September's Charity Shop Haul

I've become a little bit obsessed with finding bargains and unusual items in charity shops over the past few years. I like to think I'm pretty good at it, though you have to know where to go to get the right quality and types of clothes you're after.

Charity shops are great for one-off and vintage items and whilst a few of the more savvy shops are catching on to things and beginning to price their clothes accordingly (fair play and good luck to them), if you can commit to sometimes rifling through rails of rubbish, you can certainly reap the rewards.

As I did this month and was rewarded with an amazing selection of clothes - five items for the grand total of £13.50. 

Yes, the mathematicians among you will already have worked out that is an average of £2.70 per item of clothing. It's a no-brainer. So without further ado, may I introduce you to this month's charity shop haul.

1. Zara: Brown leather mini skirt with exposed front zip £2

I actually found this gorgeous little number on the "bargain" rail in a charity shop, with it originally being priced at £4. I almost felt a little guilty taking it off heir hands but hey ho, I do donate a fair amount of my own stuff to charity, so it's fine. I love a bit of leather (or pleather) -  I bought this Zara black leather pencil skirt i n South Africa. This tan colour is a bit more unusual and I can't wait to concoct an Autumnal outfit around it with patterned tights and my floppy felt hat.

2. Warehouse cropped ruffle waterfall jacket £2

And right next to the Zara skirt was this cute little jacket, again for £2, reduced from. It's  fairly light jacket so more suited to Autumn than Winter, but I'm sure I'll get some wear out of it both at work and play. I may even trow it on with the leather miniskirt above if I feel like it.

Top:  Collectif Delores Top 
Jeans: Oasis Premium Cherry Mid Rise Jeans

3.Oasis red jumper with detachable leopard print collar £3.50

Truth be told, I'm probably (definitely) more of a S than an XS really but when I tried on this bad boy in the changing room I thought it looked pretty OK. I actually remember wishing I'd bought this jumper with my staff discount during one of my two stints working there (think this was in store circa 2012/13) but didn't. Because minimum wage does not a large, lovely wardrobe make. Anyway, I was so pleased to see this and can't wait to wear it to work with one of my pencil skirts or maybe the high-waisted flared Phoebe trousers I got from House of London. 

Skirt: Zara leather pencil skirt

4. Sugarhill Boutique grey safari animal jersey maxi £3.00

Again, I'm definitely no size 8, but I just couldn't leave this amazing find behind. And the material is stretchy so I'll just find some big holdy-inny knickers to wear with it. Bridget Jones-style.Sorted.Whilst it doesn't quite display the Big Five (where's the love for buffalo people?), the elephant, leopard, zebra and giraffe take me straight back to my trip of a lifetime to South Africa that I took in July (blog post pending). I'm very partial to a maxi dress in the summer but I feel the grey colour of this makes it suitable for Autumn / Winter wear too.

5. Marks & Spencer white denim fit and flare dress £3.00

This dress is a little summery for this time of year (isn't white usually) and I'm not sure it's currently the most flattering, however, I had the genius idea of dying it another colour. And the pinafore style is back in for this Autumn / Winter. Fact. So the question is, do I dye it a winter colour like forest green or burgundy and layer over a jumper / polo neck? Or do I dye it a more summery colour like lemon yellow? I was desperate to find  a perfect yellow dress this summer. Either way, a great little find, IMO.

Review: Sister Act, Palace Theatre Manchester

Reviewing a musical that you’ve recently been in is quite different. It’s almost impossible to remain objective in your thoughts, even if you are reviewing a professional show and yours was an amateur one.

This is the predicament I found myself in last Thursday as I sat down in Manchester’s Palace Theatre to watch Sister Act, having myself starred in it last November with Alderley & Wilmslow Musical Theatre Company (AWMTC).

Whilst I had seen three amateur versions of the show (including my own), I was the first time I had seen a professional tour. I’ve decided to punctuate this post with photos of me when I played cantankerous choir mistress/ rapping nun Sister Mary Lazarus, mainly so you can laugh at me. I’m nice like that. Really taking one for the team here.

