Monday, 22 November 2010

A taste of Africa in the West End

A brilliant orange glow lit the stage as the curtain lifts to reveal the most inventive costume theatre show the west end has to offer.

‘The Lion King’ is one of the most successful theatre shows on the London theatre scene.

Winning 70 international awards alongside being one of the best selling British theatre productions the show has branched-out across the world, with performances now being played in Japan, Australia and China.

The show stems from the Disney’s infamous creation in 1994, which raised just under two-million-dollars in its opening weekend.

The timeless songs fill the Lyceum Theatre with the in-house band re-creating some of the most popular Disney songs to date.

The films provided a sturdy platform for the theatre production to be made, with the set design, music and characters all remaining the same.

Even the script continued to be taken from the film, allowing no-one to forget that this is a Disney production.

The show had minor changes including a short scene of the main villain, “Scar” announcing that he will have “Nala”, Simba’s future wife for his own.

However nothing comes from this, and if anything leaves the audience a little confused to its inclusion.

The set design is so inventive that the opening scene sees giraffes, elephants, rhino’s, wilder beasts and zebra’s all surrounding Pride Rock with Simba being held aloft – re-creating vividly the beginning of the 90’s animation.

Carrying a film onto the stage, showed how inventive the producers must be with the wilderbeast stampede.

Facing the crowd three wooden cylinders rotated with wilderbeasts attached to give the audience the feel of the stampede.

The cast includes no famous household names, but all individuals earned their right to be involved with lost of experience in and out of television and theatre.

The show is versatile. While it is a Disney production and will always be ‘children-friendly’, adults can enjoy the visual experience, and the inventiveness of some of the scenes.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Review: Look back don't stare

The boys are back and they are showing their true colours in the black and white ITV one-off that showed the inside to the biggest boy band in the world.
Filmed in black and white throughout, the stars are diluted, revealing all to find themselves as they re-unite.
Centred initially about Robbie, it asked the questions the public wants to ask – what happened, and is he here to stay.
The documentary shows the past, explaining reasons for Robbie leaving a week after announcing that they were back together.
It’s either a painful decision – or a fantastic PA move.
The documentary talks about the bands journey through the pop-stardom. With X-factor causing such a storm in the past decade, these make shift artists should take a look at the cycle they are getting themselves in.
Robbie explains about how he felt he was a backing dancer to Gary Barlow’s music, and needed to get out of there.
The tension throughout the band travels through the music, decisions for lyrics and songs that are being sung and general pauses and body language.
The programme includes a visit from Elton John who enjoyed the music, explaining to Robbie it was his time to realise that he needs to go.
“The Rob I’m with now certainly isn’t the one I was with in the 90’s.” Gary’s moved on from the past.
There is heartache in this band. They are trying to help each other continue and continue in Take That. Will Robbie stick at it? Will this new relationship that the band constantly referred would get easier doesn’t? Either way millions of fans await them to step on stage – and surely, that’s what it’s all about.
We shall see at X-factor tomorrow night.

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Katie Birchall - World Number One

Stepping up on the blocks, slight adjustment to the goggles, hand placed on the hat – its firm. Slow the breathing and go through the motions. Clean dive and no stopping until the finish line.

Katie Birchall, 28, from Aughton, Near Ormskirk continues to train through the winter coming off the back of her biggest sporting achievement.

Katie has had horses since she was five years old, with some coaching she began to compete. As well as horses, she has done a few triathlons in Cheshire and Liverpool whilst winning the team relay in 2010 in the Olympic race. Katie enjoys mountain biking too, and on weekends she can be found going to North Wales with her partner with the bikes on the back of the car.

But that’s not what Katie does. They are hobbies – this her sport. Katie Birchall is, an international swimmer.

Katie managed to compete in the FINA World Masters in Gothenburg in Sweden earlier this year.

“I managed to get the 50m backstroke qualifying time, and it was very special to me as I had been away from that level of competition for nine years, I got a PB to get there and the Championships included the Commonwealth Trials. It was amazing swimming against Team GB swimmers before they jetted off to compete in Delhi!”

This comes at a price though. Swimmers are notorious for their early starts and late finishes.

Spending any spare precious times they have in the pool putting stress on relationships with friends and family, whilst trying to balance out a career as well.

“Before Sweden, I knew I had to be the fittest I had ever been. I had been training consistently two- three times a week for a couple of years after my return to the sport. But in January this year I sat down with my coach and discussed my training plan for Sweden, starting it straight away. I swam five pool sessions per week, with three nights and two early mornings, early being 4.45am! As well as in the pool, my training saw me do three gym sessions per week including weights, running, skipping, press ups, squats, tuck jumps and power exercises. Most weekends I tried to do an open water session at the docks, go mountain biking or get the road bike out. At my peak I was swimming around 20,000m per week.

“It was very hard work and I had to make a lot of sacrifices (like not seeing my friends and family as much as I would like, not having much of a social life and competing away a lot) but everyone was very understanding and I knew it would pay off - and thankfully it did!”

In Gothenburg Katie entered four races, but focused on her strongest stroke and her strongest distance.

