The nights have drawn in and there’s much more of a nip in the air, so at this time of year it can be very tempting to stay indoors where it’s warm and dry and cosy. But not me. The wintry weather hasn’t stopped me getting out and about as much as ever, so November was pretty busy.
I think it was especially nice to relax having got my charity abseil out of the way. Finally getting the blog post and video up for that at the start of November was a nice way to wrap it all up. Donations are still possible and very welcome though, and thank you to the Nystagmus Network for giving me another shoutout as well!
So here’s my latest monthly recap for November, including visits to theatre shows, comedy clubs and museums, and other bits and pieces. There’s also an accompanying video as per usual. I hope you enjoy!
The Wayward Daughter
I went to the theatre 3 times during November, which I was very pleased about. And the first show was another new experience for me – my first ever ballet!
I didn’t know if I would like ballet, especially as it’s such a visual form of entertainment, and I had no idea where to start to try it out. But my friend Claire found an audio described production of a light-hearted comedy called La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. And it looked quite intriguing, so I agreed to give it a go.
And I’m happy to say I really enjoyed the experience. The touch tour beforehand was the best and most comprehensive I’ve had at a theatre so far, including a stage tour, a costume handling session and a Q&A with the conductor, that altogether lasted nearly 2 hours! Plus we got to meet the adorable Peregrine, a real-life Shetland pony who appears a few times during the show!
The ballet itself was also great, featuring wonderfully choreographed dance to the beautiful music, plenty of humour, and very colourful costumes and sets. I wouldn’t necessarily be interested in seeing more heavy or serious ballets, but this uplifting production was lovely. The only downside was that there were some technical issues with the audio description that the theatre need to work on. Thankfully I was fine, and it was essential to ensure I could follow what was happening, but others were struggling as it kept cutting out. It seems my height might have given me a slight advantage somehow. So I hope they can make that more reliable in the future. But overall it was a great day.
You can read a much more detailed review in my blog post entitled Ballet & The Bard.
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery
The next show I went to see was The Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre, and my mother joined me for this one. We had booked on to it last year in fact, but we fell ill and couldn’t go. So thankfully we got there this time!
The Criterion Theatre is situated right next to the Eros statue and Tube station in Piccadilly Circus, so it’s very easy to get to. And it’s beautiful inside, with lots of ornate decorations and beautiful artworks covering the walls and ceilings, often featuring cherubs as a common theme. The theatre goes quite deep underground too, as the auditorium is 30 feet below street level! The BBC even requisitioned it as a safe recording and broadcasting space during World War II, as it was a very effective shelter.
Our experience started with a very enjoyable touch tour, as we were all taken down to the bar area to look at many of the costumes and props. The outfits were lovely to handle and examine, especially a very ornate red and gold uniform, with war medals and loads of other intricate detailing on it, which is worn by the prince whose diamond is being looked after at the bank. We also saw a dress worn by the young lady in the play, which was very nice.
But the props were particularly fun, because they reflected the comedy nature of the play. For instance, there were a selection of false moustaches that ranged from a normal sized one you can wear, right up to one that was 10 foot long, spanning the width of 4 people sitting together! I’m not exaggerating, it really is that big! I won’t tell you why it’s used in the play, but it’s very funny when it is. There was also a massive fluffy cuddly toy dog used as one of the guard dogs, although it was so soft and cute and adorable that you just wanted to take him home!
We were then led on to the stage, where we got to see a huge piggybank, a door leading to the young lady’s apartment, and the diamond in its case that the whole audience sees on stage as the show is getting ready to start. Most interestingly though, we got to meet and chat to the actors, each of whom told us about their characters and demonstrated their accents. One of the guys plays all the other characters that aren’t the main leads (though he is an understudy for one of the leads as well), so he has to do a multitude of accents, and he did do a few of them for us. So it was great to meet them, and it was very kind of them to give up their time for all of us.
And the play itself is really good. As the title adequately states, it’s a comedy about a group of people trying to rob a bank. It’s a proper farce, with lots of wordplay, misunderstandings, slapstick and stunts. It’s crammed full of jokes from the start, and it’s very funny.
