Wednesday, 29 August 2012

London Road

Not long ago I went to see London Road at The National Theatre. Despite it being a couple of weeks ago now the experience has lingered in my thoughts, it was one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I think I have ever seen. I have been trying to write this post ever since and have been struggling - how do you constructively say all you want to when everything comes out as a never-ending stream of 'so so good, so amazing.'. After many abandoned drafts, this is my attempt.
In late 2006 Ipswich was terrorised by a serial killer. Steve Wright was eventually arrested and charged with the murders of five young women all working as prostitutes in what was widely reported as the red light district of Ipswich. The national press reported every minute of the emerging story as soon as the police announced that they had the bodies of two women. It was a story that gripped the nation as it seemed that every day, another girl was reported missing.
I remember being captivated by the fact that these young girls were going out onto the streets to solicit knowing there was a killer targeting them because they felt they had no choice. They were drug addicts and this was their only way to pay for their habit. Who wasn't struck by the interviews the media held with various girls asking why they were putting themselves at risk, I kept wanting to scream that no-one chooses this, they were on the street because they were desperate, really desperate, no-one prostitutes themselves on the street as a career choice or to buy a dress you want. If they felt they had a choice they wouldn't be there in the first place.
London Road is a verbatim play set to music which reveal the community's story behind the headlines. The testimony of the 'residents' (played by a fantastic and varied ensemble of actors), conveyed that London Road specifically had battled for years with an increasing amount of solicitation and kerb crawling. When Steve Wright was identified as not only the serial killer but as a resident of London Road the community were left reeling.

As the play begins, opening in a community meeting, the residents communicated that this enormous social problem was only actively addressed by the community at large as a consequence of the murders and subsequent exposure. As a result various programs were implemented to help the girls get off the streets.

Alecky Blythe is a verbatim playwright, she constructs her play around interviews she holds with various members of a community. For London Road she spoke to various residents of Ipswich during and after the murders as this shocking case unravelled on their doorsteps. Adam Cork, the composer,  then identified, emphasised and further developed the natural musicality of their expressions into a very contemporary piece of musical theatre.

 The music was beautiful and served to perfectly emphasise the sometimes startlingly, commonly shocking and always poignant comments and opinions of the residents of the area. The actors clearly had learnt the exact way these opinions and points of view of the residents were expressed, from the intonation, the hesitations and the stutters. The way we all speak in real life.The overall effect was mesmerising.

Watching it, completely engrossed, I couldn't help but repeatedly think, "You just couldn't write this".The verbatim style revealed so much, it was so thought provoking and insightful. There were people who were scared while the killer was at large,  people who were annoyed at the girls prostituting on their residential street, irritated by the ever increasing and intrusive media, alarmed by the dawning realisation that as a man you were a possible suspect.

It was fascinating, terrifying and utterly beautiful. 
The staging was so simple yet highly effective at emphasising the everyman aspect of the ensemble with clumps of living room furniture all positioned around televisions.  I particularly loved the section where the residents' movements around their living rooms were severely restricted by police tape as they watched the media footage shot right outside their front doors.

The moment one couple identified that an arrest was taking place next door by watching it on the live news coverage was expressed in such a way that we, as an audience got to experience how horribly surreal it all was with them.

One of the most haunting sections was when we saw the girls of the street, the working girls, the incredibly vulnerable girls who Steve Wright seemingly picked off. Three girls emerged from the darkness where in  seemingly drug addled states they mumbled how they no longer work the streets and instead have some regular clients for money. Then they just stared at us in silence. Looking out at us all for about 3-4 minutes in complete silence they confronted us and any stereotypical views we had of of them. They represented the girls and the victims and that's what they were, just girls. Not monsters but instead vulnerable, damaged girls. They were as fascinated by us as we were by them. and then just as mysteriously as they arrived they disappeared back into the darkness. It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in the theatre

I could rave on and on about this production, I had heard it was fantastic the first time round it opened at The National and am just so appreciative of the fact I got to see it. It is back for a very limited run and I cannot urge you enough to see it if you can.

This is what a National Theatre should be doing, bringing the words and experiences of people to a stage to share and educate. I went to see it with my Uncle, an art therapist who works with people just like Steve Wright and the conversations this piece provoked were fascinating. You never get to hear the real experiences behind the headlines, the simple yet unbelievable accounts behind the tabloid sensation.  This production was not about Steve Wright, not about the girls he murdered it was about a community who experienced something so shocking and violent that it changed them, hopefully for the better.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Big One Did It Again!

The Big One made another awesome film this time with the incredible performance poet Polar Bear.

Clever chaps aren't they!

Friday, 3 August 2012

They're Baaaaaccck!!

I know I am so late in announcing I've joined the celebrations, I've been dancing non stop that's why. Too damn excited to type.

No Doubt are BACK.

On hearing their new single, Settle Down, I actually felt quite emotional. Firstly because they were back but secondly because they sounded like them. They didn't release a track based around a great hiphop hook created and bought from a faceless producer that anyone could have released. They created their No Doubt sound again and it sounds incredible to me.

No Doubt were probably the first band I became a proper fan of. I looked up to Gwen Stefani's tom boyish style and attitude, her incredibly raw stage presence. I loved the sound, the lyrics, everything.

I was introduced to Tragic Kingdom when I was about 13 I could not get enough of it. I had never heard anything quite like it. I quickly collected up every album I could and I can still sing almost all of their back catalogue word for word.

Although I enjoyed the Westwood styling of Gwen's pop solo career and let's be honest, her voice is awesome whatever she's singing, it just wasn't the same for me. I liked the band and her as the tough, in-yer-face front woman. I missed that unimitable No Doubt ska-pop-punk sound collectively created by them all.

