Saturday, 13 November 2010

Belt Up: Vaults Ahead of the Pack

A dalliance with the Edinburgh Fringe darlings at Southwark Playhouse

The echoing, vault-like (and sometimes bloody freezing) spaces at Southwark Playhouse are a good match for Belt Up theatre company. Accustomed to the battered, abandoned space at C-venues in Edinburgh that has been christened the Squat by fond theatremakers, it must seem like a home from home (from home).

For a second year running they are staging something at the theatre tucked around the corner from London Bridge tube station; last year they brought two, and this time they're presenting a third. Will it make a hat-trick of innovative theatre?

At this moment in time, I can't pass comment, seeing only two of the three shows, Lorca Is Dead: Or a Brief History of Surrealism, and Quasimodo last night. Kicking off with the first, Lorca has all the hallmarks of a Belt Up classic: the guided audience input, mad bursts of activity hot on the heels of spotlighted pinnacles of tension and grief, which are themselves undermined with blasts of dark humour descended from Python-esque surrealism.

Scattered amongst the small tables and footstools in the shabby-chic bar at the Playhouse, the Company introduce themselves to us as Salvador Dali, his wife Gala, Andre Breton, Rene Magritte, a host of Surrealist figures playing with the conventions of time and place. Progressing with the audience through to Breton's huge living room, they begin to act out the death of their companion Federico Garcia Lorca: play within a play within a play, and probably within another play, is exactly how actor-playwright Dominic J. Allen likes it, as I discovered when I interviewed him about the show at York Theatre Royal earlier this Summer.

Populated with familiar characters from art and literary history, Lorca is an intriguing, invigorating and irreverent production that surprises with some brilliant lines on what it is to love, and to be human: a Belt Up show with substance as well as distinctive style.

Viewing Quasimodo later the same evening, perhaps it was too late in the night, too soon after a long week at work, to fully appreciate. A subterranean tale (via Victor Hugo, as its posters parenthesise) Quasimodo is work of a different consistency and pace.

A compact cast of four to Lorca's eight, a chillier space with clusters of candles and whispering masked creatures, we are in neo-Gothic territory, heightened language and exaggerated characterisation almost taking its cue from Commedia dell'Arte. The Hunchback of Notre Dame's plot is familiar to most, gypsy Esmerelda bewitching virtually every man in Paris with her beauty, and crucially, her kindness.

Slices of the dialogue are a shade hyper-theatrical, and when the oft-used line, "I've loved you since I first saw you," pops up, it's usually time to head for a redraft. Nevertheless, it's structurally a very strong adaptation of Hugo's novel from one of Belt Up's founders Jethro Compton, with stacks of atmosphere, and fine turns from all concerned.

The word 'ambitious' is perhaps the most disheartening any creative can read, with a ringing, patronising quality if delivered in the wrong way. I know exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end of that choice adjective. But Belt Up's ambition should be feted, and now that they are set to spend some time learning the ropes on some of York Theatre Royal's shows this year, they can use such experience to move in yet more enticing directions. Don't miss the beginnings of something special.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Downton Abbey's destiny: a slightly whimsical take...

Wheelies, Mustard Pots and Hot New Haircuts

Inspired by my fellow blogger, Jack of Hearts, I've come up with my own ridiculous version of Downton Abbey: The Second Series. Enjoy.

My prediction is that Downton Abbey becomes a hospital for wounded soldiers, so that Thomas can come back and try to rule the roost, after saving the doctor's life in the trenches and getting all chummy with him. Then he'll wreak havoc with Mr Bates' life again. Bates stayed at home because of his gammy leg, and begins directing all the extra farming, while Anna becomes Chief Land Girl, (or is this from the wrong war?) and eventually discovers that Mr Bates' wife is really locked in an attic in a London room, fed only on pineapple and plantains. She spends four episodes with this dilemma simmering away, and eventually thrusts a garden hoe at Bates, taking out his one good leg, and leaving him wheelchair bound. He takes to chasing her about the grounds and performing wheelies to impress her.

Meanwhile, Daisy takes on a new life as Head Cook for the wounded, slowly getting her own way with Mrs Patmore. William writes to her, confessing his secret love and admiration for Daisy, but it's too late, and by the time she gets his letter, he's already back at Downton in a stretcher, blinded by mustard gas (or is this, again, the wrong war reference?). Daisy, driven barmy by the cruel irony of the situation, forcefeeds him mustard until he is left a shivering wreck, only calming in the presence of his beloved horses. Eventually, they will be reunited (when Mrs Bird hides the mustard pot for good...)

Lady Sybil has a passionate, politically themed tryst with the attractive Irish chauffeur, and when she chains herself to the gates of Parliament and disgraces herself in the eyes of snobbish London society, Branson proposes whisking her off to his homeland. But she is committed to the cause, and becomes bosom friends with the Pankhursts, eventually marrying Branson in a secret ceremony with Christabel as a witness.

Robert, Earl of Grantham goes off to war as an officer, along with Matthew Crawley, and their bond strengthens even further, until one day Robert is taken out in the Battle of Ypres and Matthew is left to drag his dying body out of the line of fire. As he utters his last breath, the Earl tells him, "Look after Mary... She's a silly little madam, but she loves you..." He presses a pair of his prized, elasticated Downton boxers into Matthew's hands, and slips into death.

