Author Archives: uoblogfest

3Bugs Fringe Theatre presents: The Trojan Women @ The Guild of Students

the trojan women

When it was announced that 3Bugs would be taking an adaptation of Euripides’tragedy The Trojan Women to represent them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, it was clear that the society is again pushing the boundaries of student theatre. An ambitious project to undertake as a whole, let alone to condense into a forty-five minute adaptation.  

The script, adapted by Director Georgina Thomas, is one to be admired as a work unto itself. The tragedy has been cleverly condensed to offer the audience a grounded overview of Euripides’ original text. Making the most of its limited timeslot, the adaptation, whilst pacey, avoids feeling rushed and still allows the audience to emphasize with its highly developed characters.

For me, this is a production that showcases the strength of its actors. The engaging opening monologue from Poseidon, played by Ben Firth, immediately set the tone as one of unease and foreboding, which picked up in intensity as the hardships faced by the women were revealed. The performances were strong throughout, however particular mention must go to first year student Lizzie Roberts, who gave a fantastic performance as the mentally unhinged Cassandra. Her exchange with the slimy Talthybius, played brilliantly by Jack Alexander, was especially well-executed.

The Chorus (Ella Darbyshire and Lucy Cheetham) are also noteworthy for praise. They bounced off each other with ease and carried the plotline between the speeches of the main characters. The wordy nature of the Greek text was balanced by some clever directorial choices, the addition of song; performed beautifully, broke up the dialogue and the blocking was well thought-out achieving maximum impact in the more emotional moments.  The set was minimal but effective, giving the actors free reign of the space, which they utilized brilliantly. They balanced the stage and created some beautiful stage images, further establishing the relationships between the characters.

Though the 1950s costume was visually striking, I struggled to see any further link to the era, and found it superfluous to the onstage action. The choice of clothing made it hard to ascertain the different social statuses of the characters, the chorus supposedly servants yet dressed in the same fashion as the ladies of the court. The actors, however, did well to combat this with their character relationships and objectives clearly defined; the stony Hecuba (Cassiah Joski-Jethi) was a stark contrast to the seductive Helen (Lauren Dickenson).

The adaptation offers a well-informed snapshot into the tragic lives of the women of Troy, and packs a hefty emotional punch. Andromache’s (Emily Anderson) moving “you may think me a feeble woman… but I am stronger than you think” stayed with me, and the production certainly makes you question the validity of the statement. The power struggle between the women and their male oppressors is evident and comes to a shocking climax in the suicide of Hecuba.  Left ambiguous, the audience questions if the act was a desperate fit of despair, or a more calculated choice to regain control.

A thought-provoking production, The Trojan Women offers a complex plotline, skillfully handled by its actors and will be performed 11th-16th August 11:00, and 18th-23rd August 17:00, at theSpace on the Mile (Space 1). Staying true to the classic text whilst brining its own original take on the characters and their relationships, 3Bugs is once again presenting a play set to challenge as well as entertain.  

 by Nicole Rixon

Article 19 presents: ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’

Some plays dissolve with time. As Co-Directors Lily Blacksell and Rebekah Lucking masterfully proved, Peter Nichol’s 1967 play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, remains pertinent.  This revival was handled with great sensitivity; to the subject matter and the script itself. 

     Nichol’s semi-autobiographical account explores the hardships faced by Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila; a young couple raising a disabled child. Upon its original debut, critic Irving Wardle praised Joe Egg for having ‘significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’ Indeed, this production walked the tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The frequent jokes, such as calling their daughter Joe ‘a living parsnip,’ allowed one to forget, and later question, what you should and should not laugh at; a deft exploration of why humour is so often intertwined with trauma. 

     The opening scene was electric. Standing centre stage, Bri, played by Jacob Lovick, addressed the audience as naughty school children. This provided a nice prologue to the frustrations of Bri’s life, both at work and more importantly at home. Lovick, the highlight of the play for me, was utterly convincing. As he stood there trying to command the attention of a ‘hall of children,’ he was every ridiculed teacher I’d ever had. Throughout the play, everything about his mannerisms and voice was a sigh of defeat. What’s more, he handled the music-hall, old comedy club, style of the play very well. 

