I don’t usually start a review with a strong recommendation, but for this production of Romeo and Juliet I am glad to make an exception. This is an excellent show and well worth seeing if you can before the run ends on 18th November.
The Royal Exchange Theatre is a beautiful exchange building with its amazing, space age, staging space that is superb for performances in the round.
This new production directed by Nicholai La Barrie, and starring Shalisha James-Davis (Juliet) and Conor Glean (Romeo), takes Shakespeare’s tragic tale and places it into a Manchester with all of its modern sensibilities, its swagger and its language.
The cast speak with authentic Manchester accents throughout and, although some purists might not like it, it effectively brings the story home to a modern audience in a northern city. When members of the Capulets, and Montagues, speak to their cousins the pronunciation “cuz” (with typical deep uh sound) feels very natural.
We began with a comic moment as the friar, apparently an audience member with ticket issues, argues with an usher before staggering onto the stage, shopping bags and all, to deliver the opening speech. The audience clearly enjoyed the small changes to the script to reference Manchester and when directions to Ashton Road were given there was lots of laughter.
The aggression and violence between the two families was portrayed with some gusto and weapons ranging from traditional swords to the more modern kitchen knives, baseball bats and even a Stanly knife.
When delivering soliloquies the actors addressed the audience directly, often moving from person to person, making eye contact and really engaging with them. The audience were also engaged in the scene where Romeo sees and finally meets Juliet at a party in the Capulet’s castle, when audience members joined in with the dancing as Juliet acted as DJ and singer. The mood and action would have been in keeping with any present-day party or club in Manchester. Romeo meanwhile is the only one in the room who doesn’t want to dance and party, at least not until he has the chance to meet Juliet.
In the original Shakespeare version Romeo goes to a poor and somewhat desperate apothecary to illegally buy his poison. Here, in a stroke of genius, Romeo goes to street drug dealers, dressed all in black as they circle the stage on their BMX bikes, and the deal is done in a way that is familiar to many of us who have seen such deals taking place on the streets.
The funeral scene was extraordinarily powerful with somber lighting, thunder and lightning flashes and water falling on stage as rain as the mourners gathered around the “dead” Juliet, protected by black umbrellas.
The story is tragic but there were times of absolute joy and comedy, and the director and actors hope to bring something new out of the story with hope and understanding. Romeo actor, Conor Glean, asked about what he’d like audiences to take away with them, said “I want them to come away and see a young couple walking down the street, holding hands, smiling at each other and I want them to be moved by that. I want them to look at the softness in the world and think ‘yo’, let’s give some more time to that, please’”. Co-star, Shalisha James-Davis, agreed, saying “Yeah, absolutely. Like, double-tap that!”. As a no-longer-young couple walking back to the station, holding hands and smiling at each other, I’d say we agree with that sentiment completely.
The cast as a whole put on a great show and the outstanding performances for me included;
Conor Glean, who portrayed Romeo as a rough around the edges, thuggish young man who is changed when he falls in love with Juliet. His delivery of lines like “Love is heavy and light, bright and dark, hot and cold, sick and healthy, asleep and awake – it’s everything except what it is!” was direct and powerful, perhaps not the typical dramatic performance we might expect, but very effective indeed.
Lady Capulet, brilliantly played by Kate Hampson, as a female head of the family rather that the traditional patriarch, is exactly what you would expect from the matriarch of a Manchester gangster family, pushy and strong and able to switch from supportive to oppressive in an instant. This Lady Capulet is the kind of Manchester mum you wouldn’t want to cross.
The character of a dark and moody Mercutio from David Judge was delivered superbly. Judge became an intimidating gangster, with an attitude much larger than his stature, and could turn on a kind of sinister charm that in turn was even more unsettling.
The play runs until 18th November, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. As I said at the start of this review I suggest you should go and watch it if you get the chance.
What is it, why do we get it and what can be done about it?
Almost everyone will at some time suffer from the thing we call imposter syndrome.
In strict clinical or psychological terms it is specifically used to describe a situation where the person with the syndrome has a persistent internalised fear and it can often be accompanied by other mental health issues.
In common language the definition is not so rigidly applied and it is essentially the feeling that we are somehow not sufficiently suitable, capable or qualified enough for the situation we are in. Suffering from imposter syndrome makes you feel like a fraud. I believe that it is perfectly possible to feel confident and competent in some areas yet feel the opposite in others. This is the definition I am using in this article.
