Friday, 30 April 2010

The Real Thing

With love, how do you know when it's 'the real thing'? when it's not an affectation, a performance? When the people involved aren't acting a part, or secretly doing something to undermine the intimacy, or wanting to feel something so badly they almost make it true, or being willfully blind so they don't see a reality they might not like. Tom Stoppard's 1982 play skips around these issues, of performance, emotion and being genuine - it's insightful, and wry, and true, and cruel, and complex, and funny, and moving and confusing, and before you know it you're cheering the actors like billy-o as they take a bow. i think you'd have to try pretty hard to fuck up a production of this play - it's quite simply brilliant. Still, this production at The Old Vic is definitely not a fuck up - performances are pert, persuasive, buoyant, and character evolutions arc with precision and grace - from beginning to end it's completely absorbing and wittily played out.

Henry and Annie are having an adulterous affair, despite the fact that their spouses and they are all friends. After risque liaisons, they run off together. but blissfully smug love soon gives way to jealousy, confidence to insecurity, and jealousy to indifference and betrayal. A meaty segueing of emotions indeed, but such issues are turned on their head by the fact the central character, Henry (Toby Stephens channelling his smugness to perfection, yet revealing the character's flaws and insecurities with beautiful sensitivity) is a playwright, and the women he juggles actresses. You are thrown off course from the off by the opening scene - a scene from his play, about adultery, which stars characters who later appear not in his play, but in Stoppard's. with reality thrown in (that this is a play being performed), it's like a hall of mirrors with infinitely repeating images. reflections bounce around so you're never sure what is genuine, true or false. apart from the idea of sentiment, that is. conceptual notions of love, jealousy, betrayal - which become real when they are recognised. the stage is set within a giant picture frame, for god's sake - there's no sense that this is reality - just a version of it hoping to explore 'the real thing' in a way that you could ever quite perceive in life. the irony is delicious. it's great.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Women Beware Women

I love love love The Revenger's Tragedy, a Jacobean melodrama cum twisted morality play by Thomas Middleton. at one point there are 8 deaths in 7 lines and in a climactic scene the lascivious duke is made to kiss a rotten corpse, via which act he is fatally poisoned. fun. what more can you ask for on the histrionic drama front? nothing, it literally defines over the top. and the pseudo moralising element is hilarious as everyone is basically heinous and utterly despicable. even the people who think they are the good guys are proven to have the morals of a gnat and a warped, misdirected sense of integrity. The National Theatre staged The Revenger's Tragedy two years ago, with Rory Kinnear as the fabulously flawed 'hero' Vindice. It did so well, with rave reviews and a sold out run, that this year they are staging Women Beware Women, also by Middleton. In spirit, Women beware Women is deliciously similar - with a voracious appetite for treachery, lust, avarice and vice, and boy it doesn't really stray from the title message; women are rather rambunctiously shown to be adulterous, two-faced, manipulative, treacherous, slutty, mercurial, meddling whores. Still, the men don't come off much better - rapacious, proud, greedy, smug, ignorant, pompous, manipulative, hoarding, self-obsessed are some descriptions that would happily stick. It's great fun. not as fun at The Revenger's Tragedy, but certainly up there in terms of luxuriously revelling in the direst, blackest depths of human behaviour.

At the centre of the drama is Livia, stupendously brought to live by Harriet Walter. During the course of the play she pimps out her niece, Isabella, to her brother (her niece's uncle, rather than father, and who is in love with her) by telling Isabella she is not related to her uncle as her mother was basically a total slut. Isabella then embarks on an incestuous affair with her uncle, although simultaneously agreeing to get engaged to a complete simpleton with bags of money and a peculiar affection for Harlequin print socks. Odd. Livia then diverts the attentions of her neighbour in a game of chess, so the Duke can rape her neighbour's pretty new daughter-in-law, Bianca. but the new bride then abandons her husband (Leantio, a superficial loser anyway) for the duke because, basically, he's rich. Old sleaze-bag Livia then spots whining Leantio and hotly pursues him like a cougar on heat and then keeps him as her toyboy, which he moans about as he doesn't know a good thing when it slaps him in the face. The shit hits the fat at the wedding of the rapist Duke and two-timing Bianca and it's death all round in a sex/lust/bloodthirsty feeding frenzy - here emphasised by the presence of darkly ominous, spikily present vulture-like men sporting black wings. It's wild.

