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Stage Review : To Sir, With Love at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre, UK

The book To Sir, With Love was set not long after the end of WWII in London’s East End. This powerful, autobiographical story by novelist E R Brathwaite is about education, schooling, social divide, and narrow minded attitudes that were entrenched in people both in-school and on the outside. The main theme however, is the racial discrimination against black folks and against those neither black nor white children born to parents with ethnicity that they do not share.

Arguably the story made more famous by the film starring actor Sidney Poitier and singer, Lulu, because the film sucked in a 1960’s vibe which people could relate to. Largely because the comprehensive system had kicked in by the end of that decade, so, perhaps, allowed for a degree of creative license to tell the tale with more ‘swing’.

This production however, brings the story right back to its original post war placing, only this time it’s an inner-city school in Birmingham, West Midlands.  The period setting is slightly confused and I wonder where the misinterpretation comes to play in this respect. The class has, more or less, an equal number balance of the genders, who are getting up to naughty things, promiscuously and behaviorally.  Pupils are not ‘under the cosh’ as you might expect from the stricter environment that would still have leaned toward the Victorian in certain principles. In an effort to gloss over these discrepancies there is often strong indication that the school is progressive, and is headed by a democratically minded head teacher, Leon Florian (Andrew Pollard). More authentic to the time period however, is that the class has less of a multicultural mix of pupils than you would find in Birmingham’s comprehensive school classes of today. Writer is Ayub Khan Din and the play is co-directed by Gwenda Hughes and Tom Saunders.

I imagine, having not read the book, that actor and Youth Theatre Director, Philip Morris, plays the educated, skilled and socially refined gent, Ricardo (Rick) Brathwaite closely to it. Rick has experienced a lifetime of being an ethnic ‘outsider’, however, he cannot deal with rudeness and disrespect he sees from the youngsters, nor comprehend the lack of aspiration they have and that others have for them. Eventually, Rick decides a different approach rather than giving up the ghost like other teachers before him. I enjoyed Morris’s performance immensely.

Many references in the script worked very well with staging and props to propel you right back to ones’ own school life experience because not much changed in institutional settings over many, many years, and so, some reminders made me smile, while others made me shiver at the very thought of things!

A few familiar faces in the cast from last year’s The Rotters’ Club production from the Rep’s Youth theatre, including Charlie Mills in a key role again, and Alice McGowan. And so once again, as in ‘Rotters’, it’s a display of classroom antics from a group of children who are nearing the end of their school days.

It is always a challenge to choose the next Youth Theatre production and everything was in place to make the most of the story elements, but I feel this could have been much more gutsier and more hard hitting. And as commendable the performances of the young people are, I understand a cutting through to the nitty gritty would be difficult to accomplish with the involvement of a young cast.

Theatre critic, Debra Hall attended The Rep on Friday 28 April, 2017 to review the show


Belgrade Theatre announces 11 Million Reasons to Dance for International Dance Day

To celebrate International Dance Day, tomorrow, Saturday 29 April, the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry has announced its photography exhibition 11 Million Reasons to Dance which is currently on display at the theatre.

11 Million Reasons to Dance is an exhibition inspired by iconic dance scenes from film, all reimagined by deaf and disabled people who dance. The title of the exhibition reflects the fact there are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK.

Strictly Ballroom by Photographer Sean Goldthorpe

The exhibition presents a series of thought-provoking takes on cinematic set-pieces, for example: Singing in the Rain and Billy Elliot.

With support from Unlimited Impact, People Dancing, the UK development organisation and membership body for participatory dance, commissioned emerging photographer, Sean Goldthorpe to work with the dancers to create 20 high quality images.

A UK and world tour is now bringing these subtly captured moments of dance magic to a bigger arts audience and wider public, aiming to move the viewer with their style, passion and provocative wit, challenging us all to appreciate the energy, creativity and diversity of deaf and disabled people who dance.

