I don’t, I must confess, listen to my copy of the Before After cast recording nearly as much as I should, especially given that I contributed several hundred pounds to its production budget. I did so a few years ago after I had re-mortgaged the house and found I still had some money left over, and as I have never been used to having money in the bank (you could say I’ve rediscovered the old me in these Covid days) I thought I’d find better uses for it. Besides the fundraiser for Before After, there were some production costs for a one-act play called Sid which I put some money towards, and a fundraiser for a teenage actor called Lucy-Mae Beacock, born with spina bifida, and later diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine). At the time, the best surgical option was some new-fangled technique or other in the United States. The long and the short of it is that the operation worked, Sid had a run at Above the Arts, the Arts Theatre’s upstairs studio space in the West End, and Before After got its cast recording. Not so much win-win as win-win-win.
Ben (Hadley Fraser) and Ami (Rosalie Craig) – as everyone who moves in London’s musical theatre circles knows, we’re talking about a real-life couple here, in case anyone watching was wondering why they weren’t two metres apart as per Covid-secure guidelines – are going through a rough patch in their relationship, not helped by the show’s critical incident, in which Ben was in a road traffic accident, resulting in a severe case of amnesia. Meeting Ami again some time after being discharged from hospital was (from an audience perspective, anyway) both amusing and awkward: he really doesn’t remember very much, even to the point of having to relearn socialising.
The narrative is largely expanded through exposition, so it’s plain clothes costumes throughout and nothing at all in the way of props. There’s no choreography to speak of either, so the show may come across to some as a play with songs rather than a musical. A few still images at the appropriate points are useful, and the show doesn’t feel unnecessarily complicated even as it jumps around between ‘before’ (the car crash, that is) and ‘after’. I suppose the show would work just as well if it were told in forward chronological order, but to do that would make the show just another one of those productions where everything is ticking along reasonably well between the characters before a car crash or other life-changing incident suddenly comes along and tears everybody’s lives apart. And we hardly need any more of that kind of story in 2020.
By ‘revealing’ the crash at the start of the show, it can then move quickly to an exploration of its consequences. There’s nothing new in a highly significant event leading to a richer and deeper appreciation of life, but the full gamut of human emotion expressed in ninety minutes nonetheless leaves the audience feeling hopeful. Some soaring melodies and tremendously profound lyrics come together to make this triumph over adversity love story a worthwhile and valuable experience.
Photo credit: Mark Senior
I caught the 2020 production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre very late in its run – I wasn’t going to go at all, originally (I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how it ends) but got talked into it by various people who (separately) thought it was worth seeing. The problem on the night was that the temperature had plunged in late September 2020 by about as much as the economy had in March and April of the same year. Added to this, the show, apparently in concert format (or so it has been marketed as such), ran at ninety minutes without an interval, so there wasn’t even a chance to stamp one’s feet and get some warmth going somehow.
So, I found myself sparing a thought for Jesus (Declan Bennett). It wasn’t because of my borderline puritanical Protestant upbringing (at one point many years ago, my family decided they would ban cling film from the house because “the pastor said so”. Demonic cling film!) Towards the end of the show, for obvious reasons, the Messiah is largely unclothed. In the cold autumnal air, it must have been challenging to say the least. (A strict interpretation of the crucifixion account would actually have Jesus on the cross completely nude, which I find rather ironic as it’s something on stage that the religious people would find unacceptable. But that’s the hypocrisy of religion for you.)
Social distancing is very much evident on stage, and everyone stays at what looked to me to be two metres or more from everyone else. Only occasionally does this affect proceedings – Mary Magdalene’s interactions with Christ, for instance, could have been more convincing: when I saw a previous version of the show back in 2016, they were indeed much more intimate. But that’s Rona Corona for you.
Although billed as a concert, it’s probably best described as ‘semi-staged’, with much of the production’s choreography retained. Then again, the production’s previous incarnation (if I may use that word) had the feeling of a rock concert in any event. The inventive use of props is still there, too, particularly when a group of Jewish clergymen make their opinions about Jesus known.
Declan Bennett’s Christ was (lovingly) lampooned in the 2016 run of ‘Jest End’, a parody song cycle making light of theatrical shows and events very much like ‘Forbidden Broadway’, for holding back and being a bit lacklustre, especially when contrasted alongside Tyrone Huntley’s powerhouse Judas Iscariot. The same accusation cannot be levelled at Bennett this time around, and his take on ‘Gethsemane’ was nothing short of remarkable.
As a fellow theatregoer put it, David Thaxton’s Pontius Pilate has a way of making counting (that is, the thirty-nine stripes, or lashes of the whip, that Jesus is said to have received) interesting. Shaq Taylor’s Herod was suitably flashy and extravagant in a number providing light relief from the intensity of Christ’s Passion. Nathan Amzi’s Annas was a delight every time he had a line or a verse to sing, and overall, this was a thoroughly decent if chilly night out.
