Monday, 19 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Shop Girl by Mary Portas


Mary Portas is famed for transforming Harvey Nichols into the fashion force that it is today as the creative director, hosting television shows Mary the Queen of Shops and, more recently, Mary Portas: Secret Shopper and writing a column for The Telegraph. Now, Portas is unveiling a difficult upbringing that led to her love of fashion and art in her latest book Shop Girl, A Memoir.

Shop Girl, A Memoir has a certain characterising rhythm to it, as we are given access to the soundtrack of Portas’ youth. It stretches from her first love, Marc Bolan, to the infamous Ziggy Stardust and the moment Blondie tore into the music scene. It also expresses Portas’ anger and frustration at Making Your Mind Up topping the charts, while she was listening to Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds. The moment Portas realised it was perfectly okay to cry at work was following the death of John Lennon, where colleagues shared memories over wine in a candle lit studio – crying.

The expectation of what women should be and how they should behave is littered through the book. This starts with Portas as a young girl, envying her brothers as they took up their positions as alter-boys in church, a place where women had a very little role. The traditional family that Portas grew up in, comprised of a stay-at-home mother and a father who was responsible for bringing in the money, had very little space for affection. Also, the expectation of Portas to assume the same role as her mother came around a lot earlier than expected with her mother’s untimely death. The picture painted of life in the Newton household as a place of unity, cluttered with children and home-baking makes the silence brought by her mother’s death even more destroying.

No matter what age you grew up in, Portas’ accounts of her childhood can resonate with all of us. It’s the fear of a maths teacher picking on you to recite your times tables that you still haven’t learned and the envy you have towards your sibling that gets the rollerblades you’ve always wanted. It’s the naivety of being a child, when not getting the right ribbons in your hair for school is the closest you can come to hating your mother.

Over everything else, it’s Portas’ growing love for art and fashion that is the most fascinating element of the book. Portas turned down a place at RADA to study drama. However, this is the perfect example of everything happening for a reason. This saw her go to a local college and pursue window dressing, which would lead her to the fame she has today. The book takes us on her journey of understanding the power of fashion.

“It’s not just what they wear. It’s the way their clothes are used to express something that I don’t fully understand. It’s the first time I’ve realised clothes can say something about you, tell the world what you want to know.”

Shop Girl: A Memoir is a light, engaging read which details the struggles and triumphs of Mary Portas’ life, especially those that led her to become the woman we know her as today.

Reviewed as part of Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence Programme. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Ruby Wax: Sane New World Review


Sane New World
Ruby Wax
Durham Gala Theatre
Saturday 12th September 2015


Having thoroughly enjoyed Ruby Wax’s book Sane New World, to say I was looking forward to her show of the same name would be an understatement. What I saw, however, was a witty and intellectual show that was laced with cheap mental illness jokes that made me want to scream.

Wax graduated from Oxford University with a masters degree in cognitive based mindfulness and there is no doubt that she is a very intelligent women. She explained the role of hormones in the development of mental illness with ease, but it was her knowledge and experience with mindfulness that exceeded it. Mindfulness opens up the opportunity to stop your internal monologue running your life – it gives you a time out. However, Wax explained that “you don’t get a six-pack with one sit-up”. It is the daily practice of mindfulness that brings mental peace. She conducted a mindfulness exercise with the entire theatre and, from what I overheard at the interval, the audience were sold on the concept.

The comedian proposed that we are all in a plague of business and that there is too much of an expectation to always be busy. Even if busy just means managing to go to multiple exercise classes and coffee dates in a day, we must be busy. “What is the point in being able to kiss your own ass in each direction?” Maybe the point is to prove we can achieve more and more as we strive to be better.

By the time we reached the interval, I was over the “psychotic people want to kill you” and “bipolar people laugh then cry” jokes. Then we were back again, and a member of the audience asked what the difference is between bipolar and depression. This was the perfect opportunity for Wax to raise some awareness but, instead, I found myself being informed that if one of my relatives were to try and set fire to my house I would know they have bipolar. No, I would know that they were an arsonist.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

48 Hours of Fringe


48 Hours of Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe
Hannah Morpeth & Beth Allison
Monday 24th August

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There aren't many places where you will see Shakespeare reincarnated as an unhinged 21st century woman; have the opportunity to flashmob unsuspecting diners at Pizza Express; and witness what can only be described as plugged-in, partying ballet.

To quote 10x10x10's final performer "being on stage makes you a God" - they have the power to make an audience laugh, cry and believe all within a few minutes if they wish. Open Clasp Theatre's Key Change throws the audience into life in a female prison and their quests to feel safe whilst trapped in lives of domestic violence, fear and poverty. It is a vicious circle. The four women serving prison sentences have ended up inside because of a chain of events started by the witting or unwitting actions of others. A man beats his wife, physically and mentally, way past the point of breaking; a young girl struggles with the ghosts of her past, is offered drugs, and enters a destructive relationship with them that she cannot escape. Key Change is a harrowing portrayal of exploitation at its most extreme.

Despite only being 21 ourselves, we're getting ever more detached from the experiences of today's teenagers. Everyone is quick to tell youngsters that their school years are the best years of their lives: Broken Windows challenges that. Are we really teaching young girls that the biggest display of strength and success you can possibly exhibit is an eating disorder? Are we giving the message that the celebrity whose "perfect life" constantly clogs up your continuously refreshed Instagram feed is the best role model you can find? When objectified in the street, is the best response really 'thank you' rather than 'fuck you'? Not to mention the race to lose your virginity and the fact that 'you've lost weight' is the biggest compliment. Maybe it's the most important lessons that we're forgetting to teach young girls. That their worth is not defined by their number of followers, the dress sizes they are able to drop or a constant flow of male attention. If only “there was some sort of armour that could protect us from the bullshit.”

That's enough of the doom and gloom! Since the 2011 release of Friends with Benefits we've had this fantasy of either joining a flashmob or someone arranging it for us. On Sunday, it finally happened! We were let lose into a flashmob organised by Guru Dudu - what a fella. We waltzed (we use the term loosely), broke free from our dignity and brought Uptown Funk to the cobbles.

Do you ever see a show and think, where the hell did the idea for that come from? Enter Mrs Shakespeare, a one woman show of Shakespeare reincarnated 400 years later as a woman - because coming back as a "baldy old man with a goatee" would be too obvious. It came as no surprise to learn that William was undergoing psychiatric evaluation whilst working on his/her new 'modernised' masterpieces: Hitler the First, and a rewrite of Hamlet to be titled Ophelia.

Now for people who can really dance. Balletronic was pure strength and elegance wrapped up in an electric musical atmosphere. The fusion of modern dance and ballet was honestly like nothing we have ever seen before. Both male and female were in complete ownership of the dance space; the fantastic orchestra played with such passion that their instruments broke (literally - the bow strings of the lead violinist were crying in protest). Balletronic was a beautiful reminder that that dance has the ability to tell stories, and take you on an emotional rollercoaster.

All in all, a brilliant 48 hours spent in fantastic company. Edinburgh Fringe is the most crazy, eclectic, unique, reality suspended of events . Where else would you find yourself (the most sparkly woman sitting on a bale of hay) in a cowshed at 2am, listening to some pretty awesome live music?