The Jamie Lloyd Theatre company production of Cyrano De Bergerac has just finished in the West End but it is going to New York soon. I saw the play for the dress rehearsal when the company were doing a pay-as-much-as-you-can showing as part of their ‘theatre is for all’ campaign. As a student it can be difficult to afford theatre and I think it’s such a great idea to get more young people or people who can’t afford it to go and see a play. Often theatre is regarded as this portentous thing for the wealthy so I think it is so great that the company are trying to make it as accessible as possible.
The play Cyrano De Bergerac follows ‘Cyrano, a talented 17th-century playwright [and soldier] who pursues a woman named Roxane. While he may seem to have a glittering career, his outlook on life is plagued by narcissistic views around him, as Cyrano uses language in order to allure his lover.’ It’s a heartbreaking love story focusing on Cyrano, Roxane and Christian (a new fellow soldier who is more physically attractive than Cyrano but does not have his mind for words and language).
The play itself completely blew me away – I knew it was gong to be a reboot of the classic play (written by Edmund Rostand in 1897) with a modern spin and probably quite paired back as it was directed by Jamie Lloyd. But it completely brought the story into the modern day – making the poetry seem more like rap, giving poetry this ‘cool’ spin and injecting some youth back into it.
The staging was paired back, just concrete walls and floor laid bare except from a few microphones and stands and some stairs when it came to the battle scene. The microphones on stage really emphasised the themes of the importance of having a voice and the power of the spoken word. To me the play really encapsulated the phrase-
“The pen is mightier than the sword” – that words can wield just as much, if not more, power and importance.
This is a message really relevant today, in our world of questioning authority- asking the questions of who should have power and why. And showing the importance of welding the power of words whilst also being wary of them as they may not be the speakers own.
James McAvoy plays the titular role of Cyrano. They have chosen to have this character without the traditional over the top large nose, choosing instead to draw attention to the other more important themes in the play; from unrequited love, to vanity, to what manliness looks like, to the power that words can wield.
The character of Roxane, played by Anita-joy Uwajeh, is given a modern day reboot as well giving her much more prominence and a voice in the play. Roxane is Cyrano’s love interest in the play, but this adaptation makes her less passive.
Overall, this play was breathtaking, completely transforming a classic into the modern day reminding us of how important words are. All performances by the actors were phenomenal, using staging like above to emphasise some of the plays most important themes. If you are heading to New York, or live there, and looking for something to see I would really recommend checking this play out – it will blow you away.
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Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate everything that women have achieved so far and to recognise the importance of empowering each other. Below is a poem I wrote to show what it means to me:
I am very much an amateur poet but I thought this would be the best way to express what it means. There is still so much to be done to achieve equal opportunities for both sexes but today is a day in which we can celebrate all of the successes of women, and of the women who though they might not have done anything extraordinary, lift us up and inspire us in our day to day lives. For me, these people are my Mum, my sister, my gran, my nan and my friends. Each and every one of them support or give advice or are always there for me and I’m always so grateful to have them to act as my role models.
There are so many people out there currently too who are so inspirational; from Michelle Obama, Oprah, Malala, Emma Watson – they are all out there to spread the message of equality and empowerment. Today is a day for you to think as a woman ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can achieve my dreams. There is nothing stopping me.’ Today is about instilling belief in yourself, no matter how crazy, or how impossible you think you’re dreams might be.
To see some of the incredible things women can do, here are ten films that remind me of how strong and capable we are. Some are to do with the subject matter, some are incredible female lead performances, some are made by incredible female film makers.
Lets talk about Greta Gerwig – Little Women was out late last year. Her directing debut Ladybird got her a directing nomination. Both feature incredible performances by Soairse Ronan, and Gerwig’s writing about the female experience is brilliant and touching. If you haven’t seen either of these then go see them!
The Aeronauts, directed by Tom Harper but Felicity Jones’ performance as the Aeronaut, Amelia, was phenomenal and she gives one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen in a female lead.
Hidden figures features phenomenal performances by Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson. Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, all about the stories of the women behind the Apollo mission to get the first man on the moon. A really inspiring story, and a reminder of how the stories of many female figures in history are often forgotten and left behind.
