Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
Animals has a curdled heart. The play peeks into a dystopian future where anyone over 70 is ruthlessly terminated by the state unless their surviving relatives pay a hefty 'sentimental attachment fee'. Children are kept in a state of arrested development until their 18th birthday, spending their ignorant days literally swaddled in bubble wrap. Adults don't have it too much better, segregated by their economic utility and encouraged not to think - problematic individuals relegated to the level of 'comfort boys/girls' - or state sanctioned prostitutes.
Emma Adams' play follows a small group of people scratching out an existence in this nightmare world. The majority of the action takes place in the mouldy flat of Norma Pratt (Marlene Sidaway). At 77 she's a prime target for the deathsquads, surviving through a combination of self-confinement, incompetent officials and forged paperwork. She's a canny, domineering woman, easily cowing her 59 year old live-in helper Joy (Sadie Shimmin). Together with their next door neighbour, Helen (Cara Chase), the three make an uneasy trio - each conscious of their own impending execution by economics.
Outside this dingy little bubble there's bubbly Maya (Milly Thomas), who we're shocked to realise is just one day away from her 18th birthday. Despite her age she behaves as if she's about ten, dancing around like a hyperactive child. Her father, Noah (Steve Hansell), works as an inspector within the Utility Force, filling forms and checking boxes that dictate life and death.
|L-R: Steve Hansell, Cara Chase, Sadie Shimmin and Marlene Sidaway|
Adams' future Britain is the logical conclusion of the current Coalition government's propaganda. Their language of strivers and scroungers cuts ragged gashes across the whole of society, not only making implicit moral judgments on a person's worth vis a vis their contribution to the economy, but encouraging infectious divisions between the haves and have nots. Being told you're a striver is the political equivalent of a soapy titwank: "You work so hard, you should be so proud of yourself! You deserve everything!". Compare this to the demonisation of those on benefits, caricatured as feckless lumps of flesh.
This terrifying society is what happens when the economic rules of the market are applied to everyday life, something that's an ever-growing trend in the neo-liberal dogma that runs right through mainstream politics. What's being taught is an insidious lesson that you are a product to be marketed, other people are products to be acquired and our personal value is dictated to us by the slippery intangibility of the marketplace.
In this world the social infection is so far gone that there can be no heroes. Everybody has absorbed the system of treating other human beings like chattel to such a degree that the most obscene acts become possible. These elderly women aren't heroines or freedom fighters, their story a lesson that to thrive within a monstrous system one must become a monster.
So yeah. It's a pretty cool piece of theatre. The entire cast acquit themselves well in the roles, with particular credit to Cara Chase and Milly Thomas. Chase cooks up a devilishly fun character in Helen; at first pleasant and upbeat, but then displaying a stone-cold survival instinct. I've seen few more memorable sights in theatre this year than Chase feverishly hoovering up a bag of 'billy' in an attempt to energise herself. Milly Thomas also impresses with her manic bundle of sweetness and light. Her Maya is adorable, but it's a skincrawlingly awkward adorable with a gross core of paedophilic just-plain-wrong right at the centre. She manages to pitch the character somewhere between sympathy and sadism - the audience basically wants Maya to be alright, but we don't mind too much if she gets traumatised along the way.
The only criticisms I can muster is a slight sagginess in the final act. Throughout the first act things are gradually building to some grotesque reveals, but once the cat is out of the bag there's a some unnecessary wheelspinning before the curtain. Similarly, despite the performances being uniformly great, the cast haven't quite gelled yet - though I'm confident this will happen as the run continues.
Animals is as funny as it is relevant, with a malevolent streak a mile wide. with its willingness to get weird, creative and disgusting it hit all my critical bases. A winner.
Animals is at Theatre503 until 2nd May 2015. Tickets here.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Monday, April 13, 2015 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
The greatest crime that The Three Lions commits is lodging Baddiel and Skinner's song of the same name firmly on my head. For three days now that earworm has been munching its way through my brain, showing no signs of the same name. But this song, hailing British sporting accomplishment and massaging patriotic fervour, is the perfect accompaniment to this satirical play that examines a puffed up and pompous Britain's place on the world stage.