Lady Edith becomes a force to be reckoned with, utilising her already well honed letter writing skills to preach to the Sunday papers about the need for mechanising all the farmsteads in Yorkshire. Sir Anthony Strallen sees the letters, and is moved to propose once more; when he reaches Downton in his new motor, however, a telephone call he receives there gives him orders: he must go to the front. This leaves Edith crushed once more, and in a fit of rage, she runs to her sister's room, and sets fire to Lady Mary's hair, singing it to her shoulders.

Lady Mary has been pining for Matthew, and unfortunately for Edith, takes the enforced new hairdo in her stride, fashioning it into a chic bob, which slowly takes London society by storm. By the mid-1920s, she becomes a style icon, and worshipped for her modern attitude to men: "Take them to bed, or leave them!" she is deliciously rumoured to have declared, having earned enough money through appearances at public events to support herself.

Dora, Countess of Grantham, mourns her husband, and takes to spending forlorn hours weeping at his graveside with Violet, attended by O'Brien. Dora's ladies' maid has become a true penitent, and devoutly religious, intending to offer her life to the cloth once her mistress finds a replacement. This plan is scuppered when Thomas returns, and threatens to spill the beans. Blackmailed into perpetuating Thomas's wicked scheme to get Matthew Crawley into bed, O'Brien eventually throws herself into a river, after filling her pockets with soap and stones.

Isobel Crawley takes charge of the hospital arrangements at Downton in the absence of the doctor, and runs a tight ship. She gets into difficulties with Mrs Hughes' approach to over-ironed, over-starched sheets. "It's simply not necessary. Neat and clean is all they need be!" Mrs Hughes is nearly tempted to clear off altogether, but her ties to the house, and to Carson, are too much, and she stoically remains.

Gwen becomes a wealthy young lady as the telephone company's secretary, and fields off many offers of marriage to become a strong, independent woman. When the war ends, the loss sustained during the war has changed Downton for ever. The estate is in a right old pickle. So Matthew decides to become a gherkin merchant, using the empty stables - all the horses long since taken off for the war effort - as a storage depot, and the profits he makes in the specialist food business during the 1930s enable him to restore Downton Abbey's estate to its former glory. Lady Mary has always been partial to a bit of gherkin, and on a visit to her dear Mama is unable to resist a bite of Matthew's pickled goods. Their passion for each other is rekindled, and the final episode seems them marry in the Downton Village Chapel, followed by an overwhelmingly raucous party. However, the celebrations aren't set to last for long.

A dashing guest at the party, Victor, invited by Lady Edith after entering into correspondence with her on noticing her regular contribution to the Sunday papers' Letters section, causes a stir. His German cousins have sent him a book by a young Austrian politician who is rapidly gaining popularity. Lady Edith elopes with him, and the only trace of the guest is a copy of Mein Kampf on his dressing room table.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The star, the moon, the lamppost and the car; or Photography vs. Poetry

I've been wondering for a while now what distinguishes photography and poetry (and in a broader sense, writing): two elements of my life that are crucial to how I perceive and interpret the world around me.

Short of channeling Roland Barthes (a la Camera Lucida) mid-blog, what fantastical conclusion can I have reached?

Striding home from the station after a long day stalking the streets of London, in search of art (the Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill) and socialising (a lunch date with the Jack of Hearts), I whipped out my camera to take this shot of the star, the moon, the lampost, and the car. Each light sources of completely different scale and level, distance and dimension, on the Earth. In the darkened October evening, I was struck by the appealing constellation of these four diamonds of light.

This may seem like a rather long pre-amble to what I've set up to be a 'battle', a discussion that could easily lead to spilt blood, a literary deathmatch like the ones regularly seen in London, L.A. and cities across the globe.

But like all good stories, I reckon you need a little detail, a little extra imagery, to add to the picture. I've always been one for an extra flourish. Robert McKee, writer of near-seminal screenwriting text, Story, would probably be turning in his grave right now - if he were dead, that is.

Simply put, photography is the expression of an interest in the outside world, an external fascination, and an open receptiveness to patterns, images and people, that once captured, serves as a reflection of those points of focus, subjects, and objects. Once captured, that awareness of the outside world forms a critique and a relationship with it.

It is governed by a sensitivity to things alien to us, which nevertheless enable us, along with the photographer, to understand things familiar to us, the external informing, educating, contrasting and consoling the internal.

In opposition to this, I would place writing, and I use that sweeping title to work my point through, although I'm sure there will be a mineful of contradictions and exceptions to it. Writing seems to me as an elucidation of things internal, a mine of its own, welling up with nuggets of emotion, veins of belief and slowly formed (and forming), crystallised notions of human nature. Writing seems to draw deeply upon the self, in order to demonstrate, dissect and decipher what is beyond the direct sphere of knowledge and comprehension, everything that is unfamiliar, alien or external.

Viewing poetry and photography in this binary fashion, it seems that the process of these separate disciplines is the crucial point of divergence.

The roles of those actively engaging in the two pursuits are different: is the photographer a 'documenter', and the poet, the writer, a 'pyschoanalyser'?

