Monday, July 15, 2019

Sense and Sensibility by The Pantaloons - a review

A couple of summers ago, I was delighted by my first experience of a 'Pantaloons' production, (a humorous and clever presentation of Pride and Prejudice), and so this week, I was very much looking forward to their own special take on another of my favourite Jane Austen novels, this time Sense and Sensibility.  And I'm pleased to report that I was not disappointed. 

First and foremost, I have to commend the cast on their ability to put the audience completely at ease from the start, so that we are immediately caught up in the atmosphere and feeling we are part of the show. Regular interaction with so many members of the audience makes for a special and unique experience!  As we all gradually arrived and made ourselves comfortable with our picnic rugs and folding chairs, and well before the performance had begun, the actors were in amongst us, welcoming and chatting to as many as possible. They even improvised an amusing song, sparked by asking some of us about our jobs, and this started the laughter and managed to set the relaxed and inclusive tone of the evening.  

This wonderful audience integration continued as the play unfolded, and they frequently brought the action off the stage and down amongst us - even cheekily sneaking a stray sausage roll or sip of wine too, as they passed among the audience! I have never felt so much a part of a production as I have when watching the Pantaloons. 

I must compliment them all on their improvisation skills. When involving the audience in this way, I suspect each performance is slightly different and that you have to be prepared for unexpected answers or unforeseen incidents and be ready to react! The Pantaloons can confidently take a response from the audience, or even a mistake by one of their cast members, and roll with it, to turn it into an ongoing joke for the remainder of the evening. 

As you can probably tell, this production is a highly entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s already witty and rewarding novel.  The Pantaloons focus on the comedic aspects of the characters and storyline, which creates the light-hearted tone they are trying to achieve - I do find that the humour and satire in Austen is toned down in some television or film adaptations, so I particularly enjoy performances that enhance the comedy.

Whilst they celebrate the humour, I still found that they manage to remain sufficiently faithful to the original text and to Jane Austen's style. There are clever nods to other Austen novels, and as an ardent fan, I loved to listen out for these.  (I especially liked the extra storyline played out between Mrs Jennings and Sir John’s dogs, all of whom are named after characters in Pride and Prejudice!)

I noticed a few modern twists here and there, in character portrayal and in aspects of the storyline, but these are handled sensitively and must only add to the enjoyment, in particular, of younger audience members and of newcomers to Austen.  The production is fun and approachable for all; I am sure that there will be something in the performance for each and every one of us to take away, with pleasure, at the end of the evening.

In fact, I attended this wonderful performance of Sense and Sensibility with one of my oldest friends, Becky, who is a Jane Austen novice!  Here are her thoughts on the evening:-  

Becoming a ‘Janeite’ - part 2!

After thoroughly enjoying being 'dragged along' to my first Austen experience last year, when I was asked by Sophie to accompany her again, I actually jumped at the chance!  This time it was Sense and Sensibility by the Pantaloons. 
It was a lovely summer's evening and the setting was beautiful, perfect for my second instalment of Jane Austen education. 

Not knowing the plot at all, I panicked slightly when Sophie described it as ‘more complex’ than Pride and Prejudice. With only four cast members, would I be able to decipher the plot and distinguish the characters??  I need not have worried. With the Pantaloons' fantastic mannerisms and minute costume changes, I found the plot easy to follow and really engaging. 

Above all, I enjoyed the humour - satire is a word I have heard associated with Austen and this was definitely delivered. That, coupled with great interaction and audience participation, I found the whole evening highly entertaining and felt it was the brilliant cast that made this production so successful. It is one thing to deliver a witty line well, but another to be amusing in your own right and the four cast members were just that. 

Outstanding evening, would highly recommend. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Be More Jane: Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges - now published!

Dear readers, 

Thank you so much for your patience given my absence here for almost a year. I am pleased to say it was for good cause, as I am now a published author, with my new book Be More Jane

It has been quite a year and what an adventure I have had! I have created a new page (to be found at the top of my blog, under the header image) which lists all the information, links, details and more about my book. 

