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Friday, October 21, 2016

'From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads' at the Waterloo East Theatre, 20th October 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

In From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, anxiety-ridden anorexic 18 year old Martin embarks upon an psychogeographical David Bowie odyssey. He visits the Stockwell house where Bowie (then David Jones) was born and grew up in, his primary school, the ratty Croydon pub where Ziggy Stardust faced his first crowd and the recording studios where he cut Five Years, Starman and Life on Mars - from which Adrian Berry's play derives its title.

I can sympathise with Martin, having undergone my own miniature musical pilgrimages. I've balefully stared at the gloomily semi-detached 384 Kings Road, Stretford, imagining the bedroom inside where a teenage Morrissey miserably moped. I've searched out the "unfit for human habitation" flat where Sid and Johnny squatted. And yes, I've run past Bowie's 40 Stansfield Road, of which the owner miserably opines: "It’s not the same as having a big star like Amy Winehouse's home, they’re much more sensational."

They're just bricks and mortar, yet you feel the tug of history, imagining your icons ignorant of their glittering futures casually opening the garden gate, opening the door and strolling inside. Perhaps a smidge of whatever propelled their geniuses remains deep in the cracked mortar? Perhaps some psychic reverberation exists in the air, creating a connection between us? Perhaps, essentially, I can now properly understand them?

Martin (Alex Walton) is sent on his quest by a long absent father. Having abandoned the family when his son was two, he left behind a bitterly alcoholic wife, a fucked up kid and a couple of boxes of Bowie memorabilia. Martin seizes upon this connection to his Dad, becoming a die-hard fan and apparently devoting his life to trying to understand the constantly shifting, difficult to pin down zen of Bowie. Getting in the way are his crippling anxiety and social awkwardness, an eating disorder and his general twitchy oddness.

Events are kicked off by his receipt of a letter from his Dad, which was instructed to be delivered on his 18th birthday. The letter features a cryptic map of London and a command to follow the breadcrumbs to an unknown destination. These prove to be Bowie landmarks, each stop along the way bringing Martin closer to his father and closer to Bowie. Eventually the two absent fathers intertwine, leading Martin to a kind of godlike BowieDad (excellently voiced by comedian Rob Newman).

It's not easy watching someone fall apart this spectacularly, Walton pulling out all the stops in portraying Martin's collapse. Wrapped in skinny jeans and an oversize hoody, he physically straddles man and boy, all spidery limbs, golf ball eyes and a brow furrowed before its time. He looks painfully, obviously vulnerable, as if a strong wind could blow up and spirit him up into the sky. Martin is such a pitiable figure that we don't quite identify with him, but ache for him to undergo a Bowie-style reinvention.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads was apparently written in about 1999 and performed to some acclaim at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe. Some updating has taken place (the story is now set in 2013 alongside the release of The Next Day), but the biggest unspoken factor in this production is Bowie's death earlier this year. It layers on further tragedy, Rob Newman's voiceover feel unnervingly like Bowie is speaking to Martin from beyond the grave.

With a soundtrack of Bowie hits ranging from the famous to the relatively obscure (I was particularly pleased to hear Weeping Wall, and the amazing vocals only version of Five Years), the show feels like it's functioning as a kind of collective mourning. It's difficult to think of another musician whose death was still this keenly felt ten months on, but the flowers and candles at his mural in Brixton continue to be refreshed. This adds an edge to Martin's sadness - perhaps in earlier performances his Dad might be merely absent, yet now we're all but certain he's dead.

Perhaps it's cheating for a play's emotional resonance to primarily come from external events rather than what's in the script and performances. Even so, I can't deny the swell of sadness I felt in the closing scenes, a procession of Bowie memories flitting behind my eyes. 

