Life after Lockdown

So, it’s fair to say that things have been more than a little weird of late. This year, or 6 months of it, has seen a living experience unlike any other. It hasn’t all been bad, and I’ve begone to reflect on life during lockdown, and the good things it brought me, such as time and space to explore creative ideas. I’ve written half of my novel during lockdown, several poems, finished a draft of a Black Mirror episode I’d been working on as a ‘fun’ project on the sideline of my regular work. I wrote a lockdown diary, which I’m considering publishing one day, based on the experiences of being separated from my long-term boyfriend who has always lived outside the 5 mile area that Welsh government imposed. I also ventured into the world of video recordings, posting weekly readings of my work on my Facebook authors page. Something that I never imagined doing before the lockdown. and which pushed me way out of my comfort zone. Yet I enjoyed doing it and the feedback was great.

Oh, and I landed a new side job, writing for Lifeseeker Wales about wellbeing and positive living within West Wales. Something very close to my own heart. So creatively, things had never been better. And I notice, as things start to move towards some essence of normality, albeit slower on this side of the border, that as life and adulting begins to take over again, the anxiety, the lack of time, the lack of space for creative ideas, begins to take hold again.

So I’ve been completing a journal exercise, through Psychologies Magazine, which has enabled me to reflect on life in lockdown. On the good things, as well as bad, what I’ve learnt, what’s surprised me – particularly the realisation that I love to be creative in other ways, crafting for instance. Never could I have imagined, a time before lockdown, when I would have made the time to make bunting, out of card and ribbon, for Hay Literature Festival. That week, back in May, was one of the all time highs. Daily events with authors and public speakers, joining online with people from all over the world, to watch, to listen and learn. The highlight was the 250th Anniversary celebration of William Wordsworth, with readings by famous names such as Margaret Atwood (I’d only recently discovered her Handmaids Tale), Simon Armitage , Vanessa Redgrave and a very frazzled looking Tom Holland. Another highlight was Shakespeare every day of the year, a pre-recorded out door event which featured a fabulous Helena Bonham-Carter, Dominic West and Allie Esiri as narrator. The wonderfully colourful and enchanting production showed what could be done under the harshest restrictions. The random props and allusion to social distancing, with Bonham-Carter waving a tape measure and telling West to ‘get back’ very much in character, added a humour and delight to the viewing. While Ali Smith’s essay, read in her poignant Scottish accent, over a film montage of images created by Sarah Wood, added an element of thought and reflection to the lockdown experience, breaking down the very beginning of language and looking at how the meaning and use would change. It was so thought provoking and dense that I had to watch it twice. As in life before 2020, Hay Festival lead the way in digital festival viewing, where the likes of Henley and Cheltenham would follow. They offered all online events for free via the crowdcast platform, simply asking for donations and offering a £10 subscription to Hay Player, to access all events of the festival past and present.

I’ve also had time to read a lot more, having recently finished Booker Prize winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. A wonderful and refreshing look at women of all ages and backgrounds, exploring gender identity, race, sexuality, relationships and family life. It really made me think what it might be like to be a woman of colour, to live the life of any of those characters. The prejudices we face and show ourselves every day. How the world is changing and we need to move with it.

I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s, The Midnight Library. A beautiful tale of one woman’s struggle to fit in in a world where she feels alone, and depressed. A surprise visit to the midnight library, when she contemplates ending her life, offers her the chance to address her regrets and try out the lives she never got to live. It’s no coincidence that both of these books I have chosen deal with living a different life, with the changes of society and the way we live, the way people treat us and how we see ourselves. I think we will all be looking to learn and grow and change after this. We will be looking for new opportunities and experiences. When we have realised that what we have is so precious.

Life after lockdown for me, is much slower paced. I am still writing and enjoying my new role with Lifeseeker. I read and watch TV series. I meet friends occasionally for lunch or coffee. I ensure I get enough sleep and eat well. I still do pilates weekly. I take walks (a regular thing during lockdown) and drink tea.

I am waiting to start back at my theatre role in the very near future. A world which I have missed dearly. A world of creativity, of magic and life. I miss the people and the atmosphere. The buzz of a full auditorium and a live show. Yet I have appreciated the calm and the quiet and the free time to be me. So I guess life after lockdown for me, will be one of balance. Of choosing my priorities and ensuring I have time and space to let things settle. There are some big life changes underway too, so things might look quite different in the near future.

A Streetcar Named Desire – National Theatre at home June 2020

The National Theatre at home season of screenings has been received with great success, offering viewers the chance to see much-loved productions in the comfort of their own homes during lockdown. Recent figures published by The Stage online revealed that over 10 million people tuned in to watch free screenings provided by the National Theatre through their YouTube page, during the lockdown period up to the end of May 2020.

Among the highly successful productions re appearing for a limited period on screen, were classics such as One Man Two Guvnors starring James Corden (of Gavin and Stacey fame), Jane Eyre, Frankenstein (starring Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC’s modern Sherlock series) and the much-loved adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s book, Treasure Island.

One particularly successful screening was A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ dark southern tale of one woman’s desperation, to escape her glamorous but painful past and find love and the approval of her sister.  Gillian Anderson took preparation for the lead role so seriously that she says she was ‘hanging on to reality by a thread.’

The best-known adaptation of Williams’ tense play, is the 1947 Broadway production starring a virtually unknown Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy and Kim Hunter, and despite shocking scenes and gritty dialogue it gained audience applause on its opening night. Hunter and Brando reprised their roles for the 1951 film, joined by Vivien Leigh, of the London production, as Blanche.

Benedict Andrews directs this modern adaptation, bringing new layers to Williams’ classic suspense drama. Each character has been carefully thought about, their own stories interweaving with the dwindling light of the leading lady, Blanche Dubois, who has come to town, to stay with her sister and fiancée, bringing with her a trail of tattered dreams and broken hearts.

Gillian Anderson takes up the role of deeply troubled Blanche in this modern production. From the very moment she arrives on stage, she captures the audience. Her deep Southern drawl, fine clothes, flirtatious personality and discomfort at the heat and size of her sister’s apartment all paint her character out to be proud and snobbish. Yet the pretence soon begins to fall as she takes one drink, then another and we slowly learn more about the secrets she keeps, and the less from perfect world she has fallen from. Her story is one of loss and heartbreak. She is deluded and broken. She envies the relationship her sister has. It is fiery and passionate, but also violent and unpredictable. She sees the danger in such a southern strong man, who she calls ‘common’ ‘subhuman’ and ‘bestial.’