There are videos of myself reading extracts, links to the blogs I visited on a tour (with excerpts, deleted scenes and interviews), sneak peeks at the gorgeous illustrations and much more. Please do have a look and get in touch if you have any other questions or would like any more details. (I am also offering signed copies well, for those would like it, so contact me and I will happily oblige!)

If you do read my book, I really hope you enjoy it. It was a thrilling journey, seeing it through from a blank notebook staring back at me, to a finished, fully illustrated book in my hands!

Thank you all for your patience and loyalty. If you don't already, be sure to follow me on my social media channels - now including Instagram - as I post there regularly. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pride and Prejudice by Heartbreak Productions review

On Sunday evening, I was invited by Heartbreak Productions to see a theatrical performance of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and it has been easy for me to post this glowing review, since it was a brilliant production!

The company is currently touring the country, but I was fortunate to watch them at beautiful Hatchlands Park, a National Trust house near Guildford. This was an open air production, and we were lucky, for despite the gloomy weather forecast, we escaped with just one shower!

The 5 cast members play 16 different characters, and yet they successfully managed to differentiate between them so expertly, that I almost expected more people to come on stage at the end to take the applause! Every single cast member is a real credit to the company.

Particular highlights for me were the portrayal of Mr Collins, and the relationships between Mr and Mrs Bennet, and between Lydia and Kitty, which managed to be a suitable contrast to the characterisations of Jane and Lizzy Bennet! As well as being able to deliver the comedy elements, much to the huge enjoyment of the audience, I was pleased that they were able to portray the serious and emotional scenes in a touching way too. From my previous experience of other productions, I had noticed that some are more confident with the humour, and less with the pathos, or vice versa, but there were no weak links in this cast and I found it a well balanced adaptation.

Being an open air theatre, the staging was very simple, however the backdrop and location were so gorgeous, it worked well, and anyway, Jane Austen’s words speak for themselves and don't need fancy scenery! The costumes worked suitably well too, with small and clever changes to signify a change in character.

I have already mentioned the humorous portrayal of some of the most amusing personalities, however the comedy was great throughout. In some adaptations, I feel the comic side of Jane Austen’s work has been toned down or even left out altogether, and I have never understood this, as I find so much in her works that is funny! But I’m glad to report that this wasn’t the case with Heartbreak; they presented and celebrated her wonderful wit in their production!

In order to condense the story into two hours, it is inevitable that scenes in the book must be cut or moved around, but Heartbreak’s interpretation was artistically well managed and gave us a coherent story. I was delighted that some accurate dialogue and passages from the book were included, especially some of the great exchanges between Darcy and Lizzy when they are engaged. These are often cut. In fact, I think this was generally one of the more faithful representations I have seen on stage, and the story did not seem rushed.

However, what struck me the most about this excellent production was it’s inclusivity. The atmosphere was relaxed, with the cast welcoming us all and putting everyone at ease. I was impressed that they mingled with the audience, chatting to people as they settled before the performance, and again during the interval. This was a new idea to me, but I enjoyed the interaction. Some audience participation was also included in the performance, plus there were opportunities for people to have some fun trying on Regency bonnets and clothing. The whole event felt very inclusive, as if we were all participating in the evening, and they created a relaxed atmosphere which I feel would have been enjoyable and accessible to all ages.

I attended the performance with one of my oldest friends, who happens to be a complete Austen novice! So by way of interesting comparison, here is what she had to say about the production (- I think we may have a convert!).

Becky writes:-

“Although I have lived in England my entire life (27 years), I have somehow, but completely unintentionally, managed to avoid anything ‘Jane Austen’. Never have I seen a film, read a book or encountered a theatre event. I was invited to see this production by my self-proclaimed ‘Janeite’ friend Sophie Andrews, aka Laughing with Lizzie, and I leapt at the opportunity.

I had yet to see the appeal of Jane Austen or really understand the concept behind her novels. So my very first experience was Sunday evening at Heartbreak Productions’ rendition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

I arrived at Hatchlands Park to a small outdoor stage, and as a lover of outdoor cinema, this made me very excited.

