Sunday, 14 December 2014

2014 theatre highlights

With Christmas edging closer I think we're all beginning to reflect on the past year. The next few weeks are looking pretty manic and I don't think I'll be fitting in any more theatre, so I thought it might be time to have a think about my theatre highlights!

I saw a lot this year, and some really exciting work - pushing boundaries, raising important issues and also just giving people a bloody good time. It was nice to remember it all, and I've condensed it down to my top ten shows.

So, in no particular order...


Photo: Manuel Harlan

This is the most gorgeous musical I've seen in the West End. I feel so grateful to have seen Zrinka Cvitešić and David Hunter in the lead roles - they both gave such stunning, heartfelt performances. I'm hearing great things about Ronan Keating but I just think to have a star name in this off-beat piece would feel distracting.

It's romantic and it's rowdy and I'm sad that it's closing!

Finding Joy 

We were lucky enough to have Vamos Theatre's Finding Joy come to The Marlowe Studio in Canterbury. In full mask, the company tell the story of Joy: an elderly lady dealing with dementia with the help of her rebellious yet caring grandson.

Before seeing this, I knew you could do all kinds of things physically onstage but this was something else. It was so moving but also so tenderly written, and even without words - it is written. For anyone who's known dementia, personally or professionally, it would have hit home.

And that it certainly did. We held a post-show Q&A and it was really touching hearing people's reactions to the show, reflecting on their own personal experiences. Entertainment is always important, sure, but in that moment my job felt worthy. It's an important, brilliant show.

I'm looking forward to them coming back in the new year with Nursing Lives.

Bitch Boxer 

Photo: Alex Brenner

When this one-woman show began, I wondered if the energy might prove a bit much. It was so full-on. But then it calmed down, and picked up, and calmed down again. And I was drawn in and amazed by it.

Holly Augustine played a young woman competing for the first time in the 2012 Olympics while grieving for her father, and she was just outstanding. She portrayed strength and vulnerability both physically and emotionally with total commitment, and both as strong as the other.

An incredible solo performance and also so much more uplifting than I expected.

The Drowned Man 

I got home from my trip to Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man and booked straight away for a second visit, just weeks later. That says something.

This immersive, epic production was like nothing I've experienced before and I sometimes get sad that it's not all still going on, and that I can't go back for a third time. It was like being in a dream.

I wrote a full blogpost on this here.

Every Brilliant Thing  

I smile just to think of this one-man play. Yet it's all about depression, and it talks about suicide. That seems like an unlikely reaction but it was hopeful, charming, but also just very honest - which was refreshing. The audience participation is disarming - it feels playful, even when the subject matter could be heavy, and yet it packs a punch too.


Photo: Tim Stubbings

Being the first play produced by The Marlowe, this could feel disingenuous, but it's not. Even coming out of the dress rehearsal, I knew it was one of the top three things I'd seen in our Studio.

James Dryden as the 67-stone 18-year-old was just brilliant. Sat atop a mountain of food-based detritus through much of the play, he acts his heart out - as the frustrated teen but also as the romantic, adventurous hero he dreams of being.

Melissa Bubnic's writing is real funny but the cast (under the direction of Justin Audibert) brought this out more than I could have imagined, while also treating the subject matter with the care and emotion needed.

When It Rains 

I love work that plays with what theatre can be, and this definitely did that. In and of itself it was a brilliant play, but its integration of technology to give a "graphic novel brought to life" effect was magical - with simple little tricks that you'd be laughing at, how no one had thought of it before. Yet it wasn't gimmicky: it was a good play with great actors.

While dark, it also didn't take itself too seriously. One memorable moment, or rather scene, involved a character giving his all to a rendition of Ne Me Quitte Pas. It was unexpected and wonderful, and that's how I'd describe the production as a whole too.

The James Plays: The Key Will Keep The Lock

I went along to this with no expectations really. It was the National, it looked big, and I knew it'd be quality but I didn't know how much I'd enjoy it. Turns out, I really, really did.

These are classic plays with a modern vernacular, penned by the brilliant Rona Munro. The moment I remember most is the newlyweds sitting and praying, conversing awkwardly - as if on a first date. I don't know, there was something so charming about it, and something really exciting about these two worlds meeting.