The first half drags a little, even though the action is incredibly pacey - arguably the men have too much talking and simply aren't as devilishly interesting as the women but the second half hots up to inferno temperatures, romps along and is hilarious. this production sees some serious over-acting, which is fine, more than fine - wonderful, actually but occasionally it's a little uncomfortable as it's not hammy enough. Bianca's trauma after being raped is a tricky one to play, i see - can there be a place for genuine emotion in such a brilliantly OTT play? but her hysteria rang neither true nor wittily over played. There's also some funny live jazz going on throughout the play. i WISHED IT WOULD STOP. the revolving stage's mash-up of macabre opulence and industrial decay worked well for me, it hammered home the two faced, doubled-edged nature of shenanigans, and some people knowing what was going on and others remaining completely in the dark.

all in all a deliciously dark romp i'd highly recommend if you have a penchant for melodrama. Beckett fans stay away. It's also part of the Travelex £10 season, which is handy.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Pick Me Up

I first came across the work of Rob Ryan about 5 or six years ago. I was at the V&A Village fete, an 'alternative' village fete held in the John Madejski gardens of the V&A every summer, run by artists and art collectives. as you'd expect, you pay to play games and then you can win things - but here the games are skewed as artists re-interpret the rules, and the winnings are more often than not art prints or crafty things.

Dressed as 'Robot' Ryan in a collection of tin-foil covered cardboard boxes, Rob Ryan manned a 'play your cards right' stall. It's a game i'd never played, but proceeded to win rather decisively (ha). the game's fee of £1 was all it took to win a print, but a side effect of my winnings was a bad Rob Ryan art habit which i cannot seem to kick. Each year since then i have returned to win a print, whatever the cost of loosing-until-i-win amounts to. The biggest loss one year being my pride, as the game consisted of dancing to the noises of barnyard animals on a plastic sheet decorated with said animals faces - you had to leap onto the face of the animal that matched the bleating/mooing/neighing/quacking as it blasted out of the speakers and were marked out of 100 by the roar of audience appreciation (or lack thereof). deliciously humiliating if you weren't involved. and to to heap upon the ignominy there was a crowd several people thick watching various desperate fools partake in the game. (it was pretty hilarious to watch if from a safe distance). it took me about 1/2 hour to build up the courage to debase myself thus. still, i came home gleefully clutching a print in my sweaty palms.

As well as prints i also have amassed/bought/been given various other prints, plus books (either by him, or novels that he has done covers for), tiles, invitations (the fashion and art worlds love getting him to make bespoke invitations and Christmas cards which i'm lucky enough to receive), and which are dotted around my flat. i bought the above laser cut out for my best friend for her birthday (the arrows point to a dictionary definition of the word WONDERFUL). if i had more money, i'd throw it at my addiction and buy up everything. well, not everything, but lots, certainly.
Anyway... massive deviation. the point of this post is really to talk about Pick Me Up, which i went to on Sunday, and which is being held at Somerset House all week (until may 3rd). It's a Graphic Art Fair, with lots of emerging and established contemporary graphic artists and art collectives - including Rob Ryan, Print Club London and Le Gun. Rob Ryan has carted his studio (or a simulacrum of it) to Somerset House, where creative operations take place for a week. the walls are covered with his work, and various laser cutter machines and printing press machines line up to churn out work. It's fascinating to watch operations and see so much of his work hanging together. His laser cuts are mesmerisingly beautiful - delicate and intimate, and they invoke a childlike bubble of emotion that speaks to one's inner hopeless, imaginative, solitary, sensitive romantic.
The rest of the show was fairly mixed - much not really appealing to my taste, being a bit to pixelated or oblique in its impact, but what i did love, i really did. Le Gun's installation Le Bum was genius: a giant ass that blasted out The Pet Shop Boys and which you poked your head in the sphincter of to view a monochrome mural which skipped through time, style and design, fusing genres, styles, fashions, figures from all over the shop. the label read: "Le Bum is made with the arse-pertise of Matt Duddleston and Gary Cross". the collective Peepshow were making colourful prints on site to buy. Print Club were selling screen prints with punchy images and sayings for £50. I also loved prints by artists Pierre Nguyen, - his dark broody images of girls, and those by Erin Petson - strange fashion-esque illustration with a macabre twist.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Compagnie XY: Le Grand C

