‘Let The Right One In’ happened. And now my theatre brain is in overdrive.

Having spent the past five years making (and critiquing) theatre, I’ve found myself hardening to the standard forms and techniques of the craft. Be it textually, visually, or mentally, my brain autopilots on the dissection and analysis of a show, despite a production’s best efforts to capture my emotional response, often taking both inspiration and offense from a show, at least creatively. It is rare, therefore, that I find myself in this theatrical coma that is currently occupying my mind.

The last show to affect my brain in this way was early last year, at the Trafalgar Studios during their Trafalgar Transformed season. Jamie Lloyd has, for several years now, been high on my top Directors to aspire to list, and his dystopian staging of ‘Macbeth’ was easily the most breath-taking production of The Scottish play (or any Shakespeare for that matter) that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Taking it back several years, Michael Strassen’s production of ‘The Fix’ at The Union Theatre was equally awe-inspiring. With powerful imagery and slick physicality, Strassen’s shows consistently combine beautiful aesthetics with gut-wrenching vulnerability.

This week, I was lucky enough to experience something entirely new.

The Swedish cult classic, ‘Let The Right One In’ (adapted for stage by Jack Thorne), has been transformed into a compelling and exhilarating performance. Beautifully staged, with exhilarating physicality, Director John Tiffany transports his audience into an emotional limbo, unable to respond coherently to the brutal love story strewn, bloodstained, before us. With real trees stretching high into the lighting rig, and a heavy snow frosting covering the stage, even the air-conditioned atmosphere of the auditorium kept up appearances in this chilling performance.

My view. The cast crossed the stage pre-show to create a maze of footsteps through the snow.

My view. The cast crossed the stage pre-show to create a maze of footsteps through the snow.

Haunting. Breath-taking. A soul-crushing portrayal of adolescence and existential anxiety, complete with murder, paedophilia, and vampires.

The weightlessness of the cast’s physicality, accompanied by a heavy, echoing soundtrack creates a visceral image that questions everything you think you know about the human body and it’s limits. Rebecca Benson’s performance as ‘Eli’ is alone enough of a reason to see this show. Her haunting vocal work and exquisite physicality manage to bounce between horrifying and helpless; her staccato twitching screams and writhes like an exorcism gone painfully wrong, whilst her flawless fluidity creates a terrifying ability to glide across the stage and scale the trees without second thought. It is, however, the glint in her eye that was the most exceptional aspect of Benson’s performance, both menace and dead at the same time, she captures the true essence of the Eli’s vulnerability; trapped, a victim within the ruthless killing machine of her predatory nature. Equally, in his professional debut, Martin Quinn carries the only warmth of the show, just as ‘Oskar’ carries the weight of the world in his naïve shoulders, encompassing the ever-optimistic nature of a troubled child who just hopes to find the good in the world. And in the pool scene, well, I won’t spoil it, but I was equally as breathless.

Benson as 'Eli'.

Benson as ‘Eli’.

New to this story, I was unprepared for the brutality of truth behind every idea it poses. Of humanity, of childhood, of morality and trust. It, and in particular this production, manages to suck the life out of your every idea of love, and then rip out your soul for good measure, before offering the simplest and most beautiful of ideas: love doesn’t care. Raising questions of sexuality (“What if I’m not in love with a girl?”), gender (“Would you love me if I wasn’t a girl?”), and identity (“I’m [just] Eli.”), we find ourselves in a hopeful place as the final sequence ends. Although it proves difficult not to taste the bittersweet foreshadowing of the previous two hours, and only hope that life won’t simply repeat for Oskar and Eli.

The tranquillity of the set, the beauty of the movement, the innovative staging and stunning, horrifying death sequences. From hanging, to blood work, to drowning, to free falling, with each scene I found myself convinced that I had seen it all. And John Tiffany’s production just kept raising the level of theatre. I’d never sat unable to comprehend the beauty of the show I’d just seen; attempting to fight back the tears streaming down my face, as audience left around me; struggling to find the right way to express the feelings taking over my brain and limbs before seeing this show. It’s worked its way into my twisty brain and taken route amongst the theatre making cogs, taken on a whirlwind of words and images and mind twinges inside my head and gut. My own ramblings no longer make sense to my own brain, and no doubt don’t do the haunting of this show the justice it deserves. Do yourself a favour, and book a ticket now.