I also didn't expect to love how epic it was. I never see theatre that big.

Tomorrow's Parties

This was a quiet little gem but one which, maybe for that reason, stands out for me. I've seen a lot of Forced Entertainment's work, mostly via video at university but some live too. Most of their work is so chaotic, so loud, with these little tender moments - a list, types of silence, whatever: but it would take you by surprise and draw you in, and I would love it.

Tomorrow's Parties honed in on that idea and let it be enough. It was just the two performers and they would contemplate "in the future..." - wondering what it would all be like, from the mundane to the ridiculous. Then they'd conclude it'd maybe be just the same. And so it would go on. And it was lovely (and very funny).

Forced Entertainment don't get enough credit for the beauty of the language in their pieces. It's contemporary theatre but it's so well written.


Photo: Richard Davenport

Paines Plough's production of Duncan Macmillan's Lungs is just one of the most perfect pieces of theatre I've seen. Performed by Sian-Reese Williams and Abdul Salis, this play deserves all the hype it's received and so much more. Sian especially for me was a revelation.

It's this tiny two-hander which gives you the intimate details and claustrophobia of an everyday relationship, springboarding from a conversation about having a child, but then taking you on an unexpected, lifelong journey.

It's just so very real. You're not thinking about how well it's written because you're just there, with them, and you laugh and your heart breaks and you just wish everyone could see this piece of theatre.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What to see at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014: some highlights

In my previous blogpost I talked through my top five shows of this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We saw so many wonderful shows that I couldn't just leave it at that (even though there's now only a few days left to go).

So, here's a speed through of most of the other things we saw...

Five shows that I really loved

Plunge Theatre's Private View.

Private View at Just The Tonic at The Mash House
I saw a work-in-progress of this feminist physical theatre piece from Plunge Theatre about a year ago. It's changed a lot since then and is structurally so much stronger - and was one of my favourites of the Fringe.

Private View looks at how it is to be a young woman and all the pressures that involves. Playful and provocative, it looks at the serious by examining the ridiculous. There's cake, there's Destiny's Child, there's relatable lady confessions that make you laugh and want to scream "yes". What's not to love? Super exciting work.

Loud Poets at the Scottish Storytelling Centre
I love a bit of performance poetry and the Loud Poets do it so well. There's powerful, emotive pieces, one of which had me on the brink of tears, and some really nice comedy pieces too. Also an impressively timed two-minute slam.

If you go, go to the cocktail bar a few doors down (Monteiths) and get the Parisienne Breakfast Cocktail. It was gorgeous and came with toast and jam. Very odd, but I loved it.

Danny Bhoy: 12 Nights, 12 Charities at The Assembly Rooms
Now finished, but see him if you ever get the chance. Hilarious, observational, charming comedy.

Frankenstein: Unbolted at Just The Tonic at The Caves
A new, outrageous take on Frankenstein from Last Chance Saloon, with pop songs. It's silly, classic British humour but without ever being cringey. The energy is high and the jokes thick-and-fast. Pure entertainment.

Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman at The Stand
Having heard so much about her from last year, I was pretty hyped to see Bridget Christie. Inevitably, it was brilliant - with a frenetic energy that is somehow the perfect medium to talk serious issues in a comedic manner (reminded me of Bill Hicks). I'm excited to see last year's award-winning A Bic For Her at The Marlowe Studio next month.

Some more things that I really enjoyed...

The Paper Birds' Broke. Image by Murdo Macleod.

Broke at Pleasance Dome
Another heartfelt verbatim piece from The Paper Birds, this time about debt. With a simple but inventive and playful theatrically, it'll bowl you over if you haven't seen their work before, or feel trademark if you have - though that is not at all a bad thing. Definitely a good thing. Love them.

Blackout at Thistle King James Hotel
A powerful piece of theatre around alcoholism - created from one of the actor's experiences alongside others that have suffered. I found it moving without being sentimental, it was just very honest - and actually very hopeful. (Click here to read my blogpost on alcoholism).

