Monday, 26 November 2018

REVIEW: A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER

Martin MacDonagh’s latest play, A Very Very Very Dark Matter, performed at The Bridge Theatre, positions the classic children’s writer and storyteller Hans Christian Anderson, as an egotistical, at times sadistic, and callous buffoon, who plagiarises the work of a Congolese pygmy woman called Marjory, whom he keeps locked in a three foot wide box in his attic. The nature of their relationship is immediately apparent during their exchange on stage together, when at one point Anderson chuckles as he recounts, unashamedly, how he cut off Marjory's foot when she tried to run away. The show plays with one’s assumptions and expectations, filled to the brim with original ideas, however, it seems as cluttered with material as the stage is with dangling puppets hanging from every corner of the ceiling.

The set, designed by Anna Fleischle, prescribed the tone for a dark gothic fairytale. Puppets of all sizes hang from all corners of the ceiling of Hans Christian Anderson’s attic, as if haunting presences, looming over the large wooden box that takes centre stage. One could draw parallels between the puppets and the strange fruits of Abel Meeropol's 1937 poem.

As with most of Macdonagh’s work, the play sets out to be challenging, horrifying, at times gory, and lathers itself in the darkest of comedy. The audience is told about the imprisonment and mutilation of Marjory, the genocide of ten million Congolese people, and given a demonstration of audacious racism, which is delivered with an unexpected lightness (somehow making it easy for the audience to chuckle them away). In this way, MacDonagh’s work becomes something of a social experiment, as the audience reaction was a fascinating part of the theatrical experience. For example, during a piece of quick and witty dialogue between Marjory and Anderson, within which they explain how Marjory came to be in Andersons’ attic, she talks about the Congolese genocide orchestrated by King Leopold II of Belgium, by exclaiming angrily, ‘He was the biggest cunt of them all!’, which was then met by audience laughter. Furthermore, it was curious to hear the audience laugh louder at racist jokes about the Chinese and the Belgians rather than those about black people. Regardless of who they were aimed at, they were all racist which in turn makes one question how we as a society consider some racism and prejudice justified, and others uncomfortable and unnecessary. On reflection, perhaps this was MacDonagh’s intention.

Jim Broadbent played the ignorant and self-entitled white man, Hans Christian Andersen, with impeccable comedic timing and such convincing buffoonery, which was needed to cushion the torrent of racist remarks delivered by the character. Within the piece, Hans Christian Andersen becomes a symbol of colonialism, and racism as well as a representative for male writers at the time, whom Marjory defies throughout. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles plays Marjory, the one-footed pygmy, whose performance justifiably displays great power and fury at her years of imprisonment, and at the future fate of her Congolese countrymen.

There is a resonant moment as Marjory challenges Anderson to call her by her African name, Ogechi, which he rebukes as he finds it too difficult to pronounce. Hence, Marjory is the name he has chosen for her, as it reminds him of an, ‘ugly English Princess’. There were jokes delivered addressing the issue of how white people do not make the effort to pronounce a African names correctly and choose to give nicknames, or other ‘easier’ names instead, thus exposing their ignorance. As well as remaining a historical issue that affected people at the time of the slave trade when slaves were treated as possessions rather than people, it still remains an issue today with websites dedicated to helping white people pronounce African names (seriously, look it up).

With the introduction of two new characters, bloodied Belgian soldiers, who announce that they have arrived from the future, we are introduced to the not so necessary historical time-travel aspect of the play. We are told it is Marjory who has killed them, in thirty years time, and so they have travelled back in time to kill Marjory, before she can kill them… in the future. Although the characters were humorous and provided yet another layer to the plot, the choice to add this subplot into the play got lost amongst trying to grapple with the image of Hans Christian Andersen being an abusive fraud, the power of celebrity, inherent racism and the Congolese genocide amidst all the quick comedic interruptions. I think it would be fair to say, the outcome of the play would have remained that same had the bloodied soldiers not made an appearance.

In terms of character development, it felt a little stunted when the comic quips bounced  with the frequency of a stand-up set which didn’t necessarily have a place in this theatrical setting. This generated a backlog of delayed reaction before the next comedic line was delivered, meaning the audience didn't have time to settle. At times, the dialogue didn’t allow the audience the credit they deserved by over explaining a joke. An example of this is when Anderson goes to visit Charles Dickens in London and overstays his welcome to five weeks (which is historically accurate). Dickens is a sweary adulterer, who after a time reveals the skeleton of his pygmy woman, whom they called Pamela, the dialogue goes as follows:

ANDERSON: You kept her in a cupboard?
DICKENS: Yes, there's a joke in there somewhere.
MRS DICKENS: If there is, you wouldn't have written in.

