Into the Woods

The Other Emily spends an entertaining evening at the theatre with this classic Sondheim musical.

As you were all heading out into your bank holiday weekends, I ventured Into the Woods to a dark world of grimly comic Fairy tales.Who else could turn childhood favourites into (even) darker versions of the stories other than Stephen Sondheim? Woven into a modern mash up of wolves, beanstalks, bakers, and princesses, this production is a reprisal of the sell-out show in 2014, and sits easily in the round at the Cockpit Theatre. The forest floor is a generous carpet of wood-chipping, and the eerie woods of Sondheim’s imagination a set of ladders ascending into the sky, and dangling down from the beams of the theatre. I took my place with a bird’s eye view (and out of the way of any possible audience participation) and waited for the Narrator (Jordan Michael Todd) to begin the tale.Director Tim McArthur promises the audience a 21st Century twist with his adaptation, and we certainly get that. Jack and his Maw are Glaswegian Neds; the Baker and his wife are Health & Safety conscious with their hair nets and crocs; Cinderella’s Step Mother and her sisters are straight out of TOWIE; and an Irish Witch & Rapunzel battle over a Mother’s right to control her daughter’s life. Our protagonists are a parade of modern stereotypes, which proves a little gimmicky at times; the paedophilic wolf, portrayed as a wide boy; Jack’s drunk Mother lurching around with thong on display, an overwrought, coked-up Rapunzel rejected by her Chelsea Prince Charming etc.In our world of ‘more’, the characters all wish for something else to fill the void. In a nutshell, the Baker wants a child, but the Baker has been cursed by his friendly next-door neighbour, the Witch. She sends him off into the woods to fetch four magic ingredients to break the curse; a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold – see where they all fit in now? Cue the music.And in this production, we are treated, on the whole, to some fine performances. Aaron Clingham, the musical director, steers the discordant score through the woods with a few tonal mishaps from his singers. I was rather taken by the awkward Jack, played by Jamie O’Donnell, clambering to the top of the ladder-cum-beanstalk, plaintively singing ‘Giants in the Sky’. The stand out performance comes from the Witch, Michele Moran, who ably settles into the role of the haggard old crone whose love for Rapunzel is borderline claustrophobic. She steers much of the narrative, finally breaking the curse of the poor old Baker, to the delight of all.End of Act One, and it all looks smooth sailing – the Baker’s curse has been lifted! Little Red Riding Hood and her Granny are safely back side by side! Jack has his favourite cow and Cinders and Rapunzel their handsome princes. But wait – there’s still Act Two to go, and from the opening number ‘So Happy’ we know it’s not going to be a bunch of laughs. Sondheim’s trademark satirical voice reminds us that we just can’t stay content for long, there’s always something else we want.It’s a clunkier second act – which is partly down to the Book, and by the end of the rampage (oh, did I neglect to mention Jack’s Giantess comes down and tramples most of the ensemble?) I feel like I’ve had a fairly large dose of Medieval Morality - face your responsibilities, own up to your choices, don’t become an overbearing parent. The cast unravel a tad, spending much of the act staring up at the imaginary Giant, and the choreography of the Finale is slightly gauche. The intimate set, which worked so atmospherically in the first act, loses its magic, and when the haze from the woods rises, it left me with the harsh reality of black box theatre…I think it will take a few more magic beans for me to become a hard and fast Sondheim fan, though there will be many in the audience. As for the production at the Cockpit, the actors still have to find their footing on the wood-chipped floor and sort out a few rookie mic issues, but, with that aside, it is an entertaining watch.

INTO THE WOODS runs at the Cockpit Theatre until the 24th June.

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Talking with Andrew Hunter Murray

Andrew Hunter Murray gets up to all sorts of marvellous things on a daily basis and makes us laugh a lot. He's a QI Elf, a co-host of the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast, a writer for Private Eye, a correspondent on The Mash Report AND a founding member of the Jane Austen themed improv-show Austentatious. Below he shares some wise words and a few of his favourite things.

What did you study?

I was an English student, which was extremely good practice for what I do now - frantically reading large amounts of information before trying to explain it to other people. Except now I get to make jokes instead of having to explain the themes of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is just as well for all concerned.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer, actor and QI elf?

By complete good fortune. I got a bit of work experience at QI just after I left university - someone introduced me to the producer, comedy legend John Lloyd, and I then pestered him until he caved and told me I could work there for a month. I spent four weeks finding things beginning with G (we were working on the G series at the time) and presented him with a dossier on Giraffes, Gemstones and Gambia. We’re now on P and they haven’t rumbled me yet.

