Saturday, 28 February 2015

Fandom? Fannydom more like

As someone who critiques a medium often associated with fandoms (that's the comic book strand), I have a deep suspicion of the value of genre-based enthusiasm. In my own past, I have the memory of a slavish devotion to Swans, a band who have re-emerged and are currently making a journey to the heart of Michael Gira's ego. Given the size of the ego, they release albums that last longer than a Wagnerian opera and, despite moments of profound ecstasy, often slip into a parody of the expansive, orchestral rock that punk was supposed to have destroyed. 

The problem with fandom came to me while watching Clown - since it was part of the Glasgow Film Festival's Frightfest, I imagined it would be an example of how post-modern tropes had rescued horror from its garish stupidity. As it turned out, its a compilation of stupid, garish tropes, with a clown demon running about, killing kids and generally drooling multicoloured blood and saliva. It's unconvincing, mostly filmed in the dark to hide the special effects and has a nasty undercurrent that occludes the lack of genuine terror. It is a series of set-pieces that a horror fan can recognise, like a jazz fan stroking their beard over a particular chord change.

At the same time, I am grinding through Kim Newman's Jago, a doorstop of a novel that showcases Newman's smarts (through a character doing a PhD about end-time fiction) and terrible writing style (he stumbles over prepositions and fits nouns with verbs that do not match). He sets the action in Somerset - which gets him bonus points - but forces too many stories into the narrative and frequently does sexy bits that are as erotic as watching a farmer shove his penis into the soil (which is the scene that I have just read).

Jago and Clown are poor, and they are protected by a fandom. The deep awareness of a particular medium or genre's tropes, the sensitivity to the tiniest detail is fandom's strength, but it encourages apology for poor aesthetics. In the world of comics, any serious reader would have stopped pissing their cash up the wall of the X-Men franchise in about 2004: yet the fandom remains, happy to keep it going and debate (with some irritation) the relative quality of recent writers' takes on Cyclops or Emma Frost. 

There is nothing wrong with liking a particular genre, but to make that the foundation of a cultural identity bothers me. It's not the cosplay or the social events (I rather like them), but the willingness to accept weak art because it is within a genre. Take Star Wars: at this point, most people would admit that half of the films associated with the franchise are atrocious (and let's not talk about the expanded universe). Yet people are still getting excited about the new film. 

Funnily enough, I have a love for many genres: science fiction (PK Dick, Lem), horror (Clive Barker (Books of Blood), Lovecraft), superhero comics (and not just Alan Moore). But, perhaps because I am a critic, I do not want to defend the outlying crap that smuggles itself into popularity by virtue of playing to a fandom. 

(By the way, this is offered up to debate. I think fandom has more to it than my rhetorical blast, and I hope, one day, a conversation will start on my blog.)

Arts Graduates Get It Wrong Again...

As most people are aware, an organisation that has been called ISIS, ISIL and The Islamic State is running a muck in the middle east. This organisation, probably using weaponry that can be traced back to western governments, is using propaganda and extreme violence to establish itself as a legitimate nation based on (what I would call) a corrupted and perverse interpreation of Islamic doctrine.
ISIL's original look was rejected  as retro

Until recently, my little social media bubble has rarely been troubled by ISIL's antics (I prefer not to call them a 'state' or ISIS, because one adds strength to their claims, the other is better related to an Egyptian goddess. Besides, ISIL sounds like a brand of washing powder). A few people complained when they threw people off a building (punishment for their sexuality), but the wider activities of ISIL have remained in the newspapers and have not clogged up my Facebook feed.

Until yesterday, when that video of ISIL smashing up ancient art caused howls of outrage. ISIL are now scum, and someone even said that 'art is my religion', suggesting that here was an action that was blasphemous.

Luckily, that magic dress turned up, and the feed calmed down to its usual apolitical meanderings.

To be clear, I am an idiot. I don't pay attention to the violence in the middle east because it is too complicated, with moral responsibility being difficult to identify: is this the result of Bush and Blair destabilising the region? Is it an inevitable expression of Islamicist philosophy? Where did all those guns come from?

To be even more clear, getting outraged by the smashing of statues, having not given a shit about the human cost of ISIL's adventures, having remained quiet at the radicalisation of young people by a vicious and immoderate politicised religion, having ignored the genocide of the Yazidis, reveals a moronic and immoral attitude towards human values. 