Now, I didn't love From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads - perhaps a bit of fat could be trimmed from opening act and maaaaaaaybe it'd benefit from a firmer narrative structure (I was particularly fascinated by the all-too-brief therapy sessions) - but its come along at the right time. Reactions may vary - if you couldn't give a toss about Bowie you're unlikely to get much out of this. On the other hand, if you do, it could hit you like a juggernaut. Either way it's a fine meditation on a great man - on top of being a generally decent bit of one-man theatre.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is at the Waterloo East Theatre until 6th November, then on tour. Tickets here.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: 'The Man from Mo'Wax' (2016) directed by Matthew Jones (LFF 2016)

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

"The Man from Mo’Wax is a very strange music documentary. Most films of this ilk are glowing accounts of an individual or band’s inexorable rise to the top of the charts, demonstrating their musical virtuosity, inherent genius and the growing adoration of their fans. Here that curve is inverted, director Matthew Jones painstakingly dissecting a person with next to no discernible musical talent as his career crashes and burns.

That person is producer and DJ James Lavelle – hardly a household name – yet kind of an icon to dance music aficionados. His career spans three distinct periods: the first is that of a musically teenage wunderkind who sets up his own cooler than cool record label, Mo’Wax Records. The second is as creative leader of UNKLE, where he collaborated with various musical legends to create a series of increasingly poorly received and badly selling albums. The third follows the disintegration of his personal and professional life, the lasting image being of a sad and lonely man trapped in a storage space surrounded by his broken dreams."


Review: 'Lake Bodom' (2016) directed by Taneili Mustonon [LFF 2016]

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"When four attractive teenagers go camping in the woods on the exact spot where four attractive teenagers were brutally murdered forty years ago, what the hell do they expect to happen? Lake Bodom, by Taneili Mustonon, shows us that the answer is… well, pretty much what you’d expect.

Setting it apart from the pack is that this backstory is ripped from reality. The Lake Bodom murders are one of Finland’s great unsolved mysteries: four teenagers sleeping soundly in their tents really were brutally murdered in 1960.

The killer introduced himself to his victims by plunging a knife through their canvas tent. Two hours later, three of the teenagers were mutilated beyond recognition and the sole survivor was staggering away with a concussion, a broken jaw and facial fractures. In a creepy detail the survivor reported glowing red eyes pursuing him as he ran through the dark forest. The killer promptly vanished, and he/she/it was never caught…"


Review: 'Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children' (2016), directed by Alberto Vazquez & Pedro Rivero [LFF 2016]

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"Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children is a weird, brutal and lyrical Spanish animated film (with no connection to the Double Fine game of the same name) that feels like the mutant lovechild of Hayao Miyazaki and John Kricfalusi. Alberto Vazquez, adapting his own graphic novel with co-director Pedro Rivero, spins us a tale of cute child animals desperate to escape their nightmare island.

Any suspicions that this is for children vanish pretty quickly in the opening narration, which explains how Cute Animal Island industrialized itself and subsequently suffered a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. In an apocalypse scene reminiscent of Barefoot Gen, the mice workers are scorched into ashen skeletons by a wall of radioactive fire."


'Skin a Cat' at the Bunker, 19th October 2016

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Alana's cunt is broken. It is, as Thomas De Quincey said in Confessions of an Opium Eater, "sealed up, like the valley of Rasselas, against the intrusion of the world". Skin a Cat, by Isley Lynn, chronicles Alana's gynecological woes as she seeks to find out what's wrong with her and how she can fix it.

We first meet Alana (Lydia Larson) as a nine year old experiencing her first menstruation. Her embarrassed mother scuttles between holidaymakers trying to find someone with a pad, eventually spluttering a muddled explanation of what's going on to her half confused and half terrified daughter - merely the first in a procession of people gently, kindly but insistently telling Alana there's something wrong with her.

Her problems mount as she heads through school. Despite the urging of her friends, she can't bring herself to use a tampon. A disastrous pre-prom attempt at losing her virginity results in her falling into spasms on the bed, to the horror of her frightened boyfriend. It's not as if she's not a sexual person (she enjoys oral and taking it up the arse) - but by the time she's 25 she's all but resigned to being a vaginal virgin, drolly referring to herself as the girl with the "broken cunt". A medical diagnosis of vaginismus "an involuntary vaginal muscle spasm which makes any kind of vaginal penetration painful or impossible." hardly helps.