European Art House cheer leading: is such a thing imaginable? Possible, even? If it is, this was it: Cheer leading without the cheer, so to speak, a more sombre affair minus the smiles and chants, with less synchronised routines and more abstract dashing hither and thither; instead of Colgate brilliant smiles, blonde ponytails, rippling pecs, pop-tastic tunes and letter-emblazoned tight tees, imagine french plaits, German woodcutter sideburns, trousers held up with braces, vintage leotards and sporadic bursts of French Cafe music.
Compagnie XY's production of Le Grand C on the circular stage of The Roundhouse begins in the half light, in silence; each of the acrobats walks on stage slowly, deliberately, only to climb upon one another shoulders to create a human wall. men and women stand three people high, scaling each other like cliff faces to get into position - elegantly, neatly, confidently, calmly, unshowily. and so the performance continues - soberly in the main, with what can only be described as art house humour... for example, at one point each member of the company walks on stage alone to climb and stand atop a narrow, circular column of wood. yes, that's the comedy. there's also some weird staged falling over. odd.
But in the main i rather enjoyed myself. The women are thrown about with inventive, agile, feisty gusto - upside down, side to side, like a cannon ball... with the men catching them on their upstretched hands. yikes. i spent much of the hour-long show taking in sharp breaths and muttering 'i can't bear it', but loving the tension in truth, obvs.
The bodies of the gymnasts were utterly transfixing - thighs made of steel, rippling backs like a mountain range with deep ridges and crevices; both the women and the men with incredible poise, posture, elegance and grace - they made every human juggling act look like they were balancing, throwing and playing with merely fruit rather than an entirely breakable body.
Still, call me crass, unsubtle and cheap, but i would have liked a bit more pizazz - a bit more 'here's our fantastic final number - huzzah!' and maybe some kind of narrative thread which would have elevated it from a something which seemed more like a polished rehearsal warm up into something really to write home about.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Enchanted Palace

Enchanted Palace is a sweet, magical adventure of an exhibition. Housed in the sumptuous State Apartments of Kensington Palace, where royal personages have lived for centuries, it takes up the stories of 7 princesses (whose names you discover as you weave through the labyrinth of rooms) and explores key elements of their history in imaginative displays (a ferocious fall out with a friend, a broken heart, wild rebelliousness, a dramatic accession to the throne etc).

It begins with a room of tears - a dark, melancholy bedchamber where a princess clad in a blue dress is suspended under the canopy of a blue four poster bed, surrounded by bottles of glass tears, shed for her marriage to an older man who she didn't love, and for whom she was unable to bear a much-longed for heir. Another room sees two dancing princesses, their glittering party frocks displayed in cases hidden in a whitewashed wood. The playroom sees the fairytale of the princess and the pea come to life - and a windswept dress by William Tempest appears to sweep from the walls, while down the corridor a rebellious princess in a dress by Vivienne Westwood attempts to make a controversial escape. In the grandness of the King's Drawing Room is a fabulous cabinet of curiosities - open the drawers, cupboards, flaps and slides of the magnificent 4 sided cupboard to discover eccentric curios - shell collections, severed heads, jewellery made from objects trouve, delicate paintings.

