Hooked

When I went out for lunch with Will recently, he asked me about a film I’d reviewed for Creative Non-Fiction a little while ago – the critically-acclaimed Whiplash. As we discussed our shared enjoyment of it, it occurred to me that I have never published a film or TV review – or at least a post of appreciation – here before. What I wrote for that film may yet be uploaded, but for this post I’ve decided to focus on Speechless, an American sitcom that has only just arrived on British screens. There’s so much comedy on offer to us nowadays that the good examples must really shine in order to stand out, and Speechless had me intrigued from the very first episode I saw. It’s being broadcast on E4, but I knew straight away that I had to dig deeper to make the most of it, so I found the rest of its three seasons on YouTube.

In case you haven’t seen it, Speechless follows the exploits of the weird and wonderful DiMeo family, consisting of mum Maya (Minnie Driver), dad Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and their three children, Ray (Mason Cook), Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), and JJ (Micah Fowler). The latter is the one around whom all their lives revolve. Like me, JJ has cerebral palsy, albeit in a more severe form than me or the actor who plays him. He is given a great deal of physical assistance from both his family and his aide Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), with whom he forms something of a double act. The show’s title alludes to the fact that he does not speak – instead, he uses a laser pointer and word board to communicate, and Fowler had to learn to use both of these prior to taking his role. The result of this is a wide array of reactions and expressions, all of which allow the viewer to connect and laugh with him, without ever needing to hear a word. Of course, it is immensely satisfying to see that despite his differences to others, JJ is accepted and engaged with like any other teenager by his peers. So far, I’ve seen him join his school choir (using Kenneth as his “singing voice”), get drunk at a house party and find love, and I can’t wait to see him get up to more mischief – he isn’t made a total saint…

What’s even more pleasing to see, though, is cerebral palsy itself being highlighted so prominently on TV, and so brilliantly by Fowler. Whilst I have seen disabled characters and actors before (albeit not often enough), I can scarcely remember another occasion when I have seen someone with my condition. I’ve never met anyone whose cerebral palsy affects them in the same way mine does, such are the differences between cases, but to see it at all means a great deal. It’s therefore such a shame that Speechless has literally just been cancelled – I can’t help but feel that this important, entertaining and very much cherished show has been cruelly snatched away from me just as I’m getting hooked on it. Nevertheless, there are plenty more episodes for me to devour just yet!

Mason

 

A Very Merry Message

Ah, Easter. It’s an odd day. It’s the nether zone of annual celebrations. At Christmas you can open presents, tear apart crackers, fight for the cheap pocket mirror till your last dying breath and then bury the bodies of your tedious family. On Halloween you can watch the baying horde of children from the battlements of your own home. But Easter, it’s not really any different. Oh look, there’s an egg made out of chocolate. It seems weird to me.

But then, I’m not really religious. So how do I spend my Easters? Well, typically, inside, away from the languishing heat. But this year, I went outside. Let that sink in. I, whose skin is paler than the average can of bathroom caulk (it’s an odd simile, but it checks out), went outside. And, for the most part, I had fun.

I’ll be honest here, family are a mixed bag for me. Some of my relatives are decent, perhaps one or two pass the factory tests. But for the most part, they can be annoying. I guess that makes me the black sheep, but someone has to take the role. Either way, yesterday we all piled into my father’s Volkswagen and sped off to Stourhead. That’s not a type of bread. You’re thinking of sourdough. And for the quick among you, pointing fingers at the screen and saying, “No, actually, I thought of, curiously enough, Stourhead,” I have news. Well done, you outsmarted me. Some of you, on the other hand, may be going quite insane at the aforementioned word, so here’s a quick guide.

It’s a field, with some temples in it. It’s also got a lake, natural grotto, and an obelisk (that isn’t natural). And for a few months every year, it is a breeding ground for people. Peppered around the place like…I don’t know, pepper, they take the long, leisurely walks around the ancient estates. Breathing in the fresh country air, marvelling at the classical masonry, and chatting about how oddly warm it is this time of year, or something like that.

(That’s another thing. Is it just a generally accepted thing to simply notify everyone that “it’s warm,” when the temperature braves itself to go past the fifteen-degree mark? I think that’s a British thing. No, it most definitely is).

And it was a good day out, the best Easter I’ve had in ages. After our long walk like riders through the undergrowth, we stumbled back to the car – sweating and panting like the athletes we most definitely aren’t – and proceeded to the next place. Knowlton Rings. I’ll explain that one, too.

It’s a big field. With some ruins. And a ring. Though, to be fair, I do love a good ruin. And it most definitely wasn’t a bad one. However, given their inanimate nature and, thus, inability to have any kind of moral compass whatsoever, this may have been a given. We played football, we tired ourselves out, and we vowed never to go outside again.

And that was my Easter. We had some fun, although my eggs melted, my shirt was welded to my being and the milk went off in our absence. It’s been part-joy, part-nightmare. But at least we have some wholly good news. Like a prophet, I can proudly say that this is the 200th post of Third Time Enabled. This. This very one, right now. And for some reason beyond the boundaries of human comprehension, the blog’s owner and usual writer, Mason, has decided to give the honour of 200th post authorship to me. It’s basically insane but I’m privileged all the same. Regardless of what effect this blog has on anybody, it’s done something, and that’s all that matters. Maybe it changes lives, maybe it makes you think. Maybe it just entertains you. That’s fine, too. It all makes a difference – and this weird, wild, wonderful world that we’re bound to like spirits from the other side.

So, here’s to 200 more posts (God forbid, I may be called out of my reclusivity to do another one if that’s the case), and more good Easters to come. Be sensible, put on the TV, stay inside. Or take a nice, leisurely walk through the tranquil plains of Sourdough House and Gardens.

Wait no, hang on a minute…

Jacob

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.

Mason