Clearly, there are nuances and subtleties beyond such blanket terms, and I'll need a little more time to think about that; but until then, it's time for dinner. Before I depart the blogosphere, Ill finish with a story, or maybe a poem:

Why did the star, the moon,
the lamppost and the car
meet for dinner one night,
disparate as they usually are?

What intrigue, what magic
could anchor their orbits
in one place, at one time,
without heavenly writs?

The star was incensed,
The moon confused,
The lamppost impressed
And the car bemused.

Flashing past, red lights large;
Soft, orange glow cast;
Rotund, pale face full;
Pin prick, light years fast.

One lens open, intrigued, calm,
Two eyes steady, alert, keen;
Tentative finger, tense, ready,
One brief moment. What will it mean?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

So you think you're a Nature lover? Think again...


"I love Nature."

"I'm a Nature lover!"

What does that actually mean? We box up Nature into diary-sized bites, we squeeze it into a walk in the woods, a picnic at the park, a stroll along the beach.

We view Nature through our television screens, conservatory windows; from the security of the sofa, or the car seat, or the train carriage.

We indulge in Nature.

We watch a sterilised grotesque: a creepy centipede scuttering in the darkness, a dung beetle rolling itself through the low-lit living room, the swallow swooping up to the ceiling, until the red button, and bed time.

Aliens and creatures of science fiction craft themselves in elements of Nature to frighten us, because we don't know it well enough, because we don't know it any longer. Oceanic tentacles loom from outer space; soil-clogged claws snap from the great unknown in the sky, vines untouched by secateurs extend, tendril by tendril, into our horrified imaginations.

David Attenborough is no substitute for a life lived in the great outdoors.

Friday, 15 October 2010

One in a Few Thousand: Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

At the beginning of the week, I thought that a visit to the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern would be relegated to the realm of commonplace cultural experience. Thousands upon thousands of punters were set to sit, stroll, crunch, play, think, snooze, on the 100 million Sunflower Seeds carefully crafted for Ai Wei Wei's new art installation, as commissioned for Unilever's annual exhibit.

However, the gallery's decision to prevent members of the public from walking across the sculpture has leant my trip on Tuesday to the Tate a greater significance. It appears I am now only one in a scant few thousand.

The decision was taken, according to the Tate website, "in consultation with the artist," and I would love to have been privy to that particular conversation.

"Yo, Ai, you know that monumental piece of art that 1600 skilled artisans have been solidly working on for at least two years? The one that's meant to represent the power of people who have access to the internet in China, and therefore the growing potential for a challenge to the censorship of the state?"


"Well, apparently, it gives off... er... Dust."


"So, we're going to have to shut it down. With immediate effect. No one can walk over it. No one can run their fingers over the hand crafted porcelain seeds. No one can sit on it, as they would sit on a beach or a park, and spend a tranquil moment in thought. No one can traverse the border between art and the body, and find a new understanding with the simplest of tactile pleasures... Sorry about that."

Honestly. If "repeated inhalation" of dust "over a long period of time" were a problem, then just slap a time limit on the thing. Have a big ol' annoying buzzer rationing the time spent admiring the art. Enforce obligatory face masks upon the public. Give each visitor their own giant bubble, a Truman Show-esque fish bowl suctioned to their shoulders. Go on. Suffocate us.

This is a ridiculous reaction, that warrants a serious consideration of the things we value in life. To adapt the truism, a little bit of dust never hurt anyone.

Photograph: "Life Line", after Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Twitter Tanka

So.... It's about time I popped up some more juicy poems. This one I've put up at the request of a delightful teacher from Scotland who heard me poetry busking as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival this Saturday. Here goes....

Twitter Tanka

The modern counterpart
to outmoded ancestors
travelling the globe twenty years ago.
Who clutched bulky lenses,
and brightly greeted sulky Brit defences,
with flashbulb grins,
smooth, rounded chins,
on long legs thin.

This decade's bunch are a savvier breed,
moonlighting as tourists,
surfacing at night
to sate their social networking needs.

Click, load, click, refresh;
chasing you, as arrows touch.
Night's blue. Two minds meet.

They send each other tanka over twitter:
two loving lines repeated,
plus two more,
their retweeted characters
cursorily read by scores of followers,
their secret language shared,
and spread
from island to island of late night laptop lovers,
networks of glowing firefly faces
peering as screens to understand
their spinning thread
of conversation.

Click, load, click, refresh.
Chasing you, as arrows touch.
Night's blue. Two minds meet.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Waltzing into Oblivion with... The Mystery Jets

Pitching up two hours early outside Kingston's Hippodrome on Thursday night (just to nab a cheeky spot at the front of the queue) proved unquestionably worth it: The Mystery Jets at New Slang were phenomenal.

With a Seventies' flavour, aided by their stylish array of floral-patterned shirts, The Mystery Jets imbue their 21st century tracks with an infectious mix of bounce - Flash Me A Hungry Smile had us jumping and cooing along (I also love that its opening is a bit like the creepy music in 28 Days Later) - to the old school romance of Melt, with its intoxicating sentiment and stunning lyrics: 'There's an invisible line where your body meets mine, and crossing it feels like a drug'.

