Read the article at Red Online.
Published on 4 November 2011 on Redonline.co.uk
If London’s smoggy skyline, bright lights and bustling pavements aren’t helping you put pen to paper, maybe it’s time to leave the capital for greener pastures. Follow in the footsteps of Britain’s literary greats for a spot of creative inspiration…
People have often wondered how one little corner of nineteenth century Yorkshire produced a family of ground-breakingly successful female writers. So, if you’re suffering from writers block it is well worth visiting the little Yorkshire village that inspired such a lot of Britain’s favourite novels. Perhaps you’ll uncover the secrets of the vicarage which produced these three literary sisters or stumble across the rugged inspiration for the Brontë’s gothic novels.
Though considered radically modern for their time, the Bronte sisters were all bought up in the tiny time-warped village of Haworth. Nestled in the West Yorkshire moors, the hill top village is definitely the place to begin your quest for Bronte-esque inspiration. Home to the Parsonage where the family lived and the sisters penned their most famous novels, the building is now home to the world famous Brontë Parsonage Museum. The museum has opened each of the rooms and carefully presented them as they would have looked whilst the Brontë’s lived there. The Dining room is reported to be the room in which the sisters did most of their writing so bring a notebook in case you are suddenly gripped with inspiration whilst you’re there! Teeming with Victorian artefacts, the museum also showcases the remaining Brontë possessions.
The region around Haworth is generally assumed to be the setting for most of the Brontë’s novels. The heather topped moors and crags of Brontë country are markedly different from other parts of Yorkshire giving the area a bleak, desolate and inhospitable feel. When in Haworth, a short walk into this landscape to visit the Brontë waterfall is a must. The area fuelled the imaginations of the sisters and will undoubtedly do the same for any aspiring novelist. Consisting of a stream that rushes over rocks, a little bridge and a stone shaped like a chair, the sisters often came here to write. The stone, now known as the Brontë Chair, was allegedly shared by the sisters who started each of their novels whilst sat on it. If the rumours are to be believed, the chair might have helped the sisters first come up with their beloved characters and gripping storylines. Giving it a go yourself is definitely too good an opportunity to miss!
I wouldn’t recommend following in the footsteps of Branwell Brontë, the least successful or creative of the siblings, through Haworth but if you fancy a tipple during your trip you should really visit the Black Bull pub where Branwell is alleged to have begun his drinking and opium smoking habit.
After visiting Howarth, hunt down the places which inspired the most famous novels to come out of Haworth Parsonage, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.
Initially rejected by publishers, Wuthering Heights was eventually printed under a male pseudonym. The novel, due to its depictions of extreme emotion, lust and madness, was considered controversial when it was published and, probably for this reason, has only increased in popularity over time. See for yourself what inspired Emily to get scribbling on your trip to Brontë country and it might even inspire you to pen your own gothic tale.
The word wuthering means turbulent weather and you’d be lucky not to experience a little of it when visiting Yorkshire’s moors. No doubt Emily was inspired by the cruel winds and bitterly cold winters that this part of England is still subjected to.
Just a short walk away from Howarth, the Top Withens farmhouse is thought to be the inspiration for Emily’s gothic house Wuthering Heights. Even on a sunny day it is easy to see how Top Withen’s isolated and windswept location could have inspired Emily’s desperate and dismal love story. The farmhouse Emily Brontë knew is now in ruins overlooking the desolate moors but it is still a popular walking destination and well worth a visit. In its depleted state, lying on the picturesque Pennine way, the location could inspire any writer to put pen to paper.
Follow the Pennine way a little further and you’ll come across Ponden Hall. The listed Elizabethan farmhouse is situated in the wild hill farmland above Haworth and is believed to be the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange.
The moors themselves though were arguably what Emily took most of her inspiration from. To submerge yourself fully in the passionate and exciting world Emily created, take a map (and a waterproof), pop Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights on your iPod and wander around Yorkshire’s “wiley, windy moors”.
Considered to be a pseudo autobiography, it is easy to uncover Charlotte’s inspiration for her best-selling novel Jane Eyre in her own experiences.
