What a fantastic night! It was my first musical event at the Howard Assembly Rooms, but it will not be my last! By the time the lights went down, it was a full house and their was an air of expectancy. With such a beautiful and atmospheric venue, I think that everyone in the audience had high expectations!
The award winning duo Gilmore and Roberts – Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts – provided the opening support act. Had they any nerves, they hid them well, bursting into a series of toe tapping tunes. At times, their sound brought to my mind the band the Civil Wars, with the same emphasis on beautiful harmonies.
Katriona Gilmore seamlessly alternated between the violin and vocals for a couple of tunes, which was remarkable, while Jamie Roberts provided consistently masterful guitar playing that set the tone for many of the tracks.
One of the most interesting aspect of this duo is that they write their own songs and find inspiration in the most unexpected sources. They seem to have a particular love and talent for storytelling via song.
On this evening, they paid homage to everything from a doctor with a secret (Doctor James); an arm with an agenda of its own (The Stealing Arm); their love for sat nav (Silver Screen)and a surprisingly emotive tale about a failed Scarecrow.
They also played a track from the album Songs for the Voiceless – a collaborative effort highlighting the lesser known stories from the first world war. The track – Billy Green was probably my favourite.
The pair mentioned that they would be performing in Leeds in a few months time, I will certainly try to catch them then!
Gilmore and Roberts – Website
Twitter – @GilmoreRoberts
Youtube – Channel
There was a short internal before Kathryn Tickell and the Side were on.
Promptly, with no fanfare, the four musicians took to the stage and immediately began to perform. It was truly remarkable. I had heard that The Side were a super-group of musicians but honestly, I hadn’t understood what that meant before they began to play. The music swelled, lifting up to the high arched ceiling and encompassing every inch of the venue. The vast majority of the songs were set in or about Northumbria, an area that Kathryn Tickell clearly loves to the core of her being. In a second, the mood would change from plaintive and thought provoking, to joyful and stimulating.
Kathryn Tickell was as personable and funny as you could ever hope. A consummate professional – she has won every award and accolade that this island has for instruments and musicianship and then been awarded a few more. Thankfully, she was also a generous host, introducing most of the songs and telling funny anecdotes about her family, her home and the tour that they are engaged in. She played both the fiddle and small pipes with an easy smile that belied the difficulty of the instruments. Virtuosa doesn’t really cover it! One the aspects that I most enjoyed was that she would also make last minute off the cuff changes to the set list or format of the songs – such as changing the final song that Amy Thatcher would be dancing to – and mentioning it a few seconds before it began! Whether intentional or not (and she is a pro!), it ensured that the evening felt like the once off very personal event that all musical events should…but often don’t.
Louisa Tuck was mesmerizing. She played the cello as though she were a woman possessed. During a few of the faster moving pieces, her facial expressions became so animated that it felt as though she was telling a story – embodying it in fact – using music as her medium. At times, I couldn’t take my eyes off her; she was so passionate. At least twice, she was inspired to spin her cello round, which raised cheers from the crowd and frustration from Kathryn Tickell – who knows from the audience’s response that it happens, but never seems to catch it herself!
To her far right Ruth Wall performed in an utterly different way. If Louise was possessed by a some sort of dancing sprite, Ruth appeared taken over by an elf (of the Lord of the Rings variety); playing her harp with elegance, grace and dignity. Every time she spoke, her sense of humour came through, but while she played, it was calm and measured, as if she was transported away from us.
Amy Thatcher on the accordion portrayed the same degree of delight and joy in the tunes as Louisa …though in a much more controlled way. It was when she took to the small stage in order to demonstrate her clog dancing – which was wielded as much as an instrument on the stage as her accordion – that she allowed a mischievous, almost wicked little grin to transform her cooler facade and reveal her intense excitement and joy in her craft.
One of the songs that they performed was specially written to complement the four different women, musicians, instruments, forms and personalities of the band. It was remarkable to watch each come into their own and join to create a more complete whole. Two musicians representing folk, two representing classical. Within the group; there appeared to be a balance and harmony which made for a truly remarkable set.
Kathryn Tickell and the Side – Website
Youtube – Channel
The Side consists of Kathryn Tickell on the fiddle and Northumbrian Smallpipes; Amy Thatcher on accordion and clog dancing; Ruth Wall on harps and Louisa Tuck on cello.
Visit the Howard Assembly Room HERE
Visit the Opera North website HERE
I had to share this list of books from our last meeting:
The owl Services – Alan Garner
The Witches – Roald dahl
Hagwitch – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
The magicians Nephew – C.S.Lewis
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
The animals of farthing wood – Colin Dann
Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3) – by Kristin Cashore, Ian Schoenherr
Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin
Elidor by Alan Garner
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .
About this Author
‘A beautiful and haunting story’ loved by kids and adults alike
The one thing about book club is that you never know what you might find. LBCPuffins is all about the little people’s books, one’s that have stayed with us for years that we want to reread and recently one’s we haven’t heard which has led us to discover some little gems.
Tom’s midnight garden is all about a young boy who gets sent away to his Aunt’s and Uncle’s to prevent him from catching measles. He has to stay indoors all the time in case he develops it, but at midnight after hearing the Grandfather clock strike 13, goes downstairs to discover a garden no one told him about. In entering this garden after midnight he meets a young girl called Hatty and after a while becomes really close friends. On later occasions to the garden he finds it’s not always the same, sometimes it’s summer, sometimes it’s winter, sometimes he meets a younger Hatty and then an older one.
