Sunday, 23 February 2014

'Jane Eyre' at Bristol Old Vic

Emerging from Bristol Old Vic after seven hours inside the theatre I felt a little like a hibernating creature blinking wildly in the new daylight. The famous theatre is staging a bravely long two-part version of Charlotte Bronte’s famous Jane Eyre, although there’s no rule that says you have to see both parts in the same day!

Directed by Sally Cookson, this new version of Jane Eyre is an impressive one. With a multi-purpose, split-level stage (which reminded me of an adventure playground), the set is easily adaptable for Jane’s many life stages, and with four-and-a-half hours at her disposal, Cookson has plenty of time to take us on a tour of Jane’s tumultuous experiences. Although I was desperately wishing that the characters would stop running up and down ladders as it was becoming very distracting and kept making me think they were in a giant game of Snakes and Ladders.

As Jane, Madeleine Worrall is never off stage, which is an amazing feat of endurance. More so for the fact that the quality of her performance never slips, and it seems impossible to imagine a more perfect actor for this role. Having previously seen Madeline as Wendy in Peter Pan (another Cookson production for Bristol Old Vic), to see her as Jane Eyre felt like a natural evolution.

Is it safe to assume you know the story of Jane Eyre? If you don’t, shame on you and I urge you to read the novel immediately. It’s one of my favourites and stands up well to multiple re-readings. But there is always a risk of potential disappointment when seeing one of your favourite novels reworked into another format. However, Cookson’s version does not disappoint. She has said that she wanted to divide the play into two parts to allow space for the story to breathe and grow, and to show how the character of Jane has evolved due to the hardships, cruelty and misery she has endured.

There are moments of light relief to temper the relentless gloom in her life, though. The transitional coach scenes are great fun, and Craig Edwards as Rochester’s dog Pilot is an absolute delight.

An absolute highlight of the production is Benji Bower’s music throughout, which at times bordered on the Lynchian. Bower’s band achieve the combined tasks of blending into the middle of the set, as well as joining in with the ensemble cast at times. And the music itself was sublime, especially when sung.

But the outstanding highlight of the production was Melanie Marshall’s Bertha Mason, the mad woman in the attic. Marshall has the most mesmerising voice, and added a layer of errie threat to the entire production. Although as lovely as her renditions of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and Noel Coward’s Mad About The Boy were, I did feel that such contemporary songs didn’t necessarily fit in this period piece. Although Marshall’s performance of both was thoroughly absorbing.

I felt part one of Jane Eyre was much stronger than the second, although that may well have been because I was struggling with endurance by the second part! It’s ambitious to produce such a long adaptation of the book, but ultimately Cookson pulls it off - especially with the wonderful addition of Bower’s music.

For more information and to buy tickets, please click here. My recommendation is that you spread the joy and see the two parts on different days. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Running For Cover

Getting motivated to run during the horrific storms of the past few weeks (months?) has been hard work, and I've only been averaging two outside runs a week... and even those have been a struggle. Whoever said running in the rain was exhilarating was clearly the same person who said that wholewheat pasta was delicious.

But I'm determined to keep going. Because I know from past experience that if I allow myself to miss a planned run, then I'll very quickly give up altogether. But running in the wind and rain has been miserable.

Which was why today's run was fantastic and a real breakthrough for me - physically and mentally. Today, I managed to get out while the rain held off and the wind was down. 

So although it would be stretching the truth to say the sun was shining and the birds were singing, I did still manage to run without also battling the elements. And I'm sure that contributed to me achieving my fastest and longest run of 2014 to date. I would almost go so far as to say that I enjoyed some of it! Whatever happened, I felt really pumped afterwards and ready for the next one.

There are now just over two weeks until my first official race for eight years. It's only a 5km, which doesn't sound much but I know it'll push me. It's off-road and on hilly, uneven ground. Plus I'm out of practice with running as part of a big group. But it will be an important milestone for me mentally. I know I can physically run it, now I just need to prove to myself I can mentally run it. As the next race after that will be the Bristol 10k in May. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

She's Like The Wind

Jessica Ennis. She's brilliant.

I’ve started running again. I used to run a lot… but that all ended about seven years ago. Back then, I was super fit, super slim and super healthy. Then things changed. But I’m giving it another go.

So last July, I started doing the NHS’s Couch To 5km running programme, which I heartily recommend. It’s a series of podcasts, led by the most friendly woman ever, which guide you from being a lethargic slob to being able to run 5km in nine weeks. It was so good that I started to have separation anxiety about finishing the podcast series as I couldn’t bear to be parted from Laura.

Couch To 5km took me a little longer than the recommended nine weeks… I finished it in November, so, err, it took me nearly twice as long (this is because I had various trips away and was working away for several weeks). But so what? I got there in the end. And I felt better for it.

Then, on the stroke of midnight on 1 January, I signed up for the Bristol 10km which is on 11 May. I haven’t run in a race since 2006, and that was only a 5km (I’ll do the maths for you, that’s eight years ago), so this was quite some challenge. And to prepare me for it, I’ve signed up for a 5km race on 9 March… so that will be my official first race since 2006.

Training in the miserable weather we’ve been enduring the past few months has not been much fun. It’s dark when I leave for work, and dark when I come home from work, and I’m exhausted at weekends from work (I have two full-time jobs, one of which is unpaid). But I make myself. I dress myself up in a ridiculous combination of kit – running tights, long-sleeved technical top, long-sleeved running jacket, running gloves, ear-covering headband (after too much earache from the wind) and baseball cap – and spend up to an hour huffing and puffing my way around the park in all weathers. 

It’s a cliché, but I do feel better for it. Even if I desperately don’t want to get out of bed and do it. My dog comes out running with me, and she's fantastically good company and very supportive. I also try to fun mindfully - meaning that despite the cold, wind and rain I try to notice the things around me... the magpies who need to be saluted, the rare colourful flowers poking through the mud, the work done by our lovely park keeper Ray.

I’ve now signed up for four races in 2014 (so far)… two 5kms and two 10kms. And I may well sign up for more. Although it feels daunting at the moment, it’s good to have those diary dates and commitments to focus my training and keep me on track.

I will report back…

Links for running beginners: