Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic’s The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint LewisAt the start of Bristol Old Vic’s seasonal extravaganza The Nutcracker, Claire is struggling to make herself heard in a household where Mum is still working late on Christmas Eve, her brother Eddie is absorbed by his handheld device and her dad is occupied by his own fantastical ideas to listen to his daughter’s worries about her imaginary unicorn Charlie. But then a mysterious visitor comes to the door, describing himself as a nutcracker maker and seeking the person who wants change. He give Claire a nutcracker doll who, she soon discovers, is very afraid, and all because of a mouse.

Director Lee Lyford, writer Tom Morris and lyricist Gwyneth Herbert serve up a rambunctious, colourful family show, with time stretching, skipping backwards and offering Claire a view of a tragedy she believes she can and must undo.

The set and lighting by Tom Rogers and Anna Watson draw us into a psychedelic world of enchantment where almost anything is possible, with clock-faces reminding us that time is precious, even on Christmas Eve when you might be wishing the hours away.

The Nutcracker Tristan Sturrock and Denzel Baidoo. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the nutcracker maker and Denzel Baidoo as the nutcracker. Photo by Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the mysterious visitor holds the audience, and time, in the palm of his hand, evoking our empathy and keeping the other characters on track as he relays his tale of errors in judgement resulting in a magic-wielding mouse queen (brilliantly conveyed by musical director Gwyneth Herbert) seeking revenge. Mae Munuo as Claire is convincingly child-like, curious and eager to do the right thing, even as she comes to understand how challenging identifying what the right thing to do can be. She also has a clear, powerful singing voice.

The whole cast bring energy and verve to the stage as most they portray multiple characters. Some of the most comical are Claire and Eddie’s discarded toys, among them a blue pants-wearing Action Man (Guy Hughes, who also plays ten-year-old Eddie and saxophone-playing Princess Curly Pearly utterly convincingly), Baboon with a Spoon (an impressively loose-limbed Patrycja Kujawska, who also plays Claire and Eddie’s mum as well as Queen Spoon), and Dog, the toy Claire likes least – a detail never explained (Kirris Rivieré, also Claire and Eddie’s dad and King Sausage).

The Nutcracker Dress Bristol Old Vic. The toys and Claire. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Even musicians Harry Bird and James Gow get in on the toy chest action, playing a chocolate-obsessed rock star teddy bear and a lovelorn long-tailed lemur.

The title role is played by Denzel Baidoo, in the actor’s remarkable stage debut. His complex emotional narrative comes over beautifully, complemented by his dance moves choreographed by Laila Diallo. The dance-off between The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Tristan Sturrock) is a particular treat.

The Nutcracker teaches Claire, the nutcracker maker and the audience that to understand what needs to change, if anything, you must first see, and treasure, what’s really in front of you.

But this somewhat serious message is by-the-by when you’re taking in the glorious cacophony on-stage. With musicians and dancers populating the cast, it’s no wonder that this is a festive feast for the ears and eyes.

Photos by Geraint Lewis

The Nutcracker is on at Bristol Old Vic until 7th January 2022. Find out more and get your tickets.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, please get in touch.

Writing prompt – figure

Tiny figure. Photo by Judy Darley

This tiny figure clings to a fence outside a home. Are they on their way somewhere or escaping from something?

The intensity in their expression and that lifted hand suggests they have an important message to deliver, so maybe this is the miniature figure equivalent of Speakers’ Corner in London.

Who are their audience? What do they want to say? What will it take for one of the big figures (i.e., in this scenario, us) to listen and take action?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

The RWA Photo Open Exhibition wants your snaps…

Realm by Judy Darley

Submissions are open for the RWA Photo Open Exhibition. To be in with a chance of showing your photographic work in the RWA’s beautiful galleries, submit your digital images online by Monday 5th December 2022.

Entry is open to emerging talents, passionate amateurs, established artists and professional photographers alike. If you use photography to inform your sculpture, installation, architecture or other artistic practice, you are also encouraged to enter.