Replaying it in my bedroom, I've waltzed myself into a dizzying heap upon my duvet. They're right - who needs noz when you can feel like this? If only we could return to the days of fantastic dance halls, where innovation and dream found expression in the experimentation and elaboration of simple dance moves, instead of the inane booty-shaking two-step attempts taking place every weekend in booze-fuelled OceanCrasher across the country.

Then we could all waltz and whirl ourselves into delicious oblivion, to our hearts' content. In proper tribute to the music - new and old - that we love. Until then, our Dreaming of Another World is relegated to the bedroom.

Photos by: Vicky Ellis (MEEE!)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

I enjoy this... thought on oft-repeated phrases

From Roger Ebert's piece 'My old man', a warm, engaging chunk of writing about his father's life with a bit of his family history thrown in too. Ebert's observations about day-to-day living in the 50s and 60s are fascinating. I like this piece, because it reminds me of the catchphrases I recycle (a Green girl at heart, clearly), and reassures me of their necessity!

'Every single time my father beheld this sight, he said exactly the same thing: "They fill you up before you even get your meal." Then he would glance at me, to signal that he knew he said it every time. That's how I gained a lifelong fondness for repeating certain phrases beyond the point of all reason. "For this relief, much thanks," from Dan Curley, via Hamlet. "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart," from John McHugh, via William Butler Yeats. "A wee drop of the dew," from Bob Zonka. "Irving! Brang 'em on!" from Billy Baxter. "Tip top." These and other phrases are not tics, they are rituals in the continuity of life.'

Roger Ebert,

I enjoy this... article

I really enjoy this idea of marriage, and love, as an art:

Figes points to Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving: "Loving is an art, just as living is an art," he writes. "If we want to learn how to love, we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, carpentry or the art of medicine or engineering."

From this article below!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Women in Culture - swept under the proverbial carpet?

Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci...

Where are the female painters in this list?

And hang on... Where are women in our cultural history at all?

I'm listening to 'In Our Time' with Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4, about the lasting influence of artist and biographer Giorgio Varsari's revolutionary 'Lives of the Artists', which he published in 1550. The only female speaker on the programme, Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies and Academic Dean for Arts at Queen Mary, University of London, commented upon the lack of inclusion of women artists in contemporary accounts of art. A point which could probably be applied to the entire recorded history of human innovation and artistic endeavour.

The idea strikes me, perhaps unoriginally, that it isn't the absence of prodigious female talent that prevents women from taking the spotlight in our cultural history, it is the biased coverage that doesn't showcase their talents.

Not a new idea, but sometimes the old ideas take their time to fully percolate the grey matter; a branching element of the point that History is written by the winners, the conquerers, the powerful, the wealthy.

Which of course, equals Men. With a capital 'M'.

The capital 'M' strides across the ruled line of writing, on two legs, leaving 'W' waddling in its wake. Yes, if you place the two together, they form a neatly symmetrical figure, but look where that doodling unity leaves women. On the bottom.

Men, with a capital 'M', because how else to capture the strength, vitality and natural grace of our gender counterpart? As opposed to Women, with a capital 'W', to capture the sturdiness, solidity, and dumpy, uninspiring half of the human race. Woman, the sex with less wit, humour, intelligence, agility, and initiative.

If you didn't know better - if you read the history books - this is the space that women naturally occupy. (Natural is a word that far too often justifies men in their discussion of gender dynamics: Men are naturally funnier, naturally more entrepreneurial, naturally more business-minded. It's boring, and tiresome, and patently untrue. I'll concede that often, men are naturally more able physically, they're faster and stronger, and in that sense, of course, it is natural.)

This sweeping statement on the bias of history books, I'll admit, doesn't take into account some of the creative and pioneering women that spring to mind, who have been represented in critical historical and cultural accounts - Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Christina Rossetti, Wilkie Collins, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Pankhursts, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop... (Of course this doesn't cover much of twentieth-century developments, but for the sake of constraints on time, which I currently am spending far too much of on this blog post, I'll omit)
But where are the striking women of culture before the fifteenth century? Before the seventeenth century? In this instance, I can't call any to mind. Maybe that's my fault, but that goes to show that women of cultural significance have not truly penetrated my conscious, have not been as integral a part of my historical education as men, have not existed within the broad base of cultural exchange that I have consumed as a young girl, and woman.

I'm sure that someone with an in-depth knowledge of gender studies in literature and history would be able to articulate this point far better, but I can't hold back from expressing my worry and sorrow for all the women who have been swept under the heavy carpet of History, which they so diligently hoovered/took-out-into-the-garden-and-beat (pick your era) themselves first.


In Our Time, with Melvyn Bragg that can be listened to in a podcast at - follow the links to "In Our Time", feat. Martin Kemp

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Fire and brimstone fury in store for the arts under Jeremy Hunt?

"Tough" or smooth - which one of these options is it going to be for Arts funding under the new Con-Dem Nation?

According to Maev Kennedy at The Guardian, new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today "reassured those in the arts community who feared disproportionate cuts" with his promise: "Culture will not be singled out as a soft target."

