Bright Lights of the City

I know for many people, Christmas can be a stressful time. The extra money needed to buy gifts or attend added social engagements, the cooking, the pressure to have the perfect family Christmas as seen in various films or TV ads. No wonder the build-up often leaves us frazzled and then disappointed with the reality.

Knowing all this doesn’t dampen my inner elf in any way. I’m a sucker for all things to do with the festive season –  carols, Christmas films, gingerbread biscuits, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, port, decorating the tree…in fact, stick a string of fairy lights on it and I’ll LOVE it.

Fairy Light Jumper

But even my sanity is tested when I end up saying “yes” to too many social engagements, trying to cram in seeing EVERY friend and family member before Christmas as if it’s the last time I’ll ever see them again. Also (note to self), baking gingerbread biscuits for loved ones may sound like a lovely, crafty thing to do but when it’s midnight (because you’ve no time left) and you’re desperate to go to bed but can’t because once you’ve finished baking you’ve got to RINSE THE BATTER OUT OF YOUR HAIR(!) then the cursing begins and it’s not so much of a white Christmas as a blue Christmas…

If you recognise yourself in this scenario then my top tip is to try to squeeze in at least one Artist Date in the run-up to Christmas. (Maybe two if you’ve got the in-laws staying). Turn your back on the shopping and the gift wrapping for just a few hours and take a little slice of time in the day/eve just to do whatever will restore your spirits and regain a sense of equilibrium. Take a breath. Head to a park and have a brisk walk on a frosty morning. Put on some music and with face-pack applied, soak in the bath for a while. Go and join in some carol singing or just sit somewhere quiet (a church, a park bench, a library) and reflect on what Christmas means to you. If it doesn’t hold much meaning for you, then you can also reflect on the end of one year and make a mental list for what you’d like to happen in order to create a positive New Year ahead.

Christmas is about spreading Good Will to all – something which is easier to do if you’re not sleep-deprived, stressed or pressured into spending money you don’t have on gifts you’re not sure they’ll want. It’s about spending time with loved ones and that can (indeed should) include yourself.

For my Artist Date, I’m hoping to have a walk, once it’s dark, to look at the Christmas lights. It’s free and relatively stress-free if you can avoid the crowds (that means not going on late night shopping nights and trying to avoid Oxford and Regent Street). There are some lovely displays within the capital, so wrap up warm and with a hot beverage of choice in hand (eggnog latte, ginger tea, mulled wine), have a wander and a gander at the lights and Christmas displays. Not sure you’ll manage to avoid the crowds entirely but here are my top 5 in no particular order:

1) Covent garden - a giant Christmas tree, massive silver Reindeer and a full-sized Santa and his Reindeer made out of LEGO. Not to mention all the market stall vendors selling unique gifts under cover (an added bonus if it rains). Start out at Charing Cross where you can check out the huge Christmas tree (Norway’s gift to London each year) in Trafalgar Square. Walk along the Strand turning left up Southampton Street towards Covent Garden Piazza. Once you’ve explored that area, head up Neal Street then hang a left up Shorts Gardens to check out the pretty lights at Cambridge Circus and Seven Dials.

lego-xmas Silver Reindeer - Covent Garden

 

Covent Garden at Christmas

2) Southbank – always one of my favourite walks. Get off at Waterloo and head to the Southbank’s Winter Festival where you’ll find fairy lights galore, a Christmas market all along that stretch (perfect for stopping off for a snack along the way) and huge, glowing, white rabbits (yes that’s right!). I’m not sure what they have to do with Christmas (not much, really, as they’re part of an art exhibition by Amanda Parer) but they still look lovely lit up at night.

Glowing White Rabbits Lights at Southbank

There’s also an old-fashioned express train and a Christmas Tree maze. Check out their list of events here.

Christmas Tree Maze

3) There’s a peacock theme going on in Bond Street. You might have to endure a bit of Oxford Street to get to New Bond Street but when you get to Bond Street tube it’s also worth checking out St Christopher’s Place which is tucked away off Oxford Street and often has fun and colourful decorations. There are plenty of places to eat round there as well, like Ping Pong and Carluccio’s.

4) Marylebone – I love having a mooch round Marylebone as it feels a bit like London-of-Old. It’s classic and understated in an “old-money” sort of way. There are some lovely independent shops – the bijoux (but slightly ridiculously priced) Monocle shop and a nice mix of high-street shops and more high-end clothes and lifestyle stores. The Conran Shop is in the most fantastic building and has a huge range of interior design products for all budgets.

Conran Shop

There’s also the Cabbages and Frocks market (opposite the Conran Shop), selling British- made food and fashion. Along the high street you’ll find Skandium and the terrific Edwardian bookshop, Daunt Books and a number of lovely eateries. Time Out has produced a comprehensive list of restaurants and cafes in the area (see here). It’s worth visiting the charity shops along the high street as you can pick up some designer pieces for a good price.