The whole story sweeps you along on Tom’s adventures in the garden, meeting Hatty, finding out her story, Tom’s investigation of why Hatty was dressed the way she was, as the group pointed out, not being able to use the internet and digging out the encyclopaedia’s, yet again another book we have read where modern technology is not involved and wonder what we would do without it at the touch of our fingertips even though it’s still quite new age thing, using the internet and such.
‘Nothing stands still, except in our memory’
This was a story loved by everyone. the friendship of the two children, from playing int he garden to Tom’s idea for hatty to hide the skates and for him, and to later find them in the floorboards made him realise she wasn’t a ghost. Previous to this the group enjoyed the little argument the children had about who was the ghost. As the children were from different time periods, it could be said both were. But it was such a sweet scene.
The whole story was beautifully written and captivated the group, with its secret adventures into the garden. The story was also loved for covering years and not weeks when Tom visited the garden, and the fact that he always saw Hatty as the same age until nearly the end when Peter appears and points out Hatty is nearly a woman. The book brought adventure, friendship, and at the end, brought a lot of us to tears when Tom meets the older Hatty.
One question I raised to the group, was had they seen the TV adaption, and some after reading this as a book on its own mentioned that they would be deeply suspicious of any film adaption as it would try to fill in the gaps. It was also mentioned that this book is a world of imagination and with most adapted to screen it makes you lose the characters you created in your head and how you perceived them. I think it might work as a play in the theatre, as the theatre creates magic itself and you feel apart of it. Something I didn’t mention on the night, but film and TV will always be a shady area when it comes to book adaption
In the end the story unfolds that it was all through Hatty’s dreams, similar to a programme once or twice mentioned named Sunset Beach where everything happens and the lead character wakes up and it is all a dream, but this was far better, so find a copy, grab a cuppa and let yourself delve in to Tom’s Midnight Garden.
Check out the trailer (bearing in mind the reservations mentioned above!)
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCPuffins
Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium–a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster–except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.
As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.
It’s always good to begin with a debate. We weren’t entirely convinced that this was a dystopian book, there was a viewpoint that this was a SF novel, with a dystopian backdrop. In the end, I think we narrowly agreed that it *just* squeezed into the dystopian category.
There was a lot of landscape – the author was from Arizona and seemed to have a love for the land that was quite evident. The geo-political breakdown was something that many of us really enjoyed. It was interesting to consider a much reduced US, and a considerably more successful Mexico. You’d have to be a really committed border jumper to risk becoming an eijit. There was also an environmental aspect that was very topical – that a dessert has been created in previously fertile land. At least one of us (ME!) found it hilarious that Ireland is now one of the worlds most successful states. As it should be of course.
There seem to be a lot of books or films about organ harvesting at the moment. We wondered if perhaps we are being softened up as a society into accepting this as a medical alternative. Oh how we laughed until someone pointed out that there are parts of the world where it is rumoured that criminals are executed to order to provide organs from those prepared to pay the right price. Which of course led us to discussing the black market in organs…eewww. And that the wealthy are still more likely to receive better medical care in much of the planet. I mean, I know it’s a dystopian club, but it all got very dark very quickly.
The eijits were truly creepy. The idea of single function people, deliberately reduced so that they could be controlled, was something that we found particularly effective at inducing goosebumps on the spine! Frequently referred to as cattle; the eijits would continue at a task until ordered to stop or they dropped dead. Did I mention iiiiccckkkk! Once the chip was inserted, there was no capacity to reverse the process which made the whole concept even worse. Poor Rosa!
We also discussed the clones being bred in a cow. Given how awful the world was, I for one was surprised to find that it had led to bullying (though obviously the family of El Patron had other reasons to find Matt’s presence abhorrent). The cloning process itself was one that we would pretty fascinating.
Matt – the main character – had agency and direction despite his environment. This becomes clear when he leaps out of the window to meet children his own age; during the birthday party; when he insists on a kiss from Marie. Even his throwing himself into his studies – despite knowing his fate though we couldn’t quite get our heads around how he ever thought that El Patron would do anything other than destroy him. We also discussed the two faced nature of certain characters. Stephen was a bad guy who seemed good. Ton Ton is a good guy who seemed to be bad. Tam Lin was one of the few sort of decent characters within the book. El Patron was clearly a total psychopath. Or bastard, which was the word used I think. Tom was very thinly drawn and in the main we didn’t really enjoy his character at all. So very one dimensional. We were particularly disgusted by the keepers and their treatment of the Lost Boys.
The dog was something that greatly irritated us. Obviously we didn’t want it to die – but it seemed pointless. Were the atrocities against humans not believed to be bad enough by the author, that she felt she needed to include this? For a dog, it was heartbreaking, for humans there was disinterest? Very strange. Perhaps, we speculated, it was to parallel what Marie thought about Matt and the dog? Marie was a bit deflating throughout the book. While she had a laudable intention to rescue abandoned ‘things’, she lacked any emotional depth. And honestly, I think quite a few of us were pretty tired of the whole fall in love as children, fall in love for ever trope.
The theories of Nature versus Nurture also occupied us for a time. Towards the end of the book – Matt assumes the position of El Patron. Will he become as his DNA originator? Will the differences between the environments that they were raised change anything? Matt plans to tear apart the empire…but will he? Oooh, we had fun with that one! A most successful ambiguous ending. It tied up many of the loose ends…but not all of them!
Despite a few aspects that we found lacking; most of us were determined to read the sequel…primarily because we weren’t entirely sure that a sequel was strictly speaking necessary! We were curious to see what would happen next.
