The Diabolical Mr Punch at Showzam! Feb 2016

1 In development Matthew Forbes + Cup  2 In development Rachel Cullen + sound equipment  3 In development Monica Coprder + designs  4 In development Matthew Forbes + Elle Lamb  5 The workshop Monica + matthew  6 Ashley Beck + puppet  7 At LeftCoast  8 Joey early stages  9 Backstage  10 Props  11 Croc hat in development  12 Mr Punch Joey + Baby  13 Diabolical  14 Puppet theatre in situ at Showzam  15 Equipment testing Showzam  16 Toby the cat greets the audience  17 Toby + Mr Punch singing  18 Fetch the Baby Toby  19 Enter Joey  20 Ello Ello Ello Policeman  21 Uh Oh Policeman  22 Crocodile  23 Diabolical endings  24 Mr Punch hides from the Devil


It’s not like I haven’t been writing or anything….


In spite of a conscious effort to renew my regular posts on here, I have failed but I have been creating articles for others in the meantime so if you’re interested in reading about what I’ve been up to and what I think of that then do have a look here:

Preview of Showzam! 2015

About The History Boys coming to Blackpool in 2015

Review of ETT’s Twelfth Night

Write up of a local Urban Arts Showcase by young people

Hire Wires Course in Lytham (page 32 of online magazine Indoor Play)

How theatre for under 5s is taking a major part in theatre-going activity in the UK (page 38 of Home Childcarer magazine)

I’ll get on it again soon though – the warehouse is taking shape so I just need to work out how to make an image gallery on here….

Experience, experience, experience.

I recently visited a Pupil Referral Unit; this unit is part of a larger Academy and, as is often the case, has a catchment area from some significantly deprived boroughs of the city in which it exists. As we made our way through the buzzer/gate system, sat in a beige classroom peppered with imperative signs, and met the assistant who displayed immediate and obvious opt-out signs for the session, my hopes for the impact of the creative learning project that I was observing which aimed to use theatre, music and poetry as stimulus for young people to express themselves and to develop literacy levels, dribbled dismally away.

As we sat around the beige desks, the lies from the excluded group were coming fast and furious (as were the claims to have actually been in the film ‘Fast and Furious’). This could be seen as an indication that there’s a creative process at play, however, an unwillingness to engage with the discipline needed to channel these outrageous suggestions, ensured that they remained at best amusing, at worst an irritating set of delusional comebacks that formed a detrimental barrier to reaching any further insights. It seemed that these young people were simply not used to applying any kind of editing function, social principles or reflective processes to their interactions and as such any verbalisation was considered acceptable.

While many assume that art is the result of unstructured, undisciplined and unrestricted situations, or by those with a natural talent or “gift”, results throughout time contradict this: Artists will utilise a range of anchoring techniques to enable inspiration to take flight and soar; to ensure the conditions for creativity are correct for them. What suits one is different to what enables another; however I believe there are some simple conventions which can be applied to educational settings which realistically improve young people’s chances of producing something brilliant, unexpected, challenging or insightful.

From an early age, our perceptions of the world are primarily formed by what we hear, see, smell, taste and touch around us. If a child has a concrete-based environment surrounding them, a majority of leisure time spent engaged in one-dimensional screen-based interactions, and limited opportunities to viscerally connect with the rest of the world, their ability to process and articulate their multi-sensory perceptions of the world will naturally be reduced.

Creative writing in a sterile classroom is frequently a flawed task. For example, if you ask someone who has never been to a green space to write about being in a forest, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that they will produce beautifully lyrical sentences which express the sensation of the permeation of dew on trousers, the sudden rattle of fluttering wings against branches, the quickness of breath from manoeuvring oneself up a delicately perfumed leaf-lined bank to be confronted by the magical spectrum of colours that is a bluebell patch.

Experiential learning is generally thought to be the most important tool in the teaching canon as, by providing an actual, physical experience, learners can often develop and convey an empathetic response outside of their standard vocabulary. Alternatively, if this isn’t always possible, we can fake it; by providing a multi-sensory environment where images, sounds, movements, smells and textures tantalise the senses into that beguiling state of ‘what if…?’ to suggest possibilities which might blossom and come to fruition in the mind.

