Category Archives: Culture

An interview with ‘Big Girl’ star and creator Emily Jane Rooney

“Me and my friends still have arguments about Niall and Harry now.”

By Annabel Jeffery

It’s a dull and rainy afternoon in Plymouth when I speak to Emily Jane Rooney, 23, about her hilarious one-woman show ‘Big Girl’. But Emily’s warm hello is quite the antithesis to the weather. “I’m so sorry, I’ve just realised that I’m on the way to Tesco to get some buns!” she says from outside her home in London, and I immediately know that this interview is going to be far from dull.

‘Big Girl’ is Rooney’s debut solo show, which is hard to believe. Her tremendous confidence and ability to captivate an audience is that of a long-standing and established performer. ‘Big Girl’ was originally due to tour around the UK, but due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Emily has recorded an exciting digital version of the show.

Watching the hour-long “Sofa Edition” from my own home, I feel as though I’m having a catch-up or gossip with a friend. I find myself giggling at regular intervals at Emily’s references and impersonations and pulled into thought by her three poems that evoke more emotion and deeper meaning.

All of this combined creates an hour of complete escapism at a time where we are still slightly limited in social interaction.

When asked to explain the show in her own words, Emily says: “Big Girl came at a time in my life when I was like, ‘What am I doing ?’” Written in 2018, while she was still at the University Of Plymouth studying acting, she goes on to tell me that with ‘Big Girl’ she’s “reflecting upon everything”. This includes growing up as a fat, queer and working-class woman in Essex, and things that she was “quite oblivious to” when she was younger: “I was aware that I was big but I didn’t realise the connotations that came with being a fat person and I think that came with age.”

These taboos are addressed in the four poems performed throughout the show: ‘Big Girl’, ’I Like Myself Bare’, ‘Let’s Talk About Women’ and ‘Untitled’. Each deal with topics of body positivity, identifying as queer, feminism and not knowing what your future holds. These come from Emily’s own emotional experiences with these topics. She explains, “I’ll cry, I’ll be really upset about it, I’ll talk to a friend, I’ll sit down and listen to some sad music and make myself cry more, and then I’ll write about it afterwards, after I have a different perspective on it.”

Whether you’ve experienced them or not, Rooney helps her audience to understand these issues, whether that be through poetry or by being so completely easy to relate to: “I like talking about things that others don’t talk about because I think they are things that are relatable.”

This is also seen through the more easy-going references she makes as we chat: “Everyone you talk to who is 23 will be like: ‘I know my favourite One Direction singer’. My friends and I still have arguments about Niall and Harry now, and we’re adults.”

As I ask Emily about her experience filming ‘Big Girl: The Sofa Edition’ during lockdown, she shares that it was much harder , adding that one of her favourite parts of the live show is “knowing who’s in the room”. 

During the live stage performance, she explains, “People come in and I’m there, giving out biscuits and having a cup of tea, and I just like connecting with people in general… I’m like an old woman that just wants to know about everyone’s life.” She hopes that there will be a chance for one last live performance of ‘Big Girl’ in London in September, dependent on the restrictions on live performances by then.

What’s next for Emily then? As she says at the end of ‘Big Girl’, she doesn’t know, but she “just wants to be happy”. She shares that she is no stranger to the pressure that young people face about being expected to know what you want to do, reiterating “It’s okay to not know what you want to do ever. There’s a song by Baz Lurhmann called ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’ – listen to it, it’s really good. In it he says that the most interesting people he knows are 40 years old and don’t know what to do with their life, and I’ve always remembered that.”

She jokes “I really like plants, so maybe I’ll be a florist one day.”, before sharing this refreshing advice for people of her generation and younger: ”Try everything, I say this, just try everything.”

‘Big Girl: The Sofa Edition’ will be available to watch at Reading Fringe Digital until the end of August: https://readingfringefestival.co.uk/whats-on/big-girl/

You can also listen to Emily’s recommended song, ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI

Messenger Joins #MissingLiveTheatre Campaign

The Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Messenger sculpture has been wrapped in pink tape today.

By Megan Potterton

Across the UK, theatres remain closed and unable to stage live performances. In life before Covid-19, these were busy and vibrant buildings – but COVID-19 has changed that.

Many of the UK’s most popular theatres are currently locked up, empty and, most worryingly, seem to have been forgotten about.

Today, in collaboration with theatres across the UK, #scenechange has launched the #MissingLiveTheatre campaign. Beginning with the National Theatre, #scenechange designers and theatre staff will wrap theatres with pink barrier tape reading ‘Missing Live Theatre’. The campaign hopes to give a ‘positive message of hope and visibility to the industry.’

And Messenger is joining in!

