Changing channel…

On the 9th August, my sister and I will be starting our travels in Singapore. You can follow our new blog ‘The Rook Book’ by following this link >>> therookbook.wordpress.com

Tune in if you fancy following our travels in:

  • Singapore
  • Bali, Lombok and the Gilis
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Sri Lanka
  • India

For some out-of-this-world pics, you can find us on Insta too @therookbook

See you on the other side xxx

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The Ferryman @ The Gielgud Theatre

**Warning: a couple of minor spoilers below**

Lovers of Butterworth’s hit play Jerusalem will not be disappointed by his most recent West End success, The Ferryman. With about as much profanity and all of the mastery we have come to expect, Butterworth delights his audience with over three hours (and trust me, it does not drag) of unparalleled storytelling. We are introduced to the Carneys: a fractured family damaged by the political instability in Northern Ireland. Set in the family home during harvest time, the dichotomy between their public and private worlds starts to collapse as ghosts of the past return to remind them of their Troubles.

As with many gripping plays, there is a complex love triangle at the heart of The Ferryman. After the disappearance of her husband ten years prior to the start of the play, Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly) and her son Oisin (Rob Malone) are taken in by her brother in law Quinn (Paddy Considine) and his frail wife Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly).  Confined to her bed for most of the play, Mary’s role in the play borders on the inconsequential. It is the relationship between Caitlin and Quinn which demands our attention. As the play opens on the family home, Caitlin and Quinn are found sitting around the family table by candlelight, playing a game of Connect 4.  Blind folding each other in a challenge to see who can win without sight they then dance together like teenagers in the opening throes of love.  We are tricked into believing we are watching husband and wife. Only when Quinn removes his blindfold and silently watches Caitlin dancing freely, arms in the air, do we get our first sense of the longing he is unable to act upon.  Aunt Pat (Dearbhla Molloy) voices this for us when the three women cluster around this same table and she insensitively remarks how Caitlin is mistook for Quinn’s wife at a local party, making her “mouth water just to recall it”. The silence on stage is palpable as the audience squirms with the scene’s dramatic irony.

The hubbub of family life is captured brilliantly by the seemingly never ending stream of children who fly into view from all parts of the stage. From baby to teen, and everything in between, the audience has quite a job remembering their Michael (Fra Fee) from their JJ (Niall Wright), their Honor (Sophia Ally) from their Mercy (Meibh Campbell). This is not to diminish the great talent of these young actors, however.  When little Honor comes running on stage with her arts and crafts crown, demanding she be addressed as Cleopatra and spouting a shocking tale involving her brother’s exposed bum crack, we are utterly captivated. Every curse word the girls utter in their broad Irish accent, as they enjoy half a thimble of Irish whiskey, only serves to further endear them to their audience.  Taking a look at their elders immediately shows us where they have picked up such bad habits. Alcoholic Uncle Pat (Des MacNeill), partial to one too many snifters, and his cantankerous sister Aunt Pat, are a fabulous duo, their endless slanging match indicating a stifling, shared history.

Butterworth is a master of introducing classical, literary and modern references in his works. From sources as disparate as William Blake and Girls Aloud in Jerusalem, he introduces similar mixing in The Ferryman.  Most striking is in the play’s title, which references Virgil’s The Aeneid and thus captures the sense of loss, ambiguity and restlessness which defines this play. Also of interest is Butterworth’s characterisation of Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson). Plodding onto the stage dressed in a dirty overcoat and sporting a wiry, unkempt beard, he is a character whom we can only half laugh at. He kindly interacts with the children, producing not one, not two, but several apples from his deep coat pockets, finally presenting a live rabbit as a last gift (and as we learn, quite a regular one). He has a gentle way about him, reciting poetry in a strangely lucid, inspired moment and producing a bouquet of roses when he attempts to secure Caitlin’s hand. He is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Lenny in more ways than one. From his connection to the play’s rabbits and his giant, gentle demeanour to his role in an accidental murder during the play’s tragic denouement, he follows a very similar character arc. Even Muldoon (Stuart Graham), IRA leader and bearer of bad news, could be seen as a forbidding Inspector Goole figure, darkening the doorway of the Carney family home.

