Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bubble Dramaturgy: Kasia Lech @ Edfringe 2016

A Polish fairy tale about the fall of Communism hits the Fringe!

Silver Merick Studio

Performed in English with a Polish accent and a slight touch of Irish

 ‘Because us Poles, or Polacks as they call us in the West, us car-thieves, drunks, trouble-makers – that’s all we know. Just do it? Do it! But make sure you are wearing Nike shoes! All we can do is start revolutions.’
Julia Holewińska, Bubble Revolution

55 years after the Berlin Wall separated Western and Eastern Europe, 40 years after ration stamps for sugar were introduced in Poland, 27 years after the fall of communism, 24 years after the first Coca-Cola fridge appeared in Polish shops, Polish Theatre Ireland (PTI) is debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe with a one-woman revolutionary fairy tale about growing up during and after the fall of communism in Poland. 

It is a story of a child wishing for an unlimited source of Nutella, it is a story of a girl wanting to be Michael Jackson, and a story of a woman dreaming about love. Bubble Revolution is the story of Wiktoria, aka Vica, and her journey through a magical land filled with memories, colours, scents, and sounds of the past. And as Vica learns that the world has promised her too much, her imaginary world is disturbed by the ‘drab monochrome’ reality of capitalism...

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Julia Holewińska’s play was the inspiration. But I also responded to Helen Cusack’s Irish review in which she commented on how interesting it is that Vica (main character) tries to express her identity in a language that is foreign to her. I thought: why not use the potential of it? 

Silver Merick Studio

Why not use my own status of a ‘foreign body’, my Polish accent with Irish sneaking through it, to add more layers to the text. That is why Bubble Revolution is about growing up as communism in Poland was falling down, but it is also about reframing foreignness.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
In 2008, Ania Wolf, Helen McNulty and I set up Polish Theatre Ireland, a company that merges and intertwists Polish and Irish theatre traditions. John Currivan, Anka Wysota, and Konrad Kania worked with us from early days. Ania brought Beata Baryłka in. 

I ‘collected’ two Englishman on the way: Jamie Mepham and Josh How. Josh is a student of mine, well he graduates this year. He studied technical theatre, so he is funded by our university (Canterbury Christ Church University) to come with me to Edinburgh and provide technical support for the show.

How did you become interested in making performance?
When my brother and I were little, my parents were divorced and when capitalism came in 1990s they both started making separate ‘businesses’. Basically, we were home alone a lot. And I had this game: the Princess (played by me) was spending a night in a village, where she befriended the Peasant Girl (also played by me).

The Princess and the Peasant Girl sat for hours talking, eating bread with salt and washing it down with tap water... No one was impressed by my acting abilities; however I was punished for drinking (undrinkable) tap water... So it seems like acting was in my stars... 

But then this American soap Generations was on TV and Debbi Morgan played a prosecutor and she kept saying that she wouldn’t bend the law for her family... For some reason I found that very inspiring and kept repeating it all the time, and went to a law school, which I left after one year for drama school...

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I think, recently, intercultural collaboration and translation have underlined my creative processes. In this particular case, I created a document that translated every single cultural reference for John. Our war-negotiations (well that’s how we work) started from there... I believe in collaborations and an actor being a creative artist.

Beata Baryłka

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will engage with Vica’s (main character) experiences and memories in a way so they resonate with their own memories of childhood. In the ideal world, I hope they will feel like sharing them with me or others after the show. Because, I want the memories and experiences evoked by the performance to be shared between Polish and non-Polish audiences. So we can all see our-child-self in a ‘foreign’ memory.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The audience and their understanding have been at the heart of the process. The play is full of cultural references and we want the audience to appreciate and engage with them. That is why we needed to make sure we gave the audience plenty of signposts, so they could follow the story and engage with the experiences. In the performance itself, there are elements of immersive theatre and multimedia ‘translating’ the context.  

But Bubble Revolution became really a multi-media platform! There is a website with a virtual exhibition of life in 1980s and 1990s Poland, a twitter account that ‘translates’ the reality of communist Poland through random facts and Polish shopping guide, and a YouTube channel with videos that teach speaking Polish through eating sweets. In short, there is plenty for the audience to engage with before, during, and after the performance.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
No. In drama school we were trained to use the ideas of Stanislavsky, Kantor, and many other practitioners, but we were also taught to mix them and twist them according to the needs of what we created on stage. So, I think I embrace this idea in my work. I also think every acting teacher I worked with, every director had an impact on me. Even those I frustrated...