Tom Toal in Prequel at Cabaret Voltaire
This one-hour free show is hecka funny but also such a lovely, heartwarming watch. Observational with a hilarious self-referential tone. You'll get what I mean when you go, and you'll love TT!

Leaving Home Party at Summerhall
A gorgeous contained piece from Irish singer/performer Catherine Ireton - on the process of moving away, and never feeling quite at home. She perfectly captures the odd mix of determination and feeling lost that comes with your early twenties. Her voice is stunning and reminiscent of Regina Spektor.

The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show at Pleasance Dome
If a show comes with free tea, croissants and strawberries - I'm in. It's also a really great show with an interesting selection of short plays. We saw this last year too (though obvs different) - it's just a really nice way to start the day.

Some things I saw and enjoyed...

Noise Next Door. Image via Ashley Louise James.

Advice For Humans at Hendrick's Carnival Of Knowledge
A talk from Matt Haig, author of the brilliant The Humans. A one-day event so I am more recomending to say, read the novel if you haven't, but also get to this venue. It's very odd - there's a polar bear, and also a puffer fish turned into a lamp. Bit grim. Bit cool. Mostly unsettling, but you have to see it.

The Noise Next Door's Comedy Lock-In at Pleasance Courtyard
Improvisational fun from a comedy group that feel like they're a pop band. High-energy and they really know what they're doing, which is great but it did have a slightly odd feeling as if it was being televised, perhaps tied into use of guest comedians.

Be Kind To Yourself at Banshee Labryinth
A free show from "hyper-anxious stand-up poet Tim Clare" - Tim is really skilled and completely engaging. The anxiety is genuine, but you feel safe in his hands.

Swimming at Pleasance Dome
Three teenagers are working in a cafe on the Isle Of Wight - through boredom they push each other's limits. In the beginning the characters were quite annoying and provocative in a way which was borderline offensive. It got more interesting as the play progressed, with a particularly strong performance from the male actor.

Notoriously Yours at C Venues, C South
An interesting play exploring surveillance. The use of multimedia was simple but effective, though it frustrated me when the performers would stand on a level, putting themselves in front of text, which we needed to see! I think I would love this piece if they took the noir style and ran with it, going in a much more stylised direction.

Friday, 15 August 2014

What to see at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014: my top five

So I'm finally getting round to the Edinburgh blogs! Last Sunday to Friday was spent at the Fringe Festival, and I packed in more than ever before - seeing around 26 shows (and a lovely afternoon at Arthur's Seat).

We saw such a mixture of work, with some really exciting productions from a variety of companies at different stages of their career.

These are my top five must-see blew-me-away shows. I'll do at least one other post with some more highlights - there was just so much good stuff! I've also written a post on the work blog with some general tips for tackling the Fringe.

by Duncan Macmillan. Produced by Paines Plough. At Roundabout at Summerhall.

This feels a bit like a cop-out as it's a production that has been around for a few years but I'd never got the chance to see it - and it turned out to be my show of the Fringe. It was the last show we saw and the only standing ovation of the festival we experienced, deservedly so.

This play is essentially the story of one couple. It begins with a discussion around whether they will try for a baby and all the possible implications of that. We then go with them every step of the way, past this springboard of a narrative and through their relationship and lives.

I expected power and emotion but I didn't expect the play to be so funny. It's fast-paced and it's honest, somehow both everyday and epic: with the dialogue completely believable, while the journey we go on with them feels huge. The experience is heightened by watching in-the-round - as we audibly react to what happens, and the situation is intensified for the actors too.

I also loved the simplicity of the staging. There are no props and no miming - they just act it through, and hold eye contact with each other. It's strong and it's stunning and it broke my heart a little bit.

If you can't see it in Edinburgh, the Roundabout season is touring to a few venues later in the year. If you do want to see it at the Festival make sure you book as it is selling out.

When It Rains
By 2b theatre company. At Pleasance Dome.

When it Rains - Trailer from 2b theatre company on Vimeo.

This is one that we saw by chance. It worked out with timing so we gave it a go, thinking the concept of graphic novel on stage sounded interesting.