Perhaps a little overdone is the final scene, which sees several characters lying dead in a typical Shakespearean tragic finish. What saves it, is the careful use of lighting to remind us of the play’s eerie title. Old Aunt Maggie Faraway (Bríd Brennan) slowly stumbles to the window, which casts a pale blue light over the depressing scene. Her voice quakes as she cries out that the banshees are coming, those lying dead on stage waiting to join the restless souls.

Five stars!

Six months on…

Riding on the wave of post deadline euphoria, most third year university students have one thing in mind: alcohol, and lots of it. A string of trashy nights in packed clubs, with equally inebriated friends, is all that’s listed on the agenda for the next two months. The promise of real life, with all its responsibilities, is held at arm’s length. Six months on, and with my uni days swiftly becoming distant memories, I’ve learned a great deal taking those oh so important steps into my [insert unemployed/frightening/what the f*** am I going to do!?] adult existence. For those of you embarking on those very same steps, my following list of life experiences may reassure you that you are not alone out there in the big bad world. For those of you yet to graduate, I strongly urge you to buy yourself some time and submit that master’s application before it’s too late.

  1. The unpaid internship

We were all warned it would be tough; eager students lapping up the advice of industry professionals during a journalism talk. “There are 100 media graduates to every one entry-level media job”, lecturers from Trent reminded us, their eyes boring into our souls to see if we were cut out for the brutal world of journalism. Someone gulped.  Another person coughed awkwardly.

Scrolling through the pages of Gorkana and Mediargh can be pretty disheartening as a graduate. In almost every job description, you will be asked for at least two year’s paid experience with a commercial publication. And for those that don’t, you can bet that the pool of hungry recent graduates will be fighting over the remaining jobs like animals over a carcass. Sounds extreme? I wish I was exaggerating. For those of us who don’t have links on the inside, a famous celebrity relative or exceptional bribery skills, the common way in is the dreaded unpaid internship. With expenses sometimes covered by a compassionate employer, the unpaid internship is the deceptive tool used by companies to convince you they are accelerating your career. Meanwhile, you’re picking up skinny lattes, avocado toast and the ed-in-chief’s repaired iPhone before noon.

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  1. Pulling pints

Saving a small fortune for train fares and overpriced Costa lunches requires part-time work. Therefore, living in a historic town, known for its collection of pubs, my choice seemed obvious when I signed up for work with my local boozer. Five months of conversations with families enjoying a Sunday lunch, visitors from across the pond admiring the ‘quaint, old-fashioned beams’ (yes, the pub really was built in the 16th century), and regulars, who call in like clockwork at 8pm every Thursday, teaches you a lot about the diversity of human life. I now understand that there is a certain nobility in working as a barmaid, having spent countless hours providing a free counselling service for a number of customers: soothing broken hearts, chatting about job concerns and discussing the problems with our Conservative government. In spending more hours working than socialising, I have come to view the half-cut punter as a kind of friend.

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  1. Moving back in with the rents

Recently talking on the phone with a friend still at university, she asked about my plans for Friday night. A beat. Mind racing, I try and think of something other than the sad truth. “Umm, I might be going for a drink” I reply, heart thumping, mouth dry, all the while knowing my Friday night was unlikely to move beyond the sofa, watching a rom com with my two cats. A pause on the other end of the phone, a sigh: “Liv, you’re not going to sit and watch TV with the cats again are you?” Admitting my lie, I soon learned there was no point trying to disguise my new, prematurely middle aged existence. Returning home to a ghost town, with friends scattered around the globe and a bunch of 60 plus year old’s as my only evidence of new friendship can be a pretty tough burden to bear.