Bubble Revolution is a manifesto of thirty-year-old Poles, the biggest group that emigrated to the UK and Ireland after May 2004. According to the 2011 censuses, Poles are the second-largest foreign community in the UK and the largest in Ireland. Polish language is the second most commonly spoken language in England and Ireland. 

It is the most commonly spoken language in Scottish schools after English. The production, created through intercultural collaboration, uses multimedia and elements of immersive theatre to evoke Polish experiences and memories in a way so they resonate with and are shared between Polish and non-Polish audiences.

‘The current socio-political climate and negativity surrounding Poles highlight the need for more unprejudiced interactions. Bubble Revolution is about change, connection, and sharing. It is about an encounter and dialogue. I want to reframe the idea of foreign. There will also be a word or two of Polish that the audience may learn’, says Kasia Lech, the actor and co-creator of the show.

For the purpose of the Edinburgh Fringe, Bubble Revolution will be accompanied by a virtual exhibition of life in 1980s and 1990s Poland.

Bubble Revolution is proudly supported by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and School of Music and Performing Arts at Canterbury Christ Church University, Polish Aid Foundation Trust, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Edinburgh, and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Bubble Revolution
4-28 August (not 16) at 13.45
August 6 and 20 Performances in Polish language
55 minutes
Magic @ New Town Theatre, Freemasons Hall,
96 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3DH

Writer:                         Julia Holewińska
Director/co-creator:     John Currivan

Performer/co-creator: Kasia Lech

Monday, 30 May 2016

Unconditional Dramaturgy: Elyssa Vulpes @ Edfringe 2016

Be a Soldier of Love!

A one-woman musical play premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Front Line tells the story of Sophia, a refugee from the Bosnian war who has made a new life for herself in Scotland as an offbeat sex education high school counsellor. 

She discovers her inner wisdom as she faces issues of romance, sexuality and self-doubt while reconciling her troubled past. The play explores the power of ‘agape’ (universal unconditional love) as a means of transcending personal and universal challenges towards a more positive future.

Elyssa Vulpes writes and stars in an an original life affirming play in which self-effacing comedy, audience interaction and her light hearted songs uplift the spirit. The marriage of song and situation create a playful character who invites you into her quirky world – together you will expand your perspective on the deeper meaning of love.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The current refugee crisis is a point of inspiration for this play,
where the refugee is seen in a different light, years after the fact, as an integrated member of society who although struggles with her past is also eventually able to heal and positively move on from it.

I wanted to use this as an example of how even a displacement that creates a deep personal trauma can be- albeit not easily -  transcended with the power of of “agape” (universal unconditional love for all beings) and of how agape can be an agent of positive transformation in a world full of personal and universal challenges where suffering is often seen as a negative and inherent factor of the human condition.

I wanted to allow for this idea of love - which goes beyond romantic attachment and too often is misunderstood as being confined to the religious sphere -  to have the fuller expression it deserves.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I first met Mahayana Landowne ( who later became the director of this performance) at the Fringe 2014 while queuing for a show in the street. We hit it off immediately and after repeatedly bumping into her at shows and people’s houses I invited her to see my show. After seeing  my performance she became keen to collaborate with me; we started skyping regularly (she lives in New York) and after a while she asked me to write a play for her. While doing that it became clear to me that I first had to re-write an older performance that I needed a new direction for and she gladly agreed to get on board. 

While writing Front Line I also enlisted the help of script doctor Chris Gilman whom I had met while living in New Zealand and who has worked for TVNZ as a comedy TV writer. Other people involved in the show included a fellow Improv actor who I met while involved with the Edinburgh Improv Community ( who became the Light technician )  and others introduced to me by EPAD.   

How did you become interested in making performance?

The performance in question (Front Line) is a mixture of drama and songs. The songs were written at different stages of my life as a singer song writer and were drawn from my own life experience of love, loss and displacement. After finding that they seemed to have a common thread I started presenting them as a chapters of a story which I would tell in between each song at my music gigs. I would normally construct a different story every time I performed the songs and improvised it according to the order of the songs but soon it became evident that I wanted to create a story that was more permanent and relevant to my own journey while at the same time being universal and applicable to anyone. 

