Happy Days at the Young Vic

26 Jan

On Friday, I marked the end of my exams with a visit to the Young Vic in Southwark to watch Samuel Beckett’s play, ‘Happy Days’, starring the amazingly talented Juliet Stevenson. I’d seen the elusive posters all over the tube and I’ve always like the Young Vic, what with its reasonable ticket prices and delicious food in its renowned restaurant, The Cut (the sweet and spicy pulled pork burger is a winner, I’m told).

I don’t know much about Samuel Beckett but I knew the basic premise of a woman, Winnie, who is literally stuck in the earth up to her waist in some scorched wasteland. She whiles away the time with her various rituals and her husband, Willie, is fully mobile but detached and uninterested in his wife’s preambles. I’d seen the comments about the play – ‘a hilarious account of extinction’, The Telegraph – so I’d assumed it would be relatively light-hearted, so I was ill prepared for such a dark, melancholic portrayal of human nature. The visuals themselves were great and the sight of Winnie emerging from the ground was disturbing to say the least.
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The majority of the play is Winnie talking out loud, trying to encourage her husband to interact with her but this happens very seldomly. Winnie comes across as a likeable woman, a woman who always tries to look on the bright side of life but whose optimistic sayings and positive phrases hide a depth of darkness and sorrow. Willie (played incredibly convincingly by David Beames), despite his mobility, comes across as a crawling, repulsive, almost subhuman creature in contrast with Winnie’s vivaciousness and need to feel alive. There is an almost Big Brother element to the play; an alarm (which literally made me jump out of my skin each time it sounded) that seemed to control Winnie who tried to order her day around these external constraints.

The play is separated into two acts, with the second act shorter and darker than the first. In the second act, Winnie is now buried in the earth up to her neck and can no longer conduct some of her previous rituals, such as brushing her hair or teeth. She is slowly being enveloped in the earth and Willie seems to have abandoned her. There is a sense of haunting despair in the second act, and I was constantly impressed with Stevenson’s ability to act only with her face. The oppressiveness of the earth and the futility of Winnie’s body lead her to become more introspective and reminisce about former times when Winnie and Willie first married and her loneliness becomes even more pronounced.

I found the play hauntingly moving, although I think some of the monologue was rather repetitious, which actually led to the woman in front of us falling asleep for most of the first act! I understand this only served to enhance Winnie’s aloneness -she is talking out loud, and using language as a form of reassurance and proof of her existence – but it sometimes lacked flow and movement. Overall, a haunting, fascinating exploration into human nature and our need for human relationships but definitely not an easy watch!

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General life stuff

19 Jan

January is my “exams month” so revision seems to have sucked up any fun time, and I have spent the last few weeks imprisoned in my room, emerging only to scramble around in the kitchen for food (for the tenth time that day).  That inevitably leads to a mini sulk as I bemoan the fact that there’s never any chocolate or anything sugar or in general bad for me that will make me feel temporarily better.

Christmas and the festive season seems to be a bit of a blur: I was ill with a virus that left me virtually bed-bound over the holidays and the stormy weather meant that we enjoyed a lovely power cut on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  So perhaps I’m a little behind in saying this, and I know everyone has already, but I can’t quite believe we’re in 2014.  On the whole, I think 2013 was a good year and I’m pretty excited to start a new year – I know a lot of it is pseudo-psychological rubbish and if you really want to, you can set yourself goals any time of the year, but there is something nice about starting a new year with a renewed sense of motivation to better yourself.

But I can’t really embrace this ‘new start’ as I become a monster when I’m revising so maybe I’ll delay the new, better, shinier Jade to emerge at a more convenient time. In the meantime, I’ll continue to procrastinate to the point of ridiculousness; the other day, I spent a good hour online watching old 90’s music videos on YouTube and searching for places to buy retro sweets,  probably because I was wishing I could be transported back to my childhood.  And while I’m not the tidiest person at the best of times, my room currently resembles a hovel in which I spend most of my time drowning in sheets of paper with illegible handwriting.

I have tried my best to hermit crabembrace the life of a hermit for the last few weeks, which I feel I have adapted to worryingly easily, although I am aware that my sanity is slowly dripping away.

 

Just have to get to the end of this week.  Then onto one of my more fun resolutions (the first was to pass my exams…) which is to complete a short story I’m currently working on, and read something other than boring textbooks and notes on Powerpoint slides – how I have missed the allure of fiction.

Does Facebook induce feelings of depression?