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  1. The dating pool

This brings me to the dating pool. That ever-shrinking, tiny, muddy puddle, which seemed like an oasis of hope while you were at university. I once wrote an article condemning apps like Tinder, believing them to be the antithesis of romance. I criticised their role in making all singletons walking, talking ‘swipers’, at risk of developing early arthritis from the movement. With romantic opportunities on the downturn, however, I decided to challenge my inner cynic and embraced the apps. I laboured over which profile pictures to use and consulted with my Tinder Management Team (aka other fellow singleton friends) about the best openers and where to draw the line on sexting. A couple of months in and I’m relieved to say I haven’t been catfished. The jury’s still out on this one.

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  1. Letting go

Relaxing in the Gili Islands, kayaking along Ha Long Bay and visiting the old tea plantations in Sri Lanka are some of the next big adventures on my list. Although I fully expect to come up against a number of challenges (sunburn is a definite and being scammed probable), I’m hoping to come back enlightened, cultured and maybe sporting a slight tan if I’m lucky.

Returning to Nottingham at the end of this week signals a brief homecoming to my favourite city in England. So many memories, from university balls and society events, to graduation with my best friends, were created here. This time, however, I am returning as a graduate and fully fledged adult. Well, perhaps the last part isn’t exactly true.  But I’m working on it.

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Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ @ The Old Vic

Named “a wild comedy of deluded misfits” by Michael Billington, this most recent revival of Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ is a gripping and intense piece of drama which carries its audience from absurd moments of comedy to desperate scenes of loneliness and despair.   Set in one location – a dilapidated, crumbling apartment in a set of flats which are threatened by demolition – a hobo (Timothy Spall) finds charity in the form of reserved handyman Aston (Daniel Mays).  This simple kindness, however, becomes a long term commitment as Davis (Spall) establishes himself as a tenant, his determination to reach Sidcup in order to claim his papers becoming less and less believable as the play progresses.  With the introduction of Mick (George MacKay), and his strange yet fierce protectiveness over Aston, the dynamics become confused as Davis attempts to play off the two brothers, ultimately revealing him to be a disloyal and scheming fraud.  However, Matthew Warchus has worked wonderfully to ensure the complex depiction of Pinter’s characters: Davis is not just a wheedling con artist; he is also a vulnerable and lonely old man, although admittedly one in need of a good wash.

It is the detail of the production which makes it memorable, through the nuanced facial expressions of all three characters, and particular comedic moments.  When Davis finds himself the proud owner of a fabulous new (only to him) velvet smoking jacket, he is also astonished to notice the handkerchief which comes as a freebie.  Pulling it majestically out of the jacket, ready to puff it up and place it in his top pocket, he draws the hankie apart, the sound of its crusty age being audible to the audience and producing a disgusted, collective intake of breath.  Of course, Davis continues to strut about like a peacock, as oblivious to the ridiculousness of his dated and dirty outfit as the pungent smell which follows him about the stage.  He is a brilliant and confusing mixture of pride and poverty, giving off the impression of astute and wise elder, comfortably swinging his crossed leg and eating a cheese sandwich whilst listening to Mick discuss the horrors of the work shy.  The irony of this moment could not have been driven home more clearly unless Warchus himself walked on stage with a sign labelled ‘work shy’ and an arrow pointed straight at Davis.  It is impossible not to draw associations between Spall and his previous roles, his grasping hands, rat-like mannerisms and peasant’s lurch being flagrantly reminiscent of Peter Pettigrew.

George MacKay’s verbal gymnastics, spitting out his words (‘Putney’ holding particular venom) at rocket speed, produced more than one round of amazed applause from the audience.  Dressed all in black and strutting about the stage like a 50s rocker in his leather, with slicked back hair, he is a rather jarring addition to the play.  However, his clear protectiveness over Aston suggests a kinship which serves to illuminate Davis’ nomadic existence, the old man repeatedly refusing a ‘friendship’ with Aston.  Only on the close of the play, when all avenues have been shut to him, is the true vulnerability of Davis exposed: he stands centre stage, jaw wobbling with lost puppy dog eyes, desperately seeking recognition from Aston yet receiving only his turned back.