Albeit amusing to see the dismantlement of the guise around revered male fiction writers, this exchange, amongst others, was pretty poor and even Broadbent couldn’t rescue it.

The trouble with addressing all these weighty and complex issues in one hour and twenty minutes, is that it fails to give the audience enough time to digest the information presented to them. As the play touched upon a lot and explained very little, it was difficult to tell what it was that the audience was meant to take away from the play, and moreover, what was at the heart of the piece.Subsequently, the piece didn’t evoke much empathy, however at times it evoked sympathy. Once all the constant comedic relief is stripped back, what you are faced with a reflection on the horror of the genocide and the defiant exposition of the intervention that is needed in revisiting our colonial history.


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Monday, 23 July 2018

NOSTALIGIA

It can be very difficult shopping for clothes. ‘Fashion’. I tried to buy a crop top recently. The ones that show off a bit of your midriff and I fancied owning one myself. I’d seen models wear them, you see those gorgeous people wearing them as you go about the routine that is your life. So I tried as in also tried it on. Oh how I long to wear it. Style it. Own it. But unfortunately they look tragic on me. Literally anyone would tell you that. Apart from my best friend. She lied to me. Told me I looked great. That the colour really showed of my eyes. But we both knew, it made me look as if I had stolen a child's pyjamas. And somehow I now wonder whether she could have been right. Even though she was lying. Because now, more than ever, now it’s almost like I should believe every lie I’ve ever been told now.


I know I don’t like pickles. It’s not so much the taste as it is the texture. Like eating a warty ogre finger with slime all over it. Many people people have told me that they in fact enjoy a pickle. They think it offers a juicy quality that they just can’t pass up. And for one second I have never doubted that they were wrong, and I was right. But now. I’m not so sure. Perhaps I do like pickles. Maybe I just haven’t eaten the right kind of pickle for me.

Oh damn and blast and bugger all! I cannot believe... It's Happened... As soon as one birds leaves the nest, the next little hatchlings are there making their homes getting comfortable in their new lair. How long does it take for a change to occur? A change that changes the changes you initially expected? It has leached itself and gripped its pincers through, into my flesh. Making all the blood rush to my heart. My head. Lifted my chin up. Swiftly and from the great blue it grabbed me by the collar. Feet in the air. It’s actually fucking happened.

If you haven’t noticed, my use of analogies is related to my unwillingness to tell you dear friend what it is that I am actually saying, referring to and so by inferring another thing.
    
Despite being cynical about my best friends advice, and not developing a taste for mythical acidic body parts, and despite my efforts to draw this out as long as I can…. and make as painfully irritating for my reader…… I am in love.

Bollocks.


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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

THE CYNIC HAS RETURNED...

So ladies and gentlemen, the cynic has returned in full glory and has more things that she would like to share with you.


Imagine humidity. Imagine sweat in places you didn’t think you could perspire from. Imagine being in a small space. A small space that you have to conquer and claim as your own. Remember now, if you do not stand your ground you will have no claim, they like to feed on the weak. Imagine not breathing real fresh air for an hour to god knows how long. Imagine having a plan that in theory works like clockwork and then falls apart because of one stupid cog that decided not to work today.


Now, take all of these ‘imaginary’ situations and combine them all into the same one. This is the inevitable reality of travelling. Whether it be by car, air, sea or by train, this will (if not already) have happened to you. Stuck in some kind of a metal container for hours and hours with people that you don’t know, and in a place you don’t know either. If we had the time I would go into each particular popular mode of transport and explain to you why they are all horrendous and should be re-thought in ‘x’ amount of ways. Specifically, today we will be addressing the issue of train journeys. Those that know me well will know that train travel is indeed my favourite way to travel. However, it is not without it clammy flaws.


One runs into these problems once the train is cancelled - that’s when the race begins. We begin with the announcement that fills every regular traveler with utter despair, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen can I have your attention please. We are sorry to announce that the XX:XX train to XXXXXXX has been cancelled. We apologise for any inconvenienced caused.’ Amongst all the irritated commuters, you can see each of them using their mental maps of London to think of an alternative route to their destination. If you look carefully enough you can even see the steam coming out of their ears. But, before you know it, not to worry the station has organised a way to get you there safely. Well done team! Huzzah and hoorah to the leading team of train experts for solving this…. oh wait. Why are all these other people getting on my off-peak train? Is it really 6'o’clock already?


No, no, dear friend. These are all the other people from your cancelled train, the cancelled train before you and then next lot of passengers all cramming onto the same metal tube on wheels. This is the opportune moment to exercise the key survival skills you learnt on The Island: With Bear Grylls. Establishing a base/camp that will suffice for your journey, ensuring you have enough food and water, double checking that you’ve sharpened your elbows because the person sitting next to you certainly has, and trying to make sure you can still breathe amidst the fuggy aroma of bodies, food and sweat. Seeing as you can smell the person opposite you and smell yourself at the same time, you know that occupying this space isn’t helping anyone... not even you.