All you need is vision, and the courage to send in your finest photos.

A selection panel including internationally acclaimed artists will review every entry.

If selected, your work will be shown in the RWA’s galleries alongside some of today’s leading photographic artists and seen by thousands of visitors and potential buyers, as well as being available for a global audience to buy online.

An assortment of prizes are up for grabs too, including:

  • Teresa Knowles Bursary Award – £1,500 towards a photography trip to Italy PLUS  the opportunity to exhibit the resulting work at the RWA
  • MPB Sponsor Awards – £1000 voucher to spend on photographic kit; plus two runner up awards of £500 vouchers
  • Niche Frames Award – cash prize of £250 plus voucher of £250 towards printing or framing
  • Student Award – £250 cash prize for best work by a student, sponsored by the Friends of the RWA

Entries can be any size and can be single images or make up a limited series. They can be simple photographs or artworks that include a photographic element, including 3-D works. They can be any size.

Find the full submission criteria and submit your work here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for creative submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – quirks

Cormorant, Bristol. Photo by Judy Darley

I love how most families have their own in-jokes that tap directly to happy or weird and personal memories. In my family, one of these was my dad’s wildlife photos. Back in the days before digital cameras and the option to crop in, he’d come back from our holidays (mostly to South Wales and Devon) with a film full of anticipation.

Once the pictures were developed we’d spend ages trying to spot what he’d actually been photographing – in the midst of a clump of leaves there’d be a distant bird no one could hope to identify.

Sometimes we’d simply make it up: “Ah, I see you’ve snapped the rare lesser-spotted leaf mimicker! Extraordinary.”

This photo I took in September of a far-off cormorant reminds me of that and makes me smile.

What family quirks could you turn into a short story?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Angel by Wendy Beasley

Angel cover
What happens when you hit rock bottom? And what could then prevent you walking into the waves and ending it all?

In Wendy Beasley’s unflinching novel Angel, a night-time moment of impulsive selflessness gives protagonist Lydia the drive not only to stay alive, but to rediscover the things that make life worth embracing.

Having grown up in care, Lydia has already surpassed her own expectations by getting a place at Brighton University and making plans to become a teacher, but when she meets enigmatic Leo and is swept into a love built on possessiveness, her early years of trying to achieve invisibility in foster homes making her less easily able to stand up to his increasingly controlling behaviour.

The opening chapters of the novel are aren’t an easy read, as Leo takes control of every aspect of Lydia’s existence, trapping her in a nightmare marriage.

Continue reading

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s Women’s Poetry Competition and Pamphlet Competition are open for entries of poetry pamphlets and individual poems.

Both competitions have a closing date of 5th December 2022.

Mslexia Poetry Competition

You are invited to submit poems of any length, on any subject.

The winner of the single poem category will receive £2,000.

The second prize-winner gets £500 and the third prize-winner gets £250.

There’s also a special  Unpublished Poet Prize of £250, which will be awarded to the best poem by an unpublished poet.

The four winners, plus 16 additional finalists, will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Helen Mort.

The entry fee is £10 for three poems.

Mslexia Pamphlet Competition

You’re invited to submit a collection of up to 20 poems, of up to 24 pages.

The winner of the pamphlet category will receive prize £250, plus publication of the winning pamphlet by Bloodaxe Books. A selected poem from the winning pamphlet will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Imtiaz Dharker.

The entry fee is £20.

You can find full details of how to enter at www.mslexia.co.uk.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – bandstand

Bandstand and geese, Pavilion Gardens, Buxton. Photo by Judy Darley

I adore this bandstand in Buxton’s beautiful Pavilion Gardens. It’s the perfect place for a romantic liaison, to shelter from rain or simply enjoy the views. What promises have been made and possibly broken under its ornate domed roof?

