Saturday, 1 July 2017

Stressing Out and Calming Down

It's a stressful time in the world at the moment isn't it? I've also had, recently, a personally sad time, and one of the ways in which I cope with stress is ranting on this blog. So, since this is my blog, I'm going to rant about some of the ways in which I cope with stress.

A day in a nutshell

Since November last year I've been on a health and fitness kick. I've made "lifestyle changes" and I'm pretty impressed with myself! I am proud to say that I'm now one of those totally irritating people who extols the virtues of sweet potato and kale, and does yoga every day. It's only a matter of time before I'm posting silhouettes of myself in tree-pose (vrksasana - I had to google it) on top of a mountain at sunset.

Attempting to do yoga with my yoga-buddy

I found a great channel on YouTube called Yoga With Adrienne; she's not too perky, or too hippy, but she is quirky and constructive, and I became addicted. Yoga has worked for me on a level beyond physical fitness; through connecting with my breath and movement I can take ten minutes to tune out the noise and chaos. It gives me a little bit of breathing space (literally) when I'm doing something just for me and not feeling guilty about it because it's good for me too!

I often refer to myself as a Frustrated Creative. I long to be the type of artsy person who can learn an instrument really quickly, turn a doodle into a work of art, or write a novel or poem that resonates beyond my own brain. But I'm not. My musical ability is limited to singing (although nowadays it's mostly in the shower or while I'm doing the washing up) and about four songs - badly - on the ukulele. My artwork is only one step above the kind of pictures parents of toddlers stick to the fridge door, and my notebooks are filled with one line of poetry that I can't link together, or ideas for stories that I lack the ability to develop further.

Amigurumi ballerina

But I am good at crochet. I am the crazy lady on the bus with a ball of yarn and a crochet needle, knitting away while I listen to podcasts on politics, history or etymology. I find it relaxing to follow a pattern and know that, at the end of it, I have created something and educated myself at the same time. I'm now trying to learn origami, so my poor boyfriend will have to put up with scraps of paper littering the living room along with snippets of wool and fragments of crochet toy body-parts.

I know I said I wasn't very good at the ukulele, and I'm not. Not at all. But I enjoy learning it. I can strum the chords, it's changing between them that I struggle with, so each piece I endeavour to play there are awkward gaps in the melody. But it's only for me, and maybe the occupant of the upstairs apartment who has to put up with me attempting to play Somewhere Over The Rainbow for the fiftieth time.

Learning to play Disney songs on the ukulele. Because I'm a grown-up.

I'd love to be able to play to a standard that someone could sing along with me, without leaving space for the gaps between chord changes. But that's practice. It's relaxing for me to sit with my little red ukulele and sing along myself as I stagger through a song, and it gives me a sense of achievement when I either get to the end, or grasp the beginning of a new song (the next challenge is Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which is one of my favourites).

Reading and Writing
Anyone who has read this blog before, follows me on social media, or knows me offline, knows that I read a lot. I always have my Kindle and one or two books in my bag, and I'm not particularly fussy over what I read, although historical fiction and fantasy novels are my guilty pleasures. 

Books, books, books

However, when I'm reading for research I find I learn and absorb information better if I then write down what I've read; whether that's notes (I'm a margin scribbler) or blogs. Indeed, this blog was started, way back in 2014 (!) as part of a learning process while I was studying for my degree.
I love learning, and I cope with stress if I don't feel as though I'm 'stuck'. When I'm learning something new, I'm moving forward. And, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, whenever I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my head, so eventually learning new things will push whatever old thing I'm stressing about out and away.

Other Methods
Time alone, to reset. Taking a bath while reading a book. Stroking one of the cats and listening to them purr. Cleaning the house so my external world isn't as cluttered as my internal thought processes. Ticking just one thing off the mental to-do list. Ignoring social media, or at least trying to. Talking to my long-suffering boyfriend. And sleep: sleep is awesome.

