New Writing Cumbria online magazine: The Carrot

At the moment, I have a number of jobs, but one thing that I love about all of them is helping to create interesting artworks. Whether I’m helping teenagers explore the possibility that they can write poetry, or helping facilitate theatre tours and exhibitions at Prism Arts, or working on my own writing, it’s always exciting to see the seed of an idea come to fruition.

Through my job as New Writing Cumbria, I’ve been working with a group of young writers and editors to produce an online magazine of new Cumbrian writing. And I’m delighted to say that Issue #1 has now been published.

For the first issue, we chose the theme ‘Cumbria-land’. We invited anybody from or living in Cumbria to submit work on the theme – but there was also a bit of a twist. While we did want some of the more traditional types of writing (poetry / fiction / script etc.), we also wanted to explore some of the extra options that creating an online magazine provided.

So we actively encouraged people to submit something a little bit different: film / audio / visual art / crosswords / recipes / jokes…

Admittedly, we didn’t receive any crosswords, recipes or jokes (next time, please?) but we did receive a number of visual and audio pieces, as well as some video. We also used visual art from some of the 2014 Young C-Artists.

The idea was to create something that was fun and vibrant: something that didn’t look like a traditional magazine. And I have to say, I think we succeeded.

We had some excellent submissions, from a large number of writers / artists, and working with the young editors was fantastic. It was great to see them getting so passionate in their discussions over which pieces should be included, and it’s moments like that which remind me just why I love doing the jobs I do.

So don’t be shy: head on over to The Carrot and have a read / watch / listen!

When you look around an audience and see a fairy, a man in a top hat and nightshirt, and several pirates, you know you’re in for a good night.

Wendy, John and Michael Darling in Theatre by the Lake's Christmas production of Peter Pan
Isabella Marshall, Meilir Rhys WIlliams & Matthew Coulton: photo by Keith Pattison.

Any theatre that puts on a production of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is starting from a good place – especially when press night is also fancy dress night. It’s a fantastic story, and has a witty, entertaining, timeless script. But the script also presents challenges, the main one of which is of course flying.

To simultaneously fly four actors above the (comparatively small) stage in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House was ambitious, both for the technical staff operating the flight rigging, and for the actors who had to avoid hitting the set or each other. Luke Jerdy as Peter did a particularly exceptional job of making flight look easy and natural.

There were a couple of mishaps with the flight equipment (a couple of tangled wires, and a bump against the wall), but overall the ambition paid off. Against the backdrop of Martin Johns’ beautiful set, and enhanced by his vibrant costumes, flight certainly added to the magical feel of the show.

The cast brought Barrie’s wonderful characters to life: from Isabella Marshall’s sensible and caring Wendy Darling, to Peter Macqueen’s cunning and somewhat misunderstood Captain Hook. Meilir Rhys Williams as Michael, the youngest, was a delight to watch, captivating the audience with his childish mannerisms and charm.

However, it was the Young Chorus who really stole the show. From jellyfish, to mermaids, to the Lost Boys, the younger members of the cast brought their own magic to the performance. They all held their own alongside the professional actors – particularly the Lost Boys, who were challenged with carrying large amounts of the story, and who rose to the challenge magnificently.

Despite the challenges posed by the script, Ian Forrest and Mary Papadima created a feel-good production of Peter Pan, which was rounded off by cheers and whooping from a very appreciative audience.

Last year, after Swallows and Amazons, I came out of the Theatre by the Lake smiling. This year I came out grinning.

One day a week (plus a bit extra), I run New Writing Cumbria for Eden Arts. We do a number of things, btu one thing we’ve just started is putting on events at Penrith Old Fire Station. The first one went down a storm!

The evening featured poet Kareem Parkins-Brown, musicians Kev Kendal and Bill Lloyd, writer Stephen Redman, and filmmaker Richie Johnston. Oh, and a bar inside a horse box, naturally.

Here are a couple of shots from the night:

~ Katie Hayes (Anna), Liam Smith (Deeley), Rebecca Todd (Kate): Photo by Keith Pattison ~
~ Katie Hayes (Anna), Liam Smith (Deeley), Rebecca Todd (Kate): Photo by Keith Pattison ~

There are plays that make you laugh. There are plays that make you cry. Then there are plays that make you think for days after the curtain call has ended and the lights have gone up. Mary Papadima’s production of Harold Pinter’s Old Times is definitely one of these.

The play appears to start ordinarily enough: a couple, Kate (Rebecca Todd) and Deeley (Liam Smith), anticipating the arrival of Kate’s old friend Anna (Katie Hayes). However, because this is Pinter, all is not as it seems. The surreal curves of the set, reminiscent of a Dali painting, hint at the distorted reality that follows, as Deeley and Anna engage in a power struggle over their claims to Kate. As versions of the past surface, the possibilities voiced (and not voiced) by the characters make the Pinteresque silences spine-tingling – particularly in the intimacy of the Theatre by the Lake’s small studio theatre.