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     In her programme notes, Blacksell astutely pointed out ‘there is something terribly British about Bri and Sheila’s resort to comedy to help them deal with Joe’s disability.’ Indeed, as Lovick pranced around on stage like a 1960’s Michael McIntyre, with more depth, whether it was to make fun of Freddie, or to try and seduce his wife, one could not help but feel a strong mix of hilarity and pity. 

     Breaking the fourth wall often takes one out of the story, however in this production it was done so successfully you felt like a confidante of sorts and even, at points, the characters’ psychologist. Finding it easier to confide in the audience than each other, Bri and Sheila replayed key episodes in their life story. This device was especially engaging when Sheila spoke to the audience. A doting, perversely optimistic wife, it soon became clear that she was just playing along with Brian’s jokes and play-acting to keep her husband happy. 

     Phoebe Brown, who played Sheila, presented a deeply moving portrayal of a woman haunted by guilt. Brown evoked such a sense of compassion and in my eyes was the most empathetic character. Brown and Lovick made for a convincing couple; you believed they were in love, despite the complexities of their relationship.

     The second half of the play lurched into Mike Leigh territory, however thankfully never appeared cartoonish. Chloe Culpin expertly played Bri’s Mum, Grace; so uninteresting and self-righteous, the atmosphere instantly became  soporific when she spoke. Dan Burke and Emily Howard were infuriatingly funny as Bri and Sheila’s insensitive friends, Freddie and Pam. Burke’s arm-swinging, pacing the living room as if making a Presidential speech, portrayal of the socialist do-gooder was what was precisely needed to contrast Lovick’s wired Bri. Whilst the social satire might seem a little heavy handed to a modern audience, Pam’s horrific statement, ‘If I say gas chamber that makes it sound horrid – but I do mean put to sleep,’ is as shocking now as it must have been in the sixties, raising relevant questions about disability and euthanasia.

     Rachel Thomas must be commended for handling the role of Josephine with great sensitivity. Her role as a child whose brain does not allow for communicative speech or co-ordinated movement, was never reduced to a caricature. The Directors’ approach of allowing her to remain on stage, and often face the audience, even when not the focus of a scene, was effective. I often found my eyes straying to her, pondering how it must feel to be her, what my coping mechanisms would be if she were my child. Questions not easily resolved, but the beauty of Nichol’s script is that after ten years of caring for her, Brian and Sheila are no closer to understanding either. 

      Everything about this production was finely judged. From the sky-blue wallpaper and the sad, lack-lustre christmas decorations adorning the Ex-Serviceman’s Club stage, an exquisite venue for this play, to the way Joe startlingly skipped out of her wheelchair to announce the interval. A very good egg, indeed.

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GMTG Presents: The Phantom of The Opera @ The Guild of Students

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The Phantom of the Opera has been said to be a musical that is stuck in the 80s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber created his masterpiece. GMTG, however, could not have proved this statement more wrong. From the outset, there was anticipation in the air that was matched by the brilliant singers and orchestra as the show began to unfold.  

Josh Sood, the musical director, and his orchestra worked extraordinarily hard to produce a brilliant sound to accompany the performance. From beginning to end, they were a strong and bright ensemble, exactly what was needed to keep the excitement bubbling. Not a cue was out of place, not an instrument sounded out of tune and it was even unclear as to whether a recording of the orchestra was being played due to the tidy mixing of the instruments. The orchestra truly made the production a slick and dazzling performance.

Jake Dorrell and Joanna Goldspink stole the show as the comical double-act of Piangi and Carlotta. Their comedic timing and impressive singing led the audience into fits of laughter time and time again, a match well made to keep a light feel to what was a dark and mysterious musical.

Andrew Wilson (Phantom) and Abby Fiddik (Christine) were two powerful lead characters. They captivated the audience with their clear voices and moved around the stage with strong presence.