One of the side effects of this type of imposter syndrome is the need to excessively prepare; for example if you are going to make a presentation to a group of people you would run through it again and again, you might well practice later into the night to be sure you are ready, you might spend the journey to make the presentation running through it in your mind. You may be tired and stressed by all the preparation yet the presentation will still go well but you are then sure that it only went well because of all the preparation that you did.
At a lesser level the feeling might prevent you telling people what you can do. As a professional freelancer you need to tell people what you can do, you need to promote your own abilities; that is tricky when the syndrome keeps telling you that you aren’t good enough.
Among the wide variety of work I’ve done is SOME illustration. I’ve designed a handful of book covers, I’ve been commissioned to produce drawings, I’ve edited books, I’ve created illustrations for instruction manuals and for training courses ranging from photography, digital imaging to bicycle maintenance. I’ve made illustrations for cards etc. Yet when asked to make some illustrations for a film my head shouts at me “you’re not an illustrator, why don’t they get a real illustrator?”
So I tell myself that “people have paid me to do illustrations for them, I’ve made illustrations for various jobs, therefore I am an illustrator” but in my head that nagging voice stills says “What if you can’t do it? What if they find out that you are a fraud?”
As a poet I’ve performed in little open mic venues and on festival stages. I’ve learned how to work the room, how to use a microphone and how to pace my performance. I have run numerous workshops for all ages from 5 to 80+, I’ve led poetry writing projects and produced books.
I’ve had poems published in books and online and I’ve been interviewed for radio programs. I’ve been commissioned to write poems and am paid at a proper professional rate. With all of that I can call myself a professional poet, BUT there is that voice again; “you’ve not had a book in Waterstones, you’ve not been on television, you’ve not Amanda Gorman, Tony Walsh or Alfred Tennyson….”
That voice is sometimes hard to ignore. That voice is the imposter syndrome.
Feeling the need to produce good quality work is not imposter syndrome.
Feeling pressure to do better is not imposter syndrome.
Wanting to be the best you can is not imposter syndrome.
Those things are about ambitions, but handle ambition with care because it can lead to making unhelpful comparisons. Every poet is different, we each have our own styles, our own interests and create our own unique work. Whilst ambition to be better is good, ambition to be the next Armitage, Sissay or Duffy is not so good.
I don’t want to be the next Seamus Heaney, I want to be Seamus Kelly. I want to write, draw and create as Seamus Kelly. One place where I cannot possibly be an imposter is in being Seamus Kelly.
You have to be yourself. You have to stop comparing yourself in a competitive way to others. You have to stop putting yourself down. You have to stop undervaluing yourself, your skills, your work and your creativity.
You have to do all that whilst that voice says “fraud”, and you have to credit yourself for successes. The voice may never shut up, but using facts, actual things you have and can do, to tackle it can make things better.
Don’t be the next Picasso, Mozart, Wordsworth or Neruda – be you, look for the value there.
I’m not suggesting its easy, or that it can be done without help. My help comes from fellow creatives and from my wife. It comes from the person who comes up to thank me after a performance because a poem reminded them of their mother, it comes from faces listening for the next words. It comes from the workshop participant eager to share what they’ve written. It comes from the requests for me to produce creative work. All of those things are needed to quieten that voice, to confidently say “I’m not a fraud”, (and at least most of the time to believe it).
Six weeks in and the poets I’m our project have been producing some really good writing. Those new to writing poetry and the experienced poets in the group have found inspiration and have shown great enthusiasm, extending to supporting each other, testing out their poems and sharing them with us. It has been an honour to work with such a great group of poets.
We have also had excellent meetings with, and feedback from, the Canal Rivers Trust and with the Poetry Society and Roy MacFarlane, the Canal Laureate. Although it is too early to give details yet, I can say that we have exciting developments coming up.
With over 30 poems already submitted, and more to come, my work in editing and formatting is now underway and it is actually really quite good fun and inspiring.
There will be one final session before the work is compiled ready for production of a large print book which is likely to be launched early in 2024.
I’m very pleased to have provided illustrations for an excellent short documentary film “The Zen Art Of Stone Squeezing”, directed by Harry Wheeler and produced by Dream-Analysis.co
The film is not yet released for public viewing but is currently being submitted to film festivals. I will share details once the film is released. I had the chance to see the prerelease version to produce the illustrations I think this is an excellent short documentary and very powerful.
Having family members who were capable dry stone wallers I particularly enjoyed creating my graphics of a dry stone wall which grows from 1m to 6m through the film.
