Ever wondered how your food came to be, well, food? Who worked out that steaming a globe artichoke and scraping the white fleshy bit from the leaves with your teeth tastes good? Some Nigella cave-chef, must have been licking everything that came out the ground to crack that….. Click here to read the rest of this week’s Blonde’s Eye View column.
Confession time: I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men staged, or the movie with Henry Fonda. I know, I know: I just hadn’t got to it yet. But this meant that when I took my seat in the gorgeous Richmond Theatre I didn’t know what was coming.
Set in 1950s Manhattan, in a hot locked room, twelve jurymen must decide if an accused boy is guilty of murder. If found guilty the sixteen-year-old defendant, from the wrong side of the tracks, will be executed by electric chair. Immediately Tom Conti, who plays Juror 8, is marked out by his (at first physical) distance to the others and by his lone vote of not guilty. The only thing standing between the boy and death is Juror 8. And so begins an intense re-examining of the evidence, as in turn each Juror confronts their own doubts, prejudices and beliefs.
This is a fight for survival and justice, the set holding the men in a claustrophobic embrace as thunder rolls overhead and it grows dark as the rain comes. The table the men sit around slowly revolves as they debate ever closer to the deadline they’ve imposed: the tables literally turn. The outstanding cast make light work of the humour, the emotion and the high stakes. Andrew Lancel as Juror 3 embodying the repressed anger and pain recognisable in the posturing of many a bar bully. Squaring up to Tom Conti’s considered, thoughtful Juror 8 the two seem destined to forever be opposed. This is a classic play delivered with panache and conviction, which left me on the edge of my seat till the end. A guaranteed good night out.
Twelve Angry Men is on at the Richmond Theatre until Saturday 2nd May, and will then be touring: full details and dates here.
You can read about what I will and what I won’t review here.
I read a lot of books, see a lot of plays, and watch a lot of films. It’s my job: you can’t write without studying your craft (well you can be you probably won’t get far), and that includes digesting as much material as possible. The creative process is a hard thing to define and explain, but for me a large part of it is to be stimulated: different genres and different mediums all feed back into my ideas and what I’m working on. A newspaper story, a documentary, a superhero film, a literary novel, a four-minute Youtube sitcom: it all goes into the melting pot. For me it’s all about story: and you find that in every form of expression.
All this creative-crudité-crunching means I come across some amazing things I want to share: plays that made me cry, books that made me laugh out loud, and films that chilled me. It also means I come across things I find not so successful. Creativity is subjective, and even if I find flaws in works I understand that getting a book written and published, producing a play, or getting a movie green lit is a big deal. It’s hard to achieve, and it takes a vast amount of work. We’re talking years of sweat and tears and determination and very possibly near-bankruptcy. I also know the finished article an audience receives has had the input of many others: a book will be shaped by an editor, a film re-written numerous times by multiple writing teams, a play tailored by a theatre. The faults you think you can see in a creative piece don’t necessarily originate from the writer.
So who am I to blog negatively about someone else’s work? We’re all learning, we’re all growing, we’re all hopefully moving forwards. If I don’t like something I don’t review it. I write about the things I enjoyed or loved*. There are already enough hurdles artists have to overcome, there is already enough rejection to endure: they don’t need a silly little blog giving them a bad review.
*If you or your publisher have sent me your book and I have not reviewed it, please do not assume it is because I didn’t like it: sometimes life gets in the way and my to-read pile gets out of control. My apologies.
A year or so ago I was at my favourite writing retreat and met fellow guest Rebecca Whitney, who was working on what would become The Liar’s Chair. Sat in front of the fire clutching a glass of wine, I listened rapt as she read an extract. I remember being consumed by the desire to know what happened next. Now finished and published by Pan Macmillan I have my answer.
The Liar’s Chair is the story of Rachel Teller, a prosperous businesswoman who accidentally kills a man in a hit and run incident. It is a taut, gripping plot, with controlling husband David covering up the accident and insisting Rachel and he pretend nothing has happened. But this one act of violence sends fissures across the meticulously cultivated veneer of Rachel ‘s seemingly perfect life, and arouses her husband’s darker side.