 

Marylebone lights

5) Carnaby Street – for good fun and bright baubles, Carnaby Street is the place to go. Come out of Oxford Street station and take the side road down towards Liberty’s (which usually has great displays). Carnaby Street may not be a patch on what it was during the swinging 60’s but it still has plenty of buzz and atmosphere and lots of little interesting boutiques and bars just off it. I would keep walking all the way down till you hit Piccadilly Circus and then go down Piccadilly itself towards Fortnum and Mason which always do amazing and creative window displays. Various items in the food court (tins of lovely biscuits, crackers, jams) make nice presents for those hard-to-buy-for people.

Carnaby Lights Carnaby St Lights

In order to brace yourself for the whirlwind that is usually the Christmas season, make sure you factor in a little bit of time for you.

Panto Season

It’s December and the countdown to Christmas has begun. Theatre-wise, ’tis the season of pantos and Christmas shows, so here’s a little taster of what’s on or coming up soon to help all you “Bah Humbug’s” out there get into a more festive spirit.

Top of my list (because it’s just sheer, magical, theatrical joy) is Slava’s Snowshow. Forget any prejudices you may have towards clowns (I know, I know, I hate them too but trust me, this is different). For one, he’s a Russian clown and what he (and his troupe) can convey through posture and movement to music is more powerful than words can usually express. His Snowshow taps into the colour, wonder and imagination of being a child and will melt the hardened hearts of any cynic. There’s a reason it tours the world (winning lots of international awards along the way) and is pretty much an annual fixture at the Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall at this time of year. Tickets sell quickly but there’s still a chance of getting some reduced-price tickets through Groupon (click here) or through Time Out (click here).

Slavas Snowshow

Here’s what else I picked out from what’s on offer:

  • Mother Goose is on the loose in Hackney. There will be live music and plenty of action, not to mention spectacle, in the form of Clive Rowe’s Mother Goose costumes. Check out Hackney Empire’s website for further info here.

Mother Goose

  • Boo and hiss at some more panto baddies in the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Dick Whittington and His Cat currently playing until 3rd Jan. See here for details. There’s also Jack and the Beanstalk at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, another Jack and the Beanstalk taking place at Greenwich TheatreBeauty and the Beast at The Theatre Royal Stratford East and Cinderella and the Beanstalk, where you’ll find a mix of different panto characters inhabiting the same world at Theatre 503. And Jerry Hall will bring a touch of glamour to Richmond Theatre‘s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
  • If you like your panto a little less traditional and a little more…well, southern (nooo, that’s not a euphemism for an adult panto), then mosey on down to the Rosemary Branch Theatre. I’m talking westerns, gunfights and Billy the Kid. Yes sirree, Billy the Kid – A Western Panto is taking a stand at this off-West End venue. Yee-haw! 
  • It was a runaway success at Waterloo Station and now popular family show The Railway Children will have another outing at the Kings Cross Theatre complete with a real steam train! A Christmas treat for all the family.

The Railway Children

  • Peter Pan flies into the Bloomsbury Theatre very briefly for a short run from the 11th-14th Dec and can also be seen at the Chickenshed Theatre.
  • Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Dickens’ familiar tale – A Christmas Carol. Just like the 3 spirits that visit Ebenezer Scrooge, there are 3 versions taking place in London. One has a more slapstick humour for kids age 8 and above at the Pleasance Theatre. Antic Disposition are performing a much more traditional Victorian telling of this story in their musical version. Staged in the Elizabethan hall at Middle Temple Hall located off Fleet Street, the hall will be dressed with boughs of holly (falalalalah) and there will be mince pies and mulled wine to accompany the performance. Then there’s the Puppet Barge version for children aged 4+ complete with marionettes, puppets and special effects.

Puppet Barge Christmas Carol

  • The big Christmas show at the National Theatre this year is Treasure Island. Adapted by Bryony Lavery, voyage to a world of pirates, mutiny and murder. Oo Arrrrr! Suitable for children aged 10+.
  • London’s West End also has some festive fun with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at The Dominion and Sadlers Wells is showing The Snowman at its Peacock Theatre and The Little Match Girl in the Lilian Baylis Studio. However, the main production is a Matthew Bourne dance extravaganza in the shape of Edward Scissorhands, based on the Tim Burton film and using the Danny Elfman music score. Check their website here for details of all three.

Edward Scissorhands

Festive theatrical treats galore, people! Festive theatrical treats galore (not something you can say very quickly after a glass or two of mulled wine!)