There are some very cool set pieces as well, especially in the second half when the robbery is in progress. For example, without spoiling it, there’s a section where the robbers are crawling through the ventilation system, which is very cleverly staged with hilarious consequences.
The audio description worked very well too. The theatre were trying out a new radio system instead of infrared for their headsets, and it worked perfectly for my mother and I. Infrared systems are more prone to cut-outs as the signal can be blocked by people and parts of the building, whereas radio transmissions spread out much better.
So if you love comedy, this is well worth seeing. It’s the third show by Mischief Theatre, whose first production, The Play The Goes Wrong, is also on in the West End. I haven’t seen that yet, but I really want to. Their second show was Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which isn’t on in London at the moment, but I did see it on TV when the BBC broadcast it one Christmas, and I saw also their broadcast of Christmas Carol Goes Wrong last year. So I knew that I’d like The Comedy About A Bank Robbery from watching both of those.
The theatre itself is very new, having only opened in 2013, and I really like it there. It immediately felt promising when I went to book the tickets, because I think it’s the only theatre I’ve come across so far where I can book concessionary disabled tickets online. After setting up my account, all I had to do was contact the access manager to explain my access requirements (I did it by email, but you can do it by phone too). The lovely Lorna then made the venue manager aware of my needs, and got the box office to update my account, so that I would automatically get the concessionary rate when booking online or by phone.
Consequently, when booking 2 tickets, one of them automatically became a free companion ticket at the very end of the checkout process, which was ideal. Not only that, but I had also added the Pizza & A Drink offer to my booking, so we could have a bite to eat in the bar before the show, and one of those tickets automatically became free as well! So we got 2 pizzas and 2 drinks for £12. Bargain! The chicken and bacon pizza I had was delicious too, I must say.
And the theatre itself felt very accessible. The signage in there is brilliant, with large bold white text and symbols standing out very clearly against a dark background. So for once I was able to quickly locate the toilets, from a distance and without having to use my monocular, and we were able to find the right auditorium easily. The staff were also really helpful and friendly. So I was very impressed with all of that.
The theatre had also been offering a touch tour and audio description for this play, but we were unable to make that particular date, so we went on a different night instead. But it still worked out fine. It was performed ‘in the round’, which means the stage is in the centre of the room and the audience sit around it. And it was only a small room, so it was quite intimate and we were very close to the stage area. So we could see quite well, and were able to use our monoculars to look at smaller details every so often. The set design was quite minimalist anyway, with just some furniture and possessions to represent the flat in which it was set, and a few violins suspended overhead for artistic effect.
Without giving anything away, in case it appears at other theatres, the play is a drama about a famous violinist called Ye, who is disabled and has shut herself away from the world, and the young student called Simona that she is persuaded to teach. There are only 2 other characters – the landlady of the flat owned by the central character, and the lady who brings the young student to the flat. And they’re all played very well by the cast members.
It’s a powerful and emotionally charged piece, with many dramatic and dark moments, but there is also humour as well. And the actress playing the young Simona is a very good violin player, which she has a few opportunities to demonstrate during the show. And the ending gives you plenty to think about. It’s an unusual play compared to the musicals and comedies I mainly go to, but I liked it, precisely because it was different and thought-provoking without being dull or depressing.
On the night we went, there was also a special Q&A session afterwards with the writer and others who helped to put the show together, including composer Colin Sell, best known for his appearances on the Radio 4 comedy show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. So we stayed for that, and it was really interesting to get their perspective on the play. It was a nice way to round off another enjoyable theatre visit.
I’ve also been to a couple of comedy gigs this month, which is something I’ve been wanting to do more of since visiting The Comedy Store and An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail earlier in the year. And these latest shows were both good fun.
The first was a visit to the Angel Comedy Club at The Bill Murray bar, with the visually impaired Aquabats group. This is a free show that the bar do very regularly, featuring a host who does some stand-up comedy and introduces 5 other comedians to do about 15 minutes each.