5 Jan

I’m still trying to figure out the direction of causality – does social media cause feelings of depression, or do we actively go on social media when we’re feeling low as a means to justify wallowing in self-pity?

Social media became a big thing when I was around fourteen.  At first, it was MySpace which seemed full of girls with big, punk hair and kohl-rimmed eyes – a way of attracting boys, upping your social status and generally appearing ‘cool.’  Before anyone uploaded a photo onto their profile, it was meticulously scrutinised, Photoshopped and beautified.

Then when I was around seventeen, Facebook came into play.  At first, I found it refreshing compared to the beauty pageant stiffness of MySpace.  People’s profile pages seemed to be more reflective of their lives – photos uploaded were more natural and it seemed to be a really easy way to stay connected with people.  There are always more ‘people you may know’, and for a while you think to yourself, ‘Wow, I really am quite a popular person.’  Accepting friend requests fills you with a rush of adrenaline and once you’ve clicked ‘Accept’ you sit back, content, watching your network of ‘friends’ grow.

But then, you find your newsfeed filled with absolute trollop – mundane, gramatically incorrect statuses of that girl who lived on the same floor as you in your first year at uni, and that person you used to work with but never spoke to – and you know that it is rubbish yet you feel compelled to read each and every one.  And then you feel horrible because you have all these self-absorbed meanderings of others mushed into your brain instead of doing something that revitalises you, and makes you happy to be alive.

At my lowest point, my Facebook newsfeed seemed to be a cacophony of grating voices, pulling me down, making me convinced that I was “missing out”.  Missing out on what, I couldn’t really say.  But what it does seem to do is make you so aware of everyone else’s lives that you find yourself comparing yourself with everyone else.  Sure, you may look at the girl in primary school who didn’t invite you to her 6th birthday party and feel a sense of smug satisfaction when you realise she’s divorced at the age of 22 with three kids, but it works both ways.  You can find out your ex is going out with a supermodel, or a friend that hurt you is in a great job and living the dream.  Either way, you’re spending so much time absorbed in the lives of other people that you forget about your own.

Of course, for many people, social media incites none of these feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and can even increase feelings of wellbeing, which is why I’m inclined to think that social media doesn’t induce depressive feelings .  I’ve used it in the past as a semi-masochistic way of justifying why I feel so rubbish instead of actually staying with my feelings, which seem too unbearable to sit and listen to.  It’s basically a way to misplace my frustrations and vulnerabilities.  Of course, seeing people you used to know doing well means you’re right to be unhappy!  And sometimes, it’s easier to be ‘right’ than happy.

But what is incredibly important to keep in mind when engaging in social media is how little you can learn about someone by their profile page.  I used to think everyone’s lives were so much more fascinating than mine, oblivious to the fact that one’s social profile is entirely deliberate.  A carefully constructed manifestation of how we’d like to be perceived.

It took me a while to really understand that a photograph doesn’t convey a whole story but a tiny fragment of a bigger picture, and that tiny fragments can be entirely misleading.   It’s when you can’t understand it for what it really is that social media can have a devastating impact on your wellbeing; it can convince you that everyone is experiencing so much more and what you have can never feel enough.

Are gap years (gap yahs) simply an excuse to get pissed and ‘find yourself’?

22 Dec

Gap years have become synonymous with tousled hair, ‘ethnic’ beaded bracelets and late-night beach parties.  Attitudes towards gap years have changed – when I was younger, gap years were almost encouraged as a way of gathering more ‘life’ experience, a way of exploring the world and doing things outside the rigid school curriculum.

In the last few years, though, the ‘student on a gap year’ seems to conjure up images of frightfully posh eighteen year olds, with wads of money from the Bank of Mummy and Daddy who think that getting pissed in a different country means expanding one’s mind and perspective.   There’s a plethora of stuff out there that mocks the average gap yah student for example, this sketch which is pretty spot-on in some respects – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU – and does anyone remember the furore about good old Max Gogarty and his ‘ironic’ journal detailing his travels in the Guardian? http://www.theguardian.com/travel/blog/2008/feb/14/skinsblog

I think it’s a real shame that these caricatures have come to pervade our associations with gap years, and as a person who had a gap year myself, I can safely say that its not all ridiculously posh, rich, vacuous students (debatable…!) looking to sleep around.  My gap year was non-voluntary and came suddenly when I was forced to leave university after a term due to depression and anxiety.  It was entirely unplanned, and initially I found the idea awful.  I saw it more as another year delaying the inevitable while comparing myself with my friends who all seemed to be having so much fun at uni, and there were times when I became very introverted, frustrated and generally disillusioned.  However, for me, it helped to begin the healing process and I managed to get into some sort of structure which is vitally important when you’re down.