Lynn appears to be writing this play from personal experience, explaining in the programme notes that "I wish I could tell my 15-25 year old self that one day all this horrible vagina stuff would make a great play" and that she could use Skin a Cat to "tell other Alanas out there that it's going to be ok." It's a noble goal, and one Lynn largely achieves with play that's strong on kindness, peppered with (refreshingly unflinching) anatomical and sexual detail and pretty goddamn funny to boot.

Entirely staged around a large bed, Alana spends the play in a flesh-coloured bodystocking that gives the impression of nudity without seeming prurient. Most of the time she's speaking directly to the audience, delivering a self-effacing, modest autobiography of her life. Providing the supporting characters (and sound effects) are Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwalia, playing a range of roles from mothers to boyfriends to nurses to pretentious yet effective sex healers.

All three deliver their share of memorable moments. Clark, one of the highlights of summer's Rotterdam, is both scattily awkward as the Mum and touchingly caring as a Devonshire nurse. But it's Ahluwalia who gets the lion's share of the laughs, first in a stumblingly awkward multi-part teenage text message and later in the absurd yet hilarious quasi-buddhist art critic sex guru that patiently helps her through her psychological blocks. This character, Geri (which appropriately enough means "rules with spear"), is perhaps a smidge too broad in contrast with the rest of the play, but when he's this much fun it's difficult to care.

On top of all that is Larson's disarmingly excellent central performance. Simultaneously confident and paranoid, she continually switches gears between re-enacting the past and performing her inner monologue - and does all this with oodles of grace. Alana has depth simply on the page, but Larson latches onto a viscerally real part of her, nimbly scaling the emotional spectrum from despair to triumph. She makes us feel like (and want to be) her friend and confidant, which in turn makes the climax of the play work gangbusters.

Skin a Cat is definitely the most vagina-y (if I was a twat, I'd say yonic) play I've ever seen - and all credit to it for being so. As well as teaching me about vaginismus (I now realise I have encountered in a past partner and didn't know what it was), there's a casual yet forthright feminism baked into every character interaction and red-faced confession. 

Our culture cloaks vaginas in mystery and shame: to the point where our politicians hesitate to even say the word 'tampon'. Plays like this function as a rolling of the eyes and a crucial exhortation to grow the hell up. Recommended.


Skin a Cat is at The Bunker until 5 November. Tickets here

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: 'Tower' (2016) directed by Keith Maitland [LFF 2016]

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

"50 years ago a gunshot rang out across the University of Texas campus. Claire Wilson, a pregnant student, was hit in the belly, instantly killing her unborn child. Her fiance, Thomas Eckman turned to her and asked “What’s wrong?” A second shot ensured he would never hear the answer.

For the next hour and a half, death came to the campus. A sniper had taken up position in the central tower, firing indiscriminately at anyone he could get a bead on. By the time he was killed by police he had murdered 11 people and wounded 32.

Reaction at the time was frightened bewilderment. Why would a person take out their frustrations on random strangers in such violent fashion? Little did they know that these shootings were merely the opening act of a continuing trend, one, encompassing names that have become synonymous with tragedy: Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Pulse.

Keith Maitland’s documentary, Tower is a shot by shot recounting of the events of August 1st 1966, telling the tale through the survivor’s experiences. Their memories are interwoven with archive footage of the event and rotoscoped animation that allows us to see what the cameras didn’t capture."


Review: 'Sweet Dreams' (2016) directed by Marco Bellocchio [LFF 2016]

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"Marco Bellocchio is superhumanly prolific; a member of a very small group of directors who turn out a film about every year. Granted, they range in quality, but he’s undergoing a personal renaissance, with his most highly regarded work coming in the last decade and a half. Those film, Good Morning Night, Vincere and Dormant Beauty, are loaded with a rock-solid sense of time and place, coupled with an emotional heft that largely avoids sentimentality.

His latest is Sweet Dreams, an adaptation of journalist Massimo Gramellini’s autobiographical novel Sweet dreams, little one. The book and film are an extensive meditation on grief, loss and mourning – following the life of Massimo from childhood to middle age as he struggles with his mother’s suicide."


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