‘Let The Right One In’ is the most breath-taking, awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying piece of theatre I have ever seen. And I can’t wait to try and make a show anywhere near as beautiful.

 

Let The Right One In. The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

http://www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk/let-the-right-one-in/

Beauty: A weapon to be used for power and protection

‘Your beauty is all that can save you […] your power and protection.’ – Apparently this is a quote from the slathered-in-media-attention film ‘Snow White and the Huntsmen’. I haven’t seen this film. I do not intend to ever see this film, on the basis that despite repeatedly being cast in roles that require a shred of talent, Kristen Stewart is as lacking in acting ability as a spoon. And has the charisma to match. That’s all I’ll say on that matter, I simply felt I should probably reference the quote. I believe that is the done thing.

Beauty: A weapon to be used for power and protection.

This is the message Hollywood advocates. It’s quite worrying actually, when you really think about it (or even if you don’t, the sentiment is still instantly clear), that this is the message put across to the younger generation of movie-goers. This idea that being beautiful is an important factor in the protection of women, is in fact the most vital factor. If that is true, it would also stand to reason that beauty results in power. Another terrifying thought. In a generation where young girls are possibly aware of the ongoing battle with gender discrimination and the public war on sexism, but are almost definitely aware of the availability of plastic surgery and body reconstruction, of the “coveted” size zero, alongside crash-dieting fads, and fashion snobbery. It is terrifying that they should be offered the suggestion that beauty and image is the way to not only protect yourself, but that it is the only way to gain respect and in turn power.

I am not the kind of girl who disregards makeup. In fact, I love it with every fibre of my being. When applied correctly, experimented with, and used to create, it is art. I often apply stage makeup for performers, more often than not this is used to create character, or accentuate features that will enhance a performance (and allow the audience to see performers’ faces). I view the use of makeup to be as creative and versatile as a painter is with a brush, or a chef is in the kitchen. For me, it is as much a hobby as it is a skill. I am the kind of girl who worries when seeing women hide behind makeup. A trait, I will admit, I am guilty of committing. I will also admit to wearing makeup virtually every day. A fact that sickens me to the core to say out loud. A fact that is, in part, due to a childhood of reading magazines, watching beauty adverts, and feeling that pang of inadequacy every time I gazed at my reflection and didn’t look the same as the models, as the celebrities, I fawned over. I quickly got over the celebrity phase. Having met many a “celeb” that was so incredibly human and down to earth in the flesh (sporting skin blemishes, frizzing hair, and terrible nail-biting, cigarette-smoking habits), it was clear the (let’s face it, airbrushed and manipulated) images I found myself conditioned to accept as real, were in fact anything but. I didn’t get over the inadequacy. I still struggle with it. But I am less reluctant to accept that I am a person, in my own right. And on good days I manage to leave the house without the daily face paint. This is something I’m having to deal with. It’s something that affects too many people. It is worrying.

It’s worrying because it suggests we are scared of ourselves. We are unable to admit that we look the way we do. Unable to accept the way we are. It is incredibly sad, and brutal. I’m a firm believer that we cannot rely too firmly on our reflection. Mine ensured that I spent over a decade terrified to be myself. To dress the way I desired, to wear my hair and makeup any differently to those I classed as friends, to smile at myself and be happy with the face that returned my gaze. Our reflection is never an honest representation. We are never allowed to see ourselves as others do, a both terrifying and humbling thought. You will never view your face in the way it is meant to be seen, it is often the reason behind a hatred of photographs of the self. You do not recognise you, because you do not see you. Therefore, it would stand to reason that you cannot trust your reflection. I don’t say this to scare you, but simply to suggest that you shouldn’t rely entirely on your reflection to feel good about yourself. Just look at Snow White’s (Step)Mother.* There is a level of trust required in accepting that you are not unattractive. That you are in fact as beautiful as the next person.

