Monday, 31 May 2010

the unbearable clumsiness of being

One way to survive in this world with your self-esteem intact is to have an imaginary, idealised version of yourself firmly implanted in your head. If you don't like your size, or shape, imagine yourself how you truly want to be as you go about your daily life. Sometimes I think we do this unconsciously, when I catch a glimpse of myself in a random mirror or shop window, it takes a moment to really recognise that person.

My idealised self is graceful and elegant, gliding through the world without the least bump or bruise. It's been a very clumsy week for me. Last Tuesday I was getting off the top deck of the bus early in the morning, not really paying much attention as I was chatting to a colleague, when I heard this grunt of protest behind me. I turned to find that, as I'd let go of one of the bus's poles, my hand had smacked into the back of an elderly man's head, knocking his headphones askew. He was quite rightly red with outrage. The next day, in a small and overcrowded meeting room I managed to walk right into a shelf protruding from the wall. I've walked into the bed twice, I have matching bruises on my shins. But my nadir came on Saturday. Iwas at my mate's house, and she, foolishly perhaps, asked me to pour the tea. It came out in a dribble from the spout of the teapot. So I shook the pot and jiggled it around, until the leaves blocking the spout cleared, and the tea fountained everywhere, saturating the place mates and spoiling the polish on her wooden table.

Some of these incidents can be explained by my physique, I'm tall, with long limbs and big hands and feet, so there's quite a lot of me to fit into spaces that often aren't ideal for a person my size. I also have shocking spatial awareness and no sense of depth, or any of the dimensions at all really. This is one of the reasons I gave up driving; I was a menace when trying to get through parked cars against oncoming traffic, I could never tell if there was room. I lost a number of wing mirrors doing this until I gave it up as a bad job.

But some accidents, such as the teapot fiasco, could happen to anyone yet always seem to happen to me. Sometimes I think the world of inanimate objects is out to get me...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Women beware women

Lovely lovely National Theatre! It's not just the great plays, but the whole experience of the place is thoroughly pleasurable. There's the spacious, lounge-like foyer, where you can have a pre play drink or meal, while listening to a live band (incidentally, the bands are usually jazzy, and pretty good, and you can just wander in from the Southbank to listen, if you so desire). And, unlike most of the West End theatres I've visited, there's loads of loos! The Olivier theatre, with it's revolving stage and seats offering excellent views, is a delight. We had seats in the stalls where it felt like we were right in the action, for only £15. I wonder if this is all deliberate to put you in a mellow, receptive frame of mind for seeing a play...

And what of the play? Well, Women Beware Women, written by Thomas Middleton, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is surprisingly bold in the themes it covers: incest, greed, corruption and rape. The director, Marianne Elliott, has chosen to do a modern dress version, set in the 1950s. When I've seen plays of this period set in the modern era, it's always emphasised in some way an aspect of the text, eg Kevin Spacey's Richard II, featuring modern media, underlined that rulers only rule through selling themselves well to those who support them. But with this, it wasn't obvious why Elliott had chosen the 50s, in fact we ended up having an interesting discussion about this with a complete stranger during the interval visit to the aforementioned loos. I could only think it was because of the familiar 50s theme of the glorification of a woman's role at home gave a twist to the female roles in this play, particularly that of Bianca, who is a runaway bride kept under lock and key while her young spouse is away working, until she, unluckliy for all, catches the eye of Florence's lascivious Duke, who then exercises his power to have her for his own. Also, in the pre sexual revolution 50s marriage was ostensibly the way of fulfillment for men and women, while all the time all and sundry were shagging their brains out with anyone and everyone, as long as it remained secret (or so I'm told by those who were there). And it was the era of cool modern jazz and sophistication, so this staging of the play borrows the feeling of a cocktail lounge with some superb accompanying live jazz. The musicians gallery was just alongside us and it was fascinating to watch them at work, as completetly a part of the play as the actors were.

One of the pleasure of the theatre is seeing actors who are familiar from countless appearances in tv drama and films really flexing their acting muscles in challenging roles. Harriet Walters is one such, a face you know you've seen somewhere before. She's utterly mesmerising as the manipulative Livia, a woman so corrupted by life in Florence's high society, that she arranges the incestuous seduction of her niece, Isabella, not to mention the rape and subsequent fall of Bianca. She's like the Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons but to the power of 10. There is a crucial scene, where Livia plays chess with Bianca's mother-in-law, to distract her from protecting the vulnerable young girl, and the game is not only a symbol for the power play going on throughout the play, but the bawdy double meanings of many of the lines give away the moral vacuum at the heart of this society.

Like most tragedies of the period that I've seen or read, morality wins out and all the wrongdoers are slain, the stage is strewn with bodies at the end. The only main character left standing is the boring but virtuous cardinal. But this is rescued from farce by its hallucinatory setting, which is compelling to watch. I'd definitely recommend you to get a ticket before this ends next month, and enjoy a very theatrical night out.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The art of blogging

