I come from County Fermanagh and was brought up in the Unionist tradition. The west of Northern Ireland is a wild and beautiful place - often held to work to different rhythms than the more strident cities and suburbs to the East. The Unionist minority there, perhaps mindful of that demographic deficit, has always tended to moderation. This was more of a ‘live and let live’ space, closer to the Atlantic than the ghetto. And yet, the legacy of the horror visited on the Protestant population of the Fermanagh border during the Troubles is an enduring reminder of how much remains to be done to reconcile the past with a more hopeful future now much at stake in the current constitutional tumult.
Just let go. No. So what’s your plan then? Plans are not my department. I deal in self-preservation. Soon the pain in his fingers and forearms brought the argument with his subconscious to a conclusion Jim dropped. Not like the cat of his imagination, more like a heavily tranquilized sack of spuds. In his state he barely registered that he had been falling for longer than he had expected. His balance failed him completely. His left foot hit the floor well before his right, which was still falling. If he could have seen himself, Jim would have found the sprawling high-kick pose funny but this only lasted for a moment. Under his entire bodyweight, the knee buckled and twisted. An almighty flash of bright yellow agony burst up through the lumpy barrier that the pills had created, right into the core of his brain. The rest of his body landed heavily, as if it were a jumble of separate pieces.
Jim stood in the alley, listening hard for signs of movement, using the side of his head to press his ear against the door. The cold of the metal seemed to ease the pounding within his skull. It was two hours since the chemist shop had closed and the shop front was shuttered and locked safely. This back door seemed to be a fire exit. There were scraps of newspaper and other litter collected on the low step. It would have been swept away if the door was in regular use. He was sure that everyone had gone home and that they would have left from the main entrance onto the bright busy street, not into this dark and cluttered home to shadows and soft scratchings amongst the bins and the piled up boxes.
We went in whiter than white cars, holding hands. toward bends, that led to culverts and bunds, inside our heads, we never even knew existed. you were the cool, all knowing one, dainty, slipping through swings, waiting for TA sessions, in between our kissing rings. was there nothing else we spilt over in rewind mode. bake houses called “KR” still stand with old chairs stuck between, long indignant stares.
I encountered A Man in Inverness a few days ago, disorientated, in the middle of the road, wailing at a couple of passers-by for help. They crossed the road quickly, as far from him as possible. The Man was suffering from acute alcoholism; yellow-skinned, red-eyed, urine-soaked breeks, his hands purple-mottled, heavy, spongy paws - like water filled rubber gloves. He was sobbing and in pain. The passers-by called out, tersely, “The doctor’s that way.” I took him off the road and called an ambulance. As we waited, he (Nicholas) shared some mercurial words. “Look at that,” he said looking at a child on a tricycle, “Beautiful. Children.” And, “O, that Labrador. Dogs. Lovely.” More harrowing, “I still love my wife.” Tears then and, “She died 17 days after we were married. Cancer. Let me tell you something,” he went on, “… loneliness.”
West Ontario somewhere - April Hub-Cap Farm I got a short lift up the road this morning to what the driver called, The Hub Cap farm. I asked what they farmed, and he said, you’ll see when you get there. It isn’t near anywhere but it will be a good place to get a lift from. He was right - the barn is covered in hubcaps. Apparently it shines so bright that aviator’s use it as a guide. There must be hundreds and hundreds of them. Not all of them so shiny. Nearly every one of them has a story attached or a photo booth photo with a carefully written note that has run in the rain from when the condensation has got inside the plastic envelope. I saw at least one with a dog tag and another with the date of birth, and death punched out on those blue plastic strips that are like a telegram. You know the tool you dial around then punch out the letter or number. It must have taken ages to get it right. I wonder how many goes they had - now it’s there forever.
Science fiction is a genre with a reputation for prophesising. The dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984 has returned to popular acclaim in age of alternative facts and surveillance statism, while Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World seems to have predicted the psychological engineering of the mass media. The earliest works of science fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, imagined technological advances such as space travel that were surreal and fantastical to their readers. But there is a lesser known work of science fiction which is as prescient as Orwell and Huxley’s works, but which was written the same era as Verne and Wells. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World (1907) is unique in being endorsed as prophetic, in the literal theological sense, by the world’s highest religious authority - with Pope Francis believing that Benson’s nightmarish vision was divinely inspired.
Once upon a time, there was a lovely vicar’s daughter called Goldilocks, who wore expensive animal skin trousers, and lovely animal print shoes, and was very fair to everyone who gave her exactly what she wanted. Goldilocks lived in the house of the three bears. There was Mutter Bear, Papa bear, and their petulant little cub, Wee Bear. At first, the lovely little girl didn’t mind remaining with the bears, as she was best friends with little Wee Bear (as long as Wee Bear always did exactly as she was told) and there was a certain amount of economic stability. It was a charming house with plenty of porridge for her to eat, comfy beds for her to sleep in and where all bananas where a regulated shape. However, it was always such a bore to follow the bears’ silly rules, or pay them money which could be spent on the NHS and so, after a lot of very careful thought, consideration, and virtually no planning, Goldilocks decided that she was going to leave the three bear’s house.
Many years ago, before the revolution, there is living in a giant tower built in a rich land, a great, stupid emperor. This flabby, baby-man, he is caring of nothing but ratings of the television and the purchase of the finest silks and golds. So vain and stupid is this Emperor that he is wearing this stupid blonde comb-over, even though all the people know that the man with the balding head is most virile and superior. Far away from this stupid Emperor lives a strong and mighty Tsar. He has the good looks and the torso of a god, but he needs gold for the invasions of nearby countries - in self-defence of course. This tsar, he hears of this stupid, rich emperor and sends his finest tailor to him as a gift. The Tsar’s tailor, Sergey, travels to the Emperor and promises to make him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is either stupid or unfit for his office.
The dog showed up one day out of nowhere, and everyone said it wouldn’t hang around long. It was old and mangy, blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, brown and black with patches of whitish skin that made it look like it had undergone chemotherapy. People fed the dog scraps or gave it water, and it got to know almost everyone in the neighborhood after going house to house several times. All the kids got along well with the old hound, who wagged his tail and licked their faces when they petted him. Some kids called the dog “Buck,” others “Spike,” and one knock-kneed, thirteen-year-old girl, Ina, called it “King Dramilo,” because it reminded her of a Slovenian fairy tale her mother once read her.
Today, I want to talk about one young man called Tom Thumb. He was born to an economically disadvantaged background. He didn't have access to the kinds of opportunities, such as private schooling or music and art classes, that children of wealthier families too often take for granted. Tom was extraordinarily small. He was no larger than his father’s thumb, yet the Tory austerity meant there was no support allowance for his family. He was even forced out of the local school which - due to a rigged system which favoured the establishment - didn’t have the support staff to cope with his different abilities. This kind of treatment of our most vulnerable simply will not happen when a socialist government is elected by the British people.
We watch films for many reasons - to laugh, to cry, to be awed, to be provoked. At their root, though, films exist to make us connect. They take us deep into the lives of people we might never ordinarily engage with, and compel us to empathise. There are few better examples of this than Moonlight, a film so human you’d think the reels themselves had a heartbeat. A tender, aching portrait of a black man’s adolescence in an impoverished district of Miami, Moonlight follows Chiron at three stages in his life: first as a boy, then as a teenager and finally as a man. The three actors sharing the role are superb. Young Alex Hibbert barely says 20 words but is mesmerising, laying the foundations of this sensitive, painfully closed-off boy while James Laxton’s fluid cinematography shows the wonders and dangers of Liberty City through a child’s eyes.