Photographer, Sean Goldthorpe said, I didn’t want to have any crazy angles or effects that might detract from the dancers and their amazing ability to get past the physical challenges they face as disabled artists to achieve such high levels of artistic expression and skill. During the shoots I was just very focused on making sure everything was technically right. It wasn’t till afterwards that it really dawned on me just how much the project meant to the dancers, how much they were thrilled to be portrayed as genuine artists – I found that deeply moving. I hope 11 Million Reasons will encourage those who see it not to judge disabled people as being in any way different from themselves.

Billy Elliot. Photography by Sean Goldthorpe

Photography commissioned by People Dancing

11 Million Reasons to Dance is free to attend during the theatre’s opening hours and will run until Saturday 17 June, when there will also be a performance on the Belgrade’s B2 stage with the same title.

The performance will showcase the work by local Dance Artists Alexis Haines and Stephanie Sandy, who have been working with a number of schools including, Baginton Fields School, Castle Wood School, Tiverton School, Sherbourne Fields School, and Corley Centre, to create new dance performance work.

This will be performed alongside a duet by Kate Marsh and Welly O’Brien, who, as dancers with missing limbs, are both interested in the specificity of their own physicality and how this informs and enriches their collaborative practice and performance.


Review : Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (PS4)

Sharing a review of Wonder Boy on the Playstation 4 by Games Centre at METRO

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (PS4) – a masterful remake The Sega Master System classic makes an unexpected return, with some of the best graphics you’ll see all year. It’s easy to get cynical about the seemingly endless stream of remasters and remakes. When they’re dredging up no-name tosh like Voodoo Vince it feels like there’s…

via Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap review – retro master remake — Metro

Profiling artist Colin Thompson

About Colin Thompson

London born, Thompson is an artist, writer and illustrator. After art training and subsequent employment as a graphic designer in the UK, and later, time spent in film making for the BBC., Thompson has enjoyed a full career in the creative industry which has involved living and working abroad. Thompson gained a dual citizenship after moving to Australia in the mid nineties

Black and White

Thompson’s background in design and print meant that he was always able to create very detailed black & white drawings. In 1990 he wrote his first two children’s books, both were published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1991 as small hardbacks and included thirty or so black and white illustrations. Since then, award winner Thompson has written and illustrated over 70 children’s books which have been published in many countries over the world.

Grayscale and Half Tones

It was only going to be a matter of time before Thompson would see an opening for him in this latest colouring book for adults craze. Colin Thompson’s Colouring Book (suitable for ages 12 years and up) brings together many of Thompson’s best known designs from his commercial work for Ravensburger and some book titles. Designs are in grayscale and halftone, which increasing depth and drama to the format of every illustration and so offers something different to the 2D activity. Has received many 5 Star reviews at Amazon.

See the images below

Ludicrous Library design by Colin Thompson. From Colin Thompson’s Colouring Book. Printed in Germany

image from Colin’s Thompson’s Colouring Book by Ravensburger

The Red Box design appears in Colin Thompson’s Colouring Book. Published in Germany by Ravensburger

Thompson, of course, does the most wonderful colour work too, using digital painting techniques. Thompson’s designs are busy, and complex, and have a distinct feel of Tolkien meets M. C. Escher often, with a touch of the Oriental sometimes. With free flow of nature and man-made themes and that injection of humour and character running through his artistry. So much to admire

the Ludicous Library , A Ravensburger puzzle. Artwork by Colin Thompson

On a separate note What do you think about The Coloring Book Craze? Take a seat in Colin’s chair (which is green by the way) to ponder, and then join in with a past discussion here)

image from: Colin Thompson’s Colouring Book’

Jigsaw Puzzle Review

Also sharing a short review published on Amazon in October 2016 of a Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzle by Thompson called Flying Home

The designs by Colin Thompson which Ravensburger uses for their jigsaw puzzles are full of little complexities and fine details. The jigsaws themselves are beautifully constructed and wonderfully colourful. Thompson often crosses the fantastical with the technical and the scene for ‘Flying Home’ is quite beautiful actually. There is definitely a feel of the da Vinci about it. So never mind if you’re not into jigsaw puzzles particularly, this would make a great gift for anyone interested in SciFi or fantasy worlds, Art/Design. Recommended!

