Friday, 26 February 2010

Measure for Measure

O God. 'Disappointed from Islington' can't quite contain herself here. breathe. Here goes: Measure for Measure is a Shakespeare play so full of darkly pulsating, morally congealed dramatic potential that Michael Attenborough's production at the Almeida should be ashamed of itself for creating what i can only describe as an incomprehensible (even for someone who knows the story), dated, grossly over-acted and utterly uninspiring piece of theatre. Warped judiciary, sexual deviancy, fanatical dogma, religious extremism, devilish crimes, tainted mercy, double standards, divided loyalty, love destructively refracted - the play is deliciously ripe for juicily compelling drama. For anyone who saw Complicite's production in conjunction with the National Theatre it can be a contemporary, bitingly relevant and magnetic play to watch. This, however, was a muddlingly confused missed opportunity, despite a stellar cast including the brilliant Rory Kinnear (so so so wonderful in The Revenger's Tragedy and the Man of Mode at the National i immediately became a crazed fan - hence, really, why i booked to see this) and Anna Maxwell Martin (who stole my heart in the BBC's Bleak House).
I often find myself having to defend the theatre to people who are put off by what can only be described as the 'actORly-ness' of stage performances. well, this was one strike for them in the perennial battle. Forced, shouty, pompous performances reigned supreme. the agony. i don;t know if some of the characters actually understood at all what they were saying. at times they certainly didn't sound as if they did. Supporting characters Pompey, Escalus and Lucio were fun though, i liked them. I did also think Anna Maxwell Martin's Isabella was rather fabulously priggish; so obsessed by her own purity as to convincingly be prepared to sacrifice her brother's life (often hard to pull off). and i liked flashes of the oleagenous politician in Rory Kinnear's Angelo (save incurably naff touches like putting in contact lenses to replace his glasses in order to impress Isabella).
While the set (for me) gave a fabulously grand nod to the recent Hoerengracht exhibition at The National Gallery, the costumes - what the HELL was going on there? Angelo was a cheap-suited contemporary politician, the Duke dressed in a Da Vinci Code-ish monk's habit before switching to some Gothic velveteen robe, Isabella was dressed for a Jacobean drama while the prostitutes came from down the road King's Cross via Ann Summers. WHAAAAAT? all over the shop.
Still, strangely the play did end on a high for me - and this was because it ended on a low; completely altering (through facial expression rather than script meddling) the usual outcome, which was much more satisfying as normally the ending is unfathomably cheery (although the falsity of this cheery ending does somewhat underline the moral ambiguity of the play, as it's so uncomfortable). still, bold i thought.
I'd like to end by divulging the fact that my beautiful, erudite and highly intelligent theatre companion (who shall remain nameless) fell asleep. ok, jet lag may have played a part, but honestly i would never have believed it from such a switched on character as her. but, i have to confess, a part of me was a bit jealous - she was probably enjoying something a lot more fun in dreamworld.

MY KultureFlash Recommendations this week

KF recommendations - click to read why :
Micmacs - Jean Pierre Jeunet's latest cinematic outing (above)

Jewish Book Week - especially the following:
27th Feb, 8.30pm Sex, Lies and Regal Japes; The story of Esther, the sex-crazed king and his evil counsellor - David Aaronovitch, Katte Lette and Simon Schama amongst others Chaired by David Schneider
28th Feb, 2pm A Beginners Guide to Jews on the Edge – Adam Thirlwell and Will Self
28th 6.30pm Clarice Lispector - Benjamin Moser on the glamorous Brazilian woman who “ looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf”, chaired by Ed Caesar.
1st March 7pm Voodoo Histories - Davis Aaronovitch and Frances Wheen
1st March 8.30pm Judeities - Helene Cixous, Chair Nicholas Royle
5th March 1pm Chez Elles - Agnes Desarthe and Claudia Roden
6th March, 7.30pm 36 Arguments for The Existence of GodRebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker
6th March, 9pm True Tales - John Canter, Esther David, Rachel Holmes, Ed Kritzler and Irma Kurtz, hosted by Lana Citron.
7th March, 12.30pm The Human Condition - Lionel Shriver and Amy Bloom