The brew has been up and running a while now, and much to my surprise, people have started making requests/suggestions for content. One friend said she'd like it if the Brew included "random waffling- but it has to be funny", instead of just reviews; another felt I should update it more often; and another thought I should complete the personal profile. My first response to these requests was "Bugger off- this is MY blog" but then my essentially pleasant and reasonable nature reasserted itself and I thought, "Well, if they're actually taking the time to read it, maybe I should try to accommodate them. So I will attempt humorous waffling, and update more frequently (BTW, a heads up, I'm going to see Women Beware Women at the National Theatre on Weds so I'll be updating about that on Friday. Side bar- "Heads up" is a phrase I seem to have acquired recently, I think from US tv shows, but I quite like it and can't think of a Brit equivalent, what do other people think?) I may or may not do the profile thingy, not keen on those. They remind me of those awful questions you get asked sometimes in job interviews, where they say "tell me about yourself" which is supposed to make you relax and ease into interview mode, but actually just winds me up cos how am I supposed to convey the richness of my life in 30 seconds, and why does it matter anyway when what they really want to know is can I do the job?
I think I'm more in the mood for a rant than a waffle. I've been feeling really grumpy for several days, I blame Luther. Let me vent my spleen. I never thought I'd be turning into Mary Whitehouse, but really I was outraged by last Tuesday's episode of Luther on BBC1. I've been giving Luther a go, cos of Idris Elba, who is in The Wire. I've been having a love affair with The Wire on DVD, (Martin too, it's been a kind of menage a trois). But Luther has been a HUGE disappointment and a waste of the 3hrs I've invested in it so far. Not only has it got crappy storylines, and dreadful dialogue, but otherwise excellent actors (Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves) are miscast, and deliver their lines with an air of "How the hell did I end up in this shite?".
But this week, the show went too far. The crappy storyline was about an occultist bookseller/serial killer who abducted women and tortured them horribly. I can't remember the actor's name, but the serial killer was played by this Welsh guy, who always plays intellectual, creepy psychopaths (no, it isn't Anthony Hopkins). He played an ancient vampire in Being Human.
Anyhow, one particular scene focused on a bound and gagged women, alive and terrified inside a chest freezer, whilst alongside her the serial killer drinks a glass of what the viewer is meant to assume is her blood. Showing an image like this was so unnecessary to the story line, and could've been done in much subtler ways, and I had to wonder at the director's/writer's motivation at including this scene. Where they trying to appeal to the sensation starved and gore hungry among us? Are they trying to frighten women by saying look what monsters lurk in the shadows, waiting for you? Or do they themselves enjoy these images? Is violence against women so completely commonplace and acceptable nowadays that it can appear unquestionned on prime time tv? Imagine the furore if it had featured an animal undergoing such abuse.

Since I was little, and ran out of a cinema in tears when a horse got hurt in a scene in a Herbie film, people have tried to console me by saying "Don't get upset, it's not real". But the problem is, it is real. Ok, they're actors, it's synthetic blood and the woman in the chest freezer probably climbed out and went home for her tea, feeling like she'd done a good day's work. But the image is real, and now indelibly drawn in my mind. Plus there are real women out there who are kept imprisoned and tortured by psychopaths, whose suffering is trivialised by programmes like this. Years ago, I read this book called Less than Zero, by Brett Easton Ellis, and I HATED it. The people in it were so numbed by wealth and privilege, and by having it all at a young age, that they could only get their kicks by causing extreme pain and violence to others. When I look around and see the routine violence and cruelty that feature so strongly in what passes for culture these days, I feel like I'm living in the world of Less than Zero, and I don't like it one bloody bit.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Robin Hood
I wasn't well disposed towards this film when I first heard it was being made. Yet another film about Robin Hood? Please! But when a director (Ridley Scott) has made one of your favourite films (Blade Runner) you kind of feel you owe them the benefit of the doubt...besides, I had a free ticket to the preview screening at Brixton's Ritzy Cinema on 12th May.
But this isn't the Robin Hood story we're all familiar with, it's his back story, how he came to be an outlaw in the woods fighting injustice. There's a pompous little message at the start about how times of tyranny and injustice call outlaws into being. Seems like 12th Century England was a miserably unjust place where taxation on the poor subsidised the follies of the rich (not much change there then...).

After a strange little prologue featuring Marion, (Cate Blanchett), who isn't a Maid in this version, skilfully seeing off raiders who try to rob her home, the action moves to France where King Richard's armies are plundering and despoiling their way back from the crusades. There we meet Robin (Russell Crowe) who is gathering around him the men who will form his Merry Men. And one of them is that funny red haired guy, Dr Morris out of ER, with the worst Welsh accent I ever heard. But that's quite in keeping with the other dreadful accents in this movie...fake East Midlands for the most part that veers between Irish, Scouse and something vaguely northern.

Richard isn't the noble, splendid king of the familiar legend, a strong theme of the film is that the powerful generally abuse their power for their own ends. Robin returns to England and, with echoes of Sommersby and Martin Guerre, assumes another's identity and fights for the rights of the downtrodden common man. Fathers and sons are another strong theme: Richard, the absent father of his people, Robin's father absent since his childhood, and Robin's father/son relationship with the wonderful Max Von Sydow, who plays Sir Walter Loxley.

Comparisons with Gladiator are inevitable, given the pairing of Scott and Crowe and a film about a historical hero. But where Gladiator's Maximus is a single minded, focused tragic hero, Robin is more morally ambiguous. He fights for the poor, but he doesn't mind robbing corpses and stealing an identity. He does become more moral, but the lever for this change is not emphasised enough. There are way too many plot strands going on to build the same intensity of atmosphere that Gladiator had.

But the recreation of mediaeval England is lovely at times, and fans of Crowe's rough hewn brand of masculinity will enjoy the 'money' shot, where Blanchett helps him off with his chain mail before he takes a bath. Overall rating, it tries hard, but for me it didn't work so well. After more than 2 hrs, it was either stay for another noisy, confusing battle scene, or get the train home. Guess which I did?