Lessons In Leadership

Two weeks ago I attended the Oxygen Conference organised by Wavelength. As I had graduated from the Community Business Leaders Programme run by RSA/Power To Change/RIO/SUMS they invited me along with other graduates from different parts of the UK to take part to benefit my project The Phoenix Cultural Centre CIC and gain insights from leaders across all sectors.

Everyone needs oxygen an analogy often quoted in life, when dealing with personal stress, stroppy teenagers and projects crashing together on your head it is always the first advice from a wise friend ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’. Is it that it’s often the case with social projects, businesses, charities and start ups that the very nature of what they are leaves their founders exhausted and overwhelmed with doubts and risk combined with a resolve that it is important to carry on regardless, where the need remains the driver despite the difficulties along the way.

Power to Change contacted those of us in the Community Business Leaders programme with an opportunity to take part in the Oxygen event put on by Wavelength. Since the CBL programme has ignited a boldness I was on it like a rat up a drainpipe, and intrigued and excited to learn more, to connect with a gathering of business and social leaders from a diverse global arena. There was everything to be gained to give my project and my own leadership some reflection and insight. Power to Change have published some of our insights here.

Connecting with the organisers beforehand enabled them to understand exactly what we needed from the event. To be able to be open about the challenges that leadership brought, as well as what we felt our project needed, was a refreshing change. Opened by Liam Black one of the founders of Wavelength, it was explained to the room that in order for the event to be successful it would operate under Chatham House Rule; sounds Jane Austenish doesn’t it but it is more like Fight Club – as in, first rule of….. By setting the context this removes the barriers between corporate and charity, large business owner and start up and becomes honest conversations between humans trying to make good sense of how to make good things happen.

Richard Addy introduced the concept of story telling, his strong example of a story of achievement and success swiftly accompanied by story two – the reality, that interwoven in all of the leaps and pinnacles were dark days, situations and struggles with circumstance poverty and integrity. He stressed the importance of putting ourselves into the picture, our real selves and what inspired us to act. Many have said that social enterprise is borne of sadness, an impetus to fix something that has gone wrong or something inside us that we want to heal and help the healing in others. The truth of it is that we can often mask our pain by channelling into social good, deflect it into building something to stop others bearing that. Telling a truthful story can allow others to see the integrity of the issues we are trying to face together and make them part of the social change movement. An authentic story shows situation to complication to resolution people want to see good news and bad news and that problems can be overcome for a better future.

PURPOSE DRIVEN BUSINESS

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

Cecilia Weckstrom from Lego told the tale of how it started, how children should have only the best and how success can be a curse if you forget your ‘why’ – why you exist what you wanted to do/change/be. Diversifying income streams can be a saviour to finance but a killer to concept and companies, large and small, corporate and social have to stop and take that risk. Acknowledging that others do and you must, go back to basics empowers your own belief in your own singular ideal. They went back to talking to children ‘if you want to create change you have to work with young people’. We now know where the large companies were seen to be untouchable and see a return to the core be successful, to hang on to the principle and grow again actually gives some hope when so often our perception is that large, global business seem to be the root of what we believe to be wrong.

Dr Aravind Srinivasan from Aravind Eyecare System who successfully treat eye problems and blindness in India spoke about keeping the purpose and efficiency at the heart of your business so that you can design for non customers – people who can’t access your services – why not? Can you innovate to make it better, easier? He used the example of how a surgeon can do twice as many operations by having more nurses and they trained girls from local villages to be eye nurses a job that a specialised nurse would not undertake, this meant that the surgeon could have nurses preparing two instruments, two tables, one taking place whilst the surgeon worked on the other – twice as many people helped that way. It also highlighted the extra benefits your projects can bring. By extension another purpose is found as a result of the main purpose – in this case young women from nearby villages received education, upskilling and paid work as a result of the need for more nurses to work this way.