I like a bit of art, and I can see that the whole ISIL is a massive conceptual piece. It's gone a bit far, but the illusion of their power is maintained by sensitive use of social media. The releases of them chucking gay men off buildings, beheading hostages, taking Derrida's injunction to deconstruct art a bit too literally: these are more effective than shooting people in establishing ISIL as the big bad of the twenty-first century. 

For a group who get accused of being medieval, their marketing department puts Nike to shame. 

Returning to the point, I am getting angry about people getting angry on social media. Anyone ever read Baudrillard on the simulacra?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Fleabag, Sanitised and Denton and Me

There is an undercurrent of sexual anxiety that tugs at the characters in Fleabag, Sanitised and Denton and Me. Whether it is the post-war illegality of homosexuality of Denton, the loneliness of Me in the flesh-pots of London, the Fleabag's uptight nymphomania or Sanitised clean and dirty fantasies, sexual desire both confuses and frightens, even as the characters come to an understanding of themselves. 

All three shows are solo performances - Denton and Me and
Fleabag being monologues, Sanitised  physical theatre without a word but plenty of AV tricks - and they all focus on an individual's relationship to sex. Sanitised broadens its scope by using cleaning as a metaphor for one woman's attempt to cleanse her life - Lorna Irvine points out that the entire piece could be seen as a play on the word 'scrubber' - while Denton has a deep historical sensitivity, linking contemporary ennui with earlier, more urgent, anguish. Fleabag, meanwhile, is a more comic take with a protagonist who, nevertheless, kills with the force of her promiscuity.

The idea that validation - or for Denton and Me, an escape from alienation - can come through sex is explored from three distinct angles. Perhaps because of its wordlessness, Sanitised includes sex (represented by red high heels and a basque) as part of a general meditation on the life of the modern woman: hidden in her bathroom, her cleaning routines become a kind of social performance, as she discovers filth, delights it in, then is overcome by shame and gets to work removing it. 

The pain in Denton is shared between three characters (including
the protagonist's aging family friend who seems adrift in regret), and covers both the threat of a state that criminalises desire and a more contemporary alienation from gay culture. Fleabag, meanwhile, resolves itself into a recognition that the heroine is unable to accept herself without sexual validation.

What emerges from the three works is like a trilogy of frustration - sex, which was supposed to have been made uncomplicated (much of Fleabag revels in passionate encounters) remains a dark, complicated event, full of guilt and longing. 

Adult content policy on Blogger

Oh great.

Starting March 23, 2015, you won't be able to publicly share images and videos that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger.

Do I have any 'graphic nudity' on my blog? I have no idea - what does the term mean? Here is why I hate censorship like this - it is so vague that I am worried some of my posts about Fifty Shades are going to get banned.

Note: We’ll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit. For example, in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.

This is the kind of lovely clause that is supposed to show that the censorship is enlightened, but just muddies the waters. 

Changes you’ll see to your existing blogs
If your existing blog doesn't have any sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video on it, you won’t notice any changes.

If it is just about images, I think I am clear - but that doesn't mean I am happy about these changes. There is a lack of precision in the definition - this is censorship without detail, a blanket ban that is possibly unworkable. 

If your existing blog does have sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video, your blog will be made private after March 23, 2015. No content will be deleted, but private content can only be seen by the owner or admins of the blog and the people who the owner has shared the blog with.

Settings you can update for existing blogs

If your blog was created before March 23, 2015, and contains content that violates our new policy, you have a few options for changing your blog before the new policy starts:
Remove sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video from your blog
Mark your blog as private

If you’d rather take your blog down altogether, you can export your blog as a .xml file or archive your blog's text and images using Google Takeout.
Effect on new blogs

For any blogs created after March 23, 2015, we may remove the blog or take other action if it includes content that's sexually explicit or shows graphic nudity as explained in our content policy.

Theatre and Science and Rambles

If this blog has a theme, it is confusion. Sure, I do the odd review that makes grand statements about theatre, and throw around critical theories like a chimp chucking faeces, but I am determined that I perform my confusion in public: a kind of antidote to the shower of perfect lifestyle choices that serve for Facebook status updates. 

If I am not confused, I am not paying attention. 

If you fancy a critic who is more certain, try every print publication ever.