Beauty is natural. It is a scary thought that it can be faked and warped through the use of products and paints. Beauty is not protection. It only saves people in fairytales (also on my list of terrible role models). It cannot compensate for character or equality. Beauty is not power. It doesn’t advocate mutual respect. And it isn’t something you can, or should, hide behind. The idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is quite possibly the cheesiest and most offensive suggestion I’ve heard. The suggestion that ‘everyone is beautiful, really’ is condescending, and bitchy. Like a teacher telling you that those girls are really just jealous. That is unlikely to be true. There are varying ideas of beauty, sure. The elderly find the youthful beautiful. The youthful find the infants beautiful. High cheekbones. No cheekbones. Full lips. Petite lips. Skinny hips. Curvy hips. Each of these are beautiful. The conventions of beauty differ, radically, between cultures. Between historical eras. Bloody hell, between people. That makes it subjective. It makes everything exist within a realm of beauty. It does not make it exist within the fucking eye of the fucking beholder. Be honest. Be truthful. Accept that not every single person is attracted to every single other person. It is what makes us unique and individual and fucking human.

This hasn’t been my most coherently formed argument. It doesn’t necessarily offer any insightful methods to break this conditioning to conform to someone else’s presentation of beauty. And it hasn’t even slightly touched upon my views on airbrushing, the portrayal of beauty in the media, and endorsements by influential figures. But it has given my brain a chance to approach the scary, scary world of “beauty”. And that’s all I needed to do. Today at least.

*I include “Step” in brackets because history offers differing opinions on the relationship between the pair. It is however an insightful tale into how the desire for beauty (and the belief that it equals power) can be destructive. It also offers a fair reason to not trust your reflection. nb. The (Step)Mother is traditionally depicted as evil. Tainted by vanity, jealousy, and a hunger for complete power.

The perils of writing: When you are, in fact, not a writer.

I am forever finding articles, opinions, and endless lists of how to kick-start that dreaded bastard known as writer’s block. Methods to trick your brain into writing without thinking about it. Suggestions of writing, quite literally, without thinking or reading until you are entirely dry of words. Attempts to ignore that irritating little voice in the forefront of your mind telling you that actually the use of “stupid” is as stupid as you currently look (with your face scrunched into a concentrated frown, tip of tongue poking between your teeth, and last night’s dinner still staining your t-shirt), and encouraging a process of self-correction as you go. Something I personally struggle to escape from (even with a clean t-shirt).

Another option is to, quite simply, just write. Write anything. Write everything. Do whatever you can to allow those words the breath of life as they appear on the page before you. They don’t have to make the perfect of sense. They don’t have to form coherent sentences. They can simply be word after word of gibberish nonsense. As soon as they’re written, so they say, you will feel better.

I’m finding an interesting collaboration of these suggestions to be true. Whilst, yes, I am unlikely to ever shake that nagging voice of correction and on going editing, I am also finding that writing is, believe it or not, handy. It’s almost as if it is its own breed of ironic procrastination. In an attempt to hide from the pressures of an inability to write the words I need to write, I am instead finding solitude in the meaningless, the random, the unnecessary. Regardless of this fact, I have indeed managed to trick my bitchy little brain into simply writing for writing’s sake. With no deadline, no boundaries, no structure, format, or outline.

I am not a writer. I have never intended to be, nor have I ever pretended to be, a writer. And yet I frequently find myself assuming role of writer. Be it through personal or business matters, writing, it would appear, is a part of my life. Despite this, I am in a constant battle with both the need for inspiration and the challenge of having too many thoughts. It is becoming a challenge to grasp those floating thoughts and ideas and merge them with a kick-arse selection of words, that not only make sense, but make an interesting, occasionally witty, and always coherent argument/message/narrative. So instead, I just am writing. Anything. Everything. Without thought.