‘Intelligence and capabilities are not enough there must be a joy of doing something beautiful’ Dr V – Founder of Aravind Eyecare System

There is nothing bad about profit but, the process to profit needs to be examined. Profit was described as oxygen however, as Dr Aravind pointed out – pure oxygen will kill. Both speakers were using the point that whilst profit has oxygen in its pure state it is dangerous and pointless and this is reflecting in the sea change that has been happening in the last three years – that employees need a purpose, they look for purpose in their roles no matter what they are.

A refreshing change seeing large companies whose leaders are more aware and in touch, knowing the traditional CSR model isn’t working (and yet even now seen as a new thing by so many companies) that they cannot ‘bestow’ favour on grovelling and grateful charities and socially driven organisations as good pr and marketing for them and no gain for anyone who needs the help. Whilst they are busy people with targets, so are the people who they are offering their help to who have left their duties paid or unpaid as well to help develop your CSR strategy (motivational shortcomings) as someone said ‘ don’t tell me you can offer me people to paint a wall when I need access to your health and safety advisers, don’t use up a day of my time telling me your people will fix our strategy when they haven’t understood what we are trying to achieve, don’t use us as a way of motivating your employees – it is not my job to stop your employees hating their jobs – make it actually mean something’ In other words – make it really be what it is: Social and Responsible as well as Corporate. For social businesses it was good to meet global leaders who really believe in social impact and that the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Don’t allow your drive or ambitions to be suppressed by your environment change it or ship out – this is where resilience so needed in this type of business comes in, the very environment change that is needed to allow drive and ambitions will kick back when that is the very point of your existence as a project to change and grow – if it means your project is giving more people a voice in an environment hostile to that then its very nature means it must face these difficulties and stick it out, to give up and ship out isn’t an option especially as the remit we generally all work under and certainly lots of funders require is that we are locally rooted and dealing with locally rooted needs.

Peter KeenCBE – Director of Sport Advancement – Loughborough University has successfully coached many olympic gold medallists and gave insights into how all the elements of excellent performance are needed to proceed and succeed. Martin Narey who ran the Prison Service and Barnados spoke of listening and learning, the loneliness of leadership and David Pemsel Guardian CEO of remembering the principles of your organisations existence and adaptive leadership.

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

The themes from speakers at the height of their professional careers or who have been there seen it and done it were refreshingly frank, the idea that families, health and easy fixes of having a healthy walk, getting enough sleep, putting boundaries around your time are really that simple and yes really that effective. That to lead requires humility as well as boldness and the best key to everything is to listen, that it is ok to doubt yourself and happy to dispel the myths of leadership. The days of hero leaders are over people look for purpose, collaboration, boldness and kindness in equal measure and a listener who will take advice on organisational decisions.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Self doubt, fear of failure and anxiety will be your constant companions so the purpose has to be there, if you can’t make sense of your business how will someone else. Plan and protect time to think – some decisions are intuitive – but do ensure there are times to think slow, with logic, be willing to let go. In terms of out performing the great performers outlearned others, assimilating and transferring and successful businesses encourage and tolerate a culture of constant questioning.

It is ok to feel doubtful, intimidated and out of your depth, everyone feels the imposter syndrome, keep at the incremental improvements bit by bit everyday that is where the real work happens.

When talking about purpose, look for friends in purpose – I help you/you help me, you understand where each other is going, what you want and need to get there and step forward for each other to help that happen – go where the good energy is, where the good people are and just push it.

Look at your eulogy virtues as opposed to your resume virtues – build your life around that purpose that virtue sung as your last sunset comes.

How you deal with change? We have a disruptive chaos and a paralysis and these things challenge us so look for your reason for being, what unites you, your stakeholders, common goals and values? If you stick to these trust is generated and value is created. Trust your instincts make sure you value your team and their differences and qualities

Within the room was an understanding that large or small, corporate or social – businesses occupy the same space, are part of the same communities, containing the same human beings with complex needs and need to work realistically together. That the needs the social sector are meeting are usually way ahead of traditional business who need to anchor into towns and cities and networks, makes them a valuable barometer indicating change in our society. Now mental health and wellbeing have seeped in as considerations for all employers to be aware of, meet sympathetically and yet people see this happening first as social projects deal with helping those back on their feet who weren’t in an environment ready to acknowledge the existence of invisible, scary health problems. The attitude of the event was that people could openly ask for help and there was no expectation that it must be given and no resentment caused or felt by answering no, by working in this way actual stuff happens rather than good intentions which as we all know pave the road to hell and whatever that is for you.