He pushed the staff down through the tangle of brambles and weeds that grew at the base of the wall. Dusk was falling. It was the best time of day to make an attempt. The watchers were tired, their shifts would end soon, they’d be losing focus. He inched along beside the wall, testing the earth with the staff as he moved forward, lifting it up, hammering it down, looking for signs of weakness. Thud. Thud. Thud. The ground was solid. He kept going. He must have walked a thousand kilometres over the last few weeks. Always on the move, he’d trudged through forests and fields, across streams and rivers, through burned cities, scarred towns, over hills and mountains. His broken boots hit the ground with a steady reluctance, his soul willing his body to take another step. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Once upon a time - a very long time ago, in fact - there was a beautiful and great land with green hills and lush green pastures. Within this land, there was a village and within that village lived a young shepherd boy. He was the youngest head shepherd in generations and was a good looking, boyishly handsome young man. He was charming and intelligent, with a purer than pure heart and good character, and wanted nothing more than for his sheep to prosper. So, when a big, bad, wolf threatened his sheep the young shepherd boy cried out to the village, “Wolf! Wolf!” The villagers came running out and he explained that the wolf was intending to privatise their heathcare, make children work up chimneys and other bad things. So the villagers, trusting the boy’s sweet smile, put an end to the wolf. This meant the boyishly handsome young shepherd boy was free to privatise health care himself. Although the villagers and his sheep protested, he explained, quite rightly, “I’ve dealt with the wolf, I’m the good guy!”
We grow up with habits demanding upgrades, into lives needing sustainable liquid assets. Iphones. Sega Genesis. Craft beer and coolers. Season tickets. Big cars with Bose speakers and space for possible gun racks. The culture is petulant and consumptive. Our parents went to college and worked hard. Our parents skipped college and worked double shifts. Our parents played guitars and sung about unions. Our parents tucked heirloom tomato seeds into the freezer. What our parents did before us doesn't matter. By the time we're born, their parents’ faces sag like helium-drained balloons. We try not to stare because we don't want to pity them. Feeling sorry for the bunny in the road makes you wish for a bullet to end its misery. The sun sets in bars across the vinyl carpet. We vow ourselves elsewhere.
Right. Now, as it is of vital importance for us to learn lessons from the past, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a particular issue of national importance recently brought to my attention. There was, at one time or another, a great famine that settled over a land, far, far away. This famine created many child refugees. Two young children (let’s call them Child H and Child G) were cast out of their family home by an evil Step Mother and left to starve in the deep, dark wood. These two starving children decided that they would be at an economic advantage if they were to journey through the deep dark, wood and into a magical land that they heard was awash with sweeties and magical benefits that the townspeople gave away to children like them. Not unlike Britain today.
Now, I tell great stories. The best. No, I do, I really do; I tell great stories. I have this one story, it’s the best story. It really is. It’s great. It’s about these pigs. These three pigs. Three of them. Great pigs, great pigs. I love pigs, some of the best people are pigs. There was that guy… Porky. He was a pig. Great pig, and ‘Babe’. Babe was a great pig, really, really great pig. Did a great job, great job. Some people don’t like pigs, think they’re dirty, roll around in dirt; that’s what I heard. It’s what I heard people say. I don’t think that. I haven’t got a bad word, great pigs. Terrific, terrific pigs. Now, these pigs, and they were great pigs, steady jobs, families, hardworking pigs. Good guys. They wanted the same thing all Americans want; to build homes, have good jobs, and protect their families.
Janet Nordstrom cursed as she tried and failed to pick her way across mounds of debris in order to reach the sink. The room more closely resembled a trash heap in Rio than the wooden floor of a suburban bungalow. Piles of paperwork had toppled and slipped to form a paper Death Valley with a riverbed of orphaned electrical leads. It was populated by a varied wildlife of shrivelled candy wrappers, paperclips, dribbling ink pens, used bus tickets and the occasional whiskey bottle. It was on one of these bottles, its shiny shoulders poking out from under a ream of address labels, that her left foot skidded, causing her to slam down her right onto the top of a heaving bank of research papers which she slid down until she hit the body of a vacuum cleaner and, wavering for a second, fell flat on her back.
By the end of his year covering the 1972 US presidential election, Hunter S Thompson was exhausted - both mentally and physically. The man who'd ridden with the Hell's Angels and searched for the elusive corpse of the American Dream in Las Vegas had become a self-admitted 'political junkie.' In true Hunter fashion, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 opens with the following scene: "One afternoon about three days ago the Editorial Enforcement Detail from the Rolling Stone office showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about 40 pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls... "
“Take your broken heart and make it into art.” When Meryl Streep quoted those words from Carrie Fisher, she was talking about the responsibility of artists to respond to the political turmoil of the last few months and the uncertainty of the next four years. Artists and satirists have reacted to the central figure of this turmoil in a variety of ways, most famously Alec Baldwin in SNL sketches. Illma Gore’s painting, Make America Great Again, gained viral status for the raw and humiliating depiction of its nude subject. A similar image, this time depicted in sculpture by the anonymous anarchist street art collective, Indecline, titled The Emperor Has No Balls appeared overnight in cities all across America including New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The works were quickly cleared away but not before their image was shared, tweeted, and blogged about online.
Once upon a time, long before Peppa Pig snorted her way into the hearts and minds of children everywhere, fairy tales provided the foundation for our moral compass: a light introduction to good versus evil, bravery versus injustice and the perfect platform to reinforce archaic gender stereotypes. Via the dark yarns of the Grimms, Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault we learned that women were ice maidens, or driven mad by vanity; they were cannibilistic childless bitches; helpless victims with exceptionally long blond hair or near-fatal narcolepsy. Men on the other hand were kings, huntsmen, long-suffering fathers tricked into marriage by a money-grabbing evil stepmother-in-waiting or simply the sought-after prince who saves the girl, dragging her into a life of riches and respect
The encore is a predictable number. The crowd is typically torn-shirted and jack-booted, ritualistically colliding with each other, conkering smaller Mohawks out of the clearing. All heads, all elbows - the entity revolves around itself, crashes into itself, destroys and rebuilds itself like an asteroid belt. Bored lumps of rock pumped full of energy and desperate for contact, impact of any kind. Why won’t the pretty girl with the piercings smash me in the face? Boys with no hair, clothed in tattoo, bang heads against invisible walls in time with the music. Their illustrated arms tell no story whatsoever, except that of a young life inked over with the word ‘REACT’ in mundane, faintly-nationalistic lettering. A history of fascism still glistens like sweat over the body of the crowd.
‘Shall we go for the third row?’ someone asks as they shuffle awkwardly between chairs behind me. The audience has been thrown into disarray by a last minute change of location, rendering the allocated seating on their tickets useless and causing a sudden increase in social anxiety. But what do you expect from an anarchist? I’m at the panel discussion of Gee Vaucher’s first major institutional show in the UK, Introspective, at Colchester’s Firstsite Gallery. This exhibition “charts her journey as an artist and activist from the late 1960’s to the present day: from local activity to international ambition, from domestic concerns to world politics, and from healing the planet to healing the mind.”
The news, at the tail end of 2016, that the UK government is ensuring £369 million to renovate Buckingham Palace, the residence of the Royal Family, provoked a predictable reaction. In Austerity Britain, where homelessness has increased and disabled people in social housing are being charged the bedroom tax, it has provided an ideal opportunity for anti-monarchists to advance the republican cause. Graham Smith, CEO of anti-monarchist campaign group Republic, called it as an “absolute disgrace” and an “indictment on the Queen’s scandalous mismanagement of royal finances over six decades.”