Image by Colin Thompson ‘Flying Home’

Short Reviews of two ‘Best of British’ Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles

Notably it is Artist, Geoff Tristram who contributes designs for all from the ‘Best of British’ Ravensburger Puzzles. ‘Used Car Lot’ (see images above) is No 18 from this comic style series. The picture to compile, using 1000 quality pieces, is really colourful. The jokes on the signage are so relevant to the stereo typifying of a, shall we say, less than scrupulous Used Car Sales operation. The tongue in cheek humour is all aplenty and doing this puzzle will make any dull day a bit brighter.

Click below to read another short review previously published of The Supermarket another from this popular set which is equally amusing
Source: Short Review of Best of British – The Supermarket jigsaw puzzle

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale
Hardcover: 318 pages
Author: Margaret Atwood
Illustrations by: Anna and Elena Balbusso
Published by The Folio Society 2012 – Second printing 2017
RRP £38.95

An Adult Fictional Book – Classic Dystopian Themed Novel/Speculative Fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale has been in print for over 30 years so this review is more an evaluation of the second printing 2017 by The Folio Society, London, which includes some fabulous illustrations and is introduced by the author.

As with most dystopian themed classics, this too, is chillingly prophetic. In this strange world, the narrator, Offred is a Handmaid in service to the Republic of Gilead (a country that stands in the place of what was the USA) in a future near. Gilead is built around a single goal: the control of reproduction. Political subjugation creates a society in which women are treated as subhuman.

The Wives, Handmaids (and the Marthas) serve their husbands, the military Commanders and their households in one way or another. The state tackles the problem of the decrease in birth rates by assuming the control of women’s bodies. For The Handmaids specifically freedom is restricted. They move in pairs. They dress in red habits and white veiled hats. There are so many rules. It is dangerous to speak because some words are forbidden and cannot be uttered. On the other hand, it is dangerous not to speak as the silence may give away one’s true feelings. For women in general they cannot vote, read, work or hold property.

Offred’s role is to bear child(ren) for her Commander, whose wife (Serena Joy) is unable to conceive.

The colonies are dreadful places and the handmaids live in fear for their lives because if they do not fall pregnant within two years they can end up there; or be shredded!

The reader gets to know of Offred’s inner struggles because of the first-person narrative. So, the reader learns of Offred’s whole life…her life before this, about her relationship with divorcee, Luke, and about the child they parented. Offred’s real name is not revealed. Her anonymity throughout is significant to a key story plot toward the end.

The final section of The Handmaid’s Tale includes Historical Notes, which explores many topics and themes of the book as well as the open ending.


First published in Canada in 1985, and if you’ve never came across this as a form of curriculum study for the topic of totalitarian theocracy, or it has been a cautionary tale that has escaped your radar so far, I whole heartedly recommend it.

Why? Well the first thing that struck me was seeing this as a literary modern classic, written in a non-literary style. Having never been out of print the writing shouts quality from the start. It is not wordy, sentences are deliberately clipped. Repetition is widely used for and an easy flow, for instance the second paragraph of Chapter Two the word ‘window’ appears five times in five lines. This wouldn’t usually work in prose, but in Atwood’s it does.

Secondly, Atwood has invented a world. I always admire that in any piece, in any kind of artistic format. There are Aunts, but not in the true sense of the meaning. Religion and prayer is a theme but the Guardians and the Angels are not in the context one might expect. People descriptions include: lesser men, unbabies; unwomen; gender traitor.

The book is visually presented in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and paper smooth. Illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Therefore, as well as the Frontispiece  there are six colour illustrations printed on a paper material with a fabric feel to the touch, two of which appear below.

Illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso from The Folio Society edition of
The Handmaid’s Tale

Illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso from The Folio Society edition of
The Handmaid’s Tale

There are techniques in the artwork that also look textured. I take an educated guess at a mixed medium of printing inks, acrylic paints, pastels and artist pen with digital enhancement. With shades from the Red colour palette, and white, black and gold accentuated in clothing. While others have contrasting objects of bold greens and strong blues included. Stunningly unusual!

Book review by Reviewer and Critic, Debra Hall

Endometriosis – is a debilitating, chronic medical condition. The pain for the female sufferer is severe!

(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler)Finally, women’s complaints about how their endometriosis has been handled by doctors has been vindicated. ‘Sexist’ advert showing old man and young woman will be taken down after backlash Women aren’t exaggerating their pain. They’re not overreacting. Their pain is real and doctors aren’t doing enough to help them with it. BBC…

via Women with endometriosis aren’t being diagnosed quickly enough or receiving adequate treatment — Metro

Book Review: Stitching with Beatrix Potter

the book cover of Stitching with Beatrix Potter by Michele Hill

ISBN 978-1-61745-610—7

Author:  Michele Hill
Publisher: C&T Publishing (2 Feb. 2017)

RRP £16.99

Content – 10 sewing and stitching projects based on stories and characters of Beatrix Potter. A couple of craft projects relate to Potter’s home at ‘Hill Top’ and the surrounding farmland in The Lake District, UK (now a National Trust property)

Australian Author, Michele Hill talks of being bowled over by the gallery displays of both William Morris and Beatrix Potter inspired quilts at the 2016 Tokyo Quilt Festival. Already conversant and somewhat obsessed with the life and work of William Morris, Hill made connections of these two famous people and began to research Beatrix Potter. Being an award winning quilter, Hill had in mind to write a Beatrix Potter book. Hill had the help and encouragement of history buffs who she names and credits in her welcome message and who also contributed background information, and photographic images from the archives shown in the Life of Beatrix Potter that is presented on pages 7 and 8.

Range of information 8/10
skills: machine applique and sewing machine use and techniques; binding; hand embroidery stitching (represented in step-by-step instruction); quilting – fabric, materials and terminology. Use of other textiles and materials, and patterns. One project suggests the use of a Lightbox, also the mention of IKEA purchases the author made to finish projects.

Quality of information 9/10
We have not checked the patterns but we have gathered and reviewed feedback comments online of Hill’s other work, and have concluded that Hill is an expert in her field and that she has conveyed the expertise she possesses perfectly well in the writing, instruction and presentation of this book. We would place suitability approx 14 years to adult: projects include scissor use, sewing tools, sewing machine skills and use of an iron.
The information detailed under the ‘You will need’ and the ‘Method’ sections of each project will inform a stitch enthusiast or an experienced quilter straightforwardly without having to research elsewhere, unless they are looking for an answer to a question that is more specific.

Layout 9/10 Paperback. Consists of only 64 pages. The craft work from each project features in a staged and styled showcasing on the cover (front and rear). Pattern pages are perforated and can be photocopied for personal use only. Fonts used throughout are a good size, which makes for ease of reading and close following.

Photography/Illustration 9/10 As mentioned credits and copyright information is included in the book’s publishing information and in pages of the text. Colour photography of the project making and the end results are Michele Hill’ s own. The additional work of the art editor enhances Hill’s designs.

