Friday, January 28, 2011

Obviously I didn't actually buy a bun for my blog...

I have begun to wonder how quickly this seems to come around. Possibly it worries more than my actual birthday (a week ago exactly, should you be wondering, though you most likely weren’t and, anyway, your complete ignorance of this probably makes you better off than the person who had me explain to them that whilst Christmas and my birthday might be relatively close and they might have made me an awesome and time consuming Christmas present this DOES NOT COUNT AS A PRESENT FOR BOTH. Unless, y’know, I’ve expressly stated/been told in advance of the 25th of December that this is the deal. And then they wonder why I HAVE A FACE ON.*). But it remains – today DA is six.

As it's traditional I now have to look back at the past year (realising in the process all the things I didn't blog). Last year, however, already has a blurry quality about it. There were some wonderful things: our little shop in Brixton, being in the Sunday Times, a blog post I wrote going mind-bendingly global and ending up in the Guardian (no, I did not mention that enough: it is a "brilliant corrective" people), possibly my favourite Latitude Festival ever (Daniel Kitson alone might have clinched it for me), the whole of August and Edinburgh Fringe and how emotional and brilliant and liver-busting that was, in general all of the theatre I saw (and there was a lot, I’ve not added up but I think I ended up around the 120 mark). I made some lovely new friends this year, possibly chief amongst them being BillyTheKid who I see so much of that Breakfast Club Boy has commented that if he were to die now at the very least he could say he’d achieved something by introducing us**.

There were momentous and yet unpleasant things. I stayed up all night with Arsenal Fan watching the election results in May. A few days later I cried when Gordon Brown resigned (as I tweeted at the time, history may or may not judge me but I liked him) and forced me to accept what I hoped was not coming. A few months later I stood outside Downing Street with hundreds of others on the day Osborne revealed the budget that is an ideological attack disguised as economic necessity. A month or so after that I was outside Milbank when the first protestors broke in. A month or so later still I was part of the crowd in Parliament Square who were charged at by Police Horses. The morning after that, as I sat on a packed commuter train headed for London Bridge and everyone sat reading the papers and their novels and listening to their music I wanted to scream and shout. Did they not realise what had happened? Did they not see children and young people being kettled on a bridge over the Thames in minus temperatures until almost midnight? Did they not realise how utterly betrayed we had been and how my world, in the most unexpected of ways, had shifted slightly.

Six weeks or so later a good friend told me, as we sat in the comfort of a warm pub in Leeds, that what had happened was hardly on his radar. That he certainly didn’t agree with why we had been there and, maybe, he didn’t really care. And I saw the faultline, mixed with my still raw autumn hurt, righteous anger and hardly concealed pride.

“How would I ever look at myself in the mirror if I don’t stand up for what I believe?” I said when what I really meant was – that I thought much less of him.

It almost rounded the year off in some neat way. Working in Brixton actually changed me slightly. It got me thinking about community and choice and our responsibilities as individuals. My fledgling quest to shop as independently a possible (I stopped buying books from chains or Amazon a couple of years ago) found its natural home with the UK Uncut movement (y’know I don’t miss TopShop at all. I miss Dotty Ps if we’re honest).

Then, because obviously the bad bits of 2010 weren’t just about my ideals (altruistic and selfless as I would like to claim I am****), there was the downright crappy bit of spending most of 2010 unsettled since I spent the grand total of five weeks of the year living in properties which weren’t either up-for-sale or sold. Let us be clear: it got REALLY SUCKY around March/April because of this, as well as making me really poor.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t mention how rubbishy it was at times with the stuff I almost got this year or the stuff that almost happened.

For the record, though, my getting an iPhone in July actually has changed my life a little bit. This may be both a positive and a negative.

And since we’re here and it’s nice to end a review of the year on a high note: I saw David Tennant manhandle a microphone stand whilst I sat mere inches away from him.

It’s odd, however, writing a review of the last year in DA’s life at this moment in time when I’m so firmly committed to what’s happening in the future. 2011 is already starting to take some sort of shape and there’s a big August shaped project that I’m both hugely excited by and rather a little flattered about being asked to be involved in (shush, don’t tell them I said that. I am aloof and professional and busy and important). I’ve a meeting next week about something I’ve written possibly being staged in the Autumn. I’m in the throes of a first draft of something very different to that project that I don’t yet hate. Plus – I have Liberty fabric to make my new computer cover out of and a ticket to see David Tennant in Much Ado.