That's reassuring indeed: but the fact that culture could even be associated with the word "soft", surely more suited to toilet tissue than an energising, powerful medium and expression of human existence, is disappointing. It's exactly the deployment of phrase that comes with the depreciation and criticism of subjects like English, or History. In times like these, surely it's the historians we look to for useful comparisons with past fiscal/governmental/societal solutions, and the literature that we love for reassurance and inspiration. (And let's not forget the excessive Media Studies-bashing. It's like hunting used to be, a condoned bloodsport. I pity the poor sixth-formers who take it, just because it interests them, only to have their future job prospects and all hope of credibility battered before they've even reached their AS Level mocks. )

The notion that the arts are "soft" should be challenged as loudly and forcefully as possible. If there's one thing that would do us good as a nation, it would be disspelling this fallacy forever. Surely Billy Elliot's balletic antics have long since provided refutation of this ignorant criticism of culture. Why reduce to squishy pulp, with one four letter word, something that provides millions (let's say, over 60 million?) in the country with creativity and stimulation every year, every month, every day?

And the idea is completely, moronically wrong, anyway. You'd have to be as dense as a tin of baked beans to see the arts as "soft", when you look at the rock-hard political and social power of writing from playwrights like Harold Pinter; poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson; novelists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman; artists like Picasso (Guernica pictured above). Why on earth was art and literature targeted by the Communist governments of China (see the fall-out after the Hundred Flowers Campaign) and Soviet Russia throughout the twentieth century? Because of the steely threat it had the potential to pose. In apartheid-throttled South Africa, literature was pinpointed for censorship, because of its power to challenge, one reason why writers like Nobel Prize-winning Nadine Gordimer were so important in the anti-apartheid struggle.

So where does that leave the arts in the face of a funding crisis, the "tough" times looming, like a suspicious Reuben Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm, as The Stage readers have been informed today?

Hopefully not in the fire and brimstone fury predicted by preacher Amos in Stella Gibbon's novel; or relegation to an attic bedroom, doomed to mutter about what we saw in the "woodshed" for the next five years.

So please, Jeremy Hunt, do us a favour, either find a better speechwriter, or go buy a thesaurus. We don't want any more of this "soft" nonsense...

You big softie.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

postcards from the future

they are blank

stippled with electric impulses

that shoot through our fingertips

transposing time’s tale

across the backs of our retina

by tickling the delicate stems

of our ancestral brains.

(The title of this poem is taken from a Guardian article I've just read, called Roadmap 2050, that can be found here I'm not sure if this poem needs some work. It probably does. Let me know what you think!)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Grand-Daddy Long Legs

His spindly legs will once have been swift and fearless,
Slim knitting needles stepping out with precision.

Now they tread fearfully, delicate, old as his ancient cobweb,
Slip sliding, weakened, across bathroom tiles. Morning, Freddie.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Seagull at YTR - Is Pierce Reid the new Ben Whishaw?

My ruminations on Chekhov's The Seagull, after a great production at York Theatre Royal, are manifold. Some clear, strong performances from a number of the cast, like Kevin McGowan (Dorn), Julie Watson (Arkadina) and Paul Shelley (Sorin), and in particular from the Royal Scottish Academy of Drama and Music students Pierce Reid (as Konstantin, or Kostya) and Olivia Knowles once she gets into the swing of it (playing Masha).

I was not so convinced by Jessica Bilé as Nina, despite her fresh vitality, but perhaps that's because the character herself annoys me. Her sycophantic, dream-clouded vision of celebrity, in the form of her interest (and even infatuation?) with Trigorin, played with silver-fox, obscure sex appeal by Marcello Walton, struck me as selfish, infantile, and just plain blind. She pays for it with a harsh fate though, so perhaps the outcome of the play is meant to balance out her faults with the suffering she eventually bears.

For those who are not familiar with The Seagull's finale, I won't spoil it, as I'd hate to lessen for others the impact that I felt so strongly; needless to say, however, it truly brought home to me how well Chekhov has crafted the final act, and indeed, the play as a whole. I never quite believed that Kostya had the strength of resolve to carry out his plan, but I was proved wrong, which seemed fitting in the context of the penultimate, emotive scene.

On contemplation of the play itself, I find myself unable to ignore the resonances with Hamlet, and of course, they are spelled out to a certain degree. As one of the directors said in the post-show talk with the cast however (I missed whether it was John Kazek or Hugh Hodgart in my quick nip to the bar), a great writer never lets such references cloud his characters' actions and judgement, they must never be aware of them. Only of their motivation, as people. To paraphrase (as sadly, the dictaphone was not in hand) a great writer has great - in the sense of size - ideas which influence things in a much larger, broader, subtler way. Something I should try and remember, then.

Perhaps nudged by this remembrance of Hamlet, the similarity between Pierce Reid and Ben Whishaw - who groundbreakingly played Hamlet in a 'teenage-angst' fashion for Trevor Nunn's production at (not the National as I mistakenly claim but rather) the Old Vic a number of years ago - presented itself to me. Though there are clear differences - Whishaw's Hamlet seemed more consciously aware of his stroppiness as a tool for extracting guilt from his mother Gertrude, as opposed to the heart-sprung purity of Reid's writerly torment - strong talent nevertheless reinforces the comparison. Is Pierce Reid the new Ben Whishaw? While I hesitate to make such a parallel for the flippancy of a headline, there is surely no harm in predicting success for the young Scot.