This week, I have seen a play that reminded me of theatre's immediacy, wit and power, and a play that made me worry that theatre is slipping slowly into a self-indulgent oblivion. But I am also interested in the Cambridge Science Festival's programme of Science Theatre: a musical about Darwin, a three-hander about Newton (which does not balk at Mr Gravity's religious beliefs) and a solo piece about OCD. 

Although I have frequently found theatrical explorations of science to be either trivial or too dense (even the wonderful Plan B faltered in their attempt on quantum physics through dance, and the less said about Wayne McGregor's Wellcome Institute funded routines the better), the valiant desire to use theatre as a medium for public discussion of ideas is admirable. 

Of course, the cinema likes to have a go at this, too: the controversial Oscar victory for that bloke who did Stephen Hawkings in The Theory of Everything, that one where Darwin got all upset about his dead daughter  and developed the theory of Natural Selection between depressive bouts of grieving. However, these are usually self-conscious displays of intelligence by an industry that is usually too stupid to understand complex narrative techniques, and ends up being hagiography for the Big White Males of Science.

If these plays in Cambridge are any good, though, they can perform a dual service. They can remind theatre that it is a medium that can tell more intriguing stories than another bout of First World Problems. Then they can give audiences a taste of how science works, and offer up the ideas of Natural Selection et al for the iconic 'chat in the bar after'. 

If science has any purpose other than being a badge of pride for people who once read half of a book by Richard Dawkins, then it could be a guide to thinking about the world around us.

If theatre had any purpose beyond providing work for languid graduates of the humanities, it could be as a vehicle for energising public debate.

Curtain-up for science-based theatre

From the intimate lives of Newton and Darwin to personal accounts of obsessive compulsive disorder and the first humans on Mars, a choice of new and profound science-based theatre brings a dramatic edge to this year’s Cambridge Science Festival (9-22 March).

Isaac Newton… heretic, alchemist, genius. On Thursday 12 March in Let Newton Be! (commissioned by the Faraday Institute), the complex and controversial character of Sir Isaac Newton, a devout, difficult, obsessive man who sought and believed he had found God in universal laws of light and motion, will be brought to life. Theatrical, entertaining and informative, the play provides an alternative way to see the world of Newton; it explores the life and thoughts of a genius whose scientific theories still provide the foundations for our understanding of the Universe today.

Newton is well-known as an iconic figure, but as a man, he remains a mystery to many. Award-winning playwright Craig Baxter shows how Newton’s religious worldview was intimately involved in the process of discovery. The play uses only Newton's words and those of his contemporaries to tell the story of his passionate pursuit to understand the Universe. Let Newton Be! is a verbatim play with a script drawn entirely from letters, notes, published and unpublished works.

The show is directed by Patrick Morris (Associate Artistic Director of Menagerie) and uses three actors – all playing the part of Newton – with video and clever stage design by Issam Kourbaj (Artist in Residence at Christ’s College, Cambridge) to bring Newton alive for a 21st century audience. Theatrically simple and powerful, three incarnations of Newton battle with each other for their place in history.

Trained as a scientist himself, playwright Craig Baxter weaves a compelling narrative to show Newton in many different lights.

Speaking about his experience directing the show, Patrick Morris, said: “Let Newton Be! takes the public and private writings of Isaac Newton and distills that into theatre. A near-impossible task, as Newton was never known for neat dramatic phrasing. Playwright Craig Baxter took the challenge on, coming up with an inspired approach to creating a believable character from such a dislikeable, self-centred man. Not content with writing one Newton for the stage, Baxter created three. He imagines Newton as a curious young boy, an obsessively driven experimenter, and a confident, powerful public figure. The three co-exist and interact, allowing the audience to see Newton in the company of the person he trusted most in the world - himself.

“For a director, this is a gift: it allows me to be playful and wide-ranging in how we represent this most iconic of scientific figures. The production is essentially a playground for Newton's mind, using all the theatrical elements of words, light, movement, sound and image. We see and hear the ideas, the struggles and the questions, but we also feel the beating heart of a human being who remains controversial and mysterious 300 years after his death.”

Alongside new dramatic works, such as This Room, the Cambridge Science Festival is also excited to have Curious Directive, 2014 Fringe First winners, as theatre company in residence. On Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 March, Curious Directive return to the Cambridge Junction with their multimedia sci-fi thriller, Pioneer, a poignant tale of the first humans on Mars. Millions of kilometres from Earth, a young couple slowly uncover the true nature of their mission.