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCDystopia
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her
I’m starting to think that we LBC Dystopians are a rather exacting group. While I’ve always considered us to merely be discerning readers, I’m starting to worry that our expectations are somewhat higher than most! We demand better! And I sort of love us for it!
Despite the hype that this was the new Best Thing Ever, we were underwhelmed for the most part by this. The language wasn’t challenging in the slightest, which wasn’t something that we excused merely for being targeted at a younger market. So, rather than being a book that we could sink our teeth into; we all flew through it pretty quickly.
Conceptually, we felt that there were fundamental flaws in the structure of the social world that we just couldn’t ignore. For a start – how is EVERYONE not a divergent? We just couldn’t make sense of the 5 part faction breakdown. It just didn’t seem to made sense for all aspects of industry to be divided up and compartmentalised in this way. Aside from it being completely implausible that people – humanity – would have become so splintered in terms of character or personality.
For another, it appears to be a world full of children – the adults have little to no interactions with the initiates. Now – this isn’t new – in order for a child or young person to be the primary protagonist or hero – there are usually absent parental figures. This occurs across young person literature from Harry Potter to Enid Blyton’s school series to Roald Dahl. Here however, adults and grown up’s only appear in nightmares or as a round up. It felt like pretty sloppy storytelling.
We did find the female characters to have a certain degree of depth. Not merely ‘strong’, Tris went through a lot of different experiences and responded to each of them in way that we could relate to. Her mother – possibly our favourite character throughout the book – was mysterious and well rounded – a person as well as a parent. Male character were not served so well. Four/Tobias was the romantic distraction. Eric was a brute. Al was weak. Peter was a bully – all fairly one note characters. In order for the story to work – to back up the segregation of community – this was probably necessary plot wise, but we agreed that it didn’t work.
Mostly – even those of us who really enjoyed this book (mostly, me!) – we found this to be very reductionist. Everything was pared down to one element. Scientific (Erudite) people were evil. Governmental people (Abnegation) had no idea of the reality of the world. Candor people were incapable of analysis, just blurted everything out. And so on. It was limiting.
Watch the trailer to the 2014 film
Or take a different look via the Honest ScreenJunkies trailer (be warned, spoilers galore!)
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCDystopia
Our discussion today on The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West has been postponed.
We will now be discussing this book on May the 16th from 11am – 12 noon.
The soldier returns from the front to the three women who love him. His wife, Kitty, with her cold, moonlight beauty and his devoted cousin Jenny wait in their exquisite home on the crest of the Harrow-weald. Margaret Allington, his first and long-forgotten love, is nearby in the dreary suburb of Wealdstone.
But the soldier is shell-shocked and can only remember the Margaret he loved fifteen years before, when he was a young man and she an inn-keeper’s daughter. His cousin he remembers only as a childhood playmate; his wife he remembers not at all.
The women have a choice – to leave him where he wishes to be, or to ‘cure’ him. It is Margaret who reveals a love so great that she can make the final sacrifice.
We will follow that chat with a discussion of Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin from 12 noon to 1pm the same day.
When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.
United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love.
We will also be picking 2 books (which will bring us to the end of the year) – so make sure you have suggestions in mind!!LBC
At the height of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was the preeminent black woman writer in the United States. She was a sometime-collaborator with Langston Hughes and a fierce rival of Richard Wright. Her stories appeared in major magazines, she consulted on Hollywood screenplays, and she penned four novels, an autobiography, countless essays, and two books on black mythology. Yet by the late 1950s, Hurston was living in obscurity, working as a maid in a Florida hotel. She died in 1960 in a Welfare home, was buried in an unmarked grave, and quickly faded from literary consciousness until 1975 when Alice Walker almost single-handedly revived interest in her work.
Of Hurston’s fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably the best-known and perhaps the most controversial. The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston sets up her characters and her locale in the first chapter, which, along with the last, acts as a framing device for the story of Janie’s life. Unlike Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston does not write explicitly about black people in the context of a white world–a fact that earned her scathing criticism from the social realists–but she doesn’t ignore the impact of black-white relations either:
It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.
One person the citizens of Eaton are inclined to judge is Janie Crawford, who has married three men and been tried for the murder of one of them. Janie feels no compulsion to justify herself to the town, but she does explain herself to her friend, Phoeby, with the implicit understanding that Phoeby can “tell ‘em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat’s just de same as me ’cause mah tongue is in mah friend’s mouf.”
Hurston’s use of dialect enraged other African American writers such as Wright, who accused her of pandering to white readers by giving them the black stereotypes they expected. Decades later, however, outrage has been replaced by admiration for her depictions of black life, and especially the lives of black women. In Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston breathes humanity into both her men and women, and allows them to speak in their own voices
(Unfortunately, I only took sparse notes from this discussion, obviously planning to complete the write up somewhat sooner than this. As a result, this will only be a mini-write up. Apologies – the write up’s have been more regularly and thoroughly recorded recently!!)
We found it interesting that this book was based on a real town, but unsurprising as there were a number of specifics and details that *felt* very real to us.
Janie was a fascinating character, only one generation removed from slavery; she shifted from passive to active participant in the direction of her life over a fifteen year period (though we did acknowledge that she demonstrated certain rebellious traits in her teenage years). She was the first woman in her family to do so. Her grandmother remained tied to societal expectations and her mother had been raped by a school teacher – the experience sending her down the path of dissolution and alcoholism. Leafy eventually abandons her child and mother altogether.