Well, I have nothing to lose by indulging in networking, although I have no idea how to really do it, particularly at a time when face-to-face job fairs and meetings with recruiters are out of the question for the foreseeable future. But it’s one of those things I’ll never get good at unless I begin somewhere. So here goes.
I’d like to be back in work sooner rather than later – the mental/psychological impact is just as bad as the financial hit, frankly, so it is of concern to read about people who have been out of work for as long as eight months and counting. Then there’s an army of self-employed people, some of whom haven’t had a penny (not being eligible for any Government support whatsoever) in income since The Great Lockdown. In that regard, I should count my blessings, having been back in work recently, albeit just for a fortnight’s holiday cover to keep a construction site going.
And the phone has, occasionally, been ringing. Not nearly as much, of course, as it did the last time I was out of work for anything longer than a month. I was even cold-called a couple of times last week by recruitment consultants (funny how that happens when one is actually working – nobody’s ringing now that I’m sat at home again). I’ve perused the job boards so much I’ve practically run out of jobs to apply for. A pity I don’t drive and have zero motivation to learn to do so – on the day I got my redundancy notice in the summer, the two major companies with vacancies were Amazon and Ocado.
I have signed up to something I never thought I would: care in the community. Not having had much experience (meaning, none) in that field, it’s been an interesting ride so far, with an initial glut of training and some excellent support from a couple of ‘fieldcare supervisors’. But even that’s come to a stop for the time being. So now what? I’m going to pop out in a bit to the barbers. I passed by there on Saturday but there’s some sort of discount if I go during the week. And I need to pop into Tesco because, well, it’s cheaper than Sainsbury’s. Gotta look after the pennies when on Universal Credit.
Oh, and if there are any suitable job vacancies going, please let me know.
#JobSearch #JobHunt #Job #Jobs #Careers #Employment #Work
Goose bumps, those pimples on the skint hat we sometimes experience when we get chilly, stressed or excited, evolved to keep us warm. Muscles in the base of each hair follicle, called arrectores pilorum, make the tiny hairs on your body stand up on end, trapping a layer of warm air next to the skin.
In modern humans, who have relatively little body hair, the effect is negligible, but for a shaggy caveman, it must have been like instant thermal underwear. Facial hair – even coarse beard fuzz – doesn’t have enough arrectores pilorum muscles to make the hairs stand up. That’s why your face doesn’t go pimply when the weather’s cold – though you can get goose bumps on the scalp, and, of course, on the back of the neck.
Most of our blood cells contain a red coloured protein called haemoglobin. This is what binds with oxygen molecules, enabling the blood to do its job of carrying oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. Why is haemoglobin itself red? It all comes down to the chemical structure of its molecules, and how they interact with light.
Each colour of light can be thought of as a wave of energy vibrating at a particular speed, or frequency. Specific molecules will soak up energy at some frequencies but not others: shine white light (which contains all the colours) onto haemoglobin and it absorbs all the colours apart from red, which is reflected back to your eyes.
Interestingly, deoxygenated blood returning to the lungs through your veins is a much darker red than the oxygenated blood that leaves via your arteries. This is because the oxygen bonds with the haemoglobin, altering its structure and making it absorb some of the red light, too.
Here's a thing. The growling sound isn't made by your stomach, and it doesn't happen because you're hungry - or at least, that part is a coincidence. Also known as "borborygmus", the noise if actually made in the upper section of the small intestine - the part of the digestive tract below the stomach.
As your intestinal muscles go to work shunting food and liquid downwards, gas is squeezed out of the food. It then rises through the liquid, making a burbling noise. When your stomach is empty, it acts as a big, resonant cavity to amplify the sound.
There are plenty of things that most people agree taste vile - like, say, earwax. It's just nature's way of telling you that you're not supposed to eat them. Disliking cabbage, however, is an example of a taste preference. It's all about how the taste buds on your tongue react to the chemicals in a foodstuff. Like our preferences for music, movies and art, it's a very individual thing. The tongue is able to detect five distinct kinds of flavours - sweet, sour, bitter, salty and the savoury flavour known as umami (such as soy sauce).
It does this using taste buds - specialised sensory organs that are able to interact with molecules in the food we eat, then send a signal to the brain, where our perception of taste is formed. With cabbage, and other green vegetables, the 'haters' seem to be better able to detect certain bitter compounds in the leaves. Such aversions do not necessarily stay with us for life, though - the classic example is olives, which many people only warm to as grown-ups.
The human body is basically a biological machine, and if it gets broken badly enough - by disease or physical injury - then sometimes it can't be repaired. And that's when we die.
