REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns at Northern Stage.

By Hildy Harland

A beautifully touching, strong piece of theatre, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a window into another culture, destroyed and rebuilt with an oppressive and extremist regime leaving women vulnerable and desperate! The play covers a plethora of uncomfortable and difficult subjects, domestic abuse, extreme religious laws, death and miscarriage however within this there are light hearted moments too which for me give the show a realness rather than just playing on the drama of the setting.

The more relatable parts of everyday life and the extreme situations the main female characters found themselves in due to war and extremism are wonderfully fused together which for me is what makes this a powerful piece of theatre. It draws the audience in with relatable foundation whilst showing us an extreme truth which is shocking in both cases evokes emotion and draws the audience closer.

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns_Pamela Raith Photography

Credit to Pamela Raith

 

We see our main character Laila develop from a bright young girl into a surpressed woman stuck in a loveless marriage to Rasheed alongside the long suffering Mariam. It was really interesting to watch their relationships grow and change with such a subtlety that you almost don’t realise it is happening. For me the most unsettling part of this story is the manipulation of a vulnerable girl and the genuine misogynistic beliefs that the girls and women of Afghanistan face everyday, as if the war wasn’t enough for them to endure.

This piece of theatre seems so relevant right now! Although we don’t hear too much about Afghanistan on the news anymore it is a stark reminder of how lucky we are here in the UK. In this time of prejudice against migrants and refugees, this piece will be a great education to some on just what people face in these war torn countries and why they leave for the chance to live a better life.

 

Sujaya Dasgupta (Laila) Pal Aron (Rasheed) Amina Zia (Mariam)_ATSS_Pamela Raith Photography 5

Credit to Pamela Raith

I would definitely recommend going to see A Thousand Splendid Suns, it was a really human piece of theatre and brought home and affirmed why as a world we need to be more empathetic and care more about our fellow humans. So don’t forget your tissues, it will be an emotional ride, and take some change for the charity collection at the end of the show.

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Credit to Pamela Raith

A Thousand Splendid Suns has a wonderfully long run at Northern stage from 30th May- 15th June. if you would like to see it for yourself you can book your tickets or find out more about the show on Northern Stage’s website HERE.

Review: The Lovely Bones at Northern Stage

By Hildy Harland.

I do very few theatre reviews which don’t involve dance  in some way, shape or form however, when I was invited to review The Lovely Bones at Northern Stage I could not resist. There has been a great deal of hype on the scene about the arrival of this collaborative play at Northern stage which has joined forces with  Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Royal & Derngate, Northampton co-production and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse to bring this disturbing, funny, heart wrenching and heart warming show to the stage.

Unlike many of the other audience members I had never read the book or even seen the film which is surprising as the film stars Saoirse Ronan one of my favourite actors of the past few years. I have been trying my hardest not to encounter any spoilers. I love to see new theatre as new rather than tainted by things I have seen, heard or read in the past. Usually a very hard thing to do most of the time but this was one of the rare occasions I succeeded almost completely. So needless to say I was really excited to see the show and experience it exactly for what it was.

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Credit : Sheila Burnett

 I will try to give away as few spoilers as possible but I would like to warn fellow theatre goers of the startling opening to the performance as I did very nearly shower my theatre neighbours with pepsi max when a loud blast of audio and flash of light caused me to jump out of my skin! The play begins with us meeting our main character Susie Salmon played by Charlotte Beaumont. She has been murdered, throughout the play we journey with her as she tries to evade heaven and remain with her living friends and family. There is also the matter of her unsolved murder and how she can get justice for her death.

The main thing I took from the show was how uniquely it looked on such a savage and horrific death of a teenager. The news in the world is constantly filled with the rape and murder of young people, in particular  young women abused and murdered by older men. This play brings us the side of the murdered and abused young woman who is so much more than what befell her. She is strong, capable, funny, loveable and even hopeful that things can still some how work out well in some way.