“I made sure my preparation was exactly the same as it would be for a race over here, rather than doing anything different. I relaxed and talked to friends, put my Ipod on and focused my thoughts much better than I had for the freestyle earlier in the week. I wasn't as nervous and went for it in the 100 backstroke - equalling my PB and missing Gold by a tenth of a second! I was pleased to medal but I don't like coming second, especially not by a tenth of a second! That was something that nagged away at me.”

Katie had a night to re-group and prepare for her 100m backstroke. Second place is good but it’s not great – the taste of medals was too sweet.

“I fired myself up for the 50m backstroke and felt confident and ready to win. The preparation wasn't ideal - it was in an outdoor pool and it was torrential rain with thunder as we all sat in the ready room. The officials were all hiding under huge umbrellas, but as I walked out to the blocks in the pouring rain I still I felt relaxed and very confident, and ready to go out there and win. I was not prepared to settle for second best again.

“When I hit the timing pad I knew the race had been very close, so wasn't sure who had won. We couldn't see the scoreboard from the end of the pool as it was on an angle so I had no idea. The commentator shouted out that I had won and I jumped up and down and punched the air! The first feeling was actually relief as my races earlier in the week hadn't gone as I'd hoped and I didn't want to return home without a Gold medal. I was so relieved that my race had gone to plan and I had shown people what I was capable of! When they announced 'Katie Birchall for Great Britain - World Champion!' It was crazy - I loved every minute of it!”

Katie registered a 31.98 seconds time. Katie trains as a pro whilst offering advice to novice swimmers swimming in her club in Liverpool. She goes back home to her medals in her cabinet, gleaming with desire and the determination of an un-sponsored swimmer.

Swimming pools take a plunge

SWIMMING IN MERSEYSIDE has taken a dip recently, as a number of free-swimming-incentives have been washed away with the recent Government cuts.

Liverpool Aquatics Centre in Wavertree Park is one of the many swimming pools in Merseyside having to deal with the cuts as charges for the same activities have sky rocketed.

Anyone aged eight upwards are most effected as nine-17 year olds, adult morning swimming and pensioners over 65 now have to pay for services they were originally getting for free.

Liverpool city council were given a grant by the government which they subsidised swimming in the city before the spending review.

Mike Doran, from the Liverpool City Council said: “the funding ended in July from the current government.”

“However we realised that during the summer holidays a lot of children would want to use the facilities around the city, so we extended subsidising the swimming until the beginning of September.”

Since September, users must pay for their swimming with charges quickly rising. A morning swim used to be free for users, but now – following the cuts, costs £3.50 each.

Wavertree MP, Luciana Berger is “very concerned” with the Government’s decision to stop the spending for swimming.

Free swimming for over 65’s and under 16’s was a Labour Government incentive, introduced two years ago by Andy Burnham, Secretary for Sport, Media and Culture at the time.

Luciana Berger said: “I have asked a question in the House of Commons on this very topic. It is a perfect example of differences in how Labour and Conservative-Lib Dem Governments see the priorities facing our country.

“While it is true that our deficit needs tackling, we must be wise and fair about the choices we make.

A healthy lifestyle saves the country money through reduced NHS spending, while busy and engaged children learn to focus their energy into a fulfilling activity. For many, it may even represent their best chance to learn how to compete and become part of our 2012 Olympics, which is why the Labour government originally launched the scheme”

Along with a healthier nation, swimming is a good incentive to tackling boredom on the streets which can lead to trouble and crime, creating structure for people’s lives.

“One of my top priorities in Liverpool Wavertree is anti-social behaviour and removing activities such as free swimming will have an impact in our neighbourhoods. The truth is many normal families will struggle to meet this cost, and yet again a Labour policy full of positive benefits for working people has been torn apart by a Lib Dem/Tory government that is only interested in less government not better government.”

In Liverpool, the Labour council managed to extend the scheme until after the summer holiday, but faced with the onslaught of cuts from the Lib Dem Tory Government this is no longer possible. What we see is a Labour approach which is about investment in our future as a nation, and as healthy individuals – compared to a Liberal Democrat and Conservative approach which is about providing services only the wealthy can afford.”

Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in July, said:

“The Government needs to be encouraging more young people and pensioners to exercise - the public health benefits are clear.”

“Better public health in the long term reduces demand for the NHS and saves the taxpayer money.

“The decision to scrap free swimming will penalise hard up families and pensioners who find the expense of going regularly to a swimming pool prohibitive."

Liverpool has 10-council-run swimming pools in the city, one of which is the Aquatics Centre. The Aquatics Centre was built in 2008 costing the council £19 million to complete. Housing two swimming pools – a 50 metre and a smaller, 20 meter pool. The facilities also include a gym with state of the art equipment, and squash courts. The centre is built next to the tennis centre and the Wavertree running track.

Users of the centre are feeling the effect of the cuts – as they have to the afford the new swimming costs in the current recession.

Mark Radcliffe, 49 from Wavertree said “With the Government cuts announced, I’m not sure if I will be able to pay for my two daughters to go swimming every Saturday any more. Before it was free for them, but now I am struggling to justify the extra cost.”

Jude Phillips, 58 living in Aigburth fails to see the benefit of having a £19 million facility, if there is no one there to use it. “I remember when I first came here and was overwhelmed with the facilities of the place. But with all those facilities and no one there to be able to use them, how are they going to justify the money they paid for it?”

Have you been effected by the swimming cuts? Contact me on jenkins.david.e@gmail.com to have your say.