It was this intimate space that helped to produce the play’s intense, claustrophobic atmosphere. However, it was the fearsome, electric, and sometimes sensual onstage chemistry between the actors that really created, sustained and then heightened the tension.

From Hayes’ Anna, confidence in her own sensuality, to Smith’s Deeley, too full of assurances of his role as alpha male, to Todd’s Kate, often voiceless in her position trapped between the two – each of the three elusive roles was executed with a sensitivity and realism that left the audience unsure whose side to take in the unfolding battle for a kind of dominance.

Put all of this against the backdrop of Sanne Noppen’s soundscape of dripping water, rumbles, and low unspecified noises, and the tension and uncertainty in the theatre simmered almost to boiling point.

In a play where memories differ and realities are constantly shifting, and the truth of nothing is guaranteed, it is easy to forget that these are actors, and that we as the audience have unwittingly become a part of the layered and manufactured realities that make up the fabric of the play. It is the sort of production that leaves you reeling.

[Theatre by the Lake: Keswick]

The Comedy of Errors has a quite frankly ridiculous plot, even by Shakespearean standards, about the mistaken identities of two sets of twins separated at birth. If Ben Travers’ Rookery Nook (also showing in Theatre by the Lake’s main house this season) is an outrageous farce, then Shakespeare’s shortest play outstrips it in its barely controlled madness – which is exactly what makes it such good fun to watch. 

Comedy of Errors 2

Fortunately, Ian Forrest’s production of The Comedy of Errors did not try to dial down or intellectualise the humour of Shakespeare’s text. Instead, the vibrant chaos of Martin Johns’ set enhanced the chaotic plot as the characters chased each other around the stage in a manner that would have made Ben Travers proud.

Henry Devas as Antipholus of Ephesus and Bryn Holding as Antipholus of Syracuse mirrored each other perfectly in their confusion and bewilderment as the play developed, without losing their individuality as separate characters, while James Duke and Chris Hannon as the two Dromios provided the production with well timed and executed (if occasionally slightly overdone) slapstick humour.

The two main women in the play provided another expert pairing, as the sisters Adriana (Cate Cammack) and Luciana (Jennifer English). However, unlike the similarities between the two sets of twins, these two seemed to delight in their contrast, with English’s calm and reasoned demeanour providing the perfect foil for Cammack’s comic hysteria.

But it was two of the smaller parts that really stole the show. Matthew Vaughan’s superb comic timing was unsurpassed, both as the goldsmith, but especially as Dr Pinch, the hysterical and slightly suspect physician, who attempts to perform an exorcism on the bewildered Antipholus of Ephesus.

The other special mention has to go to Peter Rylands, whose silent comic acting as a disgruntled  and unsympathetic merchant was easily as engaging as any of the speaking parts.

Overall, the production was an enjoyable one, combining slapstick and farce with the more subtle witticisms inherent in Shakespeare’s language. It was an entertaining evening out, from which we came away smiling.

Comedy of Errors 1

‘The excellence of every art must consist in the complete accomplishment of its purpose.’ – Alfred Drury

~ Writing advice from Alfred Drury: V&A, London ~
~ Writing advice from Alfred Drury: V&A, London ~

This is the quotation that soars above the entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It is. as you would expect, rather fitting. The V&A houses thousands of items, each beautiful and noteworthy in its own way.

It’s also a philosophy I try to follow in my own practice.

I tend to write vary varied material: poetry; blog posts about travel; press releases and publicity material for my jobs. I’m even attempting to write a Mills & Boon-style romance!

But what matters to me isn’t what I’m writing – it’s how I write it. And I know that sounds slightly corny, so let me explain:

When I’m writing poetry, I focus very closely on the language I use, on the images it creates, and on the sound of the words when spoken aloud. I pay attention to meter and cadence, and think actively about rhyme. The result is usually less than a page, but that doesn’t mean it’s a quick process. Instead, it’s as though the writing process has been condensed and strengthened, like that double strength fruit cordial that you somehow always end up using too much of.

When I’m writing for my romance, however, the process is entirely different. Partly because it’s all just a bit of fun, although I do still want to do the job properly (heaving bosoms and all!). So I focus on the story: how events shape emotions, and how to get characters from A to B. I don’t focus too closely on the language: it’s more like impressionism, with broad brush strokes just intended to convey feelings, rather than meticulously engineered imagery and sound.

Totally different ways of writing, but they do have something in common: in both situations, I’m trying to achieve a purpose. Whether that purpose is the precise conveyance of an exact emotion, or the deep desires of two characters with sexual tension so thick you couldn’t slice it with an electric carving knife. What matters is achieving your goals.

‘The excellence of every art must consist in the complete accomplishment of its purpose.’

I’m not assuming my work is excellent – although that’s obviously what I strive for. And I strive for excellence by striving towards the various purposes I set out to accomplish.

Now excuse me, I have a romance to write…

~

This post originally appeared on my travel blog: Second-Hand Hedgehog.