The show is set in 2029. The first human mission to Mars disappeared without a trace and a reclusive Indian billionaire has funded Ghara I, a new attempt. In Siberia, two Russian brothers reconnect by driving a Lada Sputnik 1.3 in search of the birth of space travel. At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, Maartje holds onto a secret about her sister. On Mars, Imke and Oskar, a young Dutch couple, are mysteriously separated. Pioneer shuttles you from the Garden of Eden to mission control and onto the surface of Mars.

The first night will be followed by a post-show discussion with the scientific collaborator on the project, Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiology research scientist, presenter and author.

Denton and Me


The three artists presenting work in March were selected from 18 scratch performances in 2014 (which in turn had been selected from almost 100 proposals to perform at DRUNKEN NIGHTS). The final three received a career-changing package of development support throughout January and February 2015, with residencies at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green and Live at LICA in Lancaster. They received a small budget, production support and mentoring sessions with established artists. Mentors included Louise Mari (founding member of Shunt, and creator of Nigel & Louise’s Basement Grotto), Jon Haynes (founder and joint director of Ridiculusmus, currently touring The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland) and Andy Smith (solo performer and collaborator with Tim Crouch - most recently on Adler & Gibb at the Royal Court Theatre).

Sheena Holliday, Co-Director of Drunken Chorus says: ‘This project is different to what a lot of people think of as ‘pub theatre’ - we’re not hidden away upstairs or in a back room - we’re right there in the bar, where the rules of theatre don’t apply and anything can happen. The events are free and anyone can just turn up on the night, so we get lots of unsuspecting drinkers and passers by. We love the sense of risk that creates.’

Events are compered by the Non Applicables, who were supported in the first year of DRUNKEN NIGHTS, with their Guide To The Perfect Night Out, and have since performed at festivals and events around the country. They now return to guide audiences through the latest series of pub performances.

This is the third year of the project, which is once again supported by Arts Council England, with continued support from Rich Mix in London, and new partners making the project possible in the North-West - Live at LICA and Lancaster Arts City.

Image Credit: Sheena Holliday

Drunken Chorus is a contemporary performance company based in London. Under the direction of Chris Williams and Sheena Holliday, the company creates a range of theatre shows and events in London, around the UK and abroad. Whilst the company's work often changes dramatically from one project to the next, it has at its core a strong visual style. The work often plays with theatrical landscapes through text, soundscapes and movement sequences. Drunken Chorus are constantly seeking to explore new ground, to find new ways of making work - from text-based comedy, to a wordless horror performance - nothing is ever off the table!

The Venues
The George Tavern:

Rich Mix:

Wagon & Horses:

Live at LICA:

The Mentors
Louise Mari:

Andy Smith:

Jon Haynes:


Wed 15 July 2015, 8.30pm. Tickets £18.50

Live from the Ancient Theatre of Taormina in Sicily comes this stunning production of Carmen as part of the Festival Euro Mediterraneo. 

Each summer, the Teatro Antico in Taormina is home to the Taormina Arts festival. Since its construction in 7th century BC, audiences have feasted their eyes on the views of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna that provide a dramatic backdrop for this stunning arena stage. 

Best known for his operas in a career cut short by his early death, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire. This event presents the opportunity to enjoy the classic opera on Scotland’s biggest cinema.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

From the Archives: Janis Claxton interview

Just before Chaos and Contingency took to the road, I watched a rehearsal from the roof at Dance Base. Afterwards, Janis Claxton  spoke to me about the work and her process.

Watching the rehearsal from the roof, two things struck me
immediately: the quality of movement portrayed by the dancers and the way that the very complex mathematical patterns played out so eloquently. Starting with the dancers first -  where did you find them?

They had the softness of tai chi movement and the understated yet confident precision of tango dancers...
I would say the dancers and I found each other - in places between Scotland, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Australia and China. They are a great team and the reason for the unique combination of both softness and precision is to do with training, and a specific kinaesthetic intelligence that I look for and nurture in dancers. 

I am committed to the premise that ease and precision don't have to be enemies and I think this is what you are hitting on in your observations. A lot of contemporary dance is very muscle bound and ridged and this is very popular in the UK. People have a tendency to see 'virtuosity' as legs and arms flinging everywhere with effort, but actually it takes a lot more kinaesthetic intelligence to combine ease and precision than to stick a leg up high in the air with tension. 