Firstly, I needed money.  I ended up working full-time in retail which taught me a lot of things, namely that I didn’t want to work in retail.  I also learnt to curb my expectations.  I think it’s good, no vital, to have dreams and ambitions but many of my dreams were illusions – unobtainable goals.  These only served to make me feel like a failure as I could never achieve the impossible, but working in a monotonous and at times, incredibly boring, job gave me a little perspective about what I should expect for my life.  In a way, by doing something I knew I didn’t want to do, I felt more determined to find something that I did want to do.  Something that would open more opportunities to me and I started looking into courses and universities that I would be better suited to.

Later on in the year, having saved my money for a while, I decided I wanted to travel and engage in the more ‘typical’ gap year experience. Strangely, my good friend was in a very similar position to me and we both decided to do something a bit different.  We booked ourselves onto a volunteering program in Cambodia for a couple of months, where we worked in a school for poor children and an orphanage as English teachers.  At the time, I desperately wanted to escape the tedium of my life, and the malignant thoughts that followed me everywhere.  Yes, I was incredibly self-indulgent but the beauty of my gap year experience was its ability to change my perspective.  I met some of the nicest people I have ever met, and probably will ever meet, who were incredibly strong, kind and genuine despite the fact that they had very little in material terms.  It was refreshing to escape my narrow world of being trapped in my head and I even felt ashamed that I should be so focused on myself.  The picture below shows Indu and I teaching English to a class of the cutest Cambodian children.  Their energy and enthusiasm was incredibly infectious.

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So, even though the notion of ‘finding yourself’ is beyond cheesy, my entire gap year experience (at home and abroad) was vital in making me who I am today.  It also gave me the travelling bug, and since then I’ve done internships and volunteered in a number of countries as it’s addictive to lose yourself in another culture.  It also taught me the value of hard work, the kindness in other people (which I had pretty much given up believing in at that point) and that sometimes you need to realise that it is all in your head.  And the world is far bigger than your head.

Christmas at Kew – a surreal and very non-Xmassy affair

18 Dec

Earlier this week, I went to Kew Gardens to ‘follow an illuminated trail through our enchanting winter landscape.’  I’d seen the adverts everywhere and excitedly booked tickets for me and my friend as a way to get into the Christmas spirit.  I envisaged beautiful traditionally lit trees, Christmas markets and gorgeous scenery.  The reality, however, turned out to be rather different to my expectations.

It probably didn’t help that it was raining when we went but the whole affair seemed to have been incorrectly marketed.  Firstly, it wasn’t exactly a Christmassy walk – in fact, there was nothing Christmassy about the walk.  It was more of a surreal experience with a dominant theme being ‘plant whispering’ and some actors were rather half-heartedly rambling on about how plants can communicate to each other through a series of strange noises.  Who this was aimed at was rather unclear – the children that had been dragged along expecting to see elves and Christmas trees stood confused as they were handed a marble which they then threw into a lake which prompted the plants to “communicate” back.  My friend threw a marble into the lake and we had to practically strain our ears to hear a noise which ended up sounding like a tiny little belch.  Strange.

Throughout the trail, there were several gramophones around playing noises of the plants, which contributed to the rather bizarre atmosphere.  There were some aesthetically beautiful moments – there was one part where a section of landscape was lit up and children (or adults) could press buttons that emitted rave-like sounds which was rather entertaining.  There was also the Field of Fire (as in my blurry picture below) which was strangely hypnotising and an inspired art installation entitled ‘The Waterlily’.  

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The trail ended with a fun lights show which illuminated the main Kew greenhouse in all its glory, lighting it up in different colours in time with the music.  The whole event seemed to be more a surreal exploration of light and sound amongst nature which is why I think many families must have finished the trail sorely disappointed.  The Christmas Village was rather mediocre and the rides were small and targeted to children – fair enough perhaps! 

In conclusion, the Christmas trail was not at all what it promised to be, however if you’re willing to forgo all expectations, there are parts that are aesthetically beautiful, especially so at night time and we still managed to enjoy ourselves!

Ghost World

4 Dec

Every time I watch Ghost World, I am transported straight back to being 17 years old again.  That was around the time I was studying for my A-Levels and to escape from my world of Pure Maths and memorising facts, I’d wander round the local HMV store to browse for something that could take me away from the tedium of my daily life.  During one of these browsing sessions, I came across Ghost World and I’m bloody glad I did as it spoke VOLUMES to me as a cynical, melancholic and precocious adolescent.  And let’s face it, who hasn’t been one of those?!

