14 October 2019

Psycho Path - The Biggest Halloween Event In The North

Running through woods being pursued by killer clowns or chainsaw-wielding psychopaths isn't exactly my idea of a good night out, but I thought I'd give it a go - 'try anything once' and all that. I was due to go with a friend who watches horror films for fun, so it was never going to bother him too much. I recently watched two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and couldn't sleep by myself, so I wasn't exactly holding out much hope of enjoying my trip to Psycho Path last Thursday.

Just some of the lovely new friends to meet at Psycho Path 
The Psycho Path is hidden away in secluded woodland at Lintz Hall Farm, not that far from Newcastle (near Consett). I decided not to read too much of the press release in advance, to enhance the feeling of, well, fear. I was pleasantly surprised by the the Anarchy Arcade - a large tent filled with a variety of fantastic-smelling food trucks, including Hatch 76 (selling amazing duck wraps), Acropolis (delicious Greek food) and Middlesbrough's Parm-O-Rama for those of you that enjoy a parmo. You'll also find lots of arcade games if that's your cup of tea. There's also a very busy bar and circus performers, live music and magicians on hand to entertain the crowds (or lull them into a false sense of security before being loaded into a van and dumped into the woods).

Yep, when I was loaded into the van after having a fairly nice time with my friends I started to wonder what I was doing. I half-expected some awful ghoul to jump in the van but luckily that didn't happen. My memory of what actually happened out there isn't that great, partly because of the fear of being left alone in the woods (my wellies slowed me down a lot when my two male friends ran off and left me) and partly because I had really bad stomach ache. And also I don't want to give the game away too much! I remember having to go through an asylum area with extremely scary patients at one point, and a contaminated area with mutants was involved (Psycho City). And there were guys with chainsaws which I could have done without. 

Psycho Path - Fear Ground
Yeah, this was what I was worried about!
The Psycho Path definitely did the job (the screams ringing out through the woods confirmed that). My issue was that the scares were really in-your-face and it probably would have been more scary if there was more psychological stuff going on occasionally (I kind of found people jumping out at me funny towards the end). And there were parts when I was in the woods where being chased would have been really scary but it didn't happen. There was a section in the middle where lots of us were herded for fifteen minutes so any fear that had built up from the first section subsided by the time we got into the second section (maybe first night teething problems). It definitely got my blood pumping though and I would definitely do it again (hopefully minus the stomach ache)! 

(I didn't get the chance to go on the Fear Ground rides but the haunted house and waltzer looked really fun).

Psycho Path is open until 31st October - book tickets here 

18 September 2019

Toast - Northern Stage

I read cook and food writer Nigel Slater's well-loved memoir Toast when it came out years ago, and despite not being able to remember much of the story, I definitely remembered the warm, cosy feeling it left me with and the way that he brings food to life on the page.

The stage production did all of that and more, with the excellent Giles Cooper playing Nigel who compellingly tells the story of his childhood through food, which went from idyllic (his love of cooking stems from cooking with his mother) to tragic (she suffered from bad asthma - her decline is portrayed tenderly by Katy Federman).

Toast Northern Stage
A mother's love - Mum (Katy Federman) and Nigel (Giles Cooper)
Upon entering the cinema, you're hit with the familiar smell of burnt toast and reminded of just how much food and smells act as markers in our memory. Fittingly, the set is the Slater family's 60s kitchen, with the clever addition of moveable cabinets and the cast pitching in to move props around. 
Nigel and his mum bake their way through family favourites jam tarts, mince pies and Christmas cake (my mouth was watering throughout). The loving relationship with his mum was in stark contrast to the lack of affection from his stern dad (Blair Plant), a factory owner and a typical father of that time who struggled to show his emotion. 