One thing I must say that I do enjoy when the proverbial shit hits the fan, is when the congregation of travellers on the train look up from their digital devices and come together in times of trouble. When the train is stuck in the middle of the tracks for 45 minutes, you thank the high heavens that someone has attempted to lighten the mood with a mild joke about how terrible British rail services really are. But then you remember that you are from London, and you know that anyone who talks to anyone on public transport is most definitely a nutter. So you plug yourself back into the matrix and boil on your own.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A month in Verona...

And a spaghetti filled buongiorno to one and all! 

During the summer, I was working as an au pair for an Italian family living near Verona. I was there for just over a month and good god do I have lots of stories to tell. Obviously, for the family's sake, I will not mention too much information concerning them. So, let's get on with it then... 

(La Arena, Verona) 
Background information: The parents had just the one child, a daughter who is 5 years old. The daughter would go to camp during the day and I'd 'work' with her (read to her, do some spelling, play games) in the late afternoons/evenings. Which means that I was free from 9:30-4pm every day. Now don't get me wrong, Verona is a beautiful place with things to see, but after about 2/3 weeks I felt like I'd seen most of it. So I took to sitting cafe's reading and wondering around. Also, I can't speak Italian. As you can tell, I definitely thought this through... 
(Piazza Erbe, Verona) 
When I literally just arrived, they took me to to feed their tortoises. I had no warning of pets before arriving, not that I would have had a problem with it. However, no word of a lie, there were about 100 different tortoises. I have never seen anything like it before in my life. It was quite overwhelming at first. I held one that was smaller than the palm of my hand! So cute. Although, at times I did find it a little unsettling how much they are into tortoises, they even have little figurines of them everywhere in the house. 

The parents were terribly kind in doing extra trips to towns outside of Verona, so that I could see more of Italy. Venice was amazing! Packed full of tourists though, as is to be expected I suppose. They paid for all the tickets, meals, ice creams etc. 

The family took my to Lake Garda which is stunning. The largest lake in Italy and there is so much to see. The last time we went there, it was a really nice day as well, so the water was very blue and there was a nice breeze and it was quite relaxing. Although, they insisted on staying to have a coffee at a bar that played really REALLY loud 1980's Italian pop, and had people in their late 40's dancing around drunkenly in their very small speedos. Speedos are a big thing there. I mean, I think it's great that these men have confidence in themselves, but the last thing I want, is to see them thrusting that confidence around to the beat of awful European vintage pop. I hope they didn't stay there for my sake, because I thought it was awful. The only consolation was that these guys who looked like Paolo Nutini's doubles were sitting in eye view, sipping whiskey, smoking cigarettes and just generally looking ridiculously gorgeous. A strange experience but an experience nonetheless.

(Lake Garda) 
I did also venture to the local swimming pool to tan a bit which was goooooood. Although, when they dropped me off there they didn't tell me that you have to wear a swimming cap in order to use the public pool. I suppose it's all for the sake of hygiene and what not, but I found it strange. So seeing as I wasn't allowed into the pool for my lack of a cap, I was sweating in the 31 degree heat, wondering around trying to find where to buy a bloody swimming cap. In the end I did find one which is all good. I did struggle a bit with the sun bed they gave me to use. It's a weird one with an extra thing that covers your head from the sun. I told them that I'm be fine with a towel but they insisted, so in front of the expert tanning club at the pool, I spent 20 mins trying to figure how to open up the damn thing. Deary me...

(Peschiera del Garda) 
I did spend a little time in the closest town to the family's house (Villafranca) and there wasn't that much to do there, so as per usual, I alternated between sitting in cafe's and on park benches reading. Although sitting in the park wasn't quite as peaceful as I thought it was going to be. A man, in his 50's, with very questionable moustache came up to me on his bike and started to speak Italian. So I said in my best Italian that I was English and didn't speak Italian etc. And then he started to ask what country I was from and all this other stuff and eventually he did away. However, 15 minutes later her came back! Asking me about which hotel I was staying in and where I wanted to visit, and he wouldn't go away this time so I just had to get up and walk away. I heard that Italian guys were forward but, no. Especially not a wrinkled 50 something year old man pedalling around on his bicycle with suspicious facial hair. Nuh-uh. 


And that was only a snippet of my time in Verona...




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Saturday, 22 March 2014

#nomakeupselfie

If you don't know already, there is a hashtag going around on all social media networks that is trending as #nomakeupselfie. This isn't all for the sake of vanity, it's about raising awareness for Cancer Research UK. So far, this trend has raised a staggering £2 MILLION!!! Don't believe me? Click ----> here!

