DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Music in Theatre

This column was originally published here.

This month Emma Jane Denly speaks to Tom Penn of Little Bulb Theatre, who are currently in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre. She plays devil‘s advocate with the question of music’s purpose in theatre…

TP: Music is one of the most powerful means of communication we possess. It has the power to overwhelm and to be delicate, to sentimentalise and to be ironic. When used with due care and attention, it has the faculty to transcend immediate thought, and access a deeper, often surprisingly emotional, response. An enormous amount of my time is spent accompanied by music, be it the ‘soundtrack to my life’ that happens to be buzzing around inside my head at the time, or the more tangible mp3 player, squeezing the same old songs into my ears as I board the 345 to Peckham. Why? Because I enjoy my life more when there is music playing. Subsequently I find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine a reason I would have for not including music in my work in theatre.

EJD: Perhaps there’s a case for arguing that music has the power to distract as well as complement, in both your own life and indeed in theatrical productions. Pick the wrong song and the effect can be as small as creating a slightly jarring scene on-stage that doesn’t fit with the rest of the show or as large as being totally alienating for an audience. You wake up and accidentally play one of Enya’s less upbeat tracks through your headphones: rest of the day is then potentially overshadowed by a sense of depressive doom (no offence intended to Enya). Play a rock song in the middle of a show, and all delicacy is sent crashing to the floor. If these effects are intended, then fair enough, but isn’t all music subjective? How can you make an entire audience react in the same way?

TP: I’m not sure that you can, but I certainly don’t see that as a consideration to be taken only with music. I would suggest that any aspect of any theatre show will be viewed subjectively, and therefore it is the theatre-maker’s responsibility to understand and appreciate this, whilst using everything they have at their disposal in order to best serve the moment. When approaching a new piece of work, you come armed with your full toolkit, and you try your best to use those tools wisely. Music is just one of the means we have with which to communicate, and is as valuable to the process as any other. It comes hand in hand with the text, or the movement, or the design – there is no reason one should be separated of given greater significance than the others. If given careful thought and artistically driven, the music will form as vital part of any narrative or atmosphere as any other discipline.

EJD: Do you think then that this kind of music is different to the “conventional” type – and I use this phrase carefully, meaning only music that is not intended for narrative effect – or whether it is the same as something that we can buy or listen to on its own terms? It’s almost as though you are implying that music in theatre is a precise and exact science (the same way perhaps lighting or choreography can be viewed as such), which could make it seem artificial – or failing that then at least oppressed in some way. Do you think that theatre-music is its own art-form – or could it be listened to in the same way as Queen, Fairport Convention or – yes, I’m going there – Enya?

TP: I don’t think that an exact science exists for making music or any kind of theatre. I think there are guidelines available if you want them, but once you get past a certain point, you’re out there on your own. You try something different, something new, in the hope that it will be what you want it to be, and then as long as you learn a little bit each time, you’ll be ready to have another go soon enough. As for whether theatre music is its own art form, I’m not so certain that it can be categorised that neatly. Yes, when used for a specific purpose in a piece of theatre, that music must be precisely what was asked for and needed in that moment, whether newly composed or a well-known classic. But that’s not to say it doesn’t retain individual worth when removed from context. Take Kneehigh‘s ‘Don John’ Soundtrack – I can’t get enough of those tracks still, however many years later. I know the scores and soundtracks to countless films and shows I haven’t seen. I adore the music, and that’s it. Ultimately, in the context of the show or film itself, if that music does not serve the very moment for which it was intended, then it hasn’t fulfilled its purpose, and the final product was probably weaker for it. But there’s nothing to stop me from enjoying it separately – much like I can be satisfied, impressed and even moved by the way natural lighting occurs within a particular environment at any point in my day, music serves a multitude of purposes. Its use in theatre should be treated with the same thought and precision as every other aspect of the production, and when it works, it has the ability to colour and to lift that moment to an altogether new height. The rest of the time, it should just be worth listening to.

EJD: So theatre-music is perhaps just made to fit its definition by the selection process: the artistry lies in the ability of the theatre-maker to select and refine a piece of music for a particular theatrical moment that is utterly appropriate. I’m sure the wave of other companies who take music in theatre very seriously – Kneehigh, RashDash, Third Angel – would be inclined to agree.

Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus runs at BAC from 16 April – 11 May, and Tom is performing his solo work at Cambridge Junction’s SAMPLED Festival on Sunday 5 May.

 

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Nepotism

This column was originally published here.

Emma Jane Denly begins a brand new monthly blog Devil’s Advocate, a regular provocation about topical or controversial issues.

This month she plays devil’s advocate with the topic of nepotism, with a theatre professional who wishes to remain anonymous.

EJD: Nepotism has always been one of those issues that theatrical types just don’t want to tackle. The injustice of one person being promoted above other candidates due to a helping hand – particularly when the benefited individual doesn’t appear to be as talented as or even vaguely interested in the job at stake – is a testy subject. If you and I, similarly placed in a competitive and over-subscribed industry, were ever to be offered a break by a friend or relative, we would be morally challenged. Conversely, if this never happens and we declaim “THAT’S NOT FAIR”, our statement could be professionally disadvantageous: the likelihood of offending a prospective employer, in whatever field, is high, as nepotism is so rife.

Is there more than one type of nepotism – the fair type and the unfair type, or are there some cases where being “helped along” is acceptable? Finally, is nepotism in all its manifestations empirically bad? Can we comfortably holler that we are “holier than thou”?

Anon: There’s a murky distinction between nepotism and advocacy that makes this issue very complicated. Nepotism is the advancement of someone related to you, whereas advocacy is, in theory, meritocratic. Fair or unfair nepotism? The employment of anyone in any job who doesn’t merit the position should be seen as unfair. It fundamentally is, IF we want to believe that those who ‘get their foot in the door’ of professional theatre deserve it. However, we don’t seem especially committed to this view of our industry. This is usually because most of the people in the industry, including myself, can point to a time when they were given an opportunity they don’t feel they deserved. All this gives us a wonderful freedom; if we’re all in the gutter together then no one can call ‘holier than thou’.

EJD: So you’re saying we all need to get out of this “gutter” of friendly recommendation and the occasional leg-up… And where does this revolution start? At what point do you say, no, I don’t want that job at, say, the Globe because I only got my foot into the interview room because a friend of mine propped the door open? You’re already having to write under “anonymous” because of what you call the non-meritocratic tendencies of the industry – somewhat playing into the system itself – so I’m inclined to say that you must agree that some parts of it are useful or you’d come out and defy it directly.

In your dream world, then, if there were to be a solution, what sort of procedures would you count as acceptable?

Anon: I’m writing anonymously to preserve the principle of what I’m trying to say. I don’t want my entire argument wiped away when someone says, “ah, but you were given such and such an opportunity”. My career has been aided and advocated by several people. I’d like to say it was all down to my talent (and it is true that I’m not related to those advocates) but I admit the truth is it’s probably 50% luck.

The principle is: it shouldn’t be up to us. We have neither the voice, influence or money to reform the system from where we are. The best we can do is to say that when we get to the top of the ladder we’ll treat those below us better – but of course at that point the catch 22 is already in effect; we’ve reaped the rewards before pointing out our unethical behaviour along the way.

What procedures would I like to see put in place? Cover letter, CV, interview. The Young Vic does this and they have the best training directors – a peculiar correlation? I think not.

EJD: So, institutions like the Young Vic that have the money and the resources to interview and sort the presumably massive quantity of applications for their directors’ scheme are behaving correctly, and you’re saying that anyone with the same facilities available should do the same? OK.

What about employers who can offer similarly wonderful opportunities, exposure or projects who don’t have the time or money? Examples of that kind of altruistic procedure amongst theatre practitioners working at theatres with less funding, or even working out of their living rooms, are few and far between. I don’t believe many unpaid directors would sit through even 60 auditions after posting an open casting call – and we both know that applications would be ten times this – if they knew they could ask one of their friends to take the role. What you are proposing as a solution to nepotism is limited to very few places, and therefore I don’t think your proposed revolution will ever seed itself.

Anon: Again we’re blurring the line between recommendation and nepotism.  If a director has an actor/actress they’ve worked with previously who is perfect for the part, then it’s a simple hiring choice. It’s when someone is given a similar opportunity because their father/mother/uncle/aunt/godfather etc. is involved that the situation becomes unfair. I accept it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between these, but we must at least try.

Budgetary requirements are so small as to be irrelevant. We are not talking about thousands being spent for these processes to go in place. It’s not an insurmountable task even for small theatres; theatres already doing so include the New Diorama, The Gate and The Finborough.