I first learnt about the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), the recruits from China who came to work for the British and French armies behind the Western Front, when it was announced that '14-18 Now' would commemorate the centenary of WW1 through a series of arts commissions. I typed the words 'Chinese WW1' into my search engine and to my surprise, articles about the CLC popped up. Why had I never heard of them before, having studied WW1 at school during my 'O' levels? What had happened to wipe their contribution out of the history books? In Dec 2013, the Shandong Government toured an exhibition of the CLC across major European capitals, including London. The pictures of a Chinese interpreter eating with a British officer; a Chinese labourer cleaning a British tank; two CLC carrying British bombs on their shoulders; and CLC dressed in British army uniforms, was affecting.
Sometimes there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being inside your own brain. The as-yet unreplicable machine up-top that runs on a diet of oxygen, adrenaline and nostalgia; that quite literally makes you feel alive whilst simultaneously fostering a feeling of internal entrapment. Forever locked inside your own carefully and powerlessly curated thoughts. Or, you know, maybe that’s just me. But my own very obvious issues aside, this is why The Museum of Cathy, from Orange Prize-shortlistee Anna Stothard can occasionally make for uncomfortable reading as a raw, intricate look into a young woman’s beautiful, broken world. At times the reader can feel like a human pinball, being fired through the erratic psyche of the three main characters, stuck in their innermost thoughts in desperate need of fresh air and a faster pace.
The body rested just outside Warwickshire. The ground was consecrated by no less than seven Catholic priests who, by performing the act, agreed that Jonathan Stoakes was not only honourable, decent and noble but also, at least by the manner of his deeds, divine. His gravestone attested to this notion and along with the date of his birth and his death it bore the line: ‘Should we in our modesty ever know again the goodness of Mr Stoakes then rejoice, for we shall live in the kingdom of Heaven.’ The walk to this grave is not an easy one and by the time Mr Prince, Viccary and Holland arrived at the site their feet were blistered and sore. Holland’s boots were only by the grace of tightly tied pieces of string able to remain on his feet. “What sort of person gets themselves buried all the way out here?” asked Holland, breathing heavily.
To understand this is to achieve the impossible. To accept that is to acknowledge the limitations of human thought and imagination. We are beasts who have mastered worlds and space but our dominion is finite, even petty. Words, which both govern and elevate us, are also tyrant’s prisons spanning beyond fantasy but with walls stronger than any fortress. They are the only language we speak but they are not the only language there is. Without them we are not what we are but with them we can only be what we are. We are all-consuming but constrained. Despite everything, our only significance is our lack of it. Great cities are only dust; in the end we are all dead. The best we can do give poor translation to what we can never comprehend.
Vince clenched my shirt collar and pulled me close. “This is not complicated,” he said, slipping the vial into my shirt pocket and giving it a friendly pat. “You dump this into his drink then get the hell out of there.” His face was up in mine but my heart was pumping hard and his voice sounded far away. “You calmly serve the drinks,” he growled low. “Tell them you’ll be back with their food, walk slowly through the kitchen, down the hall, and out the back door. You’ll find me right here with the engine running and we’ll be drinking on a beach in Mexico before anyone knows what happened.” “And you’re sure it will kill him? There’s no way it could just make him sick?” “He’ll be stone dead,” he assured me. “There’s enough in that vial to kill everybody in the building.”
“One of the penalties for refusing to take part in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”- Plato In the second decade of the 21st century politicians actively strive to be famous personalities and build on their notoriety in order to rally support and propel their policies as a means of getting things done. However, since when did it become a social norm for celebrities to cross over into the industrial territory of world politics? The answer is since first politics existed: votes have often been cast in favour of the popularity and status of the candidate. That being said, in Classical times, reality television and film production hadn’t invaded government as it has today. The most notable celebrity politician in the ancient world was Gaius Julius Caesar - branded as Julius Caesar.
Was it my imagination or did I catch a whiff of salty air as I walked into the auditorium? When theatre promises to be dynamic all sorts of things strange can happen. And In Our Hands promises a combination of live acting and puppetry; it bills itself as making a difficult subject matter accessible; it. The production, based on the true story of Stefan Glinski a fisherman who strode successfully to change our consumption habits, does not have (at least at first glance) the most promising subject material. If you think the fishing industry does not make for interesting drama, think again: man not only contends against nature but he (or she) contends against big business and their own demons.
In a year that has seen the rise of a xenophobic demagogue, and an escalation in the number of police shootings of unarmed black men, Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a film that has arrived right on time. DuVernay, who made her name with the critically-acclaimed Selma, has produced a documentary not just revelatory but necessary. It has every right to be a film angrier than it is, but instead we have been provided with a feature with an intellectual rigour that will draw you in and leave you feeling like you’re seeing the world with new eyes. 13TH is an investigation deep into the psyche of the United States of America: it stretches from the plantations of the Confederacy right through to the streets of modern day Ferguson.
If we truly live in a post-truth society where the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are able to say what they like without the cumbersome responsibility of it needing to be true, then it is not enough for them to not tell the truth, they also have to provide a non-truth. They have to tell us something artificial to fill the void of that brushed-aside truth. In Slavoj Žižek’s three-part exploration of truth, beauty and good, Disparity, he discusses the revelation of the number zero in mathematics. The concept of the number zero having equal importance as a positive number (one with value) was considered ridiculous in mathematical study for a long time, but its inclusion enabled a multitude of theories to suddenly become possible.
In a week that’s seen post-Brexit malaise only deepened by the ever-increasing ugliness of our tabloid press, Phone Home at Shoreditch Town Hall offered up the perfect tonic. A production devised by three companies from across Europe, Upstart Theatre (Britain), Pathos München (Germany), and Sforaris Theatre Company (Athens), have created an example of what can be achieved through European collaboration - it’s even co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, something we will surely miss. These three companies have sought to construct a performance upon the theme of home, and what it means to leave it. Inevitably, this brought them into the realm of the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time - the Syrian Civil War, which has seen swathes of innocents displaced and forced to seek refuge in Europe.
It’s the morning of Tuesday 28th June 2016. I’m sitting in a café in London with a director from Germany, a director and dramaturg team from Greece, and a playwright from Leeds by way of Zimbabwe. We’re about to start a week of writing and development on an international theatre project. But all we can talk about is the result of the Brexit referendum and what it means for the future. The British team, myself and playwright Zodwa Nyoni, are still in the state of shock that characterised the 48% immediately after the referendum result was announced.
Developed in conjunction with professional psychologist Dr Roger Bretherton Zest Theatre’s Thrive takes an unassuming look at the important issue of grief and adolescent mental health in Britain. Utilising a more unusual immersive stage set-up, the play allows the audience to both move among and interact with the actors on stage. As a device this allows the audience to feel directly connected to the performers creating a stronger sense of shared experience. This is particularly important for this production as it is primarily designed to speak directly to a younger audience, especially those who may be experiencing a similar situation to what is being presented on stage.
Back in the eighteenth century the Lord Mayor of London and his officials would travel down the Essex coast in steamers and row round a stone in the water three times. They drank a toast “God Preserve the City of London” in a ceremony that marked the end of the city’s jurisdiction of the Thames estuary. The story is one of the many historical jewels that adorns Estuary: Out from London to the Sea, the latest book by the London-focused historical writer Rachel Lichtenstein. The City’s limit used to run to the something called the Yantlet Line that connected the Crowstone with the London Stone off the opposite bank.
What is it about LSD that makes people believe they are Jesus Christ? There must be something about it that breaks down the final barrier of their ego there to remind them that they have not only thought about doing horrible things but that they had actually done them. In The Haight in ’67, I met a bunch of Jesus Christs. They would turn up out of nowhere, with disciples and revelations in tow, ready to lead whoever was inclined to follow to a redemption that was so clear the only sin left on you once you understood the truth was how you had been so blind to have not seen it before then. There were so many Jesuses in California that I was sent to do a story on it. I had long hair at the time and this was reason enough for my editor to pick me for the assignment.