Today, Theatre Royal Plymouth staff have helped to wrap the Messenger sculpture in the campaign’s vibrant pink tape. In doing so, they have joined theatres across the country in this beautiful message of hope for the industry.

The Theatre Royal Plymouth installation has been designed by artist Tom Piper, who also designed ‘The Wave’ of 7,300 individual bright red ceramic poppy heads originally shown at the Tower of London in 2014.

The #MissingLiveTheatre campaign comes at a particularly poignant time for the Theatre Royal Plymouth. Last week, the theatre announced that more than 100 jobs are at risk as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The installation today is a reminder of the importance of live theatre in our city.

Commenting on the national campaign, #scenechange said: “As businesses begin to reopen, the doors of theatres remain firmly shut, whilst we navigate a way back to live performance. Today as we launch #MissingLiveTheatre, we want to bring joy and colour to theatres across the UK and Ireland, whilst highlighting the ongoing impact of Covid-19, and what we as an industry and local communities are missing.”

Devon-Based Comedy Night Raising Money for South West Charities

And you can join in from your living room!

By Megan Potterton

Are you looking for a way to spend yet another evening in lockdown? Then look no further. ‘Belly Laughs at Home – Devon’ is taking place tonight (Sunday 7th June), and you can join in from the comfort of your own sofa.

At 7:30pm this evening, Devon-born comedian Charlie Baker is set to host a very special ‘Belly Laughs’ event. He will be joined by a number of his comedian friends and familiar Devon faces, including Josh Widdicombe, Mark Olver and Dom Bess.

This one-off gig will be live streamed online, meaning you can join in, raise money for charity, and be entertained by some of Devon’s finest comedians, without even leaving your house.

‘Belly Laughs at Home’ will celebrate the beautiful county of Devon, while also raising money for three very important South West charities: FareShare South West, Devon Air Ambulance and Daisi. All proceeds will be split equally between the three charities.

There is a suggested donation of £4 to join in on the fun, however the ‘Belly Laughs’ team say that they understand this is an ‘uncertain time for everyone’. They are encouraging viewers to give what they can to support the incredible work of these local charities.

Mark Olver, the founder of ‘Belly Laughs’, said:

We do stuff in that area where food, comedy and doing good stuff for others meets. We’re known most for our January gigs but the world’s gone a little bit crazy right now and I think Belly Laughs At Home could be the antidote to that – for a couple of hours anyway. I’m always blown away by people’s generosity at these events and am sure we can raise some money for these great causes whilst having a bit of a laugh at the same time.”

The ‘Belly Laughs’ team are also encouraging viewers to join them in buying a takeaway from their favourite local independent restaurant, as “it wouldn’t be a Belly Laughs gig without a good meal”.

For more information on how to donate and further details of tonight’s event, click here.

‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’: Review

By Megan Potterton

Girls just wanna have fun! ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ arrives at the Theatre Royal Plymouth this week. An explosion of colour, comedy, dance and disco tunes; this production is guaranteed to have audiences dancing and singing along in their seats from the moment the curtain opens.

‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ follows the story of Tick (Joe McFadden), Bernadette (Miles Western) and Adam (Nick Hayes), a trio of performers who embark on an epic road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs (in the Australian outback) to perform in a drag show. Unbeknown to Bernadette and Adam, Tick has ulterior motives for accepting the job at the casino in Alice Springs: to visit the wife he left behind and to meet his son for the first time. In a tale of friendship, self-discovery and self-expression, the three performers make the journey of a life time on board ‘Priscilla’, their battered old bus that transports them to the remote resort town. Featuring disco hits including ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’, this musical truly has fun at its heart.

The costumes are fabulous, the singing breathtaking and the choreography simply extraordinary. This production is, thanks to the talented cast and production team, a feel-good, laugh-out-loud masterpiece that will have you dancing and singing along in no time.

Nick Hayes stands out for his energetic and flamboyant performance as Adam and delivers his lines with fantastic comedic timing. Joe McFadden also creates some heart warming moments as Tick, particularly alongside the young actor playing his son. Although a medley of ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ upon their meeting may sound peculiar, in the context of this show it fits absolutely perfectly.

Miles Western also does a fantastic job of portraying the complex character of Bernadette, a transgender woman who has more life experience than the other characters. Although a highly confident performer, Western also successfully hints at the more delicate and sensitive side of Bernadette’s personality throughout the show.

If you’re looking for a fun, cheesy night out full of laughs, glitter and disco hits, tickets are still available for ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ at the Theatre Royal Plymouth this week. The show runs until Saturday 25th January and you can purchase tickets here: https://theatreroyal.com/whats-on/priscilla/

Cinderella is back? Oh yes it is!