Set behind the scenes of England's abortive bid for the 2018 World Cup, we follow the bizarre trio of David Cameron (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), Prince William (Tom Davey) and David Beckham (Sean Browne). These three titanic egos, equally uncomfortable with the other's presence, are forced to combine their talents on (what we know to be) an utterly doomed venture. They're aided by obsequious hotel aide Ashok (Ravi Aujla) and unassertive PA Penny (Antonia Kinley).
Along the way lie trouser malfunctions, indignant Australians, greedy FIFA officials, imaginary corgis, hilarious pranks and, overseeing everything, the spectre of Rupert Murdoch - the bane of all three men. Knowing that their frantic efforts to secure the bid are pointless makes this a study in failure; our pleasure coming from watching these three rub up against each other in increasingly ridiculous ways.
There's a strong whiff of The Thick of It in The Three Lions. A typical plot in Armando Iannucci's wonderful TV show sees high profile men running as fast as they can to stay in the same place, their efforts to contain the situation only making it worse. It's classic farce, with the acidic edge that these men are purportedly the cream of Britain's elite and run our lives. Another similarity is The Three Lions dogged avoidance of ideology. While Cameron, William and (to a lesser extent) Beckham are political figures, they're presented first and foremost as fallible, clumsy and rather dim human beings.
In concert, they very faintly resemble the Two Ronnies famous 'class' sketch. With his ancestry of Lords and Ladies it's a stretch to paint David Cameron as a representative of the middle classes, but he's bumbling, self importantly incompetent, so the shoe fits. Bruce Lockhart's Cameron is the type to be constant rolling his sleeves up, deploying carefully considered dynamic body language, over-enunciating each word and using knackered management techniques on the two men. He's man torn in two, caught between the twin poles of William's ultraestablishment injokes (the two perform a sickmaking Eton schoolboy dance) and Beckham's enviable popularity and celebrity.
Davey's William is slightly less complex, essentially an embryonic Prince Charles. He's eager to be seen as 'one of the lads', but ends up as a kind of embarrassing Dad-to-the-country. Acutely embarrassed that his status in society is entirely founded on his relatives, he tetchily defending himself by exclaiming that flying a helicopter is "really hard!" But lurking under the surface of his everyman act is snippy pedantry - he constantly corrects both Cameron and Beckham on their speech, as if he can't resist displaying superiority over them.
This makes Beckham, uncannily played by Browne, as the most likeable of the bunch. Sure he's a shallow moron, but at least he's a harmless shallow moron. Key to Brown's performance is the mastery of the Beckham eyebrows, teased and taut as if directly connected to the cogs in his head. His frequent pauses to process new information give him a doglike aura, practically cocking his head with curiosity as he struggles with basic maths. This open idiocy exposes the concealed idiocy of Cameron and William, dragging them both down with him.
It's Beckham that gets most of the big laughs in the show, one of the best simply being the first time he talks. Browne is possessed with uncanny comic timing and good looks that fall just on right side of silly, imbuing Beckham with a weird vulnerable nobility. It's as if he knows he's not too smart, yet has turned that negative into a positive. Compared to him, the other two are somewhat less dramatically chewy. Davey's William compares badly with Oliver Chris' portrayal in Prince Charles III earlier this year, recognisable but blurred. Meanwhile, Cameron is suitably detestable, but the portrayal is a bit one note.
Worst of all is Aujla's hotel attendant Ashok, who spends the entire play talking in a cringeworthily broad comedy Indian accent. Whenever the character is on stage the laughs drain from the room as he painstakingly picks through slow monologues that takes for-goddamn-ever to get to the point. That he's clearly intended to be annoying doesn't make his presence any more pleasant to be around.
This lands The Three Lions firmly in 'pretty good' territory. There are moments of subtle cleverness like the expanding/contracting hotel rooms that signify each character's status, and at least ten really great jokes. But there's a sense that something is imperceptibly amiss in the way the three performers mesh together, together with a script that goes for the easy laugh a couple of times too many. Far from a disaster, but not exactly must-see material either.
Three Lions is at the St James Theatre until 2 May 2015. Tickets here.