How do you cope with stress? 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

We're All Mad Here

There's a method of coping with anxiety which suggests thinking of the worst thing that could possibly happen, then telling yourself that it probably won't. There's another method called Reductio ad Absurdum, which reduces an argument or scenario to ridiculous conclusions.

Neither of these are particularly helpful at the moment.

Politics, and society, is operating so illogically at the moment that even denigrating a scenario to absolutely ridiculous proportions, making it the worst thing that I could think of happening; I wouldn't put it past the realms of possibility.

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Quote: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

I recently watched an interview with Armando Iannucci, one of the creators of the television show The Thick of It, which spoofs the inner workings of a political party. He stated that there was an episode where the politicians and civil servants had to pull a major policy announcement and replace it, at the last minute, with policies which were created on their way to the press conference. Iannucci said that the writers sat around a table and came up with the most outlandish suggestions that they could think of.  Since that episode aired in 2012, several of those policies are now law.

You couldn't make it up. Except Iannucci and the writers of The Thick Of It did. Maybe the ruling elite thought that the show was a documentary rather than a satire?

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I am anxious at the moment. There is tension in the air, and I worry that during the simmering summer it will all boil over. Westminster Bridge, Manchester, London Bridge, the General Election, Grenfell Tower, Finsbury Park, the DUP, Brexit negotiations... the list of tragedies goes on. We have a lot to be angry about.

And in the past twenty-four hours we have been informed that the government is paying an obscene amount of money in order to secure the occasional support of a party that denies climate change, is against LGBTQ+ Rights and anti-Women's Rights; and the deal itself may be illegal, while public services across the UK are cut to the bone and those most in need suffer the ongoing effects of Tory slash and burn austerity.
The offer that was given on the rights of EU Citizens in the UK after Brexit is laughable, raises more questions than it answers, and may actually remove rights and freedoms that EU Nationals have had in this country for years. (But I'll write another blog about this soon as it's something that is personal to me!)

It's madness. It's maddening. We're all mad here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Puppet Protest

May you be cursed to live in interesting times... so says the misquoted and mis-credited proverb.

Theatre has a responsibility to reflect the state of the nation, but one of the issues that theatre has is generally the long lead time to staging a piece. Several productions over the past year have looked at old events, such as Limehouse and This House, which depict political events from years ago and allow the audience to draw out the similarities, and therefore, maybe, give some idea of what might happen next in our current crisis.
It can be difficult to anticipate crises, which is why, I believe, we often read allegory into classic or already established work. Shakespeare is a case in point here: whenever a new staging takes place, we see parallels with our own time. I don't think that this is a bad thing, and I will discuss this further in a future blog.

However, in times of political crisis, guerrilla art comes in to its own. Reactionary and impromptu, theatrical performances can spring up as a result of an outpouring of passion: Aristotle believed that one of the functions of theatre was catharsis, the purging of high emotion, and at the moment there are few things that rouse a more emotional response than politics!

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Something that caught my eye on social media was the Number 10 Vigil at Downing Street, using puppets to stage a 'final leaders debate.' This group use various styles of performance, including songs and spoken word, in a nightly demonstration, and they have incorporated Spitting Image style puppets into their protest.

Puppets have been used in performance and ceremony for hundreds of years: they have even been found in excavations of ancient Greek and Egyptian sites, believed to have been used in dramas depicting the stories of the gods.
Similarly to cartoons, puppets can 'say' and 'do' things that a human actor couldn't get away with, and the ridiculousness of the puppet form creates comedy in a situation that might otherwise be humourless. Humour humanises, and can create empathy and understanding through laughter by disarming an angry reaction - it's very difficult to get angry at a puppet!

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Ancient Greek marionette puppets

Because of the highly visual nature of puppetry it can communicate across language, learning, and cultural barriers, and the caricatures immediately convey the character, or what the creator would have the audience believe about the character!

I'm going to keep an eye on the No10Vigil and see what else they come up with: I feel that impromptu performance protest will expand over the next few years as people turn to the arts to express their hopes, fears and frustrations, which are sure to increase as political instability increases.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Well Hung

This blog has been a work in progress for a couple of days: I started writing in a delirious haze on Friday morning after no sleep and a lot of gin, so I sensibly held off posting until the fog had cleared. Then the internet went down all weekend, so this post has been a few days in the making!