I attempted to do that at first at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 with my then band “The betes noires” but soon found that the structure didn’t quite work and my band members, not being trained actors, failed to deliver performances that satisfied my standards. The story also seemed to lack depth and I temporarily decided to park it. It was only later when I found a director willing to help me write a better play that the current performance began to take a completely new shape and it developed into what it is today.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

No. In this instance I came from the songs being already written and tried to weave them together into a coherent whole. Once I wrote the script I improvised on the text to improve it. I then re-wrote the play 12 times before I was completely satisfied with it.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Ideally the play would have a transformative effect where the
audience would reinterpret their own experience of suffering and transcend its negative connotations into something enriching and ultimately life affirming. I would like them to identify with the main character and go through the same process she has to go through: from a feeling of being wounded and full of doubt to hope, a new understanding and courage.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I use comedy as a means to lighten a message that could otherwise appear too heady to be entertaining. I also use audience interaction to allow for involvement in the action and to break the 4th wall. 

Tragedy and Comedy interweave as they often do in real life to make us more resilient and allow for reframing, uplifting us from even the most dire of situations and giving us back the power to create the reality we want.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Not really. My aim is neither to conform or rebel against any genre but rather use whatever medium is most appropriate to convey the message I want to give, regardless of genre. Because of that it is difficult to pinpoint where this performance belongs except to say it is theatre with songs, a touch of improvisation and some comedy.

Elyssa is a singer songwriter, recording artist, writer, Improv performer and therapist who is herself an immigrant, having left her native Italian shores behind to live in New Zealand, London and Ireland, finally finding a home in Scotland.

‘[Elyssa] has a strong and beautiful voice, echoing Loreena McKennit or PJ Harvey… charming, beguiling, and slightly teary… it's rich, folk story-telling with a gothic edge.’
Ania Glowacz, NZ Music Magazine

Directed by New York City based theatre director, Mahayana Landowne.

First Two Weeks Only !
Dates: 4 – 14 August                         
Time: 20:15 (55 min)
Where: Venue 27, Just the Tonic at The Community Project, 
The Little Kirk 86 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, EH1 2QA
Tickets: Buy a ticket in advance to guarantee entry or Pay What You Want at the venue. £8.50 (£6.50) (£20.00F)

I'm Uneasy... Not Like Sunday Mornings...

Never let it be said that I can let things go. After the generous response to my article in which I bemoaned my inability to enjoy populist theatre, I've come up with more self-indulgent and pompous thoughts.

Can we blame media structures?

It was probably inevitable that I would blame other critics for my failures - I suggested that reviewing was becoming a synopsis with adjectives, with a lack of detailed argument.

To be fair, this isn't all criticism, and it is not just print criticism that does this. I ripped off a piece by Catherine Love last week, and it had plenty of detail, historical knowledge and sharp analysis. While I am sympathetic to the idea that the minimal space given to theatre criticism in newspapers can encourage 'potted reviews' (and that the pressure of on-line immediacy discourages expansive writing (TL;DR)), it does not necessarily mean that reviews are always cursory. I generalised from a specific instance because I have a vague idea that reviews are getting briefer.

So, the structures of the media are a factor, but not the whole story. What is regarded as acceptable as a review might be, though.

This might have been an attempt to address the moaning about critics and their role which kicked off after that Stage article. 

Who the hell are you to judge?

I admit that I have been guilty of lazy reviewing. If I wanted to, I could present a list of 'bad practices' taken from my own work. So, yeah, I'm a hypocrite. However, I do suffer from regular and painful abscesses, which can be regarded as a punishment. It's no excuse, but feel free to relish the thought of Mr Academic Big Shot here whining like a baby.

What's wrong with populism?

Nothing. Please don't apologise for liking something just because I don't find Diderot's theories in it. Part of my conflict comes from the disjuncture between my opinion and the majority response. I'm working out how to recognise that difference without surrendering my opinions or being patronising. 

I could point to my long and tedious history of criticism, and mention that I have very... distinctive tastes. For those who follow criticism, that's a bonus.  For those who don't, who surf onto my opinions, I'm a guy with a stick up his ass (see previous point).

No, what's wrong with populism?