Just another me-against-the-world kind of Monday

Today has been one of those days where everything points to one very clear, very vivid, very ridiculous thought: It’d probably be much easier if I were someone else. Someone taller. Someone more popular. Someone with money. Someone in a better situation than I find myself. Someone in a worse situation than I find myself. Someone who just doesn’t give a shit. Someone who cares enough to do something about it. Someone, in other words, who isn’t me.

As I suggested, a ridiculous notion. But a very apparent, very real concern for a lot of people. A lot of the time. The arts industry is one that is constantly surrounded by horror stories of clashing egos, crushed souls, and bitch after demonic bitch of power-hungry “creative types” (I’m allowed to say that, I am frequently placed in the demonic psycho bitch category myself). There are forever stories being churned out about a small-town boy or girl that managed to defy the odds and make it in the larger world, but there are rarely stories pointing out the other tens of thousands of equally driven, equally ambitious, and equally talented individuals that are just looking to make their own successes. And who will, no doubt, be unlikely to make it out of that small town.

That sounds harsh. It sounds rude, and judgmental, and unsupported, and, I suppose you’d be right in suggesting, bitter. But I am one of those tens of thousands. I am one in a very large pool of twenty-somethings trying to claw their way into the terrifying depths of the industry known as The Arts. And not just any art, but Theatre. One so elite and prestigious and god-damn-difficult-to-break, that it’s (let’s be honest) the cause of many an anxiety attack, heavy medication prescription, and psychotic breakdown for many a person over many a year. Equally, one so promising, so full of opportunity, and, on occasion, such an incredible showcase for talent and passion and mind-blowing creativity.

It wasn’t my intent to attack the theatre. Without it I have absolutely no idea where the craziness on the other side of my skull would find it’s refuge. I simply wonder how it can be such an unrivaled location for creative brain explosions, whilst achieving a stifling and unwilling environment for non-veterans, non-names, non-financially-supported-individuals.

I am bitter, I’ll admit. I am also determined, ambitious, passionate, and (most of the time) driven. Today has simply been one of those days where my brain suggests that it could possibly all be simpler if I were someone else. However, as my clock states, it’s no longer today. Now it’s tomorrow. And tomorrow is a sort-your-shit-out kind of day. One that doesn’t accept resentment, self-deprecation, or any other form that fear decides to take. Tomorrow is a dragon slaying kind of day. And dragons shall indeed be slayed.

The “fifteen minutes” obsession

We are currently living in a world that is entirely obsessed and dominated by celebrity culture. There is, for some god-known reason, a shared belief that everything will be okay if we can just get that fifteen minutes in the limelight. That will obviously fix all of our problems in life, love, money, health, etc etc. (And if we can’t be famous just yet, then we crave every inner detail about celebrities’ lives. As if we can somehow live that celebrity lifestyle through them.)

‘Celebrity’ has, it would appear, become less of an elitist word than in previous years. There is a trend, through the use of social media sites, for celebrities to present themselves just as normal, everyday people. Fair enough. They are just another human being, the same as you or I. However, unfortunately, that de-glitzes ‘Celebrity’. It takes away the mystique. In the past celebrities have had to work (hard) in order to get to their level of success. They’ve had to actually have some form of talent, and they’ve struggled to achieve fame and success. Many “celebrities” of the past didn’t even want the fame (or even in some cases the fortune), they simply wanted to do what they loved and were good at. In today’s culture it is the fame that people crave. In today’s culture fame is marketed and advertised. It is presented as something attainable. It is too easy.

Reality television offers the chance to be broadcast to the country. To be given fifteen minutes in the spotlight for the small fee of your dignity. As long as you don’t object to being publicly humiliated you can be famous too. It’s disgusting. We are constantly being presented with face after face after face of people who are famous for simply being famous. They have no desirable skill or talent. In fact, the majority of them appear to only be good at being orange. Or at having an incredibly irritating speaking voice. They can’t sing, act, play an instrument, dance, cook, sew, make a house, write a book, etc etc. And yet they are apparently our current role-models. It could be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying.

