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

The Pull, Part 6

The formalities separating me from the start of university are gradually diminishing day by day. Last week, I participated in an assessment arranged following my application for Disabled Students’ Allowance – something which proved to be very fruitful indeed. It answered more of the questions Mum and I had about the support I would be entitled to as a student, and at its end I was relieved that my pre-Winchester to-do list was one item shorter. She and I travelled with Louis to the offices of a company that I was subsequently told would collaborate with the university to work for my benefit; once there I met with a very helpful man who started to ask me about how cerebral palsy affects me in certain situations. Obviously, as you might expect, the questions mostly related to education and how I have coped within it.

Among other things, the man asked what I found difficult during my school years, and what I still find difficult now. He asked about the people and the resources I have had at my disposal to make things easier, and based on my feedback he was gradually able to recommend the support that would best suit my needs on my new course. As I had anticipated, there are many options open to me, and I intend to pursue a great deal of them – not least to acquisition of a piece of software to assist me in lectures. My handwriting is somewhat slower than that of others, making it hard to keep up when I need to jot down a series of notes. With this equipment, however, I would no longer have to worry about such an obstacle. It is compatible with a microphone that can record a single voice whilst excluding all other surrounding noise, meaning that every crucial piece of audio can be captured without a problem. On a computer, this audio can then appear along with the breaks in speech, allowing the user to isolate any given section – this can be especially helpful if a particular piece is more relevant to an essay than another. In addition, these sections can be colour-coded to help them stand out, and notes and photographs can be placed alongside them as further visual aids.

I saw this all demonstrated in my assessment, and was left absolutely sure that it could be beneficial to me once I am settled in Winchester. I expressed my enthusiasm and was told that I am entitled to four hours of tuition in the software’s use (although I don’t have to use all four of them). If I do go on to accept it properly, I will be very eager to see how it can help me, and it was very encouraging to hear about everything else that the company and the university could do for me. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you ask for it – and this positive mindset makes the prospect of requesting help at Winchester even less daunting. Very few questions remained before the assessment, and Mum and I were already highly enlightened on arrival. It is even better to know that we are now tantalisingly close to being fully knowledgeable about what lies ahead.

Mason

Ironic Sadness

Recently, I was asked to name one or more of my pet hates by a friend. Aside from the obvious things we all hate – racism, sexism, homophobia, snobbery and the like – every single one of my peeves escaped from my mind at that very moment. I definitely have them, but I couldn’t think of them when they were needed. I was, however, reminded of a particularly elusive pet hate through a chance remark someone made in front of the TV soon afterwards. As a Mastermind contestant sat down in the show’s famous black leather chair, they revealed their chosen specialist subject to the host, and it was to this that my companion uttered two highly infuriating words: “That’s sad”.

Upon hearing this, I felt an instant hot flush of anger. Sad? How dare you! To suggest such a thing is to fail miserably at looking big or clever, and to ruthlessly belittle someone else’s passion. Yes, there are plenty of differences between us, and we might struggle to understand what other people see in their respective areas of interest, but it is immature and needlessly disrespectful to criticise them for enjoying what they do. The mentality that leads someone to do this must be of the “glass half-empty” variety, and incredibly cynical. I pity those who are like this. Wouldn’t it be much better for them to listen and learn about what they don’t know rather than dismiss it immediately? Let’s not forget that this would have an added bonus, in that you’d be indulging their enthusiasm whilst doing so. What’s not to like? Above all, make sure you remember that the people who are unlucky enough to be ridiculed as “sad” are actually – and very ironically – the exact opposite. They will engage with whatever they love the most regardless of where they are or who might be watching, and it’s all because they’re not sad in the slightest. They’re drunk on pure, undiluted passion, the best possible natural high. There can never be enough of those in life, so if you don’t have anything nice to say when you witness them, don’t say anything at all. Especially nothing so childish!

Mason