My point is this: we are holding ourselves to a depressingly low standard. Personal relationships are not always malevolent forces of corruption. Advocacy of talented youngsters can ensure that the right people get the right opportunity at the right time. However, our commitment to fair and honest application procedures as a mandatory requirement is flimsy at best. This is doing the industry damage – it breeds insular artistic vision as well as debasing our belief in our own talent.

EJD: Perhaps it is a case of cornerstone institutions leading by example. I don’t think that this excuses us, however, from any behaviour that could be dubbed nepotistic – and this is defined differently by different people. Therefore you, and I, and anyone else wanting this increased vigilance will have to act accordingly. The phrase “squeaky-clean” comes to mind. In the public forum, I’m sure that there are some who think that the line between nepotism and simply choosing a friend for a task is not as clean-cut as you perceive it.

  • What are your thoughts on nepotism? Do you have any thoughts on the definition of the issue, and are there any cases where nepotism is acceptable?

2012: Theatre Round-Up

2012 was a big year for Britain… The Olympics and Paralympics in London, the Jubilee, numerous sporting and cultural events – including The World Shakespeare Festival, the Globe-to-Globe Festival, the biggest ever Edinburgh Fringe Festival and one hell of a lot of plays and musicals…

Who knows what 2013 has in store for us: the recent “speak-out” from Danny Boyle and Nicholas Hytner on the importance of regional theatre implies that this element of England’s theatrical scene is truly under threat. We can only hope that this lobbying will have some effect on Maria Miller, culture secretary. As Boyle says –

Not one of those [artistic directors, including Hytner] has been even approached by this woman […] That is outrageous. This is cultural life of our country. She is the minister of fucking culture. I mean, come on.”

Time will tell, and hopefully the pressure will continue. Big names hit London next year with exciting new fixtures including the Michael Grandage Company’s offerings – I’m particularly excited about the Whishaw/Dench combination later in the year, despite their ridiculous “we’re newbies!” marketing campaign – and the Tony-award winning smash hit The Book of Mormon. The Life of Galileo at the RSC should be good, but who knows what the rest of the year will hold after March when the Arts Council are due to announce their funding. What will the government do with the generation that it has “inspired” in 2012? Leave them hanging? Follow up on promises? Or drop them completely…? The playwright Fin Kennedy has launched a campaign alongside his petition against the Ebacc, in this case for theatre-makers urging them to document the effect of Arts Council cuts on their work – so fingers crossed for a continued group effort (get involved).

But what did happen this year? From this end, I can only report what I have seen – and can only document that for which I haven’t lost the ticket – and although for me 2012 has been my biggest theatrical year in terms of seeing and writing about theatre, there is so much I have missed. Nonetheless, the following is both a log of most of the shows seen, links to reviews and features, and the highlights of 2012.

JANUARY began with my old theatrical home in the West Midlands, catching Caroline Catz in Top Girls at the Warwick Arts Centre, alongside WUDS’s very own A Clockwork Orange – a film noir version that involved copious amounts of facepaint and some psychedelic set perspective. Shakespeare this month was restrictd to Bailey’s Taming of the Shrew at the RSC, a bed-time romp that made an interesting interpretation of the “Kate problem”. The RSC’s Matilda in London was a childhood dream – and swings will never be the same again.

FEBRUARY was less delicate with some slightly less comforting renaissance drama, with Cheek by Jowl’s audacious ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore on tour at the Warwick Arts Centre and the original incarnation of The Changeling at the Young Vic, which to my memory was considerably more disappointing than reviews seem to be saying it is this time around. Mogadishu caused havoc with its Midlands audience, and Whole Hog Theatre Company – who are producing Princess Mononoke with Studio Ghibli’s blessing at the New Diorama in April next year – had their inaugural production, Dangerous Liaisons.

I saw Jerusalem for the second time in MARCH at the Loft theatre in Leamington Spa, in its first amateur production. Without the sterling cast of the Ian Rickson production, some characters didn’t read – an interesting insight into the most recent British “modern classic”. Orla O’Loughlin’s touching For Once at the Warwick Arts Centre spurred me on no end with my own production of Agatha which showed at the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning in Coventry. Student writing flourished elsewhere with Warwick’s own Vile Bodies also showing at the V&A in London. The month ended with a trip to New York – which included a rather ridiculous War Horse – that was only saved from its huge, loud audience with some astonishing puppetry.