- by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
With the General Election just 23 days away, it's time to meet the candidates. And so, to Bentham Community Centre. Tucked away off Essex Road, the place is far from the oak-panelled opulence of Westminster, coming with a clickety-clack wooden floor, a stage covered in donated children's toys and the sweet smell of marijuana wafting through the open windows. It's in this pleasantly community minded setting that those desperate for our vote were greeted out into a sea of sceptical faces.
The hustings, organised by Islington Private Tenants, focused on housing, an issue that we're told anyone looking to represent this constituency will have to learn a lot about awfully quickly. Islington South & Finsbury is ground zero for London's housing crisis: skyrocketing house prices have made the ownership a pipe dream for all but the richest inhabitants, leaving the rest of us easy prey for predatory landlords with a penchant for raising rents whenever possible.
Not only that; we have to deal with the ever-shrinking pool of social housing; having whatever social housing does exist falling apart; new build developments having a laughable amount of 'affordable' flats; corrupt officials squirrelling away funds; housing associations behaving more like property developers; and a spate of unlawful evictions.
Here we have those that want to represent our interests on the national stage. They are; the incumbent Emily Thornberry for Labour, Mark Lim for the Conservatives, Charlie Kiss for the Greens, Terry Stacy for the Lib Dems and Pete Muswell for UKIP. Surely this ambitious, aspirational gathering can present us with some solutions. If not, maybe they can at least point us in the right direction? If not even that, then maybe a smidge of hope that one day things will get a tiny bit better. R-right?
The candidates can roughly be separated into two groups. Half of them have spent their political careers elbow deep in the morass of housing issues, eventually realising, with faint exasperation, the limits of their powers. Emily Thornberry and Terry Stacey land firmly in this camp, with Charlie Kiss of the Greens shortly behind them. These three at least appear ed to have comprehensive first hand experience of what's going on in this constituency.
But, like King Canute in front of the oncoming tide, they're powerless in the face of national trends. It's as if their power is limited to political Whack-A-Mole, bashing individual problems as they poke their heads up. Theirs is a frustration borne of knowing precisely what the problems are, but being unable to address the root policies and economic trends that cause to them. That said, the three do make vaguely promising rumblings on repealing the bedroom tax, limiting rent increases to the rate of inflation and bolstering tenant's rights.
On the other side are Mark Lim and Pete Muswell, although to be fair to the Conservative candidate lumping him in with UKIP feels a bit unfair even to me. The obviously bored Lim, knowing his chances of winning this seat election are zero, plays it safe and keeps his mouth shut. As he gives us a dead-eyed stare you can imagine his hopes that, after suffering the slings and arrows of a doomed Islington campaign, Conservative Head Office may deign to put him forward for some cosy seat in the English shires.
But Lim looks positively statesmanlike in comparison to Pete Muswell of UKIP, an out and out moron. When he's not playing with his mobile phone he's spouting rambling, half-baked rhetoric with little or no relation to the question asked. Displaying open contempt for the audience from the moment he arrives (late, natch), he spins a xenophobic narrative that lays all of Islington's ills at the feet of the dreaded immigrant. Why, if we could only somehow cleanse our constituency of these freeloading outsiders our problems would be solved! Muswell's nadir comes when he describes rent controls as the gateway to a "Communist state", drawing titters from the entire room. He's later seen trying to hand out UKIP literature to the crowd, dismissively accusing anyone who turns him down of having a closed mind.
Mixed in with the interesting questions are some passionate arguments and one or two genuinely moving stories, in particular Carol (@MeMyMouldandI), who's fighting a desperate battle against a moldy basement flat. After suffering a myriad of health problems, nothing appears to be done about her problems. Both Emily Thornberry and Terry Stacy appeared aware of her case, but the fact that the mould still grows is a sad indictment of bureaucratic incompetence in Islington's housing.
Carol's case is a symptom of wider issues, but the winner of this election will at least have the power to beat back these symptoms. But, from what I gathered last night, no matter who wins, the root causes of Islington's myriad housing problems are likely to remain (and let's face it, probably worsen), for the foreseeable future.
So an interesting, but not particularly optimistic, night of politics.
