Theatre review: LOVE at the National Theatre


Directed by Alexander Zeldin, this new play is a moving representation of life for two struggling families.

In the run up to Christmas, a young family find themselves evicted and desperate. With a baby on the way they move into a cramped room in temporary accommodation – sharing one bedroom between the four.

Their neighbours? A middle-aged man living with his elderly mum, a woman from Sudan and former Syrian teacher with his possessions in just two bags. The strangers are forced together, nothing is private – they share a small bathroom, a kitchen and a communal room with stained walls and murky windows.

Set around this room, the audience intimately witness the families’ daily lives and struggles for survival. It’s bleak, tense and exposing.

Colin (Nick Holder) washes his elderly, ill and lonely mother’s (Anna Calder-Marshall) hair in the kitchen sink using Fairy Liquid. Her only dream is to visit the ocean.

The young family share a microwaved sachet of rice for their dinner, with Dad (Luke Clarke) forgoing his portion. ‘I’ve already eaten’, he says, passing it to his pregnant girlfriend (Janet Etuk) and children.

These could be real stories. LOVE brutally captures the monotony of living in temporary accommodation – the residents only leaving to go to the food bank or queue for help at the council’s offices. The families are all desperate and lost in a system that doesn’t seem to care.

This play leaves you feeling grateful for the home and love that you have, and angered that, through no fault of their own, people are living in similar circumstances. LOVE doesn’t push you to this conclusion and you don’t feel like you’re watching play, but that you’re witnessing events and life playing out before you.

The National Theatre’s LOVE is a humbling and potent reminder of what many people face this Christmas.

You can see LOVE at the National Theatre, London, until 10 January and at Birmingham Rep, 26 January – 11 February.

This review is taken from my piece for Psychologies magazine.


Film review: Collateral Beauty

‘Love. Time. Death. These three things connect every human,’ says Howard, a New York advertising executive – but he feels cheated.

After the death of his six-year-old daughter, Olivia, Howard (Will Smith) retreats from life; lost, despondent, bitter and living alone.

This beautiful film follows Howard’s existential journey as he seeks answers from the universe, sharing his pain in handwritten letters to those who have wronged him: love, time and death.

While his friends struggle to find a way to reconnect with him, Howard’s notes receive unexpected responses in the form of visits from the personified addressees.

Death, (Helen Mirren), Love (Keira Knightley) and Time (Jacob Latimore) work together to help Howard rediscover life. The trio coax him to realise that, even amid the deepest loss, we can find moments of meaning and beauty.

An unconventional festive film, the touching story leaves you heartened and uplifted.

Watch the trailer for Collateral Beauty here:

Interview with Tyler Ford

Our sense of self underpins our confidence and wellbeing – who we are, what we do, where we belong. But what if these things are not clear or if life undermines them? As part of Psychologies magazine’s identity series, I speak to Tyler Ford about their experience of being agender.

Half of all millennials believe gender shouldn’t be limited to the categories of male and female, according to Fusion’s massive millennial poll. Raised as a girl, and now identifying as agender, Tyler Ford is a 26-year-old writer, speaker and campaigner for transgender awareness.

‘I grew up confused about my gender. No one around me ever talked about gender in a way that I related to. There was never any room for ambiguity, just, ‘You’re either a man or a woman.’ I never had the words to describe myself or how I felt.

My mum loved me for me, and let me wear what I wanted, but you can only experiment so much when you lack a fundamental understanding of who you are. At secondary school, I started wearing skirts and make-up to look hot for the boys, because that’s what seemed to matter, but I soon became depressed and began hiding my body.

I was trying to figure out my identity and sexuality, but I didn’t even know that my gender could be questioned. Then at college, people started to misgender me. Dinner ladies would say, ‘What would you like, sir?’ and I would think: ‘Wait, what?’ It would happen so often that I began to think: ‘What are these people seeing that I’m not?’

Eventually, I saw a video of a trans man online and thought, ‘This could be me’. I was 20 and it was the first time I’d ever heard the term ‘transgender’. I started taking hormones and lived as a trans man for two years, but even this felt wrong. I knew I wasn’t really a man.

So I decided to experiment on my own to find who I was, and that required a lot of introspection. I finally realised that if I didn’t find the answers then that’s OK, but I need to do what feels right for me at any given time. I settled upon the term ‘agender’ and here I am, two years later, a beautiful and out agender person.

