Review: Sinbad at the Webster Memorial Theatre, Arbroath

Every year my family and I make a point of going to see the pantomime at the Webster Memorial Theatre in Arbroath. Filled with fun and frolics, it’s the perfect way to get our Christmas on for another year. After all Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without shouting “He’s behind you” to the pantomime dame and “Oh no she didn’t” to the dastardly villain.

This year’s production is Sinbad written, as always, by the wonderfully talented playwright John Binnie. The swashbuckling adventure stars panto favourites Nathan Byrne as Sinbad, Graham Crammond as Baghdad Betty, Isabelle Joss as Velma, Sita Iona Pieraccini as Princess Persephone and Simon Donaldson in multiple baddy roles including the Evil Vizier and the terrifying Cannibal Chief.

When our panto hero Sinbad sets off to sail the seven seas to find his long lost father who is missing presumed dead – an adventure filled with high jinx follows. Because Sinbad can’t go on this journey alone! Oh no!  His mother and two suspicious men, who look surprisingly like disguised women, come along for the ride, leading to a tropical adventure filled with danger, romance and songs a plenty.

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We absolutely loved the show and my two girls aged 4 and 7, were absolutely riveted throughout. As always the Webster Memorial Theatre’s panto production was pitched absolutely perfectly for the family audience. We laughed and we yelled and we sang along and every single person in that theatre left with an extra festive spring in their steps.

Sinbad at the Webster Memorial Theatre is a pantomime not to be missed! I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year.

Sinbad is on at the Webster Memorial Theatre until the 24th of December. For further information about the production and to buy tickets, please visit: http://www.webstertheatre.co.uk/


*Disclaimer: I was very kindly provided with tickets to this performance in exchange for this fair and honest review.

 

Dundee Literary Festival 2016 – Review

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When I was a little girl, it’s fair to say that I didn’t exactly fit in. I was rubbish at sports, useless at computer games and I wasn’t really the outdoorsy, go out and ride on your bicycle kind of girl. The only thing that I ever really wanted to do was just sit down and read. In front of the fire with a cat on my lap was always the best case scenario, but you know what, it didn’t really matter where I read, as long as I had a book in my hand I was happy.

It took me until adulthood to realise that being bookish was my kind of my “thing”. Perhaps I even rebelled a little against the label, because let’s face it, reading isn’t the most sociable of hobbies…

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Outer Edges with Amy Liptrot and Malachy Tallack, hosted by Stuart Kelly

Except sometimes it is! Once a year, when the autumn leaves start to fall, being a book geek like me is actually an extremely sociable thing to be – thanks to Dundee Literary Festival.

Now in its 10th year, the festival is THE place to be in October if you love reading. With a schedule packed full of book events for every taste right in the centre of Dundee, the event is every literature lover’s dream.

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First Writes with Shelley Day and Sandra Ireland hosted by Zoe Venditozzi

A few weeks back I attended the five day festival, fitting in as many events as I possibly could. You could say that the range of events I attended was pretty eclectic!- From A Rock & Roll Roald Dahl Party with Scots writer Matthew Fitt and Outer Edges with non fiction writers Amy Liptrot and Malachy Tallack to Haunting Afterlives – an event examining the work of Shirley Jackson and Josephine Tey – the subject matters were pretty diverse but I got something out of them all.

Attending debut author events with the wonderful Sandra Ireland, Shelley Day and Martin Cathcart Froden was a real highlight, especially to an aspiring novelist like me. As was seeing more established authors such as James Kelman, the only Scottish author to ever win The Booker Prize, read with such passion.

But for me, the best thing about Dundee Literary Festival is the sense of community that it has. It’s a fabulously warm and engaging event, full of friendly faces who all share the same love and passion for reading.

So thank you Dundee Literary Festival! Thank you for making me feel part of the best bookish gang in Scotland! I’m already counting down the days until next year!

Dundee Literary Festival is run by Literary Dundee as part of Dundee University. For more information, visit their website: http://www.literarydundee.co.uk/

Photographs by Bob McDevitt

The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil Tour – Review

chev-review-imageWhat can you say about The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil that hasn’t already been said?

When a play gets 5 star reviews from the likes of The Stage, The Scotsman and The Guardian, you know it’s going to be good, right? Right! Dundee Rep’s masterpiece is every bit as powerful as I’d heard it was, but what I hadn’t expected was to feel quite so engaged and quite so emotional, watching it.

Telling the story of the Scottish Highlands from the Highland Clearances through to the present day, the play begins with dancing, whisky and fun. But as the audience is transported back to the 18th Century the mood becomes more serious and poignant, making the hilarious black humour, interspersed throughout the play, all the more welcome.

Written as a musical drama by John McGrath over 40 years ago, The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil is just as relevant today as it was back then. Acted out by the superb Dundee Rep Ensemble cast, including the brilliant Ewan Donald, Billy Mack, Irene Macdougall and Emily Winter, the play looks back at Scotland’s past and asks it’s audience to act now to save our future.

Now embarking on a tour in theatres throughout Scotland, The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil is a must see play for every patriotic Scot. Just remember to bring along your dancing shoes and a tissue or two!

