Living with an English Degree

An English degree impacts the whole life of a person who has it, but ultimately the effects extend also to their family and close friends.  Early symptoms may include shiny fingers and paper cuts from thumbing through literary works, a glazed expression brought on by the ramblings of an 18th century novelist and occasionally a reliance on caffeine and chocolate brownies.  But there is guidance and support out there for everyone, whether you are still studying, or whether you have already passed your BA.

Studying an English degree means that you will have to learn to cope with the prejudice and presumptions of others. Just because you’re a Literature student does not mean that you’ve always dreamt of being a Teacher, and certainly not necessarily of English.  No, the nature of your degree doesn’t gift you with some super-human spelling ability, nor does it mean you have to enjoy reading the works of W.H. Auden or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and indeed a female Literature student is not necessarily a feminist.Once at graduate level simple tasks such as going to the theatre or watching television become infinitely more complicated.   An English graduate may find themselves surrounded by appearance versus reality conflicts in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the apparent blending of gender roles in a re-watching of Titanic, or readings of homoerotic desire in Shaun of the Dead.

I am one of these graduates.

Just last week I journeyed to London for a night at the theatre, which resulted in my poor husband having to spend the rest of the week being bombarded with different readings of Willy Russell’s award-winning musical Blood Brothers: The role of absent family members.  Innocence versus experience.  Class and gender conflicts.  Incest.  And don’t even get me started on the role of the Narrator…  My husband, on the other hand, enjoyed the music and the story.

After graduating it took me two years to build up to reading a serious novel.  After twenty-four months of reading the testosterone-charged fantasies of Wilbur Smith, I thought my brain may have re-wired itself to enable me to simply enjoy a book again.  Sadly this is not true.

Every student has debt these days, but the weight English students carry is unlike any other…   A Law student may sweat over parliamentary transcripts, but it’s unlikely that these dusty pieces of specialist waffle would feature in an evening’s recreation.

So if you know someone who has studied an English degree I implore you to be kind to them. Understand what they have endured, and what they will forever go through in the name of their education.



Social Media: A Pantomime – Oh yes it is!

Pantomimes are a crucial part of the festive season – for me, nothing rounds the year quite like sitting in a darkened room for 2 hours heckling at minor celebrities.

A few years ago Twitter hosted it’s first pantomime – but this blog isn’t about how well pantos translate on to the internet (Oh no it isn’t!). Instead I look at just some basic rules that Social Media campaigners can learn from the success of festive theatre.

Don’t forget the audience

Whether this is taking the mickey out of the town mayor or referencing popular television, the most successful pantomimes are the ones that draw on the audience’s shared experiences.  It is this sense of community that a social media campaign needs to embrace.  Don’t forget who you are targeting, make sure your campaign is going to reach the right people and is going to keep them engaged.


One of the real gems of social media is the ability to develop conversations – so even in a constructed campaign be prepared to go “off-script.”  Keep a cool head, remember who you’re targeting and what you’re trying to achieve and go with the flow.  As long as you keep in-character and on-brand you shouldn’t have too many problems.

“He’s behind you!”

Engage with your audience.  If you want them to respond to your message in a certain way whether this is a Re-Tweet on Twitter, or to pick up the phone and make a donation to charity, make sure they know what is expected of them.  A successful pantomime encourages interaction and the audience are queued as to when they are expected to get involved.

The Show Must Go On

The internet isn’t nine to five and so neither is your social media presence.  You should be prepared to deal with your audience outside of office hours.

Making it all match

Whatever your vision make sure you stay onbrand otherwise your audience will notice.  Whether you consider your social media to simply be the props and stage dressing for your marketing stategy, or whether it’s the main show, if it doesn’t fit with the rest of your image it’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

Give something back

Whether you run competitons for your followers and fans, or simply aim to give them extra knowledge and insight, you should always aim to give your audience something extra – and hopefully soon they’ll be jumping out of their seats to catch these tasty tit-bits.

Who’s Who

Going to the theatre is all about suspending your sense of reality, but as adults we know that Daisy the Cow probably doesn’t spend the other 11 months of the year grazing on buttercups.  We like to know just that bit more about what goes on behind the veil of theatre, and so we buy a programme to find out more about the people we’re really watching.  With social media it’s the same – you should always ensure that you’re transparent, – never pretend to be someone or something you’re not.