Aston’s troubled past, hidden beneath a composed and withdrawn exterior, pushes through in certain moments, yet Daniel Mays always maintains control over his character.  Sitting on his bed, with a sleeping Davis opposite him, a spotlight illuminates Aston in the gloom as his monologue recounts the vicious injustice done to him in youth.  The speech is lengthy yet Mays handles this beautifully, revealing just enough anger without losing control on stage.  The play is full of these highs and lows, from the slapstick snatching of Davies’ bag, to the smashing of Aston’s prized golden Buddha.  In a space which is no more than a glorified junkyard, it is the combined genius of these three actors which truly brings Pinter’s play to life.

5 stars! (and I rarely give this rating)

Why I desperately miss proper bread

About five months ago, I discovered that I have developed a wheat intolerance.  For anyone who knows me, they will understand that this revelation is about as devastating as finding out that your beloved family pet has died, or that Downton Abbey is due to finish at Christmas (I still feel choked whenever I think about it).  Being a university student and a lover of anything carb-based, I’m still reeling from the news.  I constantly debate: what am I supposed to make for dinner? Pasta, bread, pizza, pastry and, worst of all, cake, are all out of the picture.  I stare with longing as my housemate shoves a cheap pizza from Sainsburys in the oven, the timer set for 20 minutes, as I begin the long process of chopping up vegetables for some homemade soup.  Now, I’m sure for anyone who doesn’t understand the sacrifices which must be made by sufferers of a food intolerance, you are probably questioning: why doesn’t she just buy wheat free alternatives?  If only the answer were as simple as the question.

I’ll begin by explaining my new shopping experience as I pop to the local Co-operative round the corner from my house.  With my friend’s wheeled shopping trolley in one hand (no judgements here please) and a list in the other, I enter the shop thinking that I’ll be back in time for Downton Abbey which is due to start in fifteen minutes.  After all, I’m organised, I’m prepared, and, sadly, I can no longer be tempted by the mince pies on offer by the till.  The first item at the top of my list is quite simple: bread.  After all, who can go without it?  While accepting that I need a gluten free alternative, I was not ready for the shock of how little choice I would be given.  I stood in front of the shelves with rows and rows of different brands of bread.  From Hovis, to Warburtons, to Kingsmill, I did not see one offering a gluten free option.  In an age where today, 1 in 133 people (compared to 1 in 2500 a decade ago) are diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, you would’ve thought that the big brand bread giants had found an answer to our long struggle.  Apparently not.  I was walked to a different part of the supermarket by a shop assistant and shown three tiny shelves, barely large enough to accommodate one loaf of bread, let alone a range.  Luckily for the Co-op, however, not even one could be found.  “Oh, we must have run out”, I was told by the bored and unhelpful teenager.  Run out… RUN OUT?! How is it fair that a whole area of the supermarket is dominated by about ten different kinds of white bread and not even one small gluten free loaf can be found?  I then looked at the price label beneath the empty shelf and my outrage grew further.  Although some of their own brand white farmhouse bread can be bought for a cost-effective 75p, the wheat free bread I was unable to purchase would have had me stretching to more than £2.  I’m a student! What makes these supermarket giants think I am happy to be paying almost triple the price for bread which tastes half as nice as the real deal?

I’ve even attempted making my own spelt bread which has caused more than one of my housemates to declare that I am turning into the perfect housewife.  Placing the dough next to an electric heater in my freezing cold student house, however, soon made me realise that this is a lot more hassle than it’s worth.  For this reason, on more than one occasion I have slipped up and given into the call of gluten.  Whether it is a drunken choice in the local pizza takeaway after a night out, my head resting on the counter while the ‘D2 special’ is made up for me, or a completely sober one in a restaurant with some friends, I find it impossible to totally cut wheat out of my life.  All I can say is thank god I’m not a celiac. The next time, however, I find a person telling me they have taken up some fad diet and have gone wheat-free to lose a few pounds, I don’t think I will be able to stop myself from embarking upon a full blown rant.  I haven’t given up wheat as a lifestyle choice.  I’d like to see how they would deal with the bloating and the cramps.