Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Beautiful Burnout

When i was about 18 or so I went to a dinner party and found myself sitting next to a guy (a bit older, quite hot), who worked for Shell Oil (the bureaucratic side of things). I literally had to clasp my mouth shut to stifle the groan that rumbled from the depths of my consciousness, and pretty much wanted to gauge my eyes out of my head, but resigned myself to enduring what i thought would be a long, tedious night. Strangely though, it was anything but, as this boy was so enthusiastic, excited and eloquent when talking about what he did. Major lesson learned... even things which can seem interminably dull can become vividly entertaining and fascinating if in the hands of someone interesting.

And so we come to boxing. A play about boxing to be exact, which i saw on Sunday night at the end of a very long weekend, and which, despite my misgivings,  pumped me full of energy, excitement, tremulous emotion, wonder, amazement and heartbreak. Beautiful Burnout was the toast of this year's Edinburgh Festival, a play that seemingly got everyone talking excitedly; in the papers, on television, by word of mouth. And the talk wasn't just talk, it materialised into action too, and  its follow up national tour began last week at York Hall, in Bethnal Green - a beautifully restored 1920s gymnasium (that now plays host to bona fide boxing matches), how apt.  the stage that had been set up for this play was a rotating boxing ring round which the audience sat, and which was the scene for five young wannabe boxers who were each propelled into boxing for different reasons - fame, money, glory, revenge, status, acknowledgement, anger - and who wanted to make their name with their fists, but who each travelled down different paths on their individual quests. It's also about motherhood - and the animal protectiveness that is challenged so sharply when boxing comes into play. It's also about nurture in a broader sense of the word, and fairness (or unfairness) of fate, sex, rules and chance, and lastly it's about love. It's a complex mix of issues explored with a deft lightness of touch and that feels anything but confusing - it's funny, above all, even though the sucker punch hits you square on with shocking, and unexpected seriousness.

It's incredibly intense a theatrical experience; yes, it's crammed into 90 mins but it's not only that. there's a frenetic, jagged edge to the dialogue - a sort of jilted flow to the language, like boxing jabs coming thick and fast. It's also very physical, as you'd expect, but this is translated into a theatre friendly form by creating intricately choreographed dance routines from the boxing moves and training exercises, which are set to music by dance legends Underworld. Strobe lights and flashing scenes projected from TV screens add to the hot, sweaty, frantic, heady nightclub-cum-fight atmosphere. It's truly intoxicating. and thought provoking, and moving - it knocks you out as you could only hope for. if you can, you must see it.

Here's where it on in the coming weeks...
York Hall Leisure Centre, London

16/09/2010 - 02/10/2010

Rothes Halls, Glenrothes
13/10/2010 - 16/10/2010

Crucible, Sheffield
03/11/2010 - 13/11/2010

Minerva Theatre, Chichester
16/11/2010 - 27/11/2010

St Ann's Warehouse, New York
25/02/2011 - 27/03/2011

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Goodwood Revival

I basically died and went to heaven this Saturday when i went to Goodwood Revival, the historic motorsport and aviation event held every September at Lord March's estate near Chichester. Please god when i die can this be where I end up...
Primarily a car racing event for vehicles from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, with an additional field for vintage aeroplanes too, Goodwood is also a chance to dress up in associated sartorial style. since i was asked earlier this year whether i had just come from 'an historical day' while out walking by the Devon Coast (so much did i resemble a landgirl - totally the look i was going for, ovbs, with a vintage American boiler suit, wellingtons, cropped flying jacket, fur collar and hair all tied up in a headscarf knotted on top of my head) i thought it really was about time i actually went to a real 'historical day' to live out my vintage fashion fantasies in the extreme.
Extraordinarily luckily for me, a friend was asked to exhibit his plane in this year's aviation show (it's the acid yellow one with green stripes below, there's also a pic of Paul standing jauntily beside his prized possession further down), and he had spare tickets. Huzzah. Bella was a joyously welcome third addition (she's the hot blonde in green dress and 1940s navy coat who reappears in these pictures variously smiling coquettishly, sitting atop vintage racing cars like the cat who got the cream or posing rather fabulously in front of planes) so off we zipped on the 9.02 from Victoria on Saturday morning, first class, no less, for a day of vintage revelry. and by gad what revelry it was. the whirr of the car engines as they roared past, the purr of the planes as they dived and coursed by, the blinding colours of the cars as the sun bounced off their bonnets as we weaved between them all lined up in the pit, where they sat, ready for race time. Ration tickets were provided for food and drink, airforce wings entitled you access into special areas. there were big bands playing for people to jive to, and band stands where barbershop quartets sang, plus vintage fairground rides, like Ferris wheels, for entertainment. every inch of the area was filed with something to look at - girls driving glam cabs (there's a photo of them lined up below), a period film set, steam locomotives, police cars from the 1950s, vintage Harrods vans and fireman's trucks.
And that's to say nothing of the fashion, which gave my eyes the workout of their life, as i literally stroked, pawed and explored in detail the dress of passers by with them. there was an overriding predominance of war-time fashion - both military and civilian - i especially loved the evacuee schoolchildren , but the 1950s and 1960s outfits were also pretty showstopping - from the grand dames to the teddy boys. it was visually dizzying - my head was constantly spinning round to appreciate the huge amounts of effort everyone had gone to. i think it was because people were genuinely emotionally invested in the event - everyone was living and breathing enthusiasm for the decades of over half a century ago.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Secret Cinema: Lawrence of Arabia