It permits weak productions to get away with shoddy theatricality. I approve Our Ladies for not over-sexualising the young women (the costumes never went Britney, for example). But I also worry that the presentation of working class lives - and frankly, given that the play ends with one girl still in conflict over her sexual desire and another pregnant, pretty difficult lives - for entertainment is problematic. 

I'll wind myself into a knot here. I struggle with political theatre, and the self-awareness of Our Ladies' heroines is admirable... but I couldn't help but think: this is a play about young women who are being fucked over by an economic system that limits their options and aspiration. Yet, at the end, they sing some Bob Marley and every little thing's gonna be alright. 

These particular anxieties - theatre as valve for frustrations, the working class as a vaudeville routine - applies to serious agit-prop, too. And, like my relationship to 27 and Iphigenia in Splott, it is unresolved. 

Unlike populist theatre, I'm uneasy.

Screwed Dramaturgy: Kathryn O’Reilly

Screwed by Kathryn O’Reilly
Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW
Tuesday 28th June - Saturday 23rd July 2016
Ticking time-bombs Luce and Charlene are 30-something binge-drinking soulmates. They clock in after a heavy night out on the tiles, popping caffeine pills and downing miniatures on the factory floor, boasting about last night’s sexual conquests. When you're living for today it's hard to think about tomorrow.

Screwed is a gripping and hilarious portrait of a dysfunctional friendship. This powerful play is a debut drama from Kathryn O’Reilly and is directed by award-winning Sarah Meadows (Where Do Little Birds Go?, VAULT Festival and Edinburgh).

This new play explores a variety of taboo subjects including socio-economic status and current attitudes to diversity in a setting that highlights ladette culture, the pervasive insidious nature of alcoholism and violence amongst women.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
Screwed developed out of a two-hander poem I’d written for actress Eloise Joseph and myself that we used to perform at various events. Very basically it was two women, best friends who always fantasied about their ideal man whilst out on the pull. But, one of the two already had her ideal man. However, one night she found out that behind her back the ideal man was sleeping with her best friend. It was funny and a bit crude.

Once I decided to write the poem into a play, partly prompted by director Ramin Gray, it began to reveal itself to me. And as it grew, it got deeper and darker. The two women became more raw, volatile, harder. They became ladettes, promiscuous, binge-drinking alcoholics. Especially with the introduction of the fourth character Doris, I further explored gender roles, sex roles and gender identification.
I’m really interested in what it means to be human. How we live and survive the life we have been given. How we treat each other and ourselves. Particularly how relationships change, distort and breakdown. How boundaries not just between one another but between one and one’s world are blurred, crossed and broken, and through one wrong decision everything can change.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Different people have come and gone, come and stayed, but all of whom have been very generous with their time, skill, talent and support. The current team is the result of the plays journey over the past five years involving readings, work-shopping and development.

It all started in 2011 with a sharing at Arcola which lead to an industry reading later that year at Ovalhouse, by which time I had created the character Doris, and Rikki Beadle-Blair and Gary Beadle have both worked on the part. From that reading Cassandra Mathers who was then at Pleasance Theatre and Hannah Eidinow offered space for further development and an industry invited reading to take place there in 2012.

I first worked with Neil Grutchfield on my writing in 2010 and thought he was just brilliant, he is so clever and insightful. From the start Neil had seen the readings of Screwed and I knew I wanted to work with him on this so in 2013 I asked Neil if he would be the dramaturg, together we have been working on the script ever since, through many drafts! In 2014 Theatre Delicatessen very kindly offered space, and so myself, Neil, Eloise, Tas Emiabata, Nathan work-shopped the play with director Lucy Allan. Tas has been a major part of this project and is the educationalist for our accompanying workshops.

I always used the lack of money as an excuse to make it not happen, as I’d always been resolute in the fact that people had to be paid.
I guess I was always waiting for someone to go ‘I’ll put your play on and here’s 25 grand to do it’. After a discussion with Rikki Beadle-Blair I made the decision to produce Screwed myself and get funding. So I organised a final reading in 2015 in order to invite venues and get another producer to work with. 
I had met Philip & Christine Carne whilst I was at LAMDA and they supported me through my final year, and have never stopped supporting me. All through Screwed development they have been there and when they offered very generous financial support to get it on, that really encouraged me and boosted my confidence in getting more funding.  
Also all along Out of Joint and Max Stafford-Clark have very kindly and generously supported me and this play, Max has also has read many drafts and given me feedback and guidance. The final reading was at Out of Joint and I invited Sarah Meadows to direct and Stephen Myott-Meadows to play Paulo. Sarah’s agent Colin Blumenau then kindly offered support from The Production Exchange to help organise the reading.