The stage (designed by Magda Willi) is open and revolving as the scenes develop, suggesting the idea of the characters being exposed and vulnerable, also to Blanche’s unstable world spinning around her as she tries to desperately claim something as her own. The audience are able to see into every room of the house, including through the thin curtain that separates Blanches life from her sisters. There a are no secrets or any privacy here. Blanche changes on stage, even appearing to use the bath, flaunting her sexuality and femininity at every opportunity. The one thing she feels she has left, although that, she admits, is fading. The subject of her age is focused on throughout, and we never actually learn how old she is.

The metal staircases that surround the apartment, are the only means of entry and exit. The inhabitants of the small city apartments are trapped with their lives and their lovers. Yet they continue to live, fired up by the events and the heat of the day or too many drinks at night.

As tensions grow between Blanche, her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley, truths and secrets are revealed. Much of Tennessee Williams’ hauntingly beautiful lines are kept in the play, emphasising Blanche’s incredible and irreversible pain.

‘A single girl alone in the world must keep a hold on her emotions or she’ll be lost.’

Blanche lives through others, desperate for the love and attention she craves. She takes a cigarette from a young paper boy and asks if he got caught in the rain and what soda he drank. She takes an interest in Stanley’s friend, Mitch, who finding out the truth about her past and why she has left her home town, deserts her.

Between the scenes, a mixture of music from jazz to electric guitar as well as flashing lights indicates the change of atmosphere and the increase in tension and anxiety. This makes it very modern, as does the wardrobe for Stanley and Stella (Blanche always looks glamorous and made up – until the final scenes strip her down to her skin coloured underwear, in parallel with her reduced mental state). It may be that only the words and references of the play itself, anchor the story to the period in which it is set. Yet this doesn’t greatly influence the effect of this wonderful adaptation. I suspect the majority of the audience will know Williams’ work.

When Blanche reveals the truth of her ill-fated relationship with a gay man, and the tragic consequences of her harsh words, Mitch offers his heart to her, before he is told by Stanley about questionable relationships of her past. His later words, ‘you’re not clean enough to bring into a house with my mother’ begin her spiral of destruction, which lead to a shocking event, the ultimate act of cruelty by the brutish Stanley, played brilliantly by Ben Foster.

As Blanche is lead off by doctors to a mental asylum, she looks vacant and broken. One of her final lines is heartbreakingly beautiful, ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’

The audience can see how the role of Blanche took everything out of Anderson. Williams’ lead characters are often deeply troubled, mentally tormented and adorned with much physical expression. Anderson brings this raw and open performance beautifully, and Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster support with great vigour and emotion.

Kirby, as Stella, is kind and good, concerned for her sister and protective, making excuses for Blanche’s ways. As Blanche begins to come between her and Stanley, their arguments force her to fight back, proving she’s not willing to lose the love of her husband. Their love is passionate but also volatile. Stella keeps trying to support Blanche, even when everything and everyone else seems turned against her, organising a birthday party which ends in an explosive revelation.

Never does Blanche look more fallen, than at the end of her Birthday celebration. In a prom dress, with a tiara on her head and make up stained across her face. She looks in a mirror and sees the mistakes of her past staring back at her. This is the ultimate truth.

Foster plays Stanley as deeply physical and violent when confronted. He sees through Stella’s pretence and makes it his duty to find out whatever he can about her. Foster’s Stanley is dangerous and aggressive, he will stop at nothing to undo Blanche, who gets under his skin.

This performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, does Tennessee Williams’ story great justice. In fact, it goes further than that, thanks to a unique stage design, incredible cast performances and a mix of modern feel. It lays open the skeleton of each character, drawing from everything Williams’ offers, and producing an electric and atmospheric piece of theatre, drawing on every aspect of raw human emotion. 

© Amanda Griffiths

The impact of Theatre and the Arts on mental health.

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ― Oscar Wilde

For some it means a trip out to enjoy a show with family and friends, to others the chance to see a much-loved play or musical live on stage and to many an all too important link with the community and like-minded people. Whichever applies, it’s long been known that the impact of the arts, and theatre in particular on mental health, is huge.

The Mental Health Foundation note that ‘engaging in arts, social activities and interaction within our communities can help with major challenges such as ageing and loneliness. It can help to boost confidence and make us feel more engaged and resilient. Besides these benefits, art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.’

The Welsh NHS Confederation report on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, published in May 2018 noted evidence that access to the arts can be important therapy – stimulating ‘cognitive function in older adults who have dementia or related disorders, and may reduce depression in those with Parkinson’s disease’ as well as the arts reducing anxiety and improving feelings of confidence in children with asthma and proving a positive way of dealing with pain for young cancer patients.

This is what makes the current situation, of theatres and arts venues being thrown into darkness due to the outbreak of Covid 19, even more unsettling. With no clear idea as to when venues may be able to re-open in the UK, and ongoing concerns of public safety, as well as the effect on production companies, freelance workers and venues themselves, the impact on mental health with threat to the future of these facilities is a major concern.

For many, the arts are a way of connecting and engaging with the world, escaping the everyday and even expressing their own thoughts and feelings. Whether music, theatre, art or literature, access to these art forms ensures positive feeling and progression in humans. By closing and remaining closed, therefore taking many art forms away from the consumer, this is also taking away a sense of hope, wellbeing and connection for many.

‘’evidence suggests that engagement with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental

well-being. The benefits of arts activities are being seen beyond traditional settings, and their

role in supporting communities and individuals who would otherwise be excluded is increasingly

being recognised.’’  The Welsh NHS Confederation report on Arts, Health and Well-being – May 2018

Theatres and Arts venues can be a place for communities to grow and share together. The theatre I work for regularly provide music and dance sessions in all forms as well as an art gallery for the community. My Moves and My Voices, are weekly dance and singing workshops for Adults with learning difficulties both supported by Arts Care Gofal Celf, the Cradle Choir group (run by WNO) supports those living with Dementia; and Torch Voices, a community choir run by West End music producer Angharad Sanders, which is open to everyone who loves to sing and share their joy of music. All of these have been regularly well received, growing in numbers over the years and feedback has communicated a positive effect for those involved. These workshops and classes have moved online during these difficult times. Although, understandably, this doesn’t ensure inclusion and accessibility for all.

Many Theatres have offered online screenings of productions which has softened the blow slightly. Virtual tours of museums and art galleries online, have all been well received.

The desire and need for the arts has been more sought after than ever, during the pandemic, as UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay noted

Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made emphatically obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic’’ -UN News April 2020

Yet watching these from the sofa, in the surroundings of your own home, where you have been in lockdown for a considerable period, brings a completely different experience. There is something about being in a live auditorium, the rush of the atmosphere as the show is about to start, the chatter of excited voices, the strike of a live band playing out, the collective laughter or applause of a group of like-minded people. And of course, the production itself. The actors, the set, the costumes, the words, the music, the perfumed smoke that wisps above the heads of the audience in front of you. Nothing can quite replace this. People long for this to return, with no real idea of when it might.

