Friday, 10 April 2009

War Horse

Believe me, I am not a Black Beauty fan. in fact, i am about as un animally as it's possible to be, mainly a repercussion of having killed my school hamster aged 4, and which i still have nightmares about. So i wasn't expecting to be terribly impressed with this play. it's about horses for fuck's sake. which are puppets. eh? But when the giddy, nervous, jittery foal first skitted on to the stage in The National Theatre's production of War Horse, honestly, tears came to my eyes it was so dreamlike, so realistic and so incredibly beautiful. i'm rarely moved to tears by beauty, so it was a bit of a shock (nay embarrassment), but honestly, this really is something else - totally worthy of sobbing over. Apparently the national theatre's director Nicholas Hytner had seen the puppets elsewhere and was mulling over how he could possibly use them in a production at the National, when his mother suggested Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse. rather than using marionettes on strings, the puppeteers stand inside the horses - one person controlling the hind legs, one for the front and one person manipulating the head. the structure is an elegant sinewy frame with mesh, so you can fully see the people manipulating the body, but you literally don't see them at all  - in so much as they become invisible because you are so caught up in the magic of the movements - the slow breathing bobbing, the flicks of the ears, the toss of the head, the jumps and jitters of the feet. the horses have the power and presence of The Sultan's Elephant, which trundled through London with grandly statuesque leisure a few years ago, and also have a touch of the puppet Polar bears used in the National's production of His Dark Materials, also staged several years back. but BETTER. The story sounds sentimental and schmaltzy on paper, so i won't regurgitate it, but on stage, it's powerful and moving and at the climax i was LITERALLY SOBBING MY EYES OUT. sobbing. red, raw eyes all round afterwards, though, thank god, so i wasn't alone. book now. 

Plague Over England

A plague on me more like. what a pompous, pretentious load of shit. Written by the acerbic theatre critic Nicholas de Jonge it's about the gay witch hunt in England in the 1950s and centers on the story of the recently knighted Sir John Gielgud, who, in 1953, the year of the Queen's coronation, was arrested for importuning a man in a public lavatory. i expected at least a sordid, politically vitriolic expose of the bigoted freaks in power at the time, but what i got was a load of luvvies being vacuous and nauseatingly, dahlingly theatrical, not even Celia Imrie as Sibyl Thorndyke could redeem it. theatre at it's worst. avoid like the plague. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Iza Genzken and Gerhard Richter

they were married, you know. i know this because i went to the opening of the newly revamped Whitechapel Gallery and saw Isa Genzken's (quite frankly extraordinary) exhibition and then i went to see the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the NPG, where i saw that Richter had taken pictures of Genzken, his second ex-wife. strangely the nude shots of her (the back of her torso) were in a room with other nude images (or near nude images) of his other wives. most odd i thought. still, my god the Richter exhibition was beautiful. it's like looking at dream images - paintings of photographs from newspapers or private archives that have been blurred, so they are like looking though Vaselined glass. this image above is of his daughter, Betty, i think she's called. i had to buy the extortionately priced print i fell in love with it so much. BUT, i hated the little printed exhibition guide - i wanted to tear it up, throw it on the floor and jump up and down on it screaming, i hated it so much. it was a WASTE of TIME, and filled with absolutely nothing dressed up as something such as " By presenting an inscrutable surface, they intimate that reality cannot be seen or known but remains beneath a veneer or semblance" aaaarrrrgh. Genzken's exhibition at the WG meanwhile was interesting too (though completely different - no wonder they split up) - lots of perspex and concrete frames - some beautiful (like the kaleidoscopic buildings for Berlin) and some downright weird - the psychedelic astronauts having a love in (upstairs). still, innovative use of a slinky in some pieces i thought. In the rest of the gallery there are also rooms for the Whitechapel's modern art collection - Peter Doig, Damien Hirst, Ben Nicholson, Sarah Lucas, Anish Kapoor et al, which is fun to wander though. there are also myriad study spaces - all bright and airy and one even with a roof balcony. neat. there's also a new room dedicated to the Whitechapel Boys, the creative group including people like Jacob Epstein and Isaac Rosenberg, who used to meet in the old whitechapel library (which this new gallery has expanded into) and hatch plans about British modernist art. it's fantastic and so nice to have something genuinely moving linked to the space.