Sarah, Stephen and myself had all worked together on a brilliant play by Mark Wilson called YOU, at Brighton Fringe Festival where we picked up three awards. I loved working with Sarah and Stephen so much I knew I wanted to work with them on Screwed.
However, after the reading it became apparent to me that I no longer wished to act in it, and be a producer and writer, it was one role too many. From that reading producer Maeve O’Neill came on board. For the production Eloise, Sarah and Stephen stayed, and Rikki Beadle-Blair was not available and so we began casting for Charlene and Doris. The designers, Catherine Morgan, Jamie Platt, Benedict Taylor and assistant director Monty Leigh are regular collaborators of Sarah’s and so she brought them onto the project. 
How did you become interested in making performance?

As a teenager I was part of a Saturday morning youth drama group, and the drama leader Nic Paris was directing a pro/am production of West Side Story. He cast me a Jet girl and it was thrilling. I was an amateur looking at these professionals and loving every minute of being in rehearsals and being on stage. Nic also gave me my first opportunity in performing my own poetry on stage. And so the journey began. Over the years I have worked as stage crew, a theatre technician, produced, ran drama workshops all the while pursuing writing with a dream of becoming a writer and having my work performed one day.      
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes, I think I seem to take a very long time to finish things or see things to their completion.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they will enjoy themselves. We are very fortunate to be able to make theatre and go to the theatre. It’s an invaluable tool for education and a great place in which to loose oneself, be entertained and inspired. I hope it’s a rollercoaster of a journey, I want the audience to be gripped, chewed up and spat out. I hope they laugh and are moved by the story, challenged the characters and the themes that are highlighted.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I guess it’s about making the characters and their situation as real and as truthful as possible, within the world you create for them.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition? 
I wouldn’t say it falls neatly into any bracket. However, I would say my writing at the moment in terms of story is very much in the realm of kitchen sink drama. Which I love. 

Domestic situations of the lower middle class and working class people to explore social issues. Where characters are victims of their own circumstance. Which we could say we all are. Within all that you’ve got the multi-layered intricacies of human relationships and interactions. Also with this play, there is a lyrical element to the dialogue, a rhythm to the writing, and a type of poetry. I love magical and dream like elements. 

At the same time it’s heightened, and stylised. I also break the forth wall with direct address. I also hope it also in-yer-face theatre. So I think ultimately that Screwed plays with different forms.
Writer Kathryn O’Reilly comments, My aim is to engage and challenge audiences in a way that’s both artistic and personal. I want to shine a spotlight on current issues that aren’t going away and put these stories on stage.
This production, accompanying workshops and post-show discussions will offer a platform for discussion, stimulating the debate surrounding gender, class, binge drinking, violence and promiscuity among women and its cultural impact on society. 

Screwed is more pertinent today than ever before with more than 2.5m people drinking more in one day than the 14 units recommended per week (Financial Times, March 2016). As a result of habits like these, there has been a rise in alcohol binge related deaths and hospitalisations from violence by and towards women.
Kathryn O’Reilly is better known as an actress and will be starring in A View from Islington North at the Arts Theatre this June.
O’Reilly was a member of the Royal Court Young Writers programme. Her play Scarred was long listed for the Bruntwood Prize. She has been developing Screwed over the past few years. 
Performance Dates Tuesday 28th June – Saturday 23rd July 2016
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.45pm

Notes Ages 14+
Location Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road,
London SW11 3BW, https://theatre503.com/

Box Office Tickets are available priced £15 (£12 concessions)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Advice to Critics (After Burroughs)

People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young critics.
Well here are a few simple admonitions for young and old.
Never review from a position other than generosity and compassion.
Beware of artists who say they don't want star ratings.
The hell they don't.
What they mean is they want more stars. Much more.
If you're doing business with a theatre company,
Get it in writing.
Their word isn't worth shit.
Not with the good bottom line telling them how to fuck you on the deal.