It would be wrong of me, if only for posterity, not to mention that I sit writing this in my living room on the South Bank. Admittedly there’s going to be another move (sadly to somewhere that most likely won’t have a 24 hour porter who calls me “Madam”) but I’m rather content about that.

*Okay, so I wasn’t quite that bad. But I was bad enough that I felt the need to apologise the morning after. Repeatedly. The high maintenance badge I have is not entirely a joke.

**I’m not entirely sure he did introduce us (knowing the components at play I imagine BillyTheKid and I introduced ourselves) but it felt churlish to undermine the sentiment.***

***Which, obviously I have now done. Sorry.

****Stop laughing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Great Badge Challenge 2011

A couple of weeks ago I saw this in my twitter stream:
If you were paying attention you'll know that I visited the New Diorama as venue six of 52:52 (yes, I know I'm behind with writing up my venues - I'm on it). If it wasn't obvious I got a bit of a crush on them in the process. And do you know how thrilled I was when they won an award at the Peter Brook Awards? So thrilled I did a little dance around my living room (it's okay, Old Living Room was visible to no one. If I did that now half of Bankside's office block workers would see me). It even placated me after the Royal Court's innovation award for doing something that I did before them. Hmm.

Now not only do I love the ideas behind New Diorama (I'm not going to gush again - you can read me gushing here) I love how they've engaged with people on twitter. As a general twitter principle the smaller venues and companies could teach the big ones a lot. And I have to give New Diorama even further credit for noting the fact that i)I love badges and ii)I love a challenge. Basically they got me well and truly. I have to bow down to this.
Plus - a surprise prize! I am way too easy.

So, if you haven't understood the subtext here, I'm going to attempt to collect a full set of the Getting Connected Season badges. Game on.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sometimes you close your eyes/And see the place you used to live (A Year in Theatre: Show #3)

“Could someone explain what “It”, which is the same as “Tag”, is?” The boy James asks, all striped pyjamas and restless limbs.

BillytheKid stands up.

“Tell everyone [BillyTheKid]”

(I was going to write there that it strikes me at this point that BillyTheKid has a story appropriate name. But obviously BillyTheKid is not that name. So it’s not appropriate at all. But trust me – BillyTheKid’s actual moniker fits in brilliantly with this refracted Peter Pan world)

“It, or Tag, or Tig is a game where someone is nominated ‘It’, they then have to chase people trying to make physical contact, with the person they touch becoming ‘It’ in turn. This person then has to harass everyone else”.

Everyone clustered in Belt Up’s dark Edwardian study in the Southwark Playhouse vaults laughs.

“And now you have to pick someone to be It” The boy James says mischievously.

“The man looking comfortable in the tie”.

I look across the room. BillyTheKid has picked well. Comfortable Tie looks around for the comfortable man in the tie.

“Yes – you”. BillyTheKid emphasises.

“And now you’ve got to tag someone” The boy James says gleefully.

Comfortable Tie prods the woman next to him, who in turn prods the woman next to her.

“Okay, now you’re not allowed to tag the person sitting next to you”.

The boy James might have a point.

There’s more movement, more climbing over cushions and chairs and the collected paraphernalia of a Belt Up show.

And then the rules change – and suddenly everyone in the room is climbing over cushions trying not to be caught. Obviously a game such as this doesn’t exactly play to my strengths (but when your strengths involve sitting down and writing mildly amusing blog material there are very few physical games that play to them) and I’m caught within five seconds.

Which is how I end up standing in a star shape with my legs apart in the midst of Southwark Playhouse.

For the only way you can be freed is by someone crawling between your legs.

Suddenly I’m very glad I’m wearing very thick tights.

Once I've been freed and then tagged again and then freed again (look: I did say I was rubbish at this) the boy James announces that James is coming into the room and we must hide. I end up with a sofa cushion over my face as we all revert to the child-like 'I can't see you so you can't see me' rule of combat.

Maybe this is what captivates me most about The Boy James, as I sit peeking over my cushion. By removing our inhibitions and engaging our own lost selves Belt Up transports us back to the place before we walked away from our innocence. To some degree maybe that sums up what Belt Up always do.