I started to consider buying a house the other day. I’ve been completely priced out of the market in this country but I wasn’t looking in this country. For the first time in my life I was seriously considering emigrating. Not for better house prices or mortgage rates or anything quite so mercenary but because I was starting to see divisions growing at a scale and a temperament I have never witnessed before. I’m not about to jump ship but I will admit to walking up and down the deck to nervously check on the lifeboats. It was in this frame of mind that I set about writing a profile on the 2012 winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, John Agard in readiness for the upcoming tour of his new show ‘Roll Over Atlantic’.
How did Jimmy Savile, a popular BBC presenter unmasked as a predatory sex offender after his death in 2011, get away with it? It has only become more sickening and bewildering as the gravity of Savile’s crimes has sunk into the national consciousness. How did this serial rapist and paedophile, who the police believe assaulted dozens of victims - most of them children and young people, many vulnerable or disabled - perpetrate these offences nationwide over six decades and go to the grave without facing justice? These were the difficult questions asked by Louis Theroux in his documentary Theroux: Savile. Theroux originally interviewed and befriended Savile in the early 2000s for his awkwardly comical When Louis Met… series, for which Savile’s “loveable eccentric” public image seemed perfectly suited.
A pinewood fire crackles and pops in the grate a little too whitely but I can’t work out how to alter the contrast on the remote and I don’t have time to faff; this episode of ‘Fireplace for Your Home’ is only an hour long so I have to get my hygge in quick. I’m settling down to read the latest collections from two young, award-winning, female poets that couldn’t be more different; Trammel by Charlotte Newman, and Sunshine the third book from Melissa Lee-Houghton, both published by Penned in the Margins. Charlotte Newman’s Trammel ‘is a radical book of poetry for an uncertain future’ and is described by Jack Underwood as ‘Expansive, punny, and feminist’.
‘"Look at him!’ Marcus skidded across the floor on both knees, welcoming the cockapoo into his wide-open arms. Rolling left, right, and allowing himself to be licked and nibbled: the willing victim of an adorable attack of canine amour. He growled. The cockapoo growled. All in good fun, though! Olive looked on. This was annoying. Such a rare display of excitement and life. Did he... love this dog? She continued to stare, the innocent bystander in an unbridled display of affection. She felt like the gooseberry in a threesome; embarrassed, on a number of levels. "Get up Marcus for God’s sakes. You'll rip your trousers."
I’m in a former industrial hub turned hipster-hive-of-the-up-and-coming where wooden planks leaning against one another constitute tables, benches, even plant pots, and bearded young men play ping-pong in the dark. “This is the Peckham dream!” says one girl as she reaches down from her bar stool to pick up her drink from the coffee table. I’m at the Honest Publishing book launch for its two newest works: Belly Up! and Love and Fuck Poems. As well as getting a chance to meet the publisher, there is a powerful performance of poetry by Koraly Dimitriadis and hilarious deadpan readings from Darren Allen and William Barker, authors of Belly Up! Koraly Dimitriadis’ Love and Fuck Poems was first published in 2011 as a zine.
One of the most all-time ridiculous conspiracy theories is the accusation that in order to get ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race, NASA and the US government colluded to elaborately fake the Apollo 11 Moon landings of 1969. None other than Stanley Kubrick, who portrayed deep space exploration in 2001: A Space Odyssey is alleged to have being employed as the director who staged the counterfeit Moonwalk footage for this top secret project. This theory is mentioned in Room 237 (2012), a documentary by Rodney Ascher which explores the interpretations and alleged hidden meanings within The Shining (1980), Kubrick’s loose adaption of Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel. The Shining tells the story of the Torrances: father Jack (played by Nicholson, Kubrick’s first choice), mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd).
Can we take one in? Melissa’s message said. Tom was in the middle of a meeting and glanced at the notification on the screen of his cellphone. Now what? he thought. He’d already come home once before and found a stray kitten purring delightfully on his side of the couch. It was looking at me with these big eyes, she’d said to him, I couldn’t just let it stay on the street. It’d starve, or get run over by a car, you know how these things go. Tom just rolled his eyes and sighed. He swiped open Messenger. Now he saw she had attached a link. “There are almost 300...” the text said. A picture showed people sitting with their backs against a red garage. It still didn’t make a lot of sense. He clicked on the link.
In 2013 Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing,was released and with it came the story of an author who fought for nearly ten years to publish a book that was exciting, challenging and experimental in a literary atmosphere where the novel is constantly accused of having sold out to stories of easy-to-read fantasy or dystopian fiction. An exploration into the mind of a woman as she grows up alongside a handicapped brother and a domineering mother, its prose was on par with the complexity and veracity of William Faulkner. It felt like a slap in the face of modern literature’s numerous critics who lament the lack of a contemporary to James Joyce.
Margaret Diddler, with two no-neck bodyguards flanking her, strutted across the Vinny Barbarino Elementary cafetorium stage. The overflow crowd half-sat, half-squatted on eighteen-inch-high kindergarten chairs. Waves of fidgeting flowed across the sea of humanity as the chairs - designed for maximum discomfort in adults - worked their magic. Margaret yanked a mini-sledge hammer from her purse and gaveled the Parent Teacher Association meeting to order. A chunk splintered off the side of the podium. “This meeting is called to order. The only item on the agenda is the Spring Bake Sale.” An outraged murmur bubbled up from the crowd. “If you don’t like it, you should have been at the meeting last year where the parents appointed me president-for-life.
Much of the British media has drawn negative comparisons between the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and their London predecessor. But how does the legacy left by the London Games really compare to other recent host cities? Leading sociologist Dr Gillian Evans was embedded inside London’s planning operation. Her new book, “London’s Olympic Legacy: the Inside Track”, examines London’s imperfect but broadly positive legacy and how its experience offers valuable lessons for future Olympic hosts. Rio was hindered by the unexpected political and economic crises that hit Brazil after it was awarded the Games. It did well to pull off this summer’s massive undertaking. Nonetheless, hosting the Olympics and Paralympics looks unlikely to leave many lasting benefits for the people of Rio.
Midway through rehearsals it wasn’t working. They had assembled some of the best talent available: writer Jack Pullman’s credits included Jane Eyre (1970) for film and War and Peace (1972) for television; the director Herbie Wise had started his career at the Shrewsbury Rep and worked in television for twenty years; the cast mixed well-known names such as Brian Blessed, Siân Lloyd, George Baker and Margaret Tyzack with newer but impressive talent - Patrick Stewart, David Robb, John Hurt and Derek Jacobi. Yet something was not right. There was no gel. The production, at £720,000 (£14 million in today’s money), was relatively low-budget but there was a danger that the BBC’s adaptation of Robert Graves’ classic historical fiction books - I, Claudius and Claudius the God - would be an embarrassing flop.
There is a seeming paradox about novelist Mary Renault. The truism that novelists write about what they know is both true and false of her. As someone who wrote historical fiction that Renault would write about worlds which were morally and socially alien to her then modern sensibilities is obvious. It is also true of all writers to an extent. But the paradox goes further. Renault wrote from her own experiences but she also explored concepts and ideas of identity that were far from her own world. Born in 1905 to a middle class family she attended St Hugh’s College Oxford where she studied under J. R. R. Tolkein. She later wrote a historical novel set in medieval times but destroyed it for its supposed lack of authenticity. After graduating she worked as a hospital nurse and during the war she treated Dunkirk evacuees.
Last Sunday, almost a week since the infamous hate preacher-cum-celebrity-villain, Anjem Choudary, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, I chanced upon an unlikely parallel at Somerset House's current exhibition, Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick. Choudary's case highlighted an increasing tendency for peoples' speech and the ideas they express to be falsely judged on the basis of other peoples' actions, resulting in their arrest for so-called 'hate speech' or incitement to violence. His sentencing was no doubt influenced by the various examples of young, radicalised Britons joining ISIS in Syria; meanwhile, back in the Seventies, Stanley Kubrick eventually felt forced to remove his 1971 cult classic, A Clockwork Orange, from circulation after a series of grisly 'copycat' crimes.