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Candice Breitz: Factum

Factum Kang
From the series Factum 2009
Edition of 5
Dual-channel installation: 2 hard drives
Duration: 69 minutes 10 seconds looped
This exhibition, which i only ended up going to because i was so let down by the William Eggleston (see below) and wanted to find something halfway good to see, turned out to be INCREDIBLE. spontaneity can work in my favour, as it turns out.
normally i hate video installations, and my heart initially sank when i walked through the doors of White Cube, but the pieces on show were fascinating, completely compelling and mischievously provocative from the first moment you stepped into each darkened room.
Artist Candice Breitz filmed 4 sets of twins and one set of triplets (i didn't have time to see the latter, but i'll definitely be going back) - each twin for up to seven hours. During filming, she made each twin wear the same thing, and sat them in the same position. she asked them exactly the same questions. after transcribing their answers she then edited each set of twins' narratives, running them together into a film of about an hour - but with each twin kept separate from the other: the videos of each sit side by side as in a diptych (above) with the narratives/answers of each twin inter cut. Thus the scene is set for comparing their responses and thus their personalities, mannerisms, manner of expression, from where you are able to see how they create both an individualised sense of self and a joint identity. each set of twins explore different issues through a discussion of the things which have had a profound effect on them during their lives - be it fanatical religion, marriage, tattoos, sexuality (one set of twins are both lesbians), parental bullying... they also obviously cover what it is like to be one half of a whole - one set of twins describe it as like a sexless marriage: they even took photos, for an art project, of their wedding to each other: a sort of macabre inevitable union they cannot break nor would want to. the whole thing is wholly absorbing, darwing you in with its devilishly fascinating exploration of identity and also portraiture - it's a sort of horror, but also wonder to watch. as each video is one hour i obviously only watched each one for a bit, as i imagine would most people. one could, in theory, pop in to the gallery again and again and catch different parts of the film that would illuminate both the artistic and personal story in different ways. [or, as i've just discovered, you can watch some videos via her website...]. stilll i'd definitely recommend going.

Candice Breitz

12 Feb—20 Mar 2010
White Cube, Hoxton Square

Sunday, 21 February 2010

William Eggleston

I completely didn't connect with this William Eggleston exhibition at Victoria Miro. if there was beauty to be seen in the banal i certainly didn't catch a glimpse of it.

The Habit of Art

I don't really know why, but i sort of had this feeling i wouldn't like The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett's play about a fictional meeting between the composer Benjamen Britten, nervous about his new opera Death in Venice, and lascivious poet W.H (Wystan) Auden - living in indulgent squalor in Oxford in the early 1970s, which is currently running at the National. well, as it turned out, i was wrong, totally wrong - i really enjoyed it, so much so that i even tried not to flinch/freak out/violently bash her when next to me my mother's gaffawingly appreciative laughter rang out seemingly 75 million decibels louder than anyone else's in the auditorium - i could actually see that she had a point. and she's seen it 5 times. seriously. it's still funny apparently.

The structure is a play within a play - usually a construct that has the propensity to grate, but here it works well because there's space to mull on concepts beyond the subject of a single play about the meeting of the two men. To explain a bit better, the 'actors' are on set, together with the stage manager, playwright et al rehearsing a play about the aforementioned fictional meeting between Britten and Auden - a meeting supposedly interrupted by the entrance of Humphrey Carpenter, interviewing Auden for the BBC, and a local rent boy hired by Auden. The reunion between Auden and Britten is twenty or so years after they collaborated on several operas and films etc, the last of which was Paul Bunyan (1949). Britten has come to seek advice, solace and reassurance from Auden. During this meeting you learn as much about their personalities as the relationship between poetry and music, ageing and creative virility, differing expressions of homosexuality, maturing relationships with art, and how hard habits are to change - both in art and life. The introduction of a narrator to the play being staged, in the form of Humphrey Carpenter (who went on to write the biographies of the two men), brings the concept of biography (as art, as fiction, as fact, as history) into effect - one of the pivotal points upon which the play turns. but this concept is only something that is fully explored through the post-modernist construct - ie when the play within the play breaks off.

The presence of the stage manager (Frances de la Tour) and the play's author (Elliott Levey) plus various other stage hands on stage mean that the actors playing Auden, Britten, Carpenter and the rent boy (Richard Griffiths, Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough and Stephen Wright) can break away from their conversations and discuss their relationships with each other. It's in this rehearsal time that exploration of the concepts of biography, creativity, homosexuality, love, theatre and performance really develop as the actors ask questions about their characters, or the cultural, historical and political context, and each person tries to accurately inhabit and present their character. The audience are thus complicit in the theatrical exploration of the nuances, implication and significance of the dialogue between the two men, but also understand more about what it is to perform, to act, to inhabit someone who lived, to create a world that explores people, concepts etc - parallel almost to the work of a biographer, or playwright.

I'm not sure if i'm making it seem complicated, but multitasking isn't my forte and i have my father watching TV on one side of me, my mother listening to the radio on the other and i've also been trying to chat to my sister in Argentina on skype, and i've also quaffed half a bottle or so of wine over lunch, so over-complication seems likely... still, in the main, it's very easy to watch, and very funny and sharp, and so interesting on so many levels - the import and intrigue of which which slowly sink in as you watch, but continue to play on your mind long after the curtain's dropped.