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Credit : Sheila Burnett

Her character is brought to life from the confines of her own personal “heaven” which at times is not as heavenly as you might think. The story is set in the early 1970’s through to 80’s so you can expect some great music to accompany this drama with a twist of deep meaning, philosophy and a touch of humour. I really feel like the feeling of youth shone through in this production not only through the way the material was created but through the performances of the younger actors, it really brought a fresh tone to this kind of drama.  There were lot’s of very strong performances particularly Susie, her father Jack Salmon played by Jack Sandle and MR Harvey Susie’s murderer played by Keith Dunphy, I also enjoyed Ayoola Smart as Lindsey Salmon (Susie’s Sister). Not to say that the rest of the cast weren’t great too although I did get a couple of little accent cringes now and again but I think when a British cast are doing an American play that is always bound to happen.

The piece is really creative with it’s doubling up on characters use of puppetry and even actors playing animals at some points. I really think this story of such a sensitive nature was told to perfection with some really strong thought put into how they could do such a story justice and inject humour and that feeling of youth without being dis-respectful to the sensitive themes explored within the storyline.  The whole cast and creative team truly have succeeded with “The Lovely Bones” and I would recommend you go and see it! It’s running from 9th-20th October at Northern Stage then moves on to Birmingham Repertory Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre.

Hildy Harland in Dark Christmas

A few weeks back I shared a video of some of my choreography from Dark Christmas, a play I was part of over Christmas 2017. It was pretty well received so I thought I would also share one of my scenes from the play too. I played Helga wife of the main protagonist William.

Take a look below and feel free to SUBSCRIBE to my channel for more performances, dance, reviews, vlogs and more!

Reveiw: Hedda Gabler at Theatre Royal Newcastle.

Amazingly enough I had never heard of Hedda Gabler  before I had seen it advertised a few times recently both up north and in London. I then found out it had been around since 1891 and was a little embarrassed I hadn’t come across it before now.

A few hours before the performance I did ask a fellow actor chum of mine if he had seen this classic completely unknown to me and it turns out he hadn’t seen it either so that comforted me a little.

I definitely get the feeling that this play was something quite unique at the time it was created, although I’m not too sure how well I think the story translates to the present day. Our main protagonist Hedda Gabler has just been married and arrived back from her honeymoon with her husband who we can see deeply adores her. (For a full synopsis of the story go click here)

Here is what I thought of the show!

 

Hildy Harland as Marie Lloyd: My Music Hall Debut

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At the end of September I took on a bit of a new challenge and added a new era to my repertoire. I was commissioned by ARC Stockton to create a 10 minute Music Hall Act. Being a Huge fan of Marie Lloyd (one of the most famous Music hall singers in Britain) I just had to pay my tribute to her.

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The performance was very different to what I’m used to, I chose to perform completely authentically without voice amplification which was scary at first but very freeing physically allowing me to venture into my audience, which I loved! So I thought I would share the video with you all because I am seriously thinking about adding this era as one of my regular acts. Enjoy!

Alphabetti: an amazing night of experimental theatre

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This really isn’t a review as such but I just wanted to mention how excited I was to finally hit this venue last night to see some new work by North East Artists.

I have been a very busy bee of late, starting up my new blog Dance Culture North East and am really making a big push to get to know lots of venues and people on the theatre scene in Newcastle Upon Tyne/Gateshead where I live and the rest of the North East.

I have been hearing great things since this small new theatre popped up in the basement of an old building just off Blackett Street in Central Newcastle and I thought “oow I must go there”. However through my own busy-ness/laziness I never did manage to make it to the original Alphabetti Theatre Venue, Unfortunately/Fortunately I don’t know which they would prefer me to say, the building within which they were housed was marked for demolition and knocked down along with the tearing down of the old Odeon (don’t get me started I still feel very sad about that). With much hard work and determination I’m sure, Alphabetti picked itself up, brushed itself off and found an amazing venue on ST James Boulevard close to a few other cool venues (Tyne Opera Theatre, Boulevards and Dance City) Is this area set to be our new place for a community of theatre venues in Newcastle? Maybe it could be?

Anyway I had heard about the new venue and had been watching the progress with bated breath on Facebook and Instagram, until finally this Autumn the doors opened and I attended my very first performance of ‘Write Faster’ which was definitely worth the wait.