So let the celebrations continue, No Doubt are back back back and I'm so ready to get my dance on to more!

"I think I've been able to fool a lot of people because I know I'm a dork. I'm a geek."
- Gwen Stefani

First YarnBomb: Completed!

I did it! With shaking hands and rather an alarming amount of anxious perspiration I finished and attached my first yarnbomb!

It was my last day temping for this particular creative agency and as soon as my fellow receptionist, Tats, left for the day, I took a deep breath and started attaching my yarnbomb to the desk leg.

In order to hide my fiddling hands from the rest of the studio filled with people behind me, I had moved the chairs round the leg.  I cannot tell you how nervous I was - I was actually whispering to myself to keep calm which just added to the mad yarn lady image I was trying to avoid!

Just as I finished securing the bottom section, which required me to be on my knees (not so subtle), I got caught! One of the guys in the finance department, who sits closest to Reception came over to ask me something and on seeing what I was doing, promptly sat down and in surprise and immediately wanted to know what was happening.

I was crouched on my knees, bright red holding cable ties, looking distinctly dodgy! All I could manage was a whispered, "Ssh, I'm being a yarnbomber." Needless to say he looked all the more confused...

I eventually managed to explain what I was doing and why. He seemed very taken with it and promptly offered to lift the desk, allowing me to tuck the end underneath the leg. He told me he thought it looked awesome and by then I was riding high off the adrenaline.

This could get very addictive.

Before attaching

They, Tats and Showgirl, found it the next morning and tweeted it so I think they liked it.

My first YarnBomb experience has taught me that:
It takes much longer then I anticipated to secure the piece.
I love cable ties.
I was much more nervous then I had thought I'd be.
It was amazing and I want to do more more more!

"Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some sort of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting. "
- Edward de Bono

Monday, 30 July 2012

Not Just A Doctor's Dilemma

I was very kindly given tickets to see the new production of A Doctor's Dilemma, at The National Theatre last Thursday directed by Nadia Fall. I took along a theatre buddy and avoided reading anything about the show in the lead up in order to be as open minded as possible.

We had fabulous seats and were both instantly struck by the beautiful set design (designed by Peter McKintosh), which revealed itself to be increasingly impressive throughout the show.

On the whole, I am not familiar with George Bernard Shaw's plays however, I am aware they generally explore moral dilemmas, social hypocrisies. A Doctor's Dilemma, originally staged in 1906, certainly does that. It questions how we can determine the value of an individual and more directly, if you can save the life of only one man, how do you choose who deserves it most?

David Calder, Aden Gillet, Malcolm Sinclair and Derek Hutchinson

Tom Burke as Dubedat and Genevieve O'Reilly as Jennifer Dubedat

It is an interesting dilemma but I had my own to battle with in regards to this play. On paper this is a fascinating debate yet in practice/production I just could not engage with it.

Although superbly acted by a wonderful cast it simply lacked in impact for me (despite often being very funny).  The production was beautiful, the performances on a whole were great - I particularly enjoyed Tom Burke's Dubedat. But I just didn't care about the dilemma, the stakes weren't high enough for me and more importantly I could not work out why this play was relevant for today.

There were fleeting moments of resonance, wry remarks made about the dubious agenda of the drug industries and an insight into the questionable morals of the private medical profession. Some of the doctors involved were motivated by money, others by fame. Very few, if any, by a desire to simply heal the sick. But these points really were sporadic and so, on the whole, I just couldn't understand what I was supposed to take away from it.

Plays aren't just put on, particularly at The National Theatre of England, they are programmed. Classic pieces over new commissions, are one assumes, specifically chosen. The Artistic Director feels they have something to say, a debate to ignite, a relevant point to make. I can only suppose I was meant to understand and appreciate the importance of the National Health Service, our publicly funded healthcare system which is increasingly under threat due to government cuts and policy.

The National Health Service's system ensures that no Doctor has the opportunity to choose who he treats over another, there is treatment for theory. I'm not going to go into the waiting lists, the postcode lottery of treatments. The NHS treats one and the same as best it can despite cuts, policy changes, targets and mounting pressure from all sides.

So maybe that's what I was supposed to feel, but I didn't. My fellow theatre buddy in turn didn't either, instead she felt angry. Angry that what this theatre wanted to say to a modern audience wasn't instead given to a contemporary playwright to say in a more emphatic manner with a new commission. Maybe that choice came down to the fact that The National Theatre has a responsibility to achieve the right ratio of classic to new pieces...maybe not.

I won't pretend that I am not a New Writing enthusiast but I do feel strongly that a lot of classic plays can often make their points with more emphasis when it comes from a period we don't think, based on appearance, we can relate to anymore. An issue that resonates can be far more effective when coming from an unexpected place. Classic/Period pieces often makes me better understand that humanity is not affected by tailcoats and hoop skirts. Times and society have changed but ultimately we are all people trying to muddle through as best we can.

I was pleased I got the opportunity to see the production and oddly it has made me want to become more familiar with Shaw, I want to explore his other moral dilemmas and find one I can more directly engage with...let me know if you have any recommendations!

Do let me know if you have seen the National's production, I am happy to debate and discuss alternative viewpoints. After all that's the beauty of theatre, it gets us thinking and talking.

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” 
-George Bernard Shaw, A Doctor's Dilemma

Friday, 27 July 2012


c/o gaveston
How is it that I can I feel strong and self-assured like a rock and then just 10 minutes later feel as fragile as a feather in the wind? 

Sometimes I feel I'll never find my place.

"Dreaming is one thing, and working towards the dream is one thing, but working with expectations in mind is very self-defeating."
- Michael Landon

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