The use of technology here (watch the trailer above for a taster) is incredible. You laugh at the simplicity and genius of it - but it does not distract from the story - it aids it. This is not shallow or gimmicky but an interesting, moving and funny story with brilliantly rounded characters that make ridiculous life choices but also have ridiculous, awful things happen to them.

The line between tragedy and comedy can be a thin one, and this is the case here. Things go from bad to worse and as we find out the fate of characters through text on a screen with the action off-stage we laugh, but then are met with the bleak aftermath, sensitively portrayed and without sentimentality.

Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan Macmillan. Produced by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre. At Roundabout at Summerhall.

You wouldn't expect a show that focuses on depression and suicide to be so uplifting and joyous, but it is. When a little boy's mum has to stay in hospital after trying to end her life, he starts a list of all the the brilliant things that make him and others happy. As he goes through life, the real impact of these early life experiences, and of the list itself, becomes truly apparent.

This is a one-man show but really it's not. The interactive nature of this means the audience becomes fully involved. With the warm presence of our performer (Jonny Donahoe) and the charming nature of the material, the interactivity isn't daunting but enjoyable and liberating.

This production about hope in the face of crisis leaves you feeling happy, less alone and wanting to make your own happy list. It's also very funny.

By Theatre Ad Infinitum. At Pleasance Dome.

Image: Alex Brenner.

Light is Theatre Ad Infinitum's latest offering and the fourth production I have seen by them. Each production could not have been more different, though what is tying it all together - whether the poignant, emotional rollercoaster of Translunar Paradise or the sci-fi landscape here, is the physicality of the performers. With the performers Le Coq trained, whatever the story is, it is always told through their bodies.

The story of a dystopia through the eyes of an unsure or rebellious protagonist is familiar and potentially even a little predictable. That doesn't matter though - if a story is told well it's worth telling and this certainly is.

The standard stage setting is darkness and scenes come to life through pinpoint lasers or strips of lighting, displaying the surveillance and mind control of this terrifying state. It also moves us between scenes, from bar to laboratory, from dream-sequence to sleeping, with transitions so seamless it feels cinematic.

The technical tenacity and execution here is something else, with the company pushing boundaries once again.

Jonny & The Baptists: The Satiric Verses
Produced by Supporting Wall. At Pleasance Dome.

Image via The Guardian

I didn't expect to enjoy this show of comedy songs and went in with low expectations. I was so proved wrong. I beamed throughout and didn't stop laughing.

The songs are political (their previous tour was called the Stop UKIP Tour) but are also hugely silly. The onstage relationship between leadman Jonny (same Jonny as Every Brilliant Thing, which was odd/amazing) and his guitarist and back-up singer Paddy Gervers was also completely charming and part of the fun.

This is one hysterical hour with an escalating level of energy and chaos that is so infectious.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What I read in July: #GIRLBOSS and Sane New World

Sophia Amuroso's #GirlBoss and Ruby Wax's Losing It

I'm at the computer and online everyday for work so I've started beginning my weekends in quiet, just reading, and finishing my days this way too (though this feels a little more difficult somehow). I feel a lot better for it: I feel calmer (more on that later).

So, I thought I'd start doing monthly book posts! I tend to pass on recommendations in person or do a quick tweet but never really blog, so thought why not.

These are the books I've read over the past month...

#GirlBoss - Sophia Amuroso

Sophia Amuroso's #Girlboss
Images via & Employee Engagement Network

I'd seen Emma at GirlLostInCity (read her blogpost on the book here) and Anna at ViviannaDoesMakeUp both tweeting having loved this book so after a quick search I decided to give it a go.

#GirlBoss is Sophia Amoruso's story of going from a girl sat at home selling vintage clothes on eBay to the CEO, Creative Director and founder of Nasty Gal - an online fashion brand now worth over $100 million.

She started the business with no debt and only took on an investor when she was already smashing it and wanted to take it to the next level. Basically, she's pretty incredible - and your new hero.

It's part life-bible and part business book but it's not a feminist manifesto. Having done some post-reading YouTube-watching (there's some great videos of Q&As at conferences) it seems it's a question she gets asked a lot - about being a woman in a man's world - but gender doesn't really come into it.