The Suffragette – to take you back to the roots of female suffrage
Mary Queen of Scots, Directed by Josie Rourke and features two stellar lead performances given by Soirse Ronan and Margot Robbie about two queens and their struggle to hold power in a man’s world.
Ophelia directed by Claire McCarthy. The film looks at the passive voice in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and tells Ophelia’s side of the story.
Julie and Julia directed by Nora Ephron. A really great ‘Sunday afternoon’ watch. It’s a sweet plot all based around food, fame and role models. And it stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as Julie and Julia.
Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins. It’s all in the name so I couldn’t not include it in this list. Theres also Captain Marvel that came out in March last year which very much focuses on the oppression and rise of women. Both are great, but I found Wonder Woman a better watch because I don’t always like to be reminded of the oppression of women when i’m watching a film and it did kind of deter it off of the storyline.
Becoming Jane – a story of acclaimed writer Jane Austin’s Life and the love story that supposedly inspired her novels. It is a romance with a more tragic ending than her novels but it also tells of her struggles to be a female writer and to be independent in a world in which she was expected to marry.
Kathryn Bigelow – the first and only woman to win best director for ‘Hurt Locker’, she also directed ‘Zero dark thirty’ starring Jessica Chastain. Admittedly, I have only watched the latter and that was a really great film showing a woman in a profession full of men, and it was based on a true story.
There is also a great short film called “Leading Lady parts” which was directed by Jessica Swale, its all about the hypocrisy of how films are cast.
There was also a preview today of Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rossamand Pike and directed by Marjane Satrapi, that I wanted to see but couldn’t make it – to anyone who has seen it, what was it like? Was it good?
There are also so many other great films out there, but these are the first ones that came to my mind and were films I really enjoyed. I tried to stay fairly recent too, so sorry if I missed some golden oldies off of the list. Please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below – I need some new great female led/directed films to watch.
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I saw The Lehman trilogy last summer in London but today it opens in New York on Broadway. It is such an incredibly directed and performed play that I had to write something about it – so any readers in New York or planning to visit soon this is for you.
The play tells the history of the Lehman brothers who changed the world of capitalism, it is a 163 year saga beginning with the story of a young man in Bavaria dreaming of a new life then following the founding of a financial company as it encounters success for over a century and a half until it spectacularly evaporates in the 2008 global economic crisis (playbill).
The play, by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben power, is directed by Sam Mendes (1917, Spectre, American Beauty etc). Mendes’ approach is fairly paired back, choosing to cast just three actors to represent the titular roles. There is no fuss, just three actors, glass walls, a few boxes and tables and chairs creating an incredibly intimate tone as the audience peer in at the making and breaking of a family. The actors often don’t change costume either showing three men ageing, new generations emerging and the world around them rapidly changing.
It is performed by three actors: Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown etc), Adam Godley and Ben Miles who each play one of the Lehman brothers and various other characters throughout. I know that sounds a little strange and I thought it would be difficult to really get into the story if the actors are constantly changing characters but it didn’t feel awkward or confusing at all. Simon Russell Beale was particularly fantastic in it, putting on different voices and completely changing his posture and his mannerisms, physically embodying each character as he shifted through them. It also allowed for some comic moments when an actor acted out a character that you didn’t expect them too – you may notice that there are no female actors but women were not absent from their story.
The set was also ingenious, having a rotating glass box on set which contained three rooms – each containing either cardboard boxes or tables. There seemed to be a theme of threes in this play – 3 actors, 3 brothers, 3 rooms, 3 acts, a trilogy. It was also three hours long.
The length was of some concern to my sister, who did not find the play as enjoyable as I did. There are two intervals but the length can mean that you have to be prepared as an audience member to focus for three hours. The play consists of a lot of dialogue so you need to listen to understand the plot which I know some people are not fans of for such a long period of time – it’s the same reason that a lot of people are put off of watching Hamlet.
Overall, to quote The Times this play really does show ‘Theatre at its best’. Mendes paired back approach, combined with a compelling and complex story and incredible acting by all three actors makes this a really enjoyable, thought provoking theatre-going experience.