I was looking forward to seeing how the logistics of such a small cast worked, but I was unsure if I would follow the storyline, given that I did not know any of the characters or even the plot. This was not the case, thanks to the fantastic acting I witnessed throughout the performance. I am fairly confident that even without the minor costume changes that signified the changes in character, I would still have been able to distinguish which character the actor or actress was playing. In fact, I was really impressed by the simplistic costume changes, as they seemed to make it easier for us, the audience, to concentrate on the show. It seemed to streamline the whole process.

Moreover, I was impressed with the simplicity throughout; the set, the costumes, the audience interaction. The whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable and I must say I now look forward to experiencing some more Jane Austen, and hopefully some of Heartbreak Productions’ future presentations too!”
Rebecca Cook

In summary:-
I have seen many many productions of Austen on stage, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ more than any other, but I can say that this was one of the very best I have seen and definitely one of my personal favourites. Congratulations to Heartbreak for an excellent adaptation, a seamless performance, and overall an atmospheric and most enjoyable evening. I look forward to other productions by Heartbreak - even better if it is another Jane Austen!

I can highly recommend checking out Heartbreak’s touring schedule, to see if they are playing somewhere near you, as I’m confident you won’t be disappointed!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Blog tour: The Best Laid Flight Plans by Leigh Dreyer - giveaway!

I am thrilled today to be part of the blog tour for Leigh Dreyer's release, The Best Laid Flight Plans. Welcome to my blog, Leigh!

In this modern Pride and Prejudice variation, Captain William “Fitz” Darcy has just received a new assignment as an instructor pilot at Meryton Air Force Base. Soon he meets the intrepid 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Bennet, a new student at the base that he cannot keep out of his head. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds Captain Darcy to be arrogant and prideful and attempts to avoid him at every turn. Despite Darcy’s insulting manners, Elizabeth soars her way through pilot training, but can she soar her way into love as well?

Hello Readers!

During my blog tour, I’ve had a fantastic time talking about different aspects of my book and introducing myself. Something I love about Jane Austen’s collected works are how they feel so modern, despite being set two hundred years ago. I always feel like I am sitting in the dinner or dancing in the ball and feel like I can relate and empathize with Austen’s heroines—something that many modern novels fail to achieve. I love reading JAFF and learning more about the period and the history, but always appreciate how fresh the stories feel to me no matter how many times I have devoured them.

After following Laughing with Lizzie for several years now, I love her love for the Regency time period (her costumes and posts are always an inspiration to me while reading JAFF). I wanted to share how that inspiration translates into my novel. While The Best Laid Flight Plans is set in the modern era, it has many similarities with its Regency predecessor.

1.       Men and Women follow strict rules of conduct while in each other’s presence

Obviously, the millennium compared to the Regency is incredibly progressive about the view of women, what they can do and who they can do it with. I haven’t personally known anyone to walk through the park with a date and a chaperone. However, in the United States military there are still cultural codes of conduct that have been established. For example, an officer in a leadership over another should not be in a romantic relationship for risk of being accused of fraternization and sexual harassment. While men and women can fly and speak privately, unlike their Regency counterparts, the rules of fraternization make it things difficult for Captain Darcy and 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Bennet.

2.       A Woman in a Man’s World

The Bennet sisters must marry well in order to secure their family’s place in society both socially and economically. Women during the Regency had very little power, except as a widow of a powerful man. Elizabeth flouts the conventions of the time by refusing not one, but two suitors who could provide for both herself and her family. In The Best Laid Flight Plans, Elizabeth Bennet is a female in pilot training who desires to fly fighter jets. Of the 62,112 women in the Air Force only 723 of them are pilots (about 1 percent of the women in the Air Force). Female pilots generally make up about 5 percent of the total pilots in the Air Force. In The Best Laid Flight Plans, Elizabeth must not only navigate a male dominated military, but she has to wade through the overconfident, proud opinions of Captain Darcy, who, like many men, underestimates a woman’s ability to become an excellent pilot.

Likewise, Lady Catherine, who is able to wield an impressive amount of power in Pride and Prejudice makes her appearance as a female senator. Catherine has moved forward with an advantageous marriage and an impressive amount of condescension to rise in the ranks and find herself in a position of power.

