Broadsides’ Merry Wives

On Tuesday night, I, along with several other Staffs Uni students, saw the Northern Broadside production of The Merry Wives (of Windsor), by William Shakespeare. It was a thoroughly entertaining play, with jokes, music, singing, dancing, trickery and, of course, love (and how could Shakespeare resist the chance at making fun of the French?). I also learned that this is the origin of the popular phrase ‘what the dickens?’, which I had always assumed had come from a similarly named author. Afterwards, there was a talk-back session with all the cast, where we were able to ask questions, and were told stories (particularly by Barrie Rutter, who played Falstaff in this production), including performing in the Globe Theatre in T-shirts and jeans for the first half of A Midsummer Night’s Dream due to lost luggage problems. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and I would highly recommend this play to anyone.

(Harriet Lee, Creative Writing)

Some wives (not from Windsor, but somewhere Northern – as you would expect) being merry at The New Vic (courtesy of Northern Broadsides)

See the trailer at their website here



Harper Lee, the author of the iconic To Kill A Mockingbird, has died at the age of 89. The novel tells the story of the heroic lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends an innocent black man accused of raping a white girl in segregated Alabama. The novel, scandalously, was removed from the GCSE syllabus recently to make room for more ‘English’ literature about drawing rooms and manners. It’s a shame, as generations of students have been given a genuine insight into the legacy of slavery and the pernicious effects of racism and have, I suspect, become better people as a result. Lee, interestingly, grew up in the same small, Southern town as Truman Capote (author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and helped him to research his seminal non-fiction crime novel, In Cold Blood (which we study on the Crime Scene America module).

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Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in the Oscar winning film of To Kill A Mockingbird (WikiCommons)

Godot at the New Vic

There are many myths surrounding Samuel Beckett and his work. He is famously reported as telling a reporter that if knew what a play had meant, he would have put it in the play. A theatre critic also described Godot as a play in which nothing happens. Twice. His is an enigmatic presence in 20th century theatre; just google a picture of him and you’ll see what I mean – what a face!

You can see what the critic meant. Vladimir and Estragon are two tramps who meet by a tree for two days running to wait for the mysterious Godot. Each day a message is brought by a boy to say that Godot can’t come today, but he is sure to come tomorrow. A conceited land-owner, Pozzi, and his slave, Lucky (a slave called Lucky?), also cross the stage in each half. Beckett plays with our expectations of time and chronology (everything happens twice, challenging us to examine the notion of causality in narrative development), plot, character, and even what it means to be an audience (there are a number of meta-theatrical moments when the central characters gaze in to the crowd and question who we are – as we question who they are). The play is at once a slapstick exchange between two tramps about sore feet and boots, and an existential meditation on life, death and the possibility of being rescued from the insignificance of life by a greater power.

London Classic Theatre’s production is a fantastic interpretation of a play which has changed the way we think about theatre.

Lost Shelley Poem Found

A long lost Shelley poem has resurfaced this year, and has now been acquired by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The actress Vanessa Redgrave read  a very moving excerpt from it on R4’sToday progamme, and the librarian was interviewed…
The story is that Shelley got kicked out of Oxford because he published a tract advocating atheism and this poem, called ‘The Existing State of Things’, an anti-war poem. All copies were destroyed, but Shelley managed to keep one which he sent to a relative in Italy, where it remained stashed away ever since.
Below the link:
Check it out. It chimes with the situation as it still is….
Martin J

Norther Broadsides’ The Winter’s Tale

Staff and students were at the New Vic to see Northern Broadsides interpretation of The Winter’s Tale. It was, as ever, a seductive experience of precision acting and innovative staging. It would be unfair to single out one performance from a faultless cast, but I’m going to anyway. Conrad Nelson as the king, Leontes, was magnificent in his brooding, introspective delusion. I’m sure he’s a lovely guy in real life, but he plays a baddie very well (his Iago, played opposite Lennie Henry’s Othello, was a study in malevolence). The rest of the cast were just magnificent.
Broadsides are well known for mixing drama and music in inventive ways and the turn from tragedy to romance, the ‘problem’ of this problem play, signaled the setting of Shakespeare’s verse to many musical genres, including Bob Dylan, and a folk/hippy design. There can’t been many interpretations of Shakespeare which include Irish dancing, but there should be.
We all departed stage left, pursued by a bear. Next stop Godot!
Broadsides’ trailer for the production can be found here

Teaching Excellence

Dr. Lisa Mansell, Creative Writing lecturer and award leader, has been made a Teaching Excellence Fellow at Staffordshire University. Her research project is about  the nature of adaptation: the rewriting of a text from one medium or genre to another. In particular, developing ambitious adaptations ranging from translation to the transposition of text from wiring to image. Her current research and reflective practice in the area of adaptation is influenced by the work of Fiona English, in particular, her book, Genre in Student Writing (London; Contiunuum [Bloomsbury], 2011). Fiona English asks students to re-craft or adapt a student essay into another genre, a process she calls’ regenreing’.  In Lisa’s study, she hopes to develop this practice into other disciplines and other discourses and areas of writing. In doing so she hopes to work towards a methodology for research, writing to discover new knowledge, that might be valid and useful not only for writers but for researchers and students in other disciplines.

Anglo-Saxon Outing to the Potteries Museum

11227651_932604240145792_304864621495947166_oWe welcomed new level four students to our English and Creative Writing courses with a trip to the Potteries Museum, Hanley, where Dr. Melanie Ebdon gave us a thrilling reading of Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon in an atmospherically reconstructed mead-hall, (contemporaneous to the writing of this poem)  and artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard.

The trip celebrated the end of a busy welcome week, which also included a student learning conference. Staff and students from English and Creative Writing joined colleagues and peers from History and Sociology.


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National Student Survey Results

The 2015 NSS results have just been publicly released. These are standardised surveys of current students, held at every University in the country, and which feed into things like league tables. We are pleased to report that … our students are pleased! Overall satisfaction is above 90%, as likewise is the satisfaction with our teaching. Compared with English and Creative Writing departments around the country, we are ahead of the pack in five out of eight indicators.

The new term

Plans for the new term are coming along nicely. There will be a new module, Writing for Success, for the first years. The planning for the first year trip to Grasmere, the home of the Lakeland poets and Romanticism, is well advanced. In addition, there are plans to see The Winter’s Tale and Waiting for Godot at the New Vic and to take in the exhibition of the works of Lowry and his local counterpart, Arthur Berry, at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

More news as it’s confirmed.

The Class of 2015

The English and Creative Writing staff at Staffs are delighted to congratulate the graduating class of 2015.

It was a glorious day at Trentham Gardens for our students to spend their last day as Staffs students (though we are looking forward to welcoming some back for Masters study). Lou Whotton and Atia Shafique scooped prizes, though so many students did so well and have been great over the last three years that it was almost impossible to choose.

The Stoke Sentinel were there, and you can see their pictures here

We managed to round up most of the students for our own pic, and here we all are before the ceremony.


Our congratulations, once again, to all our students who graduated this year. We are very proud of you all and have really enjoyed teaching you and getting to know you over the last three years. Please stay in touch and let us know how you are getting on.

Mark, Martin, Mel, Catherine, Barry, Lisa, Paul and Douglas.