Janie is a character that self defines the periods of her life via the men in them, though we none of us saw that as a limitation. Given the time frame when the book is set and written – it would have been beyond radical to have envisioned it any other way. The three phases of her life demonstrate her considerable growth and progress. She was married off to a dismissive man who wanted more of a skivvy than a wife. Her second husband grows jealous and possessive as he witnesses her strength, determination and recognition of her talents and strengths. Finally, her tumultuous affair with Tea Cake affirms her position as an independent agent (as long as you excuse the whole HE WHIPPED HER incident…but as Janie was happy to do so…we felt we sort of had to also).
Joe was a very poor communicator, but at least one of us actually quite liked him, up until he become violent. As a character, his motivations and actions felt very direct and made sense to us…even when we really disliked them. Tea Cake never felt fully developed to us. He was like a bright and shiny thug.
Despite our admiration for her survival; there was at least two of us that really didn’t like Janie all that much. We were far more interested in Zora Neale Hurston – she based several of the emotional aspects of this book on her own life and certainly seems to have been a force of nature. We enjoyed that in the end, it is women coming together (regardless or in spite of race) than ‘saved the day’. It made for a refreshing change.
Watch the trailer from the 2005 tv film HERE
The Awakening, originally titled A Solitary Soul, is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899.
Set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South.
It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women’s issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating mixed reaction from contemporary readers and criticism. The novel’s blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary, and psychological complexity makes The Awakening a precursor of American modernist literature; it prefigures the works of American novelists such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway and echoes the works of contemporaries such as Edith Wharton and Henry James.
It can also be considered among the first Southern works in a tradition that would culminate with the modern masterpieces of Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams.
It’s with no small degree of embarrassment that I have to admit that I’ve lost the write up from our conversation about this book and as it was quite a while ago, I can’t remember enough details to successfully fake it!
As you can see from the score, it was one that impacted on us all greatly. Tomorrow, I shall beg/cajole/threaten* LBC3Read members and see if one of them can provide a mini-review of this.
Please find below copies of ebook versions of the The Awakening
The Awakening - Kate Chopin - Project Gutenberg
The Awakening – Kate Chopin – iTunes
*There will be no threatening
The Wood Beneath The World is a largescale, magical forest installation hidden in the depths of Leeds Town Hall Crypt, which has been growing silently for decades.
Its roots and trees have now burst through the floors and walls, and the wood has taken over…
Rebekah Whitney (of Lord Whitney ) and Alexander Palmer (the Director of The Wood Beneath The World) were kind enough to sit down with me for a chat about a million years ago (before Christmas) about their hugely successful installation at Leeds Town Hall.
Originally, we were going to record the interview as a podcast. However, we had such good conversational fun that we sort of forgot that this was supposed to be an interview and began to talk over one another, interrupt, idea hop (where one person starts a sentence and it’s carried on by the others) and all those traits which sort of proves that a conversation is going Really Well...but makes for annoying listening!
On top of that, the project was still in full flight and the pair were obviously working all the hours in the day together. Thy’d created a sort of joint speak, where they knew each other so well that they were almost of one mind. It was pretty incredible!
Honestly, there is something beyond embarrassing about posting an interview 3 months after it was held, it’s almost shameful. However, this was such an enjoyable conversation and genuinely insightful that I think it’s worth the humiliation of admitting how slow I was to get it up.
Here, finally, is a transcription of our chat! Thanks so much to both of them for allowing me a peek into their world!
On the Order of Events – or how The Woods Beneath came to be
Rebekah: Leeds Town Hall got in touch at the beginning of the year, saying that they had this space and had heard good things about Lord Whitney and would we like to do something for Christmas.
They liked the idea of a winters forest and we went away and realised that we didn’t want to do this is a normal way – we wanted to do something quite different. And we wanted to do something that adults could get something from as well, not just for children and families.
It was a while before they were in touch and in the meantime we went down to London and watched some immersive theatre by a company called Punch Drunk, who are just THE BEST at what they do, EVER. We were massively inspired by that; the detail in their set and basically the idea that the further you explore the richer your experience is and we just thought that we had to try and bring something like that to Leeds.
We wanted to do something like that with actors for a really long time as well so it all felt like it started coming together at the same time. It felt like this was the time that we could do create something really special and really different.
This is wonderful but it isn’t really a traditional Winters Wonderland…
R: No not at all. The Town Hall have been amazing. They’ve really championed our ideas and really tried to push us and they trust us. They believed in our vision. And it totally developed over time, especially once we got a writer involved and once Alexander, our Director became involved.
We wanted to create this world that was not necessarily Christmassy, but that was reminiscent of that festive period and of Winter. We had done an Arts Council funding project at the start of the year, all around folklore in Yorkshire which was called Lore of the North and through doing that we discovered so many amazing tales that were based in Yorkshire. They were so incredible and the narrative and backdrop to them were fascinating and we thought that if there was a way that we could tap into that, that we could develop from that, that we could combine it all; we would get so much depth in this project.
That’s something that fascinated me about this time of the year; the further back you go, it was Christmas then Pagan when it was the winter solstice, there is something almost tribal, something primal…
Alexander: There’s something ritualistic.
R: It’s our heritage. And that’s where all of this comes from. It’s been interesting to highlight all of that.
When putting it all together; the placement of the stars, the ogham alphabet, aspects of west European folklore – were these things that you knew about before or did you learn of these from your research?
R: A bit of both actually. Some aspects were brought to our attention earlier in the year during Lore of the North. We met an incredible scholar Stephen Sayers who used to work for the university and he was just amazing. He brought this whole new angle to folklore that we hadn’t really considered for that project. It was all about the importance of folklore and why it still so important to us today and how it can enrich our lives and provide us with an escape and escapism and just basically how as a society we need it still.