Anyway, I love Sister Act. It’s more than simply because the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name topped my list of most-watched films in the nineties. More than Alan Menken’s supremely uplifting and disco-filled score. Yes, it was Sister Act that got me back in the habit (as it were) of performing in musicals last year and everything that that has meant for my life since (but that’s another blog post entirely). So it will always have a special place in my heart.

Directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel-Horwood and starring X Factor winner Alexandra Burke as nightclub singer-turned-nun Deloris, the show has been eagerly anticipated for some time. Burke made a name for herself last year after her stint as Rachel Marron The Bodyguard was well-received.

And she did not disappoint. A friend who had watched the night before said that Burke had been put on voice rest after the previous show but this was not apparent in her performance at all. Belting out all the power “money” notes more than proficiently, Burke also added some extra sass and Diana Ross-esque divaship to the role that any of the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race would be proud of. (If you haven’t seen this how it is meant as a huge compliment from me!).

The singing from all the cast was exceptional. Having been in the show I can tell you that you are usually working on a minimum of a three-part harmony  in addition to lead vocals with this show, though more often you will end up with much more in the biggest numbers. The harmonies are not easy to get and sustain in this show, but the cast of only ten nuns (including Deloris and Mother Superior) completely managed it. I was surprised to be able to hear the different parts distinctively for the majority of the show. Pretty impressive stuff.

The only slight disappointment with the vocals was that the score had obviously been transposed down a few keys (perhaps to be more suited to Burke’s voice?) so you didn’t get the full wow-factor of Menken’s original score. That said, the score is an extremely complex one and pretty high, so I get it.

One of the most perplexing things about this show was that there was no orchestra in the pit – even our own amateur production had a 12-piece, bursting with professional musicians. Instead, several members of the cast played various instruments throughout the numbers  – we learned in the bows that there was in fact a tiny “band” that was hidden backstage, though the majority of music was produced by the on-stage cast.

There seems to be a growing trend towards this in musical theatre at the moment – see my review of The Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon last month, with the cynical part of me suspecting this has a lot to do with cost-cutting. That said, the challenge of finding and casting singers /actors who are also proficient at playing instruments is a big one, and one that is potentially a struggle in amateur dramatics, as referred to in my blog.

Whilst I felt the instruments worked in the earlier bar scenes, one of my major gripes with the nuns playing them is that it just didn’t make sense in the context of the show. Whist it was a fun and light-hearted addition to some extent, the whole point is that the nuns are supposed to be completely musically inept until Deloris comes along. For the singing this was consistent – it remained perfectly tuneless l right through until the last few bars of Raise Your Voice (though in my opinion this hampered Good To Be A Nun). However, why would nuns who can’t hold a tune be able to be masters of the clarinet, violin or saxophone? Baffling.

My real issue with having the nuns playing instruments was that I felt it completely got in the way of the choreography. This wasn’t such a huge issue in Raise Your Voice but the wow factor that usually comes from the choir’s first proper performance in Take Me To Heaven (reprise) just wasn’t quite there. More than half of the nuns were playing instruments and as result, the choreography was limited to a few step clicks, clapping and Saturday Night Fever poses. – surely a waste from such a renowned Director/ Choreographer as Revel-Horwood? This song closes Act One and is supposed to be a bit of a showstopper but I just felt the energy wasn’t quite there.

Sunday Morning Fever – Act Two’s opening number – was much better (though choreography still lacking a bit), however the nuns still missed the glitz and glamour that I usually expect to increase as the show goes on. In fact, I don’t think a single sequin graced the stage until the “Gayboys” took the stage in Fabulous Baby (reprise) -again not exactly in-keeping with what Revel-Horwood is used to on Strictly - though the entire cast was bedecked in sequins in finale Spread The Love  where the choreography was also taken up a gear.

Other standout numbers included Mother Superior’s (Karen Mann) Here Within These Walls), Lady In The Long Black Dress, performed by Deloris’ gangster boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) and his three stooges Joey (Samuel Morgan-Grahame), TJ (Sandy Grigelis) and Pablo (Ricky Rojas), and Deloris’ childhood friend and detective “Sweaty” Eddie’s  (Jon Robyns) I Could Be That Guy. 