We had on day two a chance to be open about our needs and ask for help, democratically people were given the chance to voice their needs and for people to come forward everyone was very engaged with the whole process.

Many were inspired by the discussion about platform and purpose and not mixing up the two, something spoke of not forgetting that the platform was not the purpose and the need to have a healthy platform, many things in place to help you spring from. Some of us our communities are adrift of platform and though clinging tenaciously to purpose find a gap there. This is why we need help that the funding does not necessarily become just money but another layer of a platform. Sometimes all we need isn’t a pot of money (though don’t let that stop anyone ever handing some over) but belief, sometimes just an email, an introduction to someone who can open a door just by saying to lofty heights ‘I recognise this value in this project and these people’ so often we talk to people who admire the cut of the emperors new clothes but not the value of a good pair of warm knickers, until they are told warm knickers are this years zeitgeist – then show an interest. That sometimes is all we need, to undo the ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home’ or as Will Rogers definition of an expert ‘an expert is a man 50 miles from home with a briefcase’. Sometimes the locally rooted, delivering to local issues needs the expert from 50 miles away to say what they have been saying for years to deaf ears.

So many people shared honest stories of reaching successful pinnacles in other worlds having everything and realising it wasn’t enough, no purpose to it, not enough good being made from it so they changed it, took brave leaps and realigned their purpose. It made me feel inspired by them but in fact also disconnected. How for us is it when we are trying to start something from nothing and we have nothing ourselves, how is it that we are starting these things because we are inside the problem and don’t want it to continue further that we know we must act but have no platform to spring from and yet here was our chance to build one. Largely because the generosity of those who can connect reached it out to us here. Hopefully this will be the new concept and template of what real Corporate Social Responsibility is, meaningful for all and really making change and improvements in the communities that we all exist together in. The event definitely gave an oxgen burst to my resolve and purpose

http://www.powertochange.org.uk/blog/above-all-breathe/

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Legally Blonde Holds Court in Woking

Legally Blonde held court in Woking’s New Victoria Theatre on its first night out this week where it plays until Sat 14 October.

Disclaimer: I had to go into this like a puppy for that ‘special’ vet visit – reluctantly but for the good of all, for the good of society even – my daughter*  told me I had to review it because the film was what inspired her to want to study law because it showed fashion and law could mix. I have a bit of an anathema to pink but when such a heartfelt plea (guilt trip) is laid on so heavily what can you do? I put it under the ‘things we do for our kids and will mention a lot when I want a visit when they’re old’ file and set forth.

*I’ve got two daughters so whichever one you think it is – it’s the other one in the interests of me getting a good Christmas present.

After noting that in this performance the role of Elle Woods was played by Rebecca Stenhouse and the role of Margot by Sally Frith due to Lucie Jones being unwell (get well soon) we all settled our belongings about us – me ready for a little rest and the daughter on the edge of the seat, bracing herself. A woman near me shifted about in her seat a lot and moaned about not liking the dates she’d had recently ‘I thought – I’m not surprised love you don’t sit still for a minute some of us are trying to rest tsk tsk!’

Bright, fashionable Elle Woods vows to woo back the love of her life Warner Huntington III (Liam Doyle) by following him to study at Harvard Law school. Dismissed as being an airhead she studies hard and manages great results, not sure about the using cheerleaders as a great role model in place of a personal statement (as the eyes next to me slid over in a questioning way I mouthed NO! Very firmly) Elle proves her worth and comes out on top smashing through stereotypes to win her career.