Despite it feeling more than a little un-PC to get dressed up in Arabian garb and travel on the train via Finsbury Park for Secret Cinema's screening of Lawrence of Arabia, once there it proved itself to be the most incredible experience in many ways. Walking from the station to Alexandra Palace (where the film was being shown in a vast exhibition hall, with 4,000 people sitting on the floor snuggled in blankets and cushions) everyone was in Bedouin inspired garb, walking in a line like some kind of mass exodus or sacred pilgrimage. We passed donkeys, camels and men and women on horseback who charged about with swords and herded us about or tried to barter with us for goods. Inside, there was a giant souk set up, with cushion and rug filled Bedouin tents, falafel and lamb kofte stands, market sellers hawking rugs and jangly trinkets and the sounds and smells and bustle of a colourful, frenetic, energetic Arabian market. Sort of a weird thing to do on a Friday night, but rather fun.
I'd definitely recommend signing up to Secret Cinema. Shrouded in secrecy (their mantra is 'Tell No One', clearly something i'm ignoring) they'll email you when their next event is happening and send through clues as to where the final location will be, and what the film being shown is. Everything I've seen so far, The Warriors outdoors on London Fields, and Alien in an east end warehouse has been an utterly immersive and eye-opening experience. More than anything it's kind of wonderful to be a part of such an explosion of creative thinking and production. Yes, sure there are hitches and everything isn't quite perfect, but if you're game and up for it, it's pretty ace.

Next up, my vote goes to Fiddler on the Roof - not only because i basically grew up wanting to be in it (singing Matchmaker matchmaker...) but seems like it might balance the weirdness of this event out. or not.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Watching Headlong's production of Earthquakes at the National Theatre is like standing in the middle of an insanely vibrant and wild firework display. Hot, bright, nervy, exciting, eye catching. Bursts of activity happen with explosive force, lighting up the theatre. Scenes pulsate with energy, rhythm, emotion and passion. Unbridled hedonism mixes with controversial political activism, attention seeking rebellion, listless and wandering confusion, heated confrontation, vociferous opinion, oleaginous persuasion. It's all extreme. and extremely entrancing... as the drama swings from side to side of the theatre audience faces switch direction in tune, as if at a tennis match. The stage is arranged like a raised catwalk which snakes though the audience members who have bar stool seats in the pit of the theatre, at the centre of the action (the only seat to have if you ask me, and only £20). It's completely immersive, like being drunk. in a thrilling way.

But it's not all crown and no country - the high octane production completely compliments a story which weaves personal narratives (that of three sisters struggling for recognition, affection, affirmation, love, support and success in a fast paced, competitive, dog-eat-dog, ever-expanding world) with broader issues concerning humanity's suicidal quest to destroy the world. Abandonment, attention, love, support, selfishness - the themes and plot points are knitted together in such a clever way - you don't notice until you are presented with a cleverly designed blanket at the end. Just as you're thinking 'that's odd' or 'how does he even...?' there's a reveal that knocks you for six and makes everything come together. True, there are moments when it's a sort of crazed sci-fi, eco polemic, and ordinarily i wouldn't go near a play about climate change, but this only turns preachy (not to mention downright freaky, a touch Margaret Atwood on acid) in the last half an hour or so, so it's completely digestible, carried as it is by the more sane preceding 5/6ths of the play.
From the same stable as Enron, this is much, much better if you ask me - with all round outstanding performances and a specially good singing number by the pram pushing parliament hill mothers. genius. if it doesn't get a West End transfer it'll be a travesty. but see it now while you can.