APRIL brought a tonsillectomy and a disappointing Comedy of Errors at the RSC. The Chis Mullins diaries in the form of A Walk on Part at the Soho Theatre were a merciful break from domestic monotony, but I didn’t venture out much otherwise.

More student work in MAY included Joe Boylan’s intimate and classy production of Statements After Arrest Under the Immorality Act at IATL in Coventry, and Lulu Raczka’s Knock was similarly small and claustrophobic in a site specific location. There was student writing in the WAC Studio again with Lovely Rita which couldn’t match Kathyn Hunter’s mesmerizing Kafka’s Monkey in the same space. At the Belgrade theatre in Coventry, there were two raucous and musical productions, Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale and a problematic Avenue QI ventured down to London to have my brain broken by Simon Stephen’s Three Kingdoms – doesn’t that man write lots of plays?!

In JUNE Our Fathers in the Warwick Arts Centre studio was a lovely little piece, honest and careful in comparison with The Blake Diptych: Experience which, although image-powerful and full of ideas, ultimately failed to come off. Doran’s Julius Caesar at the RSC nearly caused a domestic rift, as I was totally uninspired – apparently unlike everyone else who saw it. I fell in love with GATZ – my favourite book done superbly – and was underwhelmed by Democracy at the Old Vic. Student-wise, I saw a soaring Kiss of the Spiderwoman and The Pillowman both in the WAC Studio, the latter of which was long-listed for NSDF 2013.

JULY was a quiet one, only seeing The Tempest at the RSC, with a wonderful Jonathan Slinger: I’m looking forward to his Hamlet this year. All the while preparing for a MEGA:

AUGUST. My biggest fringe yet, both reviewing and performing (never again…). I wrote a Picks of the fringe feature if you want the shortened version, but for the more hardcore, here’s the full list:

Blink, The Economist, VitaminRequest ProgrammeThe Shit, Mephisto WaltzSwamp JuiceShowstopper! The Improvised Musical, ThreadThe Boy With Tape on His Face: More Tape, How a Man CrumbledA Strange Wild Song, Bane (2), Inheritance Blues, RomaMedicine ShowWhat The Heart RemembersWhat I Heard About The WorldThe Most Dangerous ToyFrom Harry to Houdini, Piatto FinaleDeath BoogieStrip SearchThe PrideThe Blind, Dream Plays (Scenes From A Play I’ll Never Write)Everything Else HappenedPeter PanicRambling in an Empty RoomBoris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure, DualityBottleneck, Wrecked, After the Rainfall, (remor) and Swordy-Well.

After which I had to lie in a darkened room.

I moved to London in SEPTEMBER and caught both Morning (having missed it in Edinburgh) and Desire Under the Elms at the Lyric. I was also lucky enough to go to the opening night of Twelfth Night at the Globe theatre, and was inches away from Mark Rylance’s Dalek-like Olivia.

OCTOBER brought a Ding Dong The Wicked that I can’t really remember from the Royal Court, a sorry swap for the Love and Information tickets I was unable to get. I was overjoyed to see a friend of mine in Loserville which had a sorry script but some dazzling young talent.

I started to wind down in NOVEMBER with a spooky but slightly cheesy (which is great if you like that sort of thing) The Bodyguard Musicaland a truly appalling Damned by Despair at the National. I was entertained by Dr Ezra Tallboy’s Travelling Nightmares by Kill the Beast! and I am extremely excited for their London transfer of the Lowry-developed The Boy Who Kicked Pigs in 2013.

DECEMBER was my final 2012 theatrical fling, which began with Seussical! for which I interviewed the charming David Hunter. A Christmas Writer’s Bloc at the Old Red Lion was a good laugh, and I’m looking forward to Fat Git’s Winky when it goes to the Soho theatre next year. Both Ignorance at the Hampstead downstairs and Julius Caesar at the Donmar were trying to be too clever (there’s more to say but no space to say it…) and my final trips to the National this year included a pompous but ultimately lovely The Magistrate, and Alan Bennett’s quite wonderful People, which also brought about  this encounter

 


I don’t know about you, but I think that’s quite enough for one year! 78 shows seen – it’s a new record. Happy New Year to all – may your next be as bright and theatrical as my previous!