Thanks to Islington Private Tenants for organising the night.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Sunday, April 12, 2015 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
As I watched a man beat himself over the head with a cymbal, I wondered just what the hell I'm doing here. Most people are probably tucked up on their sofas watching Masterchef or something, while I'm stood in the back room of a pub watching listening to a cacophonous atonal din punctuated by minor acts of mutilation. This, combined with beetle-ish paper scluttings, biorhythmic koto projects, lectures on injection moulding and freakshow prawn-stars (among many other things) comprises Cerebellum, a live art project that straddles London and Hastings.
Packed behind the red curtain of The Stag's Head was an tonne of fascinating art, not just the performances, but self contained exhibits and a plethora of displayed art on the walls. With this much on I can't cover everything - so here's my favourites.
Taking the prize for most cryptic use of materials was Sadie Edginton with room-spanning creative performance. Working with plastic wrap, a roll of paper, charcoal, water and a Styrofoam buoy her dog found on the beach, she explored the idea of 'artist-as-implement'. Dividing the crowd in two she rolled plastic wrap down the middle of the room and sprinkled water on top. Then she affixed a sheet of paper to her back and scuttled across the room, the white paper looking like an insectoid carapace as it unfolded behind her. Following that she worked back and forth, chipping charcoal on the floor, gradually creating a series of smudged black lines across the paper.
It reminded me of a performance of hers that I participated in about a year ago - I was wrapped up in paper and rolling around back and forth on the floor, repetition gradually destroying raw materials. A similar process happened here; the paper becoming torn and ripped, the charcoal ground into dust - even the artist herself getting grimy. I also enjoyed the idea of visually revealing a person's impact on their environment, grooves and erosion that could take years to be revealed happening in the space of a couple of minutes.
Next up was Hysteresis, who are event organiser Charlotte CHW and Jason Williams. The performance began with Charlotte emerging from a paper chrysalis while singing a creepily off-key cover of Smokey Robinson's Tears of a Clown. As weird as that was, it was nothing compared to what was to come. Taking to the stage, the two began viciously assaulting a variety of instruments and objects. An electric guitar got the worst treatment, emitting steady shrieks of pain as it was brutalised every which way by first Charlotte, and then Jason.
Things got increasingly more demented from then on. A gigantic lump of clay thudded rhythmically into the stage, knobs were twiddled and boxes were beaten. Some kind of gigantic home-made stringed instrument was produced from backstage and first played, then thwomped onto the stage in a clatter of bolts. It was at this point that heads began poking through the curtain, the pub locals wondering what the fuck was making such a din. This was capped off with Charlotte stumbling off stage, a hypnotic daze in her eyes. Jason had some part of a lamp attached to him and was beating his head with a cymbal - leaving a solitary trickle of blood down his face.
Despite all the mayhem, I found this performance quite relaxing. As with Sadie's performance, creation/destruction neatly dovetails into one another. Even as the objects on stage (and the performers) undergo violent transformation, fresh sounds and motions poke through like green shoots. It's also a pleasantly honest performance, both performers quickly transitioning into a reflexive, instinctive processes that're completely ego free. It got a deservedly impressed round of applause.
My favourite of the night was Eleanor Fogg's facial projection performance. Sat in front of a three panelled makeup mirror, she placed a miniature projector on the table and invited the audience onto the stage. To the sounds of what (I'm told was) a warped, time-shifted version of No Doubt's Don't Speak, we shuffled around, looking at the illuminated face in the mirror.
Then her features melted, shifted and rearranged before our eyes. It was an astonishingly effective and hallucinogenic performance: eyebrows becoming bushy, lips plumping to engorged redness, eyes sprouting from the side of her head, a beard morphing out of her cheeks. Using a projector in this fashion is a deceptively simple idea - a concept that must have been done before. But to see it done with such precision and artistry blew my mind.
At the core of the piece is an exploration of identity and gender in the digital age. As we blankly stare into our 'black mirror' screens we can become whoever we want - sultry vixen, bearded philosopher, old man, immature child, violent psychopath - the list of possible personae limited only to our imaginations. Here we see this process visualised; versions of the artist swimming in fluid motion across her face. Beautiful, moving and so damn good.
Those three were my favourites, though it'd be remiss of me not to mention Pulses, Michelle Lewis-King and Sumie Kent's collaboration. After taking pulse readings from six members of the audience (including myself) they were interpreted as beautifully improvised music by Kent. Watching someone so skilful at work is pleasure enough for me, the intense concentration and creative skill a pleasure to watch in a pub backroom.