And of course, Theatre can be used to highlight the importance of talking about mental health. The Torch Theatre has supported productions such as Belonging, a bilingual play by relive Theatre about Dementia and its impact on those affected by it, Say When (a play about men’s weight and links to mental health) by Living Pictures productions as well as producing their own fantastic version of ‘One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ directed by Peter Doran, which returned in 2017 to celebrate 40 years of the Torch Theatre. They worked with the mental health charity Mind during the productions run to raise money to support the charity.

Referring to the production, Peter Doran said, “I hope people will be reminded of the fantastic work that goes on in the mental health service; every day is a challenge but every day you are helping somebody to get through very difficult times. I also hope people will witness the power of theatre.”

Productions such as these and many others, have been key to raising awareness of mental health as well as providing an outlet and shared space to explore and deal with the subject. This also shows the powerful impact that the arts can have on a community, making them think and understand, whilst simultaneously providing award winning theatre. It’s not just about watching Theatre, but also about the message it provides. This is why it’s so important to keep our Theatres and arts venues running. To keep the dream alight and that one ghost light glowing in the darkness, to show that we will return. That hope is there, if we only choose to feel it.

For now, we need to remember the importance of the arts in our communities, in our lives and for our mental health. We need to support theatre’s and arts venues as well as freelance artists where we can, as well as to continue to immerse ourselves wherever possible. Screenings often offer donation options, many theatres throughout the UK offer exchange for tickets or vouchers. We can help them, whenever possible, by doing this.

We need to fight for venues to be able to re-open, for ongoing support to get them back on track. This way, we can do our best to assure that they are there for us, when we are able to return.          

 © Amanda Griffiths

NT Live – Fleabag

Having been a massive fan of the Fleabag TV series, when it first graced our screens in 2016, I was sad to miss out on the live screening of the one-woman stage show (where it all started back in 2013) in September last year. During lockdown, the access to theatre screenings allowed me the opportunity to catch this fantastic play again and witness first hand the beginning of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hilarious, tragic and moving tale of one woman’s journey through modern life.

Waller-Bridge appears from the side of the stage and slips into a single chair which sits on the stage underneath a spotlight. This is the simple set up for the one woman play which had brought joy and comfort to millions of people around the world. As much as the tale of Waller-Bridge writing the show, as a way in to theatre, following her graduation from drama school and an inability to find or be offered desirable roles. Dressed casually in black jeans and a red jumper, Waller Bridge instantly becomes Fleabag, drawing us into her world for nearly two hours non-stop as she recounts us with tales of her life, her loves, sex, friendship, work and emotional struggles. Her tone may seem flippant, jokey, drinks down the pub talk, but underneath is a woman with an incredible loneliness, a sinful secret, of guilt over a tragic loss and an incredible desperation to find meaning in a world where she feels she just doesn’t fit in. There is something so engaging about the script, as well as Waller Bridge’s bringing it to life on stage, where it was meant to be. It reaches out to all women, all people, who are living, who are human, who love, who have loss and who feel.

It is wonderful to witness the seeds from which the successful two-series show has come from. To appreciate the early references to characters who now seem so perfectly cast and rounded by the wonderful actors who play them. Claire (played in the TV series by Waller-Bridge’s RADA friend Sian Clifford) is a wonderful creation and very realistic and believable as the Sister who is always uptight, and while appearing successful, is just as dysfunctional as the rest of the family. There is little change between the characters of the original script and the TV series, aside from Martin, Claire’s annoying and frankly abdominal husband, is Irish in this stage play and American in the TV series. We can see how snapshots of Fleabag’s life has been detailed into episodes, often rearranged or exaggerated for dramatic effect. But the core of the character and Fleabag’s story is there on a bigger scale.

I think there’s something to note in a writer’s ability to perform their work on stage. There’s a closeness there, a real understanding of the words and characters, a performance on a much deeper level. As we watch Waller Bridge, as Fleabag, we really feel the character ingrained in her, in every hilarious movement of her face, the expression in her eyes and the twist of her lips. The comic timing is brilliant too, and the switch between voices when she imitates conversations. I think this is why the show and the series are so successful. As well as reaching out to many people in this country, it is also very personal, very human and very real. This is only emphasised by Waller Bridge’s ability to perform the role herself in this production, and her tv series and I think this is ultimately the reason why it works so well. It is a piece of art that is unlike any other, in its subject matter, presentation and creator. It’s a refreshing observation of our time and should be treasured by all who, as I have, fallen in love with it. We have to see more of Waller Bridge. Need I mention Killing Eve?

The NT Live screening demonstrates just why Waller-Bridge’s script is so great for the stage. The writing and Waller Bridge’s acting is powerful enough on its own, without the need of extra props or scene changes. Aside from a few voice overs or sound effects, nothing further is needed to create this imaginary world. The audience laugh out loud in one minute, cringe the next, while they are slowly taken into the dark centre of Fleabag’s world, the death of her best friend, and her inability to let go of her guilt, the loneliness she faces without her friend, as she moves from one casual relationship to the next, in search of something she doesn’t quite know yet.

Some viewers might be disappointed to know, that there is no mention of the sexy priest. Immortalised by the charismatic and brilliant Andrew Scott. We can see how Waller-Bridge has developed the characters and themes to expand the story into a second series. I think if she was able to do this for a third, it would be equally well received.

This two-hour production brought Fleabag into our homes, highlighting the very essence of her beginning, immersing us in her story for two hours and leaving us hungry for more.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to see this and you get a chance to watch this, you must. It’s available now on Amazon Prime to rent.

Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art

The current lockdown situation has a few positives which I have attempted to embrace. One of these is the opportunity for me to see more Theatre than I’ve previously had time for or access to.

A few weeks ago I donated to The Original Theatre Company, in return for the screening of the 2018 production of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art.

I have always been a big fan of Bennett’s work, since first discovering his Talking Heads monologues during studying for my BA degree in English and Creative Writing. His ability to write drama, with a Northern and witty edge to it, is something often emulated but never successfully achieved. His observation of characters, of every day situations and what it is to be human and to live, with emotions, relationships, hopes and fears. Even his own life has been dramatised in his play The Lady in the Van, which was recently recreated for the screen in conjunction with the BBC and with Maggie Smith as the eccentric and cantankerous old lady who ends up living on Bennett’s driveway in a number of dilapidated vans in London for over fifteen years.