Every moment of my life, I’m coming out as agender. Every time I meet someone, I have to ask them to use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. It’s very important to me that I support myself emotionally. Being confident, loving myself and being comfortable with who I am definitely helps in the face of adversity.

I live my life by what feels right for me and I’ll always be true to myself, even when it’s hard. That carries me through everything I do; speaking in schools and educating people.

Lacking a role model was a big factor in why I felt so confused growing up, so I want to be the representation for others that I never had.’

Photo of Tyler Ford by Jones Crow.

Interview taken from my feature about our identity for Psychologies magazine.

Film review: Urban Hymn

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Nick Moorcroft, I love this inspiring film.

Opening with scenes of the 2011 summer riots, this moving and poignant film follows troubled teen Jamie (Letitia Wright) as she teeters between falling back into a life of crime and the discovery of her true self through music. The strong female cast includes Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones and Harry Potter) who plays Jamie’s care worker, Kate.

Struggling with the murder of her son, Kate has recently quit her academic career in pursuit of something more meaningful. Also a member of a community choir, Kate sings to remember her son, whilst Jamie uses music to heal and forget. This raw, redemptive story sees Jamie, previously deemed a lost cause, gently open up to Kate who in turn gives her the courage to hope.

It’s a touching look at young adults in care – the choices faced and the impossibility to break their cycle alone.


Film review: The Light Between Oceans

This is a moving screen adaptation of ML Stedman’s novel, directed by Derek Cianfrance.

Film review: The Light Between Oceans

Set on a remote edge of Western Australia after the Great War, this is a tragically beautiful tale of love and impossible choices, inspired by ML Stedman’s novel.

A shell-shocked veteran, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), works alone as a lighthouse keeper on a desolate rock until he is unexpectedly drawn towards the light and promise of hope offered by a young woman, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), from the nearest town.

The pair’s love grows and they soon marry.

The newlyweds’ attempts to start a family are unsuccessful, then one evening a mysterious boat carrying a baby drifts ashore, setting off a chain of decisions that unravel with crushing consequences.

Watch the trailer for The Light Between Oceans below:

Taken from my review for Psychologies magazine.

Review: Kylie Minogue at British Summer Time Festival

Overall rating: 8/10

Decked in vibrant flags and palm trees, with a host of street food market stalls and a mini carnival, Hyde Park is transformed into a setting fit for pop royalty. And the weather even manages to holds out for the third day of British Summer Time Hyde Park 2015.

Top of the BBC Sound of 2015 list, synth-pop trio Years & Years (9) take to the leaf-covered Great Oak Stage. Endearingly timid, frontman Olly shows they’re not just another hype with lively performances of ‘Shine’, ‘King’ and new track ‘Gold’, before turning to the piano for an emotive rendition of ‘Eyes Shut’. An unexpected, acoustic cover of ‘Breathe’ by Sean Paul featuring Blu Cantrell demonstrates the group’s versatility.

Bringing the stage alive in an explosion of colour Mika (7) opens with ‘Big Girl (You are Beautiful)’, spurring the crowd into a wave of camp dancing. With his impressive range and energy, Mika sets the scene for the evening’s uninhibited celebration of pop. But despite now having released four albums to date, and testing out some newer music, it’s clear that the crowd-pleasers are Mika’s 2007 hits- ‘Relax, Take it Easy’, ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Love Today’.

Unlike the pristine, choreographed routine later delivered by the day’s headliner, when Grace Jones (8) is on stage you’re never sure what’s going to happen. Reputation alone could not pre-empt her brilliantly bizarre performance. Entering the stage donning a gold mask, black feathers and silk, black trench jacket, Jones soon strips down to reveal just a corset and some paint.

It’s not just this 67-year-old’s costume which shocks the crowd as she hula hoops and rolls across the stage singing ‘My Jamaican Guy’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, but her explicit advice for the audience wouldn’t even be uttered at the heaviest of rock gigs. Grace doesn’t seem to care what anyone might think and her eccentric energy is alluring. A rare live date for Jones, she also tests out new track ‘Shenanigans’.

As the night comes to a climax, petite Kylie (8) graces the stage wearing a diamante crown and regal robes. Opening with 1990 hit ‘Better the Devil You Know’, the next two hours promise, much to the crowd’s pleasure, to be a nostalgia-filled sequence of poptastic tracks. Kylie’s performance is polished and although for many it might be a guilty pleasure, you can’t help but embrace the catalogue of hits and join the mass dance off.

