Top Ten (ish) theatre of 2017

Saint Joan (Donmar)
Platinum (Hampstead)
Kinky Boots (Adelphi)
The White Devil (Globe)
Sex With Strangers (Hampstead)
The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess)
Twelfth Night (NT)
The Taming of the Shrew (Globe)
Twelfth Night (Merely Theatre)
Love in Idleness (Menier)
Othello (Globe)
The Red Shoes (Bourne)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Old Vic)
The Treatment (Almeida)
Romeo and Juliet (Globe)
Salome (NT)
Romeo and Juliet (Union Theatre)
Madame Rubinstein (Park)
Woyzeck (Old Vic)
Twelfth Night (Globe)
Common (NT)
Twelfth Night (Rain or Shine)
Gloria (Hampstead)
Life of Galileo (Young Vic)
Ink (Almeida)
Tristan and Yseult (Globe)
The Ferryman (Gielgud)
Certain Young Men (NT)
Wind in the Willows (Progress)
Yank! (Charing Cross)
Against (Almeida)
Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Apollo)
Wings (Young Vic)
Boudica (Globe)
Young Frankenstein (Garrick)
Albion (Almeida)
St George and the Dragon (NT)
Young Marx (Bridge)
Oslo (Harold Pinter)
The Secret Theatre (Globe)
Dracula (Rain or Shine)

(It was kind of the year of Twelfth Night)

Anyway, in no particular order, the top 10 were:

The Red Shoes (Bourne) – gorgeous, lyrical, funny with some very nice period dance pieces and AMAZING set changes (the onstage proscenium arch swivelled to show backstage). It’s Matthew Bourne.
The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess) – imagine an amateur theatre company, and then imagine every possible thing that could go wrong. And hurt yourself laughing.  Several times.
Twelfth Night (NT) – We are stylish.  You are peasants.  Everyone is gay or at least bisexual.  And of course the Elephant is a drag club, it’s Antonio’s local.
Boudica (Globe) – FIGHT.  Never fucking forget you’re a queen and that you will have bloody vengeance, and then fucking yell London Calling to the heavens.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Old Vic) – Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua Maguire are here to be confused at you, and the Player King is here to really confuse you.  Hamlet is here to drink cocktails in a deckchair on the boat to England.
Twelfth Night (Globe) – Fuck the text, we’re going to go to the 70s on a disco cruise ship, crash into a scottish island, and everyone is going to dance at all times, wear kilts and have terrible mullets.  Olivia’s going to be in her 40s and be seduced by Sebastian in one seriously sexy tango. Bring your inner diva.
Much Ado About Nothing (Globe) Mexican Revolution. Horseback done by puppetry and stillts.  Full. On. Beatrice and Benedick sniping.  A seriously menacing Don Pedro. ‘Nothing rhymes with senorita but…’ *audience* ‘Margarita!’ ‘Oh, not bad…’ And achieved the impossible by making Dogberry make sense for once by having him be an American film director who can’t speak the language.
Oslo (Harold Pinter) – documenting all the behind the scenes meetings of the Oslo accords, where they achieved the miracle of getting the Palestinians and Israelis to sit in a room and talk to each other.  unbelievably tense, utterly brilliant.
Tristan and Yseult (Globe) – Everyone needs love.  You may go back to being part of the Unloved. You also need to do it in a funny, impressionist dance and song way with lots of trailing red cloth.
Wings (Young Vic) – recovery from a stroke, from the point of view of an ex wing-walker rediscovering her sense of self, memories and ability to communicate.  And btw, Juliet Stevenson will do all this while mostly spinning on a trapeze above the audience.

The worst (avoid like the plague)

Common (NT) This was TURGID.  and DREARY.  And REPETITIVE. I actually wrote a blog post on how much I hated it.
Against (Almeida) – Elon Musk-alike decides to rediscover himself by going out and talking to people across America, do some really terrible journey of Jesus allusions, and say absolutely fucking nothing but does disappear up his own arsehole.  Only even vaguely watchable due to Ben Whishaw.


male gaze and sexualisation in film and tv

Horrible fact of our society: The male gaze and sexualisation of women on screen is so prevalent that you actually get the jolt of noticing when a film or tv show *doesn’t* do it.