What's more interesting is the transition between being a bit of a screw-up, beginning with endless short-lived jobs, no direction and an anti-capitalist attitude, to who she is today.

She didn't dream of her little business ending up this way. There was no business or five-year plan at the beginning - it just started as something she enjoyed, was good at and could do from home. It quickly escalated and she learned as she went along, with her drive and ambition increasing in line with the company's growth.

While Nasty Gal is a fashion brand, and a sassily named one at that, it's important to note that the message here is that being a "GirlBoss" isn't about acting like a badass or dressing to kill - it's about working hard and getting shit done.

It's about not giving up or presuming you can't do something because you don't have the training or contacts. It's about making the most of opportunities available to you and pooling resources: learning from your peers and free education via YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, etc.

If you're looking for a how-to on creating a million-dollar business, well, it's not as simple as that. This is Sophia's story and you will take things from it but it's not a textbook.

Working in marketing though it was interesting to read how her business was originally built through social media back in the days of MySpace. Her commitment to, and understanding of, the power of a strong brand is evident throughout. She goes into detail on things she learned through experience too: changing image thumbnails on listings to see what would sell, responding to customer comments, targeted social marketing before that was a thing, and so much more.

Naming her book with a hashtag was also a brilliant move and an example of free, clever marketing. As this links so strongly to the brand there's nothing cringey about the move: social media wasn't a sideline of her business, it was the crux of it - and that continues on today.

#GirlBoss is an easy read and one which I felt compelled to finish over one weekend. Her writing style is relatable. She looks super cool but she's been an outsider and that comes across. It also left me feeling really motivated. If I wanted to do something, I could do it - I just needed to put the work in. It's pretty common sense but her story and the way she tells it is just so energising.

Sane New World - Ruby Wax

Image via My Friends Like

Ruby's stage show Losing It was a bit of a turning point for me. Back in March 2011 I went along to the Menier Chocolate Factory, interested in her take on depression and mental health.

The show was brilliant and moving with moments which mirrored my own. The feeling of the world zooming around you while you stay static: unmoving, detached, desperately sad and inadequate (thankfully many years have passed since my experience of this but if you want to read my blogpost on depression, click here).

However it was the post-show Q&A which really made the impact. It became less of a Q&A and more a series of thank yous followed by people sharing their own experience. In an auditorium full of strangers my dad shared his thoughts and experiences and shortly after I shared mine. I never would have anticipated doing so, and it was just so liberating.

I blogged about the show, and later shared my own experiences in the blogpost linked above. Without Ruby's show I couldn't have done that, and the post seemed to touch a lot of people. It made it easier for me to talk about mental health in person too.

At that point I think Ruby was at Oxford studying a masters in mindfulness based cognitive therapy. Since then, she has graduated and written a book about what she has learned.

The book is split into five sections: anecdotal experiences and insights into the world ("for the Normal-Mad"), what happens when mental health declines ("for the Mad-Mad"), how the brain works, how mindfulness works, and alternatives to mindfulness.

While largely funny and often on-point, I found myself frustrated at some of the first section. She makes bold statements but at times it felt a little damaging and overly-negative (but then hence the need for mindfulness, and it is coming from a depressed outlook - perhaps my distance from that now makes it an odd read).

Still, it's her life experiences - which are accompanied by a statement saying as much, and that you might not agree with it all.

One point which stung a little though was this line in relation to openness around mental health: "...quivering in case someone we know finds out, or worse someone at work finds out and we're either dismissed (the company probably will say for other reasons) or treated like a person with Ebola" (p260 in Kindle version).

Undoubtedly this is the experience of some, or even many, but not the experiences of all. To imply that opening up would inevitably lead to social rejection and dismissal from a job is scary, and only exacerbates the stigma around mental illness. This could lead people reading to feel less likely to open up, and potentially get some help from their peers, colleagues or managers - and for a book about mental health this seemed pretty ridiculous.

Anyway, moving onto the next section. Reading how the brain works was fascinating. It's really technical stuff, it is neuroscience after all, but through Ruby's engaging style it was easy to read. Of course jokes are thrown in for light relief - sometimes these disrupted the flow of reading but it does increase accessibility: this isn't a text book and it does perhaps make it all easier to process.