Features 8/10
make: a pinwheel (farmyard and fauna) and a floral wall hanging; a Mrs Tiggy-Winkle iron cover (who uses an iron cover these days, but the design is lovely). A Nursery Quilt a baby ball and a lap quilt (all  three of Beatrix Potter’s story book characters). A cushion (a nod to the Tailor of Gloucester story); a box (with Hill Top design in felt); a Double-bed quilt; and a quilt (unfinished).

from Page 51 of Stitching with Beatrix Potter by Michele Hill – 1863 – A Wedding Quilt

Conclusion All projects are linked to the stories, the artwork or to something meaningful to Beatrix Potter in real life. Thankfully, and intentionally on the author’s part, the designs are not twee at all. One glaring negative about this book however, is the price, we see lots of craft books and this is not keenly priced in comparison to similar titles of this size and which have similar content. The real triumph, in regard to the projects, is Hill’s marvelous reproduction in applique of the bed quilt from Hill Top Title: 1863- A Wedding Quilt. However, our Editor’s choice has to be the Cherry Twist Cushion as in the story The Tailor of Gloucester the mice used the ‘twist’ that pesky cat Simpkin had hid, and embroidered beautiful stitching detail on the silk waistcoat for the Mayor and saved the day for the work weary Tailor. Hill has represented the design as described in the tale on a rectangular cushion beautifully and exquisitely – a touch of the William Morris right there!


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Book Review – A Dangerous Crossing

A Dangerous Crossing

Author Rachel Rhys

Published by Doubleday

Release date 23 March 2017

RRP 12.99 (Hardback)

An Adult Fictional Book – Crime Thriller


Set in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII, and young, Lily Shepherd takes an ocean liner journey from England to Australia. Compelled to get away from the dark shadows of near past events, her plan is to live in Sydney working in domestic service for a couple of years. Once aboard the good ship Orontes Lily makes her friendships and acquaintances with a small band of people almost straightaway. As a single woman, travelling alone, Lily is thrown into new experiences. Early in the voyage she suffers a bout of sickness, and is home sick at times, especially as news filters through of Germany’s growing aggression. Lily is cliquey with certain people. Her attentions go to a couple from the first-class deck to whom there is much gossip and scandal attached. The pair load luxury upon her. In the meantime, she is having flashbacks, she’s trying to cope with her anxieties and is hoping too that the love she has found for fellow traveller, Edward Fletcher does not end up being unrequited.


Rachel Rhys (the author) has based this story on the real life journal entries of a young woman who embarked on a voyage like this one a year earlier than Rhys has settled on. Rhys decided to use the diary mentions and produce this fictional story using the diarist’s references to geographical places, her social circumstance and other first-hand observations. The mechanics Rhys has used in making those links in her structuring is sometimes too apparent which affects the flow. The structure too is almost lending itself to being halfway adapted for silver screen showing, or for film or stage. There are director style pointers in the descriptions which seem out of place and the third person narrative is confusing because we hear too much of Lily thoughts in the text. I wonder if Rhys had other plans for this work from the off rather than concentrating wholly on it being a fiction book format.

I sometimes refer to a play being ‘a play of two halves’ meaning there is either improvement or deterioration in Act II to what went before in Act I. The same analogy applies to this book. When I arrived at the middle section I had enjoyed reading it very much and was thinking that this was all set up for suspense building on the intriguing bits that had been presented. It is at this central point the story telling loses momentum. Characters continue to be stereo typified and hopes of being surprised by any one of them quickly falls away. Everyone is suddenly getting hold of the ‘wrong end of the stick’ and I cannot count how many times Edward seems to be missing from Lily’s eye-line. I had worked everything out long before the ending so there’s not much mystery attached. I was bored with reading it long before the confirmations arrived.

This is largely a story about class differences and relationships. It’s about infatuations and sensibilities within pairings and groups. It includes a couple of weak story threads trying to deal with big issues like fascism and people prejudices, as well it is attempting to inform of actual world events over two months of the summer of 1939. Rhys’s decision to interweave real history and happenings from a relatively short time span, with the fickle and somewhat naive reactions of a rather wishy washy central character of fiction does not work. Sub-plots are non existent. Try to imagine British Pathe, meeting Downton Abbey, meeting Murder on the Nile!

Book review by Reviewer and Critic, Debra Hall