I loved the slide projections in the last room where silhouetted figures dance on the ceiling, and also the fur-lined glass cabinet - the secret den of a feral child. Look out for secrets hidden in fireplaces, behind doors, and in unexpected nooks and crannies.

So many displays were beautifully poetic - Stephen Jones hats hanging in the room of thinking, Boudicca armour hanging in the Cupola room where the centre piece is a magnificent gilt clock - like an indoor sun dial.

It's such a imaginatively thought out project, by Cornish theatre company Wildworks, definitely worth making time for - take a picnic and saunter round Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park too. Completely glorious. Late night openings 21 May, 18 June, 16 July and 20 August 2010
(Open until 21.00, last entry 20.00).

Friday, 16 April 2010

Kick Ass

Fucking Volcanoes. Not a phrase i though I'd be saying unless it was some fabulous new expletive affectation or other. that was until the Icelandic volcanic eruption stopped me from flying to New York for a weekend of hedonism. sob. I've been saying it a lot since about 8am on Thursday.

Anyway, after a super fun trip to Heathrow terminal 3 and back again with a bag so heavy it almost snapped my spine in two and squidged next to a drunk man who was asleep with his mouth open and snoring, the only option following the airport's closure seemed to be to drink copious bottles of wine in the sun, followed by a trip to see Matthew Vaughn's film Kick Ass, the story of geeky Manhattanites playing at being super heroes - mostly with hilariously limited success, but sometimes fricking rocking it. Anyway, the upshot of this was that i now have a new icon/crush: the 11 year old superhero Hit Girl, tag line “I Can’t See Through Walls. But I Can Kick Your Ass” which seems pretty cool to me. Her kick ass attitude and wickedly comfortable familiarity with ferocious expletives is nothing short of perfection. My hair isn't too far off being a purple bob either, so I'm theoretically on my way to a stylistic homage.

My stonking crush on screenwriter Jane Goldman (wife of Jonathan Ross) has also gone stratospheric. I cannot believe how unbelievably hot, sassy and damn cool she looked at the film's premiere - wearing a dress (below) that epitomises everything fabulous about fashion. i actually went in and lovingly stroked it in the Vivienne Westwood shop on Conduit Street this very Tuesday. then I threw up at the £800 price tag. 'want' is not really enough of a word to cover how much i need to own this dress. This is what my dream self (at least) will be wearing for the foreseeable future... so if you meet me in my dreams, be prepared to be wowed.




Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Polar Bears

The reviews of this play about a woman with extreme bipolar disorder, by Mark Haddon, were mixed, leaning towards the not great, and although i can see why (possibly it's quite gimmicky, and a little overwrought), I have to say that I for one really enjoyed it.

Funnily enough i'm not sure it really is about a woman with bipolar disorder - although she's the lead character (Kay). For me, what the play explores with more insight, sensitivity and indeed curiosity is the weight of responsibility (and of love, protection and control) that those in relationships with people with such extreme mental health issues, have to carry, deal with and constantly re-negotiate the boundaries of. the surprising mutual dependence of the characters in this play is fascinating - Kay's mother needs her daughter to be dependent upon her and give her a purpose, John's (Kay's husband's) grounded normalcy is made special through his relationship with Kay, while Kay herself relies on them both to 'love her while it's dark'.

The play opens with Kay's husband and brother in a state of frenzied panic. John (Richard Coyle - i have BIG LOVE for him of old) has killed Kay (Jodhi May), his wife, out of hopeless, desperate, concentrated, exasperation. The situation is handled with a comic mania and is indeed darkly, blackly (but not mockingly) funny. for the remaining 90 minutes the play continues to juggle humour, tenderness and desperate hopelessness with confidence and ease, darting about with hyperactive alacrity - jumping through key moments in the past like a child playing hopscotch and landing on different squares of time. It's erratic, but it never fails to make sense. on occasion there are also rather bizarre imaginary character projections - Kay talks to a Geordie Jesus, John to a young girl (possibly imaginary or a version of Kay), and we hear Kay's telephone call from Oslo when we know she cannot possibly have been there... yet the fantasy/reality schism never jars.