I had gin, fluffy slippers, and my boyfriend and I have been prepping for the zombie apocalypse for years. All bases are covered.

Blimey, it was a long night on Thursday wasn't it? And a little bit of a roller coaster! I've said previously that I always thought that, while the Tories would win, I didn't think Theresa May would get anywhere near the landslide she assumed she'd get. So I was expecting a slim majority, a loss of a couple of Tory seats, a surge in Labour support, and for the Conservatives to continue their roughshod ride across the social fabric of the country.

Then the Exit Polls were revealed, and it all went a little bit topsy-turvey from there. I'm not a Labour supporter, but I was still excited at the prediction. I spent the night flipping between BBC and C4, watching as the results came in, and my mood was the polar opposite of this time last year when I pulled an all-nighter in a very different state of emotion.

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And here we are now. A hung parliament. In a slightly-less-than-lucid state of mind on Friday I typed a few notes, and I'm going to try and make sense of them now:

  • Theresa May wanted a mandate for her vision of Brexit. A mandate for her, personally. What is this a mandate for?
    Her speeches yesterday, both in her constituency and outside Number 10 were incredible, in the sense that I couldn't believe what she was saying; how arrogant, patronising and detached from reality she seems. But then, her entire party and 51% of the electorate also seem to prefer to believe in fantasy than reality so I guess she's appealing to her base.
  • She has been reprogrammed from "Strong and Stable" to "Certainty and Stability". Does anyone actually believe a word she says?
    How dare the Conservative government talk about needing stability when all of the upheaval over the past two years has been their fault? David Cameron said he would hold an advisory referendum on EU membership to quell party in-fighting; he stepped down amid party in-fighting. Then there was a party in-fight to elect a leader. Then, because of party in-fighting, Theresa May called a General Election. Now there is in-fighting amongst the party as they debate whether she should leave. Whatever she does there will be more in-fighting amongst these overgrown toddlers who chuck a tantrum whenever they don't get their own way.
    And they have the absolute gall to accuse other parties of instability, and claim that they are the best ones to lead the country.
    (Wow, this one was a bit of a rant wasn't it?!)

  • We were warned that a vote against the Conservatives was a vote for the Coalition of Chaos, led by a terrorist sympathiser. I said in a previous blog that if this is stability, give me chaos! Well, she was right in a way: people voted against the Conservatives, and it appears we may be getting a chaotic coalition with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party a party against gay rights, against women's rights, climate-change deniers and creationists, founded by a terrorist. 

  • It appears that young people voted in their droves. Previously younger voters felt that politicians don't listen to them so they don't vote: this is a self-fulfilling prophecy as if they don't vote, politicians won't cater to them. They cater to their core voters and their target demographics. Now that young voters are becoming a powerful demographic, politically speaking, politicians will see that they are a force to be reckoned with and will have to factor this into any future plans.

  • In conversations with friends they asked me what I wanted to happen. Obviously my dream would have been for a LibDem majority, but that was never going to happen. So, realistically my best outcome would have been for a 'progressive alliance' between the LibDems, Labour, Greens and SNP. This could still happen - it would be a minority government, still, on a 'confidence and supply' arrangement, but I think this would be a lot more palatable to the majority of the UK than a minority party with the DUP on side.
But we'll see what happens. Since beginning this post three days ago, things haven't become much clearer: Theresa May's advisers have resigned, calls are rising for her to resign with Boris Johnson being touted as the next Prime Minister (we'll see what happens at the 1922 Committee today!), Jeremy Corbyn has said he is prepared to propose an alternative Queen's Speech, the Brexit talks begin next week, leading Brexiteers are back in favour in the cabinet, and across my Facebook I see people planning protests and marches.

One thing is for sure, British Politics: The Soap Opera - Season Two is shaping up to be just as bonkers as last year!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

Theresa May was right. As much as it galls me to even type those words, she was right when she said that this was the most important election. It is. It is a chance for change.

