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Review: ‘The Tree of War’

9 Sep

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Music & Lyrics by Oliver Mills.  Book & Lyrics by Rachel Mann

On Saturday afternoon, I saw the second-ever performance of The Tree of War.  I mention this because – well, have you ever been in at the start of something big, and known it was the start of something big?  That’s where I was at on Saturday afternoon.

The Tree of War is a musical about life in the trenches in WWI.  Written, scored and directed by a poet priest and a twenty-year-old music student, it was a community theatre project at St Nicholas’ Church in Burnage, funded by Manchester City Council.  A précis: Grandpa Bert tells his granddaughter the story of his time in the trenches.  That’s it; that’s the whole story.  And what a marvellous, rousing, moving story it was.

I had better declare an interest here: my son, Alex Cosgriff, played Young Bert – ladies’ man; loyal son; good friend; cannon fodder.  He played him well: his singing was wonderful; he really can act; I burst with pride.  But he wasn’t the whole play – a strong community choir and a good amateur cast was headed by Mike Law as Grandpa Bert: he was warm and cosy, sad and regretful.  Sam Gilliatt as Bert’s friend Greville has a voice with the sweetest tone, and his duet with Alex was a thing of beauty.  Jamie Rahman played Dougie McBride as a dour Scot; with a gorgeous voice, his solo sent shivers down many a spine.

The exploration of life in the trenches was well conceived – boredom, fear, letters to and from home; and the drinking…ah! the drinking!  The best number among a raft of great numbers was The Lads’ Drinking Song: bawdy, irreverent, rousing and huge fun.

The staging was excellent.  The tree of the title was out in the foyer, and that’s where the action began.  The audience stood to watch until directed to move into the trench area, which was set almost completely in the round.  We were in the trenches with the lads and shared their laughter and tears; their hopes and fears.  We could see their sweat and almost smell their breath.

In any play about the Great War, of course, the lads inevitably go over the top.  They disappeared to the sounds of mortar shells, through smoke and noise; and when it was finished and Young Bert lay huddled, terrified, guilty, sobbing, he had the whole audience riveted.  Tears for all of those boys flowed like their blood, and didn’t stop until after the final, whole ensemble’s rendition, specially arranged by Oliver, of Jerusalem.  As I fruitlessly wiped my own tears I heard a woman behind me say to her friend, ‘I can’t stop crying!’

If I have a criticism of The Tree of War, it is that it needs another twenty minutes and at least one more song – possibly a ballad for Young Bert – because it will have trouble getting to the West End otherwise.  And believe me, this is a play that deserves a wide audience.  If Oliver and Rachel don’t take it to Edinburgh next year, they’re mad.  They could take it at this length and then extend it when it gets picked up.  Look out for Oliver Mills because he is a massive talent.  To write such music and direct with such flair at his age…words fail me. 

After the show, I went up to congratulate Oliver.  I think I frightened him a little because I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him to death; I settled for grabbing both of his hands and refusing to let them go while I raved about what I’d just witnessed.  I understand the impulse of the woman who clutched Alex’s arm and said, ‘I don’t usually grab strangers but I want to be able to say I touched you before you were famous.’

I want to be able to say I reviewed Rachel Mann’s and Oliver Mills’ premiere production of The Tree of War before it was a massive worldwide hit. 

You read it here first.

 

 

 

 

Bring Me Sunshine

26 Apr

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is Sunshine.  Here in Stockport we don’t get much sunshine, being the English equivalent of Twilight‘s town of Forks, minus the pretty vampires.  So, just rain, then.

We have to make our own sunshine, so here you go – some fake sunshine, courtesy of You Tube:

Now that you are as depressed as we Stopfordians usually feel, here’s something that actually works like sunshine is supposed to:

Have a great weekend, flowers!

Big Sunflower

Big Sunflower (Photo credit: eggheadsherpa)

How to have fun in spite of rain:

 

Cold Calling An Author Can Sometimes Pay Off

24 Apr

DSCN1147

I once acted out of character and it paid off.

Let me explain: I am quite shy.  No, really.

It is easy to be gregarious on (I was going to say ‘paper’ but I guess technically it’s) plastic; much harder in real life when the person you are talking to is not behind a monitor six thousand miles away going ‘Huh? Wazzsheonabout?’ but standing right in front of you, rictus grin plastered on face, thinking, ‘Huh? Wazzsheonabout?’

I’m rubbish at cold calling; at asking strangers for something.  I once had a job as a Carpet Cleaning Saleswoman (it was the early Eighties; I wasn’t a person then). I had to go door-to-door to tell people that they needed me because their carpets were dirty.  All for an alleged weekly wage of £75.

I was so bad at cold calling and made so few sales (ten-day total sales: zero), they put me on commission at the end of the first week (it was the early Eighties; I had no rights that I knew of, being eighteen and stupid).  In one month I earned a grand total of £9.

If they had only asked me to write to the customers, it might have been a different story.  As this one is turning out to be, because it’s about my writing group.  No, really.