I am a real fan of promenade theatre. unless the walking about bit of the play is heinously cringeworthy and pointless, in which case i LOATHE it and think it's pretentious shit. Last year's super high was the improbably named You Me Bum Bum Train- a ghost train cum theatre of nightmares housed in a warehouse on Curtain Road, E1 where you wandered though various bad dream scenarios including crawling though a tunnel that spat you out in the middle of a boxing ring where you were expected to fight, a dentist's chair, a catwalk show (at this point i was in a wheelchair and sporting a luminous yellow gum shield), a bobsleigh race and a press conference with a politician speaking Swahili (where i was supposed to be the translator). completely bizarre and utterly wonderful. This year's high might very well prove to be Stovepipe, a play set in the subterranean, echoey, creepy space beneath the West 12 shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush. It's about an ex-military private contractor, Alan, who, along with two friends, is hired by a corporation involved with the construction exhibition Project Rebuild Iraq. Supposedly paid enough to warrant no health or security clauses in their contract, the three men launch themselves into Iraq's turbulent social landscape hoping to get in and get out unscathed. Obviously it doesn't quite work out like that, and Alan (subsequently hired as a private security guard) sets out on a cross middle eastern quest to find his AWOL friend following the tortuous death of the other. As the audience you're initially welcomed into the space as if a guest at the conference, so, vacuous chat, perma-smiles and bullshit presentations are the order of the day - the language of Project Rebuild Iraq that perfectly sets the scene for the underlying foundation of the play. from then on you are herded about from Jordanian hotel room to corporate office, rowdy bar, war zone and even a welsh church, always ricocheting between the conversations of Russian prostitutes, Iraqi exiles, jumped up journalists, tough-as-shit corporation organisers and soldiers (or rather ex soldiers on the edge of sanity). sometimes you'll be guided to the next location by cool, inanely confident PRB conference 'officials' sometimes it'll be pitch black with only the lights on soldiers' helmets as a guide across the danger zone you're being shouted at to negotiate. at times terrifying, at others funny, and often perplexing with time jumps that throw you off balance and constantly make you reinterpret what you've just seen in a new way. i thought it was brilliant. it used every inch of the unconventional space with genuine innovation, seamlessly guided you from scene to scene without ever losing anyone or making you confused, the pace was perfectly pitched and the subject matter for thought. basically it was perfect theatre. then i went and had an extraordinary Polish meal down the road and drank vodka shots and really wasn't myself at all the next day. oh well, you win some you lose some.


Words escape me. i am dumbstruck with love for this card. i've just discovered TokyoMilk - amazing cards, soaps, lip balms and perfumes that you can buy in the UK from Wild and Funk... need may not be an issue, but want certainly is.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

more Russian dolls

I went to a press day last week and they gave me 4 Matryoshka mugs to exacerbate my spiraling obsession (which they know about). arrg. it's like Babushka crack. anyway, i've just stumbled across these Russian Doll buttons from the very cool online shop All Things Original, which thankfully won't match any of my clothes, so i won't buy them. even though i want to SO BADLY. someone suggested i get a Russian doll tattoo. am considering it. here's a cushion from Bombay Duck and some salt and pepper shakers that i was given for my birthday last year. Jesus it is OUT OF CONTROL.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Karen Elson

Is anyone else LOVING Karen Elson as the face of John Lewis? i am. i am. i am. and so is Hannah. do you remember when KE first sprang on the scene and everyone thought she looked like an alien? it was the same time they said Erin O'Connor (now the face of M&S lest we forget it) looked like a Belsen victim. what an ABOUT TURN. love it.

Fireflies in the Garden / Adventureland

I have an incredibly embarrassing crush on Ryan Reynolds, embarrassing given its disproportionate size and because he is your archetypal Hollywood actor who is very cheesy and used to be engaged to Alanis Morisette but is now married to Scarlett Johansson. (Us Weekly reader, moi? Nooo.). i'm not quite sure how it has developed. and gotten so out of control, more to the point. well, i do know, it's because i've been to screenings of two films with him in in the space of two weeks - Fireflies in the Garden, and Adventureland. In the former, he plays a writer fucked up because his father, Willem Dafoe, psychologically tortured and bullied him as a child. He returns to his family home for a funeral and a whole bunch of horrid emotions stir up trouble. but the film flicks seamlessly between his tortuous childhood and his complex emotional entanglements now, and is moving and not your average Hollywood film wading through a quagmire of grand emotional matter clearly beyond its reaches. this keeps things on a perfectly intimate scale and is affecting without being schmaltzy, plus has a brilliant ensemble cast that includes Ioan Gruffudd, Julia Roberts, Emily Watson and Hayden P from Heroes. RR is H.O.T. the tortured writer kind of hottie with the sort of muscly arms it would be criminal to have anywhere but around you, an attitude problem, and a high sex drive, which is obviously the best kind. in Adventureland he plays the sort of cool, smooth, music, handyman guy who is not in fact cool at all, rather a small town sleazebag who spins stories to high school girls in order to sleep with them, even though he's married. but since i am more than happy to play high school girl to his sleazebag, i'm more than happy (worth repeating, obviously). i should also probably mention that RR's role in Adventureland is minimal, in fact, and the film is really one of those lovable loser romance teen flicks set over the summer in an adventure park cum funfair. apparently it's supposed to be set in the 1980s, but apart from the fact that they play Amadeus by Falco on repeat, i saw virtually no evidence of this. I went with John who works in film so should know his stuff and who thought it was cute. i thought, well, that there should have been more of RR in it. he plays the shit so well.