Avoid fuck-ups theatre companies and magazines.
We all know the type.
Anything they have anything to do with,
No matter how good it sounds,
Turns into a disaster.
Do offer sympathy to the upset performer.
Tell them firmly:
I am not going to change my opinion.
But you are not a terminal boob.

Now some of you may encounter the Devil's Bargain,
If you get that far.
Any old review is worth reading,
At least to a someone bored on social media,
But not every review is worth reposting.
So you can take the offer as a compliment.
He tries the easy ones first.
You know like 'you're an artist,'
All the praise there is.
But who wants to be the best critic in a world full of reviewers?
Not much of an audience who'll read good critique, eh gramps?
Getting too clever to cut the mustard.

Well intellectual theory hits the hardest blows.
Especially below the belt.
How's a load of footnotes grab you?
Like three card monte, like pea under the shell,
Now you see it, now you don't.
Haven't you forgotten something, gramps?
In order to know something,
You've got to be there.
You have to be Foucault.
You're not Foucault.
You are are a writer on-line.
Old fool sold his integrity for a strap-on.

Well they always try the easiest ones first.
How about an honorable bargain?
You always wanted to be a doctor,
Well now's your chance.
Why don't you become a great critic
And benefit humanity?
What's wrong with that?
Just about everything.
Just about everything.
There are no honorable bargains
Involving exchange
Of qualitative merchandise
Like opinion
For quantitative merchandise
Like time and money.
So piss off Satan
And don't take me for dumber than I look.

An old junk pusher told me -
Watch whose money you pick up.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour @ SECC

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a problem. Tonight I went to see a well received and well reviewed play by the National Theatre of Scotland. Written by Lee Hall, who did Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is an alcohol drenched, sex obsessed romp that follows director Vicky Featherstone's once-stated commitment to make theatre that is a good night out, and not a stuffy evening of academic performance.

I think that I like stuffy evenings. I got very little pleasure from Our Ladies. I thought the musical choices were arbitrary - not illustrating the themes of the play, but singalong anthems to hide the sloppy character development. 

Knowing that I have a problem is the first step. My problem is that I go to the theatre for a transcendent experience. Surrounded by an audience which is clearly enjoying itself, I wonder whether I am the right person to be reviewing unashamedly popular theatre. 

The cast are brilliant: great singers, full of energy and, when called upon to give a monologue, moving and passionate. The script has its moments: Hall can write a speech full of detail and suggestion, although he might be leaning on the source novel, The Sopranos. Featherstone keeps things running at a good pace. 

But this is barely theatre. Take a pivotal scene, when two of the young women are discussing their tentative desire. They kiss, they break, and one explains to the other that it isn't going to work. So the other  turns to the audience and says her heart is broken.

That's narrative, not theatre. Why couldn't she have acted her heartbreak? Why have the subtext spelled out so clumsily? There is so much chat to the audience - just like in the recent adaptation of The Iliad at The Lyceum - that actual performance of emotion is replaced by words. Some people call this Brechtian. I don't.

I realise that I am in a minority here. The audience lap it up - possibly because the format ('closer to a gig,' say the programme notes) allows plenty of space for those show stopping numbers. 

And there are loads of reviews that give it four stars. I am nothing if not pragmatic. I want to give the cast and direction the respect they deserve. So I turn to the reviews for answers. 

All I got is plot summaries and bland statements that it is good, or superb, or dynamic. There's no argument, no suggestions of why reading the book would not give me everything the play has. 

So, I am left with a few questions.

If my opinion is so different from the audience around me, does that make my opinion less valid?

Am I just a terrible snob who can't have a good time (I have been annoyed by Breakfast at Tiffany's, too, this week, another populist adaptation which refuses to develop dramatic tension)?

Has the review become little more than an exercise in rewriting the synopsis and few qualitative adjectives? 

It's the Fringe! I'm giving Free Advice! Ignore at your Own Risk

Sigh. It's that time of year when I begin to flinch, and write a curmudgeonly article about the Edinburgh Fringe. I guess if I wanted a quiet life in August, I'd infiltrate a Taliban training camp: but this year's extended whine is a list of things artists can do if they want to make my job easier, and possibly increase their social media reach.