The Habit of Art was first performed for the National Theatre in 2009. It is a play based on the fictional meeting between W H Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, while Britten is composing the opera for A Death in Venice. Exploring the themes of love, friendship, desires and the joy, pain and emotional cost of creativity.

This production is directed with great fluidity by Phillip Franks and has some big names, including Olivier Award Winning Matthew Kelly in the title role as Auden, as well as David Yelland as Britten. It begins as a play within a play, with the characters meeting for a run through, the director absent, but the writer present. We watch as they arrive and greet each other, chattering among themselves as they wait to begin. Then as the characters begin to read their lines, we are drawn into the story with them. It becomes not just about the habit of creating Art, in terms of the parts they are playing and the production they are rehearsing and discussing, yet also about the highs and lows, the challenges and defeats of the artists themselves, their relationship with each other.

Matthew Kelly, who I only remember for presenting entertainment shows such as Stars in their Eyes and You Bet! during my childhood, is outstanding as Auden. He presents the author with great observation and wit. We first see him at his rooms at Oxford University, mistaking a reporter for the rent boy he has hired. In true Bennett style we are led straight into absurdity and some filthy laugh out loud moments, which are followed with great moments of poignancy and depth. Auden appears lonely and tired, yet pleased to have someone to discuss his art with. He talks much of his poetry which was often about love, morals, politics and religion.

As Fitz, he is an aged man, who struggles to remember his lines and questions the writers use of language and meaning in the script. He also appears uncomfortable with the blatant homosexual content to the play. This made me question his true thoughts and feelings. His overblown ego and self importance is laughed at by the audience, as at the end of the rehearsal he notes he is off to do some ‘real work’ in a commercial for Tesco.

David Yelland is the perfect co star to Kelly’s Auden. As Auden talks of his life’s work, his hopes and dreams, Britten sits above on the elevated stage, playing the piano while a young boy sings for him. Of course, his penchant for your boys becomes clearer as the play develops, and when he eventually calls on Auden, years after they have spoken, to ask for his help in creating his latest art. Their turbulent relationship, the passion they have for their art and the loneliness they feel, the freedom they so desperately crave, is there in every action, every word and expression.

This is echoed in the words of the young rent boy Stuart (Tim) played by Benjamin Chandler.) who wants Auden to see that he is more than his work. He is more than his brand of art. He has ideas, talents, hopes and dreams too. He understands more than the anatomy of the male form. He feels misunderstood and misrepresented. This becomes poignantly clear, when at the end of the play, in response to the writer’s suggestions that it should end with ‘the boy’, he removes his clothes and stands looking out at the audience, uttering the words ‘This is all I have.’

John Wark (Donald) plays Humprey Carpenter, the play’s narrator as well as the reporter who interviews Auden. As the play evolves, we realise that perhaps he believes he is Caliban, the character from The Tempest who Bennett believes should have been given an epilogue, the play having ended incomplete. He wants his say, his chance to shine and show the audience as well as his fellow actors what he is truly capable of. With his statement humour, Bennett presents the character, at one time in a bizarre scene in which he appears dressed as a woman, playing an instrument on stage, much to the bemusement of the others. Donald is very aware of his role, questioning where he should stand or how he should speak, much to the annoyance of Fitz.

The end of the play becomes an argument between the actors and the writer/stage manager of how things should end. echoing Bennett’s own feelings of The Tempest and Caliban’s fate.

Fitz says, of Auden, ‘Let the poet speak,’ as we learn of the way Auden and Britten died. Auden died at home alone while Britten passed away in the arms of his lover, Peter. While the Author (Neil) played by Robert Mountford), who has been a voice in the forefront throughout the run through, says ‘others say it should end with the boy.’ This is the moment where the boy speaks – the rent boy comes forward and offers ‘all he has’ – his body, his nakedness, his soul. They talk about how young boys become ‘the fodder of art and there’s always someone left out.’ The boy exclaims ‘I don’t even know what I don’t know’ While Fitz/Auden replies ‘We can’t help’. This is of course a reference to both artists and the young men they use as their muse, the lost and lonely humans and artists everywhere.

The minor roles are played seamlessly by Veronica Roberts, Alexandra Guelff and Robert Mountford who, aid and ensure the run through goes smoothly. As the writer and stage manager Mountford and Roberts pause the action, as they see fit, to question or make suggestions, or to encourage those in doubt.

As the play draws to an end, and the actors gather their belongings to go home, Stage Manager Kay (played by Veronica Roberts) talks to the writer. The habit of art, for them as creators and actors, is the act of being ‘frightened’. Art is many things, but it is always fear, and it always means ‘someone being left out’.

With this, Bennett draws his play to a conclusion. With his consistency to draw an audience in, to make them laugh, to make them think, to make them understand what it is to be human, then to return them to the world, as he returns his characters and the actors to theirs. Original Theatre Company have offered another fantastic play to audiences throughout the UK and continue to offer this, as well as others for a small donation.

New online age of Theatre and Arts

The coronavirus pandemic, and the introduction of lockdown in the UK, brought usually bustling theatres and arts venues to a standstill. The lights have been switched off on Broadway and in the West End, since March. This is for the very first time in hundreds of years, shows even playing on during the London blitz.

This also affected smaller theatres throughout the UK, including my own place of work, and local arts venue, the Torch Theatre. With shows being rescheduled and no real idea as to when they can reopen, some bigger theatres have had to find new ways to reach their audience, and to keep the arts alive.

As many businesses and artists have taken to online spaces to promote and share their work, theatre venues have followed suit, offering an experience which brings the arts to your home.

I’ve had the privilege, as have many, during lockdown of gaining access to hundreds of screenings of live theatre from across the country. Where as some have been offered for free, like National Theatre productions, through platforms such as Youtube, others, have offered screenings of their plays with small donations going towards the theatre or teams who created the productions, and are facing uncertainty with regards to future work.

This past week, I have donated to the National Theatre, hiring their live screening of Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag, which began as a play and took on new life as a hit tv series with the BBC. Also, to the Original Theatre Company, by purchasing The Habit of Art, one of Alan Bennett’s plays, performed at the theatre in 2018. Every proceed of the donation was ensured to go to those involved with the production, to support their future.

I have since, made notes and saved social media posts relating to other productions I hope to see in the UK and on Broadway. These include Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, with Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats (It had better be more impressive than the dire recent film) and the short one man play, Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall, starring Andrew Scott which premiered at the Bush Theatre in 2008.