I got in the bath to start reading this book and didn’t get out until I’d finished. Wrinkled like a prune and having emptied the boiler of hot water, I was fascinated by Rachel and her plight. But more than simply a tense page-turner, The Liar’s Chair is a stunning psychological profile of a character. Whitney delves through the shadows of Rachel’s life to bring the reader an extraordinary understanding of the woman we meet on the first page. Rachel is a troubled character and I’ve seen a few reviews sighting her as unlikeable, but I think we should be wary of damning protagonists on their likability. This is not a popularity contest, and all too often the question of likeability is only raised in regards to female writers and female protagonists: so unused are we to seeing real representations of women. Rachel is not a two dimensional portrait, but a complex, augmented, fully-formed person. She is very very real. Something I hope we see more of when it comes to female characters.
If you’re in the mood for a pacey psychological thriller, and don’t mind abandoning your plans for the day, then I’d recommend The Liar’s Chair.
The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney: dark, startling and compelling 4/5
Spoiler alert! Scott and Charlene DID get married. Have we reached peak spoiler? Here’s my column on the dreamy days when your VHS tape of the Neighbours wedding couldn’t be ruined by anyone: http://www.wharf.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/blondes-eye-view-how-shouting-9048245
I’m thrilled to announce I’ve written a new short play which will be part of the amazing West Avenue’s seasonal scratch night: Briefs.
Chugging for Kittens is about good intentions, charity, and sexual gratification!
The short will be part of the Briefs Spring show on the 29th April at the Waterloo East Theatre. It promises to be a fast and fun night. Advance tickets are £10 and can be purchased here.
I’ll see you in the bar after. x
Writer Anders Lustgarten’s biography in the front of the Lampedusa programme and text describes him as a ‘political activist who’s been arrested in four continents’. It should come as no surprise then that Lampedusa – named after the Italian island that marks the southern most point of Europe, and the primary entry point for migrants – is a play that tackles immigration and welfare. Slipping between the words of Stefano, an Italian lifeguard who fishes the bodies of hundreds of drowned migrants from the sea, and those of Denise, a payday lender collector in Leeds. Ferdy Roberts and Louise Mai Newberry give captivating performances in the lead roles in the intimate stripped setting of Soho Upstairs.
Lustgarten’s play is delivered in the timeless tradition of storytelling, the character’s monologues echoing the no doubt countless tales that have travelled round the world and through history to tie us each to our past and our homelands. There’s a touch of humour, heartbreak, and horror here as Stefano and Denise reel you into their lives. The world shrinking to the mesmeric single swaying bulb on the stage, as the language and the performance transport you to the climax of the story. At first I failed to see the link between the two lead characters, and their journey of finding hope in unexpected places, but now I believe the connection is the invisible thread that ties all of humanity together. An absorbingplay that questions how an apparently civilised continent got to this point. How we got to this point.
Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten is on at the Soho Theatre until 26th April 2015.
n.b. The seating for this performance is benches without backs, but if you need support you can find a small number of lighting pillars that run vertical to the back row. Using my neck pillow I was able to lean against one of these pillars for the duration of the performance. There is a lift up to the studio.
Jennifer Haley’s futuristic The Nether enjoyed its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, and the successful and visually stunning production has now transferred to the Duke of York Theatre.
Set at an unknown time in the future, the Internet has become a total sensory immersive experience and is called The Nether. Many people spend the majority of their waking hours online, with ‘shades’ choosing to ‘cross’ fully and leave their bodies shrivelling up on life support machines ‘in-world’. Detective Morris is investigating the Nether dealings of a secretive advanced coder known as Papa, who has created a seemingly idyllic Victorian era escape called The Hideaway. Paying guests can visit and experience the sight, sound, feel and smell of trees, which are increasingly rare in-world. But trees are not the only things that can be seen, heard, touched and smelt: within The Hideaway live four angelic children with whom guests can play. The mention of blood dripping axes on the wall the first ominous sign something sinister takes place here. But if everyone ‘playing’ the parts of the guests and children at The Hideaway are consenting over eighteens can things experienced in The Nether really be immoral and unethical, or are they as Papa suggests: without consequence?