1968 was a seismic year in American history, as a climate of unrest erupted into rage on the streets. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy - who pleaded for social change through peaceful means - were assassinated. Civil disobedience gave way to militants like the Black Panthers, while the Republican and Democratic Party conventions saw hundreds rioting against the quagmire of the Vietnam War. Despite the success of his Great Society and forcing through of the Civil Rights Act in the memory of John F. Kennedy, the turmoil tarnished the legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson, who refused to run for re-election. 2015 documentary Best of Enemies focuses on the rivalry between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr, two of the most high-profile American journalists of the 1960s. T
If you think of the Edinburgh Fringe it is most likely the comedians and comedy shows that first come to mind as well as some of the bigger drama productions. However, if like me you are a politics and history geek at heart then the fringe is the place for you, with a myriad of shows to cater to your every desire. Many are one man shows and often relatively small productions off the beaten track whilst others have garnered more attention. With this in mind I have chosen five shows within this theme which I would recommend. Fringe veteran Pip Utton stars in this wonderfully engaging one man show that tackles the legacy of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Although a seemingly impossible thing to explain in just an hour, Utton takes on the subject with the same characteristic charm and objectivity that marked some of his previous guises.
With Daphne & Celeste (of 'U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly' infamy) embarking upon a comeback tour, it’s official - every pop band that could possibly have gotten back together now has. From Blur to Blue, recent years have seen dozens of acts reforming with varying degrees of success. The Sex Pistols’ reunion shows now vastly outnumber the performances made in their mid-70s heyday; One Direction only broke up last year but they’re probably already counting the cheques from their inevitable 2030 comeback tour. It’s become a mandatory part of the musical life cycle: get together, have a few hits, separate, then get back together and do it all again. Lather, rinse, repeat. There are plenty of reasons for this strange phenomenon. Some bands don’t quite achieve everything they’re capable of first time round, and want another crack of the whip.
Annie used to say, “The maintenance men are coming any day now,” always with a handful of crumbling plaster. We spent months waiting for maintenance. Sitting together in the small office where she, and I, and Frances - a hard-elbowed woman who'd been running the Gordon Trask Centre twenty years - ran the music service. I was Administrator (Band 1), so I did whatever needed doing, whatever they told me to do. Mostly writing numbers on ukuleles in black marker, or ringing round all of our registered string instructors, whenever anybody was off sick. It was me who let visitors in. From where I sat, I could see who was arriving, just by leaning back in my chair. The Folk Club was run by two freshly scrubbed things just out of university, she with an accordion, he with a fiddle.
For Mänfred Gnadinger aka 'O Alemán' aka Man Man was a hermit and sculptor who lived in a small hut on the beach in Camelle on the Costa Del Morte, Galicia. He was German, hence his nickname - 'O Alemán', shortened to simply Man. With the shipwreck of The Prestige in 2002 and the environmental disaster that followed, a black tide of oil overwhelmed his home and the sculptures of his open-air museum. He died shortly afterwards, it is thought from melancholy. Hull cracked A flowing black Message Man waits, unknowing In the fixity of Stone - his safety belt Appreciable Stillness of time To wander alone Sand and air His home Closer it comes At dawn he finds a bird A struggling Messenger Obsidian dragmarks Are you sick? He asks He stoops to help Withdraws his Coated fingers
Biphobia. As far as prejudices go, it’s a particularly pernicious phenomenon. It’s sometimes lumped together with your classic ‘anything that isn’t straight is disgusting’ homophobia, but the sting in its tail is that it can come from all angles - from straight people, gay people, and even from cuddly panto actors. Christopher Biggins, the openly gay performer and reality TV mainstay currently appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, commented on Monday: “The worst type, I’m afraid to say, are the bisexuals. What it is, is people not wanting to admit they’re gay. Be honest, that’s what you’ve got to be”. His unlikely comrade, celebrity mafia wife (because apparently that’s a thing) Renee Graziano, agreed: “You have to pick a team!” Their comments sparked controversy - or did they?
Regular readers of Private Eye will be familiar with illustrator David Ziggy Greene’s “Scene and Heard” comic strips, in which he documents events, such as political protests, as a fly on the wall through his trademark portraits. However he cannot only be found there: independently-published and crowdfunded, Save Our Souls was founded and edited by Green. The magazine, featuring contributions from a wide and diverse array of writers and artists, is a based around Greene’s concept, which is why I was compelled to buy both issues published so far. Each issue is a vividly colourful item that contains a smorgasbord of artwork and writing on various political, social and cultural subjects. As a medium of curation, it proves that there is still a role for print in modern media.
The girl crouched low to give the crab’s hard shell a gentle tap. The critter sprang to life immediately, punching both menacing pincers high in the air. She laughed and shrieked with excitement as the creature hastily retreated to the ocean, chasing and mimicking its footwork as it did so. The bay was quiet in the late afternoon and the beach fully deserted, a silence only broken by the silky break of a wave, or the small pebbles crunching between her toes. It had been her grandfather’s present, and the girl had long wondered whether she’d ever find a place better. She loved the cove for everything it didn’t have. There were no glass fragments lined with cheap liquor, no handwritten notes among the sands, not a single trace of deceit in the fresh breeze. Even the colossal sea was itself an unexpected comfort.
This year we commemorate the start of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle of the First World War, which took place in France between July and November 1916. The brutality and carnage of ‘the Great War; is appalling. But it is also striking to consider the circumstantial fragility of fate it represents. Thomas Richardson, a veteran of the Somme, was one of the many thousands of men who suffered from what today is identified as post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of the conflict. While recuperating, he met a woman who was working as volunteer rehabilitation counsellor helping veterans - and they bonded well enough to get married and have children, eventually celebrating their Diamond Anniversary. Without the war they would not have met.
We need to talk about William. Shakespeare, that is. He does get a look in during this rumbustious, fast-paced, heavily edited and alcoholic 70-minute sprint through the Bard’s comedy. But not much. While his words feature and are played accurately, they act mainly as a useful device to deliver some plot and keep the play on track in between the outbreaks of ad libbed cabaret and comedy. The play is boiled down to five characters - the mismatched couples Hermia and Demetrius and Lysander and Helena, as well the mischievous Puck - who are all played by fully-trained Shakespearean actors. But one of them has spent the previous four hours getting tanked up. The show’s compère displays the wreckage of the boozing - a bottle of Pinot Grigio and four cans of lager drunk by Lysander on the evening in question.
The sun breaks, just for a second, long enough to splash the reds and silvers abandoned along the street. Most of the debris is “Free Movement” technology and the broken glass has kept its colour where the other materials have deteriorated. The shelters that remain in this area are rotten too. But this one still has glass in some of its windows. Then, the light fades back to grey, ashen and blank. I know that the Straw Men will be methodical and that the time I spend here is wasted. I have been holding the material that is hanging in front of this glass, tight in a clenched fist. So tight that l has started to rip away from that taught wire stretched across the aperture. I release my grip and see that on the palm of my hand is a twisted imprint from the material. It’s a familiar but ancient style.
“Has anyone ever been sick on stage?” “What do you do if they pass out before the show?” “I heard someone died .” When you tell people you’re a member of the Shitfaced Shakespeare company, you can be sure that the conversation is going to veer away from inane small talk fairly quickly. I’m sure it comes as no shock that the first thing people usually want to know about a company whose bread and butter is shoving an inebriated actor onto a stage in front of hundreds of people is not often “So what’s your artistic mission?” They want the good stuff. They want to hear about when the show has gone terribly wrong; when the carefully balanced element of peril has tipped the scale and some drunk performer has pulled the lighting rig down. “Show me the money!” they silently scream.