It was lively, pink yes, vibrant definitely and the cast were superb. The variety of characters representing the law students from the typical, entitled, ‘ready for Senate’ to Enid Hoops’ (Nancy Hill) firebrand social justice campaigner (daughter turns with a smirk and says ‘wait, you’re about to come on look – ha ha that’s you that is – see it really is a musical for all!’ like some government appointed musical tzar) worked off each other very well. The dance routines are clever and blimey! The skipping display by Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham was mind boggling – not since our playground cat’s cradle c 1972 or Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch has skipping ever raised my blood pressure so much, admittedly in 1972 I didn’t know what blood pressure was and is now only a polite word for a tantrum after falling over (I still say I was pushed by……… no names, can’t afford a solicitor and injurylawyers4U won’t take playground cases and it wouldn’t make a good legal musical so back to this one) but, suffice to say the display on offer in Legally Blonde is incredibly skilful and choreographed without skipping a breath whilst singing a full number – I should coco! Even I leaned forward in my seat – I never lean forward- I am too cool*

*Lying

Rebecca Stenhouse as Elle was incredible her comic timing was spot on with the others and the whole cast show a chemistry and dynamic that made the whole thing flow. All without exception had great vocal skills. Special mention for strong, more bluesy at times, and sweet vocals also for Rita Simons whose performance as the good hearted but vulnerable Paulette Bonafonte was comedic and poignant and her journey to finally finding the man of her dreams brought us an unexpected step dance in front of the Irish Flag to full Riverdance from the whole cast. Poor old Professor Callahan hoisted by his own petard and the solidarity of his students who initially turning on Elle recognised unfairness, sexism and that they have had their day and kicked him into touch. Bill Ward played him admirably. People of my cultural magnitude will remember him as Charlie Stubbs (nasty builder who came to a bad end) in Coronation Street but who has had a varied and rich TV and theatre career from Sophocles to Shakespeare and beyond and now, Woking and he performs with menace and elan. 


The juxtaposition between Elle’s likes and lifestyle and the stuffy halls of Harvard Law School were lightly seamed together (fashion expression – skills) by using the old Greek chorus device (of sorority friends) and sliding Cupids with silver lame shorts 

So as it ended and the show, especially Rebecca Stenhouse, got a well deserved standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience of people from the very young to well, people older than that, (who were clearly fans of the film – a man walked in saying ‘are there any blokes in here at all?’ – there was I saw loads) I had to concede that the stage show was excellent, uplifting, funny and vibrant and the ways the story were told told differently from the film worked really really well. I still grunted when my daughter said ‘see saving the world isn’t all wearing black and shouting ‘keep the faith’ at each other at grungey gigs is it Mum?’ I may have grunted in agreement but she still can’t have a chihuahua at University so, ha- I win! 

When I got home I tried to do the ‘bend and snap’ but only the cat was there and he’s European so didn’t notice and my leggings weren’t really up to the job – who can I sue? This has made me very litigious this theatre show, I’m going to be tripping over in supermarkets and falling off pub tables on a regular basis from now on and saying m’lud -oh ok maybe the latter is a current pastime rather than an actual industrial injury. 

If you are like me you don’t really need to wait for a guilt trip (heavily laden) to be visited on you to see this show, I’d go along and enjoy yourselves, even if just to look at the face of a loved one having a brilliant time. Legally Blonde is on at New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 14 October 2017 tickets can be bought from http://www.atgtickets.com

Woman In Black – (Puts the Willies up Woking) 


This isn’t the first time the Woman in Black has brought its tour to Woking and I hope it won’t be the last, it has become of itself despite its fairly modern history, a story deserved to be counted amongst the great classic ghost stories of the likes of Wilkie Collins, MR James & Dickens and the play adaptation too is a welcome relief from what is usually frothy musical and touring tribute bands so often experienced in theatres just trying to stay open to offer some theatrical presence in towns across the country.

I arrived, scared. I have been before but still know it is different each time, the sudden shocks in different places. There were a lot of women in black milling about the foyer but luckily they looked chirpy and corporeal. I wondered if they were stealing her thunder – the real, actual, Woman In Black; outfit clashes can be an embarrassing taboo.