This collaboration between Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and York Theatre Royal is something that we should laud and encourage, and I look forward to seeing more of this support for emerging talent across Britain.

Tickets for the last five performances of The Seagull at York Theatre Royal's Main Stage (which include 3 evening shows and two matinees) are available from

Friday, 23 April 2010

Choice gem from my facebook chats: it's a WINNER...

My response to the simple question, "hows things?":

"goood. busy. working on a funding application for barefoot in the park. and musical's got a song structure! as has my set of performance poems. SO everything's chugging along nicely...
like an oversized, pregnant steam engine waiting to burst its guts across the rails."

Where did this come from? I could probably psychoanalyse, and say the steam train stems from my father's love of trainspotting, and the pregnancy from how swollen my brain feels at the moment from the excessive number of activities I'm involving myself in..... But that would ruin all the work of the image in the first place. Dayyym.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Want Some Wine?

(Written in March)

In the beginning, she tried to follow them.

Onto their trains, bandwaggoning
their homeward trajectories,
as she clutched the flagon's worth
of wine to her side, through
the thinning canvas bag
slung drooping across her shoulders.

She hovered, like a waiting
acquaintance, in a deflating
social encounter, ignored
and unworthy of introduction,
an awkward loose thread hanging
off the structured blouse of a
housewife, noted and
dismissed with irritation.

She would open her mouth wide
like a post box slot,
issuing forth all she had received
in unstamped, authentic gibberish.

Want some wine?

When they shrugged her off,
she learnt. Learnt to sit
next to silent consumers in Burger King,
learnt to pick the ones
who were least likely to shoo her away
with an irritable scowl,
most likely to permit her presence
for a few precious moments

Want some wine? she said, foot nervy
and fettered at Waterloo.
I wish my lazy compassion
had proved me more worthy,
when all I can say,
to this woman with the mad croaking laugh, is
Did you have a good day?

[Now this is as far as I've got. It could go on with "As she hunkers off, da da...", I'm not sure. We'll see.]

Oswald's Pale Persicaria is Up Here

I've just read Alice Oswald's poem "Pale Persicaria", from her newly-Ted Hughes' award-winning collection Weeds and Wild Flowers. It's beautiful, and really resonated with a poem I wrote recently, called Up Here, just below this blogpost.

Especially the fourth stanza, with its daintily optimistic, intangible, delicate frustration:

"Smoke-faint floating hope
Impatient hope. Immense
lustless listless wishfulness
under her angle-poise heart."

In fact, there are so many lines I want to snap up like a dragon and hoard for future enjoyment. So here are the first two stanzas, for sneaky future peeks -

"In a ditch by the roadside,
full of sorrow sleepless,
under her breath, encouraging herself,
hands clasped in hope, long fingers.

No openings, no outlets in her eyes.
Lit dimly from within,
enclosed in longing.
It's dark in love. No sign. Still waiting."

FYI, I read the poem through this fab facebook application:

P.S. I have to say, that checking out a cheeky photo of the flower itself on Google, it's not quite as delightful as Alice Oswald's poem. But I guess that's what the imagination is for!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Up Here

So, this one's about a few things - foundationless hope, madness, paranoia - the usual bag for a whinging poet. Let me know what you think. I'll be intrigued to find out.


I'm suspended in a mad crush
A rushing influx of bad dreams
and nightmares, up here.
They have seized what was sane
And plain incinerated much of glad reams
of daydreams, up here.


Transfixed, in my fixations with a virtual world
That fix my fertile mind with sprouting roots
Springing future-wards without water, steam
without a flame, fanning upwards until I dangle
and am finally dropped to the Earth with a rush
of flushed fears and flustered paranoia. Help me.
But there is no help for the wicked, no one mourns
their quickening belly-mind teaming with Kind,
Sickening for their helpless existence in a hapless
fraudulent destiny that can only work up here.

Up here, I'm a fucking psycho, I feel the strains
shriek through and need to scratch at my brain's
itch, that's like no itch I've felt before, a monster
birthing itself with my cells for military muster
As skull-wide, an unprompted tide flows out
into a sea of eternal bliss and without doubt
this madness hinges on unfounded forces,
relations not destined for the pain of divorce's
weight. Sky-high, my hopes rise and rise
in hot-air balloons with the limitless lies
of an unruly pilot, steering my imagination
up, up, up and away; "Hello, institution."


Up here,
I am on my own,
I am mother,
I am daughter,
I am wife.
I am lover.
I am writer,
I am neither.

And I can't stand it
any longer.


An arrow would best describe you.

The simplest communication
a human can utilise -
effortless, efficient

one line bent in half
by another

I'm not sure which one
I am

I like to think I'm
forceful, strong

But I'm broken in two
by you

And you don't even
know it.

So I'll get straight to the

Please find me soon, or
I will be lost.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Greedy - A Photo-em

Tea Pot

I am kettle-crept,

from the blackness of sweaty heat

and sweet tea.

New genre-defying poem is born - Hello Photo-em!