So we were really keen to get him involved in this project as well. He pointed us in the direction of certain philosophers – Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey from an ordinary world into an extraordinary world. We used that as a model, as a kind of starting point for our narrative and script for the piece.
So most of the bits that we used, that we learned about – it kind of snowballed really. Folklore, speaking to Stephen, reading up and different people that we’ve invited into the project have all brought different knowledge making it really a rich project.
The narrative and storyline felt very organic to the set that you created. But if you hadn’t told the story of Will of the Wisp, of Jack – there were many other stories that could have been told. I walked straight out thinking that this has to run all year round.
(At this point, it’s worth noting that Alexander – who has been deeply invested in the project on a full-time basis and clearly has been forgoing sleep to get all the details spot on – paled a touch!)
R: Ah, it’s so funny that you should say that. Because, we actually had to curb everything by quite a bit. We felt that it was getting so massive and the will of the wisp seemed to fit so nicely. We decided to focus on that. The idea of this character that’s forever trapped in this limbo land with his lantern, his torch that will bring him to the edge of the forest. And he’s trying to guide people…or is he? Perhaps he’s not trying to guide them, perhaps he’s trying to entice them to that place. And we felt that by having all that research up on the wall – we really wanted to encourage people to look.
The more that they look, the more they are making their own decisions about how the story will progress. So it’s up to you to decide who are these characters, why are they here – there are so many answers too on that wall as to why they could be there.
There appeared to be about 5 core subjects that people seemed to pick up on. But of course you didn’t have to provide them, it could have just been a space. How hard was it to settle on those stories? How important was it to have a coherent thread?
A: To be honest, I was less interested in narratives per se, it was more about the experiences. And I think that it’s really exciting that from the same show, two friends can come out and think that this show is about two different things. I’m all for the audience filling in the gaps and having the opportunity to do just that.
R: It’s exciting to not spoon feed people so much with it, to allow them to come up with their own theories and explanations.
A: And to make it more difficult for audience members – obviously this is not a sat down piece of theatre in an auditorium. We’re not giving them a story, we’re seeking to awaken their senses – they are not relaxed – they are active and they are searching for these bits of text. They are not being given a narrative.
For some audiences that’s very frustrating and very out of the ordinary, for others that’s very rejuvenating.
However, this still has a component where it is about Christmas and it is targeted towards children also, who see in ways that are very different to adults but also perhaps require a somewhat more highlighted road map?
R: That one is more focused, though it’s along the same idea that we’re asking the adult audiences. We’re asking why these woods are starting to appear beneath the town hall. And that’s the same thing that we are asking the children. They are still met by Jack, but Jack is a different character. He’s a lot more excited to be showing the children the space. He’s not as mysterious or mischievous character in that sense. He’s more of a guardian of the woods. Someone who wants to be showing these families this space but again he equips them with questions and challenges to go further. Why do you think that woods would start growing here again? And it’s amazing the responses that children give back to it.
Maybe its nature trying to tell us to slow down. And they are responding with these really big issues and themes. Particularly environmental images, these are tiny children and they focus on so many different themes. It’s amazing the capacity that they have.
We do workshops with schools during the week before we open in the evening and it’s the same themes. We discuss the Holly King and the Oak King and the winter Solstice and the summer solstice and they fight. And perhaps that’s why the Holly King is trying to take over – that we’ve all forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. It’s incredible, it’s profound.
Presumably, you’ve heard all sorts of different explanations – what are a few of the more random ones?
R: A lot of people think that Gwen is a figment of Jack’s imagination. And in fact, so are the woods. That comes up quite a bit.
A: Yeah, that it’s not real. Which is interesting because of all the elements – you’re actually walking through the Woods. It’s been interesting.
R: A lot of people think that they are lovers. Or father and daughter. That she’s dead.
A: That comes up quite a bit. That’s she actually dead. In both sessions actually. Or that he is. Or that he is searching for her.
Interesting that the children are coming back with so many environmental themes. My age group are quite consumerist in outlook – we don’t care how our iPhones are made, just that they work. So it’s interesting that the younger crowd are more focused on the impact that we are having on the city and the country…
R: We really wanted the Father Christmas experience to be very inclusive and to – this is tricky to phrase right – we didn’t want it to be so much about the Christian festival or about the Santa Claus story and the consumerism. We wanted it to be about this gift giver that seen in a lot of different traditions. All across the world, there is this character that brings joy at this time of year and has a message that needs to be passed on. That’s one of the reasons that we toyed with called it Father Winter …having said that we needed to take it one step at a time…
A: He’s a story-teller as well. Stories used to be considered gifts.
R: He thanks the children for their gift – which is time and we thought that was a lovely way of doing that – one that isn’t orientated in consumerism. This is the first year that we’ve done something like this. We had to push boundaries and test the water.
We didn’t really know how it was going to go, so even just for ourselves we were setting boundaries and testing them. We still obviously want to bring across the magic of this time of year – we didn’t want to be about all these passive political ideas or anything.
That’s something about being set in Nature – it reminds us that whether it’s snow falling or leaves falling – every time of year can be a magical time of year if you take the time to appreciate it…
A: Actually, this green message that was seemingly being picked up on by Father Christmas – this also comes out in the evening show, especially when the stars are moving. The time period that it’s all set in as well.
It feels like it’s set in a period up to Sputnik and from then on, we sort of stalled. Our technology moved on but we stopped looking upwards and outwards…
R: That’s actually one of the reasons that we ask people to turn off their phones. We want people to have intimate experiences in the space and feel fully immersed. Jack asks for the time and it’s funny that so few people have watches. These things are really important. People are losing touch of real life experiences and that’s really important to all of us that were working on this. We are really keen to give people that experience. So not taking pictures and putting them on instagram – not that we didn’t want the images to be shared but that we wanted people to actually be there and to
A: to actually be part of the world and to know that they weren’t in an ordinary place still or that they only see everything through a screen.
R: We haven’t had anyone come out and say that it was frustrating not to have been able to use their phone. If anything they have come out and felt that…not that the world is boring but to maybe view it without the screen…
Obviously, I’m a reader and when I came out – we talked about Narnia. That and Tolkien, middle earth and all those places that make us reflect on the natural world came to mind
R: Yes, all these places – Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Tolkien, Wonderland and Oz – these all had a massive influence on us all as children. All these worlds that you can escape to. And even Enid Blyton and the magic far-away tree and to create a space where adults felt like they could do that in the middle of the city. I’m really proud to think that we’ve achieved that.
A: A lot of people are coming out and saying that they’ve reclaimed their childhood excitement. That they’re seeing the world in that way again. That there is a thrill again.
R: And that’s exactly what Stephen Sayers was saying at the beginning of the year. That this thrill, this feeling of being a child again, that if you can find that feeling as an adult, it’s the most special thing ever. To not lose sight of us as so many adults do. Which is such a shame.
Do you think that this will not perhaps change the direction that you are moving in but that it will inform it?
R: Yes, I think so definitely. I think we can say that this is probably the most proud that we have been of any of our projects. The level of talent that we’ve seen in the team, the work that we’ve all put in from the writers to the set builders to the direction and the performance – everyone has been just put there. And we’ve all been on the same page, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with people. We’ve all had the same thing that’s driving us and we’ve all wanted to be part of and create this wondrous and magical thing. So yes, definitely.
Is there any prospect that this could become something longer? A bit more permanent?
R: Well, there isn’t anything properly. There has been some talk.
Presumably all the research that you’ve done has been for this time of year, but there is clearly a potentially season element…
R: We have actually found ourselves wondering what the Woods would look like during another season. What would they be like in Spring? What would they be like in Summer? What would they be like in Autumn?
Who would the guides be?
R: We like the idea that if the Woods did come round again they would look and feel and *be* totally different… and there would be different people to meet and different doors to open… You wouldn’t ever see the same thing twice.
A: There are a lot of different ideas. A lot of different ways that audiences could move. I’m interested in how audiences could be part of a big spectacle but still get an intimate and increasingly personal experience. Just having more of that. Having more of that sense.
We only have two actors in this show. And what they are doing between the pair of them … it’s amazing. To give every audience member the breath of experience. And to give that to each audience. It’s incredibly focused. They have so much to do and convey and it’s very demanding for them. They are doing such a fantastic job.
But if it were to evolve. If it were to change, there could be more performers. More experiences and more of a sense of community within the audience from when they arrive.
R: We’re so passionate about the North and we’re so passionate about bringing these experience to people up here so we kind of had to test the water a little bit with this. We felt that this time round it needed to be focused but sure, we have some very big ideas. If there’s a next time next year they can be realised.
The set design is incredible but with you saying that I’m already trying to imagine how it could look and sound and evolve.
On that note, let’s talk about the importance of the music and the sound which adds so much to setting the atmosphere of the production…
A: Oh the music is such a huge part of it.
R: It’s had such an impact.
A: And there’s a huge potential for it to become more interactive.
R: We did consider having live music and dance and more elements of performance. More of the senses being engaged. Smell was really important to us this time round. That’s something we’d like to build on for next year. We have this mist that we use in the wooden cabin… We want it to appeal to all the senses as you walk in. Doing it was something that we knew we could build on.
The music was done by Buffalo Spaces and they were incredible. Lins (Wilson) – our producer – this is one of her projects with John Folger and they are just incredible. They’ve created this incredible sound piece for us and they do installations and again – how we researched the folklore and the forest and the history – they did the exact same thing with the sounds and music.
They only wanted to use songs from a certain era and sounds that reflected the winter season and yet also festive. Then also songs about being lost and to do with the stars . Even when you do recognise the song – it was never a predictable choice. It’s totally just informed the full thing.
When we hear any of the songs now, it just transports us straight back. That’s how successful they’ve been at curating this – it’s just been so amazing.
Leeds has a huge underground that’s not currently open to the public, it’s not being explored – I’m thinking now of the Library next door and the Art Gallery…
R: We know of some tunnels…honestly our ideas…at Lord Whitney, we’re not short of ideas, if anything we need reining in a little bit sometimes, so already we’re thinking and we’ve had some discussion about next year. About this project, about other projects. Leeds is an incredible city. It’s got amazing spaces…a lot of empty spaces, unused. Which could all be opened up for some incredible performances and immersive environments. Next year, we’d love to do something. Maybe bigger.
[Alexander pales again, then gets this weird look when it seems he’s actually visualising a bigger version and what that could be]
This was my first immersive experience. I didn’t know what to expect. Is this possibly the largest immersive theatre experience that’s happened in Leeds?
A: In Leeds, yes. There was You, at the Playhouse, but I believe this is larger.
R: This is probably the biggest. We were cautious about advertising this as ‘immersive’ because we didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. Or feel like ‘I don’t do theatre’. It took us a while to find our wording for the project.
Hopefully now that its run, next year we’ll be able to build upon this. People will be more familiar and know what to expect. We have had people come in and wonder what they’re supposed to do. And we’ve had people who have never seen anything like it, have never known that there was anything like this who have come out of it going ‘I need to go again NOW’. And we fully sold out which was just incredible. We never actually thought that this would happen.