Happy Birthday Apollo Victoria!

There aren’t many 80 year olds whose birthday celebration involves Bollywood dancing,  rollerskates and semi-nudity.  But the Apollo Victoria’s 80th Birthday Gala Performance included it all.

Last night, the theatre, currently the London home to hit musical Wicked, hosted a star-studded cast to ensure the celebrations went down in theatre history.

I’ve admitted in a previous post to being a geek – but when I read online that the cast of Starlight Express would be reuniting a whole new geek bubbled up inside –  I grew up listening to the original cast recordings, I know all the words, all the versions – and my goodness I wasn’t going to miss a chance to sing along with the stars of my childhood.

Aside from a few technical hiccups, the one-night-only performance was spectacular.  The first act saw the cast of Wicked (with a few musical-theatre friends) guide the audience though the Apollo’s history – from cinema  to live act venue – on a rollercoaster of ballads and high-energy dance.  The cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert were transformed into the Supremes (those guys have some amazing legs!), the Jersey Boys performed a fantastic medley of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and Sharon D Clarke (the original Killer Queen (We Will Rock You)) belted out a fantastic Gladys Knight.  Even Bucks Fizz reunited to bring the theatre into the 80s – complete with a skirt-ripping Making Your Mind Up.

But it was the second act that we die-hard theatre fans had been waiting for.  With a sequined Christopher Biggins as host, we were treated to performances by Wayne Sleep and James Fox, and some big musical numbers from some of the shows that had graced the Apollo’s stage.

The one let down of the night were the performances of the Bombay Dreams numbers – clearly the orchestra pit was not large enough to accommodate sitars and the other instruments needed to create the Bollywood sound, meaning the performers mimed along to a backing track… the dance routines were stunning, but this tarnished the gloss of the evening for me.

And Starlight Express? Fan-bloody-tastatic.  I don’t care that Greaseball slipped over during his solo in Rolling Stock, he was still note perfect even when his arms were pin-wheeling.

It must have been like returning home for a lot of the original cast.  Gone were the tubes and piping that made up their costumes in the 80s, 90s and 00s, this performance saw the casts skating and singing together is suits and ties – paying their respects to the birthday girl that had been the musical’s home for 7,461 performances.

It was a night of laughter, singing, dancing, clapping and cheering.  The Apollo Victoria’s Charity Gala Performance was a fantastic trip down memory lane, whilst showcasing some very current West End talent.

Happy Birthday old girl.


Over-throw the Rainbow: Where Andrew Lloyd Webber could go next.

The vocal cords are warmed up, the gingham dresses are pressed and the final line up is in.

This time next week Andrew Lloyd Webber will have found his new Dorothy.


Toto search logo

Andrew Lloyd Webber is hunting for Toto


For the last few years my weekend viewing has been punctuated by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s televised search for his next theatre star.  From Maria, to Joseph, to Nancy and now Dorothy the BBC shows have helped reinvigorate the West End and get more visitors through the theatre doors.

But where could ALW go for 2011?

Personally I think it’s time for something new.  In 2007 they pulled in the teen viewers by concocting a storyline in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks.  Then in 2009 producers turned the search spotlight on cute-as-a-button 8 year-old boys.  Then, this year, they upped the cute-stakes further by hunting for Dorothy’s adorable four-legged friend…  If the show gets any sweeter I think even avid theatre fans  will start to feel queasy.

What our Saturday night viewing needs is a bit more spice…

We Brit’s can’t help but love a good TV villain – Big Brother 1’s Nasty Nick, Bad Girl’s Jim Fenner even Simon Cowell have captured our home-grown imaginations – so why not exploit it to the full.


Simon Cowell image

Villians are a staple of Saturday night TV


Simply put villans are more exciting.

Do a televised search for the Wicked Witch of the West, or the Child Catcher from Chitty.   Imagine the possiblities – no more of the hideous ‘Musical Mash-ups’ but rather ‘goodie’ vs ‘baddie’ duets.

You’re guaranteed to get some brilliant characters auditioning and the if  the recent popularity of television shows like Doctor Who have proven anything, it’s that kid’s like being scared.

Go on Andrew, give us someone we’ll love to hate.