Without pausing to talk or grab the many gifts launched at her from the crowd, Miss Minogue storms through a wealth of glamorous costume changes and crowd-pleasers. ‘In Your Eyes’, ‘WOW’ and ‘Spinning Around’ all go down well, as does an acapella ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’, with the crowd leading the “la la las” of the bridge.

Her set is flawless, but cutesy Kylie lacks of splash of personality, which seems to have been prioritised behind drumming through hit after hit. An acoustic cover of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ offers some variation, before leaping back into ‘The Loco-motion’ and ‘All The Lovers’.

But the audience love it and throughout the day there’s a carefree and relaxed atmosphere, which seems to have been lost from many overcrowded festivals. If British Summer Time Hyde Park continues to produce such all-embracing line-ups and secure the weather to match, then bring on 2016.

Taken from my recent review for Virtual Festivals.

Please click here to read my recent review of Kylie Minogue and more at the British Summer Time Festival 2015 in Hyde Park. 

Same Love

Ellen Tout sings praise for the song that’s breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes.

The first time I heard Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis’ single, Same Love, I was speechless and moved. Featuring singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, the track bravely supports same-sex marriage, challenging both religion and Hip Hop’s prejudices toward the gay community. “I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it,” he sings.

With such controversial lyrics one thing was certain, I thought- Same Love would not be played on mainstream radio stations. But it was, in fact the single has been a huge success in both the UK and America. The song has firmly held a place in the UK music chart for 14 weeks and still remains in the top ten singles. The video, portraying a gay man’s journey from childhood to the day of his marriage and then old age, has over 83 million views on YouTube.

Its popularity seems symbolic of the progress we have made. Unlike songs by Heather Peace or The Indigo Girls, for example, Mackelmore’s Same Love has reached a wider audience. Fans and musicians have joined Mackelmore in showing their support, with the web full with covers of the single. From Kodaline’s acoustic BBC Radio One Live Lounge cover to Paradise Fears’ personal tribute to the song and even a cover from Harvard University’s singing group!

Most poignantly though, I found two YouTube videos of the song performed in churches. Perfect Third are an a cappella singing group based in Geneva. Their cover, boldly performed in a chapel in front of a crucifix and candles, grabbed my attention. But they’re not alone. Co Co Beaux, a male singing group from Connecticut, also covered the song in their local church to a standing ovation.

After spending the last year working on a project looking at the experiences of LGBT Christians I know that in the UK, America and around the world the church has a long way to go before fully accepting our community. However, the significance of these Same Love videos is enormous. As someone who has never followed a faith I was shocked to hear the experiences of many Christians. Many of them told me that they felt pushed out of their church and had heard the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” far too many times. Mackelmore’s Same Love makes a brave stand against this attitude, while Co Co Beaux and Perfect Third’s courageous covers break the barriers down for good.

It’s difficult not to have respect for Mackelmore for releasing such a controversial and honest song. The public’s reaction to the song is equally amazing. Not only is Same Love very catchy, but it has come at a time when so much is changing for the better that it can only help in making people speak up and support that change.


Review: Blissfields Festival 2013

Overall 7/10.

After 13 years in the business, Blissfields has mastered the small festival. With plenty of real ale, life size Pop Up Pirate and a diverse serving of new music, Blissfields has something to please festival-goers both young and old.

The festival has previously been named ‘Best Small Festival’ and, whilst the weekend lacks the character of some small festivals, the three day event boasts a welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere.

The festival kicks off on Thursday with performances from the Road to Blissfields winners before the main show on Friday and Saturday, when the headliners Mystery Jets and Bastille bring the sunshine to Hampshire.

Friday afternoon on the intimate Bradley Bubble stage sees Listening Party (8) pull in an enthusiastic crowd. With high-energy rock anthems the group, formerly known as SixNationState, erupt over the Folk Geek sessions across on the small Acoustic Stage. The two distinct stages champion up and coming artists. The Acoustic Stage echoes the cosy and unusual character of Glastonbury’s Green Fields with sofas for folk lovers to unwind on.

Dressed entirely in white, London singer-songwriter Rainy Milo (7) treats the growing Main Stage crowd to a fusion of jazz and hip-hop and The Staves (10/10), a trio of folk-rock sisters with angelic harmonies and diverse range, seem to float through the fields of sunbathing festival-goers. The girls have previously supported Bon Iver on tour and set the bar for the incredible female talent on offer this year.