London Scratch Nights: A User’s Guide

London Scratch Nights: A User’s Guide

WHAT ON EARTH IS A SCRATCH NIGHT?! I hear you cry. Well, basically, it’s the nearest theatrical equivalent to being invited to a screening of a new film – before everyone else. In terms of emerging writing, directing and acting talent there is no better – or cheaper, or more enjoyable way – to see what’s out there before everyone gets signed away or sent off to train at drama school…

Scratch nights are, historically, a little rushed, made on a shoestring, often having slightly inebriated audiences in off-the-beaten-track venues. Think pub theatres, Battersea, that sort of thing. They are made with love and care, even if they are made very quickly, and the end product can be a wonderful and enlightening night out, as well as a lot of fun.

Definitively, a scratch night is a one-off performance, often in a fringe venue, where writers, actors and directors put something together very quickly. Some are rapid-response projects, responding to recent news events (think the nabokov producers for this), some are larger scale, run by larger institutions (think Battersea Arts Centre) as ways of sounding out new talent. Many tend to get left off the mainstream radar, which is a shame…

So here are a few London scratch nights that may prove to be of use to the spontaneous and life-loving individual (that’s you, by the way):

  • Made From Scratch – these guys are everywhere: theatre503, The Cockpit, Southwark Playhouse, The Lost Theatre and Soho Theatre. They go wherever they can find space – you can find more details here.
  • Freshly Scratched at BAC – produced by the BAC Young Producers (a talented young bunch of people), resident companies at this theatre participate in this regular event as well as “outsiders”. See here for more details.
  • Writers Bloc – this company are based mostly at the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub in Angel, and have been doing regular scratch nights for a while now – and they hope to put on more in the coming months, so look out on their website.
  • Paines Plough also run a few scratch nights with their associates Forward Theatre Project, and have done a few at the excellent central London venue, Soho Theatre (which, incidentally, has a great bar)…

For the others… Well, there’s hundreds for you to try yourself! The key is to look for them online and not in print media, as companies with a low budget can’t afford to get their adverts in the Evening Standard. Have a good Google, take a look at IdeasTap for invitations to upcoming events and stay savvy!

Lone Theatre-Going: Yay or Nay?

Lone Theatre-Going: Yay or Nay?

Now before I start, I must admit one thing: I am not a single lady. That does not mean, however, that I know nothing about anything (please keep reading… it’s interesting, I promise). I have been to the theatre so many times on my own that it has become habitual – or rather, it has certainly become the norm.

I’d like to share a couple of recent encounters that may encourage those who consider themselves lonely theatre-lovers to be brave enough to step out and see the wonderful things that London especially has to offer.

The first took place overseas, in Jersey, where avid readers will know I spent a couple of weeks acting and writing for a piece of new work called “Archipelago“. Amongst the wonderful people I met out there, was one rather inspirational individual – who shall remain nameless – who has had a lifelong habit of always buying two theatre tickets. To every single show they have ever seen. They give the other one away to whoever wants it. You can imagine just how many shows an industry professional has been to, how many people they have brought along. I thought it was an amazing idea – perhaps you could invite a stranger? A work colleague you don’t speak to very much? A relative? A man? A woman? A friend? A foe?! The possibilities are endless… Less lone theatre-going, more lone ticket-buying.

The second took place yesterday. Really. I apologise in advance to the man involved in this anecdote, I don’t know your name (!) so I can’t ask you if this is okay… If you read this, please take this inclusion of your story as a compliment.

I went to see “People“, Alan Bennett’s new play at the National (and although I believe that this show is sold out, I urge you to try and get day tickets if you have time – it is pretty lovely…). I had bought a singular ticket, and took my seat next to a man who, until the interval, I believed was with the elderly couple sitting next to him. Pretty unaware of his presence for the whole of the first half – like I said, the play’s pretty captivating – it wasn’t until we were left alone in the interval that I really realised he was there.

Literally the only people left in our row – everyone else had gone to the bar – we were forced to talk to each other. About theatre, about London, about Alan Bennett. Very brief, interesting enough – a new face to meet. Second half began, second half ended, audience piled out and I went for the mandatory National Bookshop browse. I didn’t realise The Other Lone Theatre-Goer had followed me and was drumming up the courage to ask me out for a drink two seconds later.