However, in order to properly employ our imaginative muscles, we need to feed, flex and hone them in the same way that we might train flabby leg muscles into finely-tuned running machines; we need the right equipment and conditions, we need to set realistic, achievable goals and we need to practice and improve over time.

As educational practitioners and artists we are in a position to help fashion and form positive learning experiences however, part of that task is to set the right physical, mental and social conditions for learners to actively question, consider and articulate their place in the world in diverse and creative ways. Continually we replace this intervention rigour with tokenistic gestures and expect long-term change to take place. Surely it’s time that we started pushing back a bit harder with project partners and those with the purse-strings about achievable goals? Time to start talking more clearly and in contractual terms with staff and young people about a culture of opting-in from the outset? Starting our planning with non-compromised project models with enough time and space for experiential learning opportunities AND short and long-term reflection on that experience? Who knows where that might lead…

Stuff and Nonsense?

From the ages of 17-34, I moved home at least once every 12-months and in 2001 peaked at a ridiculous six different residences in one year. I’m discounting the ‘travelling years’ when I was bed-hopping nightly – not necessarily with the saucy connotations that statement implies – more usually on an unofficial bed-share basis to keep costs as low as possible.

During those years my possessions became familiar with the newspaper/cardboard box combo and my clothes were used to existing for long periods in bin-liners; the more seasonal-specific attire sometimes going into hibernation for several years at a time depending on the amount of storage space available, length of lease and the state of my positive feelings towards the place as a potential long-term dwelling.

On reflection, there were some relocations that merited no more than a toothbrush, change of T-shirt and radio but then I do tend towards an optimistic outlook plus I never was any good at travelling light. Even during said nomadic period, my rucksack acquired its own offspring – mini bags of paper, card, pictures, cuttings, shells, stones, sticks, beer mats, match-booklets, letters, post-cards, scarves – or bits of material that could potentially be used as scarves, fliers, tickets, maps and of course clothes – in fact all the tell-tale paraphernalia that indicates a hoarder.

So is this the confession that my family has been awaiting for years? My name is Melanie and I’m a hoarder? Not bloody likely! There may have been times when I was less than ruthless with the memorabilia that adorned my life including possibly the in-class note collection from circa 1988, every birthday card from the ages 10-18 and the endless shell fragments that were collected from beaches around the world but which out of context had the look of those bags of sea-debris available from Wilko for about £1. Perhaps when making the choice in Western Australia to pack up a trunk-sized box and ship the lot back to Blighty rather than throw it away could have been a sign that my ability to pare away the detritus from my life was limited.

However, I know I’m not in the danger-zone like the documentary subjects who have piles of newspaper stacked into a maze of corridors leading to their bed, although I definitely do sympathise with their rationale. I have even done some streamlining of late, although the moment that the raggedy T-shirt from 1990 kept purely because it reminded me of a brilliant Pixies gig at Reading Festival went into the bin (I couldn’t even salve my conscience with the Charity Shop pile) was truly gut-wrenching.

The possessions I’ve been carrying around from place to place like a massively mis-shapen bin-baggy snail are things of little monetary value but they are the effects which enabled me to build an instant home no matter which carcass of a dwelling I happened to be in at the time. By having an enormous scrap-book of my life close by, I could feel a more immediate connection to friends, family and formative acquaintances that may well be many miles away.

Besides I recently read an article that said those people who surround themselves with mementos of their life are likely to show greater emotional intelligence than those who live a more minimalist existence. And there you have it – all those years spent humping bags of “crap” about with me have finally been substantiated – I’m actually an emotional freaking Einstein mum!

In June 2011 I had six different kinds of vinegar and a disappointing camp experience

June 2011
I’ve got 6 different kinds of vinegar…
…but no potatoes, salad or salt,
10 different teas but no milk or sugar,
6 kinds of coffee but no clean cups or a cafetiere,
6 sorts of sweet spreadables but no bread products,
5 types of pickle (excluding mustards and sauces) but no cheese or crackers.

For the record they are:
Red wine, white wine, balsamic, onion, spirit and malt
Earl Grey, decaff, builders, lemon, green, rosehip, peppermint, jasmine, apple and lemon + ginger
Filter, decaff, instant, whisky, bags and Camp
Apricot jam, lemon curd, marmalade, blackcurrant jam, honey and raspberry jam
Branston pickle, bramble chutney, piccalilli, plum chutney and green bean chutney

Perhaps I need to go shopping for a few less dependent consumables?