Questioning whether executing sexual and murderous acts online causes users to replicate them in real life feels dreadfully current in a time when we have easy access to violent computer games and porn, and when extremist organisations use sophisticated online recruitment techniques to reel people in. But The Nether delves deeper to question how we should, or could deal with sexual perversion. If everyone is a consenting adult is there still the risk of harm? Can sexual ‘sickness’ be treated by enacting fantasies online?
It makes for a brave but deeply troubling piece, the unease of the audience choreographed through the skilful structure of the play. The set is a marvel, combining images of technology and nostalgia to invoke a frighteningly realistic new world. Perdita Hibbins the eleven year old who plays the pivotal role of Iris, one of The Hideaway’s children, delivered an unnervingly mature performance. Which raises a serious question about the suitability and exposure of this material to a child? Due to the complex sexual issues involving minors explored in this play I would not recommend it for those under the age of sixteen.
The Nether by Jennifer Haley is on at the Duke of York theatre until 25th April.
The housing crisis is clearly the hot topic of the moment, as explored by both Game by Mike Bartlett at the Almeida Theatre and now Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre.
On a sparse brilliant white stage a young couple Jill and Ollie, played by Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey, tell us about how they came to have their dream home. They are offered a free, but run down house in a dilapidated part of town by a Mephistopheles figure called Miss Dee, played with aplomb by Amanda Daniels. When Ollie accidentally kills a homeless intruder and the vagrant’s body disappears and is replaced by Jill’s dream kitchen, the couple realise renovations on their home rely on a murder.
Ridley’s funny and energetic satire on greed and consumerism races along, as the couple try to convince you their actions are in the best interests of their child. The play builds toward a truly extraordinaire party scene, where Whelan and Michael Verey exhilaratingly play a total of twelve characters at speed and with huge success. A triumph of writing, acting, and direction: it was quite a spectacle.
A clever, amusing and probing satire Radiant Vermin asks the question of the audience: what would you do? Well, I would go and see this play.
Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley is on at the Soho Theatre until 12th April.
Game, the world premiere of Mike Barlett’s new satire on the housing crisis, is currently being staged at the Almeida Theatre, London. The audience are split into four groups and given headphones to wear while they sit on camouflage-decorated benches. Behind raising electronic shutters in front of them is an aspirational house: the startlingly realistic set is eerily reminiscent of those properties used for the reality TV show Big Brother.
The audience peer into the house to watch an unemployed couple, played by Jodie McNee and Mike Noble, as they look around. At the same time images on suspended televisions above show the proprietor of the Game, played by Daniel Cerqueria, showing an ex-army recruit, played by Kevin Harvey, around the hides. It’s at that moment you realise you, the audience, are in the hide. You are more than a mere audience member; you are part of the Game. In exchange for living in the house for free, the young couple have agreed that they will be used as target practice: punters will pay to stalk them the other side of the one-way glass and shoot them with darts that render them unconscious. A disturbing concept.
As you watch punters visit and take their shots – a posh passive aggressive married couple, a drunken hen do – it feels disconcertingly realistic. Distastefully voyeuristic. I’m not a prudish person, but I turned away from televised scenes of the young couple having sex. I didn’t want to be on the same side of the glass as the punters. And I certainly didn’t want to be on the other. The play lasts a short sharp one hour, after which I was physically shaky. Bartlett, and the excellent performances by the actors, place you shoulder-to-shoulder with those exploiting this couple’s economic plight. As a friend said, she felt ‘dirty’ afterwards.
Though a powerful and affecting play, Game does suffer from an underdeveloped narrative arc, which left me wanting a stronger resolution. But perhaps being deeply moved not only by what I saw, but also what I experienced sat in that hide, is dramatic success enough.
Game, by Mike Barlett is on at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 4th April.