The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil is currently playing at the Dundee Rep Theatre before embarking on a tour around Scotland including dates in Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen. For more information about the play and to book tickets, visit: http://cheviottour.co.uk

 

Sandra Ireland – Interview with author of Beneath the Skin

Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to get my hands on a preview copy of Sandra Ireland’s compelling debut novel Beneath the Skin. This beautifully written twisted thriller, featuring unhinged taxidermist Alys and ex-soldier and PTSD sufferer Robert “Walt” Walton, is a fascinating but disturbing read that will have you gripped right to the bitter end. I’ll be posting a full review of the novel in a few weeks to coincide with the release of the book, but in the meantime I decided to catch up with Sandra to find out what inspires her deliciously dark writing.


Where did the inspiration for Beneath the Skin come from?

I watched a documentary featuring Polly Morgan, a taxidermy artist. I was slightly freaked out about by the way she kept her specimens in a deep freeze, but it got worse! When she’s introduced to someone, she finds herself imagining their bone structure and all the things ‘beneath the skin’. I thought she would be a fascinating and disturbing (sorry, Polly!) character for a novel, and Alys was born. I should point out that Alys is entirely a creature of my imagination and not based on anyone!

Beneath the Skin is about former soldier Robert Walton’s journey after leaving the forces. What inspired you to write about the aftermath of war and what research did you do to get underneath the skin of a war veteran?

Walt came into the story after Alys. He was supposed to be a secondary character, but he developed a personality of his own. Although I had never contemplated writing from a male perspective, it seems to work. The idea of him being wounded made me think he would be a military man, and I’d been reading some modern war poetry which was very moving. This led me to do some research into PTSD and its treatment (art therapy, etc.) and I also read lots of combat diaries written on the front line. I interviewed my son’s friend, Ollie, who was in the Rifles for six years and served in Afghanistan. He gave Walt’s voice some authenticity, and insisted that he should also be in the Rifles!

Taxidermy features heavily in the book, is death and the preservation of it, is this something that has always interested you?

It’s something I became interested in, the more I developed the character of the taxidermist. I found the historical aspects of it fascinating. The Victorians were so keen to preserve things in death- it became almost cultish, and I think this is where we get our squeamishness from. Most people think taxidermy is very creepy and I’m sure that’s down to some very dodgy museum exhibits and small animals in glass domes! In the book, Alys’s hero is Walter Potter, a Victorian taxidermist who became famous for stuffing tiny kittens and having them play cricket, etc. This is totally abhorrent to us now, and I was interested in these changing notions of taste. Alys, of course, doesn’t even notice that others don’t share her passion for this sort of taxidermy!

One of the main characters in the book is Alys, a taxidermist, a character who is cruel and flawed in many ways. Do you enjoy writing characters who have a darker side to their nature?

I do enjoy it, but it’s quite tricky. You have to check constantly that they are acting ‘in character’, because they are unpredictable and often outside the writer’s experience. That said, it’s very liberating- there are no limits to the imagination!

Alys and Mouse’s difficult relationship added a really interesting dynamic to the book. Is writing about family struggles something that you enjoy?

Families fascinate me, because we have this idea that family members should always get along to some degree, with blood ties overcoming every obstacle. But real life isn’t like that- siblings have jealousies and unresolved issues, and fictional families should reflect that. My own family is boringly normal so it’s good to have a challenge!

Mouse was my favourite character in the book and her relationship with her son is so well observed. How does your own experiences of motherhood influence your writing?

I have two grown-up sons, but it seems like only yesterday they were eight, the same age as Mouse’s son, William. I think the experience of motherhood remains very fresh in the memory, so it wasn’t too difficult to imagine the interaction between Mouse and her child. And of course, maternal emotions don’t change when your kids leave home. You still experience worry, panic, guilt and all the rest of it!

The novel is a real page turner! How much planning did you have to do prior to writing, to create such a gripping novel?

Thank you! Writing a page turner was definitely one of my aims! I’m not a planner at all, which means I run into trouble when it comes to continuity and time frames. I carry the whole blueprint of the novel in my head. I know how it will end and what the characters have to experience, but other than the synopsis, none of it is written down. As I’m writing, I do pay particular attention to rhythm and pace. It’s the length and snappiness of the sentences that create the tension, more than the words themselves.

Beneath the Skin is your debut novel. Can you tell me a bit about what you’re writing now?

I was recently awarded funding from Creative Scotland to write my second novel, another psychological thriller, which is set in an old watermill. The funding has enabled me to undertake a residency at Barry Mill, Angus, so I’m on hand to observe the landscape, and research the folklore and traditions associated with milling. The novel is based around an old Border Ballad, which features dark deeds in the mill pond! It has a very modern twist.

Do you have a writing routine that you can tell us about?

I like to get up early and write before my brain clicks into domestic mode. I try to write 500 words every morning, which sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t! I invariably end up on Twitter or Facebook, but that’s all part of the writing life too!

Beneath the Skin

You can read more about Sandra Ireland and her writing over on her website: www.sandrairelandauthor.com

Beneath the Skin will be published by Polygon on the 22nd of September. You can pre order a copy on Amazon.