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.

A writer’s reaction to our current crisis… finding peace in creativity.

So, in the history of the world, it’s known that when things get scary writers turn to their craft to make sense of it. In the days where even the word virus, is met with fear, anxiety and in some cases outright panic, I’ve tried to calm my growing anxiety, and use my sudden mass of free time, by turning to my natural comfort. Writing. In the past few days, I have finished several projects that, before this, seemed to loom before me with nowhere near enough time to complete them. I have read more than ever, I have watched films and documentaries on TV that I have never got around to. I have also witnessed the fragility and selfishness of human nature, the way fear can spread through people and cause them to withdraw, to focus on their own survival. I’ve read about it, I know it’s in all of us, but for the first time ever I’ve witnessed it first hand. I have also seen kindness and selflessness among friends and family, who have checked in relentlessly and offered their support in every way possible. The returned smile of a stranger on the street or in the supermarket aisles, to show me that the world isn’t completely crazy.

Ironically, the first project for me to complete, was a black mirror episode which I have been working on for weeks. I’ve always had a great love and admiration for Charlie Brooker’s dystopian series and the ideas for 2 episodes came to me back in the summer months. My first episode, based on the misuse of drones and what happens when someone comes across something that wasn’t meant for them and starts using it for the own gain, is 14 page long as a first draft. I hope to go back and edit it, working on improving the characters and action, maybe even send it in to channel 4. Writing the final scene of the episode, in the recent days of the coronavirus chaos, I almost felt an eerie dread that I was living in some kind of black mirror world. In a weird way, this gave strength to my imagination and fed into my creativity, leaving me with one of the most satisfying endings in something I’ve written for a considerable time. Maybe there’s a lot of truth in the idea of writing from direct experience.

I also have ideas for a second episode, featuring the misuse of driverless cars, for a personal vendetta. I’m excited to get started on this soon too. In a way, this sudden threat to our lives and our nation, has shown me the dark side of people and the world, and tapped in to that theory that Brooker uses for most of his black mirror episodes. The ‘what would I do?’ questions that look over every possible future situation. I’d like to think I know what my responses would be, but none of us can truly say what we would do or how we would react in any given situation…exploring this on the page is deeply interesting.

I am also continuing work on my third novel. A crime story that follows the investigation into the murder of a young woman in a remote English town, the life of the woman investigating the case and her family issues. I’m around 1/4 of my way in and things are looking promising. I’m particularly focused on exploring the relationship between Sarah, my lead character, and her son Sam and ex husband. As well as her confusion over her sexuality and relationship with a female co worker. This is all going on in the background while the murder investigation takes hold, and the focus is on the group of boys who found the body, (one is friends with Sarah’s son) and the mysterious older brother of one who has since disappeared. I have always been told that i write very visually – I see things evolve more than hear them – and can imagine it being an ITV drama or small film for online streaming.

I find it fascinating how times like these, the likes of which most of us have never seen before, can fuel something in us. Some kind of deep rooted creativity and fascination that works in our subconscious then comes to the fore when we most need it. Without my art right now, I’d be rather lost, I’d feel unable to make sense of something which is absolutely nonsensical. The ability to express myself through my work and even simply through any creative outlet, not necessarily for show, is also my ability to survive, to stay at peace and to thrive where in other areas I can’t control what happens.

So I am going to use this extra free time that I have, to continue to create and explore and develop my projects. As well as some personal projects I’ve been meaning to focus on. In particular, a new vision board for the future., pointing to a few changes I’d like to implement within the next 12 to 18 months.

I’m going to continue to see friends, to make dinner, to bake cakes, to watch Netflix, to listen to podcasts, and read more books….Because, for me, as I’m sure for many of you out there, this is what makes me feel good, feel safe and free. While there’s not much else I can control, I can make something beautiful out of the things that I have and continue to live, until all of this is over. Love and best wishes to everyone. x

Cats – Film review The Cat’s Pyjamas or Dogs dinner?

I chose to go along to see the reincarnation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, just as the critics reviews were making the papers. The musical tells the story of a tribe of Jellicle cats who gather each year at the Jellicle ball to decide who will ascend to the heaviside layer and come back to a new life. Cats was originally based on the book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and having been set to music by Lloyd Webber first hit the stage in 1981 to positive acclaim.

It ran in the West End for 21 years and 8949 performances and holds a special place in a lot of peoples hearts.

The bad press seemed to have no effect on the hoards going to see the film, who were encouraged by a cast overflowing with celebrities, from Judi Dench and Ian Mckellen, to Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson and even James Corden. Like them, I wanted to see it for myself, to make my own judgements and opinions. After all, surely something based on the musical by the wonderful Lloyd Webber couldn’t be that bad, could it? I discovered it could.