July 2011
Camp ain’t what it used to be: I had a cup of Camp coffee today (admittedly made with water not milk) it was absolutely vile – I still can taste a beefy film lingering on my tongue ten hours later!

My childhood memories of chicory exoticism have all been washed away in that one cup – like the opposite of the Cud song Magic “it’s magic when you find on your tongue, a taste that reminds you of when you were young” – Camp is like anti-magic – I guess it’s moments like these that you realise the adage of never going back is probably true – there’s just too much to lose!

Note to self – never ever revisit: popping candy, HubbaBubba, hot marmalade mixed with cornflour and orange juice to make a delicious and nutritious post-school ‘drink’, rose petal perfume, gerbils and ball-bearings and dominoes in combined and complicated domino rallies, painted-shell snail racing, 24-hour Monopoly games with two boards configured in a figure of eight and complex rules about the double property stakes. Therein lies only disappointment.

My MySpace blog ends there – largely because I was a member of a local Samba band at the time and one of my co-drummers told me how much he’d enjoyed reading my thoughts. Even though I’d put it out there in a public domain, this felt weirdly intrusive and space invading – him knowing more about me than simply my ability to hold a two beat/four stroke action (or not as the case may be). And yet here I am again – for me, the desire/need/compulsion to write down and make sense of my everyday life is something that has always been a part of me. I’ve accepted that people reading what I write is a bi-product of their existence on a website; it also means I can never lose them hopefully – unlike the reams of minutiae-filled rotten diaries that haven’t quite survived the house move and therefore whose particular order of words will never be unleashed on a wider world – which is possibly for the best!

Recycled Peace and Running Stories (Old Blog #2)

May 2011
I ran a half-marathon about 6 weeks ago – tonight I went for a run for the first time since then. It was OK – it’s not nearly as much fun as cycling though. Maybe I come across as more surly when I run because of the concentration that’s needed? I have been considering doing a triathlon so perhaps I’ll conduct a social experiment to test my theory but then again I’d have to confront the psychology of swimming – the mind games that go on in a swimming pool are just exhausting. And don’t even get me started on sauna/steam room etiquette – all I’ll say is that it’s a tiny room – why do people feel the need to talk so loudly?

There’s also the thing about running outside versus being on a treadmill – a mixture of the two is best and of course then it allows you to play the Rocky Balboa v Ivan Drago game. When you’re on a treadmill, you’re like a laboratory groomed athlete who’s good but you know it’s all a bit false and easy whereas running through the rain, sleet and wind, you’re like Rocky in Russia and you know that you’re building on that ‘eye of the tiger’ spirit that will carry you through….

I needed that on that half-marathon day in soggy Milton Keynes when at 6.5 miles my right calf muscle went, luckily Survivor’s lyrics in my head kept me going.

Risin’ up, straight to the top
Have the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop
Just a (wo)man and his(her) will to survive

June 2011
I’ve decided to do some ‘community art’ so a friend and I have started “Recycled Theatre” and our first gig is tomorrow at Leamington Peace Festival. I’m a bit nervous that nobody will be interested in our offering and prefer to hang out with Sylvester (the child molester) Jester! (I’m not sure where libel starts and finishes so I should probably say that the bit in brackets above is only what I think whenever I read his name – it’s in no way meant to imply that he actually is one!)

We’re making an underwater environment out of loads of old tat and some bits of draped material and hopefully some kids will come and help us with that bit. I’ve written a story called ‘One Little Fish’ which is about one little fish’s mission to keep her beautiful lagoon clear from rubbish that the careless people are throwing into the water – there’s a message – it’s all terribly right on I know. The only disappointing thing is that we couldn’t come up with a song to finish it with – I thought of stealing some bits from The Little Mermaid but instead the one little fish just squeals with delight as she flies above the water – it’s less Disney I know but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing!
Bollocks – did I just ruin the ending….?!

Can’t Teach an Old Blogger New Tricks?