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) is an Academy Award-winning masterpiece of modern cinema. The neo-noir, brutally violent crime drama, is set in the gritty scenery of 1970s New York City. It revolves around Travis Bickle, the titular taxi driver played by Robert De Niro. Bickle is a depressed and dysfunctional loner who takes on the job of a moonlighting taxi driver in an effort to distract himself from chronic insomnia. Bickle is an army veteran, so the character is likely a subtle criticism of an America that left thousands of veterans languishing in mental illness from Vietnam. Within his internalised fantasy, Bickle harbours resentment of the socially decaying city surrounding him. In his job he is willing to travel to any part of the city and transport any customer - encountering seediness, destitution and criminality
The 90-year-old Harris Wofford - a former Democratic US senator - made headlines in April when he announced his engagement to marry Matthew Charlton, a partner 55 years his junior. Wofford was previously a widow, having being married to Clare Lindgren for 48 years until her death in 1996. It was the same Wofford who in 2008 introduced the then-senator Barack Obama, when Obama delivered his “More Perfect Union” speech on the struggles for equality and justice in the United States – notable given that Obama would go on to preside over the nationwide legalisation of same-sex marriage as its president. Announcing his engagement in The New York Times, Wofford explains that his relationship with Charlton, whom he met at age 70, began as a friendship that gradually deepened into a bond that they realised was love.
We will not remember them Those unnamed millions, Those tens of millions Who died for someone else’s Cause A cause that became a flag to mask the true intention. We shall not remember they who died for land-grabs Strategic purposes or simple geography Who died for control of trade routes or oil fields or mineral deposits that coursed beneath their naked feet And you have to wonder: will the blood and bones of the forgotten millions, Tens of millions Become over the course of millennia new fossil fuels for men to fight over, to wage war over? And will those millions, tens of millions of new unfortunates also go unnamed and uncommemorated? We will not remember them Then, as now, there will be no newsreaders dulcet tones Listing their hopes and aspirations
What would you think if every one in two parents were worried that, if their child came down with a cold, they might never marry or get a job? Of course this is ridiculous. But a recent YouGov survey of over 2,000 adults found that 67% of parents would worry their child might never recover from a mental illness. Half would worry their child may never meet a partner, have a job or have a family of their own if they had a mental health problem. I’m not reducing the darkest, deepest depression to a winter ailment, but some mental health problems are short-term, do not require invasive treatment, and don’t reduce someone’s chances of living their life they way they want to. Mental health is serious, and potentially devastating, but it’s also on a spectrum. Cataloguing all mental illness as debilitating destructive and terminal is massively distorting something that is prevalent, treatable and preventable.
In 2012 Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln opened to critical acclaim. Loosed basely on Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the epic biopic of one of America’s most famous presidents racked up not only a slew of awards but perhaps formed the ideal of what a political film should look like. It was that rare meld of impressive direction, great acting and first-class writing. Spielberg presented a dignified portrait of the 16th president, civil war leader and emancipator of slaves. Day Lewis’ portrayal combined humanity with political realism. Not only are the themes big, undoubtedly of historical importance, but through the imperfect nature of the motivation and action there is - surely? - an element of true bravery and idealism.
For the past five years, since 1946, Vincent had attended the November dinner at his grandmother’s house in Sheldon, Vermont, east of Lake Champlain. His grandmother, who was widely regarded as the most well connected woman in Franklin County, at least by those less well connected than she, held the dinner at some considerable expense each year. Vincent was seated at the counter of the Shoo-Fly bar at the Ethan Allen Air Force Base, making a figure eight in the foam of his coffee with the nickel-plated neck of his submerged spoon. He sat hunched over, reading a leaflet on the many masculine benefits of joining the Air National Guard, based right here at Ethan Allen, including the opportunity to see all of Vermont from the air. ‘Excuse me. D’you mind?’
In 415 BCE, the people of Athens voted to launch an attack on the city of Syracuse in Sicily. This was an enormously risky enterprise - they actually knew very little about the place, and sending messages between the city and its expeditionary force would take weeks - but the Athenians were at the height of their imperial power, and still more the height of their self-confidence. The respected elder statesman Nicias, who opposed the enterprise, found himself on the defensive; in the speech which the historian Thucydides puts in his mouth (6.9-14), he constantly has to defend himself against insinuations of cowardice, self-interest and talking down Athens in order to argue for caution and common sense.
Ask a random stranger to describe Game of Thrones and there’s several answers you might receive. Some might tell you it’s an award-winning television show based on George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novels. Some might tell you it’s the biggest cultural phenomenon of recent years. Many will respond, however, with three simple words: death and boobs. It’s a fair appraisal. There’s death galore in Game of Thrones, with the brutal battles and massacres. There’s also, however, boobs galore. The show may have attracted critical acclaim and a fervent fanbase, but it’s also sparked controversy over its representation of women, specifically its use of nudity and sexual violence. It was a criticism levelled more frequently in the show’s early seasons.
People glancing over this article’s title will assume that it’s been written by yet another Luddite who bemoans the new-fangled role of technology in modern culture. Yet another Grandpa Simpson yelling at the digital cloud, they’ll say. On the contrary, I think that technology is a wonderful thing that has transformed culture for the better. Decades ago people would scour record shops to find that one obscure indie single, which they can now find in an instant on YouTube or Spotify. In the true spirit of the punk ethos, artists can upload their produces for a global audience – with some of them shifting from these independent platforms to cult status or stardom as a result. This ranges from Death Grips freely releasing their new album to a cult of braying fans, to Beyoncé breaking the internet by upholding hers to Tidal without warning.
“But Earth is 4.54 billion years old!” he exclaimed, banging the cup of coffee on the table in frustration. “That is just atheist rubbish,” she retorted. “No it isn’t. It is pure scientific fact.” “You said evolution was a fact, but it’s just a theory,” she stated. “It is both,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “I’m sorry,’ she retorted. “I can’t accept the fact that we evolved from monkeys.” “We are part of the ape family!” “We didn’t evolve from monkeys or apes. Although I’ll admit you look like a gorilla.” “This isn’t a joke. I’m deadly serious.”“But Earth is 4.54 billion years old!” he exclaimed, banging the cup of coffee on the table in frustration. “That is just atheist rubbish,” she retorted. “No it isn’t. It is pure scientific fact.” “You said evolution was a fact, but it’s just a theory,” she stated. “It is both,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “I’m sorry,’ she retorted. “I can’t accept the fact that we evolved from monkeys.” “We are part of the ape family!” “We didn’t evolve from monkeys or apes. Although I’ll admit you look like a gorilla.” “This isn’t a joke. I’m deadly serious.” “I’ve got you some bananas. I know you like them. They’re in the kitchen.” He sighed heavily, as if admitting defeat. “Thanks.” He scratched his hands. This argument, which currently seemed to be the biggest difference between them, was occupying more and more of their time together. It was more his problem than hers; in fact he drove most of their arguments.
Dossing around in our dilapidated student house one night, my flatmates and I pondered where post-university life would take us. We predicted that Phoebe, a business student, would become a ruthless, Ayn Rand-style corporate titan. Drama student Ben would become a luvvie, prowling theatre bars for younger men. “And where will I be in twenty years?”, I asked. “Oh, you’ll be dead”, replied Phoebe nonchalantly. Excuse me? Dead?! I would have been indignant but, looking around the kitchen, everyone was nodding. They’d apparently decided long ago that I’d become a starving writer, doomed to be found dead from some tragic disease with nothing but a block of mouldy cheese in the fridge and a completed manuscript on my desk.