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A few weeks ago I saw Uncle Vanya, it is a Chekov play about a crumbling family, described on their website –
“In the heat of summer, Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) and her Uncle Vanya (Toby Jones) while away their days on a crumbling estate deep in the countryside, visited occasionally by only the local doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage). However, when Sonya’s father Professor Serebryakov (Ciarán Hinds) suddenly returns with his restless, alluring, new wife (Rosalind Eleazar) declaring his intention to sell the house, the polite facades crumble and long repressed feelings start to emerge with devastating consequences.”
In Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of the play, directed by Ian Rickson, Chekov’s story gets a more modern reboot despite being set in the 18th/19th century. The two ‘big names’ in it are Toby Jones who plays Uncle Vanya and Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, North and South, The Stranger etc.) plays Astrov, the doctor. Both performances are brilliant and Toby Jones portrayal of a man in bottled up anger, madness and betrayal is very moving. Armitage’s character in comparison is very surgical and precise in expressing his emotions, but the suppression of the feelings of pain at seeing so much suffering (a little like PTSD) is profound. Aimie Lou Wood, for me, however was the star of the show, her portrayal of Sonya is truly tragic – the character ends up much in the position as Uncle Vanya yet she is the one that bottles up her emotions and helps him to get on with life.
The concept of the play is a bit like a tornado has hit, it begins and ends almost the same way with the action stemming from the arrival of the professor and his wife. Then the action disappears when they leave but the family still have to deal with the repercussions and the effect these two people have had upon them. The tone is definitely a tragic one, but there are moments of comedy especially at the beginning through Uncle Vanya’s character who attempts to bring some lightheartedness to the situation.
The staging is beautiful, it looks like something out of a renaissance painting with plants and chandeliers hanging. The way they have used lighting as well was genius, using the weather to reflect the mood of the scene. In times of joy, the set was illuminated with a warm light whereas in times of pain and sorrow, the stage is dimly lit and cold.
In terms of price it wasn’t too costly. We got the cheapest tickets at £15 so we were right at the back but the view wasn’t that restricted. It is quite steep seating in the Harold Pinter Theatre though, so if you’re not a fan of heights I would probably recommend going for seats closer to the stage although they are more expensive. We went on opening night too so I was surprised we managed to find tickets that cheap, when we arrived they had the red carpet rolled out with people having champagne and press photos taken of the celebrity guests who were there.
Overall, everything about this play is so beautifully set out and it had been given a very modern reboot although set in an 18th century style. The play itself is thought provoking but if you like stories to have more movement with characters going on more of a journey arriving at a different destination, so to speak, this might not be for you.
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Last Wednesday I saw Upstart Crow at the Gielgud theatre in London. It is an adaptation of the tv sitcom of the same name. Inspired by the critique by Robert Green in his pamphlet ‘Groatsworth of Wit’, The play as with the series was written by Ben Elton and so it very much had the same tone as the series if not a little more political and more energetic in the play version. The play is packed with references to William Shakespeare’s plays* however you don’t need to be a Shakespeare fanatic to enjoy the play. There are many Shakespeare ‘inside jokes’ so some knowledge might heighten your experience but mainly the comedy is aimed at ridiculing general views of Shakespeare and of the politics in Shakespeare’s time and of ours. So if you are a huge fan of Shakespeare and his plays I would urge you to check it out as it looks at some real events of his life and suggests ways in which these events may have inspired his plays.
Ben Elton also wrote the 2018 film All is True starring (Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian Mckellan) which is based on the final years of Shakespeare life. The film has a much darker, sadder tone to the series and to this play which is much more lighthearted but this interrogation of Shakespeare’s life and the way his life events influenced him really seeps into the play in a way that I don’t think that the series does quite as often. Set after the death of Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet, the play still focuses a little on the impact this tragic life event had on him and his writing.
The play was performed by the original cast of the BBC television series featuring David Mitchell in the role of William Shakespeare who completely embodies the bard with his high forehead and indulging in all of the stereotypes and assumptions of the playwright. Gemma Whelan was also incredible in her role as Kate, bringing awareness to the harsh reality of the position that women had in the Elizabethan/ Jacobean era with comic flare. She acts as Shakespeare’s confidante and as the source of Shakespeare’s genius, almost adhering to the saying that ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ which adds to the plays political underbelly.