Charlotte’s inspiration for the cold and cruel Lowood School came from the Clergy Daughter’s School in Cowan Bridge where Charlotte and her sisters Emily, Elizabeth and Maria attended as children. The death of Jane Eyre’s dear friend Helen Burns is often thought to be a reference to the traumatic deaths of her older sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, whilst at the school.
Many places have claimed to be the inspiration for the gothic manor of Thornfield, though it is most likely to be North Lees Hall.
The sixteenth century house is situated in the Peak District and was visited by Charlotte and a friend in 1845. The impressive building has historically been inhabited by the Eyre family and boasts a history filled with mysterious occupants; the first owner, Agnes Ashurst, was allegedly confined in a room on the second floor due to her insanity in a similar way to which Bertha was in Charlotte’s famous novel. If you’re feeling extravagant you can stay a night in this historical house. Just remember to lock your door before you blow out your candle…
Norton Conyers has also been suggested as the setting for Thornfield Hall as Charlotte visited the property in 1839. Another property with a legend of a madwoman in the attic, the house certainly provides a suitable setting for a mystery novel. The discovery in 2004 of a blocked staircase connecting the first floor to the attic, similar to the one described in Charlotte’s novel, provoked many questions about which house really inspired Mr Rochester’s abode. The house is currently shut to the public though so unfortunately, rather than seeing the attic for yourself, you’ll still have to use your imagination…
If you feel like you still need a little more inspiration, visit in September and go to the Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing (16-18 September). The festival weekend will include talks by prominent and emerging women writers and creative writing workshops that are sure to inspire!
Published on www.litro.co.uk on 29th July 2011.
When did you first get into comedy and improvisation? I first got into this lark when I was eighteen – I did two stand up comedy courses and performed stand up about twenty times, before deciding I had nothing to say and packing it all in. I then decided to do straight acting, but I returned to comedy after a children’s tour of Italy playing a Donkey called Gilbert. It was not a great play. I thought “I need people to be laughing at me because I want them to!” So I started working on my character comedy. Impro, however, I fell into by accident. Although I always loved it, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and be asked to join a particular group in London, which led to the next group, which led to Showstopper.
Were you the “funny one” in your group of friends? Yes. Well, I think so. Unless they were humouring me.
We’ve both been to see the improvised musical “Showstoppers” which you are part of, and we loved it! Is it difficult to produce a brand new musical every night? Sometimes it is so easy we think “We could do this every day for the rest of our lives” and sometimes it is so hard we think “WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING THIS TO OURSELVES FOR!!??!!” So it depends.
Have you ever had a mental block on stage, and how do you cope if it happens? We look after each other. If you can’t think of anything for whatever reason – someone else will save you. I once couldn’t think of a name for someone and just called them “Man”. It worked out fine!
We both love your character Loretta Maine; how do you come up with new personas; is she based on anybody in real life? Loretta is like TOTALLY me between the ages ofnineteen and twenty five, added to a bit of Courtney Love and a sprinkling of ex-boyfriends. She is so much fun to be!
Do you prefer performing stand up in character, or as part of a big improvisational group? I love both. Showstopper is great because we create something together and it is like playing with your bestest pals, but then there is also something great about sharing what you have written with an audience on your own. So doing both means I get the best of both worlds!
What advice would you give to budding student comedians? Who do you think you ARE? Not really. Write jokes, do them on a stage, don’t worry if people throw things, they will learn to love you.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you like to be doing instead? I would be a fat old lady in a cottage reading books and making jam.
We also have a few questions for Loretta Maine (pictured) if that’s OK: What is the last thing you ate? Your mom.
Apart from screw top wine bottles, has anything else revolutionised your life? I tell you WHAT – my agent started swapping my beer for Becks Blue – the alcohol free kind. For a week I felt like I was on a detox. COS I WAS. I was so pissed. and not in your English sense. I was like “Agent – get your ass over here” and then I smashed him in the face and made him buy me vodka. I am back to normal now. Sorry – what was the question?
If a stranger asked you to razz their berries, what would you reply? I’d rather cup them.
Published in the Spring 2011 issue of Razz My Berries Magazine.