Performance poetry has been my bag, of late. Now, that's on odd phrase to use. My bag. I could have said my passion, my interest, my obsession. But I didn't. I'll let you dwell on what that choice means for a moment -

- and so, back to the point. Performance poetry has been my bag, of late. Now, that really is an odd phrase. Is poetry a receptacle for the various essential and non-essential knick knacks (and Nik Naks, yum!) of my life? Perhaps.... Now, this is getting into a poem. Here goes...

Do I carry it around with me,
a heavy weight across my shoulders?


I carry it with me everywhere,
it slinks into my thoughts,
dropping casual items of clothing
as it bares itself to me, filling rooms
with traces of rough scent
and leaving my bedsheets tussled and messy,
it leafs through my bookshelves,
delving into volumes and slim tomes
with glancing interest, leaving torn
bits of flyer as page marks, but never
bending the corners over, Heaven help
what mother would say if she saw.

Do I carry poetry around with me?

I feel its eyes flicker with intensity
in surreal situations; glaring
in remonstration in minutes hours days moments
of neglect; opening and closing with langour
in my most delirious dreams, trembling
cycloptic visions doubling and tripling
in insane stretches of retina, sight-bending
light-wending heaven-gifted fervour
of foresight, fever
of foresight, ferment
of foresight; dulling and glazing
as they cease seeking outside stimulation,
swivelling inwards, to the swirling numinous
vortigo of inner lights;
do I carry poetry around with me?

Do I carry poetry around with me?

I feel it shift and stir with pleasure,
haunches on a cat's silken back,
when it feels the sound of perfection,
although perfection is imperfect,
and each imperfection perfects the perfect
perfectly. Mmm. I feel it strain and arch,
taut muscles, balancing and testing the air
stroking its form, particles preening
its soft folds of skin at the scruff of its neck,
craning in the direction of love and attention,
too arrogant to mention its self-absorbed sway
of foot slinking foot slinking foot slinking foot.
I feel it leap and explode from potential
to kinetic in frenetic expulsion of lyrical compulsion.
I feel it.

Do I carry poetry around with me?

Do I carry poetry around with me?

Heck, I am poetry.

So. Performance Poetry has been my bag, of late. Or rather, I have been my bag of late, if a literal interpretation of that interluding poem is proven.

But, in a recent foray into London, which took in the many glorious sights of the city (Okay, really we just stood and gawped at the entrance to Number 10, or tried to, but 12 was the only doorframe in our line of sight. My sister, Sophie "The Snipes" Ellis, was most disappointed she didn't get a chance to test out her new toy) I had a spare half an hour on a railway platform. I had a camera for entertainment. So I made so made some Photo-ems (for want of a better word. Yes, I could have just said Photo Poems, or Picture Poems, but where's the fun in that?) Here's the progeny of that particular photo-em shoot. I can only put the first one up in this blog post, but have no fear, there are plenty to follow.

It was actually quite an absorbing task, and made me look at items in the vicinity with a completely different perspective. I wasn't reading the billboards in boredom, I was looking at them with words in mind, searching for single words that sounded and looked good, or short clusters of words that once taken out of context became more interesting. So for example where "New customers only" begins the boring sentence of a bank's billboard, it actually has a new life as quite a sinister phrase in the photo poem - sorry, photo-em - I used it in. (I'll post that poem in a blog post later.)

An oddly satisfying part of the process was noting - and refreshingly, feeling a complete indifference to - the assorted, confused looks of consternation and amusement from other passengers and those waiting on the platform alongside me. It must have seemed as if I'd taken leave of my senses, wandering in a daze about the platform, photographing close-ups of railway signs, train information and station notifications, museum adverts and vending machines.

Once on the train, I almost felt the need to explain myself to one poor lady sitting opposite me, a woman of at least fifty, perhaps on the way into London to visit a friend or relation, on a day trip, dressed in a sensible coat and a vaguely anxious expression. Or perhaps that was my doing. She even took a photograph herself, with a disposable camera, through the carriage window, as we streamed along the route to Waterloo. Perhaps this photo-em compulsion is catching.

Here's the first photo-em. I've come with a few titles just now, although I think I'd actually prefer not to give titles, as these impose an interpretation that wasn't there when I snapped the photo-ems.

Hey, maybe that could be a new feature of my blog - each week I come up with a photo-em, and ask for suggestions from readers. Like a caption competition, but not. Right, done. I'll do it.

In the meanwhile, read my poem below (either with or without the context of these imposed titles: "If Pygmalion was a Simpson Character" or "Golden Touch"). How about simply, location and date? Much better.

My First Ever Photo-em:

Esher Station on 30th March

Friday, 5 March 2010

Performance Poetry Boosts Red Wine Purchase Patterns (Allegedly)

Fine, I admit, I have carried out absolutely NO research with which to support such a statement. But did it get your attention? Hell yeah!

I'm casting my poetry's net out across the 'net - now I'll be appropriating your aural interaction with the world wide web as well as your visual. Bet you're a little bit frightened now, aren't you? Good. That means that you're following attentively...