What do you love most about your work?

When I was young I desperately wanted to find a career where I could a) read and b) write, and ideally c) make people laugh. I didn’t really think that people got to do this stuff for a living, so I’m pleasantly surprised every day to find out I’m wrong.

How do you prepare prior to going on stage / in front of the camera?

I worry, intensely, about whether the stuff I’ve got is funny enough.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

For god’s sake, if you’re wearing a suit, make sure the flaps of the pockets are out on both sides. That one’s courtesy of my mother. She did tell me something else, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten it.

Do you have a favourite Fish fact?

After 200 episodes, it’s basically whatever we’ve done most recently. But I do have a long-held soft spot for anything involving animals on parachutes. So, for example: during the second world war, the first allied combatants to parachute into Normandy on D-Day were a few German Shepherds, who were accompanying the first party of soldiers.

Do you have a favourite Jane Austen book?

I have written and deleted my answer to this one about five times. I go back and forth between Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. The latter is just an absolute Austen blockbuster with all your favourite hits: Persuasion is like her later prog-rock phase where all the themes are being played with greater maturity, and on weirder instruments.

Do you have a favourite writer (other than Jane!)?

Douglas Adams. And P.G.Wodehouse. And Terry Pratchett. Any of the amazing tradition of British humourists who create new worlds and then spend their lives roaming around them. But then again, if it’s Christmas and I fancy a nice murder, I won’t say no to a P.D.James, as she’s the absolute master of nasty murders by well-drawn characters.

What are you watching?

I’ve just finished Detectorists. The opening premise doesn’t sound like much - two middle-aged blokes walking slowly across a field with metal detectors, talking rubbish - and it slowly unfurls into one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, brilliantly-drawn sitcoms you’ll ever see.

What are you reading?

I’m flipping between a very weird book of sci-fi short stories called You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison, and some Grade A Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence).

What are you listening to?

The background hum of a washing machine. (A couple of my friends are so cool that they probably listen to bands with names like that. Just to be clear, this is just a washing machine).

What are you drinking?

I’ll have a half of cider, please.

Favourite word?

‘Rumble’, but only when preceded by ‘Let’s get ready to’.

Favourite animal?

My first ever pet, Lilt the hamster (1997-1999). In case you’re wondering, she’s not the answer to any of my security questions for my online banking, so good luck with that one, fraudsters!

Favourite place in London?

The water-gate of George, Duke of Buckingham, which is in the Embankment gardens. I frequently bore anyone unwise enough to walk past with me with stories about it, as my rapidly diminishing number of friends will tell you.

Favourite place in the world?

See above. And one interesting fact about the water-gate of George, Duke of Buckingham, is…no, wait, come back, this is good…

If you could have 3 people to dinner dead, alive or fictional who would they be and why?

I would have Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, and I would make them re-enact all their scenes from The Philadelphia Story until they got angry and left.

Parallel universe career?

If I can pick absolutely anything, I would like to be doing something very very similar, please.

@andrewhunterm

At the Savoy Theatre, London: Austentatious

The podcast on tour: No Such Thing as a Fish

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'Road'

Emily 🙋

I spent some of Wednesday afternoon at a social media call for the Royal Court's newest play 'Road' 🎭. I had impulsively answered a call out on Instagram the day before, and was invited to come and take pictures 📷 of the cast.It's the first time the Royal Court has done something like this, but with my marketing hat on, I considered what a shrewd move it actually is. Free photography, free advertising and a variety of ages and demographics posting about what they had seen - odds are someone was going to see it. Ok so top dog influencers like Zoella weren't amongst us - but I'm willing to bet a couple of my cohorts were keen social media bods with sizeable followings...Not a bad idea?! 👌🏻We were shown a snippet of the action taken from the beginning of Act 2, that had not been shown to the press (this made us feel v special) 💁🏼. It was also chosen because it showcased most of the cast, to give us a good overview and variety of photo opportunities 📷.The theatres Associate Director, John Tiffany, gave a short introduction to the piece promising music 🎶, movement and most importantly chips 🍟. It did not disappoint. The stellar cast including Faye Marsay (Candice from Fresh Meat) and Michelle Fairley (GOT's Catelyn Stark) brought a fraught energy, with brash characterisations and Lancashire lilts. There was dancing 💃, boozing 🍺, ranting👄 and existential musings 👀(and that was just three minutes).The Royal Court website describes Road as a piece giving 'expression to the inhabitants of an unnamed northern road in Eighties Britain.' Focusing on the impoverished of Lancashire, Cartwright shines light on the effect of the Thatcher government and the deprivation it cased. (One of my social media colleagues did point out how timely this theme appears to be, given our own political vortex).Tiffany brings new life to the play, 30 years after it was originally staged at the Royal Court, harnessing the initial promenade style into a constant flow of energy in the more static stage set up.I may have only seen a snapshot of the play, but it definitely left me thirsty for more. See you there? 👏🏻