So I need to work with a certain kind of dancer who can handle tension and ease in the same muscle group, in the same moment. Chinese dancers have a natural predisposition towards this way of moving. In general their bodies are softer than Westerners and because of a very long and arduous training they can also do the tension. For me the exquisiteness is in the balance and in juxtaposing both. 

Watching that video of the performance on vimeo, I did love the costumes - it is a beautiful red. You are confident in using every aspect of dance to its full measure - the costume, the dance, the space itself. At what point does the costume design come in to the process?

The costume design was early on in the process. As the work is so much about design the costumes were really vital for this work. The designer Matthias Strahm came to watch our work in progress in April 2012 and we began discussions. We (the dancers included as I run a pretty democratic company) decided we wanted gender neutral, extremely elegant costumes to match the grand spaces. I think red was decided quite early although Matthias embellished this with the two tones which I love. 

A lot of measurements were emailed between China and the UK and the costumes were pretty much designed by Jan 21st when the Chinese dancers arrived. However Matthias (who used to be a dancer and really knows his stuff!) came to watch a lot of rehearsals to create the individual aspects for each dancer. The changes in each costume are very subtle but really make the difference. (Costuming also involved a lot of shopping in Beijing last summer with JCD female dancers which was fun to say the least!)

 And the music - I know that you have a strong relationship with the composer. How did you get him involved in this project - when does the music get composed - do you choreograph to it, or add it afterwards?
I first worked with Philip Pinsky on Grid Iron/Lung Has show Huxley's Lab in 2010. I then asked him to work on Humanimalia so this is our third project together and hopefully there will be many more as I love his music and he is great to work with. The wonderful thing with Philip and the way he works with us is that he is in the studio with us a most of the time. It's fantastic and we really interweave the process together as we go. He is right there composing and contributing his ideas as the dancers and I are creating the material. He is an integral part of this process and it really shows in the concurrent dynamics of the music and the dance.

I know that the performance doesn't require Higher mathematics, but I am intrigued to find out about some of the mathematical patterns you are using... are fractals and cellular automatons part of the inspiration for this?
Yes we are using mathematical structures, games and number patterns as inspiration for creating both material and especially structure. I have been inspired by Jon Conway's ''Game of Life'' which is a cellular automaton as well as Fractals, number palindromes and also some composition ideas inspired by Brian Eno. 

We have worked with 'chaos' and the idea that making a small change in a structure or material can yield wildly different results. We have also been strict about staying true to the original set of conditions as a premise for what constitutes chaos rather than just total messy change. Its been fun. But we could change the name of the work to Chaos and Counting!

I saw parallels with the way that the dance evolves and the sort
of patterns that come from this old internet programme which imitates the process of evolution. Was that a conscious choice - either the analogy with the computer programme of the theory of natural selection imposing complexity onto simple patterns?

I don't know what program you are talking about. But the week we began this research The New Scientist had a front page and article about Fractals and evolution! 

We were also working on all the Human Animal stuff so .. connections alert ....


Monday, 23 February 2015

Three Types of Culture

BEHAVIOUR FESTIVAL 2015: 8th April – 17th May 2015

Lucy Mason, Acting Artistic Director of The Arches:

“There’s no question that last year was a monumental one for Glasgow. As ever though, we’re looking forward, marching onward and, because it’s BEHAVIOUR, getting wayward. In this, the sixth year of the festival, we invite artists and audiences to respond to a changing world, exploring their visions of- and for- The Future.”

Behaviour has become a highlight in the Glasgow performance calendar over the past six years. I'll try to ignore any hyperbole, because it is all about 'expanded theatre' and 'live art', which deserves serious appraisal not wild claims. 

2015 being Glasgow City Council’s Year of Green, there is a clear environmental strand to the festival and BEHAVIOUR has teamed up with and the Botanic Gardens for an off-site work with Amy Sharrocks which considers our relationship with water. Forest Fringe co-founder Andy Field will present a project with Blackfriars Primary School, which provokes questions about the future of our urban landscapes.

I regard myself as being up on what is going on in Glasgow but has anyone heard that 2015 is the Year of Green? I have seen nothing to make me think that it is... 