Obsessing about sweets 
I loved the way lists are used to tell us about Nigel's favourite foods, and the family rules at restaurants (where politeness is more important than the actual eating). Music and movement is used to great effect too, with great scenes including a game show-like sweet shop, a special visit to the grocery store at Christmas and mother and son dancing together on the kitchen worktops. There are plenty of funny moments (including Mrs Slater's coquettish behaviour around the gardener (Stefan Edwards) and his burgeoning interest in sex) to balance out the sadness that comes with losing a parent at a young age. The cast play a variety of roles which works really well and shows off their incredible versatility.

Nigel making himself sick on Strawberry Sundaes
The second half sees Nigel's dad getting remarried and a house move, and Nigel getting into a food war with his new step mum Joan (Samantha Hopkins). Family tragedy strikes again, but luckily food and cooking continue to be a passion for him, and leads to a job at a hotel and exploring his sexuality before he heads to the bright lights of London and The Savoy. The scene where Nigel actually cooks is beautiful and brings everything together - the sounds, ingredients, smells and simplicity of a dish made with love. If you sit in the front row you might be lucky enough to be handed some flapjack, but everyone is guaranteed sweets and yes, walnut whips are involved as well! Be prepared to want to head to a restaurant afterwards. 

Toast is at Northern Stage until 21st September - get your tickets here 

14 September 2019

PREVIEW - Pride and Prejudice (*Sort Of) at Northern Stage

Everybody loves Pride & Prejudice, right? I still remember for some reason refusing to go on holiday with my family when I was fifteen, getting scared when they left for the airport at 2am and watching  the entire BBC series on video. It gave us wet-through Colin Firth and inspired Helen Fielding to write Bridget Jones, for crying out loud (THAT Mr Darcy was no coincidence). 

This time the much-loved novel has been given an all-female makeover by writer and performer Isobel McArthur, in conjunction with Blood of the Young and Tron Theatre Company. Why sort of? This adaptation focusses on the servants, six female servants to be precise who are playing ALL the roles. The adaptation draws on two hundred years of pop history and heavily features one of my favourite hobbies - karaoke! (Didn't expect that, did you)?

Expect plenty of laughs, a killer pop soundtrack, microphones and even to be moved! 

Catch Pride and Prejudice (*Sort Of) at Northern Stage from October 2nd to 12th. Tickets from £10. To book click here

10 September 2019

PREVIEW - Reasons To Stay Alive at Northern Stage

Matt Haig is one of my favourite writers. I read Reasons To Stay Alive a few years ago after suffering from depression and loved it (it inspired me to write my own story of recovery from mental health issues, Awakened). I really enjoy his writing style, humour and always learn a lot from his books. Then I started on his fiction, with the excellent How To Stop Time and The Humans. I'm yet to read Notes on a Nervous Planet, his latest musings on the effects of anxiety on society and how to cope in a chaotic world but it's in my Amazon wish list. So I was excited when I read that Reasons To Stay Alive had been adapted for the stage.

The book starts with Matt's breakdown in Ibiza (where he was close to throwing himself off a cliff) and charts his return to the UK, living with his parents and not being able to do simple things like go to the corner shop without having a panic attack. Luckily he has the support of his girlfriend (now wife). It's like a guidebook where he shares lots of insights and advice regarding recovery from depression alongside moments of humour and hope, proving that you can still live a great life despite having mental health issues.

Reasons To Stay Alive Northern Stage

Adapted for the stage and directed by Jonathan Watkins, and written by April de Angelis the play features Phil Cheadle as Older Matt, Mike Noble as Younger Matt and a strong supporting cast. Expect plenty of music and movement, as well as strong language (well, we are talking about life and death). And Matt's thoughts on the book becoming a play?

It’s wonderful to see a book take on other life forms, especially one as exciting and radically different as this one. I think this production will provide a fascinating way to look at depression and mental health. I’m so pleased it’s happening."

The production opens on 18 September (previews from 13 September) and runs at Sheffield Theatres until 28 September before touring to Bristol, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Manchester, York and Leeds.

To buy tickets for the Northern Stage from Tuesday 15th October to Saturday 19th October click here