs I’ve ever written. Lyrically it’s the most honest, and it helped me to nail what I was trying to say in such a clear way: that if we don’t watch out, we can become tangled and tied to our pasts by holding on to feeling, and we can do this so acutely that we can become addicted to our own suffering as a way of still feeling connected to the people we’ve lost. It’s something I’ve worked hard to let go of and the song helps me do that every time. The melody is also quite pretty!
Beccy
I was blown away by your performance at the Live, particularly your final song ‘Dead Language’ which you sang a capella. How do you get the confidence to do that?
I might sound like a bit of a worthy wanker in this answer here, but it’s never about confidence for me with songs and singing – it’s always about trying to tell the truth. So being vulnerable in front of people, and exposed, and in pain, and plugging in to the emotions that reside, dormant, at the ends of your fingertips, is exactly why I do what I do.
  • What are your forthcoming plans?
I have some lovely gigs coming up (check www.beccyowenmusic.com) and am also starting work on my next solo project – I’m not sure exactly what it will be yet. I quite like that. It’s like stepping off a bus in an unknown town and not knowing which way to turn. I might do another songwriting marathon (writing, recording and uploading a song a day for a month) to kick-start it. I’d quite like to do something radically different to Imago, like a hip-hop record, or a children’s record, or a record where I collaborate with other writers somehow. 
 
Now that the last few years have been musically ‘purged’, and I’ve got some clarity and am living a little more in-the-moment, so I’m curious to see what new music comes out. I’m going to Nepal for a month in 30 days time, so that should fertilise some new ideas as well. SUN! SONGS! ELEPHANTS! JOY!
Click here to get your copy of Beccy’s wonderful album, ‘Imago’. Thanks again to Beccy for getting involved with the blog. 

My writing process

My Writing Process is a series of blog posts in which authors ‘tag’ each other to answer some questions about their work. Thank you, as always, to the lovely Bea Davenport, author of ‘In Too Deep‘ and the forthcoming children’s novel ‘The Serpent House‘, for inviting me to take part. 

What am I working on?

That’s an interesting question. I’m currently in my last three months of a PGCE so I am writing a lot of non-fiction, i.e. essays and lesson plans! However, I do run two writing groups a week and that helps me write at least twice in the week. I sometimes use the prompts I’ve given the other writers but a lot of the time, I spend that time working on an idea I’ve had. I have a lot of unfinished ideas and stories at the moment but my aim is to complete them one by one. I’m also preparing my unfinished novel for submission to a couple of great competitions I’ve seen advertised. I’ve promised myself that once the PGCE is done, I will try to complete the novel. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I find it quite difficult to define one particular genre that my stories fall into although my mum has said the alternative title for my collection of short stories could be ‘Stories to Slash Your Wrists To’ (the real title is ‘Letting Go).  My short stories do tend to have a twist in them but I guess that’s what comes of reading Roald Dahl and Alan Bennett all your life! Now, I’m not saying I’ll ever be anywhere near as good as either but they have definitely influenced my writing. 

I guess the novel I’ve been working on would fall into crime but it is quite different. It’s written in dialect and I don’t think any of the characters are particularly likable. 

Why do I write what I do?

I think I write to provoke thought in my readers. For example, my short story ‘Dangerous Driving is based on something that is really happening in the world at the moment. I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone wanting to read it!

How does your writing process work?

Generally speaking, an idea will come to me – it could be the first line, the ending or something totally abstract that doesn’t end up in the final draft – and then I let it fester for months on end. I like to think about that idea and let it grow from there. I don’t like to get an idea and start writing straight away because some of those ideas seem great the minute you have them but then fizzle out at some point. I prefer to give the ideas time to prove themselves good or otherwise, kind of Darwinian in a way, I suppose. If the idea grows and remains at the forefront of my mind over a period of time, I will write it. 

I remember when I did my Masters in Creative Writing, the lecturer said ‘Just let the characters go where they want to go.’ At the time, I thought ‘Is this guy for real? We’re the writers, the characters are ours to influence’ but, you know, he was absolutely right. Once you give yourself over to your characters and the story you are writing, they go where they want to go. 

Thanks for reading about My Writing Process. I nominate the following talented writers to share their own approaches with us next week – and thanks to both of them for taking part:

Allison DaviesAlli is a writer based in Northumberland, UK. She’s a graduate of Northumbria University’s MA in Creative Writing where she went to finish a novel and ended up writing a screenplay.  She now writes mostly for theatre. Alli has been shortlisted as ‘Newcomer of the Year’ in the Journal Culture Awards for her play ‘Weather to Fly‘. You can find her blog at http://foundpoet.com/wordpress/

Gill Hoffs: Gill Hoffs is a Scottish-accented Warrington-based writer of nonfiction and novels, short stories and long ‘uns, whose work has won several prizes and is widely available online and in print (see http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com for more info).  Her first book ‘Wild: a collection (Pure Slush, 2012) contained a short nonfiction piece on the anonymous Victorian orphan known as The Ocean Child, which led to her current book ‘The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ being published by Pen & Sword.  Feel free to email her with questions and offers of free Nutella at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk or follow her on twitter as @GillHoffs

A poem about Sjogren’s Syndrome (by me).