Interrogating our cultural trajectory are Platform 18 Award Winner Ishbel McFarlane, BEHAVIOUR favourites Gob Squad and Japanese contemporary artist Sako Kojima, all digging into cultural futures. Peter McMaster and Christopher Brett Bailey present extreme, energetic work that explores human nihilism.

Hold on. What the hell does 'interrogating our culture trajectory' mean? I know what 'our' means - this is something to do with 'us'. In fact, I know what the words mean by themselves. Together - is it something to do with looking at the way our society is moving? 

Are 'cultural futures' a thing now? That's enough for the moment. Bored with the hyperbole. Gob Squad are great - intelligent and playful, a combination that I love, while Pete McMaster was behind the successful reconstruction of Wuthering Heights, so that has my attention. I'll find out more about the other artists in the next few weeks, I guess. 

You Need Tough Love

Although Tough Love is on in Edinburgh, it has the sparky iconoclasm that Glasgow used to have, before the city council realised that art could be a tourist attraction. It takes its cues from the 'Scratch Night' (an event that features works in progress and theatre as it is being made), but curator Lewis Sherlock is going for a more... dynamic... audience engagement. 

19th March 7.30pm
Woodland Creatures, Leith Walk, Edinburgh.

Cost: Pay what you want.

Tough Love is a social event blended with an alternative Scratch Night. It offers a platform for performers and makers to try out new and risky ideas, with attendees deciding if they're worthy of attention.

Forget the formality, feedback and function of the ordinary scratch event. You need pay no heed if what happens is not of interest to you and are welcome to try an assortment of distractions for your pleasure. Our performers are self reliant risk takers who have applied for the chance of indifference. The feint hearted will not be accepted. They crave your Tough Love.


Voice Box Theatre
Escape from Wonderland

Trapped on the wrong side of the looking glass, Alice is desperate and determined to escape. This sick circus variety number will be shocking and might be offensive to some.

Voice Box Theatre has been providing beginner to professional support, training and performance opportunities to circus practitioners and performing artists since 2009. They are a multidisciplinary company, dedicated to creating experimental and challenging performances, along with having as much fun as possible. That said, this is not a typical example of their work and we expect to be surprised.

PUNCH'N'JUDYMANby Calum MacAskill

A durational walkabout-installation
performance exploring nostalgia and primal fears. Let the PUNCH'N'JUDYMAN bring back your childhood days of Summer... and despair.

Since graduating from the Adam Smith Physical Theatre Diploma course, he has also created and performed in many large costume solo performances at the Arches, Glasgow and Summerhall, Edinburgh, his most noteworthy to date being MINOTAUR/MONITOR which utilised a massive bull-head mask to explore mental/physical disability and emasculation through Greek myths.

by David Gillan:

"Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces"

- Sigmund Freud

David Gillan is a performance maker and
designer who combines art and illusion to look at a plethora of social, philosophical and psychological issues.

David also works as a professional magician and is currently studying Contemporary Performance Practice at Glasgow's Royal Conservatoire.

'Who/Here' by Rebecca Green

Who/Here is an interactive performance poem based on a list of questions that the people in the room are invited to answer by raising their hand.

Finally, the work of Klaus Pinter in the form of activities to thoroughly distract you as an audience member- bringing subversive in a way that defies the usual art practice, Pinter brings you 'Project Dance.

Klaus Pinter, born in 1940 in Schärding / Upper Austria, was co-founder of the Haus-Rucker-Co. (Vienna, Dusseldorf) and Haus-Rucker-Inc. (NCY). After seven years of New York and perennial stays in Bonn and Belgrade Pinter lives in Vienna and Paris.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How to get on The Vile Arts' Shit List

I regard myself as a gentle soul, prone to occasional tantrums. The gentle soul has removed all references to specific companies: the tantrum begins now. 

1. Forget to send me a press release.
There is nothing that I love more than finding out about a production via a poster on the wall at the CCA, or a post on Facebook. It makes me feel that you really care about the media, and that you want to receive some kind of review or preview to help you sell tickets and raise your public profile. The only thing you could do to make me even more enthusiastic about your work is to moan that the media are ignoring you, because they haven't featured you in their publications. 

Alternatively: send me a polite email - and follow it up if I don't reply - and use my guide to The List's listing process to get my attention.