One criticism repeatedly levelled against the play is that it's too much of an extreme situation... Kay is an artist whose periods of frenzied creativity, which match her emotional highs, result in a series of artworks which are initially thought great, but which turn out to be embarrassingly inept. it's a shame, because such a dramatic revelation simply isn't necessary when the thrust of the play is more subtle and powerful.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Prima Donna

I'm really pleased i went to see Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna last night - although much pleasure was arguably derived from several things rather unconnected to the actual opera itself, it has to be said - Wainwright, clad in a Tartan suit was there with mustachioed boyfriend, plus the sort of famous people you might want to be friends with... Bella Freud for eg, which created a grand sense of occasion, plus the completely bonkers crowd of all ages, fashion sensibilities, and general walks of life were thoroughly over-excited, which contributed to a frenzied buzz that fizzed around the auditorium and foyer of Saddler's Wells, and finally, i had a much longed for kiss-and-make-up with a dear friend before curtain up - always guaranteed to lift one's spirits to the point of enjoying something desperately dire. This wasn't dire, but it certainly wasn't La Boheme, as aforementioned dear friend was quick to note.

The Opera, Prima Donna, tells the story of a Norma Desmond-esque opera diva, Regine Saint Laurent (Yves, no relation, je pense), who is living in faded elegance (what else?) in Paris (where else?) with her controlling, Mrs Danvers style butler and flimsy maid (who stole some of the best tunes if you ask me). the last time she sang was over six years ago, when she had a vocal breakdown, but she's set to make a triumphant comeback, in the same role she crashed and burned performing last time. But then she's visited by a young journalist (who also happened to train as a tenor, handy for duets) and who flatters her ego and encourages her to sing with him. caught up in the moment, they end up in a heady embrace. Strangely though, he's forgotten to mention he has a girlfriend (that old trick) and after Regina has been left to moon over him for a while and remember her glory days, he then returns to the apartment with girlfriend in tow to ask Regina to sign a record for him (yes, it's seems totally mad on stage too). RSL is less than happy as you might imagine and has another breakdown, at which point her long suffering, draconian butler walks out and she's left alone, bereft, with no voice, no hope, nothing.

My main problem, really, was having an opera about a singer who can't sing. she obviously has to sing even when she's supposed not to be able to. and when she finally sings her major number, it makes less of an impact as she's been, well, singing the whole time.

Also, however the plot grabs you, it really isn't punchy enough to be eeked out over 2 1/2 hours. Pacey it ain't. by the end i was so desperate for some drama i way baying for blood and kept wishing someone would kill someone - the butler kill the diva with a spoon? (no, just putting it back on the table) murder with keys? (no, just returning them). maybe she'd kill herself? (no, just left a tragic wreck).

And so to the music... Many of the melodies I loved, and was happily swept along by the choppy passions of the alternately rumbling, haunted, wispy, melancholy and furious strains which darted throughout. What i was never really swept off my feet by, however, were the really moving, strong, passionate, heartbreaking or loving arias. where were they? please excuse the completely technically inept explanations which'll follow, but there was much singing-talking and not much singing-singing if you know what i mean. where was the OPERA? who knows. and we couldn't help thinking that the libretto was in French simply to hide the fact that not much of note was being said.

