Friday, 28 December 2012

Teenage Kiks All Thru the Night

Ella is 14.  She has beautiful thick dark brown hair, perfect raw material for an indie-girl block fringe adorned with flowered festival crowns.  Ella is however one of those teenagers who is angular, unable to tease her hair into sultry style or find clothes that compliment her still-more-child-than-adult figure.

"I've never even had a boyfriend," she tells me.
"What, not ever?" I ask in some disbelief.
"Nah, I say I had one on holiday and that one is best left on holiday, but it's not true."

She pauses thoughtfully for a moment.  

"Maybe next year, when I save up and get some straightners and stuff.  I know I'm not really very pretty." She goes on with a list of things she needs and wants to change about herself and I gently chip in and tell her she is pretty, actually.  She nods in a noncommittal way. 

I want to say it should be about more than just whether she has big breasts or straight hair or ladles of makeup but before I have time to consider how to shape these thoughts into a sentence I realise we're now talking about sex and how she's the only virgin amongst her group of friends.  

"How do you feel about that?" I ask.
"Dunno." She shrugs. "Think I'd probably run a mile if the sex thing came up to be honest." She giggles and we both fall about laughing, saying  "Oooh, no! Put it away!" gesturing to an invisible make-believe boyfriend and covering our eyes.

Ella tells me one of her friends might be pregnant but she doesn't know for sure yet. Apparently her friend had an abortion a couple of months ago but this time she wants to keep the baby if she is pregnant. Her boyfriend of two years is not keen.  Another friend in the group has had five or six abortions.

"Gosh, what a major thing to have to go through," say I.  Ella shrugs again and is pragmatic in her response, "Gemma says it's a real pain in the bum having to go to the doctors to get it signed off."

Ella goes on to tell me about a girl she doesn't like, who has a boyfriend and is known to have sex with other boys.  
"She's a real slut" she says.
In the conversation that follows it isn't just the having sex with many boys, or the cheating on her boyfriend that add up to the term slut.  The sense that the girl is arrogant plays a key part of it.  And that her family has gone bankrupt.  Basically she's a bit of a stuck up bitch and doesn't have the 'right' to be.

The class 'slut' has had one or two one-night stands.  I ask Ella what she thinks of one night stands.  To my (well-hidden) surprise she becomes quite animated.

"I'd LOVE a one-night stand," she exclaims, "it's one of my life long ambitions to have a one-night stand."
"How come?" 
"Well, it's an adventure isn't it? I mean waking up in the morning and not really knowing who's next to you.  And there could be like 7 or 8 guys in the bathroom, waiting to gangbang you, or you could get slaughtered, you just don't know!"
"You know, it could just be a night of mediocre sex and then waking up in the morning and having to get rid of the guy as quickly as possible?"  I say.  She giggles and agrees and goes on to show me

Omegle, for the uninitiated, is an online 'chat roulette' system, that allows you to talk to 'randomers' on a one-to-one basis.  You can text chat or video chat and disconnect any time you like.  You have to be over 13 to use it but must have the permission of a guardian or parent if under the age of 18.  We're on her phone and before I know it we're chatting to someone.  The first question is 'asl' - Age, Sex, Location.  Ella confidently types in '40, f, usa'.  We get differing responses to that, some disconnecting immediately.  We chat to nearly 10 randomers, never for more than a minute or two. We're always asked sex and age and we're usually asked if we have kiks or skype.  Ella does have kiks as it turns out and takes me to the ap on her phone to show me some of the conversations she's had with boys.

Pretty much immediately they are offering pictures of their cocks in exchange for pictures of her tits.  Immediately.  Ella, amusingly, if rather bizarrely, tends to send them pictures of Ed Sheeran.  Clearly none of these guys are particularly clued up on the teen music scene (which makes me question their asl...) as none of them seem to recognise who he is.  All of them are shocked and quite outraged when they receive her picture, exclaiming 'You're a dude?!' or having a go at her for making a fool out of them.  Ella laughs and is just clicking back into Omegle to give some apparent 17 year old male her kiks name when her mum comes in.

Ella sweeps off, telling her mum that we've been looking at Omegle, though her mum looks frankly blank.  I wonder if 'knowing' your kid is on omegle qualifies as getting permission from a parent or a guardian. 

I've been pretty cool throughout the conversation but I am shocked at how dark Ella's fantasies are.  On the flip side fantasies are a way in which we play out and control our fears, making them (and ourselves) safe.  In some senses Ella is using the sort of chat room technology that we hear so many scare stories about in order to arm herself with information about the opposite sex but interestingly she is categorically not playing to 'their' rules.  