Avoid the Christmas rush and get booking…

 

One For The Kids

Growing up in a small town in Nottinghamshire, I only had limited access to theatre shows when I was young. My earliest theatre memories are of a coach trip to Nottingham Playhouse every December to see the panto. It usually starred Cannon and Ball and yes, I was one of those children desperate to be called on to the stage at the end of the show (but without success).

When I was in my teens, we had the Regal Arts Cinema which also hosted a few touring theatre productions where productions like Macbeth and Cyrano de Bergerac were performed (very imaginatively it has to be said) with a cast of about 4. Very occasionally, our school would organise a visit to see a Shakespeare or something on the syllabus like The Importance of Being Earnest or Wuthering Heights.

I can’t say whether it was seeing those productions as a child that gave me the acting bug because plenty of my friends also loved those shows and never even considered going into the acting profession. But I do remember thinking that the theatre was a magical place where stories could be brought to life. I still vividly remember key elements from those productions and it was only years later, looking through old theatre programmes, that I found out I’d been watching a young Rupert Graves or Julia Ormond or Mark Rylance.

Casting an eye over productions running up to the end of this year, I noticed that there are so many amazing shows on at the moment, catering for kids and families. So, rather than buy them that plastic toy for Christmas with all the flashing buttons and sound effects (guaranteed to give you a headache), why not take them to the theatre and give them some magical, life-long memories instead.

Here’s just a small selection of kids/family shows currently being or about to be performed in London:

Suitable for 2-6 year olds

Go on a bear hunt in Deptford from the 10th Dec. The wonderful Little Angel Theatre will be taking over the Albany Theatre, using their amazing puppets and skills to bring to life Michael Rosen’s story We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

 

Little Angel Theatre work their magic again on the traditional story of Cinderella with their puppet production of Cindermouse. This time at their home base in Islington. See their website for details.

Little Bulb Theatre are producing what I think is their first proper kid’s show with BAC. They’re mounting an expedition to the South Pole to meet lots of fantastical creatures, including a yeti and slippy-slidey penguins. Expect music, puppets and lots of fun. Click here for details.

Antartica

There are a couple of stage adaptations of the books of “Gruffalo” author Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler. There’s Scamp Theatre‘s version of Stick Man at the Leicester Square Theatre (for details click here). There’s also a musical adaptation of The Gruffalo’s Child by Tall Stories company performing at The Arts Depot from 10th Dec. Find more details here.

The three wise men you may have heard of but did you know there was a fourth? Discover more in the Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Fourth Wise Man. Unicorn are also producing Scrunch for babies aged 6-18 months and there’s a Christmas offering for children over 8 in the form of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Check their website here for details on their forthcoming shows.

At Southwark Playhouse, you’ll find Rosie’s Magic Horse – “a heartwarming tale of aspiration, friendship, adventure and a little bit of mischief” and at the Pleasance Theatre, there’s a revival of the Katie Mitchell’s National Theatre adaptation of Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat.

For children 8+ years

There’s Complicite‘s Lionboy at the Tricycle Theatre from 17th Dec. That date also marks the opening performance of The Possible Impossible House, a show for young people by Forced Entertainment at the Barbican Theatre (see here for more details).

Opening this weekend, The Rose Theatre in Kingston are doing one of my all-time favourite books – The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe. And Katie Mitchell is directing yet another show for young people in collaboration with the ENO. The Way Back Home will be staged at the Young Vic and charts the journey of a boy who lands on the moon and befriends an alien. There’s opera and animation in this show for the over 5’s.

The Way Back Home

There are other productions I haven’t gotten around to mentioning but there’s enough there in terms of immersive sets, story-telling, live music, animation, opera and puppetry (LOTS of puppetry!) to spark their imaginations, pique their curiosity and put wondrous smiles on the faces of your little ones. I’d hazard a guess that, with the quality of shows on offer at the moment, it won’t be just the children who’ll come out smiling.

Surely that beats that noisy, flashing, plastic Christmas toy any day of the week!

 

The Actor’s Scandi Guide

With the latest hit Danish series The Legacy about to air on our screens through Sky Arts next Wednesday, it would appear that us Brits just can’t get enough of all things Scandinavian.

Nordic Noir has become a genre in its own right and is usually meant to depict a crime series with complex characters  set against a dark and brooding backdrop in the Scandinavian Peninsula (to include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and sometimes Iceland).

Nordic Noir has, I think, has been a huge influence on American and British dramas of late with TV productions really upping their game in terms of the writing, acting and overall quality of production. But it’s not just The Killing, Borgen, and the books about Wallander and that Girl with a Dragon Tattoo that have got us hooked.

Scandinavian restaurants, bars and cafes have been popping up everywhere in London recently and although it still feels too early to be talking about the C-word (CHRISTMAS! In case you were wondering), if there’s one thing they do as well as Nordic Noir, it’s celebrating Christmas.