I completely recommend booking tickets to watch a live broadcast at cinemas across the country on April 22 as the (extended) run has completely sold out.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Present :Tense/ fourteen

I had quite a weird end to Valentine's Day, not perhaps quite as romance/sex fueled as one might have fantasised about, but hey, i had sex toys to test out for work, so life ain' t all bad, but sorry, pervy diversion aside; back to the cultural side of things... Feb 14th officially ended with a production by experimental theatre company nabokov at the Southwark Playhouse, part of an ongoing series called Present : Tense, where various multidisciplinary performing artists are challenged to create a play inspired by a news story that week. They have 7 days in which to do this. The Hot Topic this time? This. a news story from The Independent with the headline: Brain scanner enables man presumed to be in vegetative state to communicate with outside world. Freaky, and not a little unsettling, but a good choice i thought.

The end result saw a collection of four plays, two of which i absolutely loved, one of which involved some quite funny singing and dancing skits/sketches but which flirted with being outright offensive and had a dash of A-level drama about it, and one play which was a pretentious load of crap (it began with three people laboriously pouring out circles of sand on the floor which took about 5 minutes. nuff said).

the first play was the internal monologue of a curmudgeonly old guy in a coma. The guy was a puppet operated completely brilliantly by three actors, one of whom gave him his voice. you heard about his gripes, his life, his relationship with his wife and son and finally how he ended up in the coma. it flitted between being very funny, and desperately tragic and was shaken up by the fact that he could only get up and prance about and speak while no one was in the room. it had the flavour of a naughty schoolboy acting up behind the teacher's back - it was great.

the second play i loved pretty much took place entirely in the dark, with a single monologue voice over. it was written by Jessica Hynes, of Spaced fame. since the last thing i saw her in was this dross, i was thrilled to have her back on my most adored list - and wow, what a comeback. as the audience you were actively involved in the play - as a character, but a passive one. another sort of audience. you were the person in the coma as per the news story. You were being talked to (voiceover) by a doctor who was a visiting neuroscientist specialist, but who basically sat down with this supposed comatose patient (us audience members) and disarmingly frankly discussed his life, giving details of his sex life, personal and professional relationships etc etc. at first it was utterly perplexing (as it would be), then it was fascinating and also madly frustrating as you (the audience/patient) were unable to respond to his at times MADDENING running commentary. but a totally GENIUS idea. this was inter cut with the love story of two people meeting and falling in love in a gallery (with the lights on!) which was absolutely beautifully directed and performed. A1.

Friday, 12 February 2010

London roller girls

The obsession grows:

I finally went to the much anticipated match of The London Roller Girls up in Seven Sisters and it was more amazing than i could have hoped for. Two teams, the Ultraviolent Femmes and the Suffrajets stepped up to the skate ring to battle it out, clad in sexy outfits, adorned with tatoos, smoky eyes, colourful hair, fishnets and of course roller skates, knee pads, elbow pads and helmets. the rules, in short, are as follows: in each game (of 5 minutes or so), 5 or so members from each team make a pack, who skate round together. one jammer from each team follows behind at about 20 paces. the jammers have to catch up and fight their way through the jostling pack, and get round the ring and through the pack a second time - racking up a point for each member of the opposite team they pass. that's the simple version - not allowing for wolves, gazelles, penalties and some serious violence and wipe outs. it's exhilarating to watch - so exciting. funky retro pop plays throughout, the numerous referees are real characters, as are the announcers and two sexy scoregirls. everyone has rocking names - Duncan Disorderly and Vin Dictive as referees, Bette Noir as announcer, the Bexorcist, Vagablonde and Rose Hypnol amongst the roller girls. Girl of the match for me was Grievous Bodily Charm - Suffra Jets team captain, a feisty red head who took something of a a calamitous tumble but braved it onto the court for the final team high fiving of the crowd.
I have subsequently totally been fantasising about what my name would be were i to take it up... am thinking Fever Bitch, Annabelle Lecter, Harm Her Sutra or Gossip Hurl. Tricky.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Three Sisters

Despite the fact that Christopher Hampton's translation / Sean Holmes and Filter's production of Chekhov's Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith got some rather good reviews, i have to say i LOATHED it. so much so i left at the interval - such a rarity i think i have only done it once before. that i can remember anyway. Here's why:

1)Romola Garai seems completely confused about Masha's character. there's one point when her sister Irina says 'stop crying' to her (her over emotionalism gets out of control)... there is NO WAY the character the way Romola plays it would react like that - steely, and masculinsed and tough as she is. a complete schism between the character on the stage and the words. Romola also needs to TURN THE VOLUME DOWN and stop shouting. it's actually tiring watching her.