David Acton plays Arthur Kipps a man so traumatised by past events and held still, in their thrall. Desperate to lay ghosts to rest, he seeks help from an actor (Matthew Spence) to dramatise the events of a few days that, as a young man changed the course of his life. He needs help because he has never been able speak the words of his story to his family.


I took my friend Mary, she jumped and screamed like a big cry baby. I hadn’t really warned her (this was my third outing to the play) I am a frenemy. Well I say I didn’t warn her but my disclaimer is that I did whisper ‘brace yerself Mary’ as we sat down – not my fault she didn’t hear….


Based on Susan Hill’s novel, a torchbearer to the gothic ghost novel genre so favoured and flourished in Victorian Britain, they manage to pull off a theatrical coup – making the story so embedded in the audience imagination that the spare sets, lighting (a cast member in itself) and sound effects have you pulled in to all it’s horror, sadness and it’s comedy, for there are also a lot of laughs in it too. The atmosphere pervades throughout. To me, the play knocks the widely publicised film into a cocked hat, because it absolutely gives a chance for modern audiences to experience the art of story telling, the ghosts around the fire late at night, the primeval feeling of sensing threat, hairs standing up on the back of the neck. Not only does it tell a sad and painful story, one that spawns baleful jealousy from someone sent mad with loss but it also acts as a heritage piece giving people back something of a culture that seems lost. Not only a fine tribute to the story and it’s author but also the writer Stephen Mallatratt whose stage adaptation moves the action along so well. That it has successfully run for over 27 years is a great legacy to someone who has sadly passed away.


Though a double handed performance the dexterity of both Acton and Spence is such that it feels like a cast of many, the finely drawn characterisations that they move between has you in no doubt you are in the hands of masters of this craft and, as well as the light and shade and spare set means you have drawn in your mind vast marshlands and lonely mists, and imagine yourself seeing the Woman In Black so often referred to throughout. (No spoilers here I should get a theatrical medal I really should) 

To see this play whilst in Woking get tickets here 
 Oh and wear sturdy pantaloons.  

Here is a link to an interview with David Acton who plays Arthur Kipps in the second hour of the Radio Woking Fiery Bird Show where he gives insights into the play and the tour. Thursday 6 April https://m.mixcloud.com/radiowoking/fiery-bird-show-with-claudia-stark-featuring-david-acton-starring-in-woman-in-black/

LET IT BE (on for longer)

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Woking audiences had a taste of Beatlemania last night as Let It Be, the musical charting the career of the Beatles through their songs opened at the New Victoria Theatre.

The songs, played to backdrops of famous venues, newsreels and increasingly more elaborate lighting effects and costumes started with the Cavern Club; the first couple of songs though excellently executed not representing the energy of a tiny club and live music venue and the excitement that must have been built up in its walls at the time when that’s where music was to be found – a million laboratories away from digital downloads and online streaming. However this is a minor point as the band demanded the audience get up and be a live music audience right from the start and the audience obliged – nice one Woking. As venues sizes grow and their careers, the playing to the gallery and wit renowned in their history comes out on the stage ‘those in the cheap seats clap your hands, those in the balcony rattle your jewellery’ ‘John’ exhorts and the catalogue unfolds of a body of work that blends musical expertise and experimenting with a variety of styles that had never been seen before.

That this is a live music event rather than a musical or story telling vehicle for the personalities makes it even more effective as a genuine tribute to a band that have influenced so many generations and musicians. Stripped away of the myths of the men involved, their lives and status leaves the music as the legacy, as it should be. All of the musicians playing on the stage are excellent in their own right and the vocals and harmonies spot on; that they seem to have been picked for their music expertise rather than similarity in looks is a plus point, they aren’t trying to be a tribute band, at one point someone shouted out to ‘John’ to be replied to ‘I’m not him you know’. Though they do the mannerisms very well too for those who look for that, it is more of the odd nod to it to refer to context than an acting role, in fact it is easily seen in bands that have been influenced by the Beatles that this has also been the case in latter years.

