Grimm Tales at the Bargehouse – immersive theatre experience number 2

29 Jan

The other weekend, I was lucky enough to go to the Grimms Fairy Tale experience at the Oxo Tower for an ‘immersive theatre’ experience.  The experience was advertised for adults and children alike, and I was excited to go as I’ve always been fascinated with the darkness of fairy tales.  Even as a child I remember being both horrified and amazed by the idea that Hansel and Gretel’s father could be so easily manipulated and leave his own children to die.  In many ways, fairy tales provided me and countless numbers of other children with their first exposure of the concepts of evil and goodness.

Grimms_3123740b

The experience consisted of us watching five fairy tales (there are a total of seven so it’s dependent on the day which ones you get to see) and watching these back to back definitely cemented in my mind the fact that some fairy tales are clearly superior to others.  The first few I watched included ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and while they were entertaining, they didn’t grip me and I found myself losing concentration.  This could have been because the setup consisted of us being herded to different rooms by a couple of actors and the problem was that all of these rooms had fewer seats than people, so once this fact was recognised, it became a strange race for theatregoers to get a seat for the play.  Each fairy tale was around twenty to thirty minutes long so standing up for that time, craning your head to try and see the action was rather uncomfortable.

The acting in itself was fine, and actors were often very inventive with props.  They tried to keep it faithful to the storytelling nature of the fairy tale by adding the appropriate ‘he said’/ ‘she said’ after every piece of dialogue.  While I initially thought this gave the plays a certain lyrical rhythm, I found it became quite jarring after a while and actually broke the audience’s concentration as it kept the audience at a distance, preventing them from getting too involved.  My favourite play was probably ‘Faithful Johannes’, a German fairy tale which covers themes of loyalty, faith and fate.  I particularly enjoyed the inventive use of props – for example, the intricate raven masks and cloaks and the wooden puppets representing the king and queen’s twin sons which effectively conveyed the mystical, mythical elements of the fairy tale.

In conclusion, it was fun but it wasn’t completely convincing; given the price of these immersive-theatre experience tickets (albeit mine was a lovely gift), I suppose I enter these things with ridiculously high expectations as I did when I went to see Punchdrunk.  Many times, I found myself concentrating on wanting to sit down more than on the fairy tale being acted out before me, which suggests I wasn’t fully immersed but regardless, I still had a lovely time and it was an entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Review – The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

17 Dec

It’s been far too long since I’ve written on this blog – the main reason being, I started a new job and it’s taken up so much of my time, both literally and mentally. I think I’m getting more into the swing of things now though and I’ve been missing some creative outlet, which has sadly been usurped by pivot tables and datasets.

A book I recently picked up is ‘The Days of Abandonment’ by Elena Ferrante. I was going to Budapest for a short holiday and I wanted something that didn’t look too overwhelming, and its relatively svelte size and the premise immediately drew me in. I bought it without knowing it was a translated novel which I’m not the biggest fan of – I think a lot of things can get lost in translation – but that said, I’ve read some real gems that have been translated and the reviews included were (obviously) glowing, so I thought I’d give it a chance.81Fl81A4zLL

The novel is about a thirty-eight year old woman, Olga, whose husband, Mario, has just left her for another woman. We are introduced to Olga at the time that Mario announces he is leaving and the few following months, where we witness her emotional distress and breakdown. Her grip on reality becomes weaker and this is evident in her unflinchingly negative feelings towards her children, which I found refreshingly honest.

Ferrante writes in first person narrative so you are able to enter the thoughts of Olga’s increasingly clouded mind – her language becomes malicious, full of hard cussing and sexually explicit passages. While the story drew me in – I am always especially interested in reading about characters enduring some kind of emotional turmoil; perhaps this is some sort of morbid curiosity of mine, or an opportunity for self-assurance – much of the writing was far too exaggerated and overblown. I am interested to see whether this writing style is typical of many Italian authors as I have noticed, for instance, that the novels by Japanese authors that I have read tend to share the same fondness for poetical restraint and subtlety. This is the opposite and at times, I found it to be inordinate – as a reader, I never like to feel that the author is making damn well sure that I will feel something. On many occasions, I felt as though Ferrante was labouring a point or a metaphor which meant that it actually lost its effect.