For many people who voted Leave in the referendum it was a protest vote: they felt that their voices were not being heard so they let loose a howl of frustration at years of government austerity that was channelled by a campaign built on lies and emotional manipulation into a misguided anger towards "unelected" bureaucrats in Brussels. Really their anger should have been at our own parliament and problems that have very little, in reality, to do with the machinations of the European Union.

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Now we have a chance to actually make our voices heard. In this country, towards our own leaders, a protest vote for things that can make a positive difference to people in this country.

Theresa May is a disingenuous puppet, propped up on her Iron Throne by the most degenerate press moguls in the world. The reason she has refused to take part in any live debates is because without a carefully scripted response she cannot speak beyond meaningless slogans and patronising platitudes. She says that she has 'debates' every week in PMQ's - yes, because she knows the questions that are going to be asked and her lackeys will have spent the morning deciding what she is going to say in reply.

Macbeth: Act Five, Scene Five

And she's getting scared. Polls are narrowing, and opinion, and patience, is beginning to wane. Her decision to call a snap election is beginning to look like political suicide. Personally I can't understand how anyone could support a party that flip-flops on policy, whose leader has changed her mind multiple times: if she can't be trusted to speak frankly to this country, how does anyone expect that she can deal with representatives from twenty-seven other countries? 

If Theresa May's version of Brexit really is the most important thing to a voter, to the point that they are willing to overlook the crises in every element of public life (the NHS, schools, social care, mental health provision, food banks, inflation, wage-stagnation), to support the most elite of the elites, to bring back fox hunting, to prop up a party that supplies weapons to regimes that support terrorism, that help their friends and treat the rest of the populace with thinly veiled contempt, then I weep for the future of this country.

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I am angry. I am hopeful.

All I can do it use my voice. My vote.
People who feel that their vote doesn't matter; this is your opportunity to matter. To shout. To direct your rage towards those who actually deserve it.
If you don't speak you cannot expect to be heard. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

This Morning

I've not written a blog for a while. There are all of the usual excuses about life, being busy, working hard, not enough time, etc. But I've also not been able to coherently express my thoughts as I watch the maelstrom of political discourse that has been taking place.

So, in the absence of a properly composed blog, to demonstrate why my writing skills have suffered, here are couple of things that have already baffled me just this morning. This is what the inside of my head has been like:

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The Tory party have begun to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of "speaking in soundbites." My reaction to a lot of the events in the run up to this election has been the human equivalent of the shocked emoji, and this is no different. Just this morning I was watching Theresa May speak to a group of the party faithful (the only people she's willing to talk to), and she answered a question on whether she was insulting the intelligence of the British public by resorting to soundbites by resorting to soundbites (re-read that last bit, it makes sense, I promise!).
I'm literally having a Pavlov's Dogs style gag reaction every time I hear the words "Strong and Stable." It hurts to even type that phrase.

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2. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Change agreement. My brain hurt this morning as I watched a guest on the breakfast news defend the move by claiming that there was no link between pollution and climate change. But then, the president himself believes climate change is a hoax, so what can you do?
In a speech announcing this withdrawal Trump wondered aloud about the point at which the rest of the world begins to laugh at America. I hate to break it to you, but that ship has sailed; we've been wetting ourselves with laughter at you for months.
Our own glorious commander has refused to sign a letter alongside pretty much every other leader in the world condemning this act. But then, as Chairman May is alienating everyone else, she's clinging in desperation to the tiny hands of friendship from across the pond while leaders of other nations openly mock the tangerine terror.