 This current crisis situation has suddenly given un unlimited access not just to wonderful theatre, but also to art galleries, museums and leading writers and performers. Just a few weeks ago, I tuned in to a live interview with the Welsh screenwriter Russell T Davies, who talked about everything from the process of his writing, to award winning shows he has worked on. Without the current lockdown, I would never have had the chance to ask him how he felt coming from South Wales, had affected his chance of success when starting out!

I also have online events booked for on of the biggest Literature and arts festivals in the world. Hay Festival. An event which began life at its creator’s (Peter Florence) kitchen table, is now very much back in that position, with the world watching from their own homes. The interaction and mingling with like-minded people remains, with online chat columns before and during events, Q and A sessions and lots of other access all areas offerings.

I also have impending dates with The Louvre Museum in Paris (I’ve never been – to Paris or the museum and am currently learning French through the OU) and a live turtle feed and talk at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. I did not know that turtles eat sprouts!

Despite many restrictions during this time – the absence of friends and loved ones, or the chance to simply go out for a meal or meet friends for coffee – we are adapting and progressing in our own ways, and thanks to the modern technologies, the world and all it has to offer, is available to us like never before.

I think we need to take advantage of that, while we can. To support those services and companies who offer us the chance to interact with them, to donate and enjoy rare snapshots of their work. That way, we can reassure ourselves that they will be there for us when we are free of these constraints, and assure them that we will support them now and when they return to the forefront of our modern worlds. It is also, the perfect opportunity, as a writer, to access other art forms, to seek to inspire and grow during this period.

I will end with a quote from Actor Sir Simon Russell Beale in the Sunday Times (10th May).

A friend of mine, a great actress, was once asked by a young drama graduate about how to cope with the periods of unemployment that are part of a career in Theatre. Her advice was to keep reading, keep listening to music, keep studying works of art. ‘Grab anything you can find’ she said, ‘because you never know when it might come in useful.’

What a wonderful enlightenment. At a time where we may feel that nothing is of value, that we are waiting, helplessly and hopelessly for the next step. It appears that the arts and inspiration can reach us in the most critical situations or from the furthest corners of the world. If only we allow it.          

Recovery – A short story Published in Wicked Words Anthology (Accent Press) 2005

Mary had cut her hand on the broken glass. She dabbed at it with a tissue and reminded herself she would have to phone the council to get the window fixed. It was getting to be a nuisance. That lady who came to see her every wee, Carol, she had said that she would get it to stop. It was not Mary’s fault. She must try to remember that. They thought that it was though. That’s why they did it.

But she didn’t understand. Like she didn’t understand why Jean never came around any more. She had seen her in town a few weeks go. Mary had waved at her but Jean didn’t seem to recognise her. Mike had been with her. Mary had noticed how he had whispered something into Jean’s ear and guided her away. She had looked upset. Mary had just hoped that she was happy. That Mike was treating her well. That was what was important, after all. She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on ready for her meeting with Carol. It was a few months now that she’d been visiting Mary. It was important, she had told her, that she had someone to talk to after what had happened. Mary didn’t remember why it was her fault, why she needed someone keeping tabs on her all of the time. Carol had told her it was natural for her not to remember, part of her condition. But Mary would have to try and remember soon. It was important. She needed a new kettle really. This one was worn inside. She had read something about how it affected the quality of the water. She wondered if she would ever get the chance to get another one. She rarely went into town these days.

Mary hadn’t been able to tell Carol anything about the stack of pictures that she showed her, The telephone had rung half way through. Mary let the machine get it. It was one of them. Carol went and switched it off and sat down beside Mary.

‘We’ll get the number changed’ she reassured her, as she handed Mary her tea. Mary didn’t know if that would make a difference. They always seemed to find out. They always knew where she was. She couldn’t go out anymore. Not without a minder anyway. A minder – it sounded like she couldn’t cope.

After Carol had gone, Mary looked through the pictures she’d left behind. She knew that they were familiar, but she couldn’t make them out. Old friends maybe? One of them reminded her of her next door neighbour’s daughter. She had a pretty face which was framed by blonde curls. What had Carol said? They were significant to Mary. Why were they significant? What did Carol mean? She wasn’t coming for a week now. Mary would have to ask her again. She thought about phoning her. Then she realised the phone was unplugged. Carol must have done it. She put on the television and went into the kitchen to see what Carol had left her for lunch. The news had started. A girl had gone missing. Mary went into the front room with her tray and set in on the settee. She glanced up at the screen. ‘My God’ she exclaimed, as she searched for the picture and held it up against the television screen. ‘You were significant.’ Her voice echoed off the bare walls.

When Carol next came round, Mary told her what she had seen on the television. Carol looked surprised. She asked Mary what she had thought. Mary said she didn’t know. She remembered that the girl was significant. Carol’s voice went quiet. She asked Mary if she remembered where she had seen her. Mary didn’t know. Carol asked her if she was sure. Of course she was sure. Why would she lie? Did Carol not believe her? Carol had been frightened.

The next time Mary saw Carol, a young man was with her. ‘I don’t know who he is.’ She said as Carol came into the front room. He stood stern-faced at the door. Carol said that she wouldn’t expect Mary to know him. He was a stranger. Then why was he here? Mary asked. It was part of the new regulation, Carol said, for her and Mary’s safety. Mary didn’t understand. Carol smiled. Mary didn’t remember what had happened last time. That was okay though. But did she remember anything else? Had she looked again at the photographs? They still lay on the coffee table. The missing girl was on the top. Carol picked it up, studied it, held it out to Mary. She couldn’t buy Mary much more time. The trial was coming up. They needed information. A story. Mary asked if she could fix the broken window. Carol looked helplessly at the fresh gaping hole in the glass. She would see what she could do.

Mary’s window was fixed within a couple of days. She had felt the workmen’s eyes on her as she tried to study the photographs. She offered them tea but they declined. Seconds later they were brought two steaming mugs cups of coffee by Carol. Mary could hear them talking to her as she set their drinks down on the ledge. She looked over at Mary as she said something. Mary hid her face in a magazine. She felt like a victim in her own home. She wanted to know what they were talking about. Why they were so wary of her. She pretended it didn’t bother her. After they left, she asked Carol what was going on. Carol told her that some people found it hard to understand her condition. Why she had done things. She wouldn’t tell May what things.

Mary began to realise that it was because of these things that Jean didn’t visit her anymore. Carol didn’t deny it. Mary’s own daughter had disowned her. She refused to go into town with Carol. She sat in front of the television all day. The missing girl had still not been found. She was presumed dead. Mary sometimes wished that she were dead. More than she wished that she could remember. She knew that when she did, she would wish it more.

Carol would be calling round after breakfast to see Mary. Mary poured herself a glass of cranberry juice and toasted some bread. She loaded it onto a tray to carry into the front room. As she was stepping through the door, she slipped on the bottom of her dressing gown and the tray upturned.