Other notable characters deserve a mention, Ben Cuffin-Munday (Monsieur Firmin) and Peter Brooks (Monsieur André) complemented each other as a team and Thom Udall (Raoul) stood out as an impressive singer matched against the Phantom.

The choreography throughout the performance was mesmerising, a special shout out to Emily Bowers and Lorna Newman who made use of the whole stage with their dancers and kept an elegant backdrop to important moments in the musical.

The Phantom of the Opera is an over-the-top performance that GMTG managed to portray well with the use of pyrotechnics that had many audience members crying out in surprise. The heavy mist that rolled out onto the stage throughout the production created the the strange and sinister setting of the musical.

GMTG is a very capable society that has clearly shown that the sky is the limit when it comes to putting on musicals. The Phantom of the Opera presents many difficult issues that GMTG overcame to create a wonderful evening of entertainment. 

By Bethany Bagnall-Ainslie

Grizzly Pear Presents: Dizraeli @ The Bristol Pear

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Poetry and Hip-Hop have seen increasing interaction as of late. Very recent examples on the UK scene include Ed Scissortongue’s newest release The Theremin EP, an example of his trademark ‘beat-driven poetry’, as well as Chester P of Task Force fame foraying into performing at spoken word events and writing children’s rhymes. In the words of the latter, ‘words are words, if you put them in a rhyming format…then its poetry’. Dizraeli, or at times MC Dizraeli, seems to have pioneered this meshing of cultures from his very first album – with some folk-feel thrown in the mix for good measure.

Although he is no stranger to performing to small student crowds, and despite his humility, MC Dizraeli was given the welcome deserving of a celebrity, and therefore the biggest noise I have ever heard for an act at the Bristol Pear (not to discredit any others that I have seen there).

His set began in a somewhat detached way, initially not relying on any crowd participation. This air of mystery had us all intrigued to say the least, and our anticipation for what the night had in store was heightened by the first sounds he made: a scat-come-tribal-chant that would’ve earned a nod from Bobby McFerrin. This acted as a refrain for a quintessentially Dizraelian tale of a tense relationship that was darkly comedic in its candidness.

Following this, his warm stage presence began to shine through, moreso due to an unfortunate technical hiccup that led to his acoustic guitar being distorted beyond recognition. He strummed one chord, recoiled and said, ‘oh my days’ before eventually reverting to both and singing and playing with no amplification. However, this forced acoustic format proved to be the silver lining of the situation , and one in-keeping with the typical format of Writer’s Bloc’s open mic nights. His strong hold on us soon become evident when he asked if we could come closer to make up for the lower volume – we came a lot closer.

With the gig resembling a musical guest performing to a crowd of eager school children, he then played ‘To The Garden’, a track from his début album Engurland (City Shanties). It proved to be a crowd-pleaser, and his playful expressions that followed every quickly-rapped punchline undeniably closed the gap created by his mysterious opening piece. He described the song as a ‘sort of a love letter to Chris Moyles’ before calling the man a word I won’t repeat in print. Needless to say, given the nature of the evening as a whole, he was preaching to the right choir. Hearing this song acoustically for the first time proved a real treat, as instead of the standard boom-bap rhythm of the album version, Dizraeli’s quirky flow was carried by the folksy upstrokes of his guitar, and the viola solo was replaced with vocals that spanned from eery to comical.

Aside from ‘Bomb Tesco’, and newer material such as ‘Any Day Now’ the setlist was mostly comprised of hits from ‘Moving in the Dark'; a stylistically innovative effort from Dizraeli and the unique troupe of musicians that is The Small Gods. This was a wise choice from the Bristolian singer-songwriter, as it was these songs and/or poems that proved the most powerful – fittingly performed as spoken word pieces. Stripping his lyrics down to their rawest form evoked an intense feeling of intimacy from them. Pacing back and forth on the stage, his recitation of ‘Little Things’ in between swigs of Newcastle Brown Ale was tinged with a sense of anguish, the authenticity of which was incredibly moving. ‘White Rum’ and ‘There Was a Rapper’ were read with similar feeling, and the latter song also demonstrated his talents as a singer, which I would argue are often overlooked.