Scandinavian-Christmas-Style

 

I’ve compiled a Smorgasbord of places to visit to get that hygge feeling, so here’s my handy Scandi guide:

  • For some early Chrissy pressies, head to the Scandinavian Christmas Market taking place from today over this coming weekend (21st-23rd Nov). There’s an outdoor street market outside the Finnish and Norwegian churches in Rotherhithe, with a Finnish indoor market inside the church, complete with Moomin memorabilia. Taste some delicious reindeer stew (sorry Rudolph!) along with other Scandinavian fare and find unique decorations and gifts for friends and family. Click here for more details.
  • Available throughout December (but must be booked in advance), have a Swedish Christmas experience at Fika. Glug down their Glogg (mulled wine) while sampling elk, pickled herring and lingonberry jam. Check out their menu here.
  • To stock up on food (without the Ikea experience), head to Scandikitchen where there’s also a cafe attached, serving breakfast, sandwiches and sweet treats with coffee. Click here to check out their website and location.
  • For a true Nordic Christmas experience like no other, book tickets to the Nordic Yulefest where their website promises “Christmas cocktails, a Nordic inspired festive feast, games and treats, sprites and dancing, and unbridled tomfoolery“. And that’s just for brunch! If they’ve got sprites and unbridled tomfoolery for their brunch dates then goodness knows what they’ve got lined up for their Late Night Frolics!! But it all sounds rather magical and tempting. Find more details here.
  • Order some dark rye bread with cinnamon buns and a coffee to banish those winter- day blues. There are now 3 Nordic Bakery branches in London (see here). Once you step inside you’ll be enveloped by the warm and welcoming scent of sweet cinnamon. Christmas in a hug!

Nordic Bakery Cinnamon Bun

  • Have a Swedish Christmas at Skandilicious – a pop-up dining experience at Theatre Delicatessen (which took over the old Guardian Media building in Farringdon). Taking place through Nov and Dec, you can join in the traditional snaps drinking songs whilst sampling lots of Swedish culinary delights all by candlelight.
  • If you prefer more noir than choir to your Christmas festivities, then at least you can get your fill of dark, brooding drama during the Nordic Film Festival which opens next Wed 26th Nov and runs to the 7th Dec in London before a UK tour. Click here for programme details.
A still from  the film Paris of the North

A still from the film Paris of the North

Oh. Did I forget to mention that those Nordic folk are also pretty renowned for their furnishings and design? Head to Skandium in Marylebone to pick up some cool gifts or check out Hus and Hem‘s website here.

 

And talking of gifts, I would be happy to find any of these under the Christmas tree.

 Glaedelig/God/Glad Jul!

Protect Your Creative Dreams

For those who are not in the acting industry, it can be hard to understand why actors seem to struggle so much. “Why can’t you be in that TV series?” they say, as if you’ve made a choice to not do that TV job, when the truth is that even getting seen for it seems nigh-on impossible.

When you try to explain to people about agents or the way the industry actually works and how there are so many actors and so little paid work around, they’re usually sympathetic but I’m not sure they truly understand. It all seems to boil down to which camp you belong in – those who work-to-live or those who live-to-work.

Generally, I’ve found that actors belong to the group of people that prefer to live-to-work. For them, acting isn’t so much “work,” as a passion. It’s their chosen vocation, one they can’t imagine not doing and when they do get to do it, makes them extremely happy to the point where little else comes close. The thought of doing a 9-5 job that’s nothing to do with acting is both stifling and soul-destroying.

For those who are in the work-to-live camp, they would rather do a stable job that has a steady, regular income, so that they can then afford to do the things they love outside of work. For them, pursuing an artistic career when you don’t know when the next job will come in or working lots of low-paid jobs just to fit in around creative pursuits, may seem crazy and unrealistic.

There’s no right or wrong in belonging to either camp – it all depends on your individual outlook and what drives you in your life-choices. But people around you may have strong opinions as to your life-choices and quite often you will need to be very protective of your creative dreams.

I was reminded of this the last few days when an actress friend of mine turned down a full-time, (non-acting) job for a year. Despite a long (unintentional) break from acting and many years of unpaid acting work, she is still not willing to give up on her acting dreams and has given herself a time limit of a year to get back on track – signing up for classes and trying to get her confidence back. She turned down the offer because she didn’t want to take her focus away from acting but the reaction from those around her has been very negative. I must admit that, initially, even I questioned her decision. Being presented with a job that pays well is incredibly tempting to an actor that usually scrapes by, doing bits and pieces.

She made a choice that most people won’t understand and it seemed to make them angry. Perhaps at the root of that anger is resentment – when we give up on our dreams in order to be practical and realistic it can be a bitter pill to swallow and the anger we feel at ourselves can be projected on to those still holding on to their dreams, even if they’re holding onto them by a fingernail.