We now have an entire generation of people who’s sole ambition in life is to be famous. To be famous for being famous. No ambition to be successful, or inspiring. Just to have fame and fortune. There are teenagers who, when in discussion with careers advisors, simply state that they’re going to be famous. Or rich. Or famous and rich. And when asked how they think they’ll manage that, their response is an off-hand shrug and: “Oh I just will be.” There is no sense of realism. No idea of talent or hard-work or skill. They simply believe that someone will hand fame to them on a plate. And the sad thing is, that for a lot of people that’s exactly what appears to be happening.

Yesterday I watched the X Factor.

I am not proud of that fact. Nor was I a part of the decision making that went on to determine what we should watch. Therefore, I was not responsible for my watching of the X Factor. I cannot be blamed.

I am however, in one way, quite pleased that I did see it. After an hour of padded story lines, humiliating families, bitchy judges, and sobbing individuals, I was able to walk away having confirmed what I’ve always known without even watching the program. And that is that it’s a load of bollocks. A commercialized, legalized form of public humiliation and bullying, with no real interest in musical talent.

In the hour that the show was on, we were shown contestant after contestant who couldn’t sing. Who had been put through that first round of auditions to appear in the live shows purely as a form of hideous entertainment. Purely for the audience to mock. To laugh at. To boo offstage. To boo the judges when they highlight how dreadful the individual is. To actually look affronted when they are told that they will never make it as a musician. For every awful humiliation we were shown a (less than) 5 second clip of a talented individual being put through to the next round. What happened to make us, the human race, crave the soul-crushing over the success? When did it become a national (pretty much international) hobby to watch as people are tortured before our eyes. That’s all I witnessed. One incredibly talented woman (who was, it has to be mentioned, mocked for her job as a pre-school leader) and a dozen acts who were laughed at, snarked at, and metaphorically pelted with rotten tomatoes from the audience.

Reality tv is like a modern day version of the stocks. We are no longer able, as society, to lock people up and throw things at them for public humiliation and entertainment. Instead we slap a few flashing lights around them and call it a music show.

“Brave”: Disney, Let’s have words.

*DISCLAIMER: This post includes spoilers for Disney/Pixar’s new movie Brave. Just letting you know.*

Dear Disney,

Firstly, let me commend you on successfully producing an animated film (possibly for the first time) that focuses on the Mother-Daughter relationship. Genuinely, props to you for that. It was hugely refreshing to not be subjected to the typical Daddy’s little girl storyline that centres on an angsty princess (The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Pocahontas, etc.), or the equally popular choice of a coming of age story that focuses on the becoming-a-man transition (The Lion King, Hercules, Finding Nemo, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Disney/Pixar film, but that relationship was a new one, and greatly appreciated.

Equally enjoyed was the sheer monstrosity that was your heroine’s hair. Finally, a children’s film that advocates having masses of unruly curls. As a fully-paid member of the massive-haired clan, I’m all for providing a role-model with non-salon-styled hair.

The idea of a Scottish animation was such a brilliant one. Animation (not to mention the majority of other mainstream children’s films) rarely ventures outside of generic as far as accents are concerned. In ‘Pocahontas’ John Smith, the explorer from London, has an American accent. ‘Mulan’, a film set in China, features a whole series of American accents. ‘Ratatouille’, set in a Parisian restaurant, again American accents are the preferred choice. I could go on. I appreciate that American/English is, in many cases, the easiest accent to understand through film, particularly for young children, but this is where Brave appeared to be breaking free of animated-tradition. The Scottish accent. Admittedly, it was a slow Scottish accent. The mainstream audience did have to understand the film after all. But it was such a brilliant idea.

This, however, is where my praises end.