However, Dizraeli balanced his overall performance well, by inserting funnier pieces to lighten the mood. One of which was as short as it was effective. The overall premise was seemingly nothing more than a string of hipster confessions (including ‘I don’t know what he did but Che Guevara’s kind of wicked’) separated by a tribal stomping and vocal rhythm: the result was nothing short of hilarious.

When it came to his last song, I was genuinely gutted that his set couldn’t be longer, and I doubt I was alone. But the gig still ended on a high, another new song from the emcee that arguably became arguably the best-received the song of the night, with the whole audience singing and stamping along to the vocal hook as if in a trance.

The night was a tremendous experience, one which I’m sure many left pondering how it didn’t cost more than a fiver. The performance as a whole was a series of broken boundaries, one that blurred the lines separating music from poetry and the remorseful from the risible. All in all, it was, to quote the man himself, ‘double-D wicked’.

By Oliver Clifford

Grizzly Pear: A Retrospect

DISCLAIMER
This will be the last review I write for Grizzly Pear; it might also be the last review I write for Blogfest, so expect emotions, sentimentality and a good dose of self-deprecation. It’s like a review cocktail – snappy title to be confirmed.

 HISTORY (Part One)
Roughly two years ago Ben Norris had an idea: transform Writers’ Bloc much-loved but irregularly attended and unnamed open mic night into the poetry night to go to in Birmingham. Names were thrown around –Loudhailer was a rumoured favourite – Grizzly Pear was born and so were a series of questionable posters. Some of the biggest names in poetry have headlined: Tim Clare, Vanessa Kissule, Bohdan Piasecki, Katie Bonna. Ben Norris’s ego hasn’t inflated to the size of the top room of the Bristol Pear; in fact, he’s still a very humble but incredibly hardworking man.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part One)
It’s 00.16. I just attended my last Grizzly Pear.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One)
Three years ago I joined Writers’ Bloc. In the ArtSoc room of the Guild I met most of my current housemates and many of the friends I still have now. I met a whole host of students who seemed incredibly knowledgeable and full of ideas. I met people who could write. I met people who could write fantastically. I met people who were interested in what I was writing. I met people who wanted to help me become a better writer.

At the end of my first year of university, I finally plucked up the courage to read a poem on the stage of the Bristol Pear. I basically read to about twenty people I called friends and it was the most terrifying yet comforting environment. Now they can’t get me off the stage. Okay, they can. Luckily for most I’m a get-on-stage-read-your-poem-and-go kind of girl. (Is that lucky? I’ve never reviewed my own poems.)

DISCLAIMER TWO
Yes, all the times I’ve reviewed Grizzly Pear I’ve read a poem too. Shocking, I know. I mean, writing poetry and writing a review? I didn’t get enough attention as a child.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One and a Half)
Basically, without Writers’ Bloc and its open mic nights I wouldn’t have got over my fear of public speaking and I definitely wouldn’t be writing poetry, let alone going to do a Master’s in poetry. I’m naming my first child after all former and current committee members.

DISCLAIMER THREE
If I do actually name my first child after you all, you all have to buy it a present.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two) 
What’s great about Grizzly Pear is that it’s diverse: poems can be funny, poignant, satirical, political, emotional, reflective (and sometimes all these things at once), and Grizzly Pear’s open mic section always offers at least one of each.

Funny poem: Meg Tapp’s ‘I Look At Other Men’
A sort of love poem to her boyfriend that also gave us an insight into what it’s like to fancy anything with a pulse (or just waiters and celebrities). It was hilarious, but also contained some really well-wrought images.

Poignant poem: by Lorna Meehan
Poems about ‘big societal issues’ often come across as boring: yes, we agree that certain things are wrong with the world, but writing about it doesn’t necessarily make a good poem. Luckily, Lorna is an excellent poet and tackles such issues with a personal edge. Using an image of a woman weighing lettuce leaves, Lorna took the audience on a journey through the difficulties of eating disorders. It was a wonderfully performed and beautifully written poem.