If you are a fan of the series and expect to see Ann Shakespeare though you may be disappointed as she doesn’t make an appearance as with the series – Elton has chosen to write her as avoiding Will Shakespeare because of the poems. Other than that though, the play really is mostly a longer (100 minutes) version of an episode in the series which means that Elton has been able to explore in more depth more of Shakespeare’s plays and the influences for it. The play is written so that audience members of any age should be able to enjoy it or at least find certain moments comical.
Directed by Sean Foley, the staging also sets out to ridicule the limitations of realism on stage choosing to use a similar set up to the set design of the series. But because there are no cuts or edits that can be made with a play Foley uses the staging to add an extra comic element almost similar, although much more subtle, to that of The Play that goes Wrong.
“Theatre goers can look forward to a comedy steeped in authentic shakespearean ambience in every way apart from the smell”
David Mitchell, UpstartCrowComedy.com
One question many people have asked me is if you can enjoy it without liking Shakespeare that much and I would say that as David Mitchell has said that it very Shakespearean and it is about his life and his work. However, many of the jokes come from general fairly well known assumptions about Shakespeare so I do think it would still be enjoyable if you are not Shakespeare’s number one fan.
Overall it was a really enjoyable night at the theatre, producing many genuine belly laughs from the audience. But it’s not only funny, Elton really pushes to expose some issues in our society and to make you think about representation in the entertainment industry by making us look at the past, the play makes us look at our present. The play is only on for a short run ending on the 25th of April 2020 at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End.
*Mainly Othello, Twelfth night and King Lear with a little bit of Hamlet and reference to the histories.
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Last Friday, The True History of The Kelly Gang, a drama/crime film directed by Justin Kurzel (who also directed Macbeth(2015)) was released. The film is an adaptation of the book by Peter Cary, the plot is described as –
“Set against the badlands of colonial Australia where the English rule with a bloody fist and the Irish endure, Ned Kelly (George MacKay) discovers he comes from a line of Irish rebels called the Sons of Sieve, an uncompromising army of cross dressing bandits immortalized for terrorizing their oppressors back in Ireland. Nurtured by the notorious bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe) and fueled by the unfair arrest of his mother, Ned Kelly recruits a wild bunch of warriors to plot one of the most audacious attacks of anarchy and rebellion the country has ever seen.”
The film is loosely about true events although the film states in the first frame that nothing you are about to watch is true then continuing ironically into the next slide with the title stating that it is a ‘True History’. Although the film is about the Australian outlaw and bushranger, the film focuses more on the questions of who is telling the story, why they are telling it and questioning whether it is the truth after all whose to say what is the truth. It deals with misinformation and appropriation of history in the context of the time of one of Australias most legendary figures (in which there is a lot of speculation surrounding it). Ned Kelly is revered as a hero due to his defiance against discrimination and corruption but he was also a convicted police murderer – the film looks at how figures of history are perceived based on the perspective that is given. In this film Ned Kelly ‘writes his own history’ in writing to his unborn daughter suggesting that in order to acquire the truth we must also write our own and share our own personal perspectives.
I saw the film at Picturehouse, Fulham Road and there was a Q&A with George Mackay who plays Ned Kelly and Earl Cave who plays one of his brothers, Dan Kelly, afterwards. Many people in the audience who asked questions were Australian which made me and my friend, Helen, who I went with think even more about the importance of a film like this one because as British people we had not heard a lot about Ned Kelly. Whereas for Australians, Ned Kelly is this icon whose stories are legend a little like our Robin Hood or America’s Jesse James. And yet the Australian history is also a lot to do with British history – it was the Irish convicts who were sent over with English guards who often were violent and ruthless. One of the questions we asked was what the actors had learnt about the actual true history of the Kelly Gang. They said that a lot of the research they did was more into the Irish background of the family and into Irish politics in the late 1800’s. Mackay told how when speaking to an Irish guide before filming that he realised how little he actually knew of Irish politics beginning to talk about the ‘Protestants and the catholics’ and then realising that his knowledge ended there. Similarly, Helen and I thought about how little we knew of a country who is in part a part of Great Britain and a country that is so close to ours. We are given select pieces of history growing up, never given the full picture or the multiple perspectives that history has.