Which sound like i hated it, which i didn't. but it was a tiny bit like Rufus himself was the Prima Donna (or the main attraction, certainly), the audience were the spectacle and the opera itself was a slightly forgettable chorus girl.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Trash City

I think my favourite moment of Trash City, the aerial acrobatics-meets-rock concert-meets-freak-burlesque show that punched its way into public consciousness at Glastonbury in 2007 and whose current show is part of The Roundhouse's Circusfest, wasn't quite when the silver Lycra-clad tranny flew through the air singing Alice Cooper's Poison, nor even when a giant robotised bull charged into the crowd seemingly ridden by a lost Bon Jovi band member, nor when the sexy rock-chic angels fell from the sky on bungy-cords only to grab an audience member and simulate tearing their throats out - rising to the heavens again with bloodied mouths. No, it was when a near naked woman (modesty barely preserved by Matthew Barney-esque bloody cones on her breasts and a red sequined fig leaf on her bajingo), suspended from a giant cobweb-shrouded chandelier and twisting, flipping and contorting with acrobatic splendour, reached a crescendo by pulling a ruby necklace out of her pussy. amazing.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


I love Will Keen. i first really noticed him in a production of The Changeling here at the Barbican about four years ago, which was also a Cheek by Jowl production. I've pretty much been stalking him around the London stages ever since. and I love Macbeth, in the way you especially love a play you've been in (ok, it was at school, but still). As part of the Shakespeare-fest which i indulge in with my friend Rachel, Macbeth is always set to be a highlight. so Will Keen + Macbeth + Barbican + Cheek by Jowl seemed a shoo-in for a standing ovation. i had virtually kicked off my heels in preparation for a foot stomp. sadly, stomping out was more likely (though i restrained myself. just.)

I am rechristening this production Lady Macbeth because it's pared down (2hrs, no interval) to what is basically a two-hander, one that is scene stolen by a histrionic, hysterical, unhinged, neurotic, shaking, sweating, thoroughly distracting Lady Macbeth. Confusingly, she seems to come to her senses during the sleepwalking scene, where she convincingly wanders about visibly crumbling under the weight of guilt and general insanity. really, it's very odd.

Banquo feels a bit 'blink and you'll miss him', Macduff has a forbearing, powerful stage presence, granted, but it's something you feel he's had to grab through the language with both hands.

The indistinguishable chorus-like company meanwhile dash about with frantic, frenetic nervousness, delivering an isolated line and then running off in a blind panic. initially, i liked the almost balletic quality to the staging, but then it rapidly descended into being gratingly new age 'music and movement'. It fits with the post-apocalyptically stark landscape of the stage, which has industrial minimalism thing going on. very bleak and black - with no props (not even any daggers; the 'is this a dagger i see before me' line is a bit like - no more than anywhere else, luv). utterly bizarre.

What i did love, however, was the porter scene. usually i hate the light relief (bah humbug). but this porter was a gum-chewing, tartan miniskirt wearing, stiletto clad, electrified ginger haired floozy who ignored the intercom, had a unintelligibly thick Scottish accent and a whopping crush on Macduff. Rocking.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Hannah reminded me this morning quite how fabulous the Quilts exhibition is at the V&A. I went to it a few weeks ago, strangely enough, dressed as her, for a feature we are doing on swapping wardrobes. the usual skyscraper heels, 1950s dress/1940s pencil skirt and red lipstick and nails for that night was swapped for tweed plus fours, a stripey jumper (I'm allergic to stripes usually) woolly tights and clogs. I knew she would love it, and not only because i was dressed as her that night.


It's not only the skillfulness and visual impact of the quilts on display which impresses, but the emotion that you can feel has been poured into them - whether they have been created as a means of creative rehabilitation (for contemporary prison inmates or 19th century injured soldiers), to maintain the craft (by 1920s W.I members), to make a political point (as Grayson Perry makes about abortion), to commemorate a historical event, or, practically speaking, to make a living. one of my favourites (above) sees a women sew historical scenes into her 19th century coverlet, into which she also sews images of herself - you can imagine she would be the sort of person who now might copy herself into a picture of Gordon Brown and Obama having a chat and hold rabbit ears over their heads. but cooler, obviously. some of the very old quits also seem incredibly chic and contemporary; this is about as far from twee as you can get, which, i'll be honest, surprised me.


Surprisingly and utterly captivating. It's on until 4 July.