Satirical poem: by Jack Crowe
I class Jack Crowe’s poem as the ‘satirical one’ because ‘Neil Cornwell has stated that “satire, humour and incongruity are always potential ingredients of the absurd”.’ (And that, dear readers, is also the first line of my undergraduate dissertation. Riveting, I know.) Jack Crowe does absurdism brilliantly. Basically, his poems contain the Russell Edson and Luke Kennard tone that I have spent nine months trying to perfect and haven’t. Jack Crowe’s speaker was planning a mental breakdown and the perfected factual manner complimented the black humour perfectly.

DISCLAIMER THREE:
Jack Crowe, I’ll buy your first collection when it comes out.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and a Quarter)
Political poem: by James Grady

James Grady used to attend the University of Birmingham and having performed at some festivals last summer, I’ve heard rumours that he might be doing something similar again. If he’s not, he should. I call James Grady’s poem ‘political’ in the best sense possible: it isn’t one of those ‘stand on my soapbox and rant to you about stuff’ kind of poems; James Grady is able to weave topical issues into a well-rhymed, lively performance that is full to the brim with laughs. Think Luke Wright with less hair.

Emotional poem: Lily Blacksell’s break up poem.
She said that she writes poems that aren’t just about being in love or break ups, but they’re good, so she can carry on doing so if she’d like. Actually, Lily, you can just write the former, because I’m not endorsing heartbreak. Lily does beautiful images and a dry sense of humour like no one else. Another one for the festival circuit, I think. (By the way, she’s also the new President of Writers’ Bloc, so she’s basically the queen.)

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Two)

This one time, in Writers’ Bloc, there was this really cool inter-university poetry slam, and Lily was on the University of Birmingham team. She was nicknamed ‘the duchess’, so her queen status isn’t really an exaggeration at all. She just climbed the social ladder. It’s like she’s Cady Heron but the Burn Book is just a book of really good poems.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Half)

Reflective poem(s): James Dolton, Miles Bradley and Ben Norris

I think this would be an ultimate dream-team poetry combo, but alas, all three performed separately. Their work had similar themes though, so I shall group them all together. The poets considered what the last three years have meant to them in very different ways: James Dolton’s was a darker look at what one might have experienced at university, but what will be lost as a result of leaving it; resident Grizzly Pear DJ Miles Bradley made us consider that Ben Norris might have forced us to read poetry for the past two years.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Three)
Miles doesn’t get enough credit. Every Grizzly Pear he makes me want to dance. Thank you, Miles.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Three-quarters)
And Ben Norris read a poem about how everyone thinks we haven’t been living in the ‘real world’ for last three years.

DISCLAIMER FOUR
I do not agree with Ben Norris’s claim that post graduate study is a way to avoid the ‘real world’. I just don’t want a ‘proper’ job yet (nor do I want one until I finish my PhD).

DISCLAIMER FIVE
I realise that these views may not have been Ben Norris’s.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Three)
Some poems fit into these categories and some don’t. The open mic section of the evening was of a particularly high standard.

DISCLAIMER SIX
This review is already ridiculously long and if I write about every single performer I will never go to bed and will therefore feed my already horrific insomnia and black coffee addiction. If I don’t write about your poem, it’s not because I didn’t like it.

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Four)
Tom Crossland, your poem about your dog was beautiful. I like anthropomorphised animals. I also have a dog, and now I miss him terribly.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Four)

 It’s 01.14. I’ll wrap this up.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five)
Writers’ Bloc has been one of the greatest influences in my life, however hyperbolic that sounds. Former and present committee members should be proud of everything that this once small and badly named society has achieved.

HISTORY (Part Two)
Said former bad name was not actually the fault of any past or present Writers’ Bloc committee members. A Creative Writing society existed before Writers’ Bloc’s founding father Sean Colletti took control and thankfully revamped it.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five and a Half)
I wish the new Writers’ Bloc committee all the luck for the future. I also threaten you with the promise of my return should you mess things up. You’ve got it good here, and I bet you can make it even better.