2. Send me a pdf press release.
There is a metric ton of churnalism on my blog, and it allows me to tinker vaguely with design when I am warming up to write an article. So it's totes amazeballs when I get a document that I cannot cut and paste: make it at least five pages long, with quotes from everyone involved, because I love trying to work out how to extract the information. Don't add an image, because I would much rather trawl through Google images to find a thumbnail of you. And if you must send an image, make sure it's the same one everyone else has.  
Alternatively: send a range of images and a brief, precise description with dates and extra material on the event underneath, and offer to do an interview via email. And include it in the body of the email, not just as an attachment.

3. Assume that I don't like to be bothered.
I just sit at my desk all day, and never do things like go to
Sunderland for a comic convention, or Edinburgh to cover a festival. So if I don't reply to your email in a day, don't follow it up. I am a tyrant who makes snap decisions, and reminding me of an event via email is much less likely to succeed than relying on me going through my backlog and emails and making another snap decision.
Alternatively: wait a week, and if you have not heard from me, send a follow up (ideally resend the original with a note). I am not promising anything, but I do my best to support as many endeavours as I can. 

4. Refuse to tweet or Facebook my posts.
Because there is clearly no way I can track this by looking at the analytics of my blog. I never see a spike in traffic to a particular post when companies bother their ass - certainly not up to five times as many hits if something goes out on Facebook. I write to indulge my vanity, not in an attempt to reach audiences with information that might be of interest, and tweeting it will only add to the dangers of letting people know about your event.
Alternatively: tweet your own article and anything else that you think might be of interest on my blog as often as you remember. Show generosity to other company's post - maybe even engage in a conversation with some of my other posts, mentioning your own work.

5. Don't have a dedicated press person.
It is always much better to leave publicity to chance, rather than have one person who takes responsibility for a press releases and organising chat. The optimum way is for the director to be in charge of everything, because they have so much spare time. Good forbid that you might organise a strategy for engaging with the media, who only want to come along and slag off your efforts anyway.
Alternatively: regard the press responsibility as being as important as the acting, and get someone to do it. Professional companies hire someone. If you are working on a volunteer or amateur basis, have auditions for a press liaison or ask a spear carrier to take control of it.

On a final note: these tips are a sardonic reminder that I like content AND the only reason that your work is not on my blog is the failure to work a little harder on it. By theatre companies.

More Tougher Questions

Hi again, Dani...

Just thinking about your reply on the 'genuine
critic.' I'd prefer to use the phrase 'recognised critic': genuine suggests a level of 'realness' that I don't possess (look at how I write in persona, reveal my confusion and shift perspective). But what you say here...

By 'genuine critic' I suppose I mean one who is employed by a publication or establishment to critique productions: someone with a theatrical, literary or musical background whose opinions may be seen as more 'worthy' because of this training and experience....

... articulates a public attitude towards people, like me or Matt Trueman or Mark Brown, who have a particular status or platform.

Putting aside my comedy egotism, I reject any suggestion that our opinions are intrinsically 'more worthy'. They may be given greater weight, but that is about the relationship between critic and public. There is a particular approach that the recognised critics might share, but there are times when they miss something that a random tweet might capture. I'm interested in the cohort of critics, and the way they provide a conversation about theatre - but individually, I don't think we are 'worthy'.

I enjoy the statement "...while they hold the same quantitative weight... they have a qualitative difference." 

Me too... the 'recognised critic' provides a different sort of critique, and one that is perhaps more detailed. This doesn't make them 'more important' than anyone else.

You also made some great points about immersive theatre.

I don't like the idea of immersive theatre, and I too think that it is more for the theatre company than the audience: I enjoy
that you disrupted the expected behavioural patterns - it's true, and I hadn't considered, that even with this supposed responsibility of the audience comes specific actions and reactions that are considered acceptable - did this kind of theatre arise with Theatre Of The Oppressed? If so, it's an interesting conundrum that within a form aimed liberating those who are oppressed comes a form of repression. (If you don't act the way you're supposed to, you're ignored or put down!)

Although it might allude to the 'Theatre of the Oppressed', immersive theatre is far more controlling than even the most conservative of main-stage productions. Goed's Audience makes the connection between immersive theatre, fascism and demagoguery explicit. 

By using video footage of the audience to fake their approval of dubious speeches, then presenting a montage of mass movements, a suspicion of apparently popular movements ascends to an attack on the manipulation used by the media. Even better, it is an emotional journey, a nasty one, where the text reads the audience as much as the audience reads the text...