So dear readers, here I am nominating all of you to do the same! Everyone has been affected by cancer at some point in their lives, and through this very simple action we can be one step closer to beating it once and for all! It's as simple as posting a selfie, make-up-less and nominating others to do it.
Text BEAT to 70007 to make a £3 donation to Cancer Research UK

If you don't live in the UK, of course your selfie's and donations are also heartily encouraged, or even start the trend where you are! 

Come on ladies, make-up wipes at the ready! 




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Monday, 27 January 2014

Bad luck, eh?

I'm not known for having the best luck in the world. On the contrary, I am known for being fairly unlucky in life. I once dropped my phone down the toilet, just an example. I'm also not known for my elegance and grace. I have been known to walk into lamp posts.  

My luck levels were still low when I left work last week. Let me set the scene for you; 18:30, rush hour in London, there is a nip in the air and the sun has been gone since lunchtime. Many a people are rushing in their winter coats and rucksacks, overtaking fellow pedestrians as if it is a race to see who can get to the tube first. That particular evening, I was one such person. 

As I was weaving in and out of the crowd, I checked to see if I had any texts on my phone, which I did, and thought to myself I'll read these as soon as I get on the bus. As I was thinking this thought, I was not aware of my surroundings, or aware that I was in fact walking quite speedily towards a knee high concrete wall. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I bumped into and fell over this wall. 

When I rolled onto my back and stared at my feet hanging over the other side of the wall, I thought Oh my god. You absolute fool. As I slowly began to get to my feet a man came over to me enquiring after my health. To which I replied quite dizzily, 'Errrr yeah I'm fine.' He then followed this up with another question, 'Did...' (he paused) '... did you just fall over that wall?' I must admit the dear fellow seemed as confused as I. There was no way to answer that question other then, 'Yes. I did.' I then urged him onward with his journey insisting that I was fine. I then noticed that on top of bruising my knees and spraining my wrist, I had smashed my phone screen and my glasses had taken quite a hit too. Eventually as I got to my feet filled with mortification and irritation, I continued to the bus stop, I couldn't help thinking, This is going to be funny in a couple of hours as I shed a quiet tear. This was out of pure shock and embarrassment. 

Even though this whole incident cost me (literally and also physically) in damages, I do now find it all rather funny. I also now realise that it could be written into an episode of Miranda. All I want to know, is this: why was there a knee high concrete wall in the middle of the pavement?!!!




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Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Duchess Of Malfi

One of the best presents I was given last Christmas was tickets to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (next to Shakespeare's Globe) which opened on January 9th 2014, to see the theatre's first ever production, The Duchess Of Malfi, by John Webster, directed by Dominic Dromgoole.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was built to resemble the first ever indoor theatres of the Jacobean era and the building plans were based on an original drawing of the time by Inigo Jones. As soon as my good friend Lauren and I walked into the theatre you could smell the newness of the wood and the atmosphere was set with periodic music played with lutes and violins on the balcony above the stage. The music that accompanied the play was played live by a quartet of musicians in period dress and the whole production was lit by candlelight as it would have been when The Duchess Of Malfi was first staged. The fact that the actors were essentially their own lighting technicians also enabled them to use the light to their advantage by placing the candle in a specific place to highlight their face for a particular moment, whether is was to accentuate the fear they felt of the evil they were projecting.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts)
It has to be said that the ensemble of actors chosen for the roles were all remarkable and were so captivating throughout the entirety of the play. A special mention must go to Gemma Arterton, (who's credits include Quantom of Solace, St. Trinians and Prince Of Persia) who played the lead role of the Duchess of Malfi. Arterton portrayed the Duchess with a lot grace, which was later then converted into great strength that fuelled her resistance against her villainous brothers, Ferdinand (David Dawson) and the Cardinal (James Garnon). David Dawson, for me, was the most captivating actor on stage by far. In Act 1, he intrigues the audience by exposing a little light comedy within the character of Ferdinand so that when he vows to torment his sister, and the reality of his character is exposed, the audience becomes a lot more shocked by his actions. Especially through his decent into madness, Dawson used his incredible talent to make the audience feel uncomfortable and disturbed by the crazed Duke before them. I would give anything to even have a shred of talent that David Dawson has.


All in all it was a very authentic Jacobean theatre experience (apart from the very modern and up to date lavatory facilities that is) and I would recommend it to anyone interested in theatre, history or literature. It was such a good production and I can't wait to see many more at the playhouse! (Is it obvious that I'm a bit of a drama geek?)

I give it a 5 apple rating!


The Duchess Of Malfi will run until February 16th 2014. For more information or to book tickets go to the Shakespeare's Globe website.



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