DISCLAIMER SEVEN
Seriously, that threat is real. My parents don’t live far from Birmingham.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Five)
I will end this review with an overall, over-generalised review of all poetry nights:

REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS

1)      You don’t like poetry.
(Seriously, what are you even doing here? Why are you reading this review if you don’t like poetry? You must like it a little bit. Read the next list.)

REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One)

1) You’ll get in touch with your emotions. Bohdan Piasecki does a wonderful crowd warm-up at the beginning of Hit The Ode in which you exercise your emotions. This is basically what every poetry open mic night does. Sometimes you leave thinking that you might actually have a soul.

 2) You’ll see some incredibly talented people perform. Sometimes you talk to them afterwards and realise that they’re interesting and lovely as well.

 3) Poetry isn’t elitist.

 4) Sometimes they go on for hours so you get to drink more than usual (and on a school night!).

 5) Occasionally, they’ll be a really great headliner and you’ll think, ‘Wow! I would have paid £590453894 to see them at a festival, and that only cost me £5!’

 DISCLAIMER EIGHT

Not all festival tickets cost £590453894.

 DISCLAIMER NINE

 Not all poetry nights cost £5.

 REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One and a Half)

 6) You might just see the next big thing in poetry in the early stages of their career.

 7) Poetry/ rhyme/ rap/ isn’t (and you aren’t) dead.

 8) Sometimes you’re allowed to review these things; you get free entry and to write two-thousand words that people might actually read.

 9) People actually listen to you at these things.

 10) You love poetry.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Six)

It’s 01.41. Time for one last

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Six)

I have loved Grizzly Pear, and I have loved Writers’ Bloc. To everyone who has listened to my poems and read my reviews: thank you. To all who have made me laugh, cry and feel human: you are wonderful people. This Grizzly Pear was the perfect way to end three years, and I am certain I will feel its absence once I have graduated.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Seven)

It’s 01.44. I’ll hand you over to Oli Clifford, who will be providing you with a review of Dizraeli’s headline set. I’m sure his review will be considerably less ridiculous. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Interview: GMTG presents ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

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The Phantom of the Opera, the well-loved musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, is set to hit our student shores next week. Its sweeping musical score, powerful operatic voices, and choreography, not to mention the costumes and masks, are sure to make this show unmissable. Elisha Owen spoke to Director Megan Probert, and Musical Director and Producer Josh Sood to find out more. 

1) For those who don’t know the show, give us a little synopsis.

The Phantom of the Opera is essentially one of the greatest love stories ever told. A masked figure lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera House. As rehearsals for a new production are underway, new owners take over charge of the theatre surrounded by whispers of a Phantom of the Opera. Christine Daaé, a beautiful, impressionable chorus girl, emerges from the chorus, capturing the new manager’s attention – and Phantom’s heart – with her haunting voice. Determined that Christine will be his protegée, and desperate for her love, the Phantom devotes himself to nurturing her extraordinary talents. As devotion turns to obsession, the Phantom will risk everything for her love.

2) Tell us a bit about your role in Phantom of the Opera.

M: As Director, my job was to get the Phantom on its feet, and on the stage. Helped out by an incredible crew, and a wonderfully committed cast, it has been a real joy – the sense of collaboration and team spirit has really characterised this process.

J: I’ve acted as the Musical Director and Producer for Phantom, which (as MD) has mainly involved training the cast up to be able to sing the score, rehearsing the orchestra, but as producer has meant sorting out the financial, legal and administrative side of the production.

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3) How did the audition process work? Were you ever worried you weren’t going to find your Christine and Phantom?

We held open auditions in the guild, so anyone could come and audition who1017740_1495764173985259_3422569402405726013_n fancied it. I don’t think we were ever worried about finding people to play the roles – with a show such as Phantom, it automatically draws a lot of people in as it has a huge following. It was a very exciting and nerve-wracking experience – I think we were as nervous as the auditionees! Phantom is an incredibly demanding show and there are very particular voice types that are required, so in this way it was quite daunting.

