Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A Vision so Spectral will connect and affect all.

If you take three motivational talks, an afternoon of wondrous workshops, and a programme packed with mystery and magic, stirring it all together in a large cauldron, what do you get? Spectral Visions: The Gothic, of course! 26th June 2012 saw the arrival of the long awaited conference at St Peter's campus, University of Sunderland. It promised to be an "exciting day conference [...] designed to ‘lift the veil’ on the enduringly popular genre of ‘Gothic’." The big question is though, did it deliver?

To put it simply, yes. Yes it did. Setting the mood for the rest of the day, Dr Alison Younger (Programme Leader, MA English) launches us to the genre of the Gothic, introducing us to some of its creatures, Professor John Strachan (University Northumbria) then taking us through a combination of Surrealism, and Romanticism, and the Gothic. Towards the end of the day, a fascinating talk titled 'The Dark Side of Macbeth' was delivered by Professor Willy Maley (University of Glasgow). I think it's fair to say that each of the three varied focuses proved to project an inspirational and intriguing experience from which a great deal could be plucked.

A selection of workshops ran in the afternoon, designed to introduce attendees to the style and atmosphere of the teachings of MA English. Delegates were able to choose from options such as Wuthering Heights, run by Dr David Fallon, and Dr Susan Mandala's 'Prehistoric Fiction: The Monster Within?'. On a personal note, I'd decided to opt for Colin Younger's 'Ghost Stories of the Northern Region', something I knew I'd find fascinating. However, I'd not quite anticipated the great level of enthralment the hour-long session was to bring. Have you ever experienced a discussion throughout which you're bandying around a hundred thoughts per second? It's riveting! For the A-Level students, additional workshops were run, covering topics such as 'American Gothic', Frankenstein, and 'Scottish Gothic'. Whatever your interests, there was certainly going to be something to cater for them.

This all sounds marvellous, but what if I told you a meal was also thrown into the mix? Yes, that's right. Lunch was provided, free of charge (yes, free, the very price of attendance at the conference itself!). We're not just talking a sandwich and a juice box, either. So, after watching a video clip of the slicing open of an eyeball, (thanks for that, Professor John Strachan, sincerely!), delegates were able to gorge in preparation for the afternoon's timetable. A-Level students were also able to explore the campus and gain a stronger feel for the university itself.

Providing enchantment in endless instalments, Spectral Visions was nothing short of a complete success. Attendees ended the day oozing with inspired and motivated energies, while all those involved in the piecing together of the intricately spectacular event could bask in the glowing light of prosperity. Eloquent and divine, Spectral Visions will forever remain unforgettable.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

REVIEW: The Mysteries, Customs House + Arbeia Roman Fort

Sitting outside for two hours in the nipping North East wind does not sound like it would be much fun. Throw in a mind-blowing production into the mix though, and spirits are instantly lifted whatever the weather. The Customs House takes The Mysteries to the Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields, and proves this.

Originating in the medieval 10th Century, The Mysteries tells the story of the creation of man, and the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ, focusing on specific parts of the Gospels. As these stories are generally very well known, it’s needless to say that the production was going to have to provide something unique for it to be compelling. This was certainly not an issue.

A lot of ground had to be covered in just a few hours to project the Biblical tales in their best light. Thankfully, the play was paced marvellously. I felt that the emphasis was placed upon all of the right moments; not once did a scene feel rushed, nor were they dragged out for too long.

The stories are told mainly in verse, with occasional input from the beautifully melodic choir. The cast of some twenty actors, both professional and amateur from throughout the North East, take on over fifty speaking roles. I’ve seen smaller productions with fewer characters struggle to manage this successfully, but no signs of complications were present with The Mysteries. Each and every character remained believable and valued.

Stepping into the sandals of Jesus is a big commitment. David Robson portrays the Lord in all manners of eloquence, a representation to be proud of. He was able to stir emotions from the core of every audience member, many of who were reduced to tears by the end of the evening. The scene of the Crucifixion specifically hit the heart quite hard, the powerful moment projected effectively with the use of a mesmerising cross upon which we are forced to watch Jesus suffer. At appropriate intervals a slight interjection of humour was provided by the three shepherds, played by Peter Lathan, Karl Hicks, and Steven Stobbs. Their merry singing and comic banter ensured that the overall mood didn’t drop too low.

Both cast and crew appeared to handle the outdoor production magnificently. The Arbeia Roman Fort is a striking location and adapted itself well throughout the duration of the play. The wind did interfere ever so slightly with the microphones, but as the audience was seated very closely to the stage area, this was not a problem. A few cast members performed barefoot at certain points. This was done with great skill; you’d never guess they were standing on bare rock and pebbles!

Director Peter Lathan has successfully pulled together the many elements that provide this miraculous production. The Mysteries opens up to the audience the beautiful selection of Biblical stories to provide an entertaining and emotional production that will forever remain unforgettable.