In the wake of the recent election results I watched many publically express their concerns about our changing society, and pledged, among other things, to support the arts. With IdeasTap closing in a few weeks, and funding and grants being slashed, there is a fear our cultural landscape is being irrevocably changed. It’s being white washed, narrowed, minimised. The voices we’ll hear, the books we’ll read, the faces we’ll see, will be restricted to those who can financially support them selves through training, developing their craft, and getting their first break. Which is why we must back projects like Generation Arts, who work through theatre making with marginalised members of society. They provide access, support, and help getting into employment for young people who haven’t had the opportunity to achieve academic qualifications. Guys, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and cough up a tenner for the ticket. (Added bonus: there’s a student bar at the Platform Theatre and it’s cheap!)
But there is another reason to watch this project end show: it’s bloody good. I sat down expecting worthy, and what I got was real. It took a few seconds for my brain to adjust to those that were on stage. There’s no way to say this but bluntly, most of the theatre I see is white. White actors everywhere. Dirty Special Thing’s cast is diverse, and you know what it looked like? It looked like London. It looked like every day reality. Our capital city and Helder Fernandes’ cheeky young taxi driver training for the knowledge provided the Greek chorus and structure of this play. With charm and wit, he led us through at first what seemed like disparate stories of Londoners, marking out on the floor the routes we take, the transport we use, but they became entwined: we are all part of the same story. A perfect visual execution of the idea of community. A twist on the phrase: we’re all in this together.
Moneer Elmasseek’s erudite Big Issue seller was an oracle providing sharp insights into humanity, as it mostly rushed past. The stories that unfolded were touchingly real, routed in a reality that is often missing in plays that try to address society’s ills. Tammi Blake St Louis’ exasperated nurse, finding time in the 15 minutes she’s allotted with each home care patient to tenderly moisturise the dry face of one. A beautiful moment of compassion in the monotonous grind of life. The numerable cast make light work of the stage, delivering intriguing vignettes full of humour, struggle, pain and triumph. This may be a good cause, but Dirty Special Thing was a great show.
Dirty Special Thing is on until Saturday 6th June, get tickets here: http://www.generationarts.org.uk/dirty-special-thing-2/
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.
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.
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.