3.       Officers!

In America, a war was fought partially over the forced quartering of British soldiers as seen in Pride and Prejudice. America maintains more than 800 bases of various sizes around the world where soldiers (officers and enlisted alike) are housed, but their effect on the local economy is much the same. The influx of significant numbers of mostly single men with money burning holes in their pockets leads to an economy boost and the lending of significant amounts of money.

Encompassing the Regency time period, the Great French Wars lasted from 1792-1815, a period of 23 years. Likewise, America has been at war since 2001, a period of 17 years. The soldiers who have joined the military in both eras (voluntarily or through conscription) both have been at war likely their entire careers and for many of them, their countries have been actively involved in a war for their entire lives.

4.       “There were more Dancers than the Room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good Ball at any time.” –Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s novels contain multiple Balls as a setting for her heroines to move about their world. In The Best Laid Flight Plans, our heroes meet again at the Air Force Ball, the annual celebration of the air force’s birthday. While Jane Austen’s times had more rules for etiquette and dancing, but in modern balls like those in Austen’s day, “Man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal.” (Henry Tilney). The excerpt below is from the scene of the Air Force Ball. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Excerpt from Chapter Twelve of The Best Laid Flight Plans

The club was decorated with air force blue and silver fabric, flowers, and confetti, transforming the same room where Drop Night had been. Round tables of eight were arranged around a large wooden dance floor. A local deejay played easy jazz.

            Elizabeth swiftly ditched Collins at the reception line, while he toadied up to highranking officers, and strolled around the tables looking for the place card bearing her name. Luckily, Collins would be seated at the head table near the wing commander as his personal guest, so she would not have to worry about listening to his blather throughout the night. She grabbed a Manhattan from the bar and found her name next to Jane’s and Bingley’s. She glanced at the card on the other side of her plate and slumped. Captain William Darcy. Was there never a way to escape that man? Now she was to be subjected to his arrogant, know-it-all comments or his haughty silences. No. I will not let his disagreeableness affect my night. She was going to have a good time, regardless of the company. She looked again and noted that Caroline Bingley and her stares of displeasure would be seated at the other side of Darcy. Lovely.

            Elizabeth walked around the table reading the name cards to see who else would be there. A pestering voice in the back of her mind told her to look for Wickham, as she had secretly hoped to be entertained by his quick wit. On her tiptoes, she peeked over the centerpiece at the next table. A shadow passed over her and she found herself staring at a white shirt and blue jacket tailored tightly over a broad chest. She dropped to her heels and looked up to see William Darcy’s eyes boring down on her. His earthy cologne enveloped her, and she felt her blood pressure race next to his impressive physical presence.

            “Looking for someone?” Darcy’s quiet voice reverberated near Elizabeth’s ear.

            She shook herself out of her fog. He probably gets in my personal space to disconcert me—but she would not fall under his spell.

            “No, uh… Just admiring the general splendor.” She turned away and swallowed deeply from her glass, glimpsing Jane leading Bingley to the table. He carried their drinks behind her and seemed entranced by the cut of Jane’s dress and her exposed back. Jane smiled knowingly as Elizabeth pressed her lips together and widened her eyes in attempts to convey her irritation at the presence of Darcy.

            A bell rang and the emcee, a nervous major, clearly emceeing for the first time, called for everyone to be seated. The head table, including the guest speaker and an already wilting Mr. Collins, was herded into their seats by committee members. Five minutes later, following the national anthem, Caroline, wearing a vivid burnt orange cocktail dress, arrived and sat down next to Darcy. Her tardiness was noted by the surrounding tables and more than one eye roll was hidden behind programs.

            “Charles, you left me!”

            “I told you when I had to leave, and you said you needed another thirty minutes. It’s not my fault you didn’t want to come with Darcy, besides you have a car.”

            “Darcy didn’t tell me when he left.”

            “Well, I imagine he thought you would just come with me.”

            Caroline’s grunt of frustration overpowered the speaker’s lengthy introduction of the chaplain.