The exploration of a massive-red-haired, mother/daughter relationship told through the voice of a Scot had the potential for such greatness. So, I really have to ask, what the hell happened to the storyline? Who actually sat down and thought “You know what, a touching story following the Mother-Daughter bond might not get through to a modern audience. Here’s an idea, let’s turn half the cast into bears!” WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Magic and witchcraft aside (we all know it’s not really a Disney film without that…), it seems an absolutely ludicrous idea for any story. Ever. Especially in this century where kids seem to adore (and want to be) The Saturdays and Justin Bieber and One Direction and Selena Gomez and other fresh-faced (read: TWELVE YEAR OLD) celebrities that take their clothes off and squeak about love. In other words, in this century where children can’t wait to be older than they are. Even the 6 year olds have boyfriends. How is a film about turning your mother into a bear because you don’t agree with her thoughts on marriage setting a good example? Sure, they resolve it in the end – through tears and a long hug and a lot of sewing – but really?! This is not going to prevent Mother-daughter problems.

Also. What happened to feminism? Come on Disney, it’s the 21st Century. Young girls SHOULD NOT GIVE IN AND ACCEPT TRADITION. They should say “Fuck it, I’m going to marry who I want to marry. In fact actually, I’m going to run off to the woods and get leaves in my hair and dance to crazy loud music because I’m still a child and do not need to be thinking about marriage yet!” Your protagonist almost managed. But instead, she went and got her mum turned into a bear. And then, in order to apologise for that fuck-up she goes and tries to give in to tradition and betrothal. Thank god for the mum/bear eh, who has a sudden change of heart and tells her to break tradition (through that well known bear language of hand-gesture).

Seriously Disney. What the fuck happened.

I wish I’d gone to Edinburgh.

There, I’ve said it. Although, somehow, just putting it into tangible words doesn’t make me feel any less gutted about the fact that I’m not there. As a lover of ‘All Things Theatre’ (I have the housemate to thank for that glorious phrase), just the feeling of rubbing shoulders with fellow performance fiends is something I crave. To then be able to watch, critique, and on occasion perform alongside them is a (not-so) secret inner desire.

I caught the Edinburgh Fringe bug two years ago, the summer after my first year of uni, and, despite my degree and life ambitions being heavily theatre based, I haven’t managed to make it back. Yet.

That first summer I was up there purely as a spectator. A spectator with seriously limited funds, but with a wide-eyed ‘oh-my-gosh-I’ve-never-seen-so-many-creative-arty-minds-all-in-one-condensed-place-before’ attitude. I saw far too much comedy for my own personal liking, albeit not awful, and somehow managed to avoid all forms of serious/contemporary/experimental/undefined-genre theatre or performance. My preferred style. (Note: My degree has brainwashed me to a level where I can no longer simply write ‘theatre’, ‘drama’, or ‘play’ without following it with ‘or performance’. The same goes for ‘stage’, followed by ‘or space’. Gotta love the pretentious approach of the contemporary-theatre student, eh?)

Last year an alternative theatre-based activity (alongside a full-time job) prevented me from making the trek up to Scotland. Whilst spending several weeks helping to prepare 150 8-18 year olds in their production of Guys and Dolls was a fantastic experience (and has ensured that I will never work with school children ever), it wasn’t quite the same as sitting watching various housemates and friends perform in numerous shows and sketches at the Fringe.

This year my inner theatre-magnet was yet again foiled, this time by a fortnight escape from the country book-ended by the dreaded task of moving house. Again, whilst a whole array of my favourites are busy frolicking around in the land of the rain, and soaking in every aspect of the theatre (be it enjoyable or exhausting).

Next year I intend to be there with them. Or by myself if for some ungodly reason they all decide not to make the trek next year. I have to be there. In fact I give you all permission to throw things at me if I’m not.

Whilst I’m not there (and I’m regularly kicking myself for not just jumping on the next train up to Scotland), there are many a fantastic troupe (and many a fantastic friend) who are. So if you happen to be in Edinburgh, or on your way there for the final week, I implore you to check out the following:

Theatre. Sometimes physical, always pretty:

Witness Theatre’s ‘The Darkroom

Belt Up’s ‘A Little Princess‘, ‘The Boy James‘, ‘Outland

Rhum and Clay’s ‘A Strange Wild Song

Comedy. Dark and Twisty, or Irish charm:

Casual Violence’s ‘A Kick In The Teeth

Foil, Arms and Hog’s ‘Late Night Sketch Comedy

Dance. Physical theatre. All male group:

Edge FWD’s ‘A Beautiful Hell’

The theatre bug is back.