Wonder Woman and Mad Max were… female bodies in motion, female bodies doing action and not once did the camera linger on tits or arse or legs.  The difference between how the Amazons were filmed during their action scenes and how Black Widow is filmed in Avengers is huge.  Look where the focus rests, where the centre of the frame is.  How it lingers or doesn’t.  Whether their hair is perfect, how far the zipper goes down.  Where the bruises are painted on by makeup.  Are they artfully placed to highlight bone structure?  How much muscle is shown?  Is it enough muscle to actually believably do the job or is it just enough to be ‘aesthetically pleasing’? (seriously.  Look at Scarlett Johansson, who by all accounts worked out like mad, and then look at the Amazons)

Then we go to the violent crime/horror shows.  We’ve got long experience of crime and horror focussing around dead and tortured bodies of young women and how the camera lingers on their naked and half-dressed corpses.  And then you get the weird, random ones like Hannibal, where they made the commitment that there would be no sexual violence.  Naked bodies in sick and twisted art formations but it wasn’t voyeuristic (you can always tell).  The Exorcist, rebooted as a tv show. (priests still battling to save a girl’s soul from a demon) In this case it’s a pretty blonde girl in her late teens, and we know how those get filmed in horror. Except… not.  Huh.  Camera always very careful not to show skin, or have her self-harming on camera, and when there was a female corpse on a gurney we got a foot and a shoulder and her jawline.  It’s vomit and bile and blood and tears and hair pulled out during the exorcism scenes and not once does it highlight her cheekbones, or have that tear in her shirt pulling to get a glimpse of her unmarred skin.

And you notice because it’s so different that it’s out of place in the glossy entertainment of Hollywood.

heels and superheroes (or not)

Twitter discussions I can’t believe I waded into: wonder woman’s heels.

It started with a costume designer talking about how pleasing it was that Wonder Woman’s costume in the 2017 film is obviously based on Roman armour vs the old lingerie it used to be based on in the old tv series. In comics there’s been a gradual trend since… the 80s?  early 90s? to draw Diana’s serious battle armour as Greek Hoplite based, complete with strip skirt, especially after Xena aired on tv, which segued into a 2000s trend for pretty much any time you were drawing AU Diana you went with a leather strip skirt and made the top look a  bit more sturdy, sometimes with *gasp* shoulder straps.  In the current version this has become her actual costume, bathing suit ditched. (the original Wonder Woman costume is based off a Worlds’ Fair bathing suit)

Then came the boots discussion.  The costume designer was pointing out how much better the film boots were, complete with greaves and armoured kneepads, á la Hoplite armour again (which she mistakenly labelled as Roman again – most Roman soldiers were just wearing sandals, only the top lot got the leg and knee greaves).  However, as is right, people started talking about heels.  Because they gave her wedge heels.

Yeah.  Heels.  Not great for fighting and running in, but Hollywood being what it is, they wanted her to be taller.  See Scarlett Johanssen as Black Widow.

Cue a bit of a discussion of history of heels, and people asking about the riding boot bit. With some saying nobles wore them to stay out of the muck. Me: *twitchtwitchtwitch* *not an expert, just read a fair bit about history of fashion, including ex-pony girl youth*

Okay. Settling this.  Heels were developed so you could stand up in your stirrups for better shooting of arrows and throwing spears.  The separation of heel and sole enables this so your foot doesn’t slip.  Originally they were higher like cowboy boots, but current riding heels are about an inch.

The Wonder Woman film boots are wedges.  USELESS FOR STANDING UP IN STIRRUPS.  They’re still just decorative.

In the 1500s, the heel was adopted by noblemen in North Europe after the Persians came to visit as a military fashion so they were of course *manly*.  Plus the fact that heels back then didn’t have a last that enabled you to walk in them without turning your feet out, so you couldn’t walk very far in them.  Like taxi shoes – heels so high the most walking you’re going to be doing in them is from the cab to the door.  Which was the mark of a noble, someone who wouldn’t dream of walking any distance at all.  Women adopted heels when there was a trend to ape men’s fashions, including jackets.  Heels went out for a long while with all things noble and frivolous due to the French Revolution and Puritan movement.

Heels had been worn prior to this and for other purposes than riding, but it was normally ceremonial.  Butchers and prostitutes and the Japanese had worn heels to keep their clothes and feet out of the muck, but please note these were normally platforms.  There’s no point in keeping your heels out of the muck when you’re not keeping your toes out of it too. (prostitutes wore ridiculous height ones to stand out of the crowd, often so tall they had to have someone on either side of them to hold on to)

top ten (ish) theatre of 2016

The full list:

The Winter’s Tale (Garrick)
Cymbeline (Globe)
Hangman (Wyndhams)
The Dazzle (Found111)
Guy & Dolls (Savoy)
Waste (NT)
Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix)
Miss Saigon (Prince Edward)
Pericles (Globe)
Miss Atomic Bomb (St James)
Twelfth Night (Globe)
The Painkiller (Garrick)
Reasons to be Happy (Hampstead)
The Winter’s Tale (Globe)
The Caretaker  (Old Vic)
The Flick (NT)
Into the Hoods (peacock)
Romeo & Juliet (garrick)
Threepenny Opera (NT)
Taming of the Shrew (globe)
The Deep Blue Sea (NT)
Henry V (Regents Park)
Richard III (Almeida)
Henry V (Southwark)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
Queens of Syria (Young Vic)
Groundhog Day (Old Vic)
Macbeth (Globe)
The Entertainer (Garrick)
Imogen (Globe)
The Boys in the Band (Park Theatre)
No Man’s Land (Wyndhams)
Amadeus (NT)
Julius Caesar (Donmar/Kings Cross)
King Lear (Old Vic)
Red Barn (NT)
One Night in Miami (Donmar)
Little Matchgirl (Globe)
Once in a Lifetime (Young Vic)
Mary Stuart (Almeida)

Anyway, in no particular order, the top 10 were:

The Painkiller (Garrick) – two room hotel farce about an assassin and a suicidal divorced bloke with an adjoining door.  So much ridiculous physical comedy and perfect timing.
The Flick (NT) – strangely affecting, all silences stretched until the audience cracks up and passions and details of lives going nowhere while they eulogise a dying medium.
Into the Hoods (Peacock) – Fairytales mashed together in a council estate in glorious hip hop of wolves that dress up as Granny, a prince with a soundtrack of 90s slow jam sleaze, and it turns out Rapunzel is totally Nicki Minaj.
Henry V (Southwark Playhouse) – OMG.  if Merely Theatre come south again, SEE IT. tiny cast, french and english denoted by swapping football jerseys, lots of rushing offstage to swap outfits, crackles along brilliantly, actual new filthy shakespeare jokes, and it got interrupted during the second half due to the girl playing Montjoy fainting.
Julius Caesar (Donmar/Kings Cross) – 2nd of the Donmar female prison Shakespeares that I’ve seen.  And they get better.  New light cast on things, brilliant performances, heartbreaking, especially when prison stuff intruded on the play itself.
The Deep Blue Sea (NT) – sorry, Helen McCrory is being awesome and tragic and despairing in a London flat and I have no time for your concerns.
Macbeth (Globe) – I like a good Macbeth.  This was a good, well-staged, inspiring Macbeth with good use of the Macbeths’ child, great acting and spooky awesome music.
Groundhog Day (Old Vic) – perfect film is turned into perfect musical of AMAZING sets and genius nuttiness of repetition that gives different details each time, with fabulous tunes and lovely performances.  Also there’s a rodent and a car chase. Gimme cast recording.
Imogen (Globe)- Cymbeline refocused, set in East London with added dance and grime tunes.  East end accents work perfectly with shakespeare stylings and posturing, it was funny, some seriously ouchy violence, and the glory of the 27 endings and the Roman officer going ‘hello? over here?’ and when Imogen slammed her foot on Iachimo’s throat it was a thing of joy and beauty forever. And do the jig to Skepta’s ‘Shut Down’ to bring the house down.
Queens of Syria (Young Vic) – Syrian refugee women telling their stories in their own words and talking about the experience of talking to the media getting people to listen (the bit where they were going ‘apparently we can get the west to listen if we do it as theatre because they respect it? okay, worth a shot’ raised a lot of giggles), woven in with bits of the Trojan Women. heart in stomach stuff.

The worst (avoid like the plague)

The Caretaker (Old Vic)- theoretically good acting.  I was so BORED.  Unbelievably tedious, silences and unending whining that went nowhere.  Apparently this is a Pinter thing. Timothy Spall and George MacKay couldn’t save it.

The Entertainer (Garrick) – supposed to be about actor at dead end of the vaudeville scene and his family crushed down and wanting social change. Except it just showed that the dead end of vaudeville needed euthanising and everything else was just inarticulate.

Common, National Theatre, Olivier Stage 31/05/17

I went into this on the strength of the poster, Anne-Marie Duff’s casting and the vague promise of the examination of a period of history and setting that we don’t normally get to see. I hadn’t even looked at the projected running time. Good lord that was a mistake.