From the very opening of the film, it is just surreal. The new CGI effects have been compared to the early shocks of the creatures in James Cameron’s Avatar, yet we mustn’t forget that this was a success. The fact that these cats have real hands and feet was too distracting throughout. The fact that they wear clothes, including shoes and dresses, was just too much. If the story line had been remotely interesting, or the acting (much of it by huge stars) convincing or engaging, or even the filming more eye catching this may have been reduced but it just didn’t work. It felt like the director (Tom Hooper – known for successes such as Les Miserables and The Kings Speech) had simply thrown a bunch of recognisable actors onto a stage, grabbed a successful script and hoped that would be enough. I questioned many times, as my mind drifted throughout the production, were the actors ever in the same space as one another? The interaction and connection, lack of chemistry was mind-blowingly obvious. I didn’t really care about any of the characters. And why overshadow two perfectly good lead actors (who did their best with their terrible lot) with names such as Dench (looking dreadful in giant furs and cat make up – she also can’t sing) and Corden (actually a good turn yet it may damage his credentials being involved)? And a random appearance by Taylor swift? Who was fantastic but just seemed out of place in her role.

There were a few significant moments alongside this. Corden took one scene and made it funny and enjoyable, yet he was on his own in this. It felt like a stand up comedy act for the sake of the audience. Hudson got to show her vocal range as she sang legendary solo Memories on the streets of London. Although her acting and facial expressions seemed repetitive.

The casting here was just bizarre but the least of the problem. There seemed to be no point to the story at all. Having never seen the original Lloyd Webber musical on stage, I hope this is not the case. I imagine not, as how would it have become so successful for so many years?

The cinematography may have been good, but I can’t say I noticed. Too much was jarring, everything was too bright, too off kilter, too forced. The music, it was nice to see, consisted of the original soundtrack, along with a few new songs introduced for the remake. Although I pity those involved and have heard none of them on the radio since.

Apparently this version of the production is the most expensive yet, at approximately 95 million. My question is, what did they spend it on? Besides the actors fees and fantastical new CGI?

As my friend and I left the cinema, she said to me, curiosity killed the cat. I would add, it didn’t just kill it, but it tortured it for 2 hours previously before driving in the final spike. Just when you hope it will finish, it goes on for another ten minutes. I started to wonder whether I needed to be a Cat person, to have seen the original, to have liked the story. Apparently the movements are very convincing…lost on me. Best left on the cutting room floor, as they used to say. Worst film I’ve seen in years.

© Amanda Griffiths

1917 – A harrowing and immersive account of life in the First World War Trenches.

As the Granddaughter of an ex soldier and dispatch rider from the Second World War, and Great Granddaughter to a soldier who served in the machine gun core during the battle of the Somme, I have always been fascinated by War history. I have always felt an umbilical like attachment to the subject, a need for more knowledge and to surround myself in the facts of the days long gone, but never forgotten. It is the real people’s stories that fascinate me. Their tales, often not told for centuries, for fear of judgement, returning memories, or implications years on, move me like no other, enduing long after the last shot was fired or the last man fell on the battle fields. Tales of a life lived, alongside a horrific period of history, where every day was soaked in fear and unknowing, journeys spiked by incredible fatigue and often injury, loss of friends and family, battling on through fog and mud. I was so taken by my Granddad’s own account, of his early days as a foot soldier, and then as a dispatch rider during World War 1, as well as learning about my Dad’s uncle Jack who died as a prisoner of War in Autumn 1918,  before the Armistice, that I even wrote a poem, which has been published locally and nationally and read on stage at the Theatr Gwaun Writers’ Festival in 2015. In his Boots is a re-imagining of the footsteps of a soldier, during the War, and everything he encounters, everything he feels during those years, told by the boots he wears.

Sam Mendes film, 1917, was on my radar long before the murmur of award nominations and critics reviews. I’ve seen many War films, including the more recent composition of World War 1 footage, in Peter Jackson’s  They Shall not Grow Old, the closest we have perhaps been to hearing and experiencing the real tales of war days from the soldiers themselves. 1917 blew them all out of the water, immersing me in 2 solid hours of war hell, from the depths of the Trenches in France, to the horrors of No Man’s Land and into the mouths of the German opposition camp.

1917 follows two men who are enlisted to travel together into enemy territory to deliver a hand written message to their allies, to stop an attack which could prove fatal to 1600 men. The seemingly impossible task, takes the viewer head on into the front line horrors of World War 1, Mendes directing beautifully, in a production that was shot to look as if it was made in one single take, not shying away from the harsh realities of such an ambitious feat. The true story itself, came from Mendes Grandfather, who helped him piece together the remarkable tale, and bring it to life on the big screen.