It’s hard enough battling the negative voices in our own minds without having to justify our career choices to those around us. Even our loved ones, without being aware, can gently erode the little faith we have in our goals with phrases like:

How long are you going to keep pursuing your art?

When are you going to be realistic and face up to the fact that if you haven’t made it by now, you’re never going to make it“.

There are thousands of talented people in your profession not working. What makes you think you’ll succeed when they haven’t“?

Artistic goals are all well and good. But they hardly pay the bills or put food on the table“.

Yes we do have to pay the bills and put food on the table and support our families but the hope is that we can pay for those things by doing what we love. Plenty of people get paid for doing their dream job. Why not us?

In continuing our artistic endeavours, we must learn to tune out the naysayers and the negative voices, both our own and from those around us. Even if it means keeping our distance at times from colleagues and loved ones in order to reinforce the focus on our dreams or nurture our fledgling creative ideas and projects. At those times, when your faith in yourself and in your work starts to ebb away, try to find a friend or someone who can be a cheerleader during those times, encouraging you on when the going gets tough.

Society, in general, isn’t particularly kind to artists. How many wonderfully creative ideas or projects could have come to fruition but barely get off the ground or are shot down by a thoughtless comment or because an artist fears ridicule from their peers. The more we can do and say to show support for each other in our creative communities, the better.

Doing It For Themselves

As an actor, you can often feel reliant on others in order to be able to act. Alone, in your bedroom, you can work on monologues and look through plays but the joy of acting is working with other people to tell a story. It’s about reacting to what is happening; batting text, actions, objectives and emotions back and forth, like in a game of tennis. To do that, you need other actors and other people to work off.

When the work isn’t coming in and you’re not able to go to class either through time or financial constraints (because let’s face it, doing workshops and classes on a regular basis can be very pricey), then you begin to feel like you’re not an actor at all. You begin to feel like a fraud. “How can I tell people I’m an actor when I’m not working as an actor?” So the thoughts spiral and whirl and can lead to a real lack of confidence which makes getting work even harder at times.

I should imagine that it’s the same for any artist that works as part of an ensemble but I hadn’t considered that writers might feel the same way. I’d always thought of their craft as a solitary one on the whole. However, I’m about to embark on a project with some recent graduates from Goldsmiths’s MA course in screen-writing and they’ve decided to get out there and showcase their writing and build up some working relationships with actors, writers, directors, producers and film-makers along the way.

The Original Screen Rebel

The Original Screen Rebel

Screen Rebels will be their first showcase event next Sunday 23rd Nov at The Proud Archivist (an interesting gallery space in Haggerston. See Below). Click here for more info or if you want to attend.

The Proud Archivist room The Proud Archivist

It’ll be a bit of an experiment and I’ve no idea what to expect except that I’ll be one of four actors reading aloud three new, short, film scripts. But what I admire is their attitude. Rather than waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for someone else to give them work, they’re taking action. They’ve formed a small group, have set each other writing challenges and deadlines and are collaborating with others to work on their scripts and screenplays and give them a public “airing”.

So if you’re feeling creatively stuck or feel that your career is out of your hands, get together with some like-minded people and set up a play-reading group or an actor’s workshop group. There are church halls, community rooms, pub theatres and other, tucked away places, where you could meet to practise. Or find someone with a large lounge room and get together to share contacts and useful tips, read scenes and generally flex some acting muscle.

Think of anything you could do that could be a first step to actually getting to practise your craft. Other people are out there feeling the same way. What is the ONE thing you can do RIGHT NOW to regain the reigns to your own creative career?

Auditions – Look Your Best on a Budget

My agent emailed me yesterday with details of a last minute casting for an advert that required me to go “dressed appropriately” for the part. I then read the brief – the part required a classical woman in her 40’s who’s a leading scientist and head of a scientific team. She had to be professional and superior to her colleagues so that her demeanour could be mistaken for being “cold” but she also had to reveal an air of vulnerability. She also had to be attractive but not aware of her looks and then the brief  suggested either a Meryl Streep or a Jodi Foster “type” of woman.

So. How to dress appropriately to look like an actress of Oscar-winning calibre (a la Foster and Streep), kitted out as a intelligent, leading scientist? My agent asked if I had a white lab coat (I think she was joking) but as always when I get a last minute audition, I berate myself for not having a sufficiently wide range of wardrobe options at my disposal.

Every time it’s the same shin-kicking conversation with myself. “Why didn’t I invest in that suit when I had the money? I really should have had a decent hair cut in recent months. I promise that the next time I get a bit extra in the bank, I’ll buy some expensive foundation that makes my skin look flawless instead of resorting to the tinted moisturiser which is way out of date and probably the wrong shade for my skin tone“.