And it was a nice evening. The host was good, he enjoyed chatting to various members of the audience to get us all warmed up. None of the acts he introduced were famous comedians that I knew, and inevitably some were more confident and had better material than others, but they all got laughs from us. So it was good value considering it was a free gig. The drinks are a little bit more expensive as a result, of course, but that’s to be expected. It’s polite to buy one, but I wouldn’t pay for more than that. They do also put on comedy gigs that you can pay for as well, and they have a second venue at the Camden Head, so they have quite a variety of options for you to get a good comedy fix.
The other comedy show I went to was in a much more iconic location, as I went to see the History Showoff by a group called Science Showoff at Southwark Cathedral. It featured historians and comedians, each of which spoke about a different topic, mixing factual information with humour, and it was very well paced. So it was never dry or boring. It was certainly a mixed bag of topics too, including a history of women’s swimwear, a list of all the US presidents, Chinese witchcraft using something called Gu, attacking castles in Wales, and so on.
And in amongst the performers was Dan Schreiber, one of the researchers for the comedy panel show QI, and host of their podcast No Such Thing As A Fish. I love that podcast, and I had no idea he was going to be there, so that was a great surprise! He actually appeared twice, as he was also standing in for someone else I think, as well as doing his own slot. So across his two appearances he gave us his top 10 facts, including the fact that Winston Churchill used to throw his false teeth across the room in anger and made sure his dental technician wasn’t called up for war so he could look after them, and the fact that Charles Dickens’ sister Fanny was taught music by a Doctor Willy Crotch! So that was a very entertaining evening, something a bit different to your usual comedy night.
My first museum visit this month was to Madame Tussaud’s with members of East London Vision. I’d never been there before, so I was very excited about going. The main reason for visiting was to assess their accessibility for visually impaired visitors like ourselves (and thinking about other disabilities as well). And the best way to do that was of course to explore the attraction just like any other customer.
And it’s an amazing place. The waxwork models are so intricately detailed and totally lifelike. We were also able to get right up close to them, touch them and take photos with them, which was very cool. There are loads of famous faces from films, TV, music, sports, politics, royalty, etc, so there will be plenty of people and characters that you recognise. They even have Youtubers Zoe Sugg (Zoella) & Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog), which is a nice acknowledgement of the fame that some vloggers earn these days.
There’s also a small exhibition space about Madame Tussaud herself, a taxi ride (a bit like a ghost train) that takes you on a quick tour of the history of London, and a 4D movie featuring Marvel superheroes (meaning you have 3D effects on screen plus rumbling seats, smoke effects and light sprays of water!).
So I had a lot of fun, and took loads of photos as you can imagine. On my Instagram you can see me posing with my favourite waxworks here and here (I’m glad I finally got to post with the Freddie Mercury model I saw in the Queen shop!), along with many other photos here, here, here, here & here. You can also see a selection of East London Vision’s photos on their Facebook page.
It was difficult to identify the models I wasn’t familiar with though. They’ve made the plaques about each waxwork as unobtrusive as possible, as they’re a very similar colour to the walls in many cases, they’re not always immediately adjacent to the waxworks, and the print on them is very small and poorly contrasted. Each of us in the group had a fully sighted volunteer with us for this visit, and even my volunteer – the wonderful Simon, who was very friendly and extremely helpful throughout the day – struggled to find and read them sometimes.
So that’s one aspect they could work on – either by improving the legibility of the plaques, or perhaps putting a prominent number somewhere that could be looked up in a large print guide, audio guide or smartphone app, or perhaps a QR code you can scan on your smartphone for details. Or maybe they could even use Bluetooth beacons that automatically generate the information on a smartphone app when you get close to each waxwork. They’re just random ideas, but I’m sure they could do something. In any case, hopefully we’ve been able to give them valuable feedback that they can take on board.
Overall though, I did enjoy my visit. It’s definitely worth exploring that place at least once, it’s really impressive.
Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth
Towards the end of November I spent a few days staying with friends in Portsmouth, which was really nice. And during my stay we visited The Mary Rose Museum, one of a few attractions they have in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. And it was very interesting too. It’s fascinating to learn about the history of the ship, as well as all the more recent efforts to raise it from the depths and research it. It must be really interesting for everyone working on the project. The rebuilt ship that forms the centrepiece of the museum is amazing to look at from all angles, the many thousands of objects they’ve collected from it are all very cool, and the way they’ve been able to determine what members of the crew looked like is very clever.