In conclusion, I found the premise of the story interesting which incentivised me to finish the book, which I did in three or four days. However, the writing was far too predictable and lacking in nuance for my liking – it was almost as though the pages were shouting, ‘OLGA IS A DESPERATE WOMAN HAVING A BREAKDOWN, SHE’S LOSING IT’ which sort of detracted from any real emotional connection and empathy with the protagonist.

Electra – a performance with Kristin Scott Thomas at the Old Vic

25 Sep

I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, so when I heard that the Old Vic was staging a production of ‘Electra’, I was excited and managed to book tickets to go along on the opening night.  Before watching the production, I knew the basic premise of the story – Electra seeks revenge on her cheating mother, Clytemnestra, and stepfather, Aegisthus, who murdered her father – but weirdly I knew more about Jung’s Electra complex so I was eager to learn more about this play which has spawned such an interesting psychoanalytical theory.

The image of Kristin Scott Thomas’s elongated, deathly pale face that is around everywhere to advertise the production made me think I’d be in for a dark, intense and haunting experience – an uncomfortable watch, one of those that lingers in your mind long after you’ve watched it.  Unfortunately it wasn’t really any of these things.

The Murder of Clytemnestra

The Murder of Clytemnestra

The subject matter – murder, infidelity and repressed sexuality – is obviously dark but this intensity was never really captured by the production.  Perhaps this was because the script swayed from tragedy to comedy, never fully managing either successfully.  Indeed, basic points of the plot such as Orestes pretending to be dead as part of a plot to avenge the death of his father seemed redundant and futile in the production, especially given that Orestes seemed to murder Clytemnestra and Aegisthus with very little difficulty.   I ended up wondering why Electra had waited all these years for Orestes to murder her mother and stepfather, when it seemed ridiculously easy to do.  The production subsequently lacked any kind of tension or suspense, and the apparent futility of Orestes’ deception resulted in an anti-climactic ending that left me feeling rather cheated.

This is not to say that I didn’t entirely enjoy the play.  The brevity of it (there was no interval) meant that you never felt as though it was dragging on, which would have been quite easy for such a production, and the acting was technically fine.  On the face of it, Kristin Scott Thomas is an adept Electra – wailing, sad and full of resentment towards her mother and her lover.  Her deep, almost baritone voice, lent a touch of poignancy and regret to some of her lamentings.  (Others just made me think of a toddler throwing a strop on the floor).

What her performance, and the Frank McGuinness’s version of the play in general (it is by no means the fault of one individual’s performance), lacked was any deeper emotional content to draw the audience in, to make them connect, empathise and feel that King Agammemnon was someone who had suffered a betrayal so bad that avenging his death was the possible action.

And even Kristen Scott Thomas, with her frantic hand-wringing and writhing around on the floor in a dishevelled dress, couldn’t accomplish that.

The Human Factor exhibition at the Hayward Gallery

18 Aug

Several weeks ago, I went to the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre to visit the Human Factor exhibition.

The website sells it as:

Spanning the past 25 years, The Human Factor focuses on artists who use the figure as a means for exploring far-ranging concerns. Compelling and thought-provoking, their work brings into play ideas about history, voyeurism, sexuality and violence, while reflecting on how we represent the ‘human’ today.

At the same time, the artists in The Human Factor pointedly revisit and update classical traditions of sculpture, while drawing on representations of the human body in contemporary popular culture. Inventively remixing past and present, they transform that most familiar form – the human body – in ways that surprise, unsettle and engage us.

I’ll be honest.  I didn’t read any of the above or know anything about the exhibition.  Instead, I saw the posters around of that oversized bear with his arm around a policeman and I thought that looked like an interesting childhood-themed sculpture . On closer inspection, though, ‘Bear and Policeman’ by Jeff Koons isn’t a cute, quirky sculpture but something far darker (which is clear if you actually take some time to note the bear’s creepy expression) with undertones of perverse sexual humiliation and dominance. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover. Or rather it doesn’t. It teaches me that if I am to judge a book by its cover, at least make sure I really spend time looking at the cover so I fully understand the cover before I judge it.