After the shin-kicking conversation, my thoughts then turned to – “Should I wear a skirt with heels or trousers and sensible shoes? Should I wear my glasses to look more brainy? Which outfit would look more science-y“? In the end, I decided that the skirt option made me look like a librarian, despite the fact that the one pair of smart-ish trousers I possessed were getting a little tight around the waist (material shrinks with age, doesn’t it?!)

There are lessons to be learned here (not least that I need to cut down on the biscuits!) Mainly, that when a little bit of extra money comes in, it’s worth investing in some decent audition clothes, make-up and a haircut for when castings come in. Going to an audition looking and feeling your best helps to take the edge off the nerves somewhat but take into account the part you’re going up for. Obviously, it’s no good wearing your best glam dress if you’re being seen for a role as a struggling, single, working-class mum of two.

What do you do if money is tight and you need to go dressed in your finest attire, looking your absolute tip-top best? Here are my 5 top tips:

1) Get a good night’s sleep if you can. Make-up can only hide so much, so if you’ve got an important audition the following day prepare for it as best you can and then try and forget about it and get some rest. Avoid sad films/books as you don’t want to go in looking puffy. I read somewhere that a tiny bit of hemorrhoid cream around the eyes can tighten any bags but I can’t say I’ve tried it.

2) Pamper yourself – it doesn’t have to be expensive. Soak in a bubble bath, give yourself a bit of a manicure or pedicure. Don’t attempt to try any products you haven’t tried before e.g. a new hair conditioner, mud mask or facial scrub. Just in case it gives you an allergic reaction and the results make you look like you should be auditioning for a remake of The Elephant Man. (I once tried a lovely lavender face wash before an audition only to come up in red “welts” all over my face).

3) If you’ve plenty of time, you could let the experts do your make-up for free. Head to a make-up counter at a department store before your audition and express interest in their lovely, expensive products and, if they’re not busy, they’ll do your make-up for you there and then. Warning: be clear about what you want. Don’t be tempted to let them experiment on you with different “looks”. Or if they do what they did to me before my audition (which was to divide my face in “two” to try out two different product ranges), once they’ve finished, pick the side you prefer and make sure they re-do the other to match so that you don’t walk out looking like someone off the set of the Batman films.

Tommy_lee_jones_2_face

4) In extreme situations when you’re broke and really have nothing suitable to wear, head to a decent clothing store and purchase something suitable on your credit card. Keep the labels attached (better to pick a garment that has the labels on the inside) and only wear it for the duration of the audition (which is usually very brief) before taking it off and returning it to the store for a refund within the allotted time. This is NOT something I would advocate normally. Apart from being unfair to future purchasers of said garment (not to mention a little bit skanky), it’s always best to feel comfortable in your clothes and new clothes can feel, well, too new (especially with the labels scratching the back of your neck). And there are risks involved – you need to check the refund policy of the shop in question, keep the receipt and if you get anything on the garment – make-up, coffee, pen ink, deodorant, or worse, sweat stains, then you might not be able to take it back. In fact, I would say it then becomes your moral obligation to keep it. Have a back-up outfit as well. You don’t want to be shopping on the day of the audition and getting stressed because you can’t find anything to wear.

5) I’m a great believer in how you feel on the inside having a bearing on how you look on the outside, so to really look your best for auditions, do all you can to nurture your health and inner happiness. And on those days when you need to fake how you feel, dressing as if you’re a working actor, confident in his/her ability can also be a big help. When you get a bit of extra cash, treat yourself to something in your wardrobe that just makes you feel great.

Now go on out there and knock ‘em dead!

 

Things That Go Bump…

Halloween approaches and now that the clocks have gone back and it’s dark much earlier in the evening, there’s plenty to do in London if you want to celebrate all things spooky and supernatural.

Pumpkin-Carving-Ideas-for-Halloween

THEATRE

Woman in Black is a fantastic ghost story and the theatre version is, in my opinion, much better and much scarier than the film. I’ve seen it three times now and still let out a scream of fear even when I know what’s coming. Check out tickets here.

Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square has the tantalising description of mixing “the best of theatre with the buzz of a thrill-ride, delivering a truly terrifying theatrical experience”. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s back by popular demand and there are extra tickets available for Halloween with a top price ticket offer from Official London Theatre. Check it out here.

There’s also Phantom of the Opera,  Urinetown and Wicked if you like your musicals to have a darker “edge” to them.

FILM

Jeremy Dyson (part of the League of Gentleman team) is living up to his name as master of the macabre. Not only did he write and direct Ghost Stories (see above) but he is screening four of his fave horror flicks at the Curzon Soho. Rumours are, that along with the showing of the films and encouraging audience members to arrive in costume, he’s likely to be reading some horror stories from his new book as well as playing some voodoo-themed songs with his band.