I think I’ve tried everything
Reading and gymming,
Meditating, swimming.
Pep talks and dressing-downs,
Smiles despite deep-down frowns.
Chocolate then diet,
Don’t want to die yet.
Doctors and pills,
Physios with pins.
Positive mental attitude,
For what I have, gratitude.
Lying in bed,
Shopping ‘til I’m in the red.
Nothing’s worked yet,
But my job’s under threat.
What can I do?
It’s making me blue.
Fingertips and toes,
Nothing that shows.
Look ‘normal’ on the outside,
From people I’ve shied.
I’m scared of their germs,
Their “When will you learn?”s.
Eyes flicking,
Tongues clicking.
Not even thirty,
No longer flirty.
Fat, limpy,
Pathetic, wimpy.
They don’t know how it feels,
The shit life deals.
The never knowing,
When pain will come flowing.
“It’s just dry eyes”,
Said one.
Tell my lungs and kidneys that,
You Pratt.
But I won’t give up,
I’ll pee in those cups.
I’ll give pints of blood,
Let them hear my heart thud.
Sjogren’s,
No grins,
I’ll do anything.

Vic x

2014: What will your year bring?

Yes, yes, I know it’s now the fourth of January and some people have already broken some of their resolutions.

Thanks to most of the participants that took part in my 2013 Reviews series, I realised that many people have recognised the futility in making New Year’s resolutions.

However, I prefer to think more in terms of goals and achievements than resolutions. In my experience, many of the promises we make to ourselves at the beginning of each year are negative and therefore seem almost impossible to achieve, setting the person up for a fall.

The question I’ve asked myself the last two years is: ‘Where would I like to be in 12 months?’ At the start of 2013, I decided I wanted to be a regular user of my gym and, although it hasn’t been easy, I am in a far fitter position than I was a year ago. You don’t need to share these aspirations with anyone if you don’t want to but I think it’s helpful to keep them in mind throughout the year, not just in January.

So: where do you want to be this time next year?

Vic x

I review my 2013.

So, today is the final day of 2013. How was it for you? Here’s how it was for me. 

Wishing you all the best for 2014.

Vic x

Vic

2013 has been a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

2013 really has been a good year for me. Although I haven’t done a great deal of writing, I set up my own business, Elementary V Watson, and it has got off to a great start. I’m running a couple of writing groups a week and arranged two performance evenings as well.

Completing the first year of my teaching degree and being rated ‘outstanding’ was pretty special.

I did my first ever public reading in April 2013 at the Literary & Philosophical Society in Newcastle. That was nerve-wracking but seemed to go well.

The blog post I wrote about Sjogren’s Syndrome was well-received, too. Oh, and I was invited back to blog for Whitley Bay Film Festival.

EVW

And how about a favourite moment from 2013 generally?

On the whole, 2013 has been a really good year for me. I’m managing to stay relatively healthy (most of the time) and I got a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome after all these years of wondering. Although that’s not a great thing to have, it means I am now supported by a confidence-inspiring medical team and I know that I’m not being fobbed off. My health is improving which is great and I started going to the gym which helps. I was lucky enough to be bridesmaid for my best friend in June which was wonderful. When I look back on 2013, it is with happiness.

Favourite book in 2013?

‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Hosseini. Followed by ‘The Lollipop Shoes’ by Joanne Harris.

Favourite film of 2013?

That’s a tough question to answer. I loved ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘Django Unchained’ and I thought ‘Stoker’ was very good indeed. That said, I went to see ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ twice at the cinema and I loved it both times, I have a wee girl crush on Katniss.

Favourite song of the year?

‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke. I know the song and the video caused a lot of controversy but I think too much was read into it. It’s just a great, catchy pop song that makes me think of happy times in the summer. I also love ‘Work Bitch’ by Britney, it’s a great song to listen to in the gym.

Any downsides for you in 2013?

There’s been no Lotto win for me. Other than that, the only disappointment is that I haven’t had time to write very much.

Are you making resolutions for 2014?

Keep thinking positively, keep trying to exercise but know your limits.

What are you hoping for from 2014?

To graduate from my PGCE. I’d like to do more writing and become thinner too. Too much?

If Santa was to bring you any one thing you wanted on Xmas morning, what would it be?

Extreme weight loss or a Lottery win. Or both. Oh, and a cure for all of the world’s ills.