The exhibition was generally full of dark surprises like this – a particular favourite of mine was by the witty Maurizio Cattelan, and involved walking in a room that was made to appear like a church towards a tiny, crouched figure at the front. At the back, the pious figure looks almost childlike and but as you move closer, you realise that this figure is actually Adolf Hitler. It shocks, surprises and encourages one to consider what he would be doing in a church – whether he seeks remorse or divine power to implement his regime of terror.  There was also an incredibly life-like sculpture of JF Kennedy’s corpse laid out in a coffin, in a sharp suit but with bare feet, evoking an air of odd familiarity towards this iconic American president, who almost appears to be sleeping peacefully.

AN45984601Visitors-to-the-H

The overall ambience of the exhibition was unsettling – death, decay, despair, consumerism were but some of the themes explored, which is inevitable when grouping art under such an umbrella term as the ‘human factor.’ Perhaps it is me, though, and my weirdly high standards when it comes to art, but I felt some of the art works lacked soul and deeper meaning. They’d been created to shock and incite some emotion in the audience, but for me, while I understood the symbolism and the sculptor or artist’s intention behind the work, I didn’t feel anything. It was almost as though some of the works were too obvious: a sculpture of a modern-day Jesus to represent persecution still occurring today; a sculpture of a futuristic woman in the pose of a Greek god – the oxymoronic nature of the future with the past, modernity with tradition; crude sculptures of women with their buttocks, breasts and lips exaggerated to emphasise the objectivity of females… the list goes on.

An interesting exhibition with a few witty and thought-provoking gems scattered amongst a sea of obvious, disappointing and unoriginal works.

The Corruption of Dorian Gray – The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

20 Jul

I read ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it so I was excited to go and watch ‘The Corruption of Dorian Gray’ at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre the other week.  The theatre, based in Kentish Town, is attached to a charming pub so we could enjoy a few relaxed drinks before we went in.

I’d read good reviews of the play so sat down on the tiny and majorly uncomfortable wooden stools (which seems to be a problem with these quaint, indie theatres… and those too-cool-for-school coffee shops but that is a rant for another time).  It followed the story quite closely and I thought the actors were all very well cast, especially the ultimate corruptor Henry Wotton, who is played by Will Harrison- Wallace, who was both infuriating and enticing as I found him in the book.  Dorian Gray, played by Michael Batton, was never my favourite character but he was played well, with a mixture of evil and likeability – plus, Batton – a mixture of Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Dancy – encapsulated the Victorian gentleman and probably has the most pronounced cheekbones I’ve ever seen in my life.

dorian gray

Adam Dechanel’s production emphasised the darkness of the book – so much so, there was what seemed to be a never-ending scene of some strange hedonistic orgy to highlight the seediness of London’s underworld, and the descent of Dorian Gray.  The production also highlighted the homosexuality between Basil and Gray, which is clearly alluded to in the book but explicitly shown in the production.

Objectively, the production was solid, yet I felt it lacked something.  I don’t know if this is because reading such a story allows for a subtler experience but with this production, I felt the messages were being rammed down my throat at some points with overly hammy acting, and they needn’t have been so explicitly portrayed.  The book seems more of a philosophical contemplation on beauty, youth and corruption; however, the realistic limitations of the stage mean that the production is much more hard-hitting, explicit and in some scenes, quite difficult to watch.  That said, my boyfriend loved it so it really is a matter of personal preference.  But overall, it’s a tricky story to adapt for stage; it was well-executed and worth a watch.

The graduate’s quandary

9 Jun

It’s that time again. The time for job applications, numerical and verbal tests, presentations, assessment days and interviews. I hate it.

It’s not that I don’t understand the need to demonstrate your capability for the position you’re applying for; it’s more the never-ending hoops you have to jump through to show you’re the right fit for a company, or perhaps the malleable sort so you can eventually become the right fit. It seems determination and resilience are qualities that are valued far more highly than your skillset and whether you would work well in the company you’re applying to.

I’ve come out of assessment days and job interviews feeling like I’ve literally undergone a physical and mental endurance test. I remember an assessment day for a PR job where the organisers had clearly watched far too much of The Apprentice as halfway through the day, they decided it would be a good idea to name those that weren’t quite up to scratch in front of everyone and send them home. I still cringe at the memory.