While I knew serotonin levels decrease with depression, that was about as far as my understanding of the brain's biology went. You discover all the different parts of the brain and also hormones, what they all do and how they work together.

Finding out about dopamine and how it can be helpful and productive or veer into addiction was interesting for example.

Also just how adaptable the brain can be: it can be trained to do new things (learn a musical intrument for example) but it can also be trained to think in new ways. I won't go into the science of it but the concept is called neuroplasticity and it's hugely reassuring. It's so easy to define yourself and say I'm a worrier, or I'm always late for things, but that doesn't have to be the case.

I knew this already from how much I've changed - from feeling inadequate and anxious a lot of the time (even if not conscious of it) to calm and more confident. That was through books such as Susan Jeffer's Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, CBT, exercises such as writing through feelings, thoughts and habits but also through life experiences that made me focus on other things.

To see the science of it was motivating though and made me think about other areas of my life.

Linking onto that, the mindfulness section made me want to read another book on mindfulness. That's not to say it wasn't helpful, just that I now feel the need to explore the subject more and perhaps even go on a course.

Ruby clears up a common misconception when she explains that 'it's not even about relaxation but about witnessing whatever's going on without the usual critical commentary.'

Reading about what it is and how it works made me realise how much I, and probably many others, could do with this in our lives.

Actually reading this book in itself was helpful. I think whenever you're doing something where you don't think to look at your phone (a constant, awful habit) - that is so good for you and most likely when you're happiest. In that moment you're focused on what you're doing and in the 'state of being' Ruby talks about (don't worry, she addresses the ridiculousness of that phrase). It's bad that it's so hard to just sit and do nothing.

Sometimes when I'm feeling anxious, which still happens now and then, a book will always calm me down. With the internet, magazines and telly there will always be so many different perspectives fighting for your attention. With a book it's just the one.

They say that we now have a short attention-span but I don't know if that's true. That's what we're getting, but it doesn't feel good to me. It's pretty exhausting.

Anyhow, through this book it's evident that change is completely possible, it just takes effort.

Sane New World isn't just a book for people with experience of mental illness. If you do, you'll probably get a lot from it, but even if not it's a book about how we as a human race work: deep down in our brains but also patterns in modern life. It also might be a good one to read prior to a psychology/counselling course as a nice little introduction that could make the neuroscience side of it easier to process when it comes to it.

It's also funny and not as heavy a read as it sounds!

I'm making a little list of what I want to read next so if you have any recommendations please send them my way!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

"World cup wheelchair fraud", or invisible illness and disability discrimination

Image: The Mirror

While I like how the World Cup brings people together, and I enjoyed watching the final, I generally didn't pay too much attention to the coverage.

However there was one World Cup based feature which I couldn't really ignore. The article was from The Mirror. The headline read: ''Disabled' Brazil fans miraculously jump out of wheelchairs to celebrate goals' and was accompanied by an image of Little Britain's Lou and Andy.

It seems touts were selling tickets meant for wheelchair users onto the general public at highly marked up prices - especially as if sold through the official channels, the companion's ticket would be free.

This fraudulent activity is obviously awful, with people making a lot of money by taking an opportunity away from people that genuinely need it.

But that's the thing - the implication in this article is that all of those standing did not have a genuine need. This is a worrying indication of misunderstanding around disability.

The headline sarcastically hints at miraculous healing of the legs, as if to say that anyone in a wheelchair is confined to that chair, and that to leave the chair is evidence of fraud.

This also seems to be the thoughts of the general public, with thirty people having taken photos of people in wheelchairs standing for goals.

The Telegraph also covered the story, but at least finished on a paragraph displaying a healthier perspective, explaining that "the investigation is likely to be tricky and sensitive for police because some of the fans may be disabled and unable to walk long distances, but can still still stand for short periods."

I've had problems in the past with people misunderstanding disability so I just wanted to use this story, and people's reactions to it, to relay that not everyone in a wheelchair can't stand, but also not everyone with a disability is in a wheelchair.