It is never quite this funny or carefree for us again. The Boy James becomes a soundtrack to the melancholy of everything we lose as we grow up. James is fighting a battle we know he will lose - time itself proves to be as much a physical force as does the violent sexualisation that awaits him. The play is a little too ethereal to be entirely satisfying, a little too much is left half-whispered and half developed. There's been more than one suggestion of misogny (which writer Alexander Wright has been open enough to tackle) and it's true that as the play stands the Girl who invades the study is the most under-developed of the trio (Wright notes that he doesn't find Peter Pan misogynistic - neither do I but I do find it sexist, an important difference which is maybe where some of the problems of the Girl lie). But The Boy James burrowed its way into my head, a half-remembered poem that I felt more than I understood.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A bee in my bonnet (A Year in Theatre: Show #2)

Maybe I was being a little harsh when I posted the following on twitter (not to mention: HEAR THE SUBTEXT THAT I AM CURRENTLY LIVING ON THE SOUTH BANK):But, y'know, it truly was the thing that excited me most about the entire evening.

Theatre can be (and should be) many things. I got my fair degree of mocking whilst doing my MA for the fact that I adore Stoppard and Shakespeare (and have a deeply unfashionably in new work circles penchant for David Hare). I have loved (and cried at) many a musical. In 2010 I fell in love with Mike Bartlett and Belt Up and Little Bulb and Bryony Kimmings and Daniel Kitson and the TEAM and Stan's Cafe. My ultimate favourite show of the year was the one man Invisible Atom (just edging in front of the epic Earthquakes in London). The shorthand version of this: I'm less biased about theatre sub-genres than a lot of theatregoers (and certainly a lot of makers).

But - and this is my big but - I have to care about why you're putting on this play now. And the reason might be as simple (or as big) as this will transport and suprise and delight you. But there's got to be a reason. Otherwise - why should I care? And, moreover, I'm going to sit there going YOU ARE SPENDING MONEY ON THIS?

I suspect that I would prefer to sit through a glorious failure than a well made-nothing.

And when it came down to it A Flea in Her Ear just wasn't funny or charming or delighful enough for me to think it in anyway justified in answer to a 'why?'. The plot hardly matters - though there's the requisite amounts of doors and confusion and misunderstandings, complete with a good dollop of extra-martial sex. There's also a bit of supposed humour directed at a character with a speech impediment which, as well as being mildly offensive, isn't actually funny and was greeted by the kind of auditorium silences that are a little painful. As expected down at the Old Vic the sets are glorious and, well, that really is the extent of my interest.

[As a totally superficial footnote, probably as a result of the fact that we should go to the theatre less, I have an ongoing debate with some friends about which theatre has the best looking ushers. Two words: Old Vic]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

May contain tie dye.

I'm not entirely proud to say that the following was born out of competitive present giving. I was going on about the things I was making as Christmas presents and Breakfast Club Boy responded with both a 'pah' (though more energetically depicted) and "that's easy". And then he suggested that, so easy was it, that we should make each other a cushion as a Christmas present, the key being it had to be made to the taste of the recipient and not the maker.

And then he mentioned tie dye and I had to go outside and get some air.

Once I'd recovered (some time later) I was forced to ask: "Where do you buy tie dye?"

Obviously BCBoy wouldn't tell me (apparently that would be CHEATING) so obviously I looked on the internet (whilst wearing dark glasses). And y'know what? There is lot of overpriced tie dye out there. WHO BUYS IT? WHO? And even making my own (oh, the shame) wasn't looking exactly cheap. (Plus I was worried about the level of embarassment I'd have to endure if it transpired that I couldn't actually do tie dye)

So I did the only thing I could: I went to Lewisham.

To give Lewisham's fabulous Rolls and Rems credit, it had many beautiful fabric examples. It also had this:

Obviously when I was buying it I had to hold in the need to go "it's not for me, y'know".

Then I set about actually making something with the bloody stuff. It was suggested to me by Dean at this point that I should take photos and pretend I'm a craft blogger. Ha! Welcome to 2011 at DA.