In my experience, I feel this has spawned two extremes of graduates. Those arrogant, look-at-me types with CVs as long as your arm and an air of self-assurance (or perhaps self-obsession) that follows them like a bad smell. Then you have the disillusioned types, the graduates that have come out of university realising that it’s not entirely feasible to change the world by getting that amazingly cool job working in the Philippines – maybe it’s better to be an accountant instead. After all, there are definite perks – a ‘stable’, professional job… and spreadsheets aren’t that bad.

I think it’s a result of growing up and thinking you can be anything you want to be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be encouraged to follow your dreams and believe in your abilities but I think a lot of my generation expect it to be handed on a plate and I’m probably no exception. And when it turns out that you might just need to work a little bit to fulfil your dream to become an astronaut, some people get furious, then depressed, and then just try and apply for a graduate scheme.

Which is harder than you might anticipate…

Troublemakers? – Ruby Wax: Sane New World

22 May

At the beginning of May, a friend asked me if I wanted to see a live show with Ruby Wax at the Bishopsgate Institute.  I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ruby Wax – I am quite picky with comedians and I’ve never found her really funny – so I wasn’t sure, but when I found out that the topic of the show was ways in which we let our brain sabotage our sanity in he 21st sanity, my interest was piqued.

untitled

Firstly, this was not meant to be a comedy show per se.  Ruby Wax has just finished a Masters at Oxford in mindfulness-cognitive based therapy so I was interested to see if I could glean some insights from her studies.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first half.  While some of the content I felt was too simplified, I guess it must be difficult tailoring information to a mixed audience and keeping everyone entertained at the same time.  She talked about how we associate ‘busyness’ with ‘happiness’ and this is slowly killing us.  This made me reflect on the truth of this for me – whenever someone asks me how I am, I feel an irrational desire to give them something concrete, something more than ‘I’m fine actually’ or ‘Things aren’t going so well at the moment.”  I will usually go off on a tangent and mention things like ‘Oh I had a good weekend, yep, got lots of work done so am on schedule.. and I went to that play the other day, have you heard of it?…’ and often they just stare at me blankly – quite rightly too – because that wasn’t what they asked in the first place.  I just feel that if I answered the question they asked, it would be inadequate, underwhelming and well.. boring.  And that’s something Ruby Wax’s show made me mull over.

She also talked about the chemicals that are produced when we have certain thoughts and how some of these chemicals aren’t meant to remain in us for extended periods of time.  Take the fight-or-flight response. Our ancestors would have that response as a means of survival, if they were hunting for food.  However, now we don’t need that, our fight-or-flight response is triggered by the barrage of depressing news we see on the TV and read in the papers.  Ruby emphasised that it didn’t matter where logistically the threat was; our mind deals with it as though it is directly facing us and therefore we live our lives feeling threatened, and fearful.  This, quite logically, wreaks havoc with our bodies and can help contribute to various illnesses and diseases in later life.

So, I enjoyed the first half – it was informative and Ruby was likeable, although I had to force myself to laugh at some of her jokes, given that I was sitting in the third row and I didn’t want to look rude.  (And faking laughter is a surprisingly tiring thing to do…) Her talking about mindfulness as a way to combat depressive thoughts was nothing new, but nevertheless it was good to hear and be reminded of the principles, within her personal context.

However, what I did not enjoy was the second half which she opened to the audience (there were probably about sixty or seventy of us in there) and sold as a ‘discussion’ or a chance for anyone to ask her questions.  Perhaps I’m just a grumpy old woman but this led to people “asking  questions” that weren’t actually questions at all, rather excuses for them to get on their soapboxes about issues in mental health and encourage Ruby to try and join in and moan with them.  I was watching grown men and women seeking validity, one even spent about five minutes ‘asking a question’ i.e. gushing about how great Ruby was while clasping her third glass of wine, and calling her our ‘tribal mother.’

I get that people should be able to express their thoughts and relay their experiences about mental health but after the tenth person putting their hand up and saying ‘I just want to say, I work in mental health’ and expecting a round of applause and nods of admiration, and then making a point about young people with mental health problems, and don’t you think mindfulness should be taught in schools? and then Ruby murmuring in agreement, I just kind of wanted to get up and shout, ‘what about OLDER people with mental health problems?  do they not matter?!’ but I refrained and sat, and smiled and practised some of the mindfulness the show was really about in the first place.