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3. The weird, almost physically painful reaction of the audience at BBC Question Time when Jeremy Corbyn refused to say whether he'd use nuclear weapons. 
Personally I'm all for unilateral disarmament, but that's obviously not going to happen any time soon. I was livid when parliament voted to renew Trident; we don't have enough money for schools, social care or the NHS but we have loads of change down the back of the green seats in the commons to pay for weapons that no one in their right mind would ever use? It's the epitome of a midlife crisis - spending millions on something utterly useless. However, I do believe in leading by example; if we want everyone to get rid of their nuclear weapons, why don't we get rid of ours?
And why in heaven's name did the audience get so riled up that Corbyn refused to say if he would use the damned things? Whether we struck first or second everyone on the planet be screwed anyway so why would it matter? In the case of nuclear missiles being launched I sincerely doubt that anyone's going to be thinking "Oh I'm so glad we're going to be able to chuck our own back at them."
I can't even form a cogent argument for the rest of this point because I'm so completely dumbstruck.

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In the immortal words of Bricusse and Newley; Stop The World, I Want To Get Off...

Is June The End Of May?

Is June the end of May? Well, in straightforward terms; yes, it is every year. We have May 31st, followed by June 1st (and a few weeks in, we have my birthday, but I digress...) However, the annual passage of the seasons, delineated by months, has, this year, provided a slogan for our times.

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I said, right at the start, that, while I think the Tories will win (unfortunately), I don't think they'll get the huge majority May seemed to think they would. I spoke to a couple of friends about this as well (a few of whom study, or work in politics) and they disagreed, taking the media's initial view of an absolute landslide for the Conservative party. However, over the last week, it looks like my prediction might be bearing fruit as polls narrow between the two main parties.

Image Source: from 03/06/2017

I hope that the trend continues over the last few days of campaigning. I hope that the Tories are soundly humiliated. And I hope that thousands of people use their anger against Tory austerity, which was channelled into a misguided and short-sighted vote for Brexit, to get the Nasty Party out of power.

Two years ago David Cameron said that the choice was between stability under the Conservatives, or chaos under Labour. Now Theresa May is rehashing the same line. To be honest, if this is stability, give me chaos any day!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Virtually Verbatim

As part of my ongoing research into theatre's response to crisis I have been actively researching, and attending where possible, productions that have come about in this way.

One of the elements that several of these plays have had in common is the use of verbatim material. In the National Theatre's case testimonies were gathered through extensive interviews. For the production of Brexit: The Musical, the politician's own words were warped into song.

Verbatim theatre is a development of Documentary Theatre, and is considered to have been influenced by Joan Littlewood's work during the forties, fifties and sixties. It is a useful tool for dramatists when working on political, sociological or State-Of-The-Nation plays as it allows for a range of views to be expressed and presented in myriad ways.

I feel that one of the ways in which theatre can create response in audiences is through empathy: audiences identify with one or more of the characters and undergo catharsis or emotional development through that character's journey. Verbatim theatre allows for this to happen in a truthful way rather than in one that has been entirely artificially constructed.

Through the use of direct testimony, writers can combine artistic licence to create impact: if a verbatim play were simply reconstructions of conversations or statements, we may as well watch the news! It is this interweaving of reality and fiction that makes a verbatim play truthful, in a way that news reports and documentaries simply can't match (I also suspect this is why so many historical documentaries use reconstructions and actors - if we can't see or hear "something", how can we be expected to "see" or "hear" something?

Image Source: Quantified Communications

Yes, personal bias will come in to play; that of the playwright, the director, the actors and each member of every audience. The message I took from My Country may not be the same as the person sat next to me. But this is a risk with every play. Many theatres, when confronted with crisis rummage in the archives and produce a Shakespeare in modern dress, which is then hailed as a sign of our times. It is something quite brave and radical to actually use contemporary, relevant voices to make a point.

Theatre is also a rather 'safe-space' for pitching ideas that may be shouted down in regular conversation: the conventions of theatre dictate that the audience is most often a passive spectator, watching and hearing the action unfold. This allows for the playwright to pose an argument in an eloquent and measured way, and to occasionally present the opposing point, without being interrupted, or shouted down.

In a time when no one gives the other a chance to speak, and refuses to hear anything that contradicts their previously confirmed point of view, it is more essential than ever that theatre gives voice to those who are silent or silenced.