Similarly enjoyable was Jasmine Lee's prawn performance.This cocktail of maternal/cannibalistic love is precisely as enjoyable as when I saw it at What the Fuck Is Love?" a month or so ago. Samuel Hailey-Watts also gave a masterfully dull slide-based lecture on injection moulding, achieving an almost transcendental level of perfect boredom.
By the time the night was up I knew exactly why I come to nights like this; because they're cool as all hell. Who on earth would want to be slumped over a ready meal, hoovering up crap TV when they could be out watching awesome people do awesome things? Boring people - that's who. And they were in mercifully short supply at Cerebellum.
Cerebellum continues in Hastings with:
12th April Exhibition continues 11am-5pm with an artist’s roundtable at 2pm
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
From minute one Dorian Gray is at pains to expose its own artifice. Another Soup pride themselves on their use of 'Brechtian Immersion', drawing us into Wilde's luxuriously amoral fiction while constantly reminding us that we're watching a play. From the moment we enter we're hurried by the cast to find a place to sit, the space dotted with armchairs, comfy seats and steps. I end up sitting practically in the middle of the stage, resulting in the play becoming a minor act of contortion as I crane my neck to follow the cast as they swirl about me.
At a shade under 90 minutes the script takes extreme liberties with the source material, essentially condensing it down to a series of vignettes. So we see the angelic Dorian's (Samuel Woodham) introduction to polite society, during which he's hungrily eyed by the diabolical Lord Henry Wotton (Thomas Judd). With Wotton's clawed hand comfortably resting on his shoulder, Dorian's soul begins to rot. All too soon he's a hardcore aesthete, gazing at a portrait of himself and casually selling his soul on a wish to remain forever young.
As time ticks on Dorian's corruption becomes self-sustaining. In this condensed form the night descends into a whirlwind of fragmented sin. One minute he's callously leading his would-be fiancee towards suicide, the next he's half-hearted seducing and murdering people - flicking a knife between his victim's shoulderblades as casually as he might flick a mote of dust from his suit jacket.
Much of this is conveyed through some rather Sondheim-ish songs. With Felicity Sparks on piano (with violin accompaniment by Isaac Lusher), the jagged, lightly satirical lyrics paint a portrait of an cruel world where words are lethal weapons and reputation is everything. These lyrics are spiky and fun, the entire cast (but especially Judd) taking obvious pleasure in each mannered enunciation and rhyme.
Though it's a happy coincidence, the face that Dorian Gray shares a space with In Your Face Theatre's excellent Trainspotting ends up giving this adaptation a dab more relevance. At first glance, you'd expect the heroin squat marker pen knobs and exhortations to 'Listen to the KLF!' to mildly spoil the audience's immersion. In fact, in an appropriately Brechtian twist, the artifice reminds us that the amorality of Dorian Gray isn't a Victorian aberration, more part of a continuity of cruel decadence that extends to the modern day. In Thomas Judd's opening monologue we're lectured about vice, explaining that for all our modern MDMA and heroin, the Victorians did it first (and better). Both Trainspotting and Dorian Gray take vice's destructive effects as a starting point, each exploring the corruptive influences of solipsism.
Another Soup's adaptation is at pains to emphasise the class differences between Dorian, Wotton and the working class Londoners he exploits. Most moving is the plight of Felicity Kerwin's music hall star Sybil Vane, moving amongst the audience and distributed faded flowers. Entranced by her Prince Charming, she's used up and spat out, dying an ignominious, barely regarded death. Indeed, Dorian leaves a path of destruction in his wake, and who'd suspect a face like his?
Who indeed? Filtered through the beautiful yet sphinxlike face of Samuel Woodham, Dorian appears utterly bored with both virtue and sin, blankly staring at us with dead-eyed unenthusiasm. Given that Wilde's book can easily be enjoyed as a supernatural power fantasy that lets us imagine what we might do if we were given life both eternal and free of consequences, his joylessness is disarming.