The glass fell to the floor, smashing on impact and sending red liquid over the carpet. Mary leapt back. She remembered. Oh god, she remembered.

© Amanda Griffiths

The cost – An extract from my novella

In these difficult times, many of us have been reflecting on our own lives and our achievements, hopes and dreams. I’ve been taking stock of where I’ve come from and how much I’ve achieved as a writer. I’ve been sharing this with readers of my Facebook page (A J Griffiths or @pembswriter) and will continue to do so here to. I hope you enjoy this first extract. I’m very proud of this book and am currently in the process of looking for a publisher for it. A fun fact about ‘The Cost’ – there is a star named after its title – a gift from my uncle – in the hope that it will always burn brightly in the world.

Chapter 1

On Tuesday morning, she brought him to the new house. He looked through the car window. All the houses were the same. Rows of brick buildings. Black front doors. Like the street in his favourite computer game. His mother stopped the car and alighted . He wondered how many monsters he would have to kill to save her. She looked worried too.

They stood at the end of the driveway, one small bag between them, looking up at their home. Devanda stared blankly as Effie reached for his hand. He curled his small fingers around hers.

‘I don’t like it here, mummy.’ He looked up. Eyes wide. Lips trembling.

How do you make an eight year old understand they can no longer be the themselves? That someone who should have protected them stole their lives?

‘Give it a chance Dev, you might find it’s not so bad.’

‘Who’s that?’

Devanda was looking across the street. A boy, near his age, stood outside one of the houses. He wore a football strip and bounced a ball on the drive. He noticed them watching him and smiled. Devanda smiled back and raised his hand to wave. A woman appeared. Effie smiled but the woman looked away.

‘Our new neighbours.’

‘Could I play football with him mummy?’

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

Devanda looked away from her. The boy was saying something to his mother. She looked over and her lips moved. She shook her head.

‘Why not?’ Dev asked.

‘It’s best we keep to ourselves Dev, you understand right?’

He remembered his mother’s words the day his father left. Words that made him sad and angry. It’s just us now.

‘It’s stupid and unfair.’ He kicked the kerb.

Effie sighed ‘It’s how it has to be, I’m sorry.’

‘You don’t care.’

He pulled away.

‘Hey…’ Effie knelt to look into his face. Tears moistened his cheeks.

‘You know I love you, don’t you?’

He nodded.

‘I’m doing this for us. It’s for the best, okay?’

‘I’m sorry mummy.’

‘What for?’

‘For asking about the boy across the street.’

‘You don’t…’ she restrained a tremble in her voice, ‘need to be sorry, Dev. ’

He grabbed her hand and they walked up the driveway.

‘We’ll be okay, mummy. Won’t we?’

‘Of course we will.’

‘It’s an adventure, isn’t it?’

‘Yes… and you can be anyone you want.’

‘Anyone?’

She turned the key in the lock, opened the door to their home.

‘Who do you want to be Devanda?’

That was to be the last time she spoke his name.

She felt guilty, hearing him speak to strangers in this community, so innocent and unaware listeners already knew the lie. Her own voice became alien to her ears.

She was unpacking when she saw, through the lounge window, the car pull up outside. They hadn’t even given her a day.

She hated the fortnightly check: unbearable questions, exhuming the remains of that night. She didn’t tell them of the hand printed letter in the kitchen drawer; weighted beneath kitchen scissors, as if this may protect her from its contents. It was the only part of him she had taken.

The handwriting was recognisable, its ugly scrawl, creeping across the page like gnarled fingers. That he misspelled her name confirmed her stupidity. She struggled to believe how her life had changed. Only the surface bruises faded, from purple hues to dark skin.

While Devanda slept, memories of that December night invaded. The rage on Steven’s face as he pressed his foot to the accelerator; her sons fright reflected in the mirror; screaming at Steven to slow down. The squeal of the tyres on the wet road surface as a figure stepped into the street. That moment when the two collided. Followed by a silence; his voice threatening in the darkness. Keep your mouth shut.

Chapter 2

They met at art class. Adam was the good looking man who walked in late, profusely apologising as he pulled up a chair. He was tall, dark blonde, with angular features. As he introduced himself, she studied him like a rare flower. His eye caught hers and he smiled apologetically, as if he was taking up too much of her time. As the teacher talked about their assignments, she watched him pull an artist pad and pencil from his satchel. He arranged them on his desk, opening the pad to a blank page. Then he sat back and rested his eyes on the speaker. Effie followed his gaze. Fifteen minutes later they were sitting in front of their easels and Effie was trying not to stare. He had captured every detail of the teacher’s face. The soft creases around her eyes and lips, the slight bump in the ridge of her nose and the white streak in her unruly hair. Effie looked down at her own work and sighed. Concentrate. She fed a line of colour into her painting. Her eyes narrowed in concentration. Better.

‘You must be in the wrong class.’ He was standing beside her. ‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.’

She smiled. ‘That’s okay.’

His eyes fell to her painting. She laughed nervously.

‘I’m fairly new at this.’

‘That surprises me. This is good.’

She looked into his eyes. He was genuine.

‘Thanks.’ She put down her paintbrush. ‘I’m Effie.’

‘Adam.’ He smiled, extending his hand. She took it, surprised by his formality. He held hers gently, and then released it.

‘I really like your drawing.’ She said, motioning to the sketchpad on his desk. He smiled.

‘Oh yeah, force of habit I’m afraid. I’m always sketching people.’

She smiled, aware of his eyes on her.

‘Well, I hope to see more of your work.’

Before she could think of a reply, he walked away.

Over months they grew closer. She began to look forward to her classes, and not just because she could escape and paint.

‘So it’s just you and Devanda?’ He asked one evening, as they worked on their paintings. She paused, dipping her brush into the jar of water between them.

‘Mostly.’

He nodded. She watched the colour drain from her paint brush. She hadn’t lied. One evening, as everyone filtered to their cars to escape the cold, he invited her for dinner.

‘Tomorrow night?’ He suggested, as they stood in the car park, the wind pushing them closer. Despite her reservations, she accepted, happy at the prospect of an evening out.

Her husband was working late and Devanda was staying at a friend’s; she didn’t see any harm. She should have been honest with herself as she slid her small frame into a red dress and stepped into black heels. It wasn’t just dinner.

Standing in front of the mirror, her eyes following the lines of bruises on her body, Effie was ashamed; of what she accepted, the life she had given her son.