It's no surprise to me that the Ancient Greeks were the ones who created both democracy and theatre festivals, and that engagement with both was considered to be an essential aspect of a citizen's civil duty. I think it should be again.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Negative Nelly

The world is quite negative at the moment, and this negativity can have an effect on all of us.

One small, seemingly insignificant way in which I've noticed this manifesting in everyday life is with the proliferation of negative questioning.

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What is that? It's something that I think we all do, but everyone that I've pointed it out to has stopped and thought "Yes, that is odd, isn't it?"

"I don't suppose you have..."
"You don't think you could just..."
"I'm sorry but do you know..."
"I don't think you can help, but..."

"You don't do shoes in black, do you?" Working in retail I hear a variation of this all of the time. The negative question. The immediate assumption of impending disappointment. Why?

During a conversation about this question, it was suggested to me that it may have been because the customer in this specific instance had already looked and not found the item. I pointed out that the customer in this instance was a telephone customer and therefore had no ability to have already looked.

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When you stop and think about it, I'm sure you've done this at some point. I'm certain I must have done. But it is an odd thing isn't it?

Is it presuming that we will be disappointed, or thwarted? Is it that we have been let down in a certain way previously and thus think that what we're looking for, or asking after, is wrong or non-existent? Is it simply a quirk of the English language? Or is it that the relentless negative pressure of the world is getting to all of us in tiny yet myriad ways.

Try this: the next time you ask a question and find yourself reaching for the "Don't" word. Don't. The answer might still be no, but starting from a more positive standpoint might increase the likelihood of you achieving your aims. Try and eliminate negative words from your everyday vocabulary and you may find that negative thoughts and expectations lessen as well. I know that sounds a bit odd, but asking someone if they "don't have" is rather odd as well.

And for the record, yes. We do have shoes in black.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

British Politics: The Soap Opera - Second Season

So it seems that "British Politics: The Soap Opera" has been recommissioned for a second season in 2017. It's nice to see that the financial backers of this farcical 2016 melodrama have faith in, what appears to be a failing franchise.

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I haven't really got my head wrapped around this yet, so this is, against my usual inclination, a bit of a knee-jerk-reaction blog. My initial feeling is that this is a party-political move: May has seen that the Conservative Party has a huge lead in the polls, and, as an un-elected Prime Minister, she sees a chance to solidify her leadership and her mandate as the Brexit negotiations get underway.

Also, I don't really understand why everyone's acting so surprised about this announcement. I mean, the timing of it is quite astonishing I suppose - after refusing Scotland a referendum saying that "Now is not the time", how is it suddenly time for a General Election? And this after having protested for nine months that there will be no snap election? But the other parties have been preparing for one since June, so there must have been a little foreknowledge somewhere.

But, it's not the first time that Theresa May has changed her mind, is it? The lady is, obviously, for turning.
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The news channels are saying, rightly, that the main point of the election is going to be Brexit. And yes, it will be. But alongside that we have to take into account the NHS crisis, the school funding crisis, the housing crisis, the social care crisis, and the political situations across Europe and the world, and so on and so forth.

I also wonder whether many of those who voted to Leave the European Union, who are also those who happen to be suffering most from Tory austerity, will upset May's apple cart by voting against the Conservatives.
A lot of people are feeling politically disengaged, suffering from so-called 'voter fatigue', so perhaps the turn-out won't be as expected.
On the other hand, the Referendum saw an upswing in membership of political parties, and young people especially have become more politically engaged after they have seen the direct effect politics has on their lives and their future.

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As I have written about previously, it's fairly obvious where my political affiliation, and therefore my vote, lies. In elections across Europe, recently, there has been a backlash against the apparent rise of far-right and nationalist sentiment, with liberal candidates faring better than expected. Maybe the same thing will happen here?

Fraught and Fearless

I read a very interesting article yesterday, talking about the gorgeous statue of Fearless Girl, which has been placed opposite the Charging Bull on Wall Street, and it sparked a conversation about the meaning of art, and whether the intended message of an artwork can change when it is juxtaposed with another.