The phrase invisible illness is often used to describe chronic illnesses which cannot be seen, such as M.E. or POTS, but it could really be used to talk about a whole number of issues. It's helpful in that it reminds people that even though they can't see a mobility device, or actually the illness/disability itself, the impairment is still there.

I've seen several people moaning about "non-disabled" people using disabled parking spaces on social media. Often they indicate they've said something to the person at the time or they just want to have a vent.

A recent post about apparent fraudulent use of a parking space, which prompted lots of discussion...

Reasons for disability (parking, wheelchair or otherwise) which are not immediately visible could include brain injuries (someone recovering and rehabilitating from a stroke), pain disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic illnesses involving fatigue, respiratory problems, conditions causing frequent and unpredictable blackouts/seizures, someone picking up their elderly and frail parent who they care for, someone picking up someone with any of the above conditions etc etc etc.

Basically, you have no idea what people's needs are.

I realise that people illegitimately using these spaces is a real problem. So, look for the blue badge. If it's not there, then perhaps ask the question. It's the immediate reaction of anger or suspicion I have an issue with.

What people might not realise is that asking for and accepting help is difficult. My Grandad was a stubborn, proud man and resisted getting a walking stick or hearing aid because they were for old people (he was in his nineties at the time).

It can also be hard asking for help when you don't look "the type" to need that kind of support. I'm in my early twenties and think that can affect people's perceptions of healthiness. Even health professionals have insisted I must be drunk, on drugs or an extreme diet after I've passed out, despite me showing documentation about my condition.

I also wouldn't have expected needing to use a wheelchair or motorised buggy at the airport, but only two years ago I did. It was when my POTS (a condition causing frequent fainting, fatigue and pain) was still really bad, and we went to Turkey.

A holiday after my final year of university (during which I was passing out everyday, if not a few times a day) was much needed. However as it was extremely hot I got weaker and weaker, passing out several times but also lacking the strength to walk very far at all.

While I usually look okay despite what's going on with my body, by the end of our holiday I looked pretty awful. I'd gotten increasingly pale, I looked shattered and through fatigue my posture was poor.

Arriving home we knew that walking across the airport or waiting in line (standing still being a trigger for my blackouts) wouldn't be possible, so we'd asked for some assistance. It was our first time doing this, and the airport staff were lovely and so helpful.

On the motorised buggy was myself, two older men and a lady. There wasn't enough room so my mum walked alongside us.

The queues for security were massive and slow, and I knew we'd made the right decision. Then, a man from the line stopped in front of the car - preventing us from moving. "If we have to stand in line, why can't they? No, I'm not having it. That's not fair."

It wasn't fair I was passing out all the time. It wasn't fair I couldn't fully enjoy my holiday. But to him this was the injustice.

His wife moved him away, embarrassed, and we got to move on. Walking through the crowds, my mum heard so many people tutting or commenting to each other sarcastically "oh so they can't walk then?".

The driver told me that this happens a lot.

I get that people are tired and grouchy, just wanting to get home, but these comments are indicative of a much wider ignorance around what disability is. For people's first thought to be suspicion or out right believing someone is faking a disability is pretty awful.

I would have so much rather been standing bored in that queue with everyone else, having enjoyed a nice holiday and without this problem.

Then there's the conversations I've had through an intercom at a train station when I've needed to use their access gate as there's no lift. Being told it was actually an access gate, and one time after explaining my condition being asked, in a disbelieving tone, "really?" As if I'd say "nah, just messing mate" before skipping away to the front entrance and stairs.

When I told him I was going to the hospital to see my specialist (based in London) he told me I was going the wrong way. As in, the local hospital is near here, so you're a liar.

Looking through a security camera he'd clearly decided he didn't believe me, because I was standing. I looked fine. It was so odd and I felt like I was on trial, having to explain myself and plead with him to be let in.

I'm now doing a lot better, but the fact I've had to deal with my body failing me, my own frustrations over this and then also other people's ignorance and rudeness is ridiculous.

You only need to look to Everyday Ableism to see countless examples of discrimination faced by people with all kinds of disabilities and illnesses, visible or or not.