The fact that the songs are so well presented and sung shows that the producers and musicians are truly involved in trying to get the artistry across rather than a shallow showbiz patina on a body of work loved by so many.

The stage is set up as for a band with vintage TV sets either side showing the action on stage on them to get a feel for what most audiences saw back in the day. An interval of messages from the sponsors was a clever touch, a bride and groom sharing a romantic Capstan as they cut the cake, an aftershave that proports to kill women ( I think in those days it meant something else) and some fake suede shoes were the type of persuasive sales techniques back then as opposed to controlling your heating back home and yoghurt that has a party in your intestines today.

 

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The lighting reflected the songs especially well in the era of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Strawberry Fields Forever though on occasion the lights were slightly too bright for the stage as in I felt like a rabbit caught in them. The acoustic Yesterday, Blackbird and Here Comes the Sun were beautiful and at the end the title song Let It Be with the audience joining in, too. In fact the communication between stage and audience all through was responsive. Woking loved it.

It was a moving night of music, I was mindful of the fact a young excellent, originals band I know, The Sheratones were playing down the road, a band heavily influenced by The Beatles amongst others and hope that when their generation are singing songs like the audience last night ‘When I’m 64’ there will be a long legacy of bands that will be passing on new ideas just as those like The Beatles did. It would be a shame for the music that broke ground and added layers and richness to modern life to become the music piped through our shopping centres whilst the venues that gave bands like The Beatles their start fade into being just parts of cultural history that dies with a generation who had a great time while it lasted for them. Its no secret and my declared interest that we have no music venue here but any old chance to get that in somewhere and where better than a review of a band show about a working class band who had a circuit to work on, still. Nights like last night are a good thing if they remind us of that, it was evident from the audiences enjoyment how dear the songs and the band were and are to people. There’s many more than can become that  too.

It’s a great, uplifting show, including so many of the well loved songs of The Beatles and yet still only able to scratch the surface of a vast catalogue. The cast, Emanuele Angeletti, Roberto Angeletti, Michael Bramwell, Paul Canning, Ian B Garcia, Reuven Gershon, Paul Mannion, Luke Roberts and Stuart Wilkinson are all excellent musicians and looking at their own catalogue of work, I will certainly be checking out their original projects too.

Let It Be is on at the New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 26 March for tickets go to http://www.atgtickets.com/woking and bring people of every generation, they were there last night and having a great time.

Edward Scissorhands Springs Hope in Woking

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Woking saw the iconic Edward Scissorhands being brought to snip away at people’s heart strings at Matthew Bourne’s interpretation taking place at the New Victoria Theatre this week.

First off I need to come clean. This is the first time I have ever been to a ballet. My experience extends to three scenarios.

1. Fuzzy Felt Ballet set – fantastic and impressive, all tutus and black background

2. Being sent to Ballet when young, because the doctor said it would help my poor co-ordination. Ballet, and picking up pencils with my toes. It must have worked because I have no problem lifting a glass to my lips.

3. Accompanying my two girls who chose Ballet as their entry into the world of dance. Sometimes this was quite stressful, they often moaned about the leotards annoying their bums.

I didn’t know ballet etiquette but decided that sitting through in first position would be good. I had the option to change to fifth position if I needed the loo. (Practical applications of Ballet: Tip 1)

Settled in is where the magic then began. The scenery is stunning and the imagery brings to mind magic stories like watching a moving picture box, despite the size of the theatre, in a very intimate way.