I think Another Soup are aiming to deconstruct the idea of Dorian as prototypical Nietzschean ubermensch, connecting his predatory urges to modern day upper class sociopathy. In the high collars, tailed jackets and smug smiles there's visual echoes of the famous Bullingdon Club photos of the current government, both they and Dorian preying on those lower down the social scale and never suffering the consequences. Making Dorian beautiful but genuinely unpleasant, the audience not even allowed the sop of vicarious pleasure in his crimes, distances us from him. The effect that we examine Wilde's story coldly and critically, resisting the urge to be seduced by the beauty and glitz.
Also, this is simply a damn fun way to spend 90 minutes. Rumbling along at whipcrack pace, we're tossed like a pinball between humour, melancholy and sexual kink. My only real criticism is the mystifying decision to have Dorian's portrait remain identical to when we first see it. The characters react to it with horror, as if it's changed beyond recognition - but it's exactly the same. Maybe there's some wider point being made here, but it feels a bit cheap to build up anticipation for no reason. Still, aside from that - good times.
Dorian Gray is at the King's Head Theatre until 12 April 2015. Tickets here.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
"Jauja isn’t for everyone. This is an art western that revels in cryptic, languid surrealism, giving short shrift to conventional narrative and characterization. In short, you’ve got to have an appetite for watching a forlorn man painstakingly stumble up a rocky hill, and then down the other side. Then up another hill. And back down again. A dog shows up. More clambering. That’s Jauja, folks
Wait! Come back! It’s actually really good! Despite director Lisandro Alonso’s disregard for propulsive storytelling and snappy dialogue, Jauja is a gripping, beautiful experience, complete with a magnetic lead performance by Viggo Mortenson."
Jauja is released 10th April 2015
- by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
Almost a year ago I attended Cerebellum, my friend Charlotte CHW's performance art evening. Now, Cerebellum returns! Split between Hastings and London, I'm sure the place will witness all manner of imaginative, odd, profound and mind-bending examples of cutting edge performance (and other) art. So check it out! I'll be at the Stag's Head tomorrow, 7pm.
Here's the press release:
Cerebellum 2015 Relaunch Press Release
Cerebellum is Latin for “Little Brain”, the part of the organ responsible for motor functions, fear and pleasure responses. Cerebellum is a cross-country live and interdisciplinary not-for-profit arts platform established in May 2014 by artist and curator Charlotte CHW in London. Cerebellum is now hosting events and exhibitions in London and Hastings, provoking dialogue and collaboration between experimental and innovative practitioners in London and the South East.
This April, Cerebellum will re-launch with a week of events in both locations and an exhibition featuring live art, sound art, film and video, sculpture, participatory installation, ceramics, spoken word, live drawing, workshops and more. Some artists will feature in London and Hastings events presenting the same work at both, others 2 different pieces of work. Certain artists will only appear at one event. Affordable work will be for sale at both events.
Advance entry only to the events only includes a limited edition mini-print by Charlotte CHW to be collected on the night or those unable to attend are welcome to buy an eticket and have the print posted to their address for no extra charge.
Programme and Tickets
8th April, Stags Head Hoxton, 55 Orsman Road, 7pm, £3 advance www.wegottickets.com
10th April Live Event with Performances, screenings, sounds and more plus DJs and visuals Rock House (2nd Floor, Art School), 49-51 Cambridge Road, Hastings, 7pm, £3 advance www.wegottickets.com
11th April Exhibition continues 11am-5pm with an experimental and collaborative drawing workshop with Marie-Louise Miller at 2pm
12th April Exhibition continues 11am-5pm with an artist’s roundtable at 2pm
Featured artists (please check sites for location):
Blue Tapes, Christine Binnie Justyna Burzynska, Charlotte CHW & Maike Zimmerman Sadie Edginton, Glenn Fitzpatrick, Eleanor Fogg, Sharon Haward Hysteresis, Jasmine Lee, Michelle Lewis-King & Sumie Kent, Emma Louvelle, Samuel Reynolds, Ilia Rogatchevski, Eleanor Sparrow, Layla Tibbe, Samuel Hailey-Watts, Mark Scott-Wood, Sebastian Melmoth (sound installation) Jason Williams Maike Zimmerman
For more information see facebook.com/cerebellum_arts or @Cerebellum_arts