Obviously that's not the tie dye. That's an old dress of mine. That I bought in Oxford during all of that Summer 2007 stuff. So not weird at all. In an attempt to impose some coordination on the whole project I decided to patchwork the front with this and the tie day and squares with tie dye applique. Twenty five 10 cm by 10cm squares if you were wondering (you most likely weren't).

And letter stencils, because, remember, this is a COMPETITION.

There was some stressing whilst working what shapes I could feasibly create relating to things which BCBoy likes. As competition busting as it would have been, I don't think I've quite got the stamina to applique David Bowie's face. I'd like BCBoy to work on liking football and flowers for next year. Also: I'm not sure he likes maple leaves as much as it is an easy cultural stereotype. I don't think there's an English easy-shape equivalent (for which I'm glad).

As someone who is pretty non-plussed by animals in general I'm bewildered by the number of cat people in my life (note the capitalisation there: not Cat People because Russell T Davies never made me the tenth Doctor's Assistant). Anyway, BCBoy likes cats more than he likes humans.

That's a special button right there. It's from Duttons for Buttons ,York branch (as are all the other buttons used on the cushion) which is pretty much a Yorkshire institution. The beads are from my own collection. Also I realised whilst doing this that it's all about the placing when this shape could be a cat or a pig or an owl. I'm not sure that's a true reflection on life.

And then I started sewing the patchwork together. Which is both cathartic and something you can carry in your handbag and do in your lunch break. I'm noting the irony here that after one of my line manager's saw me doing this during a break he said I was talented. Brilliant. Since working there I've written plays, got an MA, turned an empty shop into performance venue, been in the Sunday Times and talked about Shakespeare A LOT, but cut out some squares and cat faces and throw in some sewing and bam! Wow, if only I'd known it was that easy...

This is the part where I'd fail as a craft blogger because I forgot to take a photo of the whole, adding backing of tie dye fabric in an inside-out manner, before turning the cushion cover the right way malarky. But, well, I sewed on the backing of tie dye fabric in an inside-out manner before turning the cushion cover the right way.

And then I popped in my cushion insert (bought at Chiltern Mills, Crossgates branch - which is an East Leeds institution for myself and Dean if for no one else). A few more stiches to close it up - and then we have a fully functioning cushion. In tie dye.

(As a footnote if anyone needs tie dye material I've got some going cheap)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Much Ado About Delfont Mackintosh

“If I were in charge everyone who was interested in a ticket would be made to submit the number of plays they’d seen in the last year, along with the number of Shakespeare productions they’d seen in this period, this would be put into some complex algorithm and would result in people getting tickets in an orderly and fair manner. Under this we’d have got our tickets at 9:00am THIS MORNING”.

It’s not, I confess, the most equal access of theatre policies but, some times – like when you’re trying to get a ticket for PunchDrunk (no, I haven’t got over the fact that I – Duchess of Malfi obsessive – could not get a ticket to their version) – it would make it all seem a lot fairer.

When the event in question is David Tennant starring in Much Ado About Nothing it would make both everything fairer and stop me having an aneurism.

Initial excitement (The rumours are true! DT on stage! Playing Benedick! [Those of you who were paying attention back in 2005 will know I started this blog on a computer named Benedick so, obviously, this is glorious in many ways]) quickly gave way to OH MY FUCKING GOD, IF I SEE THAT DELFONT MANCKINTOSH “THIS WEBSITE IS DOWN” SCREEN AGAIN I WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MY ACTIONS.

Because, let me not over state this, my day largely consisted of THAT SCREEN. Most likely I will never again be able to book anything from Delfont Mackintosh website lest I am overcome with the memories and forced to bash my head repeatedly against the nearest sharp object whilst sobbing “BUT YOU TOLD ME I HAD SEATS. YOU TOLD ME. FIFTEEN TIMES. AND I BELIEVED YOU. EVERY SINGLE TIME”.

CAN YOU HEAR ME CAMERON MACKINTOSH? Invest in some better servers. And a ‘choose your own seats seating plan’. IT’S 2011.

And you know what made this worse? When one of the DT feeds I follow on twitter (Oi, do not laugh, I am serious and professional and theatrey, but I follow feeds that tell me things like when I can watch the 76th repeat of The Satan Pit because we all have quirks and this is [one of] mine) said things like “Oh, you’re all getting through now”. Because you know what? I WAS NOT GETTING THROUGH. Neither was Val who, in our co-ordinated and well honed attack, had spent the day looking at that screen and being cut off by Delfont Mackintosh phone lines.

