The Stage And The Stars

Prior to last weekend, I had been lucky enough to see three Shakespeare plays, and these opportunities all came during my A-Levels. I saw the first two – a modernised adaptation of Twelfth Night and a more traditional version of Romeo and Juliet – on trips to the University of Exeter, and I was then incredibly fortunate to see Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre in London. We studied the latter two plays as part of my English Literature course, and as we did so it was hard to notice the lack of enthusiasm creeping around the room at times. Maybe that was because we were made to read and endlessly analyse them, but I still thought it a shame to see. I knew these plays were great, and that everyone else would find them a lot easier to engage with when they saw them unfold on stage.

Sure enough, when we eventually did go on the trips, I could tell that they were more enthused by watching them in the flesh than any sweaty classroom reading. There’s a certain magic I feel watching a Shakespeare play that no other piece of theatre has, no matter how good it is. I’m not entirely sure what it is, or where it comes from, but I know for sure that I felt it again on Saturday night when I attended an outdoor production of Hamlet along with Mum. It was a warm and pleasant summer’s evening, and our surroundings weren’t bad either – that’s high praise coming from someone who doesn’t always get on with the countryside. The show was to be performed by the five members of a theatre group known as the Three Inch Fools, who would use only a simple wooden stage (adorned with a string of fairy lights for when it got dark) and the various props and costumes dotted around it to play multiple parts each. I was intrigued by this minimalist approach as soon as we arrived, and I liked the fact that everything had been laid bare for the audience to see.

I was not disappointed. I welcomed Shakespeare’s words again as though they were old friends, and every one was delivered beautifully by the actress behind Hamlet, Rose Reade, and the rest of the cast, whose projected voices were carried all the way through the audience and across the hills by the light breeze. Everyone present was both respectful of the actors and totally captivated by humour and pathos alike. The English language was a very different thing in Shakespeare’s day, but as it manifested itself in front of my eyes I had no trouble at all understanding and interpreting it. It felt almost like I had become suddenly and instantly fluent in French or another foreign tongue. This helped to make me very comfortable with what I was seeing, even when I was also on the edge of my seat – this was a feeling only exacerbated by how well the cast made the entire piece flow. Each actor was also an equally proficient singer and musician, and many of the props they performed with were traditional folk instruments that matched the time period the play was set in. In such gifted hands, these were able to provide excellent interludes that either served as useful bridges between scenes or illustrative devices at key points within them. Any movements to and from the stage were gentle and hardly noticeable, as was every costume change – anything slower or more stilted was made a part of the performance, usually with a line from one character that put another back on track. Not once did any of the cast slip out of character. If anything, with every passing scene they seemed even more at one with their roles. This added a little more comedy to every laugh, and a little more gravity to every tragedy – especially the multitude of deaths at the play’s climax.

I originally started writing this post on Sunday morning, only hours after we had returned from Hamlet. What prevented me from finishing it in one sitting was mainly my lack of confidence as a reviewer – I was worried about publishing it and appearing as though I had no idea what I was talking about (I might not anyway, but you can be the judge of that). Ultimately, though, I decided that it was more important for whoever did read this to know how much I appreciated the Three Inch Fools and the evening of first-class theatre they gave us. As that particular performance was the penultimate one on their summer tour, I was glad to have been able to see them before their break, and I have no doubt that everyone who sees them when they are next on stage will feel exactly the same way. Look them up if you haven’t already, and if you do feel inclined to witness them at their best, I am certain you won’t regret it in the slightest.


You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone

Guten Tag! My name is Angharad and I am a friend of Mason’s. He has kindly offered me the chance to contribute to his insightful blog, so without further ado, here is some insight of my own!

I take many things for granted. Arguably, all of us do, and it stems from that wise old cliche of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. This is, admittedly, the primary realisation which never fails to stop me mid-tantrum. Why am I screaming that my internet is slow when there are people not three miles from my house who have to sleep on the streets? Selfishness is an addiction, but realising how lucky you are, even on the worst days, can be the cure.

My dog died on 21 August 2017, shortly after his 11th birthday. He was a very springy Springer, who coped incredibly well on just three legs. He was a rescue dog, and one of the kindest spirits I believe I will ever meet. I used to mock him mercilessly because he was such a character; I mistook his joy for life as pure, unbridled stupidity, but he never failed to make me laugh. Whether it be by chattering to me like a dolphin (he never barked), dashing away to bring me his toys, Manky Frankie (a soiled toy fox) or Rooney (an equally rancid stuffed raccoon), or simply by waking himself up with a particularly loud fart, it always ended in myself and my mum laughing – and, in the last scenario, fleeing the room. I didn’t understand how important that dog was to me, and to my family, until he passed away. It made me wish that I had never mocked him, or abandoned him to see other people, or even spent so much time at university instead of spending time with him. I think we all take pets for granted, even though we know they have shorter lifespans. The house seems more silent every time I walk through the door; it made me realise that we typically wish for the thing we cannot have, namely more time.

I take my family for granted. My grandparents have always been there for me, and they have always supported me. My aunt, as well, who was ever taking me out on day trips and spoiling me rotten and taking time off work for a DVD and Chinese night. My mother, who has sacrificed so much to give me great opportunities, whilst dealing with so many different obstacles and tackling every single one of them. In retrospect, I an incredibly fortunate to have been born into such a supportive family. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this when I was younger, choosing instead to ignore most of their advice and kindness. It is only now that I live away from home, that I understand I need to show them how much they mean to me. I need to ensure that I call, and that I visit, and that I appreciate what they do for me.

Maybe we can’t stop taking things for granted, because we’re not always aware of it, but we can take a moment to be thankful for the things/people we recognise we take for granted. I don’t just mean family, either, but anyone who is of significance in your life. Pets, friends, partners, even neighbours. One particular neighbour springs to mind: she has also accompanied me through life, and she’s become a very wise, down-to-earth woman. As well as keeping in touch, I wrote her a heartfelt letter months ago, explaining how much she means to me and that she is basically my third grandmother. She appeared very grateful, and this isn’t an excuse to toot my own horn, it’s simply an example of something that everyone ought to do for those they love. After all, when you’re feeling down, what better way to be cheered up other than with reminders from loved ones that they love you?

We all lose loved ones eventually; no one is immortal. Therefore, I strongly encourage you, reader, to pick up the phone and call someone you love and tell them that (that you love them, not that they’re not immortal – the last thing people need is a reminder of their mortality). It doesn’t have to be an outright “I love you”, it could be something as elegant as “what would I do without you”, “you’ve been such a big help”, or “thanks for a great time”, because we live in a society where things move so fast that it is very easy for people to forget, and for people to be forgotten. Communication is essential if you want to be content, and if you want to help others be content: humans are social creatures, whether we like it or not. Even hermits are bound to miss even the most mild social interaction. Now, to link this with festivities, Christmas is a beloved celebration, for the secular and the religious alike. If you know anyone who might feel left out this Christmas, it never hurts to extend an invitation. We all take so many things for granted, more than we can know; the least we can do is acknowledge this, and thank the people (and pets!) without whom our lives would be utter chaos.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.