In the Q&A, the actors also brought up their nationalities – both are English although MacKay did seem to try to push the fact that he has some Australian heritage. It’s interesting because this also adds to the fact that English people are still playing a part in telling Ned Kelly’s story. Perhaps Kerzel purposefully cast the film in order to show that change still needs to take place.
Ned Kelly is portrayed in a very human way looking at him as a child (played by Orlando Shwerdt whose performance is phenomonal, he completely embodies the characteristics of older Ned ) and showing him becoming a ‘man’. The older Ned is played by MacKay who is also excellent in it, physically embodying the character (if you have seen the film you’ll know what I mean when you see the part in front of the Union Jack) and adding a level of emotion you wouldn’t expect contrasting a very masculine presence with a much softer inner one.
The film also stars Russel Crowe as Harry Power, a character that acts as a little comic relief in the film and acts as Ned Kellys teacher on how to be a ‘man’ and the gang leader he was going to become.The film also focuses a lot on portrayals of Australian masculinity, it shows these gang members who wear dresses into battle claiming that nothing scares a man like seeming feminine or seeming in madness.
I thought that there were quite a few similarities with William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in this regard. Like Hamlet, Ned Kelly in this film goes seemingly mad in order to deal with the situation that has been presented to him – both characters have to detach themselves in order to take action. Also like in Hamlet there are a lot of deaths, and this is quite a gory film (given an 18 rating for a reason) showing explicitly how some of the characters were killed.
Due to this violent and chaotic approach critics on Rotten Tomatoes have said that
“Its unusual approach won’t be for all viewers, but True History of the Kelly Gangtakes a distinctively postmodern look at Australia’s past.”
Rotten tomatoes (81%)
I would agree with this as I know some people might find some of the scenes to gory or too explicitly violent. Helen and I did leave the cinema feeling a little baffled by it but in a good way I think because it really made you think as a viewer about what you had just seen. Afterwards we had to sit down to have a chat and unpack it – personally I love films that give that affect because they really make you think and have an impact on you.
Overall, this was a really great movie that I feel everyone should watch even if its just to get the message of it. I truly have never seen a film like it, a film that demands so much from its audience; demanding for you to not be escaping within its world but to be wary of the fictional quality of the story. A mindset that is so important for now in our world of ‘fake news’ and rapid consumerism of so called facts.
Revision sometimes can feel like a huge mountain to climb as you look at the piles of notes you’ve made throughout the year (hopefully!) and wonder where on earth to begin. Here are a few of my tips I have acquired from years of revising for GCSE and A level that hopefully may help you take the first steps to tackling that mountain.
Download a free app to help you focus and not get distracted from the notifications pinging up or your own temptation to have a “little” scroll on your instagram feed! – One of my favourites which I recently discovered from a friend is Flora, an app which you can set the time you want to spend revising and will block any notifications from coming on your phone. You are also ‘growing’ a tree whilst you focus, if you break your target focus time the tree will die – you can even put money on it as extra motivation for you not to break focus! It’s even great for the environment because the money you loose goes to planting real trees around the world. This app is also great because you are creating a competition with yourself, the more you focus the more trees you will ‘grow’ and the further you can ‘travel’ around the world. Perhaps not the best of descriptions but download the app for free and you can discover for yourself what I mean.
2. Start with the subject/topic you are WORST at. Tackle the most difficult topics first by making summaries, drawing diagrams if it is a difficult concept or creating mind maps that you can plaster all over your wall. If you aren’t sure which topics to begin with do a whole bunch of practice questions then mark it yourself to see where there are areas you aren’t picking up the marks and make a list with a tally beside it – often you may see a pattern begin to form, the one with the highest tally is the topic to start with!