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The film is actually based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes and this is carried through the film with vivid, almost cartoonish imagery.  The main character, Enid (played by the underrated Thora Birch), is a cynical, pseudo-intellectual teenager and the story follows her and her best friend, Rebecca (played by a baby Scarlett Johannson before she became a Hollywood clone) the summer after they graduate from high school.  Their boredom leads to them playing a cruel trick on the unsuspecting and adorable Seymour, who is played by the amazing Steve Buscemi.  Both eccentric misfits with Seymour openly acknowledging that he ‘can’t relate to 99% of humanity’, their relationship develops into one of genuine affection and Birch and Buscemi play their parts superbly.   Enid’s witticisms and sense of superiority over the rest of society is something familiar to most teenagers, and her increasing confusion as she wrestles with the elusive  question of ‘What’s this all about?’  results in a moving, poignant conclusion.

The sense of apathy and restlessness that pervades the film is key to its beauty, along with its gorgeous cinematography and the soundtrack (which made me start listening to 60’s Bollywood music).  The script is incredibly clever and speaks volumes about how utterly alone and fearful you can feel after school, in a world that values the superficial (demonstrated hilariously by Enid’s caricature of an Art Teacher, who humiliated Enid’s drawings by dismissing them as ‘cartoons’ and praises a tampon in a cup because it contains so many “issues”).

“Don’t hate me because I’m rich”

26 Nov

The other day I found myself at a train station, bored out of my mind, and I spied ‘Grazia’ – the big fashion issue! – in the newsagent.  I had some spare change in my pocket which y’know I could’ve saved because I knew what would happen.  I’d buy it, flick through it in fifteen minutes at the most, then that would be that.  But I went against my better judgement and bought it, flicked through it in ten minutes and then that was that.  Only one article in particular piqued my interest – a piece by Catherine Pickering on the prejudice she gets for being rich.

This piece was actually in response to a blog by wealthy New York student, Rachel Sacks, who had written about the problems she faces as a rich girl which received a barrage of criticism.  I suppose I’ve been out of the loop with things so I hadn’t heard about this controversial blog entry, so I read the Grazia article with curiosity.

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I really did try and read it with an open-minded attitude and an impartial view.  I thought to myself, perhaps these girls really are victims of jealousy and insecurity from others – but before I even finished Pickering’s first paragraph, I knew where I stood, and it definitely wasn’t in their current season Manolo Blahnik’s.

Firstly, the tone of the piece is snobby, condescending and imbued with a misplaced sense of security.  Perhaps if it was written more sensitively, some of the points could have even be argued persuasively but, as it was, the whole thing came off as a whiny, spoilt rant.  Apparently, Rachel Sacks was inspired to write her entry after ‘getting attitude from a grocery-store cashier last month simply because she was carrying a Mulberry shopping bag.’  If this was the case, yes, I do think it’s wrong.  Casting judgments on people you don’t know based on superficial things is wrong.  Everyday I see plenty of people carrying Mulberry shopping bags but I don’t always assume that this is because they have been handed everything on a plate.  Indeed, most people work hard for their money and are allowed to treat themselves because, life’s short and you might as well enjoy yourself.  The sad fact is that everyone is judged by how they look.  While richer people may feel like they are victims of prejudice, poorer people are equally victims of prejudice in a consumer-driven world where the media makes you feel as though you’re practically a second rate citizen if you don’t keep up with the trends.

Pickering seems to be the queen of bitchy comments – when talking about a ‘working-class’ friend, she mentions that ‘she still hadn’t been abroad when we met and she was 21!’  She goes on to say that it isn’t her fault that she has ‘high standards’ and that this income disparity creates a gap in her friendships as ‘I often stick out like a sore thumb when we go out, dressed in my designer gear while everyone else is in high street.’  It is rather clear Pickering gets a kick out of distinguishing herself from everyone else so her flimsy protestations that she tries to understand her friends’ concerns about work or competing for a promotion are laughable.  She couldn’t try any less.  

And her comment that she ‘simply can’t relate’ to those less fortunate than her is not a concern reserved for the more financially fortunate than others.  It is reserved for those spoilt, vacuous and narcissistic beings like Pickering or Sacks, but that is not an issue to do with one’s wealth or lack of it, but rather of one’s complete and utter lack of class.