Time Out has a round-up of where to go to catch the best in horror – old classics as well as modern releases. Click here for more details.

Similarly, View London has a list of Halloween events taking place in cinemas and other venues across London. Click here for more info.

Haunted London Ghostly London

GHOST WALKS AND OTHER HAUNTED TOURS

I’ve spotted some special offers on tickets for some ghostly meanderings…

Great British Tours are doing a London Ghost Walk that’s less than half the normal price. I found this deal through Amazon Local – click here if you want to check it out.

On the same site there is an offer for a Jack the Ripper Tour as well. Click on this link to view the offer.

Official London Theatre is also doing a special offer if you book their Haunted Theatreland tour, although according to their website, there doesn’t seem to be any tours available on Halloween. However, if you’re interested in theatre and in the history of the West End, there are plenty of theatres dating back a hundred years or more that are said to be haunted, with Drury Lane Theatre being perhaps the most famous with reported sightings of a grey, shadowy figure at the back of auditoriums and down quiet corridors (although that could just be Cameron Macintosh checking up on his productions!)

If you’d like to know more about paranormal activity or scary locations in the capital, then have a look at the sites below:

http://www.londonparanormal.com/theatres

http://www.haunted-london.com

http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/haunted-places-in-london

Greenwich Tunnel Cemetery

Still not enough to satisfy you hard-core gore fans out there? Well, feast your eyeballs on some weird and wonderful exhibits at the Hunterian Museum and The Old Operating Theatre in the roof space of a baroque church near London Bridge. The old operating table still has the original saw marks made from operations in the pre-anaesthetic days. Ouch!

CEMETERIES

For a genuinely creepy experience, have a wander round the decaying Victorian tombs of Highgate Cemetary, especially as the light begins to fade….whooooaaa

Highgate Cemetery

SCARY ATTRACTIONS

There’s many a “resting” actor who’s worked at the London Dungeons and the London Bridge Experience, both of which are huge tourist attractions and very popular with visitors. There’s also immersive, interactive fun (if you can call it that) at the Clink Museum, built on the site of London’s oldest prison where visitors can handle olde worlde torture devices and learn all about prison life back then.

Clink Museum

If you prefer your Halloween scares to be a little more romantic, then there’s always the choice of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Richmond Park at night. Set against the clip-clopping of hooves and a backdrop of trees silhouetted by the moonlight you can hear tales of Highwaymen, ghosts and a Victorian murder whilst sipping Sloe Gin. That would be my top Halloween choice! Check ticket prices and availability here.

All Hail All Hallow’s Eve!

The Importance of Play

I missed my weekly posting last week because I was in Valencia for 4 days. It was lovely and not just because it was sunny and Valencia is a very pretty, walkable city, serving lots of lovely food and wine. (Ok, enough of trying to make you jealous).

It was mainly because we didn’t plan what we were going to do but just went with whatever we felt like on the day. If we wanted to sit on the beach all day, we did. And if we wanted to spend the entire day walking the city, stopping only for food and drink as the fancy took us, then we did that too. That was part of the joy of the holiday and why holidays, in general, are so appealing. Apart from the adventure of seeing new sights, a holiday takes us away from the grind of our day-to-day lives.

I recently listened to an interesting piece on the radio about the importance of unstructured time in our busy schedules with the emphasis being on the importance of play.

Leading scientific organisations have been stressing how important this is for children’s development and various studies have concluded that free and unstructured play leads to greater imagination,  creativity and problem-solving and is crucial for healthy social, emotional and cognitive development.

Most of us seem to lead busy lives juggling work, various tasks and responsibilities and I know I’m certainly guilty of scheduling lots of things into my day, making sure that every hour is maximised and trying to be productive.

While it makes sense that we allow children the freedom to engage in creative play for themselves without the structure of school, sports practise or music lessons filling their time, I think as adults and as creative beings, it is also essential that we give ourselves some unstructured play time.

The irony is, that for this to happen, I usually have to safeguard any free time by booking in an artist date or some time to myself which then feels like I’m structuring the time in some way. But I think that’s ok. As long as I don’t decide in advance what to do and just see what I feel like doing on the day.

Why is it so hard to do nothing? To just “be”??

So I urge you actors, artists and creative people to join me in finding a portion of time this week where you can indulge in some unstructured play. Be a kid again. Take a walk in the park and kick piles of leaves. Collect conkers. Just sit and look out the window and allow your imagination to roam.

It may just be the holiday that your creative soul needs…

Valencia

 

Market Research

A few Sundays ago, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, my partner and I took the DLR to Shadwell to have a mooch round Wapping Market.