Emily xxx

Road showing at Royal Court Theatre runs until 9th SeptemberYou can read all about Emily and Olivia's blog take over here.IMG_1869IMG_1856Road
Photos taken by Emily 

Emily's Top 5 Podcasts

I thought it was about time I had some contributors on my blog, rather than just me telling you how excited I am about everything ALL the time 😘 .  The first piece is by Emily (my @thatcoat collaborator) who has very kindly written a fun post on her favourite podcasts of the moment.  I very much hope you enjoy reading Emily's recommendations.Alice xxx 💕

Emily on Podcasts

unnamed-2Hello, I’m Emily and I am delighted to be the first official contributor to Alice Frances! I am 25, I live in London and have an extensive and niche knowledge of films you have never watched. I have recently taken up cycling and am seeking treatment for my creme egg addiction.If you weren’t aware, podcasts are officially a ‘thing.’ They are literally everywhere and anyone who is anyone has one of their own. In 2013 Apple said that there were over a billion subscriptions spread across 250,000 unique podcasts in more than 100 languages, and that more than 8 million episodes had been published in the iTunes Store. Four years later, I’m sure there are a few more…I link back my love of podcasts to listening to audio books at bedtime (thanks Stephen Fry). There is just something very comforting about having someone/s chatting away while you are doing admin at home, commuting or even a boring task at work. And now we are spoilt for choice, there are podcasts that cover everything, from mindfulness to fashion, from inspiration to S&M and we can listen to our hearts content. I’m in favour of anything that makes a commute go faster or gets me away from a screen. Here are my top five:

1. Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-11-29-20As a LTL – (long term listener) this was probably the first podcast I ever listened to, in an ancient form back in 2009 downloaded onto my ipod mini. It is safe to say I have been hooked ever since. Esteemed film critics Kermode and Mayo provide honest, nail on the head reviews, peppered amongst their signature ‘wittering.’ It is usually my go to before seeing a film in the cinema - the only time I have ever disagreed with their opinion was the greatly misjudged Hail Caeser! Listening to this is like having two friends chattering away in your ear, who bicker, make dad jokes and just happen to be movie geniuses. Each week brings a new guest from whatever ‘of the moment’ film is in the cinema, who expertly flog their film and provide interesting analysis of the craft and process.What To Expect: Multiple ‘hellos to Jason Isaacs,’ insightful film reviews, wittering and stellar guests.

2. Unexplained

Richard McLean Smith

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-11-29-05This eerie and intriguing podcast will simultaneously pique your interest and send chills down your spine. Picking up the threads of unresolved (and often supernatural) stories, it describes itself as being about ‘strange and mysterious real life events that continue to evade explanation.’ Exploring unsolved mysteries where the paranormal meets the real, Unexplained makes the spooky scientific. McLean Smith has a voice like velvet and his thorough research and meticulous use of sources gives the inexplicable, clarity. What To Expect: Goosebumps, cliff hangers, mystery and a narrator who will keep you coming back for more. An episode favourite: When The Light Fades 

3. You Must Remember This

Karina Longworth

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-11-28-46The podcast about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century. This podcast brings the golden age of Hollywood into sharp focus, with particular emphasis on its glittering starts who made their names there. The pitfalls of the studio system, the highs (often chemical) and lows of the stars, and the films that made them famous, You Must Remember This is a window into a deliciously decadent past. With an in-depth look at characters such as Carole Lombard, Clarke Gable, Judy Garland, Arthur Miller, and many many more, this podcast dives into the lives of the stars and follows them on the rollercoaster that was Hollywood at its inception.What To Expect: A no-nonsense look at Hollywood with interesting and often unexpected tip bits about your favourite forgotten stars