This piece from The Mirror thinks it's doing a good thing pointing out the wrong-doers but it's really not. A small (tiny) minority may abuse the system in a given situation, but articles like this add to the suspicion and prejudices people sadly already seem to have.

That's also why I hate the documentaries, of which there seem to be a huge amount lately, about all the benefit cheats or immigrants supposedly sponging off our government. It's such a tiny proportion of people  (and only 2% of estimated total annual fraud in UK) and all it does is breed contempt and suspicion to anyone genuinely in that situation.

I remember reading a blogpost by a friend of a friend who'd had a stroke and was in rehabilitation. She was making good progress and went to a concert in her wheelchair. She even managed to stand for a short while. That should be a brilliant, blissful feeling but she was then met with suspicious glances.

Articles like this are only going to add to that experience. It's not anyone's, nor a a major publication's, responsibility to make judgements on how valid someone's disability is.

Everyone's fighting their own battle, which you know nothing about, which is worth remembering in life generally but especially when you begin to raise an eyebrow over whether someone is really entitled to some kind of benefit.

It's 2014. Things are complicated. Let's not be on a witch hunt for anyone with a problem we don't understand.

The disabled population is the world's largest minority of which anyone can become part of at any time.

Have you experienced discrimination for not "appearing" to have a disability? Let me know in the comments below.

Click here to read what else I've written about my experience with my chronic illness POTS.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Derren Brown: Infamous

Photo: Seamus Ryan

If you get the chance to see Derren Brown live, take it.

I'd seen him a few years back and saw him again on Friday with his latest show Infamous at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

I can't say too much, as I wouldn't want to spoil anything, but I will say that he is a phenomenal performer with a brilliantly constructed show.

We have so few "showmen" these days, and no one else that meets his standard. What he does could be tacky,  but this is far from it. He deconstructs as he goes, reminding us not to be fooled (though of course, we are - how does he do it?) but he also gets you on his side.

If you're a skeptic, you shouldn't worry: he's not masquerading as a magician blessed with powers.

The theatre experience is also very different to television. You're so close (we were row C), surrounded by other members of the public. It's much harder to, say, shout "stooge" at the telly and move on. He'll keep you guessing.

All that aside, he's funny and also incredibly relatable. He makes you feel safe, even amidst the trickery.

In this live show, he really shares with his audience. He talks us through why he is interested in particular tricks, and his experiences of being made to feel inadequate growing up because of his sexuality, and his interest in magic too.

In so doing, the show becomes interesting on a different level but also inspirational: especially for the younger ones in the audience but really, anyone who's ever felt like an outsider.

The instantaneous standing ovation from all 1200 in the audience was because he'd blown us away but also because we were rooting for him.

He was impressive, yes, and had held us in the palm of his hands for the past few hugely entertaining hours, but I was also so much more aware of his journey as both a performer and a person. He looked emotional and I felt it.

We left stunned. Trying and failing to suss out how he'd done it all. Really, I don't think I'd want to know. I guess that's part of it: the mystery and the "magic" that keeps us coming back for more.

I can't wait for his new tour. The first leg of this has been announced, with a second set of venues to follow. Infamous is also coming to London for a few dates end of this month.

Derren is also a brilliant photographer and has been snapping away on his tour, including some really lovely shots of Canterbury. Check these out here.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Happy birthday and thank you to the NHS

Today is the 66th anniversary of the NHS, so I just wanted to say "happy birthday" (to a massive organisation, little odd, I know) and to share this video.

At the heart of it, the NHS was born out of an ideal that healthcare, and good healthcare at that, should be available to all - regardless of their wealth. A wonderful concept and one which makes me really appreciate living in England.

Staff are underpaid, understaffed and overworked and yet continue to do their best to make sure that you and your loved ones are ok. That's both awful and incredible: it shouldn't be this way, but it is.

Maybe they don't always get it right, but they're there. They put up with abuse for things that are not their fault - waiting times and decisions that come from much higher up than them.

Alongside intoxication, incontinence, rude relatives and death. All in a day's work.

So thank you, to anyone that works in healthcare. You do an important, wonderful job.