Image Source: The Boston Globe

I adore this statue: a small girl in the heart of a financial district, plucky and spirited, standing strong against a golden bull.
I adore what I was told she was representing: placed there for International Women's Day, she highlights the dearth of women in leadership roles.

Even as I have read more about the controversy around her, I still love the statue as a piece of art and the juxtaposition with the hyper-masculine bull charging towards her.

Image Source: The Seattle Times

The artist of the bull is a gentleman called Arturo Di Modica. He installed Charging Bull one night in 1987, after spending two years and thousands of his own dollars creating it. He wasn't commissioned; he wasn't given permission. Charging Bull was a piece of guerrilla art, designed, says Di Modica, to represent the resilience of the American people during the financial crisis. The bull is the people charging the banks, and holding the bankers accountable to the people whose money they hold; hopefully reminding those who work on Wall Street that, every time they walk to work, they are answerable to the people.

Fearless Girl was a commission by one of the investment firms based on Wall Street. The artist, Kristan Visbal, was paid by a corporation to create this faux-guerrilla statuette, initially only to be placed for a couple of weeks. The outpouring of love for what is, on its own, quite a kitsch little figure, has been such that Fearless Girl will stand for a little longer. But, she was designated to be a temporary tip of the bankers hat to an international awareness day, designed to temporarily guilt businesses into looking at the gender imbalance on their boards. 

Image Source: US Weekly

Di Modica is angry, and I understand why. The intention of his artwork has been undermined. Now his symbol of the anger and power of the American people is seen to represent everything it was created to resist: the banks, corporate power, and hyper-masculinity. Undermined by a statue commissioned by one of the companies it was raging against.

On the other hand, once a piece of artwork is in the public domain, does the artist have any right to dictate how it is perceived? We know that people like, or dislike, different things, and that's the beauty of art - how I read something may be completely different to how you read it, and that's fine, surely? Is art in the interpretation rather than the creation?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A Great Escape

As part of my preparation for next years Masters Degree I mentioned that I have been reading 'State Of The Nation' by Michael Billington. I am particularly grateful to this book for the empty pages at the end, which have allowed me to scribble notes that wouldn't quite fit in the margins.


I have also been attending relevant plays and performances, to investigate how theatre responds to crisis: a couple of weeks ago I saw An American In Paris at the Dominion Theatre, and while this may not seem to be a particularly political piece of theatre, I would actually argue that it is a valid response.

Glance around London's West End right now: alongside perennials such as The Lion King, modern hits like Book Of Mormon and Matilda, there has been an influx of classic, vintage musicals, including An American In Paris and 42nd Street.

Musical Theatre, and musical films, have had their biggest successes during times of crisis: people crave escapism and lavish musicals provide this. A critic recently came under fire for reviewing 42nd Street, and suggesting that it might have more impact had the writers explored the background against which the frothy piece of entertainment was set - namely, the Great Depression. And while, sometimes, contextualising is useful, at other times people don't want to be reminded of what awaits them at home; they want glamour; in both the sense of romance and sparkle, and the more traditional sense of a magic spell or enchantment.

Image Source: Getty Images

Theatre responds like this regularly. It is noticeable time and time again: during the 1980's there was a surge of commercial musical theatre, led by Andrew Lloyd Webber with productions of CatsJesus Christ Superstar and so on. He is back on form now, during another crisis, with the new musical School Of Rock and a re-staging of JCS both winning Olivier Awards in 2017.

There is a time and a place for political, state-of-the-nation theatre, and, while "enjoy" might not quite be the correct word, I do "enjoy" hard-hitting, relevant, thought-provoking productions. But, occasionally, I just want to sit in a dimmed auditorium and watch impossibly talented dancers hoof around the boards, forgetting my troubles, and the troubles of the world outside the theatre.