Thus it is 5:47pm, there are still no tickets and I am marching down the South Bank TALKING ABOUT FAIRNESS ALGORITHMS.

[If, as a side note, you’re wondering about the frequency of capital letters around here today I can only say – THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO CONVEY MY DAY. TODAY HAS BEEN A NO VOLUME CONTROL, CAPS LOCK DAY]

But, and it’s a nice but, I did that most retro of things, walked to the Wyndhams Box Office, stood in line for about 30 seconds, spoke to a REAL LIVE HELPFUL BOX OFFICE PERSON who checked availability and was funny and sympathetic and not at all phased by the level of crazy she must have encountered during the day (not least from me) and then, a couple of hundred pounds lighter and after the payment system went down just once more for old time’s sake, I came out with these:


I now think all teddy bears are evil (A Year in Theatre: Show #1)

“Next to the aisle – easy escape” BillyTheKid notes.

I tut, exhale sharply and roll my eyes (all at the same time) because this is a continuation of a debate I seem to be having with worrying regularity. Breakfast Club Boy and I loudly disagreed about it whilst getting semi lost in Edinburgh and now I am riffing on the theme with BillyTheKid.

For – I have never left a theatre performance before it has finished.

(For the record I have never been late for the start of a show either, though I have left to go to the toilet – and returned then to the auditorium – once when I got drunk even before arriving for Opera North’s no-interval Orfeo)

I have numerous reasons for this stance, some of them in practical terms of what I see to be the deal with free/review tickets – ie that I stay. My theoretical constraints, however, are probably even stronger. Many of these can be summed up by the “COMMITMENT” response I provided back in Edinburgh but chief amongst them is the belief that if I left I might miss the one moment that would have made a production worth seeing. And how can you truly judge something if you haven’t seen it all?

And, yes, not-leaving is a thing. A thing I’m quite proud about.

My companion for Get Santa, however, has been quick to label this as extreme foolishness and thus has threatened to adjourn to the bar at the first sign of expectations not being met.

Needless to say – I do not approve.

My own expectations for Anthony Neilson’s Get Santa, however, were quite high. Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, on reflection, has claimed its place in my top ten new plays of this century. See – I liked it so much I listed it in a hypothetical list I have yet to write. Inventive and clever and horrific and ambitious and funny and unexpected and poignant – I do not have enough superlatives for it. Which is a lot to live up to. Especially when it’s twelfth night and I’m watching a Christmas show at 5.00pm already infused with at least three times the amount of coffee I should be allowed in any one day and have donated a plus one to someone threatening to leave at the interval.

Holly Finnegan (Imogen Doel) is ten years old. Every year she asks Santa to bring her real Dad (who she has never met) back. Every year this present fails to materialise and thus Holly hates Christmas. This year, however, she’s concocted an elaborate plan with all the inventive resourcefulness of a textbook childhood heroine – she’s going to capture Santa.

And y’know what? I needn’t have worried about high expectations. Get Santa flashes with invention and magic and darkness and delicious danger. You might well see where the moral of the story is going from the beginning (acceptance, appreciating those who love you and the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes and no version is “normal” make it an unexpectedly satisfying fable for today) but you can’t guess how we’re getting there. Neilson pops in the odd fart joke or two but there’s no talking down to his audience – forget “children’s theatre” this is simply theatre, engaging, beautifully written and gloriously realised. There’s a real appreciation for secret worlds and adventures and possibilities that don’t stop when you’re no longer a child. Plus I had thought that my “favourite bears in theatre” list had been topped by Avenue Q’s Bad Idea Bears but Get Santa has a Bear of such joyous moral-free spirit that there might be some competition at the top. Indeed his Justin Bieber vitriol earned him claps from both myself and BillyTheKid (who, it turns out, didn’t need prompting to stay after the interval).

My favourite moment though? Forced to choose if having her father back is worth there being no more Christmases, a child in the audience shouted out “Don’t do it Holly”. If all theatre could evoke such commitment from its audiences I’d be there every night.