DSCN1152

I saw an article in our local paper about a local writer who had just published her third book –  actually, it was her second book, although she has written her third book; the reporter got it wrong – may his rugs remain forever filthy – despite the author sending him the details in cold hard ether.  Fortunately, I didn’t know that at the time, or this might have been a different story (not really, but repetition is a good comedy device and I’m feeling facetious today, even a little lightheaded, not having blogged at you for five days).

I read in the Stockport Express that author Allie Cresswell had not only published her third book [not], but she lived in Stockport and had a website.  I moseyed on over to her website by way of dinner, dessert, crisps and a bar of chocolate, and thought she looked friendly enough, so I girded up my now ample loins and popped off an email.

That’s the bit that was out of character – I cold called an author.  Yo!  I said, I belong to Stockport Writers.  We have no money; will you come and talk to us for free?

Yes, she replied; I’d love to.  I’m pretty sure my charm and erudition won her over.

Emails were exchanged; details were organised (please run the whole session, however you like, but don’t arrive before eleven because the Art Gallery won’t let us in until then because of insurance issues, I think); cake purchased in honour of our guest.  The great day arrived…

DSCN1153All joking aside, it was a great day.   Warm and friendly, Allie told us a bit about herself (passing off the sloppy journalist’s carelessness as just one of those things…so magnanimous*), her writing background and her career. Then she read from one of her books – we enjoyed it so much, we asked for more.  After a break for tea and cake (these loins won’t amplify themselves, you know), Allie set us a writing exercise, which had everyone interested and animated.  To keep things fresh, we do rotate the chair each month, as in, a different person chairs each month’s meeting; we don’t sit in swivel chairs and circulate stationarily (the gallery staff keep those chairs to themselves; we can’t complain because they let us use the space for free).  To have someone entirely new set the prompt made us all a little giddy, and produced some wonderful freewriting.

*If I appear to be losing it a little here, it’s because I am.  Remember my magnum opus (I Went To London To Be On Telly And Get Free Stuff)?  It might have turned out all right in the end, but that sloppy – and somewhat vindictive – journalism has made me over-sensitive.  Besides, that Stockport Express journalist didn’t publicise our guest speaker like I asked him to in my second – and last – out of character cold calling email.  May his rugs remain forever filthy.

DSCN1158

Allie brought some of her books and I felt, having strong-armed her into coming along, that I ought to buy at least one of the novels, but I didn’t have enough money on me.   Fortunately, she sells them for Kindle, and I was able to buy two for less than the price of one hard copy.   Even more of a bargain, the Amazon account is hooked up to the Hub’s credit card and not mine so, technically, I got them for nothing.  And I had cake!  What a great day.  Our guest also got a booking, from one of our writers who attends another group, so it was a win-win situation.

Now I come to the reason why I haven’t blogged for five days: I started one of the books, Relative Strangers.  As a pretty woman might say, big mistake; huge. You should see the state of my house – I’ve done no housework because all I wanted to do was read; and the dogs aren’t talking to me.

relative strangers book cover small

The book explores the dynamics of family life by gathering together one extended family in a large house for one week.

At first, I was confused by the sheer number of characters but I soon worked out who was married to whom and had which children and which in-laws and which rooms and cars and grievances and grudges.  The book is packed with incident and was a really interesting and fun read, but not fun in the way – I hope – this post is fun.  It was a fascinating exploration of relationships: the characters, for the most part, were neither good nor bad, but human, with foibles and faults like we all have.

The ending surprised me.  And that’s all I’ll say, because I don’t want to give anything away.  If you like surprises, don’t read the blurb on the website because it tells you in which direction the ending heads.

There were more typos than I usually approve of but I let them pass because I enjoyed the book so much.  I only mention them because I want this to be a balanced critique.  Definitely recommended.  You can trust me; it’s not like I’m a journalist (sorry, Kateshreswdaytheexception).

You can find Allie’s website here; and her books on Amazon here; and here. They are available on Amazon.com as well as the UK site.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post because you may not get another for at least the next five days: I have her other book to read.

 

Your Help Wanted

4 Apr
Help wanted sign

Help wanted sign (Photo credit: andjohan)

Do you remember last year when you looked at our church website and told me what was wrong with it?

At last, and only six months behind schedule, I have the new website for you to critique.

It is up and running but not live, so you can’t use the links and things yet, but otherwise, it is pretty much as it will be.

Would you mind taking a look and telling me what you think?  Be as frank as you were last year; I’m sure I won’t cry this time.  I am no usageaster, but I think the language is simpler and clearer.

We took lots of your advice so I hope you like what we’ve done.  As requested, I will include a link to the old website, for you to compare.

New website:  http://edgeleycheadleheath.try.churchedit.co.uk/

Old website:  http://www.edgeleyandcheadleheath.org.uk/

Thank you!

Free, Tree And Dead Again Me

21 Feb

When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like?

M (James Bond)

M (James Bond) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like I was a successful actress.