Quick thinking, award winning, and knicker-wettingly funny; the cast of Showstopper never perform the same musical twice. Each night this talented group of all singing, all dancing actors and comedians carefully concoct a brand new musical. Led by both shout outs from the audience and an innovatively interrupting director, the actors flawlessly piece together a performance of comic and musical genius; with the cast having little or no control over the storyline’s direction, the possibilities are limitless. Fuelled by the audiences’ ridiculous suggestions, Exeter’s being a sisterly struggle over a handsome archaeologist set in a deathly-curse and lustful-Arabic-tourist plagued Egyptian tomb, each performance is unlike the one before.
Prompted by a telephone call from the show’s fictional producer at the beginning of each performance, Showstopper director, either Sean McCann or Dylan Emery, ask the excitable audience for a setting, a title, and a number of musical styles. Shouts from the audience determine which direction the performance will take (in Exeter’s case the cry “Yes! Exeter says yes!”), a raucous concept saved from mayhem only by the quick wittedness of the director and the cast. Not even when the shouting is over and the action is underway are the Showstoppers in command of their own musical. Just as the cast get into their stride, somehow turning the audience’s absurd suggestions into a feasible plot, the ingenious director will stand and house lights will come up. With a mischievous grin he will halt the performance, instructing the actors to embellish, rewind, or redo something in the style of, say…Lion King the Musical. After a brief pause for the inevitable giggles, the Showstoppers propel the musical on, never faltering in spite of the undeniable potential to; moments of tension transform into glorious moments of inspired creation.
The Showstoppers didn’t disappoint when they graced our very own Exeter Northcott last week, impressively managing to seamlessly incorporate an ABBA themed wedding, the body of a (questionably) dead explorer, a spaghetti western-esque harem and a religious-proverb spouting camel into an hour and a half of improvised triumph. Complemented by resourceful and imaginative musicians, the award-winning cast’s wit, skill, and wholehearted enthusiasm undoubtedly leaves each member of the audience with a grin on their face and the persistent urge to break into improvised song.
Published in the Arts section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exeposé, on February 21st 2011.
Everyone thinks that they know Hamlet, but no one knows it like this. Hamlet is probably the most produced (and most quoted) of Shakespeare’s plays. It is the archetypal tragedy, covering all bases: murder, revenge, potential incest, doomed romance, and of course a climax which results in the demise of pretty much the entire cast.
The latest offering from Two Gents Productions is the clever and captivating Kupenga Kwa Hamlet. The name fittingly translates as ‘the madness of Hamlet’; theirs is certainly a unique take on the Shakespearean classic. Performed in a tiny space with only a musical instrument and a mat as props, this Hamlet adaptation is staged by two orange-jumpsuit clad Zimbabwean actors. Between them, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu share all the roles, seamlessly flitting between playful and grief stricken. Although the ratio of eleven characters to two actors should be confusing, their energy, alongside a simple hand gesture which indicates a change in character, is more than sufficient. Their performance is both amusing and engaging – most so for the unsuspecting audience members who are dragged up on stage during the infamous play within a play (thank god I didn’t sit on the end of the row). The tiny Ustinov theatre has an intimate feel which effortlessly involves the audience; we become the missing characters, the blanks in the conversation, and part of the play itself.
Somehow, from the doom and gloom of Hamlet’s story, they manage to pull out some humour. As well as their giggle-worthy depictions of a sassy Ophelia, and inspired re-imagining of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as witch doctors, the introduction of African rhythm and song makes theirs a lively production of this tragic tale.
The final scene is handled skilfully; the action being retold by the gravediggers as the actors fall in and out of character, killing each other in succession to the soundtrack of a catchy African song (four days later, it’s still stuck in my head).
The ‘two gents’ perform the first quarto version, cutting the running time down to just under an hour and a half. Whilst losing a lot of the dialogue, this actually makes sitting through Hamlet a much more enjoyable experience! Kupenga Kwa Hamlet is an original and thoroughly enjoyable play; the actors’ faultless and charismatic performance left me wondering why you would ever need more than two actors.
Published in the Arts section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exeposé, on November 22nd 2010.