Tag Archives: opinion

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.

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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.

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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.

The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes at the Pleasance Theatre

4 Mar

It’s been some time since I’ve written on this old blog.  I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been too busy with an array of exciting social engagements but that would be a lie.

However – I did go to the lovely Pleasance Theatre in Caledonian Road on Sunday to watch Tim Norton’s play, ‘The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes’, directed by Danny Wainwright.  There seems to have been a lot of Sherlock hype recently, what with Mark Gatiss’s BBC adaptation winning record viewers, and the series in the US with Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu (really?!) as Dr Watson.  And of course, Robert Downey Jr in those actiony Hollywood flicks.

So I was kind of intrigued to see what more could be done with the Sherlock – Watson pairing.  The play looks at Sherlock and Watson at a time when both have seen better days.  It’s 1930; they haven’t taken a case on in years and are falling behind with the rent.  Watson is rummaging through old cases to see if he can sell them to The Strand magazine so basically, times are tough.  And made even more so by Sherlock’s drug habit which seems to be spiralling out of control due to a lack of intellectual stimulation and the need for something bigger.

The entire play consists of only the two characters – Watson (played by James McGregor) and Holmes (Nico Lennon)- and the dialogue can get a little tedious at times, becoming almost a caricature of itself in all its Englishness.  The plot line is a little confusing to follow – perhaps more so, as I was watching the play while unknowingly enjoying symptoms of food poisoning from some dodgy oysters from the uncharming Bodo’s Schloss (more on that another time perhaps).  It explores the murky depths Holmes is willing to tread in to find some sort of solace in an empty world that doesn’t excite him any longer, as he talks to Watson about his ability to commit The Perfect Crime.

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What I enjoyed most about the play was the emotionally affecting moments – the determined attitude of Watson to pull his dear friend out of the depression in which he has fallen, and the troubled, melancholia surrounding Holmes.  In this respect, the script is very true to the original stories, and it is almost heart-breaking to see Holmes disintegrate into his cocaine-fuelled, depressive cloud in the second half.  In conclusion, a rather confused narrative that won’t be to everyone’s taste but a genuinely touching exploration of Watson and Holmes’ relationship.

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.