I didn’t sleep well last night. For someone like me, who struggles sleeping at the best of times, this was fairly irritating. However, for someone like me, who is constantly trying to come up with new ideas for theatre/performance/pretty things, it wasn’t so bad. What can I say? The theatre bug is back.

For a good six months (Sept-Feb.) I massively struggled with the sleep thing. Partly because of my daily caffeine intake, but mainly due to the fact that my mind refused to switch off. I was constantly having fights with my mind over the practicality vs. the prettiness of fairy lights and scaffolding towers and candles-in-jars and various costume ideas etc etc etc. I was in full ‘Rent’ mode. I had dreams about lighting rigs, and nightmares about stretchy white sheets. I ate/slept/breathed the show, the songs, and everything in-between. My lack of focus towards anything else (I would like to think) paid off and I was able to completely devote my brain to my degree once February had finished and I was no longer in full-blown musical mode.

Now, however, I haven’t had anything like this on my mind for a few months. Sure I had to do the degree thing – a final year performance, 3 dissertations. Y’know, the usual. But I didn’t feel my mind opening up all the nooks and crannies of crazy and experimental in the same way that it had with ‘Rent’. Not even close. Not until last night.

I literally couldn’t sleep. Everytime my eyes closed my mind would jump into a new scenario, new idea, new colours, new cast sizes, new sound montages – all for a tiny little speck of an idea that has only really been vaguely discussed. My mind likes it anyhow. The bloody thing forced me to stay awake and scribble page after page of pencil drawings and 3 word notes that no longer make sense to my conscious and awake brain: “Kneel. Fab. v/o.” Not to mention the fact that this was all scribbled by phone light as I couldn’t bring myself to jump out of the warmth of bed and turn on a light. Not at 2 o’clock in the morning.

I think the mind’s trying to tell me something. Despite being on holiday, I’m ready to throw myself into all-things-theatre. All over again.

Single, Unemployed, and Homeless.

I’m entering a new chapter of my life. One with (currently) less stability, both financially and emotionally, and less structure. I’ve completed my academic life. God knows how, after sixteen and a half years, I managed to make it all the way through, but somehow here I am at the end of it all with a 2.1 BA in English and Drama. Crazy.

However, despite the end of education, I am still unemployed, still single, and (as of yesterday) currently homeless. This doesn’t do much to calm the nerves I have to admit.

The big move out was ridiculously stressful – apparently I have too much stuff. Who knew? And my wardrobe was definitely almost responsible for the death of a close friend. (Actually this was terrifying as he was driving the van, and therefore his being squashed to a pulp would have been all the more tragic.) But we (myself and the northern one) survived it, and managed to not kill each other or ourselves in the process. So now we’re homeless, and essentially sofa-surfing for the week leading up to graduation (admittedly she’s actually sofa surfing, I’ve managed to bag myself a spare room for a few days…), and whilst the hunt for a new house is underway. The single and unemployed statuses have been around for a while. I’m unemployed because no-one wants to hire someone who’s about to go away for a month. And I’m single because, well, because I am. Which is both depressing but truthful.

Luckily, things arranged for the next few months make life seem a little less terrifying, and more exciting (and only slightly nerve-wracking). I’m going to Dubai for several weeks to visit the father, I (hopefully) have an incredible internship/shadowing position lined up for the autumn, and plans for theatre adventures later on in the year make my eyes lights up in a manic not-quite-crazy-just-really-excited kind of way.

So, not all bad really. Just need to focus on the positives and not get completely carried away by the terrifying unknowns.

You’re still young, that’s your fault.