2)as is the Chekhovian way, many characters state facts about themselves, like their ages, but many of the actors are CLEARLY NOT THE AGES THEY SAY THEY ARE. very odd. not to mention annoying.

3) why do the stage crew take on roles in the play? irritatingly self conscious a device nicely complemented by the half baked set - WHY?

4) inexplicable use of microphones - ie strategically placed microphones that pick up certain bits of dialogue and metaphorically resonant ephemera; for example a kettle boiling. while i got the point of this in that it reflects the pressure mounting - i have to say that it is gimmicky and pointless. this example also took eons, during which time i completely zoned out.

5) Irina has an Irish accent, her sisters don't. annoying.

6) musician hangers on, strumming away in the background: GRRR.

7) the doorbell. it's like one of those doorbell sounds they used to have in the 80s. WHO HAS A DOORBELL THAT SOUNDS LIKE THAT? no one - especially not if you are this family.

all could have come right in the second half, but i coun't bear to find out.

some good things though:

1) the Baron was brilliantly funny and brought Chekov's habitual theme of longing to a heightened fever pitch - fantastic. his desperately idealistic desire to work was perfectly pulled off.

2) Romola's mannish trousers and waistcoat combo. wonder where they are from. very natty.

3) Vershinin: HOT. from a distance anyway.
still, not enough good things to redeem it. by any stretch.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Valentine's Day

Jessica Biel
Jamie Foxx
Ashton Kutcher
Jennifer Garner
Jessica Alba
Eric Dane
Patrick Dempsey
Anne Hathaway
Queen Latifah
Julia Roberts
Bradley Cooper
Topher Grace
Kathy Bates
Taylor Swift
Shirley MacLaine for GOD'S SAKE...
Just some of the seemingly endlessly list of starry names who utterly fail to save Valentine's Day (out feb 12th) from being anything that even comes close to being a watchable film. The intersecting romantic vignettes make Love Actually seem deeply philosophical and profound. why, you may ask, did i even watch it in the first place? lack of sanity due to this week's diet of lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Shutter Island

I was morbidly creeped out by Martin Scorsese's latest cinematic offering; a very stagey Gothic film noir thriller set on an inhospitably craggy island that's home to a mental correctional facility in the early 1950s. Leo di C plays a US Marshall, a war vet who has experienced the traumas of the liberation of the death camps in Germany, who is sent to investigate the escape of a patient, but who, in reality, has quite another investigative agenda - one with far reaching, and damaging, national and governmental implications.
Right from the get go the drama is terrifyingly intense; the deep, rumbling score sends reverberating tremors down the spine (even before you know anything whatsoever about the plot), the imposing, grey-green shadowy sweeping vistas as the camera circles the island set the scene for a drama of deeply sinister, suspenseful and disturbing substance - swooping over the unkempt graveyard, electric fences, waves crashing on the glistening black rocks and steely grey walls of the ominous lighthouse. there's almost a deliberate heavy-handedness to the direction - a certain revelling in the setting and stereotypes of the film noir genre - the German psychiatrist who sees to the core of Ted (LdiC), the slightly too charming English professor who heads the correctional programme (Ben Kingsley), the cheeky chappy police partner (Mark Ruffalo), the idealised wife presenting herself in visions to Ted at night (Michelle Williams) and the unhinged inmates running amok.
It all gets interesting (and i promise I'm not giving too much away) when Heller-esque notions of sanity and insanity begin to weasel their way into Ted's investigations. The paranoia and conspiracy theories make it viscerally claustrophobic - and almost unbearably tense to watch, so impatient are you for some clarity. it all comes together brilliantly in the end, and you're left thinking about the film's cunning plotting well after it is over. But as with so many films and books that truly come together in the finale, there's always that niggling fact that the bits which sits slightly uncomfortably are a bit annoying while you are watching them.
still, what the film does do is continually provoke you to unravel the evolving and increasingly complex mystery, which meant it worked for me, certainly.


Whatever happened to the Ninth Legion of the Roman army in AD 117 who were sent to wipe out the natives in Britain? Supposedly they vanished without a trace and their legend of their disappearance continues... and is 'unravelled' in Centurion (out april). after watching this gratuitously violent film - all spurting blood, rambunctious decapitation and hours of breathless chasing across wild and unforgiving terrain, i can say that the answer could have been given in one simple sentence and not a terribly interesting one at that. the mystery is pretty flaccid, there's not enough human drama to really get your teeth into and the gory battle scenes pretty much make up the entire film. not a girl's film. well, not this girl, anyway.