Having recovered from the Covid, that kept me away from the first session of this project, I was delighted to be back at Hare Hill House in Littleborough to lead today’s session face to face.
The project will run for 6 weeks to create poetry influenced by the area around the Rochdale Canal and Calderbrook from the former Rock Nook Mill to Summit in Littleborough.
Today we talked about thinking like a poet and among the props used for a writing exercise was my lovely compact Metronome (pictured here).
The poets then used information provided, about the famous Summit Tunnel and Rock Nook Mill, as inspiration to start crafting some new poetry.
At the end of the project we will publish a large print book containing selected poems produced by all of the participants.
Today it was great to meet some new writers and share inspiration and ideas. This is a very friendly and vibrant l group of writers and I’m very confident that there will be some excellent poetry to publish.
This project comes from an idea from Liz White who has worked on planning and secured funding so that we can bring poetry writing opportunities to Littleborough and produce work which is available to local people including those with visual impairments.
Tomorrow I will be bringing a new workshop on Protest and Conflict to the Falinge Park Writing Group in Rochdale. The group meets every Thursday morning from 10am to noon at the Community Hub in Falinge Park. Everyone is welcome regardless of prior writing experience.
In this workshop we will look at the role of writing in protest and conflict and look at examples from history and more recent work. There will be a focus on poetry but those attending will be supported to write in whatever for they prefer.
The park is just a 15 minute walk from Rochdale Interchange, and for those driving, parking is available in the park for these sessions, just drive in through the gate at the bottom of Sheriff Street and follow the drive to the tarmac area in front of the house.
On 17th May I will be compèring an open mic poetry evening at The Red Lion, in Littleborough, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.
All are welcome and those wishing to read or perform should simply let me know on arrival so that I can include them on the list.
The free event is brought to you by Littleborough Arts Festival who will be running a wide range of arts events and activities over the long weekend from 19th to 21st May – details of all events can be found on the Littleborough Arts Festival Facebook page.
This week I’ve had a great time running creative writing sessions for children as part of the excellent HAF (Health, Activity and Food) program with YourTrust Rochdale. The children in each group range from age 4 to age 12 and this week we’ve worked with my children’s story “My pet T-Rex”.
We talk about dinosaur facts, we look at my life sized dinosaur eggs and birds eggs for comparison before I tell them my story and then help them to create their own stories. The focus is firmly on creativity and fun and children are encouraged to use their imaginations.
some great examples this week have included;
“The dinosaur became sad because the people ran away. I gave him a flower to eat and it cheered him up.”
One girl told of an aquatic dinosaur that could take her under the water, “it was magical, I tell ya!”
A dinosaur as big as the the Leaning Tower of Pisa and another with square shaped eyes.
There were magical dinosaurs that could teleport, read minds, dance, sing and even one with an extendable neck. There were dinosaurs that went on picnics, went shopping or left a trail of squashed footprints through a forest.
Children at my sessions are encouraged to join in with actions and sounds but yesterday one group asked me if they could act out the story. At the end of the session I spent a few minutes working out how we could act out the story and we then had a performance with young people taking the roles of the dinosaur and the children in the story – they were fully engaged and had a great time.
When we’ve had our fill of talking, listening and writing there may be time for some artwork or creative colouring like the examples shown in this post. It has been an inspiring week of story telling, more dinosaurs, more imagination and more magic with children from some of the most deprived backgrounds.
if you’d like the children in your school or groups to experience this unique storytelling and writing session please email firstname.lastname@example.org
I also offer storytelling and writing sessions based on my original children’s stories covering topics including, an ocean adventure, a space adventure, wolves, mini beasts and forest friends. All of the stories have plenty of reference to science and nature, echoing my own interests and my degree in Ecology.
Sessions run for one to two hours and up to three sessions can be delivered during a typical school day.
Poets and writers; I’ve been thinking about what we do, is it really work?
Sometimes writing doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes getting the words down and shaping them is enjoyable and even relaxing. For many writers poetry is a kind of therapy or catharsis, words flow and at the end the poet feels somehow relieved or better.
But, sometimes the things about which we write can change that relaxing idyllic process. To nick couple of words from W.B. Yeats, the process is “changed utterly”.
Yesterday I started work on a poem, inspired by a single line by E Hemingway, “it was coming down the valley even in the early morning”. My new poem contains a few of those words, but the subject bears no other real relationship to Hemingway’s original writing. Thanks to Eileen Earnshaw for putting those words in front of me.