George Mackay and Dean Charles-Chapman play Lnc Corp William Scourfield and Lnc Corp Tom Blake, bringing humility and realness to the roles. Every feeling and action is felt by us too (from the fear at being approached by the enemy, to the relief at finding food and fresh milk at a farm house, to the horrors and risk of protecting each other). We root for them to get to where they need to be, fully aware of the fate that may await them. As they travel together, their bond strengthens, and when times become difficult, their strength and endurance is quite heartbreaking.

There are some great cameos by famous faces, including Colin Firth (General Erinmore) who first sends the men on their mission,  Andrew Scott as straight-talking Leslie, his satirical lines making us both laugh and despair as he aids Scourfield and Blake into No man’s land, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie, the man who must ultimately stop the attack, under General Erinmore’s orders. However, Mendes makes the right choice in ensuring the glimpse of famous faces is brief, and the lead actors are virtually unknown. This adds to the authenticity of the production, these men could be anyone, even our own ancestors.

The cinematography (Roger Deakins) in this film is quite breathtaking at times. The filming was accomplished in a series of elongated takes with elaborately choreographed moving camera shots to give the idea that it was being shot in one continuous take. We remain with the two central characters from the very beginning, until the film credits go up.  Along with the incredibly atmospheric music, the cinematography serves to highlight each scene and each character’s feeling and emotions.

In the final few scenes of the film, we see the ruins of a French town and it’s church lit up against the backdrop of a world on fire. This is so striking on screen and hauntingly beautiful. As Scourfield stumbles through the wreckage, his only thought for his mission, the lighting is incredible, highlighting his exhausted frame, then plunging it back into darkness as he moves through the wreckage and runs from his attackers. This scene contrasts wonderfully with the later image of him floating down the river under a stream of cherry blossom petals. Mendes and his team highlight here the tragic beauty amidst the horror, much like the image of poppies growing on No Man’s Land. The idea that nature endures is comforting. 

Mendes’ latest project is a true to life, harrowing account of life in the First World War trenches. Yet it is also something much more. It is a celebration of friendship, of hope and endurance, a commemoration to the many men and women lost during the many past Wars and to their families, like Mendes’ own, who live on today with the memories. It’s for those men who never came back to tell their stories and for the next generation, who must learn the importance and value of remembering, to carry the torch on for their children. Everyone who worked on the film should be proud of what they’ve produced. 1917 should sit among the shelves of history, in a homage to the Great War.

Dracula – BBC One/Netflix

One of my favourite modern writing duos have returned to the BBC with an updated version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have become masters of taking literary classics and twisting them, making for gripping viewing and iconic work. Their last project, a modern updating of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, which made lead Benedict Cumberbatch a household name, was applauded by critics and audiences alike, and four series later it still has a cult following and a thirst (excuse the pun) for more episodes.

In Stoker’s Dracula, Moffat and Gatiss, have done it again. Taking a Gothic novel that is centuries old and turning it on it’s head, with a brooding and blood thirsty vampire who comes up against a feisty nun (Dolly Wells deserves a Bafta), and travels across the world and time itself into a modern day Sherlockian style science lab to meet his fate, and the future blood line of his victims. Claes Bang is fabulously breathtaking as the Count, terrorising strangers and ripping his victims apart, while cracking one liners with a quick smile.

Emerging, covered in mucus, from a wolves body, he says to the terrified nuns, ‘I don’t know about you ladies, but I do love fur.’ While he constantly refers to his not drinking ‘wine’ and that he likes ‘vintage.’

Johnathan Harker, the lawyer sent to visit the Count, is shockingly unrecognisable at the beginning of the first episode as he sits in the shadows of the castle, telling the nuns his story. We watch horrified as he talks slowly, unsteadily, prompted by Sister Agatha, his eyes sunken in his emaciated face, bald head and sunken teeth. A fly crawls across his eye and then disappears behind it, he doesn’t flinch. This opening sets the scene for the horror to come.

Later, the blood and gore is there in abundance, with necks being torn open, heads being decapitated (and used as a kind of bloody dice in his game) and fingernails slipping off the fingers of dying humans like paper.

This adaptation pays homage to all the others, the creeping silent Nosferatu of 1922 (the original setting of Orava castle in Slovakia is used in this production), to the dark mystery and charm of Christopher Lee (1958 techni-colour production), and the screeches and laughs of the hammer horror movies. Yet it adds a particularly modern flavour, which is distinctive of Moffatt and Gatiss’s work. The scientific visuals in the opening credits, the episode titles and information on screen, and of course the switch to modern day in the final episode. We can’t help but laugh as we see Dracula adjusting to the modern world, in the creators imaginings, swiping left and right on tinder, texting and even using the internet to get himself a lawyer (who is brilliantly played in a cameo by Gatiss). We allow Moffat and Gatiss to get away with the slight time adjustments, of a technology focused modern day world set against a very 80’s style backdrop including techno music of the era.