Despite this one being installed in 1997, bandstands are such a gorgeously vintage idea that this one looks to me like a time travel device. Could stepping into it whizz your characters through aeons and eras, and deposit them in a time when sauropods or other herbivorous dinosaurs graze instead of Canadian geese?

Alternatively, imagine the person who warranted this bandstand as a memorial. It’s official name is the  Don Redfern Memorial Bandstand and Google tells me was a conductor, player and promoter of brass bands.

What kind of memorial would be chosen for you?

What story could this thread lead you towards?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Plymouth. Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

South West literature development agency Literature Works, in partnership with Plymouth City Council, Plymouth Culture and the With Flying Colours project, has launched a search to find aspiring writers in the city aged between 14 and 19 to apply for the Plymouth Young City Laureate post.

You would be the writers’ voice of the city’s young, receiving paid writing commissions and the opportunity to take part in events with other writers or performers. Previous Plymouth Young City Laureates have found this a rewarding and valuable experience, providing an opportunity to celebrate special events and occasions in the city and receive invitations to perform in libraries, schools and at festivals.

The closing date is midnight on Sunday 27th November 2022.

“Although I could never have imagined what the world would be like during my time as Plymouth’s Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate, it has been the most valuable experience for me as a writer,” says Holly Peters, the current holder of the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate title. “The role has allowed me to learn about many important cultures and fascinating people as well as develop my craft as a poet and my confidence as a person. Plymouth is a vibrant city with a lively art sector, which I’m honoured to have been a part of it and I am extremely grateful to Literature Works and Plymouth City Council for granting me this opportunity.”

In 2023, for the first time, the Young City Laureateship offers paid writing commissions – three in the year – each worth £50. We will invite you to perform at least two events across the year, sharing the stage with guest writers that we will help you select.

Applications are invited from individuals and via schools or colleges.

Find full details of how to enter here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – claw

Furry paw poking under a fence. Photo by Judy DarleyWhose paw is this, reaching through a gap in the fence between two neighbours’ gardens? The fur may look soft, but no doubt the claws are sharp!

Could it be a domestic cat, or something altogether wilder? Might it be something stranger  – a hybrid creature, or even a mixed up human with animal forelegs and feet instead of arms and hands?

Does the creature have a tail, wings, a nose that breathes fire? Is it a metaphor for things not being what they seem at first glance? Can you turn this into a work of satire or magic realism that confounds your readers’ expectations?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award invites submissions of books for children or teenagers from unpublished, self-published and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Ruth Moore (2020) for The Enemy Inside, Matthew Fox (2019) for The Sky Over Rebecca, and Cassie Powney (2018) for Loops.

The 2022 Judge is Amber Caravéo. Co-founder of the Skylark Literary Agency and previously Editorial Director at Orion Children’s Books, Amber is looking for potential rather than perfection and new voices that offer something unique and brilliant either in terms of story or style.

Amber says: “Believe in yourself and take the plunge! You never know when someone will spot something special in your writing, and a competition is a good way to test the waters.
I can’t wait to see your stories, so please don’t be nervous. Agents and publishers
need authors and their books, so we are always excited to see new work and new
ideas – and we do love a good story!”

Deadline: 30th November 2022
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus a one-page synopsis

Entry fee: £29 per manuscript with sponsored places available for low income writers.

Entries should not include any photographs, maps or artwork.

Full manuscripts may be of any length, but they recommend 500 – 600 words per picture book, 6-10,000 for a chapter book, 40-60,000 for middle grade and 50-70,000 words for YA (or longer for fantasy novels).

Unrepresented shortlisted writers will be offered the opportunity to be introduced to an individually tailored list of literary agents by email or other means.

The writer of the most promising longlisted novel, as chosen by the Bath Novel Awards and Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, will receive a free place on Cornerstones’ 18 week online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800).

Bath Children’s Novel Award 2022 entrants can claim a 10% discount on all editorial reports from prize sponsors Cornerstones Literary Consultancy until the winner’s announcement in Feburary 2023

Find full details and enter here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/ 

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.