There has been a lot of word of mouth…
A: That seems to be how something like this works best.
R: If you have a friend who says that you just have to go, then you’ll think about attending it more than if you see an advert. You trust them, you know you like the same things ‘I’m just going to do it!’
And – not to be vulgar – but this is affordable theatre…
R: Totally! We didn’t want to be exclusive in any way with this project. That was the whole reason we didn’t want it to feel too Chrismassy, we wanted for anyone to feel like they could come and enjoy it. That’s why it was more to do with the seasons and our shared folklore
A: You’re actually getting incredible value for money. If you’re thinking economically, it’s incredible what an audience gets at this experience compared to those in London. If you’re thinking pound to minute of the performance, you get so much out of this.
And – aside from attracting the young – this is a project that can appeal to people who might not normally consider going to the theatre
R: Totally! And that’s before you consider that there’s this gorgeous little pop up pub here also!
It might not be for everyone but hopefully there have been people who have come and had an experience they never ever imagined.
Certainly on twitter – people have sent really good feedback – even a few who have said that ‘this has changed my life!’ which is just like WOW – it’s amazing, it’s more than we could ever have imagined! To have had just *one* of those comments would have made the project for me.
If there a weirdness to that? Getting a message like that and thinking ‘I wrote this’ or ‘I created that, I put that in place’…
R: Honestly, we’re all just so sleep deprived! Maybe by February we’ll be able to sort of take it all on board!!
A: For me, it was amazing. I brought some people up who are avid fans of Punch Drunk and they go and see all of those shows and can go back and see it many many times and who are used to spending maybe £50 a pop on a ticket (R: They are at the top of their game of this world) and they came up to see this. They booked hotels, they booked trains. And then they gave this rave reviews. And for them to do that… For me, it’s more impressive that we are bringing in Joe Public and hearing really positive things, but to ALSO get top end people, who frequent these type of shows – for them to admire the depth and detail that we’ve achieved. That makes me really proud.
Online, there have been a few people scratching their heads, but the reviews seem to have been very positive
R: We’ve heard a lot of that! People saying that they had to go back and do it again because they weren’t sure what to make or it! We never thought that we’d get it right straight away. We just hoped that we’d create something that people could relate to and want more of! And a lot of people have really responded to it so well. It’s been…just terrific.
So what’s next for the pair of you?
A: Definitely sleep.
R: We’ve just done our dining experience which is our Feast of Fools, where we had 30 guests a night come and drink and dance and generally be a bit… A: Mischievous! R: Exactly! And that was brilliant. We used more actors, space and had a similar sort of experience to the evenings. It was great fun. So we’re sort of recovering from that now. We’re starting to get the team together to get everything packed up and move out. But we feel like we can’t quite leave!
A: I’ve been meeting with the actors once a week, to give them some new ideas, to discuss the quality of the performance, introduce new lines and things like that.
R: If people do come back again, they won’t be having the same experience. It’s been changing and evolving.
A: This is a totally different show to when it first opened. Totally. We wanted to see if someone came in the first week and then came back in the last week – we wanted to know that they would see a totally different show.
I TRIED! But you went and sold out. Very annoying
[Both hung their heads, then laughed at me. I don’t think they minded one little bit actually]
A: Sorry! It’s terrible really.
[He wasn’t sorry at all I tell you!]
R: It has been weird trying to think of what this will be like when it’s all over. I don’t actually know how I’ll react once it’s all done. What will I do with myself!
Has this, or how has this – the philosophy and reconnecting with folklore – changed your perspective? I’m actively reducing my time online for example…
R: I was just going to say, that’s been one of the biggest things. This project has really made me reflect on the importance of switching off, or turning the phone around and having some time away from it all. I think it’s awakened – I mean we at Lord Whitney, it’s always been something that’s close to our heart – but that idea that feeling of being playful. This has reminded me of how important this is and how much I love that feeling. And if I can keep on trying to make other people see that for the rest of my life, I think I could die a happy woman! If I could show people that you don’t have to grow up, you can still play, you can still feel that joy…
For me, with the book clubs, there are quite a few now and I’m focused on getting back to the stories – books have always make me feel that way – and worrying less about the admin-y side of things
R: I know exactly what you mean. We (myself and Amy) work at lot in fashion and editorials. We can spend all days ordering things and writing emails. And it sort of sucks you dry and this project has made us both be out there. We are dressing sets and researching and doing the things that we love. This has made us so excited. This was a tough project and it’s grown so much and it’s been stressful at times but it’s been so worth it and exciting. If I could just carry on doing things like this, I’d be the happiest woman ever!
A: From a purely directorial point of view, it’s taught me a lot about exploring the possibilities of these one-to-one experiences and exactly how can you give someone a really, genuinely personal, not manufactured experience. So, I’ve done stuff in the past where it’s all a one-on-one, so you go from scene to scene with different actors but you know that this is kind of the formula of the performance. You know that in the next scene you will see a performer act and you know what’s going to happen. (R: I HATE that. I love it when you don’t know what to expect!).
Personally, I’m a lot more green aware and I feel like I wasn’t so aware of the impact that we have. I’ve become aware of Carl Sagan through our research. His philosophies which I’m become aware of due to this has had an impact. I’m quoting him to my friend which is just seriously uncool … but I love how – with a project like this – when it touches you in a deeper way.