The addition of the vomiting and urinating noises in this song depicting the street life outside the convent was humorous to a point, however perhaps a little overkill as at times in completely detracted from Robyns’ solid performance in what is his only solo in the show.
That said, I did really enjoy the ultra-disco section and dance routine complete with giant disco ball (this is the Revel-Horwood we know and love) used to finish the song. 

Sarah Goggin’s (playing postulant Sister Mary Robert) vocals in Life I Never Lead were sensational, whilst Susannah Van Den Berg’s Sister Mary Patrick and Rosemary Ashe’s Sister Mary Lazarus made for a great comedic pairing.

All in all, qualms and subjectivity aside, I really enjoyed the show and was tapping my toes throughout. Though I had to restrain myself a few times from jumping out of my seat and taking to the stage to do the choreography I had learned was quite a challenge. However quite inadvisable as we were sitting in the Gallery…

In sum , as Revel-Horwood would say , it was FAB-U-LOUS (Baby).

Sister Act returns to Manchester’s Palace Theatre  from 24-29 July 2017 and is touring nationally until 27 August 2017.

21 things you remember about going back to school

The beginning of September brings many things. The transition from summer to autumn (“the nights are drawing in”), knitwear replacing sun dresses and playsuits in Topshop and Christmas decorations hitting the shelves (I really hate this). But most important of all, September is back to school time; the halcyon fun-filled days of the summer holidays now a distant memory. Here are 21 of my back to school memories ( complete with obligatory embarrassing school pics).

  1. The night-before anxiety. Not being able to sleep due to a combination of you “getting on the wrong shift” (thanks Mum) thanks to all the summer lie-ins, late nights, nerves and excitement.
  2. A new pencil case (Disney, Groovy Chick and Hello Kitty were always winners).
  3. The sun shining smugly and radiantly on the first day back to school now that you’re stuck in a classroom all day, it having poured it down for the entirety of August.
  4. New stationery: number one was a selection of smelly gel pens (bonus points if they were glittery too), one of those Tippex rollerball things because the liquid type was on the school’s “banned” list and a jumbo pencil that was impossible to write with.
  5. “No you can’t. It’s a school night!”
  6. The stress of buying new school shoes. Mum: “Why can’t you get some sensible shoes from Clarks?” Instead, you insist on Kickers, Rockports if you’re a bit chavvy or Dr. Martens if that’s more your scene (kid). Ironically in my twenties I love Clarks shoes – so comfortable.
  7. Gloriously free evenings replaced with homework. Ugh.
  8. The first day crackdown on school uniform: short skirts that are more than 6cm above the knee, ties that showed fewer than four stripes and any kind of badges on your blazer that dared to show your personality were all punishable by death. Or maybe detention. This was before the teachers gave up after a couple of weeks, of course.
  9. Psyching up your stomach to prepare it for school lunches again. Turkey Twizzlers, Smiley Faces and baked beans in the pre-Jamie Oliver days.
  10. The “motivational” first assembly that was more like being told you all had an incurable disease and had only months to live.
  11. The bus. The seat hierarchy and terrifying Year 11’s on the back row.
  12. Forgetting how to write with a pen after not doing so all summer, resulting in handwriting that looks like a five-year old's (mine still does now).
  13. “The bell is a sign for me and not for you.”
  14. Finding out to your disappointment you have the mean teacher with a real body odour problem, Mr Sweatman (Sweetman).
  15. Finding out that Mr. Sweatman is actually lovely and a great teacher so you’re wracked with guilt for the rest of the year because you joined in the brutal taking the piss out of him and even did a few impressions of him yourself. The guilt is at its worst when you get an A*.
  16. The new timetable: Double Maths followed by PE on a Tuesday morning. FML.
  17. The awkward, new boy-girl seating plan that endsup with you sitting next to Kyle, the acne-ridden pervert of the year who couldn’t keep his hands (or bad breath) to himself.
  18. Finding your Mum’s sewn-in name labels on literally EVERYTHING. I'm too old for this.
  19. Deliberately not bringing in your PE kit on the first day back even though you knew full well that you would probably have Games that day and therefore get bollocked by the Head of PE.
  20. “It’s your time you’re wasting, not mine.”
  21. Your failed summer transformation into a Year 10 sex goddess (or appropriate equivalent) that all they boys will fancy. Instead you got braces and glasses. Puberty is cruel.

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