3. Snacks. You need fuel when revising so choose a snack of choice (like peanuts, fruit or these incredible Biscuiteers biscuits which my Mum Kindly gave me to wish me good luck (a great gift if you know someone going through exams in the near future)). Obviously, healthier snacks are better for your brain but lets be honest, when slaving away over your revision notes fruit and veg isn’t often the snack thats going to keep us going is it? Sometimes id even use food as a work and reward system – so I’d set maybe 40 minutes on my timer (refer to my first tip), then once I had completed it reward myself with a slice of cake or a biscuit – I didn’t do this all the time but sometimes when you really need a motivational boost this would really help. Similarly id do this with other things I love like revise for 5 hours then id allow myself to watch a film or go to the cinema. Try out whatever works for you and motivates you to keep going!
4. Keep your big WHY in your mind at all times.
Maybe create a vision board for you to look at to remind you exactly WHY you are putting yourself through this. Your ‘BIG WHY’ can be anything from a dream career, or to get into your dream university or simply to give you more options in your life. Collect images of everything you love or want from your future and stick them in a notebook or on a big piece of paper and figure out exactly what you want from your life – this doesn’t mean you have to have your whole life figured out! Who knows where we are going to be in 5, 10, 20 years time – we don’t know where life will take us or what we will want then, but we can figure out what we love now and have a few ideas of things we might want then. For me, I would gather pictures of travelling, of books (because I want to study English literature) of art, of films and writers, of inspiring quotes, of the sky (because it makes me feel calm), of clothes I wish I could afford, of places I would dream of living in etc. We are all different and have different things that drive us to do the things we do – do you want to be wealthy, do you want to lead a creative life, do you want to lead a stress-free life, do you want to own your own business, do you want to make a change? There are so many questions to ask yourself about what YOU want from life. And the answers to these questions will help you figure out your ‘why’ and this should help motivate you to keep going through your studies.
5. Test yourself frequently.
This may sound obvious but often this is the step we forget, we end up bogged down by all our revision notes that we don’t really know what we know and we don’t. What I did was revise a topic, make notes on a mind map, watch a ‘Snaprevise video’ then sit with a blank piece of paper and my spec and write out all that I can remember. Where there are areas I know I have forgotten i’d put a line or write in a different colour ‘something about….’ then go back to it at the end saying the pieces of information over and over in my head and rewriting it out. Its also a good idea to do past paper questions so that you can think like the examiner and feel more prepared, Snap revise is really good for this too because after going over a topic they will guide you through some potential past paper questions showing how they got to their answer and how to approach different kinds of questions. (I only used Snaprevise for Biology though, so I wouldn’t be able to say how useful it is for any other subject – I chose not to use it for English Lit because English is more of an ‘opinion forming’ subject, as in there is no definitive answer.
A few Subject Specific tips…
I studied English Literature, Biology and Art at A level, three very different subjects I know, and each required very different revision methods.
For English I found it useful watching adaptations for the plays, the more the better particularly as for our exam board we got marked for our wider reading, and also summary videos (the best ones I found were by Crash Course literature on YouTube – they also gave you critical opinions which were really useful). My second tip would be to talk to some of your classmates, talking to other people about the books you are studying means you can share ideas and gain some you hadn’t though of or be able to argue their opinion – a line of argument you could potentially use in your exam. My third and final tip would be to do as many past paper questions as you can, even if you just do essay plans, just so you can get to grips with quickly forming ideas and a line of argument.
For Biology, Its all about ensuring you really understand and remember the content and that you are able to know exactly what the examiner wants from the questions in your answers. For me, my best friend was Snaprevise as they went through example questions and really quickly summarised all the topics linking them to all the other topics at the same time. I also went to a SnapRevise course in London at Imperial Collage earlier this year for some extra revision – they were really long days but I do feel that it was real helpful although it wasn’t exam board specific like the videos so occasionally I did find myself thinking ‘Do I need to know this? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before’ so I did have to clarify a few things with my teacher after.
Art is mostly coursework so the biggest piece of advice I have is to keep on top of it – i’m a fairly fast worker so for me it was mostly about keeping up a certain standard of quality in my work but so many others struggled with the sheer volume of work to do.
So that is my top 5 tips (with a few extra!), I hope they were helpful, if you have any specific questions then feel free to leave them in the comments below 🙂
And if you are doing exams or are expecting results this summer – Good Luck!!!
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