In Tokyo men live in tubes just long enough to lie down in. These tubes form a honeycomb, stacked three high, each with a built-in TV screen the size of a cereal box and a flimsy privacy curtain strung across the opening. Carl had read somewhere that there are entire hotels of these ultra-spartan accommodations, each floor stuffed with pods upon pods of anonymous salarymen, no room for much of anything beyond the occupant and his thoughts. He was impressed with that kind of asceticism, that willingness to live without in a city where there was just so much of everything, people, food, bacteria, stimuli, perversion. No, more than just impressed. Fixated was more like it. Lately he could think of little else. “It’s not because they don’t want any more space,” Sara pointed out one night over a glass of viognier on the back patio
When the performers at a show greet ticket holders at the door to the theatre and suggest they enjoy a cup of homemade soup being kept warm on a table on the stage, the audience know they are in for a performance with a difference. The show, The Spinning Wheel, is certainly that. It is in a theatre but is not a play; it features live music but is not a concert; it includes video but is not a film; and it is not stand-up comedy despite the numerous anecdotes told over the course of the evening. It is correctly billed as a multimedia experience presented by “theatre artist” and hip hop performer Baba Israel and musical collaborator Yako 400 who is on stage with guitar, base, keyboard and iPad. The show celebrates the life and work of countercultural jazz musician, poet, comic, political activist and theatre producer Steve Ben Israel, Baba’s father, who died in 2012.
Esther had left the gloves on the Tube. Black leather. Narrow fingered, supple and soft, with small buttons that fastened them at the wrist. She had kept them for years. A thrift shop present from her mother on her thirteenth birthday. They had lasted through cold winters and crisp spring mornings. Esther had even kept the note that accompanied them. Typed in the incontinent capitals of her mother's Smith-Corona portable and folded into a prim oblong of yellowed paper: FOr my girl: so you Do NOt get colD. So your haNDs Do NOt get up to mIschieF. She had worn the gloves all that thirteenth birthday, until she had found herself in front of her mother's bedroom mirror, her mouth smeared with lipstick and her eyelids shaded black.
What happens when something that prides itself on otherness drifts into the mainstream? For much of the twentieth century, drag was about as niche as you could get. Unlike Shakespearean times, when men routinely played women, cross-dressing in entertainment became associated with the lowest, broadest comedy. The phrase ‘drag queen’ was first recorded in 1941, but for decades it thrived solely underground, too provocative for mainstream audiences. Even within the LGBT community there was a tendency to see drag queens either as a joke, or as a narrow, over-feminised version of gay identity, whose explicit otherness barred assimilation with heteronormative society.
You’re probably wondering how professional wrestling - the athletic performance art of staged violence - relates to Donald Trump and his presumptive nomination for the Republican presidential candidacy. One of the key aspects of pro wrestling is gimmicks, the term for pro-wrestlers’ characters, used to project a façade to audiences. We generally describe something as gimmicky if we consider it tacky – a fair way to describe a man whose private jet features solid gold bathroom appliances. Gimmicky also refers to the disingenuous and devious, however. In pro-wrestling, gimmicks are masks that project a façade to audiences. This is the basis of the comparison.
‘There she goes,’ called Luis over the crest of a wave, and he was right – there she went, old Mexico trailing as a short strip of horizon beside them, looking almost benign from here, from this distance. A yelp or two from the other boys-on-boards, separated now by the rhythms of the Pacific. The morning rose equally above them all. ‘Ricardo!’ Luis was blinded by the dawn. ‘You’re drifting off course!’ A vision in the crisp sunlight: Ricardo’s surfboard turned to face the old country. His paddle ran through the ocean froth like a tongue over ice-cream; his arms hung limp at his sides. ‘I’m done for,’ he said quietly, as if to the land itself. ‘Ri-car-do!’ arriving in one ear through the voices of his co-conspirators, in the other from his family back home, who would soon be waking to find him gone. ‘Vamos, Ricardo! It’s time!’
For devoted movie-goers, it’s tempting to roll our eyes at another needless sequel or big budget franchise being pumped through our multiplexes. In truth, though, film has always been a key battleground in the continual back-and-forth between art and commerce. The crucial difference now is that, with technological advances and the opening up of global markets, big films feel bigger than ever and can earn more than many countries’ GDPs. As a result, tentpole movies have become more central in studio thinking, and risks have become even riskier. An interesting case-in-point came last month with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It was Warner Bros’ biggest release of 2016, the first cinematic meeting of its two most bankable characters.
Although it has echoes of a previous era, ‘Sleaford Mods - Invisible Britain’ is definitely a film for the times. Young Corbynistas and diehard Old Labour will certainly appreciate its themes, and those who are interested in minimalist and post-punk music will not be disappointed either. The band is made up of duo Jason Williamson and Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn, both clearly passionate about their craft as well as the issues of poverty, society and class which their own experiences have informed. As I watched, I was uncomfortably aware of my middle class, privileged, white, Tory-leaning and academic background. The most I can say in my defence is that I went to a comprehensive school.
Gil’s mother calls him in the middle of the news cycle, and he tells her he had no idea Jacob was capable of such a thing, but that was a lie - he’s actually been expecting something like this for quite some time now. He’d watched it unfold on the news, men in uniform removing the body bags from Jacob’s front door, four in all, prostitutes and street kids who’d gone missing from the County Morgue where Jacob was a coroner. Jacob’s father Terry was a mortician by trade. They wouldn’t let that go. By the end of the news cycle, he’d learn how these women were found in the basement, embalmed, bandaged from head to toe, seated around a picnic table, sheathed in slinky cocktail dresses of various lengths and colors, wigs placed cockeyed on their scalps. Gil’s mother tells him she’s buying him a plane ticket, and he needs to come home.
Gone are the old days of music consumption. In decades past, you’d hear a song on the radio or in a nightclub and, if you liked it, you’d buy the record and listen at home. Case closed. Even up to the mid-noughties, artists followed straightforward release patterns – there’d be a handful of singles, released physically and promoted via music video channels, before the album landed in shops. That was that. There was a quaint excitement in the nascent days of digital downloads. We were wowed by the idea of buying music on our computers rather than schlepping off to Woolies, at seeing our collection on a screen rather than on a shelf. Our minds would surely have boggled if we’d glimpsed forward to 2016, where downloads are just the beginning of a dizzying array of options.
With the film calendar of 2016 so far being mostly populated by sequels, reboots, remakes, and superheroes punching each other, it is a breath of fresh air to see a film that reminds us of what is truly great about cinema: an innovative, thrilling, captivating and character driven story that comes from (and speaks to) the heart. Victoria, the third feature film from German director Sebastian Schipper, while not eligible for a foreign language Oscar due to the dialogue being mostly in English, is a cinematic marvel which deserves every possible award that could come its way. The story follows a young woman named Victoria (portrayed by force of nature Laia Costa) who has recently moved to Berlin from Madrid.
“The decadent degeneracy of our government will render us low. We must cast them off and search for an older order. Only from their power as conduits of myriad migrations of universal continuum, may we conceive of reflections and reverberations that bring us fragmentary visions; portents of the threads of our fate.” ‘He’s finally lost it!’ I tore the buds from my ears and fumbled the headphones back into my pocket, embarrassed that I had spoken aloud. The train had slowed to a crawl, then a halt, on the bridge just outside Victoria. The commuter with the sad sallow eyes and yellowing skin glanced at me, then continued to study his newspaper, pausing only to place, with unnecessary force, an overly large orange upon the table between us.
Happy birthday, William Shakespeare! Also, commiserations on the anniversary of your death. Yes, since today marks both 400 years since Shakespeare’s passing and 452 years since his birth (well, give or take a few days), what better reason to indulge in the work of a man frequently lauded as the greatest writer in the English language? Okay, so it’s a hyperbolic title, and admittedly, even the best plays risk getting a little fusty after four centuries. One of the reasons for Shakespeare’s enduring popularity, however, is that his plays aren’t fixed, unchangeable works. Over the years, they’ve been templates for artists of all shades to explore a multitude of themes and styles. Nowhere is Shakespeare’s ripeness for re-interpretation more evident than on film.
