Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review: Matilda the Musical

The week before last Matilda the Musical turned 5 years old, performed for the first time in Stratford-Upon-Avon. That means I've wanted to see Matilda for approximately 5 years. Growing up, the film was one of my favourites which I'd watch over and over again, and can still quote religiously to this day. I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved the magic. I was really interested to see how this could be brought to the stage...

The first thing I noticed about the musical was how striking the set was - not in a showy, theatrical sort of way, but a homely sort of one. This comforting visual simplicity continued throughout the show. There was nothing totally spectacular about the set but it framed the stage perfectly, complementing rather than supplementing the performance. The second thing was obviously the opening scene, which left me feeling slightly disheartened. The song wasn't memorable, there was no actual reference to Matilda, and it was all just a bit cheesy and superficial. I wasn't really sure what to expect from the rest of the show, but was praying it would get better and live up to all the wonderful things I'd heard about it...and my own expectations! 

And it did get better, definitely. But it never quite got as good as I'd expected. My main issue was with the sub-plot: Matilda spends a disproportionate time of the show telling an elaborate story about an acrobat and an escapologist, which was fine at first, but became totally excessive and overwhelming. *Spoiler alert*: that story ends up becoming Miss Honey's life story which is bizarre, and is supposed to link in with the idea that she has magical powers but it's all just too weird and detracts too much from the original plot. That was infuriating. Having said that, all the kids in it were amazing, and I'm always surprised by what exceptionally talented child actors we have in the West End. There were a couple of really good, entertaining, clever songs but it was hard to associate them with Tim Minchin - because they tended to be fairly inconsistent, and not especially memorable. The dancing had the same feel: absolutely fine, quite funny, but nothing totally mind-blowing. 

I left with very mixed feelings. I'd had a good evening, I'd enjoyed it for what it was (it's a show very much for children), and I'm glad I got to see it. But I was also glad that I hadn't paid for expensive seats, and I don't feel like I need to see it ever again. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

For the weekend...

One of the most interesting and challenging articles I've read for a long time: considering the role of cities, and how current ideology and policy is making them less safe and more exclusionary. 

Some geography for your weekend:


Contemplating Final Year

"So is this your final year?"
"Oh, so you actually have to work really hard now..."

I've had this conversation TOO MANY times in the last 6 weeks. At first I thought "well maybe, but I did work hard(ish) last year"; now I'm thinking "oh my god yes and I have so much to do and it's taking over my life". It is fair to say that I had not quite anticipated the demands of final year prior to starting it...which is fine, but now I'm entering a deepening realisation that I have a lot to do all the time and this is going to continue for the next 6 months so I'd better stop flapping over it. Right now, I'm stuck in a love/hate/slight indifference/absolute frustration relationship with university at the moment, which is both rewarding and tear-inducing. I didn't really know what to do about it, so I figured it would be best to try and step back from it all and have a moment of reflection...

Final year is stressful because... there is a lot more work to do
I think I currently have more work to do than I did in my first and second years combined, so I'm a little out of practice and not really used to it. In some ways it's great, because I like being busy and having things to do, but in others it's very disheartening. I feel like there is always something that needs doing imminently, and for everything I tick off my 'to-do' list, I add about 5 more things. Currently, I see very few endpoints (aside from the glorious dissertation hand-in date) and I'm trying to manage having a constant pile of things to do that never seems to go down. On the flip side, the work I have to do is marginally less stressful because I am taking more modules that I'm interested in this year, so I'm finding the work generally, or at least partially, enjoyable. 

Final year is satisfying because... it is a means to an end 
University is about a lot of things: having new experiences; broadening/deepening/stretching/challenging/narrowing your knowledge, outlooks and perspectives; growing up; meeting new people; a step towards employability; having fun. It is also, in some ways, a means to an end - especially at this point in the final year. I feel like I've got to the point where I know (vaguely) what I want and what I need in terms of a qualification on a piece of paper to help me get there. All I need to do now is achieve that. At times this feels really exciting and liberating; at others it feels daunting - like an end to my university career, and even all my time spent in education - and that I should be working really hard to make sure it was all worth it and I did the best I possibly could have done. 

Final year is scary because... you have to think about life after university
Whether you're doing further study, going into a job, going travelling, have no idea what you're going to do yet but you'll work it out, it's a step into a different period in your life. The change for some will be greater than for others, but that doesn't necessarily make it any more or less scary or any more or less meaningful. When I think about my life post-university I am, first, excited to have a year of freedom, travel, meeting new people, doing something different...and not revising/writing essays. When I think about my life post-gap year of dreams, it's a bit more scary. It's hard to decide what you want to do when you've never done anything except go to school, then university with a couple of summer/part-time jobs in between. I guess we're all in the same position though: self-discovery will be a process...I'll let you know how it goes. 

Final year is comforting because... you know what you're doing
This is the first year of university which I've stepped into and actually felt like I know what I'm doing and what's expected of me. I've finally reached a point, which in my first term of first year I never imagined that I would, where I know how to write a proper academic essay (with slight varying success...); I can read academic articles and actually understand what they're talking about most of the time; and I can reference without it taking me as long as it did to write the essay itself. I know where I'm living, what I'm doing, how to cook, how to use buses, where different university buildings are, which few hours a day the Geography Office's door isn't locked, who my friends are and how to be an actual real life student. So whilst lots of other elements are hugely stress-inducing, having a grip on other parts of university/my life makes it much easier.