The roles of Christine and Phantom, probably the two most iconic roles in the show, are incredibly challenging in terms of vocal and acting ability. We were blown away by Andy and Abby’s auditions, and they both have taken to their roles so well. It’s really exciting to have a whole heap of music students involved in the production as music is so central to Phantom. We are very excited for everybody to hear the cast and orchestra, actually – a very, very talented bunch.

4) The musical is known for being a large-scale production. What have been the difficulties and joys of transferring it to a student stage?

It’s been great to work with the cast in recreating and reimagining iconic scenes. The biggest challenge has probably been creating the spectacle that Phantom is famous for – so elaborate sets, and so on. We’ve really stripped back this aspect as we want the focus to be on the beautiful music and on the characters. That being said, you can still expect a level of spectacle that we hope audiences will enjoy.

Also, the score is vocally very demanding, and it has taken a lot of rehearsal time and drilling to get right. We have a cast of about 40 people, so getting everyone working together is the first and most important thing to achieve. There are several special effects in the show which have caused a few issues here and there and have been a challenge to overcome, but we’re getting there with it all!

5) What has been the most fun part of the rehearsal process?

The most exciting and fun part of the rehearsal is the sitzprobe; after months of rehearsing with just a piano, to have a full 27 piece orchestra and full cast singing together is really amazing and gears everyone up for the final push before the show.

6) Why should people come to the show? What can they expect?

It’s The Phantom of the Opera! You can expect a stunning score, beautiful story, and a wonderful evening of entertainment. We have a truly amazing cast, orchestra and crew, who have worked incredibly hard over the past 3 months or so.  It’s not often that amateur productions of Phantom happen so I think people should make the most of the opportunity, as it will be a real spectacle. Please come and support us!

7) And lastly, the question on everyone’s lips – will there be a chandelier?

It wouldn’t be Phantom without the chandelier now would it…

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The Phantom of the Opera will be running 13th-17th May 2014, in the Debating Hall, Guild of Students. 

Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.guildtickets.co.uk/GMTG

For more details and photos, like their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/GMTG-Presents-The-Phantom-of-the-Opera/1470435719851438

Interview: Joseph Sale, Author of ‘The Darkest Touch’

University of Birmingham student Joseph Sale recently released his debut novel, The Darkest Touch, with American publishing house Dark Hall Press. If having a novel published at twenty-years old wasn’t enough, all paperback copies sold out in the first week and the novel reached #6 on the Kindle Horror download bestsellers list. Elisha Owen talks to Joseph about his writing process and experience with publication. 

Q. A huge congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. Tell us a bit about yourself.

A. Thanks very much! This is always one of the harder questions. I suppose to start I’m currently in my third year at the University of Birmingham doing an English with Creative Writing degree and about to graduate this year. I’m a fencer and a musician and I work in Bournemouth at Quantum Card Services. I loved books and literature since I was little and, unless I’ve been inserted into an artificial dream-tank, I’m a novelist and author of The Darkest Touch.    

Q. You’ve self-published novels in the past. What made you decide to try a professional press, and how did you go about doing that? 

A. The issue with self publishing is that you have to become an entire publishing house on your own: editor, reader, artist, marketer, salesman, copywriter, all at once! Unless you have an incredible understanding of the market and how to promote your work without alienating people, you ultimately can’t reach an audience. Self-publishing has become a more respected industry and professional writers are starting to use it for side projects or more experimental works, but it still doesn’t have the seal of approval that a professional publication has, and doesn’t get you the reach you need. Getting readers is more important than making money, at least for me. I want lots of people to read my work because I feel I have something to say which might change the way they think, even help them. I knew that professional publication was the way to achieve that. 

Getting your book professionally published requires a lot of work. Most people think about perfecting their manuscript, but in a way, I found that wasn’t the major issue. It was learning how to write a good cover-letter (which needs to have an elevator pitch style snapshot – something to get them excited), learning about what publishers expect from a manuscript, and learning about where to send my work that were the real challenges. Luckily for our generation, almost all of the information you need is online, you just have to find it. Though it took me roughly 1 ½  years to finish The Darkest Touch (not the first draft, but a fully edited capacity), it’s really the sum of 5 years of research. 