London Grammar (9) soon follows suit with haunting vocals and a captivating set. Riding on the success of the operatic ‘Wasting My Young Years’, London Grammar’s performance is effortless and yet powerful.

The Other Tribe (8) and Fenech-Soler (8) signal the start of the evening as people emerge from the nearby camping area and begin to gather around the Main Stage. With energetic dancing and warm beats, electro-pop band Fenech-Soler’s performance is resonant of Friendly Fires, with crowd pleasers ranging from ‘Magnetic’ to ‘Stop and Stare’.

As the sun sets tonight’s headline act Mystery Jets (7) are welcomed to the stage. The group first played at Blissfields in 2005, but this year they fail to match the energy of the acts who have already performed. Opening with new material the four-piece leave the crowd waiting before giving into renditions of their better-known earlier material. The setlist might have been perfect for a Mystery Jets gig, but this festival crowd are soon bored of waiting to hear something they recognise. The group launch into a performance of ‘Young Love’, but is it too little too late?

The following day we see an eclectic range of artists take to the stage, with Clean Bandit(9) being an obvious highlight. The group met whilst studying at Cambridge University and bring a fresh twist to the often formulaic electronic genre. Their fusion of classical strings and summery beats lift the crowd to their feet. ‘A&E’ is followed by a stunning cover of Dario G’s ‘Sunchyme’ and SBTRKT’s ‘Wildfire’.

After a DJ set by Will Chump (9), Theme Park (6) are obviously a hit with the crowd despite their vocals not seeming to match up to the recordings of their hits ‘Tonight’ and ‘Ghosts’.

Returning to Blissfields for a third time, Bastille (8) are the final act of the weekend, leaving festival-goers with Sunday off to recover. Bastille front man Dan Smith pokes his head out of the back-stage area during the afternoon, happily meeting fans ahead of their headline slot. They launch into their set with title track ‘Bad Blood’, inspiring the audience to unanimously jump to the beat. Drawing in the biggest crowd of the weekend, Bastille confidently roll out hit after hit, thanking the organisers and onlookers. ‘Oblivion’, ‘Laura Palmer’ and ‘Pompeii’are all huge crowd-pleasers, as well as an unexpected cover of City High’s ‘What Would You Do?’

With this Blissfields 2013 draws to a close. The line-up boasts an impressive selection of acts to look out for over the next year. As for the ‘Director’s Cut’ film theme, it’s a bit of a confused fiasco. The documentary and cinema tent is rarely filled with more than five people, but some keen festival revellers have dressed up in the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan costumes.

This small festival is perfect for families, with more activities for children than most major festivals. There’s even a dedicated children’s toilet! But for the adults, there needs to be more than just great music to fill the often lengthy gaps in between performances and compete with the great range of other festivals on offer this summer.

Taken from my recent review of Blissfields for Virtual Festivals.

Click here to view my recent review of Blissfields Festival 2013 for Virtual Festivals. 

Blissfields image 2012
Blissfields image 2012

Review: The Audience

In a captivating and funny new play Helen Mirren returns to her Oscar award winning role as the Queen.

Written by Peter Morgan, author of The Queen, this moving stage-adaptation follows the Queen’s journey from a young woman to present day and sympathetically examines what it means to live your life in the spotlight of the monarchy.

We watch Queen Elizabeth II as she undergoes her weekly audiences with Prime Ministers across the centuries, as if peering through a key hole at these often personal and heated meetings. As a young woman the Queen bounces around the stage asking the Prime Minister energetic questions. She later bumps elbows with Margaret Thatcher, but when it is David Cameron’s turn, she quickly falls asleep. This is not a reflection on Cameron, but more a comment on how demanding the Queen’s role is. As her character says, even the Pope is not “the lifer that she is,”  tied to her job and in the gaze of the country.

The Audience's Helen Mirren
The Audience’s Helen Mirren

What could be a dry and monotonous series of meetings is in fact a cleverly-staged, thought provoking and surprisingly funny story. Mirren effortlessly transforms on stage from the 87 year-old Queen to a woman in her 20’s. The simplicity of the staging, most of the play takes place in one set of just two chairs, allows Mirren’s emotive and versatile performance to capture the audience.

Whether you are a fan of the Queen or not, this play will make you re-asses your view of the monarchy. Mirren’s faultless performance brings the Queen to life in a new and emotive way. Teamed with the funny and though-provoking script, this is a must see.

And for those of us on a budget The National Theatre have introduced their new NT Live with screenings of plays in local cinemas across the country.

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