She thought how careful Steve was, not to leave a mark where people could see. They were hidden by clothes and insecurities. The way he made her feel inside, masked physical pain. She brushed her hair and pinned it up at the side, so it swept slightly over her shoulders. Then put on mascara and lipstick. Her heart ached, her mouth was dry, anticipating the night.

Effie called a taxi to meet Adam in a restaurant across town. They wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into people they knew. When she walked into the restaurant, Adam was waiting. Leaning casually against the mahogany bar, long smooth fingers drumming the counter. He was smiling. She breathed and walked across the room.

‘She probably died on impact.’ The policeman betrayed no expression, making her feel like an insect trapped in a jar. ‘The car hit her at 60mph, dragged her two miles before jamming her body against the curb.’

Effie tensed. He didn’t need to tell her what injuries were sustained. She’d felt the collision between the car and the girls head, seen her body thrown like a dummy across the windscreen… the snap of bones breaking…

‘Severe head trauma, broken legs, broken arms, fractured ribs and severe internal bruising.’ The policeman paused, watching her reaction. So much blood. Someone had pierced her skin like a drinks carton.

The metallic smell had turned her stomach.

‘She was difficult to identify.’ He continued.

Effie knew what they wanted. She wasn’t sure she could deliver. If she said she was keeping quiet for her son, would they believe her? They knew her husband had been speeding as well as drunk. Lying would only get them into more trouble. As far as they were concerned it was black and white.

But what about all that grey? And blue and purple, she thought, looking at fresh imprints on her arm. His fingers had squeezed her like a stress ball.

What difference would it make? He would be back, if it was a year in prison or ten. It would only be a brief reprieve. If she made the other choice, and let him go free, she would live in fear. A new identity couldn’t change the past.

‘We know you’re concerned about your son, Mrs Kamera…we’d like to help you. But we’d also like you to help us…’

Devanda hadn’t spoken since the accident. They didn’t know what he had seen. She wondered if she’d imagined him sleeping. It helped to believe he would emerge unaffected. She knew it wasn’t true. Whichever way you put it, a young girl was dead, Effie’s husband in custody and she was terrified of what would happen next.

Artistic License bring J B Priestley’s Northern Comedy to Pembrokeshire

Artistic license played the final night of their production of J B Priestley’s When we were Married to a full house and received a standing ovation as the curtain fell.

The Pembrokeshire based amateur theatre group returned to the stage following sell-out productions for Sister Act (February 2019) and Private Lives (July 2019) and are well known within Pembrokeshire for the quality and commitment of their work.

J B Priestley is most known for his dramatic play, An Inspector Calls, which has been on the school curriculum for years and become a firm favourite among readers and writers a like. When we areMarried is a glorious Northern comedy, by the same writer, which takes place in a country house on the eve of a triple silver wedding anniversary celebration. Except the three couples are horrified to discover that due to a minor detail by the vicar that performed their ceremonies, they were never really married at all. The revelation throws their lives into chaos, much to the amusement of their house staff, as they must question their choices and their future.

Artistic license takes this funny, heart warming and ridiculous story, and brings it to life, with a set design that looks like it’s been torn from the very pages of Priestley’s notebook, a live band (great musical direction by Sarah Benbow) and even an appearance by the Mayor of Milford Haven (Terry Davies as Mayor of Clecklywyke).

Priestley is known for his study of human interaction and director Carol Mackintosh ensures that nothing of the play is wasted. Every little nuance is there, every little character reference. Mackintosh ensures that time is taken to lay out the characters and their relationship, before the startling revelation at the centre of the play, brings everything into a new light.

The actors are sure in their roles, bringing a northern feel to the play from the very beginning. The first person we see on stage, is the house servant Ruby Birtle (played terrifically by Chloe Wheeler), as she welcomes a visitor to the grand house of Alderman Helliwell and his wife. Her friendly demeanour and open way of speaking immediately makes us warm to her as she bustles about the house and reveals things to the guest and to the audience.

Muriel Carpenter is comedy gold as Mrs Northrop, bitter by her poor treatment and disliking the lady of the house, she is delighted to hear, when eavesdropping at the door to the sitting room, that her employers are not legally married. As she moves slowly about the stage, in her working clothes, with her string bag full of possessions, she mocks the lady who once kept her. Her wicked, screeching laugh is infectious.

Glesni Edwards is heart warming as the sweet and good Nancy, who has been seen with her love interest, Gerald Forbes and no longer wants to hide her feelings from her family. The new generation of the Helliwell family, she seems more headstrong and wiser than her flailing aunty and uncle.

Alex Dukes as Gerald Forbes, is charming and funny. At first appearing as the outsider of the group, the boy whose reputation proceeds him and who is not a good fit in the family, later becomes the success as he reveals the devastating secret to the group, and promises to keep it quiet. He remains on the scene, although in the background, until his chance comes to sweep his girl off her feet.

The lead actors, in their coupled roles and as individuals, grasp the audience from the very first moments.

Marcus Lewis is fantastic as Herbert Soppitt, the timid, bumbling, drown trodden husband of sour faced Clara Soppitt (great turn by Terri Harrison) who gains courage from the news he learns. Every little nuance of his character is noticed. Even as he sits awkwardly at the side of the stage while his wife talks, the twitch of his lips, the blink of his eyes over the top of his glasses, the uncomfortable placing of his hands. Lewis is a wonderful physical actor and gives everything to his role.

Herbert’s hilarious eruption of anger and emotion, after being seen by his wife, singing at the piano with Annie, who he once was ‘sweet on’ is one of the highlights of the play. Lewis and Harrison

are a great team on stage and react well to each other.

Dan Bower (Alderman Joseph Helliwell) and Janine Lewis (as long suffering wife Maria Helliwell) play their roles beautifully. Helliwell spends much of the play striding around the room, projecting his opinions and distaste at the world, his wife appearing to just agree for peace sake, until the news of their not being married at all, sends him into a dithering spin. He almost becomes the Herbert Soppit of the play, as Soppit (Lewis) rises to the challenge and experiences the freedom it may offer.

As Maria Helliwell, Janine Lewis takes the female character to the Victorian extreme, and on learning the news, trying to keep it in eventually leads to her falling into hysterics, much to the bemusement of Clara Soppitt. Yet she becomes strengthened by the support of her friends.

Councillor Albert Parker (Will Oliver) is another pillar of society and his wife Annie Parker (Pip Marsh) is of a rather quiet and nervous disposition. Yet on discovering the news, Annie gains courage and questions her choices in Albert Parker. Oliver and Marsh portray their characters with great thought and emotion. There is a slight humour to Annie’s manner, as she makes small remarks about their situation to unknowing strangers. Annie appears the only wife who sees the potential and indeed some of the humour, in the startling revelation.