So, check out the first couple of poems up on my myspace profile:

Excellent. Now all you need is a small, poky (smoky?) cafe with a sea of drifting tea lights and a drink in hand, preferably a gin and tonic, (or is whisky more appropriate?) or even - like Allen Ginsberg's legendary night Six Poets at Six Gallery in 1955, vast quantities of cheap red wine.

Pass the big green bottle down the line, will you?

Funny People

(The title track of Barbra Streisand's film Funny Girl is the basis for this poem's opening line. This is probably the first poem that I ever wrote with performance in the back of my mind, and I usually sing the first stanza...)

People who need people,
Are – not – the luckiest people in the world,
But funny boys and girls at a loss.

Like the lamppost, in a line with
Other lampposts,
The one that flickers in
And out of
Or is that strange orange colour,
That otherworldly glow
that is just different enough
From the normal, piercing, yellow blaze
To not be the same.

That lamppost knows
That it is weird,
That within its mass manufactured –
Perspex as standard,
only one nine nine five today, sir,
only one nine nine five
Perspex fitted lamp casing –
There run currents outside of Ampere’s control.
That flow and fold over one another
And repeat and bend and bash
And repeat and bend and bash and batter
Inside identical steel walls.
“Get out... GET OUT.”

That lamppost knows that it is different.
That these impulses triggered and dancing,
These erratic lightning flashes
These magenta manifestations
None of the other lampposts spit out...
Their songs are regular and cordant
With one another
And the lamppost so craves their company.
Instead, it takes solace in the birds
That flit and flicker above it.
But even they are startled by
Irregular outbursts of clementines cascading to the floor in a dusty pink river of confetti.

The lamppost’s dream is that one day,
Someone will come along
To catch those clementines in a basket and peel them with juicy relish,
shower the lamppost with its own confetti in celebration of such splendour,
Funnel the pink paper into fountains to flow out of Cupid’s arrows,
They fall
On the
Picked up by the wind and
Dropped into neighbouring fields and hedgerows,
Where once more they startle the birds
Out of distant reverie.

The lamppost watches them disappear,
And sees that once more, filling the wasteland
Between it
And the other lampposts,
After its bright exchange of words and light,
The only place to hide in, is

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Clown contortions

There is a strange ceiling collection
Of clowning acrobats
Hanging from the corners of your room.

They are clever contortionists
Silent, suspended figures
You say your predecessor left for you.

They do not swing or sway
Keeping Mum,
As you mouth and moan in gaelic tones.

They play their part better than you
A gleeful tableaux
Mocking, as you act the bedroom fool.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Strawberry liquorice

(I've put this one up at the request of a boy I met at the Scribe magazine launch this very night. It gestated on my phone's notepad for a while, before surfacing in front of the mic.)

That woman smells

of strawberry liquorice.

I wonder if she has strands of it

tucked up in her neat hair,

covertly tugging out one at a time

for a tasty treat in a boring meeting.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Bury me in the Dales

(Writing comes most easily to me on trains. Mostly. Here's one from a rail journey through Yorkshire last Summer.)

Bury me in the dales.
That is all I long for.
Tucked away on a sun burst day
With crisp white cut-out clouds
(from your own kindergarten classes’ lessons)
and green folds enveloping
my senses.
Tired on time and drowsy,
I feel the trembling of the train’s engine
shudder up through my feet
up through my seat,
I am greedy for the dales.
Glugging down its errant
Knavely stance,
Drunk, and drugged
Huddersfield’s golden stone
glows rich and gleaming
and I imagine how it must have been
One afternoon in long-distant days
To find oneself steaming -

Oh to be
in the moors -

Steaming along

Friday, 29 January 2010

Old Age Titans

When the titans were forced from grace,
From skylight to skirting board,
Thrust to the depths of the earth
And beyond by Zeus’ almighty arm,
Even the tallest of Titans shrank in stature
Shrivelled and stale, smelly as an old man
Sitting like dried up fruit in a bowl of mouldering apples,
Past wizened and instead aged off the tree – not rotting,
Not exactly, no – sinking and sinking into the back of an ever-reclined armchair,
Sinking into folds of skin that suck onto cheeks once strong and full,
a face now slack in meaning.

When the titans were forced from the sky,
Did Zeus spend time testing various hells-on earth?
No, he merely looked to earth itself, where the elderly hover
on the edge of life,
The edge of the earth, imprisoned
in bodies slumping into husks
in fusty, dinge-laden lairs of unconsciousness
and glancing insanity, shrieks of envy, and angry, misplaced sociability,
Attended by the hawkish, the dumpy and the dour.
The false cheer scrawled on whiteboards
Distressingly loveless to their blank gaze.

No, there was no need to ensure the malaise of his forefathers
When the threads of time are destined to fray
and fritter away, the fundamental evaporation of lucidity and lustre

Shining silks are tossed out in their turn
And so are we all.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Maypole

I grew,
Whilst you cultivated inches
And we
twisted our thoughts together
ribbons on a maypole,
spinning around one point
circling weaving wending
- thoughts little beads upon a
thread –until the base becomes
as tight and unified as a tree’s stump,
the bark as finely carved and grained
in its gnarled and new growth
as the most established of oak
heralds. Laced up, our love looks
festive, streamers of primary brightness
pixelated with baser, earthy tones
an elemental, invisible hold
that binds the core together.