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Unsequelled Breath

Tonight I want to write and the words won't come.  These words have come of course.  Tonight it is easier to write about not being able to write than it is to say my mother died a year ago today.  It is easier to wipe the print from the screen, than to say I have feared this day, to explain how I have felt that after today an irrevocably closed door has slammed shut, separating me from her.  It is easier not to say that I have been scared that after today I will have truly lost her.  It is too hard to say what that might mean.  I am not maudlin.  My life is full of such beauty and good things.  But I want to mark this day, this year, this anniversary.  And whilst the words won't come I watch the clock in the corner of my screen tick past minutes and I feel the urgency of publishing whilst it is still July 1st.

She died in a hospice.  She died quickly and quietly having slipped into a sleep 40 hours earlier from which she never regained consciousness.  She went into that sleep without us having the ability to hold any Hollywood-style goodbye conversation.  She slept believing she would wake, go home and live for a few more months.

What is there to say? Do the words not come because there is nothing to say?  Death is incomprehensible up close and in person.  Once ended it is demanded of us that we summarise the life that was, wrap it up in words that save us from the too close consideration of our mortality or the reality of never touching that person again.  

My mother was an extreminist.  She defied convention.  It does not surprise me therefore that she defies my wordsmithing this evening.  And despite her defiance, because of it perhaps, I make my mark - unsatisfactory as it may be - on the page, and leave my remembrances to toss and turn into the dark dreams of the night ahead.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Blues Bringing in the Sunshine

Imagine the blues: Guys in hats, shirts unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up, clustered around their instruments, which mourn or croon the chords of the soul.  

That is one version of how to do the blues. The Martin Harley Band take this to another extreme. 

Bringing the freshest of air to the blues, in 2005 the Martin Harley Band took their music up to the Himalayas. There they played the Guinness Book of World Records recognised ‘Highest Gig in the World’, 21,000 feet up Kala Patthar, having trekked to their destination, enduring stomach bugs and high altitudes in order to do so.  

In a similar vein in 2010 Harley undertook the ‘Blues Gone Green Tour’, a 27 show, 1,200 mile acoustic tour of the UK by bicycle over thirty one days.  Can you say ‘carbon neutral’? 

The band has created arty film-short videos to accompany the tunes which serve to celebrate the history from which the Martin Harley Band sound has come, demonstrating playfulness and joy in the making the music. 

To me however the most mesmerising video clips are the ones shot live at festivals and gigs. There’s a personalness to Martin and the band, a sense of them not only tuning into each other but also into their location and their audience, be they mountain high or near the almost overflowing banks of the river Ex.

The Barebones tour comes to Exeter Phoenix on Thurs 10 May forming part of the final spurt of opportunities to see the band this tour.  

Original approaches to ‘the how’ of playing aside, the band produce beautiful bluesy tunes, with a mixture of instruments and Martin the bands’ singer/songwriter. 

Despite the dismal May we’re currently experiencing, sultry and southern rootedHoneybee from the Barebones EP will bring the sunshine foot-tapping into the audience whilst jazz-infused Love in the Afternoon will have the rest of your body shortly thrumming and buzzing to the beat. 

Reminiscent of 90s Levellers, Carnival Girl brings a lazy summer bounce, warm as whisky for the ear.  But, if the sunshine still won’t come out then Winter Coatis the perfect antidote tune to snuggle up inside and keep off the rain.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Shaughraun Review - April 2012

To have taken the 19th century melodramatic romantic comedy The Shaughraun by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault from a traditional, usually heavily staged setting and perform it outdoors in Crediton Town Square was a brave feat, requiring vision and verve from Peter Hamilton and Crediton Arts Centre last summer.  The gamble of offering Crediton a piece of non-Shakespearean open-air theatre paid off and the show was so well received the suggestion of an indoor revival this spring was warmly welcomed both by the home crowd and further afield.

Coming into the intimate snug-in-pub welcome of a packed Crediton Arts Centre on Saturday 31st March the audience was greeted by live Irish folk music, lifting and transporting the spirits to another place, Suil-a-Beg, County Sligo on the West of Coast of Ireland, and another time, 1858, when the ownership and autonomy of Ireland was being fought over.

Despite the heady, heavy political backdrop the piece is comedic and the humour was well played out. Tom Blaen performed a chortle-inducing foppish English officer Captain Mollineaux, in love with the witty Irish gentlewoman Claire Ffolliott (Katherine Marsland) but duty bound to follow his orders to capture her brother, escaped convict Robert Ffolliott (Stu Wight), affianced to her friend Arte O’Neal (Petrina Truman). Truman carries the refinement and status of Arte well and remains frostily aloft to the lascivious advances of Cory Kinchela (Pat Laver) to make her his wife and possession having crippled her financially by the poor management of her lands and estates.  Fortunately for Arte and Robert, the loyal and inventive poacher-cum-vagabond ‘shaughran’ Conn O’Kelly (Tim Hole) is determined to foil the double-crossing of Corry and sidekick Harvey Duff (Eddie Holden) to help his friend Robert.