I declined. Politely, of course. This isn’t a love story – or at least not in the way that you think. I don’t know his name, we’ll probably never meet again – but had we not been both alone, such an encounter (with whatever outcome) would never have happened…

So fall in love with going alone. People-watch. Eat ice-cream. Watch something amazing, and strike up conversation. Say yes to a drink and be together in your mutual solitariness. Never be lonely…

It really is a yay.

The Music Hall Revival

The Music Hall Revival: Victorian Chic

With the news that Hoxton Hall in East London has just been awarded £1.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it has become very clear that we have a music hall revival on our hands. Both Hoxton and Wilton’s Music Hall, both based in the Shoreditch area, have become the focus of rejuvenation and revitalisation – the restoration of Victorian chic.

And this is wonderful news. Not only home to shabby chic bars, tasteful lighting and the trendiest East London clientele, these music halls have the power to offer us a diversity of entertainments: theatre, music, comedy and dance – just like in the good old days. Forget the X Factor, forget Britain’s Got Talent – you can find real variety at these multi-purpose venues.

The recent success of The Horror! The Horror! is testament to Wilton Music Hall’s ability to put on wonderful site-specific performances whilst the main space is under refurbishment. A complete sell out for two and a half weeks, with two performances a night, technician Rosie Spiegelhalter talks about the piece and the greatness of such a diverse space:

People are interested in new and exciting types of theatre. The piece made use of the entire building, and all of the rooms around it. It was so atmospheric… They’re refurbishing the main space which should return in February, but in the meantime there’s some amazing site-specific work going on that really makes use of this great venue.

Now, it seems, is the time to really get into variety with money being pumped into these places, they have the power to refurbish and produce wonderful entertainment in the meantime. Hoxton Hall’s main show – Live at the Apollo star Dave Gorman – has sold out, but the quirky band Matthew and Me are playing on Thursday 22nd if you want a taste of folk music.

There hasn’t been a better time to check out these two theatres, the chic-est of the chic, the oldest of the old and the best of the best.

Other theatre news this week

– Southwark Playhouse is moving premises, to Elephant and Castle

– The Donmar Warehouse £10 Barclaycard scheme began this week – set your diaries for next Monday, 10am to ensure you get the cheap Front Row tickets here!

Jersey (a tangent…)

The Island of Jersey: A Winter Retreat

The Channel Islands aren’t all that far away. The island of Jersey is a mere 45 minute flight away from London Southend airport, and once you arrive you can experience a wonderful place away from the hustle and bustle, a winter retreat that doesn’t break your budget or use up thousands of airmiles…

The island is traditionally thought of as a summer holiday destination, particularly in recent years when the recession has forced holiday makers to avoid far-flung destinations and stay closer to home. Its sea air and its picturesque settings are available, however, all year round. Take it from me: this is one of the calmest and most relaxing locations I’ve been to in a while: you don’t really have to worry about money (Jersey currency is the Jersey pound), the sun is often shining, it’s a little bit warmer and there’s so much to do here, whatever the weather.

Whether it’s taking a walk along St Ouens – the beautiful five mile sandy beach (pictured) – and having a meal in the famous restaurant El Tico, or visiting the internationally acclaimed Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, home to aye-ayes and other extremely rare and endangered species that you can see in few other places.

The Jersey War Tunnels are also worth a visit, it’s a great day out and works wonders in that it allows you to get a little perspective on your own life. For your evenings, you can either experience the modern conveniences of St Helier (including the truly brilliant Jersey Arts Centre), or stay indoors at one of the island’s numerous holiday cottages.

The sea and its healing properties are probably what make this weekend away a winning choice. Walking along the rugged coast – there is an entire website devoted to the best Jersey walks – or cycling around the gentle terrain, you can really get to grips with yourself, your job or whatever problems you have. You can exercise, eat well, and if you panic and want a taste of home, you can head into town and go to Marks and Spencers.

At this time of year, there isn’t a better time to experience the island. Free of busy holiday crowds and still in the best of beauty, it’s the perfect opportunity to get away for the weekend. Southend airport (which is lovely and cosy, incidentally) is a fifty minute train ride from London Liverpool Street, and the flight is so quick the staff barely even have time to serve you coffee… You don’t even need a passport, only photographic ID – so what are you waiting for? Book your flights now!