Even if you're lucky enough to avoid serious illness or injury during your life, age will get you eventually. The cells in your body are frequently replaced during the course of your life; ageing occurs because of a process called 'senescence', in which the cells lose their ability to divide and make healthy new copies of themselves. It happens because of gradual damage to your DNA that accumulates throughout life.
DNA is the blueprint from which new cells are made, so as this masterplan is degraded, the quality of your cells also slips into decline. One leading theory puts the cause of the DNA damage down to chemicals called 'free radicals'. There are atoms and molecules that react strongly with other chemicals - and it's this reactivity that's eating away at your DNA.
The body has evolved defences, in the form of enzymes that repair the damage, but only 99.9% of broken DNA gets patched up this way. The tiny fraction that isn't stacks up over the course of your life, causing your body gradually to deteriorate: a process that leads to ageing and ultimately death. For a long and healthy life, perhaps the best tip is to limit your intake of free radicals - which means cutting out processed foods, cigarettes and excessive alcohol consumption. Boosting your intake of antioxidants (chemicals that block the action of free radicals) can also help - these are found in fresh fruit and vegetables, and green tea.
Dominated by theatre actors, Turn Up London wasn’t all showtunes, and that’s okay – after all, variety is the spice of life. The concert is part of a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, seeking to raise awareness and some money for a number of organisations that support the black community. I make no apology for turning to them first, before saying anything more about any of the performances. The Bail Project, as its website sets out, is “a critical tool to prevent incarceration and combat racial economic disparities in the bail system”. Its fundraising efforts are used to pay bail for a black person who couldn’t otherwise afford it, and that money returns to the fund at the end of a client’s case, at which point that same bail money is used to free someone else. The Okra Project provides free meals and other resources to black trans people who would otherwise go hungry. The okra plant has a Wikipedia page for anyone who is interested in further particulars. Even the BBC has recipes on its Good Food website.
The Black Curriculum describes itself as a “social enterprise” set up by “young people to address the lack of Black British history in the UK Curriculum”. Despite Black History Month being a mainstay in British schools for some years now, there isn’t much in examination board specifications that tests pupils’ knowledge of black history… because there isn’t much black history in the curriculum in the first place. So, The Black Curriculum have come up with what they call “an accessible educational Black British history curriculum that raises attainment for young people”. UK Black Pride is open to “LGBTQ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent”. They have their own large annual celebration (totally unaffiliated to the Mayor of London-sponsored ‘Pride in London’) and other events throughout the year.
Turn Up London features songs like ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, first released by Nina Simone in 1964, and ‘Ball of Confusion’, first released by The Temptations in 1970, and it is something of a damning indictment on life in 2020 that such tunes are still highly relevant in a supposedly more enlightened world. There were also a number of spoken word pieces sprinkled throughout the proceedings, performed by (amongst others) Clive Rowe MBE and Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE. Maya Angelou’s works featured heavily – her ‘Phenomenal Woman’, performed by Noma Dumezweni, was particularly poignant for me. I also liked the thoughts asserted in an extract written by Vernon Jordan, and performed here by Arun Blair-Mangat: we cannot get to where we want to be on our own, but must stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and we may take and live temporarily, or otherwise live ‘forever’ through what we ourselves give.
God cannot be kept out of (the white dominated) Les Misérables, let alone something like Turn Up London – most of the largest churches in the London area are described by sociologists as ‘black majority’ – and so audiences were treated to the Sister Act rendering of ‘Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee’ by recent actor graduates. Brittney Johnson and Alexia Khadime’s version of ‘For Good’ almost immediately sparked debate on social media – there haven’t been many black principals to have played either Elphaba or Glinda in the West End in the time Wicked has been at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (the Broadway production appears to have done slightly better). Khadime is the only (ex) London Elphaba that comes to my mind.
Then there are the crowd-pleasers, such as ‘I’m Every Woman’ from The Bodyguard, sung by Natalia Kassanga, Kelly Agbowu and Nicole Raquel Dennis, and ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ sung beautifully by Claudia Kariuki and Danielle Steers. The show closed on a high in more ways than one, with Marcus Collins, Rachel Adedeji and Layton Williams raising the roof with their version of ‘Ain’t No Mountain’. Most impressive of all, perhaps, were the donations made by some more well-off people, such that the producers were able to grant free access to people who could not afford to see the show. Inclusivity indeed.
A spot, zit or pimple is formed when a gland in the skin, which normally secrets natural oils, becomes infected and, as a result, fills up with pus. In teenagers, the most common cause is the increased hormonal activity during puberty. This enlarges the glands, making them produce more oil, which makes blockages and infection more likely. Male 'androgen' hormones are the big offenders, which is why boys tend to get it worse. Thorough washing helps to prevent zits, though beware of scrubbing existing blemishes, as this can irritate the skin and make them worse. Antibacterial medications such as benzoyl peroxide, available over the counter, are much more effective. They work by killing the bacteria that infect the glands.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.