 I know it is hard to accept, but you are not the only company hoping to gain fame and glory at the Fringe. By June 10, my inbox will be full of optimistic press releases. I'm sure you have a Unique Selling Point and an Elevator Pitch, but the individuality of your performance is not going to work out.

Work in tandem with other companies. Have a look at the brochure: are there other companies with which you might have sympathy? Maybe they share a training, an attitude, or a subject with you. Maybe you really like the look of their show. Whatever.

Team up with them. Share information, contact the press together, maybe even suggest a themed feature. Retweet their social media, chat on Facebook with them. The Fringe might look like a Darwinian battle for audiences, but Kropotkin's take on natural selection could be a better guide, even if it is scientifically discredited. 

Putting my name at the top of a generic mail-out doesn't cut it. I'm not fooled by the email from the lovely ladies who want to date me, and I know that you've used some application to 'personalise' your press release. 

Actually think about the publications or writers you want to come to see your show, or might do a review. Most critics respond well to flattery and attention, although you'll never buy their integrity. 

Take me, for example. If you write to me, bear in mind that I am a pseudo-intellectual who is seduced by fancy words. Then remember that I have a blog with interviews on it, and I offer a place to any company that can answer email questions. 

Last year, I replied to over a thousand companies, and about half got back to me. That was more than enough, but it means that 500 companies decided that they weren't interested in free publicity. Being nice to me, and giving me content for the Dramaturgy Database is easy enough.

You never know. This year's blogger might be working for The Stage next year. Never 'discern' the value of a critic. Taking my blog again: where do you think my last minute previews for The List come from? And I know that other sites use my interviews (and academics), because they have asked for permission. 

Without being entirely Darwinian (see point one), there is competition for attention. Disdain the humble writer - who is probably being read by editors in the hope of finding a company who fits the article they are about to commission - and you are guilty of not taking the Fringe seriously.

And again, repost articles about other people's work. Show that you love the critics. 

Okay, there might be rivalry between the critics, friendly or not so friendly. If you tell me about the behaviour of another critic, I'll probably giggle. But if you act the arse in an interview, or make demands, or annoy the shit out of one of us, it'll get around. 

Even if you have a valid complaint about a critic, address it with courtesy. Yes, I know that two star review ignored your cunning application of Aristotle's Unities to a 1920s' farce script. I know you've spent a year rehearsing. But politeness goes a long way. 

This advice even applies to those lucky enough to have a press agent, hence...

This is where I am going to get blunt. A good PR has a roster of quality companies, never lies about the work they represent and makes sure that they do everything possible to make my life easy. 

This includes sending high resolution images, press releases that are coherent and following up my requests for an email interview.

Sadly, there are PRs whose names are mud. An email from them means I get a pain in the hoop. I know that they'll send me terrible images, not forward requests to clients for interviews, then, three weeks into the Fringe ask me 'for a favour'. 

If you have signed up with one of these, you might as well have gone down the casino for all the help they'll give you. I am not naming names - although maybe a brown envelope to the usual address might help - because that might be libel or something. 

However, I can give you a plan. If you haven't received a request for an email interview from me by July 30th, it is about 90% likely that they either haven't contacted me, or forwarded my request to you. It is possible that I missed their email, or it went in my spam (that does happen to mass mail-outs - which is a bonus tip). 

Oh yeah - for those who have read this far... here's my email address.

I know this all sounds rather arrogant, but it is free...

The X-Men have their knockers..

Over in conspiracy corner, it is whispered that Marvel have sabotaged the X-Men, since they don't have the film rights to the characters. Far from believing this, Warren Ellis' Xenogenesis (2012) offers evidence that, even when they enlist a usually intelligent writer to the franchise, there is a complete lack of care and interest.

As a G-d damned Cultural Marxist, I'm bound to be touchy about racial and sexual stereotypes in comics, but Xenogenesis upsets me on an aesthetic level. Despite brave defences of artist Kaare Andrews, it's an ugly book. Cyclops grows a beard within the space of half an hour (in panel time), the anatomy and the facial features of the characters are inconsistent from page to page, and Emma Frost... Emma Frost.