4. Dan Snow’s History Hit

unnamedThis podcast is like all of your school history lessons with the boring bits cut out, and a teacher who really cares about their subject and wants you to care too. Dan Snow chooses relevant, popular pieces of history and explores them with academics, from the plague to prime ministers, the Klondike Gold Rush to drugged up Nazis – there’s something for everyone. The guests are interesting, the history is presented in easily digestible nuggets and Snow’s enthusiasm about his subject is completely infectious. Look out for his total reluctance to comply with his sponsor’s requests – its very refreshing.What To Expect: To finish each episode feeling a little smarter, wish you were back at school frequenting history class and to smash the history round at the pub quiz.An Episode favourite: Blitzed: Drugs In Nazi Germany – Norman Ohler 

5. My Dad Wrote a Porno

Jamie Morton, James Cooper & Alice Levine

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-11-29-37 If you haven’t heard of, or listened to this podcast in the last year then odds are you have been living under a rock. Imagine if your Dad retired, and instead of taking up gardening or walking, decided to turn his hand to erotic literature. This is the horror that Jamie Morton faced. The result was ‘Belinda Blinked: A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.’ Instead of ignoring his fathers attempts at erotica – Morton decided to share the fruits of his labour with the world (with the help of his two best friends). Thus My Dad Wrote a Porno was born. The books decidedly unsexy plotline (about Belinda, a pots and pans saleswoman), combined with terrible punctuation, and the trios constant mocking makes for very entertaining listening.What To Expect: Anatomical inaccuracies, convoluted plotlines and laughter lines

Emily's other recommendations:

The Guilty Feminist

Global Pillage

Guys We F@#ked

No Such Thing as a Fish

Alice's Choice:

The Allusionist

download

15 minute bites of all things wordy by Helen Saltzman.  It's about language and etymology, and Helen barely draws breath whilst she fills you in on all manner of extraordinary word meanings, word history, word connections and lots and lots of word play.  It's great.

Russian Dolls

This week I went to see Russian Dolls 👭 at the King’s Head Theatre 👑👨 in Islington.It was rather nice to have an excuse to go to Islington, I tend not to venture there that often but I do like it rather a lot.  It is definitely an area of London I still need to discover, I hardly know it at all.  One of my favourite things about living and working in London 🎡, is discovering new places 💃.  I have always lived south of the river 🚣 – Battersea and Wandsworth, but have worked in Covent Garden 💐, Fitzrovia 🎓, Kentish Town 🎶 and Chelsea 👸 and I always love getting to know a new place.  The initial discovery of a new and exciting place for lunch 🍝or coffee ☕️, and then getting to know the people who run the café, once your favourites have been established.  Favourites have been Spud 🍲in Covent Garden - gourmet baked potato for lunch (it has now closed, but don't worry, there are other potato selling places), Attendant in Fitzrovia – a great bacon 🐷 sandwich, Kaffeine for their banana bread 🍌 and coffee ☕️, Yumchaa for their brownies 🍩 and green tea 🍵(a superb combination) both in Fitzrovia, Meat in Tufnell Park – great sandwiches 🍞 and a bottle of wine 🍷 if you need one for dinner that evening, and Artisan du Chocolat in Chelsea for a hot chocolate pick me up ☕️🍫.  And of course Piccolo’s on Sloane Street.  If you are ever at Sloane Square need anything they seem to have it, I have begged lemons 🍋🍋 from them on multiple occasions (don’t ask) and they’ve even produced a chocolate cake 🎂 short notice for a birthday.So to Islington, where I met Nikki, and we went to watch Russian Dolls👭 by Kate Lock, at the Kings Head Theatre 👑 👨, which is through a door at the back of this rather nice little pub.The last time I went to see a play in a small venue, a friend and I made the mistake of consuming a couple too many drinks 🍷🍷 before we took our seats and we happened to be sitting on the wrong side of the stage.  Short play, no interval – and I have to say (although it was a very good performance) we spent the last 20 minutes desperately trying to decide if we could dash across the stage to the exit 👯, in between scenes.  We didn’t, but I was better prepared this time – not too many drinks beforehand.I liked Russian Dolls 👭 very much – it is the story of a relationship between Hilda 👵, an elderly lady who has suddenly gone blind, and her accidental carer, the young and very mouthy Camellia 👧(what a great name) - they initially meet when Camellia burgles Hilda.  The character of Hilda is based on a lady who lived locally in Islington – she had spent her entire life fostering children, and in the play unofficially takes Camellia under her wing.It is a clash of personalities 🙅🙆💁, between two women of very different generations living in London.  Hilda lives alone, her husband has died and she never had any children.  Although she is blind she still carries on cooking 🍝, all sorts of homemade things – lemonade 🍶, cakes 🍰and toad in the hole 🍲.  Camellia is 17 and has just left a young offenders unit, and is one of a number of children who have all been removed from their mother - she now spends most of her time with her brother’s gang, who often treat her quite brutally 🙍.  Both characters are people we perhaps push to the back of our minds too often – the homeless girl on the street, and the elderly lady living alone, with no company but her daily carer.It is a really intriguing and moving interaction between two very strong characters, the lonely, but brave Hilda 👵 who dearly wants to help Camellia, and Camellia 👧who is brash with a harsh survival instinct.  For Camellia, stealing from an old lady is just a way to ensure she gets her next meal – she has no one she can rely on, or who cares for her, except the rather strained relationship with her social worker.The story is shocking in places, and you never know what might come next.   The performances are very very good, Mollie Lambert plays Camellia 👧 and Stephanie Fayerman  Hilda 👵, the way the characters play off each other is absolutely captivating.  This unlikely relationship between two very different members of our society works surprisingly well, they are able to share things, that the other may never have achieved on their own - Camellia learns to cook🍝, Hilda gets a guide dog 🐶.  And it also puts into perspective how much has changed between generations – they are two women, living in the same city with completely different values, priorities and ideas about life, and very often they just can’t comprehend the others actions or thoughts.If you are looking for something to do today or tomorrow, I definitely recommend going to see it - Russian Dolls, King's Head Theatre 👭👨👑.Alice xxx