Outdoor swimming

I braved the arctic temperatures of the river at Figheldean this Bank holiday weekend (above) and despite the grumblings of a nearby fisherman about the unsuitability of the water (river rats and Weil's disease... tosh, i say, he wanted the place to himself) and total submersion feeling not unlike being stabbed with thousands of tiny daggers and then doused in acid, it was lots of fun. The Sunday before i had nervously swum in a puddle masquerading as a lake in the middle of a sheep field, while recovering from the nearby festival Haselstock, so this was a definite improvement. nothing kills the hangover like a brisk dip in the open air.

i completely love swimming outside in secluded river spots or lakes when it's sunny and crisp. It's simultaneously romantic, adventurous and liberating. the end of summer tends to be good as by then the water has warmed up, and you can weave through wispy reeds or be swept along by the currents and know that when you scrabble back onto the banks, the sun will warm you in no time.

seems that's not for everyone though, and the Outdoor Swimming Society has recommended some glorious spots for autumnal swimming. not for the fainthearted, i fear... my trick is to look up where i am going on the OSS map and the find somewhere neaby. or just explore and see what i find.

1. Aveton Gifford, Devon. Enjoy the changing colours on the riverbank in this glorious shallow estuary swim - the water is shallow enough to wade, and with a sandy bottom it's like going for a glorious long snorkel.
2. Loch Oich, Great Glen, Scotland. Yellow leaves hang suspended in the water, which is black as space. A small loch: strong swimmers with a wetsuit and bright hat may be confident enough to cross it (pick a bright tree opposite). Pub lunch by a fire in Fort Augustus afterwards. 3. Tarn Hows, Lake District. Beautiful surroundings, easy entry and exit, and the water is shallow so it's warmer than some of the big lakes - particularly if the sun is out heating up the surface layer. Coffee and cake is not far away, and it's surrounded by trees so there's a cascade of colours going on.
4. Durdle Door, Dorset. Last autumn, over 30 of us swam from here to Lulworth Cove on a social swim (3.5km), after camping among crispy leaves. Required logistics (Safety boats, tide times & direction), but a dip at any stretch of this coach is glorious - in summer, the glory of Durdle Door can be ruined by too many people. KR, Wild Swim & map.
5. Sharrah Pool, Dartmoor, Devon. Moor water is never warm, but the Dart is clear, and the walk through the ancient woods here makes the swim particularly glorious. Not suitable after rainfall.
6. The Cam, Cambridgeshire. An old OSS favourite, and the dying vegetation are opening up large areas of bank at the moment. ST, Wild Swim & map.
7. Broad Haven (south), Pembrokeshire. A recent favourite, and you may well encounter seals (before they are pupping). Swim around Church Rock in flippers (beware rips), dip in, or walk along the cliffs and skinny dip in a deserted cove.
8. Nanjizel, Cornwall. Should, in my opinion, replace nearby Lands End as our marker of the wild far end of Cornwall. Recommended to me by OSS members before a recent trip, this is a place where seals own inaccessible beaches and black shags dive through clear waves along the shoreline. Nanjizel is reachable by foot, and Zawn Pyg, a 20 metre chasm in the cliffs with a light shaft that illuminates the clear Cornish water, is the swim. At low tide you can dip in the tiny rock-dammed pool (suitable for children), and in calm weather swim through the chasm. If the sea is not too big and you are a good swimmer, swim out west to a little beach and cave; or further towards interesting rock formations in the direction of Carn Boel.
9. Buscot to Kelmscott, The Thames, Oxfordshire (or part of it). Site of one of my favourite swims ever: go late in the season, enjoy the lack of people on grey days, have a big pub lunch afterwards.
10. Feshiebridge, Scottish Highlands. Clear pool of water for a brave dip, and river shoots and canyons (when water conditions suitable) for anyone in wetsuits with a senese of adventure. 11. High House Tarn, Glaramara, Lake District. See pic. Great spot for a remote wild camp, and a shallow dip. After sun, the peat makes the water surprisingly warm.