Does it look like that?

No.

Is that a good thing?

It is what it is.  I never had the courage to pursue it so I have nobody to blame but myself.  Regrets are useless so I don’t have any.  What I do have is a happy marriage and two gorgeous sons.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

*

If you could choose to be a master (or mistress) of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick?

Cooking, so I could hang on to this perfect family I am slowly poisoning.

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“It’s never a good idea to discuss religion or politics with people you don’t really know.” Agree or disagree?

Well, dear WordPress prompter, I’d rather not say because I don’t really know you.

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Write your own eulogy.

Tilly’s death at the hands of irritated WordPress prompters was sudden but inevitable.  She never knew when to quit and they didn’t like her pointing out that she had recently had to write her own obituary and was it personal on their part or had they become FreudPress prompters?

Also, she knew her way around a box of Maltesers, but not a kitchen.

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Blue Bee

Blue Bee (Photo credit: bob in swamp)

Most of us have heard the saying, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread!” What do you think is actually the best thing since sliced bread?

The internet.  How else would I have discovered a bunch of people around the world willing to send me stuff out of the blue?

Speaking of which, thank you for the book, Bee Blue.  I’d kiss you but I know how you feel about that.

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Go to the nearest window. Look out for a full minute. Write about what you saw.

A tree.

That’s it.  It’s bigger than our house and blocks the view to everything…no, wait: something’s behind it.  Is that a WordPress prompter with a stick of dynamite in her mask…?

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Describe your relationship with your phone. Is it your lifeline, a buzzing nuisance, or something in between?

I’m sure that once I discover how to turn it on, we’ll be the best of friends.

*

A genie has granted your wish to build your perfect space for reading and writing. What’s it like?

Actor portraying blue Genie character in Disne...

Actor portraying blue Genie character in Disney’s Aladdin stage show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like Robin Williams. Since Aladdin, they all are.

*

You have to learn a new skill. Do you prefer to read about it, watch someone else do it, hear someone describe it, or try it yourself?

Why do I need to learn a new skill?  I have my own personal genie.

*

Write about anything you’d like. Somewhere in your post, include the sentence, “I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked a the clock.”

I was reading this post when I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked at the clock.  I knew it was the Grammar Police, come to take away the WordPress prompter who had one too few ‘t’s in his at.

Shower Power

6 Feb

The question was once asked, How long do you think you could go without a shower?

I would answer, It depends on the shower.

En la ducha xD

En la ducha xD (Photo credit: Little Phoenix ♥)

  • Bathroom Shower: I went for weeks without a shower while the bathroom was re-fitted.  I can go at least every other day now it’s back; it’s not like I ever get dirty cleaning the house, is it?  I could move to Antarctica: on base there, you are only allowed to take two, two-minute showers a week.
  • April showers: I can manage from May to March without breaking a sweat.
  • Meteor showers: I’d like to see one, but from a distance; so I would have to say ‘indefinitely’.
  • Showers of blessings: I’d like them all the time.
  • Cold showers: Too tired to ever need one.
  • My family (usually referred to scornfully by me as ‘that shower!’): Not at all; somebody has to go out for the Maltesers.

Napoleon once wrote to Mrs Napoleon, ‘I’ll be home in a week – don’t bathe till I get there.’  That’s my kind of man.

Some more bathing quotes:

  • People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you’ll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.   Erma Bombeck
  • Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.  Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
  • I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio.   Joan Rivers and/or Rodney Dangerfield
  • Basically my wife was immature. I’d be at home in the bath and she’d come in and sink my boats.  Woody Allen
  • Last Wednesday, I stupidly dropped my iPhone in the bath, and my life has sort of spiraled almost out of control.  Patrick Stewart

Read more at brainyquote.com

And finally, here’s a little something I came across that I think most of you will enjoy.  It has nothing to do with our theme, except that the purists among you might feel the need to take a shower when it’s done.

Part of this post first appeared two years ago.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

3 Feb
Korea and a World Population of 7 Billion

Korea and a World Population of 7 Billion (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

I didn’t take this photo, but it occurred to me that, though there are seven billion people in the world, we are all unique.  Which is directly opposite to the claim that we are all the same, which I also believe.  

We are unique in our alikeness and alike in our uniqueness.  Some of us are weird (according to my husband); some of us are allegedly normal.  Some of us have an over-developed sense of humour; others have an over-developed pituitary gland.  Some of us consider chocolate to be the missing food group; some of us will live longer than those of us who consider chocolate to be the missing food group; some of us will enjoy life more than those of us who don’t have a missing food group.

My point is: hello friend; you are different to me.  I love that.  

You love it, too?  We are so alike!    How weird is that?

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Unpicked:Restitched

Where is the heart of Stockport?

The Jog

notices and reflections in ministry

The Cvillean

The adventures of little read writing Hood

Guernsey Evacuees Oral History

An Overlooked British Evacuation

Janie's Place

Welcome to the Great White North....

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