There are also several humorous nods to the practicality of having a vampire, a non human creature in a very human world – in particular when Dracula points out the toilet in his cell and asks what it is for. ‘I’m a vampire!’ he declares, clearly amused, as the audience laughs too.

Moffatt and Gatiss go even further to twist the myths of the beast himself, and to suggest reasons for why he fears so many things. Wells is strong and confident as well as witty and sarcastic, as atheist Sister Agatha Van Helsing. Her real identity and heritage is something which we don’t see coming. Although we do perhaps guess that the woman in disguise at the monastery is Harker’s fiance, through several camera close ups and a suggestion she knows more than her silence portrays. The final episode brings the tale with a crash into the modern day, where Van Helsing herself appears to be waiting on a beach for Dracula, with a full swat team and helicopter. We of course, later learn that this Van Helsing is a descendent of Sister Agatha, and the manager of the facility which has been set up to explore his kind for medical research and ultimately detain him.

This is where it gets particularly exciting, as everything from here on is unpredictable. We cannot guess how it will end.

This fantastic series has taken a much loved classic and brought it to life in new ways, opening the door for more. The format here would work well as a series, much like Sherlock. Whether the response will demand it, or the writers will consider and pursue it remains to be seen.

A new writing year

It’s the end of the first week of a New Year. The futuristic sounding 2020, a year that promises big change. Having had a particularly difficult and stressful end to 2019, my writing, once again seemed to fall by the wayside. Even when there were small, unoccupied pockets of time in my schedule, I had neither the inspiration or the energy. People no longer seemed to fascinate me, but simply to annoy and irritate me. And if i was to have a chance to be alone, in a room, with only my laptop and hours to write freely, I certainly did not want to write about them. I just needed to be, for a while.

So, at midnight on the 31st December, with the turning of a New Year and also a new decade, I promised myself that this year things would be different.  I had to stop treating my writing like a hobby, or something far down my list of priorities, to squeeze in when there was no need for anything else. I also, more so, had to stop other people treating my writing this way. I had to face the truth of what I wanted. To be left alone, to have times to read and watch films, and indulge netflix series, to set the ground for my inspiration and creativity to be brought to life. I asked myself, ‘why must I always be at breaking point before I realise this?’ The cycle often continues and I find myself, inevitably in the same place, over and over, year after year, questioning my choices and my sanity. At the end of year, it dawned on me that I was actually the instigator of my own fate. I would plan and organise, and say yes, and promise and push myself and go out of my way…when what really mattered, what I really needed, was forgotten pushed aside. My happiness was somehow forgotten or deemed unimportant, often by myself, but also by other people who did not have my best interests at heart.

So I found myself looking into the New Year, with a sense of positivity, of excitement for change, for progress and for me. There was also the sense of peace and calm, that recognised I needed to slow down, to reflect and learn from last year. Being busy did not always mean being happy, or successful, or rich. I would find the value in small things, in simple experience, in the people I loved being around. Also remembering everything I have achieved, imagining what a 10 year old me, even a 20 year old me might make of where I am in my life now. If I’d tried to see into the future and what my life might be like at 36, when I was much younger, I could never imagined I’d be where I am now.

Poems and articles published in newspapers and magazines, working on my third book and part time in a Theatre as well as being a Private Tutor. I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined and I’m proud of where I’ve come from and where I’ve been. The support of my family and friends has been immeasurable and even in difficult times this year they have shown their support and love in so many wonderful ways.

My final realisation seemed to settle when everything else had come to the surface. I needed to ease the pressure. For I read somewhere once that ‘only you can change the way you treat yourself, how you talk to yourself and what you think about you. Only you can change yourself and your habits. No one else.’ This is true, and it continues to resonate. Only I can do this. Only I can save my creativity from being stifled and crushed from the stress and pressures of every day life. I have to remain positive and open and calm, to allow myself to think and feel as a writer does. I have to make time for my work, for my craft and my experimentation. It makes me happy, it makes me thrive, it makes me complete. So this New Year, this New dawn of creativity, will hopefully bring with it the opportunity for lots more writing, as well as reading, watching films, walking, baking, everything that inspires me to be at my best. I hope that this time next year I feel as happy and positive and will have achieved the simple pleasures that I seek, with the support and confidence of those who matter.