First, Collins, then Darcy is next to me, and now Caroline. Super. Elizabeth sighed thinking she would likely burn in Hell thinking such uncharitable thoughts during the chaplain’s prayer over the proceedings. Immediately following this bleak thought, Jane leaned over and touched Elizabeth’s knee gently.

“Lizzy, I’ve asked around”—in a hushed voice she continued—“I know you were hoping to see Wickham tonight, but someone said they’ve got him working some special duty. I don’t know that he is coming. I’m so, so sorry, Lizzy.”

Elizabeth’s dreary demeanor had deflated further, and she decided to drown her sorrows in her cocktail. Of course, she discovered her glass empty, so water would have to do until she could get back to the bar. At this point, she expected rain to come pouring through the ceiling and wondered if she should have brought her umbrella.

The wing commander then stood and began his introductory remarks of welcome.

“Per tradition”—the wing commander rang out over the microphone in the room—“we will start our proceedings by toasting persons who are prisoners of war, killed in action, or missing in action. Please stand and raise your glasses.

‘We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the skies,

And were gently caught by God’s own hands to be with him on high,

To dwell among the soaring clouds, they have known so well before,

From victory roll to tail chase, at heaven’s very door.

And as we fly among them, we’re sure to hear their plea,

Take care, my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll for me.

To our comrades killed in action, missing in action, or prisoners of war!’”

A resounding, “Hear, hear!” was heard throughout the crowd.

The wing commander then introduced the guest speaker who gave an inspiring speech about his squadron during Vietnam and how they overcame their trials. During the speech, Elizabeth heard a low buzz of whispers between Jane and Bingley, leaning toward each other, foreheads almost touching. Elizabeth’s heart glowed to see the romantic scene and she distracted herself through the rest of the speeches, imagining Jane’s wedding. You are as bad as Mom. She reached for her glass. Still water.

“How are the flights going, Elizabeth? Where is your class right now?” asked Bingley as he accepted his plate from the waiter.

“Going well. I had my Dollar Ride with Dashwood—”

“I like him. Really knows his stuff.”

“And did you do well?” Darcy asked.

“Well, I didn’t hook, so I suppose that’s the best any student could hope for.”

“Lizzy is just being modest,” interjected Jane. “She told me she had the best grade in the flight.”

“I’m sure Eliza just didn’t want the rest of the company to feel embarrassed about their own performance in the plane. Of course, William has no reason to blush. Always Distinguished Graduate.” Caroline’s voice purred as she reached out and brushed Darcy’s arm from shoulder to elbow. Darcy maneuvered his chair closer to Elizabeth.

“Trying for 38s?”

“Of course.” Elizabeth looked directly into Darcy’s dark eyes and remembered his comments about women pilots and how they should leave the real work to the men. “I know we lady pilots seem demure, but I plan on being the best pilot the air force has to offer.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure the WASPs would be proud.” His mouth crooked into a half smile.

Elizabeth smiled sweetly back at him. The WASPs proud that a woman actually gets credit for her contribution for once? Shocking! She received her plate and immediately dove into her food, attempting to ward off more conversation with the man sitting next to her and listened to Jane and Bingley discuss the shows they watched together and whatever other trivial topics they discussed.

Eventually, dinner plates were cleared, and dancing music commenced, encouraging Bingley to sweep Jane to the dance floor for the first song. Caroline, Darcy, and Elizabeth meanwhile remained at the table. Caroline silently watched Darcy who stared straight ahead. Elizabeth yawned and fought the urge to lay her head on the table and let the evening wash over her. Mr. Collins, who had moved from the head table, had been following commanding officers around as they took flight from his greasy prattle. He ultimately landed in Jane’s seat and began a running commentary on the events of the ball so far.

“I’m so glad you are here to witness what has been such a prestigious event. Never before have I attended an evening of such beautiful military precision outside of the purview of my wonderful manager, Senator de Bourgh. I find that that lady not only has the exquisite taste that comes with someone of high society, but she also graciously condescends to those who could never imagine the life of class that she is able to create. Despite being an employee of hers, I find that I am often grateful for what she has taught me regarding how to properly run an event. I flatter the organizers here by thinking that Senator de Bourgh would be very impressed how this ball has been run. My duties for the senator obviously take precedence over any sort of joyous occasions of celebration, but I flatter myself that I have been to one or two thus far in my employment.”