It started with Anne-Marie Duff’s self-described rogue directly addressing the audience, promising tall tales and bawdy jokes that couldn’t be relied upon for veracity, for she always lies. Well, that prologue certainly lied about the rest of the play. Fairly soon, a funny, promising start of a woman going back home to confront her past in horrendously poor rural England at the time of the fencing off of common land (see title) settled into a general tangled, ill-thought out and badly expressed turgidity. The stage was covered in earth, with occasional holes dug in it to bury things or uncover graves, while people droned on in an attempt to talk about a plot of revenge and violence, attempted murder and lying about the past and old lovers. Sometimes we got a funny aside to the audience, but these were buried in the overwhelming oppressive weight of dank soil and a blasted heath of an echoing stage. Even the habitual appearances of burning torches and peasants in Wicker Man masks that I think were meant to add to the general atmosphere of rural deprivation and buried past sins you couldn’t escape from didn’t liven it up for more than a few minutes at a time, because the second they left the stage, we were back with the sweary incomprehensible droning. After what seemed a fairly final note of violence after an hour and a half, the lights went up and the audience blinked, looked around in confusion and then winced on realising that was only the first half. ‘How long does this thing go on for?’ echoed around.

In the second half, the plot went on, transferring most of the action to the local lord’s house, but nothing more was said. Nothing was added that cast any light or consequence to the mood and actions of the first half. You could see the audience looking around to notice that nearly a third of their peers had escaped at the interval, and really wishing they’d joined them, because it was just dragging on with no hope of a resolution or any sort of respite in sight.

I think the only members of the production that could really escape with any dignity were the production and lighting designers for so successfully conjuring up a barren oppressive heath of flickering shadows and torchlight. The actors did their best, but were clearly struggling with the script they’d been lumbered with, and I don’t understand how no-one noticed in rehearsals and development that the running time and script needed attacking with a scythe.

(ETA:  this was 2nd preview, apparently it got severely cut after)

writing scientific discoveries in historical fiction

Was reading a historical romance where a scientist was working on one of the early versions of a telegraph system. A lot of historical fiction with inventors makes the mistake of ‘x inventing this years before history officially said it was but it got burnt/ never recognised’.

Which… no. Scientists didn’t work in a vacuum. They were constantly corresponding with each other and publishing in journals, and a lot of them worked on similar ideas as the technology and understanding of processes advanced. Oftentimes, the ‘inventor’ whose name goes down in history is the one who made the breakthrough and got it patented/ recognised (leaving aside serial patenter Thomas Edison). F’r instance, there were a LOT of telegraph systems already around in the 1830s, and the credit for the invention is split between the UK and the US – William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in the UK and Samuel Morse, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail in the US. The UK team’s telegraph system was being used for railway signalling, and was based on a system of five magnetic needles that could be pointed around a panel of letters and numbers by using an electric current. Samuel Morse developed morse code and was the first to do a sentence & get the infrastructure down. He had the science ready in the late 1830s but US was cash strapped so no-one had the money for extensive pipe works so delayed to 1844.

Back to the book: satisfying as a portrayal of someone working on telegraph science and making some breakthroughs in sending electrical impulses over wires for messages but not the same ones as Morse and Cooke and Wheatstone (one important stumbling block observed in the book was that a lot of the shorting out was being caused by having too many wires, one for each letter). Most importantly it was very clear on how breakthroughs aren’t made in isolation – correspondence, applying others’ work in an unexpected way, etc.  Not to mention believed in the scientific method of repeating the experiment to see if you get the same result.

keep seeing these ‘couch to 5k’ things and they seem… way too complex.

This is the British Army get fit leaflet version I used :

Get a pair of trainers you can run in.  Not fashion trainers, actual trainers. Grab an old tee and some shorts or tracksuit bottoms. if you’re a girl over an A cup, get a sports bra.

grab your phone or a cheap digital watch. Something with a timer of some sort.  There’s a lot of free running apps too that will track your distance, but we don’t give a shit about that until week three.

go out your front door.  jog as far as you can and then walk the rest of it for four minutes non-stop.  Stop for breath. walk back.  (you’ll be tomato faced and wheezing and want to die.  this is normal.)

By the end of the week, try to increase this to 8 minutes.  Stop.  Get your breath back and stretch a bit. Try and jog bits of the walk back, but keep moving, even if it’s at snails pace.  (it’s normally add one minute or one block per run). Don’t do it every day.  If you only increased it by two minutes, that’s fine.  You’re still making good progress.  A really good way? Pick a marker not too far in the distance like the next tree or lamppost, grit your teeth and get to it.

Week two. Try and make it to 12 minutes.  Jog more of the way back.  By this time, the blisters *will* be appearing. Sorry.  You may want to start carrying water, especially if it’s warm.

Week three, sixteen minutes.  By this point it starts to get easier and you’ll find yourself cruising past the old eight minute marker without thinking.

Week four, twenty minutes.

Week five, still twenty minutes, but increase the portion you jog of the way back.

Week six, jog to your twenty minute mark, hit it with your hand and turn, running as much of the way back as you can before stopping for breath.

You’ll hit 5k.

And remember:  you may be slow but you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.