Monday 31 August 2015

Tour Of Media City UK, Salford Quays

The other weekend I travelled to Manchester to meet up with my friend Debbi. We had pre-booked a tour of the TV studios at Media City UK at Salford Quays which was a short tram ride from the centre of the city. We got to the tram stop where a member of staff told us due to storm damage (a huge hole had appeared on the Mancunian Way during a rainstorm the previous day) we would not be able to take the tram direct to Media City but would have to get a bus to Cornbrook and then the tram the rest of the way. It was all very well organised, loads of staff directing people, but it made the journey last 30 minutes instead of ten, so our plan to get a quick breakfast before the tour was out of the window.

The tram stop was right beside the studios and we got there ten minutes before the start of the tour. We were given a laminate pass to wear round our necks and off we went. The first place they took us to was a room with a mock up of the Breakfast TV and Question of Sport sets. The staff got people to read the news and do the weather forecast and then have a quiz. It took quite a long time and I was rather underwhelmed, I expected to see more of the real thing not play about in a mock up. Though I did get a photo taken with the "cloak of invisibility" material which absorbs light (can't remember its proper name) from which the weather screen is made.

We then went to another building (nearly getting blown off our feet by the wind in the process) and into a radio studio (BBC 5 or 6, again can't remember which).  It was a small room with one window looking through to another studio, eagle eyed people noticed it was Craig Charles in there and we caught him opening up a bottle of wine, wish I could get away with that at work! There was lots of equipment which the guide explained to us, including the machine that makes phone call interviews sound as if the person is live in the studio. She also explained the roles of individuals who would be in the room when broadcasting. I found this room interesting, and the guide gave a good description of what happened in a radio studio.

Next we went into the "dead room," which was a u-shaped room with walls and ceiling covered in triangular pieces of grey foam. This room absorbs all sound and it was really strange  to be inside without the slightest echo, and even if someone is just around the corner you can't hear them. The sound absorption gave the room a claustrophobic feel.

Then it was into the Blue Peter studio which was surprisingly small, with a ceiling literally full of lights  and the place was a complete mess! The show was off air on holiday and maintenance was being done, though it looked as if the place was being destroyed.  The guides talked about the long-running programme and we saw all the different Blue Peter badges there have been. We were in there for a while and again I thought we could have done something more interesting and informative.

That was the end of the tour and both Debbi and I were somewhat disappointed with it. The guides were good and knew their stuff, but we had expected to see actual working studios and gain a real insight into the processes behind TV, however we did not get that, this was just a superficial look around the edges of the process.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Tennessee Williams at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Cumbria

My friend Jayne and  recently went to the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria to see two plays by Tennessee Williams, Mr Paradise and Suddenly Last Summer. We liked the sound of all the plays being performed at the theatre this year but chose these because neither of us had seen a play by Williams before.

Mr Paradise was only re-discovered, along with some other Tennessee Williams one act plays, in 2000. A young woman comes to visit Anthony Paradise, who had written a small book of poems she found propping up a table in an antique shop. She read the book and was transfixed by the poems and just had to meet the author. The play consists mainly of two monologues, mainly about writing as an art, which portray the woman's boundless, youthful enthusiasm and the author's world weariness. The play was a good introduction to the main event.

Dr Sugar and Catherine
Photo from the Theatre by the Lake Website
Suddenly Last Summer is a powerful play about a dysfunctional family with secrets, power, control and mental illness. Violet Venable is an elderly widow, bitter and controlling who is trying to bribe (via funding for his hospital) Dr Cukrowicz (Dr Sugar) to perform a lobotomy on her niece Catherine, who she has put into a mental institution, and who she blames for the death or her son Sebastian. She will do anything to protect the reputation of her son and silence Catherine who knows the truth. The play is very powerful and disturbing,  and is basically a battle of wills between Mrs Venables and Catherine with the doctor trying to find out the truth. Initially Catherine seems fragile, domineered by the widow, but as she tells her story she becomes stronger and Mrs Venables weaker as she realises she cannot hide Sebastian's secret any longer. Catherine's role was played by Emily Tucker who really did a wonderful job in a role that could easily have become over the top, she played it to perfection.  I won't spoil it by saying what Sebastian's secret was and how the play finished.

Interestingly, the play has a strong auto-biographical content, Williams had diphtheria as a child and took a year to recover, and his mother was overbearingly protective of him. His sister Rose had schizophrenia and in the 1940's had a lobotomy (which was an accepted treatment at that time) that had disastrous results and she required care in an institution for the rest of her life.

I found the play enthralling, disturbing and riveting. It was performed in the studio and we sat in the front row and so were almost part of the scene being played so close to us. I can see why it is a one act play, any break would have totally spoiled the momentum, as the story was unfolding I felt drawn into it more and more. I would definitely see another play by Tennessee Williams and highly recommend this production of Suddenly Last Summer. It is in repertoire at the Theatre by the Lake until 4th November 2015.