Elizabeth, who had chosen to not pay attention to the former speech, nodded appropriately and Mr. Collins continued, this time, to Elizabeth’s horror, speaking directly to Darcy and Caroline.

“I am William Collins. And who are you? Friends of the Bennets?” He looked at them expectantly and Elizabeth nearly bolted from her seat. She had intentionally not introduced him in hopes that he would not humiliate her.

 “Caroline Bingley. How do you do?”

“Captain William Darcy.”

“Oh, Captain Darcy? Not the famous Pemberley Wines, William Darcy?”

Darcy looked around as if to find another William Darcy had walked up and entered the conversation.

“I own Pemberley.”

“Captain Darcy. I must tell you that your aunt, Senator de Bourgh, was well when I left her one month ago.”

Darcy twisted his lip but maintained his stoicism that had come to define him in Elizabeth’s mind.

“Thank you for that information.”

Darcy turned away. Elizabeth pulled out her phone to check for messages while planning a quiet exit. She could not exactly abandon Collins, but maybe she could coordinate another ride through the wing commander’s assistant. As she put her phone back in her purse, Darcy asked, “Are you having fun?”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Oh, you know, loads.”

“Would you like to dance?”

Anything to get away from Collins.

“Sure.” Elizabeth was shocked to hear her voice and felt an overpowering urge to retract her answer and run but reminded herself that every attempt to intimidate her must be a reason for her courage to rise. Caroline scowled, and Elizabeth sensed the toady Collins meant to say something. Smiling graciously, she stood up. Despite her annoyance at Darcy’s pompous existence, the man made her pulse quicken.

Darcy led Elizabeth to the dance floor without touching her, but still, she could feel the electricity sparking between them. What song played Elizabeth would never know because when he took her hand and placed his other hand on the small of her back, the music seemed to fade away. And all she could hear was her pulse in her ears and the pressure of his fingers on her spine.

“Well, Captain Darcy, it seems like the committee has done an outstanding job this year.” Looking up to his face, Elizabeth acknowledged that he was a very handsome man. Beneath his dark jacket, she could feel lean muscle as he led her smoothly around the dance floor.

“I see you prefer to be unsociable and taciturn. But conversation makes this all so much more enjoyable, don’t you think?”

“Well, please, do continue.”

“I talked about the committee and program, maybe you can start with the attendees or the deejay?”

“In that case...seems like a good crowd.”

Elizabeth scrutinized his expression but he pointedly ignored her eyes. She began searching the room again for Wickham to determine if maybe her night might not be a total wash.

“Looking for someone?”

“Yeah, actually. I thought George Wickham would be here tonight.”

“Wickham?” Darcy practically growled the name.

“Yeah, he said you guys were once friends.”

“Yeah, at one time. He certainly makes friends, but I wouldn’t say he has ever kept any.”

“I suppose he should be upset for losing your friendship?”

Darcy frowned. “What is it you Southerners say? Bless his heart.” Sarcasm dripped off of every word and Elizabeth was stunned that she had ever thought Captain William Darcy handsome as he displayed his disgust.

The pair had stopped moving, both with hands clenched at their sides.

“You should stay away from him. He is nothing but bad news. He shouldn’t be trusted.” Darcy then lefther fuming in the middle of the dance floor and stalked out of the room.

Author Bio

Leigh Dreyer is a huge fan of Jane Austen variations and the JAFF community. She is blessed to have multi-generational military connections through herself and her husband, who she met in pilot training. She often describes her formative years in this way, “You know the Great Balls of Fire scene in Top Gun (“Goose you big stud!!!”), where Goose and Meg Ryan have their kid on the piano? I was that kid.” Leigh lives with her pilot husband, a plane-obsessed son and a daughter who is almost walking.


Contact Information

Author Name: Leigh Dreyer
Facebook: Leigh Dreyer
Facebook Page: @leighdreyerauthor

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My thanks again goes to Leigh for this great post and extract! 
I wish Leigh all the best with this release as well as any stories in the future!