Dominic North as Edward is endearing and vulnerable, as his creator dies shortly after his Frankenstein experiment to build a boy born from sadness and before he has the chance to give him hands, it is a very touching scene.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands. Photo by Johan Persson

The whole production as a light and dark, the surface and depth of how we live, Hope Springs like Stepford and yet Edward’s birthplace reminiscent of the Addam’s Family more honest for it. The set and costumes designed by Lez Brotherston matched with the skill and expressive communication of the Company does this so well. The comic and tragic almost Shakespearean in the metaphysical background mixed with Gormenghast rising behind to Edward’s rise and inclusion in real warm family and village life and shunning again from it. Losing his love and yet, in the end never losing her.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS,

The comic moments were excellent, like I said, I have never been to a ballet and it wasn’t the place I expected to see a woman trembling on a twin tub to make her smile. Similarly I didn’t expect the emotion that emerged on seeing the vulnerable figure of Edward appear at the end as Dominic North came forward to take his applause.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands, Madelaine Brennan as Peg Boggs and Tom Davies as Kevin Boggs. Photo by Johan Persson

Woking on a Tuesday in January isn’t the place you’d expect people jumping to their feet so impulsively to applaud a ballet and those that would didn’t look like the people who would applaud a Tim Burton styled production, but it was and  they did and the Company deserved it for a brilliantly moving and uplifting performance.

So I haven’t been to a ballet before but I definitely will be again and if you haven’t then try this one, it has all the classic themes, reminiscent nostalgia from the days of Sharks and Jets, Goth novels and Stepford, a real  mixture of 20th century iconic genres in one go from Caroline Thompson’s original screenplay to stage.

Yours, a ballet virgin aged 48 & 3/4

Edward Scissorhands is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 17 January you can book on 0844 8717645 or http://www.atgtickets.com

20th Century Boy in 21st Century Woking

Woking hosted more glam rock classics when the story of Marc Bolan, 20th Century Boy opened last night in it’s New Victoria Theatre.

A hard edged opening, the headlines of the singer’s death plastered across the stage, firmly sets the context that this is a depiction of a real person’s life and death that is being played out.  By using the vehicle of a son’s quest to discover his father it doesn’t allow the nostalgia of sparkles and glam rock to make it a saccharine show of a story made up to showcase songs put through the musical theatre genre-ometer.

The energy is high the writing showing humour and pain; it’s easy to forget what we think of as rock n roll cliches were that because these ‘cool hipsters’ and Faces’ invented and used them. The lighting and visual effects are amazing against the plain back backdrop of the stage and as the story moves between different parts of Bolan’s life the stage is cleverly transformed.

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan held his own with his mannerisms, especially when performing with TRex, and, a very Bolanesque switching between a vulnerability and incredible arrogance in the offstage persona that made the man the mythical figure he became also painted a picture for us. The story held the audience  at times guiltily at being there for the songs and then, many remembering those headlines, and the use of some songs such as Cosmic Dancer to illustrate key moments in the drama gave the production poignant depth and atmosphere.

Notably the vocal talents of Donna Hines (Gloria Jones) Lucy Sinclair (June Child) and Katia Sartini (Helen Shapiro) were outstanding and the way the play staged the Lyceum gig gave the audience a feeling of actually being at a live gig and me a reminder to quell irritation that an enactment of someone’s life story leads the audience to scratch their live gig itch. (try a real one, now, not a tribute act or story).

It is an event that covers adult themes and the dialogue reflects that, I was with my 14 year old, felt a bit nervous at the camper van scene and then remembered she watches TOWIE and at least this has good music in it. Parenting success – tick!

Musicals about a musician and their life often live or die by the quality of the musicians playing live, especially when it is a legendary figure, audiences can be unforgiving if a memory of theirs isn’t fulfilled. In this, the strength of the musicians playing satisfied this picky old bird. In particular the guitar parts played by Ryan Alex Farmery though physically he was in the background, gave a power and authenticity to this production that really deserve a mention. With the story coming to it’s inevitable painful close, the band stayed on to do a few songs and brought the shy Monday night audience to their feet, if the amount of feathers flying from the free feather boa’s handed out at the beginning as people danced are anything to go by, Friday and Saturday night’s performance will be like a flamingo moulting season. I’d see it again and take a grumpy punk with me too, even they would like it.

20th Century Boy is at The New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 14 June tickets available from atgtickets.com/woking or 0844 871 7645

 

Elaine McGinty 10 June 2014