It is quite dark in there (as it needs to be, to help preserve the ship and the objects), but I could see enough, either using my monocular or looking closely at the photos I took. They don’t have audio guides unfortunately, but they do have large print guides, as long as you can find the right lighting spots to read them under, so they were really useful. There’s also an area where you can handle objects, so we got to feel and look at original pieces of wood from the boat, along with chainmail, and some of the heavy rope used for the anchor. And in another area you can look at costumes from the time and try a few things on. We only put on a few hats, but we enjoyed watching other younger visitors getting more dressed up, it’s great for them.
So I enjoyed looking around the museum, it was well worth the visit, and you can see some more photos over on my Instagram. The fudge and chocolate I bought from the gift shop were very tasty too! And I’d love to go back and look at other attractions in the dockyard in the future. I’m hoping to stay with or visit my friends there on a fairly regular basis, now that it’s much easier for me to get there compared to where I used to live, so there will be plenty of opportunities as time goes on.
In terms of TV, I’ve been enjoying the same shows as last month for the most part, with all the new episodes of Doctor Who, The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, The Flash, The Last Leg, Have I Got News For You, QI XL, Would I Lie To You? and Family Guy. But I’m also glad that Michael McIntyre’s Big Show has come back for a 4th series, as it’s fun and light-hearted Saturday night entertainment, with the hilarious Send To All game, the audience surprises and the great performances by the Unexpected Stars.
This was also the month that I saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, but I’ve written about that in my post entitled Queen At The Cinema & Carnaby. Suffice to say, I thought it was awesome, and the soundtrack album is great as well.
I also listened to a new audiobook during my trip to Portsmouth – The Audiobook Of The Year 2018. This is written and narrated by No Such Thing As A Fish, who are a group of researchers that work on the TV show QI. They do a weekly podcast where they discuss some of the strange and interesting facts they’ve found in the last 7 days, which I really enjoy listening to.
So this audiobook (and the print version) covers the past year, telling you about lots of the stranger and lesser known facts that came up during 2018, organised into alphabetical chapters like the TV series. It’s really interesting and often very funny.
And the great thing about the audiobook version is that they treat it very much like a podcast. They do of course read the print book first and foremost, as it is their job in this recording. But there are regular interjections and asides where they remark on the things they’ve mentioned and have a laugh about some of it. And they even pick up on each other’s mistakes here and there, so there are some outtakes deliberately left in. As a result, it feels very conversational instead of being a dry and boring list of facts. Plus it means you’re getting chatty material that’s not in the printed book. So it’s really good fun. I definitely recommend checking it out, as well as their first book from 2017 and their weekly podcast.
In particular, I was very kindly featured in a Guest Blogger Interview by the Invisible Vision Project, and in return I published an interview with Carol here on my blog. So do go and check out both of those posts and give The Invisible Vision Project a follow, because she does write a lot of interesting posts. Many thanks to Carol for the collaboration!
My other post, meanwhile, was about What Makes Me, based on the #WhatMakesMe tag created by Gem Turner. and which I was nominated to do by Holly at Life Of A Blind Girl. In it I discuss the other key aspects of my life that make me who I am beyond my disability – all of which should be familiar to regular readers of this blog, and even just reading this Favourites post will give you a good sense of it. But it’s good to have the chance to summarise some of the most important aspects of my life, to remind people that I am far more than just a person with a disability, as it’s not the only thing that defines me.
And there you have it, that’s my summary for November, another fun and busy month. December’s also going to be enjoyable, with lots of festive things lined up in particular as you’d expect. I’ve got quite a few Christmas lunches spread throughout the month, I hope to check out some of the Christmas events happening around London, and I’ll watch plenty of TV as well, including some new DVDs and Blu-rays that I’ve ordered and programmes on streaming sites. So there will be plenty to mention for next month’s favourites, which I’ll do early next year. In the meantime, you can get a sense of how I celebrate the season by reading my Christmas Q&A. And I hope all of your Christmas preparations are going well too! 🙂