Wapping Market - Stalls

Launched at the end of June this year (and the latest project of Toby Allen who is chief organiser of Brockley Market), I was enticed by descriptions of buttermilk fried chicken, gloriously sticky jams and tables of cured meat and cheese. But I admit that the biggest draw for me was the prospect of handmade doughnuts from the Crosstown Doughnut stand.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

The market was smaller than I expected. I had envisaged a lot more stalls heaving with trendy Londoners armed with hessian tote bags and even though it’s open from 10am-2pm every Sunday, when we arrived at 10.40am there was only about two other people and their dog. And us.

You’d think that beating the crowds would be a bonus when it came to getting served but I stood for 10 mins (no exaggeration) waiting to order and pay for 2 bacon butties while the bearded young chaps frying the bacon chatted about their Saturday night. I would have given up after about 5 mins but the bacon smelt pretty darn good so I waited another 5 (they could SEE I was waiting!) before walking off in a bit of a strop to get coffee.

At the coffee stand I was second in the queue but somehow managed to get sidelined so that the two newly arrived people behind me got served before me (most irksome). This was not a good start. Spotting the slight flare to my nostrils (like a horse about to kick off) my partner quickly steered me towards the Crosstown Doughnut stand and oh joy of joys! One mouthful of their Creme Brulee doughnut (a sticky caramel outside with a fresh vanilla creme centre) and all was well with the world! Resentments towards any perceived slights were forgotten.

Happy again

Happy again

We walked around Shadwell Basin watching the various kayakers and canoists having a morning row (as in “paddle in the water”, not an argument) until a suitable time when it was justifiable to try a fried chicken burger with Korean hot sauce from Spit and Roast. That too, with a side of their coleslaw, was incredibly tasty.

Wapping - Shadwell Basin

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If you fancy checking out this Sunday market, my suggestion would be to head there around 11.30ish for a coffee (and if you want a doughnut, buy it sooner rather than later as they quickly sell out), have a look at all the stalls selling fresh produce then have lunch (there are stalls catering for vegetarians as well).

This market is quite small so if the docklands area is a bit of a schlep for you, you could make a whole day of it and head over to Columbia Road Flower Market in the afternoon.

Columbia Road Flower Market  Wapping Market

TOP TIP #1: By going late afternoon to Columbia Road Market, flowers and plants start getting reduced so that market traders don’t have to lug all their plants and flowers back to base. You can pick up some real bargains by timing it right.

So, despite a disappointing start, I ended up enjoying a meander round Wapping Market. The experience made me want to test out a few more of the foodie markets happening in the capital. So here’s brief outline of what’s taking place and when.

  • Brockley Market – the more established, big sister market to Wapping. Held Saturdays 10am-2pm. Click here for details.
  • Partridges Food Market – every Saturday in the Duke of York Square in Chelsea from 10am -4pm. There are now around 70 stalls filled with fresh farm produce, artisan bread, cake vendors, international specialities and health foods. See here for details.
  • Broadway Market – stalls in this Hackney Market open from 9am-5pm and there are over 100 selling a range of food and baked produce with also some vintage clothes and accessories in the mix. Check it out here.
  • Walthamstow Market – there’s a daily market which stretches the length of Walthamstow High Street and also a farmer’s market every Sunday between 10am-2pm. Particular highlights of the farmer’s market includes stalls by SeaFayre fish from Kent, free-range pigs from Giggly Pig in Romford, Quarry Farm ethical veal, and Brambletye Farm biodynamic eggs and fruit.
  • Real Food Markets – there’s one every weekend at the Real Food Market behind the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank and also one in Kings Cross. Check out dates, times and the kind of stalls there are, here.
  • Islington, Blackheath (near the station) and Peckham (near the library) are well served each weekend with a farmer’s market. Have a delicious coffee whilst you browse the stalls of cheese, bread, meat, cakes and jams. The Blackheath one often has a plant stall as well selling indoor and outdoor plants and flowers. Find your nearest London Farmer’s Market here.
  • Borough Market – this has undergone some renovation and expansion of late with a new roofed area – very handy on those rainy London days. This is probably the mother of all food markets and is very popular with tourists and locals alike. The stalls are pretty permanent throughout the week but weekends are especially packed. It can be quite pricey but you’ll get some great food and some unusual stalls can be found here – ones specialising in liquorice or Turkish delight for example.

TOP TIP #2: You might be stuck for a cash machine near some of these outdoor food markets so take cash. Bear in mind you’re likely to spend more than you think. Organic local produce, artisan breads and home-made jams will be much more expensive than your supermarket prices but you’ll know the food is of a good quality and is usually grown and reared to high, ethical standards. Without the impact of air miles, buying local British food is much kinder to the environment. Paying these farmers properly for high quality produce is definitely worth supporting if you can afford it and going to a market is a lovely thing to do of a weekend. Cut down on the plastic bags and pack a few of those hessian tote bags too.