“Any novel which portrays the devil as a comic character has to be brilliant,” my friend said. We were standing outside in London’s Barbican centre. It was nighttime, the moon was out, and looked at in a certain light, the building had some of that depressing functionalism of the Soviet Union. The work we were talking about was Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, his magical satire on Stalinist totalitarianism. The book had been on my shelf for the past twelve months, unread, but hearing this I determined to start. The next day I sat in my garden and started: indeed the devil was a comic creation but he also had a cat. The book is not magical realism but it is something very close. Inventive and witty, loaded with intrigue and even softness, The Master and Margarita is a sublime love story and a panegyric to freedom.
All the best ideas usually start with a conversation. I can pinpoint the start of REMOTE, a piece of interactive theatre by Coney, as a couple of beers with James Bridle. James is an incredibly smart thinker: an artist, hacker and writer making tangible the pervasive systems of technology we’re all now living inside. His own work includes Citizen Ex, Drone Shadows, and Render Ghosts. He switched me onto the human consequences of the digital world we’re living in. As a maker of interactive theatre, game-theatre, playing theatre, whatever you call it… I’m starting from the question of who are the people in the room, the audience and the performers, to work out how they may interact over the course of the show. But also modelling the real world systems we’re examining in terms of the interrelations of people.
“But we can get married now, there’s nothing left to fight for.” These were the words from a lesbian actress who upon reading my new play Invisible Scapegoats, decided that the issue of the ongoing fight for LGBT rights contained within the story was no longer relevant. Now that she was planning to legally marry her girlfriend in the UK, she was happy to kick back, relax and be complacent in enjoying the fruits of LGBT equality that we fought so hard and for so long to achieve. Time to shut up shop on the struggle, victory is ours at last, let’s talk about something else. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, on the very same day, a grandmother was photographed giving a Nazi salute at a rally for Donald Trump, the fascist figure and potent role model for bigots, the powerful and extremely wealthy businessman whose inexplicable rise towards the US presidency is detailed in all its horror to us on a rolling 24/7 basis.
No matter how high-brow we like to think ourselves, we all love a bit of gossip from time to time. I’m no exception. Scrolling through Twitter recently, I noticed that the top ‘trending topic’ (Twitter code for ‘thing that everyone’s talking about’) was #TedCruzSexScandal. I pulled that wide-eyed, pursed-mouth face of intrigue - the sort of face you’d commonly associate with your elderly, curtain twitching neighbour - and jabbed the ‘Read More’ button. As soon as I’d done it, I wondered why. Personal attacks against politicians always feel tacky to me, and I’d much rather the Republican Presidential candidate was lambasted for his worrying social and political stances than for some bedroom kink.
There was a shop which I used to go to in what is now one of the run-down, fashionable parts of East London. It was nothing special. It was just a newsagents and food store. Its windows blocked with posters and advertisements, a few fruits and vegetables, and a rack of papers outside, aisles lined with tinned and packaged produce inside, there are a thousand similar shops. I used to keep odd hours and, as the false flicker of the bulbs shone out against dawn’s uncertain hue, I would go there to buy a packet of cigarettes, maybe some bacon for breakfast or milk for tea. I would surf the narrow gangways indecisively picking up items, then putting them down again before finally deciding what it was I really wanted. The owner, ever present, had reached that age where there is only one face...
In 416 BCE, during a pause in the long war between Athens and Sparta, an Athenian fleet arrived at the small neutral city of Melos and demanded that the Melians should surrender unconditionally or be destroyed. The contemporary writer Thucydides - who is seen today as a political theorist as much as a historian - presents a debate in which the representatives of the Melians seek to persuade the Athenians to be more moderate. This ‘Melian Dialogue’ is regularly cited by modern International Relations theorists and others, applying it to any number of different situations: US foreign policy, the Russia annexation of Crimea, the behaviour of Germany in the 2015 Euro crisis. Yanis Varoufakis has taken the title of his new book on the latter theme, And the Weak Suffer What They Must.
The lorry actually killed Tito but the pedestrian who stepped off the curb played no small role. Furthermore, Tito killed himself, for he was staring at his ringing phone and not watching the road. His mother also killed him, for from the dusty vault of Dinensen House in Nairobi she had keyed his number to continue the sterile interaction of their long-distance relationship. Africa killed him, for he was born of Africa and it was from the madness of Africa that he had run. There also his father was complicit but his father did not kill him. He did far worse. At the wheel of his little green car, Tito Adudeyo had no time for a reaction. He died at once in the press of metal and the hail of fractured glass.
Much of the internet fandom surrounding The X-Files, the recently resurrected 1990s cult sci-fi series, seems to revolve around the darkly comedic double act of agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson). Agent Mulder is the FBI agent who has an almost child-like fascination with the paranormal and extra-terrestrial aspects of the dark, shady and often gory cases the secret X-Files unit investigates. The tagline is derived from his worldview: “I want to believe”. His colleague Agent Scully, in contrast, plays the straight man (gender neutrally used in this context), whose trademark eye-rolling scepticism accentuates the fantastical tendencies of Agent Mulder. The tenth series of The X-Files,released this year, has received somewhat mixed reviews from critics.
Centuries ago, Christianity and the arts sat hand-in-hand. One fed off the other, like Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick, or Adele and heartbreak. From Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling to Milton’s Paradise Lost, art has been used to express devotion and earn the patronage of wealthy priests and popes, who in turn commissioned masterpieces to please God, assert their power and keep the masses educated in the way of the Lord. Since then, however, religion has had a much less vaunted position in the arts (if you don’t believe me, try playing some Christian rock at your next house party and witness the reaction).
When the Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous badger. That is, an enormous badger by standards of relative badger size, but by the standards of all living things the Minister was not particularly enormous at all and had in fact shrunk quite considerably since the day before, but still, for a badger, he was enormous. The Minister closed his eyes again. “Bloody dreaming of badgers now,” he muttered and rolled onto his left side and snuggled back into sleep. “Ain’t you got some meeting this morning?!”
—That’s the thing about love, you never really know who you’re holding. —I don’t understand men, bald spots notwithstanding, complaining they can’t grow a beard. I could have a beard if I wanted one, voluminous as my unibrow. There’s ginger and beet roots and raisins, flaxseed and hemp and almonds and soy nuts… If they don’t work, just tell it to your friends: I really want a _________ and it won’t grow!
And so they came with me to their end. I walked ahead of the tax collector and his family, his son trotting at my heels down the long covered tunnel. ‘Keep walking,’ I told him, smiling, as I doubled back, past the tutor, past the wife and her sensitive smell. There was the first glimmer of surprise in his eyes as I slipped the sicae from my sleeves and punctured the throat of the tax collector. He fell to his knees, his hands reddening at his neck. I turned again, came behind the woman, my hand across her eyes, neck turned to the right, and I drew my blade across her throat. I heard her fall solidly behind me, a faint ringing of jewellery, as I ran quietly towards the tutor and the boy, who had not yet turned.
Before Judy Garland, Bette Davis and David Beckham, there was one gay icon. If Karen Carpenter makes an unlikely icon, then he is perhaps more improbable. So great is his influence that the playwright Oscar Wilde assumed his name after his release from prison when he lived abroad. Whether it be Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited or the film Velvet Goldmine, the name is inextricably linked to homosexuality. The icon is St Sebastian. And while it seems faintly ridiculous that an early Christian saint could possibly become an icon, he has. Put it this way, how many other saints have made it to the cover of a gay magazine?