Hole’s portrayal of Conn was the driving force of the performance, his mesmerizingly energetic story telling lighting up the stage, infectiously invigorating his fellow cast members with the optimism to defeat Kinchela and Duff whatever the cost…

Hole was well supported by his love Moya Dolan (Victoria Crossly), gentle and yet full of joyful mischief, the peaceable Father Dolan (Geoff Fox) and emotional Mrs O’Kelly (Hilary Hamilton).  The Chorus did an entertaining job of keeping the audience abreast of where they were as the adventure capered around the landscape of Suil-a-Beg.

The show toured three other venues (Beer, Moretonhampstead and Newton Abbot) before coming home to Crediton Arts Centre.

Where Dance is Going Next

I don’t know the first thing about Contemporary Dance.  I really don’t. To my tiny and untutored world it looks a bit like random movements to often jarring music and feels a lot like someone trying to tell me something important and urgent.  But in Swahili.

At least that was how I felt until I saw EDge, the London Contemporary Dance School’s postgraduate performance company and why I am excited that they are coming back to Exeter Phoenix on Tues 22nd May.  It won’t be the same group as last year and they won’t be doing the same thing, but they will be 12 of the most promising and exceptional dancers on the scene today.

The programme will feature new pieces by Matthias Sperling and James Wilton alongside other works such as Alston Takes Cover which I confess I googled to find out more because even to a novice like me the name Richard Alston is something of a by-word for Really Good Contemporary Dance.  

According to EDge, to celebrate the choreography of Richard Alston, The Place and Dance Umbrella jointly commissioned Tony Adigun and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta to create works inspired by the Alston classic Wildlife. The original piece, considered groundbreaking back in the eighties, has been revitalized with Tony Adigun playing on the foliage of the jungle, creating constellations and floor patterns whilst still using his own specific ‘street’ style of moving.

Alston has been pleased with what the new breed of choreographers and dancers have done to his work.  He enjoyed the sense that Rachel Lopez used it to reinvent David Attenborough – making her piece a ‘very earnest but hilarious documentary’.  That spirit, of not holding particular pieces as sacred, is something that is central to the ethos of Contemporary Dance, which by its very nature needs to be of the moment and yet it has a past; as a genre it is now a pensioner.  What EDge are doing is ensuring that Contemporary Dance continues to question itself as well as the other more standardized, structured dance forms.

I believe it is hard to keep art forms such as dance from seeming elite and I suspect that is an indictment of our culture today, in which we live more in the head than the body, but seeing EDge perform and taking our role as the interpreters of their energy, spirit and skill is one way perhaps to unify mind and motion at least while the dance plays on.

Richard Alston on Wildlife:

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Wasted by Kate Tempest

As the lights came up the woman next to me hurriedly wiped away her tears.  Her boyfriend hadn’t looked thrilled about being here when they first arrived; she had suggested he wait in the bar during the show but he refused.  He wanted to do this with her, for her.  He was confused by her tears, squeezed her hand and led her as quickly as he could out of the auditorium, away from the cause of her distress.

He reminded me of Ted.  I wondered if she felt like Charlotte.

An initial burst of projected images wordlessly introduced the three characters to us – Charlotte the classroom teacher aching to travel; Ted the office worker, tied, tired and tangled by the endless repetition of colourless days; Danny the arty drop out mate, with low level addictions to a life lived high as opposed to a powder-and-pill-free world that under delivers against what he believes he could be. 

The characters themselves then came out, sheepishly, blinking into the bright lights on the stage, a more crumpled, less refined version of the selves we had seen moments before on the big screen; smaller, less controlled.  They said nothing for a while.  Looked at one another, at us, went to speak, lost their nerve.  Then exploded into rhythmic dialogue, directly, with the audience. 

The piece continued energetically for an hour, a mix of monologues delivered to their friend Tony, and scenes from the 24-hour period as they commemorated the 10th anniversary of his death at 15 by getting wasted, just like they used to.

The audience thus becomes Tony, who in turn becomes an imaginary ‘other’, a confessor and totem for a period in time when the concept of tribe, of belonging, of meaning, was unquestioned and self-confidence inevitable.  Each character takes this moment to measure up their disappointment in the life lived and to contemplate how they might change, to get back on track to their ‘true selves’.