Now, my complaint could be that Ellis devotes a chunk of the first issue to a crude analysis of African politics, which is tedious and reads like a racist wikipedia entry. Or that his plot, a riff on Alan Moore's Captain Britain, adds nothing new to the X-Men mythos, only pages of explanations of comic-book physics. The characterisation is all over the shop (one villain goes from brutal killer to compassionate ally without any real development, while Cyclops bumbles from assertive leader to whining boyfriend), unsettling the plot which devolves into a big fight scene. Ellis did a great job on The Authority, but he appears to be copying another Moore creation, Sarcastic Thug as a shorthand for mature writing.

However, it's Emma Frost who rankles me here. There's another blogger who rejoices in her portrayal - although he admits that her height is inaccurate against Cyclops. He sees the Emma Frost in Xenogenesis as a return to her classic, fierce persona.

For non-fans, let me explain. Frost used to be a villain, and romp around in lingerie, being all evil and sexy. Then she became a hero, but retained her taste for underwear as armour. She dated Cyclops, once a boy-scout hero, in one of Marvel's most explicitly sexual relationships. She is all poise and class prejudice, throwing out shade and devastating beatings to bad guys with equal aplomb. She's a borderline drag act, and eye candy. Even In Universe, characters make sarcastic comments about her outfits.

Andrews' art, which has a fair amount of retinal shudder about it, turns Frost into a pair of tits. It's difficult to tell whether her face is supposed to be beautiful - one scene, not pictured here, has her centre panel, leaning over Cyclops and Storm, boobs presented to the reader and her face contorted that she could be pouting or gurning. Unless she is supposed to be on ecstasy...

The art extracts that I have selected could be a visual essay in why women don't read comics (if they didn't, that is). It's certainly explains why I am learning French, in the hope that Bande dessinée franco-belge don't have artists like Andrews. It might be he hopes that hooters distract from the terrible style - which is perhaps best described as distressed photo-realism. Maybe it's a sexual thing, following Russ Meyer (NSFW). 

For most artists, the twisted pose shown on the cover (in which ass and breasts are on display) is the height of their exploitation poses. Andrews starts from there.  Apparently, the exercise of her powers involves bending over and pushing her boobies upwards.

Sure, Comics Aren't For Kids, and Warren Ellis has written stories that engage with both the violence and moral dilemmas of the superhero in ways that defy the good/evil morality shared by Superman and Fairy Tales. In Xenogenesis, he is reduced to being self-consciously shocking - Wolverine calls Nelson Mandela a terrorist, Africa is the impoverished continent that appears in appeals for charity donations, and a nativity scene that plays with racist stereotypes (these Africans are, like, so dumb about contraception).

He might have gotten away with it. Andrews' art draws attention to its laziness, neither following a sensual line that lessens the abrasively sexual representations, nor showing any sensitivity to female anatomy. Back in the conspiracy corner, it's rumoured that some comic book artists trace from pornographic magazines. I'm not a conspiracy theorist yet, because this mini-series is explained by that other broad historical theory. No-one involved could care less.

Friday, 27 May 2016

when critics go wild

Fair Points...

Bram replied to my moan that Tempest ain't subtle,
And I accept many points in his rebuttal.
He notes that her intention is to make people aware
That the worship of capital is a dangerous snare
And reading of theory is all very well
But fails to address the political hell
Engineered by the state and the media's spell.

By problem is not that she speaks of such things
Or the accent she uses or the way that she sings.
I agree that there's value in the ideas she teaches
Even if I don't like the way that she preaches.
I mean, I don't like it, it can't work for me
(My critique of her flow is hypocrisy)
But there are better examples of 'street' poetry.

You're right that the mainstream excludes those voices
Who suggest there is something past capitalist choices.
But I can't get beyond what I think is simplistic
The manner and poise of a old fashioned mystic
My anarchic distrust of rhetorical tropes
And onto an artist the placing of hopes
Makes activist groups complacent dopes.

The purpose of art might be to start the debate
And I dislike myself when I provide the hate
Of an artist who's working to clarify acts
Which dominant power wants accepted as facts.
I do take your point that her words might touch those
Who aren't already aware of the resistant prose
Of Chomsky or Pilger - that's bang on the nose.

But I'm asking for more, and a thoughtful critique
Are her complaints just another defeat.
However important her critique may be
Does she just talk to those who already agree?
Is art a steam valve to keep status quos stable?
Do I ever protest as well as I'm able?
But I'd rather hear tracks from the Black Lantern Label.