R: I actually studied some philosophy as an A level and I love it. But I was torn between a creative career at uni – I would have loved to study philosophy at university but that wasn’t my path. I think all of us involved in this – we’ve all been touched by this. It”s been a pleasure to look at things like Campbell again. I never thought that it would have come full circle like this.
Well, it is actually quite a strange thing that here you choose at 16 really what you are going to do. To be a creative, or go down an academic route, or I guess a creative academic route. A project like this challenges you whether you regard yourself as academic, scientific or creative. It brings us all together in a strange sort of way and reminds us that we are none of us just that one thing
R: Yes. Definitely. I completely agree with you. When you do such a creative thing as a job, you get absorbed.
A: It’s possible to be creative and pointless…self indulgent. This just…wasn’t that!
R: The folklore project was like doing a dissertation again. It brought you back to what actually mattered. It was fascinating – the more I researched the more it opened doors. Of course, we then had to rein ourselves back in.
It’s almost upsetting that I had to experience this. If it was on a dvd, I could watch it every time I feel depleted…but that’s not really how something like this works…
A: It’s not quite the point of something like this. The point is maybe to go out and experience again to get back that feeling
R: That’s what is so special about these kind of things. That no photo or film will ever do it justice. It’s how you felt while you were there. That’s the important thing. That’s the importance of going to these things. And actually of real life. That you LIVE it, not live it through a screen or via an image or a recording…
We’ve already been wondering how the hell do we reflect this on our website. I mean, really. Really. What do you say? How?
A: How would you film it? There are infinite ways of capturing or seeing this. There are so many facets.
R: We’ve dreamed up this whole world and I’ve only seen about a fifth of it? I don’t even know what the actors do sometimes. I hear things and I’m like really? Where was that? I haven’t seen that!! I’m almost a little bit gutted that it sold out, I’d love for people to experience it again. We even considered making the group sizes bigger – maybe 30 people but in the end we decided to focus on that personal experience. That was our emphasis. That was our direction.
It’s having Jack look you in the eyes. Having Gwen take you to a room. Finding the nuts in the cabin.
We had this one guy the first week that just sat in the cabin, eating nuts. We were like – go for it! You experience this as you want to! Another was in the middle of the woods, just listening to the music.
I’m love to have left a bottle of wine for them.
Maybe the last night…?
R: Yeah, maybe
A: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s talk about that one!!
Check out the trailer for the Wood beneath the World on Youtube below!
Visit the official The Woods Beneath the World website HERE
ALONG CAME A SPIDER
He had always wanted to be famous. When he kidnapped two well-known rich kids, it was headline news. Then one of them was found – dead – and the whole nation was in uproar. For such a high-profile case, they needed the top people – Alex Cross, a black detective with a PhD in psychology, and Jezzie Flanagan, an ambitious young Secret Service agent – yet even they were no match for the killer. He had the unnerving ability to switch from blood-crazed madness to clear-eyed sanity in an instant. But was he the helpless victim of a multiple-personality disorder – or a brilliant, cold-blooded manipulator?
The first thing we discovered was general group confusion as to who the detective was. One of us had him confused with the psychologist in the Jonathan Kellermans books, while another thought he was Lincoln Rhyme from the Jeffery Deaver series! This was nicely summed up nicely that there is now just one big American cop and we all agreed that they are all starting to blend into one. There seems to have been a collective decision for everyone who originally owned the book to have got rid of it which didn’t bode well for the rest of the discussion!
This book was the first in the Alex Cross series and was published in 1993. Straight away the book got a fair bit of stick. We found it to be formulaic and Cross was a difficult character to work out although the police procedural timescale was more realistic than in a lot of other books. None of us could decide if we found the idea of the villain with a split personality a good thing or not.
It was interesting to see that there was no point of view from Gary Murphy/Soneji even though quite a few other characters had their own personal chapters. One member called him a photo fit sociopath, which made it hard to believe in him. We compared him to ‘the joker in Batman’.
Another member meanwhile made us laugh wondering how Cross never gets tired – he is quite the super man: playing piano, work, parenting and everything else.
Was the book dated? No one could really remember the racism but don’t think much has changed in regards to that. Some things we did decide were dated included the annoying habit of constantly wearing sunglasses. Since the books release we now have mobile phones, social media, selfies, internet stalking and creating fake profiles all of which would be done probably by Murphy/Soneji in these days.
Jezzie Flanagan: We had a good chat about the femme fatale. For some reason I have written down ‘Forgot to press the space bar’! I think that is in reference to the silly spelling of her name. The general agreement was that despite being the only female character of note she didn’t quite ring true and were disappointed that she had to use sex to move forward and blowing her high flying career for money.
This sent the group off into what makes a good female character which was a fantastic conversation that I didn’t write down so you will have to use your imagination. ;)
We also wondered what would happen if one of the characters was gay. Getting confused again with the Kellerman books again there!
So one of us found it boring, another over the top and a different member thought some of the characters were cartoony. We agreed that we didn’t want to be a member of Cross family seeing as so many of them get injured or killed, leading to comparisons with Kate Adie!!
We then wondered if Helen had been reading a different book to everyone else again as she kept wondering where Angeline Jolie was.
Cross’ relationship with his boss came under criticism as there was no explanations for the political battles they had and made us wonder what the point of those were.
Switching to the film version we discussed the shortened time frame and how films must have happy endings.
Some quick notes: the plot was too complex but the book was easy to read with short chapters being a positive. However many quickly lost interest. The characters were strong and defined even if not always believable. We liked Cross and Sampsons relationship.
Would we read more? Most said probably not however if it was on a shelf in a holiday cottage or hotel then maybe.SCORE