Finding definition and meaning in existence is a fundamental question that we all grapple with, ignore, medicate against and quest to achieve at different moments in our lives.  We have grown up surrounded by the dialogue of choice – political and commercial propaganda tells us anything, everything is possible.  Wasted touches upon the consequences and challenges of such an environment as its’ inhabitants come of age and asks how, given this excess of choice, we intend to live.

Moby Dick - The Maiden Voyage

Well.  What a very good Good Friday it is today.

And that was it.  Our first week out there, sharing our adventure aboard the Pequod with the great and the good public.  It has been an exhausting week. Multiple 16 hour days to transform the Bierkeller Theatre from nightclub into 19th century whaling ship (Sunday & a chunk of Monday), to rehearse all the technical aspects of the show (Monday and a chunk of Tuesday), to undertake the first full run of the show and dress rehearsal (Tuesday), to open our doors to welcome aboard our first audience (Tuesday) and then the press (Wednesday).  We rounded off our last show of the first week (Thursday) with a few fizzy lemonades & some homebaked whale[1] cake (by director Anna Girvan, is there no end to her list of talents?) to celebrate the birthday of our rather marvellous ASM (Pepz Cannell) and today we performed a mini get out to enable the Bierkeller to fulfil its other important function of being Bristol’s darkest and heaviest nightclub on a Friday and Saturday night.  Busy?  Yeah, you could say that.

BUT, what an awesome week!  The hard work of the weeks of rehearsal, prop and costume sourcing & making, in addition to the very physical slog of get ins and outs have really paid off.  The production has received great reviews (links below) and has been well appreciated by the audiences who have been fortunate enough to partake in the voyage thus far.  We’ve received nods of approval from our producer/writers and, well, yes, I’ll admit it, we’ve really rather loved getting the old girl launched and isn’t that really the magic fairy dust of theatre?  That a bunch of crazies get together and enthuse about making something happen and then work their proverbials off until, there you go, a show, an invitation to another world for a couple of hours is created.  Yes. It’s all a bit emotional.  There really hasn’t been enough sleep this week.  You’ll get more sense out of me next week. Possibly.

Well, we’re all off now, for some well earned shore leave.  We should probably save the celebratory babysham-and-brandy and fat-cigars-all-round levels of excess to the end of our run (which is an unthinkable amount of time away yet, thankfully) but a wee measure of grog is surely to be enjoyed by all before we board and relaunch the show again on Sunday evening.  

All that’s left to do is wish you all a very happy Easter/long weekend from DarkStuff Production and the Dickatrons…

[1] NB No actual whales were harmed during the baking of this cake.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Rehearsal Diary - Moby Dick

I’m late with my blog.  I know.  I am sorry.

That’s sort of the way of things the week before opening night.  Suddenly the best laid plans seem to be moving too slowly or some evil creature from another universe (maybe even an alien mythical great white whale…) seems to be eating up huge chunks of time, but so quietly you’d never know it.  Sneaky.

In the illustrious words of Douglas Adams though DON’T PANIC!  Really.  Things are actually under control and the levels of stress are just indicative of the sort of furious drive to perfection that fuels the best theatre making.  But let me take two minutes over a steaming mug of coffee to bring you up to date.

Last week we were hurtling though the script and figuring out how to make best use of the phenomenal space at the Bierkeller.  The alchemy that is the mix of venue, actors, direction and script began to weave its dark magic and the patchwork of scenes started to develop an intensity and integrity that made them at once exciting and compelling:  In one dream sequence we experience being alone with Captain Ahab, living with the heart and heat of his obsession, feeling the way around its rough, compulsive edges with him; in another we are chortling along with Stubb and Ishmael and the crew, developing in our familiarity with them as they do with one another on this voyage; in a third we chase whales across the ocean and follow the lances, eager for them to hit their mark…

The Bierkeller is a fabulous venue for all the reasons you’ll see next week and beyond (if you aren’t already familiar with it that is) but it is dark and in comparison to the Mediterranean temperatures we are experiencing outside at the moment, it’s a tiny bit chilly.  One of the highlights therefore, of last week was taking the team out on the river to rehearse on one of the Bristol Ferry boats.  The actors had the chance (in addition to receiving their weekly quota of fresh air and light) to practice their sea shanties, rehearse key scenes from the play aboard ship, ask questions of the ferrymen pertaining to knots and nautical navigation and to spend some quiet, reflective time in character contemplating their relationship with the water and with a life aboard ship.  I won’t lie.  It was useful, productive, even.  It was however also damn good fun too.

Which is something nice to reflect on as this week we fret about soundboards and laptops and projectors; when we wonder if it is possible to ever have enough rope and whether we’ll reach the end of the stagger thru before the weekend descends upon us and we hit the tidal surge of tech and dress that awaits us, almost as though it were our destiny…