Particular mention must be given to Brian Harries as Yorkshire Argus’ photographer Henry Ormonroyd. A cheerful man who becomes greatly inebriated during the course of the play, completely unaware of the scandal unfolding around him, preferring to talk to Ruby and his old friend Lottie Grady (great turn by a colourful Margaret Harries), who causes more of a stir as she arrives at the house on learning the 3 men are still single.

Also to Luke Walters as young Argus reporter Fred Dyson and Geraint Sayers in a great supporting role as the Rev Clement Mercer, who puts the three couples in their place and ultimately resolves the situation.

The set (created by Torch Theatre, Sam Wordsworth) for Artistic License’ production is impressive. An Edwardian style sitting room, complete with furnishings and a beautifully ornate drinks/games table, backed by a wall full of antique photographs, which appears torn half way across, perhaps to reflect the destruction at the heart of the play, to reveal the town band. The band play during the interval and at one moment of brilliant comic timing (great musical direction by Sarah Bendow), strike through the stage, complete with banging drums, in celebration, as the three unmarried couples stare blankly ahead crestfallen with the news.

The audience loved this play. J.B Priestly has always appealed to the masses because of his wonderful study of human nature, his interest and fascination in people, in drama, humour and in connection. Artistic License do a fabulous job in bringing his vision to life, with some wonderfully talented individuals, from the director, cast members, musicians, set designers and crew.

They will be back in the summer with a production of the Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

© Amanda Griffiths

February 2020

Discovering Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

So, this enforced lockdown on the whole country, due to pesky Covid 19 has allowed me the much needed time and space for more reading. A few months ago, I met with a friend and wasn’t ashamed to admit to her that I’d never read any Margaret Atwood. I’d seen the commotion that she was making and the recent tv series of The Handmaid’s Tale, which had rave reviews and wondered just what was so special about this author and one particular book. I had a similar feeling with J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series so maybe I should’ve sensed I was on to a winner. Some books you just feel born into, or fall into immediately, for me this was Roald Dahl at a young age, then the goosebumps and point horror series, then later the classics that I was introduced to at school. Atwood had always been an elusive author, someone who was mentioned a lot, featured in a lot of interviews and at book festivals, yet I’d never had the driving urge to pick up one of her books.

My friend kindly lent me a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and also The Testaments, as she was clear that I would want this too on reading the first. Within the first hour of reading, I was hooked. Atwood had a wonderful way of pulling you into her world, her language is original and potent and beautiful, allowing the reader to pause and appreciate her description, whilst also holding back enough to slowly reveal her story. Offred is a handmaid in the republic of Gilead, offered the only option to breed. Otherwise she will be sent off to die slowly of radiation sickness or be hanged on the wall like other traitors. Yet the repressive state cannot control Offred’s desire for freedom and connection as she fights against the system, driven by a desire and the two men on whom her future depends.

Taking to my friend, after reading the first few chapters, I was surprised to find it was written in the 80’s and based on a dystopian future in the 21st century. The story is timeless and could apply to the world we are living in now, particularly the heavy restrictions we face in our immediate future. In Gilead women are seen purely as breeders, and the handmaid’s must breed successfully with their commanders, supplying a child to the wives who will then raise that child as their own.

We follow Offred’s fascinating journey as we see her in a world where no joy or pleasure exists, no feeling expressed except of commitment to the order and desire to breed. The salvaging is a ceremony which makes a spectacle of those who commit offences against the order and are then brutally hanged in public for all to see. The world definitely has the sense of being in a cult, the surroundings much like a POW camp. There are eyes everywhere and Offred is never sure who she can trust. The two men that enter into her lives and appear to offer her some kind of hope, lead her to a very dangerous conclusion.

Atwood writes extremely vividly, and the scenery is clear in the readers mind, as are the costumes the people wear, the bright red and white of the handmaids, which seems to represent their blood and innocence. The green of the Marthas who’s role is simply to provide, to bake and cook and keep the handmaid’s fed and healthy. And the blue of the wives, who have the power over the other women, in this patriarchal world, the commander revealing that they believe women are better led by women.

Much of my fascination with this world, seen purely through Offred’s eyes, is the contrast with her life before. We learn she had a husband and child who she had to leave behind, or rather, at least in terms of the child, were taken from her. We see her world fall away from her as the events leading up to the fall of women’s rights, play out. We question what has happened to her outspoken friend Moira, her family and her Mother. These are things that are never really uncovered. This all adds to the mystery and suspense of the story.

Atwood has a really astute sense of observation in terms of surroundings and character. She presents small details of the world outside, such as a blade of grass or a flower opening, and links them beautifully with the context of Offred’s story. This resonated with me as I watch the outside world and nature continue to function, while my life has become extremely restricted as the virus sweeps through the country.

She also presents fine details of Offred’s emotion and feeling, like her catching herself in the mirror as she passes, almost too afraid to look at herself and what she has become. Even down to the way she describes one scene at the salvaging, where 2 handmaids and a wife are hanged in front of the crowd, the way they are almost aesthetically arranged and how they hang lifeless after the event like ‘birds with their wings clipped, like flightless birds, wrecked angels.’ Stunning language.

Also the handmaids participation in something called particicution where they are told of a man’s rape crimes and encouraged to punish him, resulting in him being beaten to near death by these women. The harrowing description of this is brief but extremely effective and breathtaking.

I finished reading The Handmaid’s tale within a few weeks, the final week being under lock down. This gave the book an extra level of resonance. Atwood’s tale is so timeless that I could apply it to the world we are currently in. We are kept under strict rules, allowed out for specific tasks and watched by enforcing authorities. We have the right to our own bodies but their health and functionality are under threat. Pregnant women are among those seen as vulnerable and to be protected. Are we living in a dystopian future? Has this already been written?

If I could achieve something close to Atwood’s everlasting story, as a writer I would feel that I’d reached an unbelievable goal. Her books are being uncovered by new generations and re discovered by old. My mum recently told me that she thinks my great grandmother had a copy of The Handmaid’s tale. We’re wondering if it’s been in the house here, all this time, untouched for years! I think this book is an important read for anyone, particularly women of any generation and society. It says so much about how we feel about ourselves, our minds and our bodies, the oppression we’ve faced and still face today. Nothing re-enforces this more than the fact that the author wrote the sequel to this book, The Testaments, three decades later. It was published in 2019.

I plan to read The Testaments next, and to watch the critically acclaimed adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale on channel 4. I’m so glad that I came across Margaret Atwood and gave her books a chance. She has a rare talent for storytelling that really connects and effects the reader. I know this book, like a small few, will be with me for a long time. That is the mark of a great writer.