 

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(Above: The georgous Rex resident pooch at Alphabetti helping out)

Write Faster is a concept devised by Alphabetti Theatre’s Founder Ali Pritchard and Richard Stockwell. It involves 3 writers, 3 actors, a typewriter, pens, paper a laptop and a whole lot of hilarity in this particular case. The writers basically have to write a play on the night of the play, As I walked in the three writers were already heavily in the swing of writing the first act and you could sit and watch them writing on the laptop screen which was projected onto the wall. Once the first act was written the performers came in and performed it (script in hand and amazingly well under the circumstances) and as they performed the second and third act were written, after what I think was the third act there was a short interval and the ends were tied up with a monologue for each character/performer. The performances were superb and the writing was completely engaging too somehow even though nobody really knew what was going on until it was happening it gelled together well and gave the audience a fantastic night of giggles mystery and crime!

So a huge thumbs up to Alphabetti Theatre and no doubt as they make superb vegan sweet treats and the café/bar is open during the day too, I shall be back for theatre and probably cake and coffee as well.

Hildy x

Diversity, where are you?

Recently I have had a bit of a rocky thought process, things business-wise have been going well and have really started to pick up, however, I think as soon as that happens and I can no longer find fault within myself, I start to find fault with the world, and jeez, we have a lot to find fault with in the world we are currently living in. But lot’s to celebrate too.

This week I have been thinking a lot about  the absolute lack of diversity in performing. If you aren’t a certain size, identify as a certain skin colour/race, are not conventionally pretty, or do not have any of the other perfect attributes you apparently need to play a leading human on stage or screen, then life is made very difficult.

I constantly receive casting calls which will not accept applicants (for very well-known period crime dramas in particular) over a womens uk size 12, because of ‘period costume’. Well I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that! I should know, I buy a lot of what they call ‘Period costume’ and there is stuff out there! You can also buy amazingly authentic reproduction stuff too. I still however receive these emails every week or so, which has in part, lead to this blog post, turned rant.

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And this casting call in particular is only for extras work and small parts. There are tonnes of casting calls which define both men and women, just by what they look like before they even get to an audition! Is this me? Or is this completely wrong? Any other industry would be very hugely reprimanded for such goings on. I do understand that certain characters need certain attributes, and directors/writers have certain visions of what their characters should embody physically. However I am getting sick of seeing the fat girl as the best friend and many other cliché’s, which I’m sure you can think of!

I want to see the fat girl get the boy/girl and not even have her weight mentioned (not the girl getting the boy despite her being fat). I want to see a line of dancers, with all different skin tones, body shapes and heights. I want to see a more diverse world on my screen and in the theatre in general.

diverse blog post HH

The key to this is not making the person in a wheel chair the main character because they are in a wheel chair, but putting them in there because they have a talent and deserve to play the lead.  I am using the ‘person in a wheel chair’ and ‘the fat girl’ as examples but there are so many other people who are not represented enough on the screen and stage, because of their disability, skin colour, race, hair colour, dress size, height, sexual orientation, lack of ‘conventional prettiness’, accent, gender and probably so much more.

Now some people may argue, that there are simply not as many (let’s use again, women over a size uk 14 as an example), going to auditions, therefore they are less likely to be cast.  I do know first hand that before you can get to audition stage, even when sending a self-taped audition, a casting director will look at your headshot and judge you on your look, size, eye-colour, hair colour etc, which you have to include on every casting site and on your CV. Often in a casting call, all you have to do is read it to find out that if you are not blond-haired, or a UK size 8-12 and white, as a women, you are not ‘in demand’. I do believe that men get away with more as there are generally more main roles for men within theatre and TV which is simply a fact. However I am sure there are a lot of men who face the same judgement.

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I could go on forever and have so much to say on this subject, but I feel if I carry on any further I may never stop. So here is some food for thought to casting directors, agencies, choreographers, directors and anyone who has a hand in putting performers on stage or screen. We live in such a dynamic and diverse world, you may think your audience will expect your leading lady or gent, to look a certain way. You may imagine them in this way, and feel they ‘need’ to have a certain look in order for them to take on a certain character or persona. However that is not the case, this is probably in fact leading a lot of your audience to feel mis-represented or completely un-represented, alienating  them from your work. I do not look to irradiate the ‘conventional’, I merely hope to equalize and diversify casts and judge performers on their talent rather on the way they look.

Performance, be it on stage or screen is a social art, we need to make sure as creators that we are socializing with society as a whole, with an inclusive platform for our performers. This and only this will ensure that we can engage to our full potential with our audience and will strengthen and grow our art as never before.

Please feel free to leave your comments, this is such a huge subject to me and I believe really has a huge effect on a lot of things.

Hildy x