Blitz party

Well, there definitely wasn't any sign of wartime austerity at The Blitz Party, and thank the lord for that, though everything else was perfectly in place at the themed WWII party in shoreditch. i drank copious amounts of the most amazing cocktails - the best of which was a champagne, vodka, elderflower and lemon juice concoction which got me drunk, dancing to the big band music and leering over men in second world war uniform in a major way (no discriminating between army, air force or navy, don't fret). thankfully sandbags were everywhere which protected me from laddering my seamed tights as i careered into the exposed brick and low arches when being spun about to the music by dashing soldiers (on leave one supposes) - jolly lucky. revellers had pulled put all the stops, the women's 1940s curls, slashes of vermilion lipstick, polka dot and floral tea dresses and fur stoles more than matching the jaunty trilbies, dapper suits, braces and twirled mustachios of the men, with nurses in bloodied aprons sartorially pitted against soldiers on crutches. and lest anyone lose perspective, silent 40s films were projected onto the walls, filling the room with agonising parting embraces and troublesome flights over enemy territory. super.

Madame de Sade

Hmmm. style over substance perhaps, but i think i enjoyed Madame de Sade more than most, if judging by the critics' vitriolic reviews and a half-empty theatre is anything to go by. It's true, it is a very long 1h3/4, the third and final act feels like someone is sticking pins in your eyes, there are passages which are quite laboured (to say the least), a call for more reckless abandon with the acting may be justified and there is an almost audacious about turn from Dame Judi's character at the climax (the actress was back on stage after her fall when i went to see the play, but hobbling around with a suspiciously NHS rather than Louis XVI walking stick). still, there was much for me to love, especially since i have never really had a problem with style over substance - if the dress fits, wear it. Frances Barber for one was a highlight of sparkling luminocity. While Rosamund Pike bolstered her on-stage gravitas to match Judi Dench's (successfully i thought), Frances Barber stole the show from the side lines. The play begins with two women at the home of Madame de Montreuil, mother of Madame de Sade, as they are waiting to be taken in to see the matriarch to offer support, advice and council after her son-in-law, the Marquis de Sade, has been caught in a salacious sex scandal. The two women offering council are like the angel and demon / virtue and vice sitting on Madame de Montreuil's shoulders, and Frances Barber, as the devilish council enthusiastically regaling her prim counterpart with the sordid details of the Marquis' exploits before MdeM arrives is fab-u-lous. she sets the tone perfectly for what is, essentially, a play about people getting off on recounting tales of sordid sex whist having none themselves. impassioned soliloquies about sex, torture, death, protest, proclamations of devotion or statements of disgust get the same treatment, a cold spotlight on the speaker, a strange echoey effect to their acoustics, and transfixed absorption in their telling. as each speaker lingers over salacious words, the sexual deviancy is tantalisingly erotic, the sordid details luridly enthralling . it's mesmeric, and if you ask me the "shocking" absence of men on stage which seems to have caused something of a stir in critics circles, seems utterly ridiculous as these speeches usually conjure the Marquis, and it's his mythical presence that is central to the play's tension. The tarnished silver scenery works brilliantly with this overwhelming presence of an absent figure - in the hazily mirrored walls it is as if you can catch distorted reflections of the marquis through the people verbally representing his vices and virtues on stage. As for the vision of the women themselves - their lavish costumes are incredible, the frills and bows and ruched fabric and drapery, the swoosh of satin as they flounce around, the pale pinks and peach of the dresses in the first act, the cool greens of the second, and the steely greys and icy blues of the third act, which being worn six years after the play's opening, in the midst of the revolution is like cold water thrown on the flames of passion. anyway, for all this debauchery, and despite the fact i rather liked the decadent immorality of the nobility as subject, i wouldn't recommend the play, exactly. or at all even. you'd probably have more fun across the road in a sex shop in Soho. sorry.