I’ve recently been reading Wild Ducks Flying Backwards; a collection of old articles, poems and short stories written by one of my favourite writers ever – Tom Robbins. It occurred to me that whilst I admit there is not the same international interest in my own historical musings, I did have an old blog on MySpace that was worth investigation – it was slim pickings but here’s the edited highlights:

June 2007
Some mornings before work I cycle around Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham – there are lots of people doing things there too. I ride my nice silver bike – she’s called Pixie – it’s a long and not particularly interesting story involving Frank Black. I try to smile at people and sometimes say hello but I have those headphones that stick right in your ear and so I’m a bit worried about my volume control.

There’s a nice old Indian man who walks round in the opposite direction to me cycling – he always waves and smiles the first time – but doesn’t after that – I think that’s fair – we don’t want things to become awkward.

I saw a rat pretending to be a squirrel the other morning – his tail gave him away.

There’s some boys who do either some sort of martial art training or intense tree-hugging – I can’t work out what it is exactly but they seem to be using the trunk of the tree as a shadow boxing partner – if anybody knows – please tell me! [nobody did]

Couldn’t go out today – too wet and miserable – I know that if I was any kind of hardcore cyclist – a bit of water wouldn’t put me off – but I’m not so I didn’t.

August 2007
Not to state the bleeding obvious but sunny Sunday afternoons are very different from dreary Tuesday mornings. At Cannon Hill Park it’s all bright and colourful and full of happy people doing family things; there were no mozzies sticking to my teeth or flying up my nose, some nice people played music in the bandstand, a huge crowd of exceptionally organised pic-nicers dined out, couples strolled about holding hands. Plus people played cricket with varying degrees of skill – even one family that ventured onto the red-gras area – I’m guessing they were looking to add a little spice of gravelly danger to their afternoon – either that or very confident of their powers of staying upright.

I had a little look round the leafy streets of Edgbaston before hitting the park today. I heard that’s the area in Birmingham with the highest number of house break-ins – that’s a shame for the people who live there but I think if I was a cat/more expensive things burglar I’d head for there.


We bought our property at a commercial buildings auction which was held at Old Trafford – the original one – the Cricket Ground. Having been to a wedding in these grand old rooms overlooking the historic pitch some years ago, I was looking forward to a thrilling cat-and-mouse event involving hand-fans, nods which were as good as winks and Roger Moore eye-brow movements; when we were signposted to the corporate cattle-market rooms, it was clear my mental image needed some adjustment.

Like EBay, all properties have a reserve price which, if not met, the vendor is not obliged to sell; this reserve is mostly not communicated to potential buyers. (This may just be a case of sloppy admin; however I believe it’s all just part of the mind-game mentality that is prevalent in any property transactions and particularly in this auction environment.) Whilst it would seem sensible to me to start the bidding at that reserve price, there’s, no doubt, clever psychology at play when the auctioneer starts things off well below this. The result of this Jedi mind-trick though is somewhat counter-productive as 75% of the properties for sale on the day, didn’t reach their reserve and so didn’t actually sell – thereby wasting the time and energy of the bated-breath bargain hunters who have put in the last bid and quite frankly all of us there on the day.

During the early lots, I spent my time shuffling from one stiletto-heel to the other (have I mentioned that I was expecting something entirely more glamorous?), leaning in an overtly nonchalant way against the Formica partition wall. As our property loomed closer, I felt wriggly inside and out and the potential for sick in my throat was great enough to doubt any audible voice notes might be able to fight their way through, it was fine though because my partner had already told me in no uncertain terms that he would do the bidding: I could concentrate purely on my forced casualness. That and the actual reason we were there in the first place – our lot!

I have no idea what happened in the next few minutes – there was a start point, a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between us and a mystery buyer in the shadowy corners of the room that I suspect was a plant from the property company that we had put the initial offer in with and finally we got it for £500 less than our original offer! Hurrah! We’d fought off the shady competition and the Burton-suited estate agents who’d messed with our heads and finances in the 3-months prior to the auction with irritating details like probate, land registry deeds and property bankruptcy charges. After some paper signing, some pro bono advice from our friendly solicitor friend and a transfer of funds, we got the keys and drove right inside (through the garage door as opposed to an A-Team style celebration wall-crashing) what would become our new home. This is when the Dynamo style mind-bending really started!