Peter Vaughan - All Over the Shop

Today I am veering from the path slightly, and will give you a detailed update of my weekend activities tomorrow.And instead, I am going back to Peter, musician and writer, who I met up with on Wednesday and to me, in my unemployed status is a breath of fresh air - I think he only asked me once how my job search is going, and instead very kindly allowed me to ask him all sorts of questions about what he gets up to.  For the record, he is completely not 'all over the shop' but he does love to use the expression 😉..So as I am writing this I am listening to Peter Charles Franklin Vaughan’s album 'The Road that leads to Love leads back out again', which is incredibly heart warming.Peter creates his own music - always melody first, lyrics second, and describes his music as 'traditionally folk'. He has recently written a song about the Thames and I really enjoyed listening to his explanation of this process. The song evolved first by creating a melody on the guitar, playing with chords and rhythm, trying to recall the sound of an English river - a recent reading of Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' was part of this inspiration. This led to further research on the Thames, and the incorporation of place names along 'The Devil's Highway' a Roman Road that ran from the bridgehead of the Thames. To Peter it is important that his music will 'translate infinitely' - it can be understood by everyone, and he always incorporates metaphors and adds an element of humour to his lyrics.I am not a particularly musical person, although I do enjoy listening (and dancing!) to music a lot, and it was really wonderful to hear Peter speak so eloquently about his process.Peter sings and plays guitar and has started performing his own music with a band - he is thinking of calling it 'Peter Vaughan & sons'. He also currently plays bass for both Lou E and Dregas. For Peter, performing live is an adrenaline rush, a chance to show off, and to make people listen to him - because if you can't say it in a song, when can you say it. I think it is incredibly exciting that he has spent the time teaching himself to create, write, and perform his own music. He only took up guitar aged 16 after hearing a friend play 'House of the Rising Sun'.Peter also writes, and recently won a prize for a short story 'Real Love' which I have just read.  It is incredibly poignant, a love letter to friends, and has a Kerouac-esque feel to it.  To me it is a quiet, but powerful homage to a new generation of artists, musicians and writers, united by a a deep, abiding friendship and mutual respect for each others endeavours.  He himself is very well read, Hemingway, Nabokov and Orwell were mentioned as people who have inspired him, along with the Albert Camus quote ' A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images'. We also spoke about Orwell's six rules on writing - I learnt rather a lot!We spoke about a few other things including dressing up - Peter likes to be able to laugh at his own appearance and is often changing his hair style, narcissism - he sees himself as a narcissist; his first tattoo - a memento for being part of the shoot for the band Formation's new single 'Love'. He really enjoys hosting and cooking for people (he is a vegan) and finally that he would like Daniel Day-Lewis to play him in a film about his life.Peter is one of these people who is entirely himself, and does not make any compromises. He speaks very eloquently about things that absorb him, and he is always interested in your point of view. For me it is really exciting to speak to someone who is wholeheartedly pursuing their passion, has veered from the unconventional career path, completely taken it in their stride and I am very excited for what is to come next 😊IMG_0716IMG_0715IMG_009812341547_10153601613585845_5361957211499214468_n