This day is always a peculiar one for me. The birthday of someone who will forever remain young in my mind. 34, skinny, good looking, and one of the loveliest people I had the pleasure of being related to. But it’s sandwiched between happy days, and therefore I always end up with a strange mix of emotions during this week.

My Uncle died when I was 9. It was, I suppose, the first real experience I ever had of death, and of being confronted with the knowledge that I was never going to see that person again. I know that losing someone never gets easier, but this first memory is the one that always stays in my mind. It’s the first time I remember feeling gut-wrenching loss, but not really understanding it at the same time.

I guess I should explain. I was a fairly sheltered child. Not in the high-maintenance, never-wanted-for-anything, kind of way. Not at all. Simply that I grew up in a happy family, and therefore never really experienced extreme negative emotions. Not to mention the fact that when you’re a kid living in that kind of environment, death isn’t something you tend to think about in a realistic way. It’s something that’s scary, sure. But I for one had never considered the possibility of anyone I actually knew dying. It was something that happened in films, and to famous people, and to really old people. But not to people that I saw everyday, and who were young, fit and healthy. That just didn’t happen in my mind. Naive, yes. But I was only 9.

Not only was I only 9, but I had an active imagination. That meant that when my parents had to tell me that my Uncle (Henry) had died the night before, the first logical explanation my mind jumped to was that he’d been murdered. Kind of laughable in hindsight, but at that moment in time it was the only thing that made even the slightest sense. I’d seen him only a few days before (at my brother’s birthday), and in my head people either died because they were old, or because they’d been killed. I can’t even begin to imagine how my parents managed to remain straight-faced at that assumption. I mean, I guess I can, they’d both just lost their best friend, but to hear your child jump straight to murder must’ve been a bizarre experience. And slightly ironic I suppose in a twisted way, because, as I eventually found out, it was an act of suicide.

It still surprises me how clearly that night is engraved in my memory. Almost 12 years later, and I can still see my Dad’s expression, trying to hold it together as they corrected my over-active imagination. I still don’t know how I’d ever go about trying to explain to a child that the person that they see almost every day isn’t ever coming back. I still don’t know if I can fully explain it to myself, the fact that certain people aren’t ever going to be in my life again. The thought makes me feel a little bit sick actually, so I have so much love and respect for my parents for managing to explain. Albeit over several conversations, but I don’t think the first experience of losing someone, combined with the added emotion of discovering they chose that fate, is something that you can discuss in one sitting. Especially not with a 9 year old.

I’m fairly certain that I still don’t know all of the details, but I think I’m okay with that. For a long time, I didn’t want to know physically how he died, the knowledge that he’d taken his own life was enough for me. But I did eventually find out the details, at least the general ones. I was angry, actually, when I found out. Because I still wasn’t really ready to hear it, but the person who told me felt that I should know. So that I knew the “truth” as it were. In all honesty it just caused me to relive that feeling of confusion and disbelief that I felt that first night, by this point a good two or three years previously. Then, moving into my teens, I became angry at him. My Uncle. For forcing everyone to feel this way. I hear that’s a natural response when someone close to you dies, but at the time I felt sickened. By his choice, and then simultaneously by my anger towards him.

I still occasionally feel like that. When I think about this day, and the 14th of December, two dates that my entire family are always going to feel shaky and sad and confused and hurt on. But mainly I try to smile in his memory. I sing his favourite songs, and find the few photos I have of us together, and try really really hard to find the smell of woodsmoke. Because that instantly reminds me of him. And I guess this feeling doesn’t ever really go away – it’s been 12 years, but I still get choked up thinking about it. And again, I think I’m okay with that. It’s a reminder that I had a fantastic person in my life for even just a little while. And, as cliche as it sounds, sometimes the pain or grief is necessary in order to remember the good parts too.

So, sadness aside, this is a song I recorded for Henry. It always makes me think of him, my Dad, and a little bit my brother too. (Apologies for the dreadful quality of the recording, but when you’re using a make-shift recording device you do the best you can.)

This was a long time ago, but I still miss you.