No one gets picked up straight away. It got rejected from one other publisher before it was accepted – but only because it didn’t fit the publisher’s aesthetic. That’s when I knew it had at least a shot. I sent it off again, just the first three chapters and a pitch, to Dark Hall Press. They said that if I didn’t hear back in 3 weeks they weren’t interested. On day 21, I’d given up, but at 9:00 in the evening they sent me an email saying they’d like to see the whole thing – talk about cutting it fine! 

Q. Give us a brief synopsis of the novel. 

A. A nuclear World War 3 has happened. From the radiated ashes of this calamity, a group of individuals ‘touched’ by a dark power assert their control over the ruined New York city, slaughtering any baby or child that displays signs of the ‘touch’. But voices speak in the deep. Rebels gather. One of the touched goes rogue. The fabric of their reign is starting to unravel. All it needs to topple is one, soft, touch. 

Q. Where did you draw inspiration from and what other writers influence you? 

A. Where to begin!? Originally, I was heavily influenced by fantasy writers – in particular Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. Several times I tried to recreate their epic fantasy worlds, but without any success. Then I encountered Stephen King and I realised that I had a whole different story inside of me I hadn’t been able to see before. 

King is quite simply a genius storyteller, and really understands how to shake you with language. Most people think horror is full of cheap scares, but King will make you laugh, cry, weep, and sing – there’s life in his writing. Everything feels so real you can touch it. The Stand, his 1800 page epic post-apocalyptic masterpiece, was obviously a huge influence on the choice of setting for my story. The stand helped me see the ancient, the fantastical, the biblical, the mythical in our own world – it was a liberating experience. 

The other thing that heavily influenced The Darkest Touch was the Bible. In fact, the whole text, in a way, stems from one quote from the Gospel of St John: “In him was life and that life was the life of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5). The darkness does not understand the light. It’s such a profound statement. How many suffering people do you know who have rejected your help a thousand times? Who will not accept help? How many people are blank to your pleas to be reasonable? We live in a world of darkness, and occasionally, just occasionally, a light shines in – a mercy, a grace, a justice – but it’s too bright and brilliant for us to get hold of. 

Whatever your beliefs, the personal, symbolic truth of the biblical stories, at least from my experience of the world, is irrefutable. Christ speaks figuratively and in parables, and the Bible as a text is hugely symbolic. These symbols speak to us in a way that scientific fact never will. Adam and Eve’s tale of lost innocence will always resonate with more emotional impact than a list of facts about puberty. Stories create truths, and the Bible is perhaps one of the deepest roots of story we know.  I wanted my own book to echo (never recreate – that’s impossible) this deep, profound mythic source and create its own web of symbols that the diligent reader might uncover. 

Q. Writing a book, while also completing your degree is extremely impressive. How do you manage balancing writing with your other commitments? 

A. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. I try to write every day – that way you build momentum and can finish projects in good time. You also don’t lose your train of thought, or lose sight of the threads you’ve woven together, so you have a clearer picture. It’s also good practice. If you want to be an Olympic athlete you train every day. Writing’s no different. Every day I’m training and hopefully improving. I never believe I’ll stop learning. 

Q. Do you have any advice for budding writers? 

A. Yes. Write every day – 500 words or 1 poem or one scene from a play/script. The first two weeks will be hell. You’ll be tired. In fact, you’ll be more exhausted than any time you went on a training camp or competed in a sport or did a midnight shift at work, but the third week it’ll get easier. Like a marathon runner you’ll have built up stamina. Writing every day is the single most important step to getting better. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Write. Write as if you’re trying to save your life. That’s how I started anyway. When you’ve finished something big, or a collection of shorter works, then you can take 4-6 weeks off and edit. 

Q. In three words, why should people buy your book?

A. It’ll change you. 

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The Darkest Touch is available in paperback from:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Check out Dark Hall Press at – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dark-Hall-Press/320319528012123 

Tweet Joseph Sale @josephwordsmith