Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Review: Northern Ballet's 'Tortoise and the Hare'

Last year I took Preschooler to see Northern Ballet's production of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'. It was one of her favourite stories at the time and, being a theatre graduate, I wanted Preschooler to grow up enjoying live performance. I didn't have chance to write about it at the time, but I still remember how she stared at the stage for 40 whole minutes, utterly mesmerised. So when I heard about Northern Ballet's latest children's production, 'Tortoise and the Hare', I booked tickets almost straight away.

We went to see the ballet at the company's home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. I was so impressed with how they'd transformed the waiting area to make it child-friendly - there was a ring of hay bales around an area of 'grass', a couple of bean bag toss games and a basket of pom poms (Preschooler loved these), colouring in and wind-up tortoises on the tables. In a meeting room to the side they had crafts available, with the choice of making a tortoise or a hare with paper plates. Preschooler is still playing with her tortoise today!

As for the ballet itself, I did wonder how they would spin a short fable out to a 40 minute show but actually it worked really well. The dancers playing the Tortoise and the Hare got into character brilliantly, the Hare oozing arrogance and energy and the Tortoise looking almost permanently sleepy and stoic. (I have to give special mention to the facial expressions of the dancer playing the Tortoise - he totally nailed it!) Extra characters were added to pad out the story - two cheerleader bunnies always competing against each other, another equally arrogant hare who had to pull out of the race due to injury, a honey-toting bumblebee, an acorn-throwing squirrel and a beguiling butterfly all have a part to play in the race, not forgetting Tortoise's loyal mole friend who gets over her admiration of Hare to cheer her friend on. It really did feel like a race too, to the point where the whole audience applauded when Tortoise crossed the finish line!

It always amazes me when I go to a ballet how well they can tell a story with no words - even Preschooler followed what was happening just from the fantastic dance moves and facial expressions. The music was beautifully played and well matched to the action, and the costumes were very clever in transforming the dancers into various animals. We both really loved the show and  hope that, as in previous years, there will be a CBeebies version of it so we can watch it all again.

I asked Preschooler a few questions - as it's a children's ballet, I thought she should have a say in this review - and here are her answers:

Did you enjoy the ballet?

Who was your favourite character?
The bumblebee.

What was your favourite part?
The bit with the squirrel. (Where the squirrel distracts the Hare with a game of acorn catch.)

Were there any bits you didn't like?
*vigorous shaking of head*

How did you feel when the Tortoise won the race?

 Northern Ballet will be touring 'Tortoise and the Hare' next year and I really recommend going to see it if you get a chance, it's a lovely little show and a great opportunity to introduce little ones to ballet.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Why I am So Happy that Nadiya won 'The Great British Bake Off'

Is it because of her incredible baking skills?

Partly, but not completely.

Is it because of her even more impressive array of facial expressions?

Well, a little bit.

The main reason I'm so delighted that Nadiya was crowned the winner of this year's Great British Bake Off is this: I can relate to her.

I remember when she first won Star Baker (not well enough to say which week that was, sorry) her response was something like this: "It's weird, I'm never proud of myself, but now I'm proud of myself."

And as a stay at home mum, I get where she's coming from. I feel proud of my husband for the hard work he puts into his job. I feel proud of my daughter for ... well, loads of things. I feel proud of my friends, my family - but I rarely feel proud of myself.

Now I know I may come in the firing line here so I'm just going to say this right now - I know that no matter what side of the stay-at-home/working mum divide we fall, we get flak for it. But in the current climate, with the constant talk about 'hard working families' as if this must necessarily mean both parents in employment, it's hard to feel pride in being a stay at home parent. So when Nadiya said she was never proud of herself, I knew what she was talking about.

But of course, however you do it, parenting is something to be proud of. It's relentless, it's all-consuming, it's permanent. And it's shaping the lives of fellow human beings, for goodness sake! A parent not only has to keep their children healthy and happy, they have to teach them about morality, justice, social norms, relationships ... the list goes on. It's a huge undertaking. But society as a whole seems to have such a low opinion of it that, if you choose to devote yourself exclusively to the task of parenting, you are made to feel somehow insignificant. You can start to doubt your capabilities outside of story-reading and bottom-wiping.

But look at Nadiya. She is a stay at home mum who has just achieved not only acclaim but national fame for a skill that she has honed over the many years that she has cared for her children. She has shown that she is capable of huge success. Her words after winning the Great British Bake Off were inspiring: "I'm never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I'm never going to say I can't do it, I'm never going to say maybe, I'm never going to say I don't think I can. I can. And I will."

I'm glad that Nadiya is proud of herself now. She should be. She has raised three lovely children (and I loved how her husband acknowledged her hard work in raising them for the last ten years) and whilst doing so she has developed a talent for baking that has now earned her the recognition she deserves. She can, and she will. And she's shown us that we all can.