By Keiran Potter

It’s that time of the year again – when the magic of panto well and truly kicks off the festive season. When it comes to Cinderella, you’d think you’d seen it all. By now the story is pretty engrained in our brains to say the least. Pumpkins and magic and glass slippers. But the thing with panto is how it so swiftly breathes new life into such old and worn out tales. Making for a hybrid of something familiar yet something fresh and engaging. The original story amended with comedic sketches of magic tricks and talent shows, recognisable songs and an abundance of costume changes. The Ugly Step Sisters were two of my favourite characters – even if their ‘Janner’ accents came off a bit more Bristol than Plymouthian. I’ll let them off though, seeming as they’re so gorgeous and all.

I haven’t been to a panto in quite sometime, so I am probably a bit out of practice with the hissing and boos. But I didn’t realise how much the production value of our Plymouth panto had sky rocketed. Flying carriages and beautifully crafted sets really invite the audience to be immersed in the magic taking place on stage.

Panto wouldn’t be panto without good old audience participation. Brian ‘Buttons’ Connelly goes above and beyond to evoke laughter, then ensuring to milk it for all its worth. I have to say I can’t blame him. It’s clear he is the star of the show when it comes to comedy. He plays with the audience and seems to be playing two parts simultaneously – one for the kids and one for the adults.

One thing I love most about panto is how you can never tell what is scripted and what is just an actor messing around or forgetting their lines on stage. It makes for an even more exciting watch, when even the actors can’t seem to contain their laughter. You can’t help but smile when all of the people on stage seem to be having the best time. Every single cast member and member of the ensemble plays their part in igniting the magic of panto and ensuring to utilise it to full effect. This leaves every person in the audience, no matter their age, with a smile on their face and feeling just that little bit younger.

Cinderella is glowing and bright, a show for all the family, that Plymouth can and should be proud of. You can catch it at the Theatre Royal Plymouth throughout the rest of January, so get your tickets now!

Review: ‘We Will Rock You’

By Lily Smith

Set in a distant future where the Killer Queen, originally a character from a computer game, has taken over via the world-wide corporation Globalsoft, life is lived online and music and free-thought are banned. ‘We Will Rock You’ follows heroes Galileo and Scaramouche as they attempt to find the Place of Champions and bring back Rock and Roll. They are aided by rebel group ‘the Bohemians’ who crave the Rhapsody that can only be found in live music.

‘We Will Rock You’ is a stunning musical combining Queen’s greatest hits with a sci-fi theme that I wasn’t expecting. The talented cast and live band encourage the audience to get involved making you feel like you are fighting for Rock and Roll with them. All of this contributed to a standing ovation for the cast on opening night.

Comedy is a huge feature of the show with musical puns, innuendo and the classic humour you expect from a trip to the theatre. There was never a dull moment!

The clever use of lighting and set design aid the sci-fi theme and create a visually stunning performance, transporting the audience into the future and absorbing us in the story and music.

The show ends with a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody from the whole cast, showcasing the spirit of rock music as the guitarist joins the cast onstage.

Whether you are a Queen fan or not, I cannot recommend this musical highly enough. ‘We Will Rock You’ is on at the Theatre Royal Plymouth until the 7th of December.

‘Nativity! The Musical’ Sparkles and Shines

By Katie Stote

Glitter, laughter, heart-warming songs and fearless dancing; Nativity! The Musical will leave you with a grin on your face and a hop in your step. What better way to get yourself and your loved ones into the spirit of Christmas than to go and see the absolute spirit of Christmas!

Upon first laying eyes on the stage, you will know you are in for a festive treat. The beautiful set design framing the stage glistens with twinkling stars and an abundance Christmassy colours, all of which only hint at the beautiful wardrobe adorned by the children (and some of the adults too!) in the second half.

The high energy, joyous performances in Nativity! The Musical will remind you of childhood memories, when just the mention of Christmas would make your cheeks turn pink, and talk of who would play who in the school’s nativity was the hot topic of the playground. The wonderful range of comedy from the superb silliness of Mr. Poppy to puns about politics, meant that every joke was answered by a roar of laughter from the audience. It’s safe to say, that whether you are nine or ninety, you will find yourself throwing your head back or chuckling into your closed palm for most of the performance. 

However, don’t let the light-hearted and wholesome nature of the show mislead you… the incredible talent of all the performers, from the vetted theatre performers to the local school children from Plymouth, was astounding. The powerhouse vocals of all the actors flooded the theatre with every song, leaving the audience in absolute awe. 

Nativity! The Musical is a spectacular, fun-filled show to remind all the family of the magic of Christmas in its purest form. With an astounding, adorable (talking about the kids there) and talented cast, you will be in for an evening of joy, festivity and laughter.

