“Be like.” (On the Scarborough train.)

The three young women are clearly members of the same tribe. It is the tall one that I notice first. She is like a young amazon- built on a different scale to the others, broad backed and strong. A tribute to good food and good genes. She is wearing a short skirt, a green top with a French slogan across it and her long hair is dyed a shade of blonde that is almost white, not platinum blonde- almost grey. A tiny part of it sits in a bun on top of her head. She is a striking young woman. One of her friends has the same hair colour, scraped into a messy bun above a tiny tight dress and the other is very slim, waif-like n a tiny spaghetti string top and shorts clinging to the top of bruised legs. All of them are wearing heavy make up. You see young women like them everywhere. They have each made a portrait of themselves to show the world on their day out at the seaside. The cans of cider in front of them have already kicked off the celebrations but they are not going to make fools of themselves like some of the groups of young men you see drinking on trains. They have more self respect than that. Their flat sneakers might be leopardskin or butterfly print but they are also comfortable. Nobody is in danger of looking daft when their feet hurt. This is a performance and it has to be a good one, both for each other and for anyone else who crosses their path. It is not about ego, it is about being there together and having the confidence to strut your stuff. Their conversation is full of questions, statements, posturing. They are a tight little unit ready for anything. The interaction is relentless. None of them allow themselves a single second alone inside their own head. No wonder one of them flags momentarily.
“That does drain me.”
Proof of belonging is asked for over and over again.
“You know when you get off the train and swing into Boots?”
There are nods- they all do know- of course they do.
As they use their phones they remind me of a perfectly choreographed dance company, aware of each other and moving as a unit. They are constantly telling, recording, showing and there is never any need for anyone to ask or explain what is needed- they all look in the right direction and pose instantly on request. Every gem held out to be admired on a glowing screen is examined and celebrated.They are experts.
“Oh my god.”
“Did you snog him?”
“What did she say?”
Their phones are a part of them. They are using them as a second language and they would not dream of being together without them or putting them away. They are an entertainment, a connection, a distraction, a crutch, a prop.
“We’re high fiving.”
“My God that’s amazing- we’ll take a picture of that later.”
“Shurrup!”
“I’m like what?”
Just before we reach the last stop the young amazon puts her hands up in front of her and shakes them slightly, pulling a face.
“And then literally………”
The waif-like one widens her eyes.
“ECT. Electro convulsive therapy. Yeah that’s what it is.”
She savours the words, proud that she remembers them.
The one in the little dress gathers her things together as the train slows down.
“Sounds good!”

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The World Goes Round. Stephen Joseph Theatre. 17-08-16.

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Production photograph by Tony Bartholomew.

Kander and Ebb have written two masterpieces of musical theatre, Cabaret and Chicago, and a lot else besides including the New York anthem, New York, New York. Their work is an absolute gift for a songbook show. It is funny, dramatic and sassy with a heartbreaking humanity and truthfulness at the centre of it all- much like life. Very American and very Broadway. Who would have thought that five performers in a small provincial theatre out on the coast in the north of England would ace their songs with such talent, confidence, joy and conviction? Well they did. The Stephen Joseph’s summer musical offering this year is an absolute corker. All the cast are hugely experienced. We don’t often get to see musical theatre performers of this quality in Scarborough- if ever- and I was left wondering how we had got so lucky. Maybe they just wanted to have a chance to sing great songs.

The show was originally conceived by David Thompson, Scott Ellis and Susan Stroman and staged off Broadway. It has been beautifully directed at the Stephen Joseph by Lotte Wakeham. Each song is a small drama, rather than a song, and the acting is every bit as important as the singing. The cast are very generous towards each other in this, playing supporting roles alongside each performance with great timing and commitment. Marry Me, from The Rink was a fine example, with Shona White listening to Nigel Richards as he proposed and showing us her every thought. I loved Phoebe Fildes and Laura Jane Matthewson’s version of Class from Chicago- perfectly done- and they also did a great version of The Grass is Always Greener from Woman of the Year together. Nigel Richards does a heartrending version of I Don’t Remember You from The Happy Time. He has great warmth as a performer- not something you can teach- and a beautiful tone. I’d love to have heard him do a full out, complete version of the title song on his own rather than just one of the snippets that we heard throughout as a kind of refrain. It was a pleasure to watch Ashley Samuels move- both on roller skates and off- and it would have been good to see more of that as well as hearing him sing. Shona White was best in the songs relishing Kander and Ebb’s sassy humour and it was a joy to see the mostly older audience chuckling away at her in Arthur in the Afternoon, from City Lights. That was one of the less well known songs which it was interesting to hear alongside those which have become standards. The title song from Cabaret could easily have become a cliche, but a stunning arrangement made it seem new and fresh as well as something which just had to be there.

It was one of those times where the set fitted both the show and the space in the round perfectly. This is not always easy. It was simple and made a flexible background for the performers while providing enough Broadway razzamatazz to be going on with. A job well done by designer Simon Kerry.

The matinee that I saw was a relaxed “dementia friendly” performance. Even though it was poorly attended, one look at the shining eyes of the man waiting to be led into the lift behind me would have been enough to make it clear that the whole thing was worthwhile. If anyone had been put off by being told this in advance and thought that their afternoon would be spoiled they needn’t have worried. Those of us who were there behaved impeccably as great songs worked their magic and the very talented cast still stormed it for us. We loved it. There was also free cake in the interval- something that I think should be available at all theatre performances from now on. Well done to the SJT. I hope that they do this again and allow the idea to grow. Theatre is for everyone. When the West End comes to Scarborough and it costs £10 for a front row matinee ticket you’d be a fool to miss one of the few remaining performances.

When did the wind change?

When did the wind change?
The first brittle leaves
stumbled down from the trees
in the heat of summer.
They lay on the ground
in plain sight
while the children ran
barefoot over the warm grass.
Nobody noticed.

When did the dark nights begin?
The sunset crept forward
so gently that darkness
came as a surprise.
The children were called home,
scampering into their lighted houses
one by one..
Heads were laid to rest.
Night fell.

When did the world change?
How long has it belonged
to someone else?
Summer slipped through my fingers
while I looked away.
Skeletons of bare trees
stretch upwards through fallen beauty,
reaching for home.
I keep walking.

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The Crown of our Life.

Death is a secret.
It hides under ancient hedges,
overgrown with denial.
It slips in unseen
while you are not watching.
It arrives uninvited
with the force of a thunderbolt.
It takes its time.
It waits.

Life is a gift.
unexpected, unsolicited,
on loan from the past.
A delicate stream of consciousness
spun from twisted threads
of love and hope.

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Walking among clouds.

On a fine summer morning,
along a stretch of sunlit beach,
playful breaths sprinkle glitter
over shimmering pools,
careless waves shake out
their hair to dry in the wind,
and gulls wheel, soar and cry overhead.
This is a blank page
written on by natural beauty
where you may allow your thoughts
to race away,
and settle far out at sea.

It is possible to leave the world behind
and walk amongst the clouds.

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