The subject I started writing about was complex, it was about migration and it was about the two-fold tragedies of a growing cultural attitude and the loss of life as people try to find new homes. The hard part is that the poet actually writes not simple statement of facts but expresses how they feel about them, deep down, inside. The first draft took maybe 20 minutes and a second draft started straight after that. After half an hour I was nowhere near finished but I felt completely “wrung out”.
Over the years I worked in many different jobs and I’ve done a range of sports, but rarely have I felt as tired and drained as after those 30 minutes with my fountain pen and a notebook.
The end of a week labouring on a building site, or teaching young people with behavioural issues, crossing the line of a 10k run or finishing a couple of hours training on the velodrome behind a motorbike; those things all feel near impossible to repeat, yet we go back and do them again when we’ve recovered.
So it is with writing. Today, feeling somewhat recovered, I’ve worked on further drafts and edits and have a version of my newest poem, called “Grains”. Once again I feel empty, hollow, my hands are no longer steady and even re-reading it just now is like being dragged out of sleep when you’ve just managed to drift off. To hear a powerful poem can feel like being punched in the senses, to write that poem the poet must keep on battering those senses until it is ready.
The poem is unlikely to be finished just yet (sometimes I think they never really are) but I might give it an open-mic test run on Sunday evening. It won’t be there to entertain, and I almost feel I should apologise to the audience (only almost though) who will end up feeling a little of what I’ve felt writing it.
So what am I getting at? What’s my point?
It is simply this: writing is indeed work.
If something really matters it may be harder it will be to write about. A poem being hard to write, however difficult it may be, is no excuse for not writing it.
Rochdale poet, writer and workshop facilitator, Eileen Earnshaw, runs the Falinge Park Writing Group and has led several writing projects in Bolton after completing her BA Honours Degree in Creative Writing at Bolton University. This workshop is suitable for anyone interested in starting to write poetry and those who are relatively new to writing.
Eileen’s track record in helping new writers to gain confidence will ensure and engaging and inclusive workshop where everyone will leave with new knowledge and some new poetry.
Freeform Poetry – Gaia Holmes
Calderdale poet, Gaia Holmes, has won several awards for her poetry and was recently awarded a fellowship by the Arts Foundation Futures, for her place writing. Gaia is an experienced workshop facilitator who always brings positivity and fresh viewpoints to her sessions.
This Freeform Poetry session is aimed at those who want to develop their writing and look at new approaches to their poetry. Participants are sure to enjoy the session and leave with some new writing.
Polish and Perfect – Seamus Kelly
Littleborough based poet and artist, Seamus Kelly, has led a number of successful writing projects including the 2022 Poetry in the Park project in Littleborough with a series of workshops culminating in the publication of a large print poetry book of the participants’ work.
This workshop is suitable for those who have written some poetry and would like to finds ways to polish it and prepare it for publication or performance. The workshop will include techniques for using a microphone while reading your polished words.
Poetry performance – 12:00 to 1:00pm
Following the workshops there will be a performance session in Hare Hill House where participants, and perhaps workshop leaders, will share some of their words.
April sees a new, exciting, one day, poetry event at Hare Hill House, Littleborough.
The morning sees three FREE poetry writing workshops by published poets (further details to follow in my next post) plus poetry performance, followed from 2:00pm to 4:00pm, by an Afternoon with James Nash.
James, hailing from Leeds and Bridlington, is a popular poet, workshop leader and speaker with 8 collections of poems published so far and has been a frequent guest and host at literature festivals. James’ latest collection “Heart Stones” is his third collection of sonnets; information about the book is shown below, beneath the online booking link.
during the afternoon James will talk about his passions, his writing and will share some poems with the audience.
Tickets for this not to be missed event are available now on Eventbrite using the link below, or can be purchased from me in person for just £5.00 each.
In his third volume of sonnets, James Nash examines urban and seaside environments in a Yorkshire he has known through fifty years living in the North. His sonnets soar over the land – from Leeds, a predominantly Victorian city, to the Wolds in the East Riding of Yorkshire, walking and cycling into the natural world with a pen and paper never far from his hand.
James openly shows his debts to the great poets and writers of previous generations, from Winifred Holtby to Philip Larkin, from Matthew Arnold to Dylan Thomas – and with this sparkling new collection, lays a fresh claim to be named among them. To borrow some of his own words, James’ gift is to be a “clear microscope” for our times, finding hope in the many “miracles of detail” that pass through his unwavering gaze; into verses that glow with warmth, insight and poignancy. He thinks his old English master would be quite proud.