Light up the city with Illuminate Plymouth

By Abi Purvis

For those of you who don’t know, Illuminate Light Festival is an art display and light installation show. This year it will be appearing at some of Plymouth’s best locations; Royal William Yard, The Barbican, and Mount Edgecombe. Its purpose is to connect the 400 locations and destinations of the Mayflower across the UK. It’s going to look amazing!

This year it will be even bigger and better than the last, with some spectacular installations, and new interactive workshops which help participants become light designers themselves. The workshops are taking place from the 16th November, so make sure to check out the website and sign up to all the activities Illuminate has to offer: https://realideas.org/futuremake/?fbclid=IwAR3aWRGeXCCy-9vPVqxxUcEIyQQXRVubcCaFZgZ3-er2JJJahcysf35M6Uc#holiday-clubs

Illuminate are also working really hard to reduce their carbon footprint this year, and so are encouraging participants to do so too. They suggest that you use public transport to attend.

The light festival will take place from 17:30 from the 28th November to the 1st December. To keep up to date with all the details and exciting things that are happening, check out the Illuminate Festival Facebook event (https://www.facebook.com/events/2071683166279440/).

This year’s light festival is not one to be missed. Hope to see you there.

Review: Matthew Bourne’s ‘The Red Shoes’

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes returns to the Theatre Royal Plymouth this week, giving audiences in the city a second chance to experience the magic, colour, and romance of this triumphant production.

By Megan Potterton

An award-winning adaptation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film and the Hans Cristian Andersen fairy-tale, Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is ‘a tale of obsession, possession and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world’. Bourne’s production received a phenomenal response to it’s first run in 2016. Now, three years later, The Red Shoes returns to The Theatre Royal Plymouth.

The powerful force of dance and its ability to dominate a dancer’s life lie at the heart of this ballet. Matthew Bourne’s portrayal of love, destruction and real emotion through his award-winning choreography creates a production that will leave its audiences simultaneously in love and heart broken as the curtains close.

The talented cast are, of course, to thank for this. In advance of the production’s run, Matthew Bourne said, ‘I’m thrilled that for the for first revival of our 2016 hit, The Red Shoes, most of the original leading cast will be returning, including Ashley Shaw in her multi award-winning performance as Victoria Page.’ Shaw and the rest of the cast are talented storytellers as well as dancers, making it incredibly easy to become caught up in the narratives of their characters.

Aside from Bourne’s beautiful choreography, his use of sound is exceptional. Of course, music is central to any ballet, but Bourne uses sound in a truly original way. He is not afraid of sudden loud noises, moments of silence or using music for comedic effect. When this unique use of sound is combined with outstanding cinematic staging, you cannot help but be struck by the hard work and talent that has gone into every aspect of this production.

If you have not yet had a chance to watch one of Matthew Bourne’s ballets before, now is the time to do so. The Red Shoes captured my attention in a way that dance had not previously done and I found myself very quickly caught up in the story and its characters. Matthew Bourne creates ballet that is both accessible and modern, making The Red Shoes the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the powerful storytelling nature of dance.

Tickets for Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at the Theatre Royal Plymouth are available here: https://theatreroyal.com/whats-on/mb-the-red-shoes/

Review: One Under

By Keiran Potter

‘One Under’ is a production presented by Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth, and is a show that becomes a thrilling scavenger hunt for jigsaw pieces. But even when all the pieces are found, you are still left believing you are missing another piece of the puzzle. A piece that you may never find in the duration of the production and the time that follows.

One Under was an emotionally charged show that left me scratching my head, and I say that in the most positive way possible. I am the kind of person that, when I read something or watch something, I am only truly satisfied when I am presented all of the answers in their entirety. One Under was an exception to the rule, bringing more questions at its curtain call, than it had posed throughout its runtime.

Dealing with important themes such as suicide, mental health and racially charged issues, this story is presented in disorderly fragments, displaying the holes that are left in our lives when someone we love leaves us with no real explanation. The pain that comes from not knowing the story and true feelings of another.

I feel slightly uncomfortable trying to fully portray some of the racial themes. As a white man, I don’t want to incorrectly interpret some aspects of the production. However, what stood out to me was the way in which ethnic minorities were criminalised by society in this production, perhaps something that unfortunately mirrors aspects of real life. They are collectively judged and can be made to feel guilt just for the colour of their skin. Our titular character, Sonny, discusses this and his feelings of obligation to do good deeds as an unnecessary act of reparation. It really raises questions, and highlights the cross sections of discrimination, mental health and suicide within our society.

I don’t want to give too much away, as this production is a brilliant one. However, I would like to finish off by highlighting how brilliant the acting was through out. Whether it was during the most emotional scenes or the comedic moments, every actor became a truly believable, realistic character. In doing so, they brought the important topics and themes explored, that much closer to home.

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