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Escapism is a perfectly valid response to a crisis. It is the theatrical equivalent of a pyjama-day: soft, fluffy and comfortable. It is uplifting, life-affirming and regenerating, and we are always sure of a happy ending. And in an uncertain world, it is essential to have that certainty somewhere. Theatre has a duty to provide that as much as anything else.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

REVIEW: Body & Sold - Park Theatre

A (well) rehearsed reading of a play that was initially commissioned to investigate domestic abuse among teenage couples, developed through artwork created in a refuge for trafficked women in Nepal, and staged as part of Park Theatre's 'Young Lives Today' project: Body & Sold looks at the real stories behind young people who have run away from home across America.

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Body & Sold came out of a play originally based around domestic violence in teenage relationships, developed after the writer heard the stories behind artwork in an exhibition from a trafficked women's shelter in Nepal, and is aiming to be staged in schools to raise awareness of what is, according to the gentleman from the NSPCC, quite a big issue amongst young people today.

For a young cast they were all very strong, especially considering the two day rehearsal time (Zoe Howard as Young Girl was only recruited the previous evening). Some of the American accents were occasionally a little squeaky, nasal, or far too stereotypical to be believable (evident mainly from Gemma Kenny who, while strong, was cast in a very cliched role, and Joshua Oakes-Rogers), and there was a lot of  "hand-acting" which I, as a rule, vehemently dislike.

However, as stated, this was a rehearsed reading with a short lead time, so I can overlook these quirks because of the powerful writing and strong direction from Deborah Lake Fortson and Prav MJ respectively.

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From an original production of Body & Sold

Fortson interviewed young people across America, and their testimonies have been reproduced verbatim; some stories have been combined for narrative interest, and names have been changed to protect victims. As empathetic and insightful as these stories were, I would have liked to have heard more from the boys and their experiences: a lot of work is being done to raise awareness of abuse against women and girls and I am not for a second suggesting that this is not admirable and essential, but more work needs to be done to provide the same outlet and recognition that young boys and men are just as vulnerable.

The stand out actor for me was Daniel Collins as Billy, initially conveying a dark, brooding menace as the omniscient pimp to each of the characters, hovering and intimidating throughout. Strangely, he lost that threatening quality once his character began to talk - I feel as though it was his strong silence that lent the role its dangerous facet.

I also liked the symbolism of the Little Girl and the doll: although the character rarely spoke, Zoe Howard absorbed everything going on around her with a beautiful naivety, and, although no characters interacted with her, there were moments of fear for this innocent's future.

Overall this was a strong staging with an important message, and, despite a couple of small niggles, including some very peculiar poetic language at the end, which jarred with the directness of the rest of the play, I believe this deserves a wider audience.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We Are London

Last week there was an attack on Westminster. I've held off writing about this for a little longer than usual because I didn't want what I wrote to be a knee-jerk reaction, and I wanted to reflect personally before putting my thoughts out into the public realm.

I wasn't involved personally, although I know people who were and they are dealing with what they saw in their own way. People were hurt. People died. My heart breaks for the families of those people who left their homes that morning and will not return. I can't even imagine how they felt, and are feeling.

I posted this on Instagram on Wednesday evening.
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I don't understand why those who perpetrate these despicable acts believe that what they are doing will advance whatever cause or ideology they claim to represent. They are hurting innocents, and they are hurting those that they declare to speak for as idiots pop out from under their rocks to condemn an entire people for the actions of a minuscule minority.

And, as with every atrocity of this nature, it has had the opposite effect to the warped intention: people come together, they stick together, and they become stronger for it; despite bigots and imbeciles on all sides attempting to use the situation as a stick to wedge into a crack and break us apart.

I can't put it better than this clip from The Last Leg:

The hosts spoke movingly about the incident and the victims, before offering this view.
I remember reading a passage from a fictional novel that I think of in times like this:

"My dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you're born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train's pulled into Piccadilly Circus they've become a Londoner. He said there were others, some of whom were born within the sound of the Bow Bells, who spend their whole life dreaming of an escape."  AARONOVITCH, 2011

And that's the truth. Being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you're born, I believe. And London survives because of its people, its multicultural, multifaceted people. 

Terror, and terrorists will never win. We are London. We are far too busy to be afraid.