Final year is tiring because... sometimes I am too stressed to sleep
You know that feeling when you're laying in bed and you're thinking about all the things you need to do, and you should probably do, and you also all that stuff that you already should have done? I feel like that's a little too regular at the moment, and I'm left feeling very sleepy and smothering my face in concealer as a result. Because I am of the mentality that, once I start something, I'd rather work really hard and solidly to get it done rather than drag it out for ages, I'm left with long days of working, hour after hour of staring at spreadsheets and transcripts, and very sore and tired eyes. It's not ideal, but I'm sure this is something lots of other finalists are also experiencing. My tip: take weekends off. I always make sure that I work hard all week, but I very rarely work at weekends and the break (from reading, from thinking about work, from staring at a screen) is absolutely necessary to my own sanity. 

Final year is... better than any other year of university
All taken into account, I am definitely enjoying my final year significantly more than I have any other year of university. A significant amount of this enjoyment is as a result of recent changes in my department that have infinitely improved student experience (shout out to Jason Dittmer!) It's awesome to have a dissertation supervisor that I see fortnightly and can e-mail whenever for advice/support/direction/stability; it's also cool to have a tutor to help clarify feedback, go through exams, and just ask for general help. Seminars mean that I have some really meaningful academic engagement with others students and lecturers, and that I can ask questions without having to awkwardly put my hand up in lectures, or clarify readings and things I'm not sure about. Just last week one of my lecturers said "hey Laura!" to me in Bedford Way, and I went to see another for a chat and ended up hanging out for 45 minutes. The changes, and also being a final year student - and being more familiar and established in the department - makes for a much better sense of community, approachability and affability. 

I hope other people can identify this, and it helps put your final year into perspective if you're struggling! 

"I remembered that the real word was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils" - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


Friday, 20 November 2015

For the weekend...

Tune of my week, for your weekend.

Officially a Belieber. X


Friday, 13 November 2015

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Remembering my Sanity: Sane New World

I rarely read non-fiction, and I'm not a huge fan of a self-help book. This was both, and I thought it was pretty cool.  

Mental health has received significant attention in the media in the last year - and mostly in a positive way, recognising its important and encouraging people to talk about it, not around it. Since 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some point over any given year, it's about time we started taking it seriously, naturalising it, and dragging it out of its awkward, marginalised state. I do believe it's hard to truly grasp mental health troubles until you've experienced them: until you've genuinely been terrified to leave the house, you can't imagine it...or until getting out of bed feels like a major struggle, you don't really understand. So given her long, and very public, history of depression, I think Ruby Wax was particularly well positioned to write this book - and her honesty and empathy is something that really shone through. 

What I liked most about this book is that it wasn't gloomy or bleak, it was actually very funny. Ruby Wax doesn't wallow in self-pity, and this isn't a book about all her problems. She's extremely aware that, when suffering with your mental health, it can be extremely difficult to understand or even notice other people's struggles...not unless you can directly relate them to your own. And that's not always helpful. The book begin by asking the reader what's wrong with us? - it doesn't launch straight into classifications of depression, anxiety and OCD, but remains focused on the problems we ALL face: our day-to-day worries, the times we feel like we're not in control, and the feeling that everyone is doing better than we are. Then, we delve into the problems of, what Ruby Wax terms, the Mad-Mad: the 'recognised' mental health issues. This section is filled with anecdotes, suggestions and science. It's not about assigning labels or stereotypes, but understanding that plenty of other people experience the same feelings and the science causing it. 

I hate science. That's a lie. I don't, it's really cool. But I really struggle to understand science. Yet Ruby Wax takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the brain, genes, hormones, drugs and it all made perfect sense. I could absolutely understand why, if suffering from mental illness, taking time to understand the science behind it, as Ruby Wax did, could be a very therapeutic, productive and rational way to go about dealing with it. Clearly it's not as easy as I'm making it sound: understanding your hormones doesn't mean you can switch them on and off, but perceiving your emotions as a chemical mess rather than a personal failure may offer some solace. 

It doesn't end there. The final chapters of the book focus on mindfulness: taming your mind, and alternative suggestions for peace of mind. This ranges from a plethora of exercises, which primarily ask you to stop and focus on something (usually something very simple like you're breathing, what's going on around you) - to recognised programmes such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The book does not promise to solve all your woes and worries, but it does offer you the opportunity to think about them in a different way and suggests some solutions (which don't involve being patronised by your GP) to try and help yourself. 

It was amusing, sincere and insightful: a totally new way to approach and discuss mental health. I think it's a book everyone should read - to understand, if not to help. In the wise words of Ruby Wax...



Friday, 6 November 2015

For the weekend...

Sleepless nights has made something click this week, and I've become acutely aware of how precious time is. I feel like I've wasted a lot of time over the last couple of years, which was sometimes inevitable, and perhaps necessary to come to this realisation...but I've decided it's about time I just started getting on with these things. This week has been pretty jam-packed full of uni working, 'gap year of dreams' planning, life sorting, brother appreciating and finally braving a nose piercing. Productivity is WONDERFUL. 

Happy weekend. X
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