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Ballad of the Critic and The Magnetic Ballerina

More Tough and Vile dialogue

Hi Dani

I am totally getting a blog crush on you: you ask the kind of questions I want to answer. And, since I am answering a direct question, I can use the arrogant school-masterly tone that is always aching to escape from beneath my carefully crafted liberal ambiguity.

I'm using the book (Theatre and Audiences) as a literature source for my inquiry project, and it was useful for me to read about theories on audience. I didn't like the focus on immersive theatre, as there was a 2009 survey that indicated most 'regular theatre-goers' still prefer the traditional viewing experience, yet there has been a huge rise in immersive and interactive theatre experiences. 

'Regular theatre-goers' (I assume) means people who go to the theatre on a regular basis, rather than trying to establish a 'normative' theatre-goer, an 'average'. This implies that the immersive performance is more popular with companies than audiences, and the artists go right on making them even though the audiences aren't too keen on them.
a regular guy

So much for the theatre community engaging with the audiences.

Is this a shift away from the proposed "idolatry of the artist"? Giving the audience more responsibility for both their experience and the outcome?

No. Immersive theatre is more tyrannical and controlling than the 'traditional' experience. You either get pushed around from pillar to post, or are bullied. The audience does exactly what it is told to do. 

Take Hotel Medea (which I loved). It is immersive to the extent that the audience play most of the parts. I decided to refuse the roles forced on me - which led to the audience around me saying that I was being 'disruptive' and the performers ignoring me. I had great fun, but eventually had to fall back in line, becoming not just a passive spectator but a participant in the tragedy as it involved.

It was a different experience, but not one that gave me 'responsibility'. 

Another example of immersive theatre (and one which exposes the form's inherent fascism) is Audience. My protest at that performance ended up in their collected works - even though they misread it as an expression of outrage rather than active participation in the fun of the whole event.

I would also suggest that the role of the audience has changed with the advent of social media - how many audience members are mentally composing tweets or status updates, or even (heaven forbid!) blog posts with their own personal criticisms of the production? :P 

Tweets are great, blogs are better: the danger is that the director's mum is going post a tweet which then ends up on the poster. The 'cloud' of tweets might be useful for gauging success or failure - but the positive tweets are going to get retweeted by the company, and it is open to abuse. 

Does this make the role of a genuine critic more or less valid? 

I am not sure what a 'genuine critic' is. I'm one, obviously, but then again, I am the true real critic in the UK. It might be worth unpicking this idea.

If everyone and their mums are sharing their opinions for anyone to access, are their 'untrained' opinions carry more unbiased weight than the voice of someone with experience and subjective views, as the book claims?

All opinions are equal. All opinions are equal. But some opinions are critical opinions and while they hold the same quantitative weight as any other opinion, they have a qualitative difference. 

This is where the book fails, since it uses loads of critical writing as
2 stars for you, humanity
evidence of audience response. So it can shut its bloody mouth. 

As for subjectivity... that is the state of all human entities. Only God is objective, and he gave up on literary criticism at least a millennia ago.

Got on a bit of a rant there. Hoping you'll come back at me... you know I only do this for attention, right?


 In collaboration with Edinburgh’s Health and Social Care Partnership and Alzheimer Scotland, the Festival Theatre Edinburgh hosted a pilot event for dementia friendly audiences on Monday 16 February.

Alzheimer Scotland has welcomed The Festival Theatre Edinburgh’s Dementia Friendly pilot performance. A spokesperson said: “We are delighted that Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Hearts & Minds and Plutôt La Vie have collaborated to create this dementia-friendly performance. Many people with dementia, as well as those who care for them, can become isolated by the illness and may not feel confident taking part in activities they enjoy. However, there are many things we can do to make going to the theatre more comfortable and welcoming for people with dementia. Whether someone has always liked going to the theatre, or wants to try something new, performances like this are a wonderful way for people with dementia to enjoy a great afternoon.”

The City of Edinburgh Council launched a new awareness campaign this week to highlight the stigma associated with dementia and the little things everyone can do to help. Devised in conjunction with Edinburgh residents who have dementia and their relatives, the campaign is part of ongoing work by a partnership of City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian and Alzheimer Scotland to make Edinburgh a dementia friendly city. To find out more search #dementia6littlethings on Twitter.

The Council identified the necessity of meeting the needs of an aging population by approving plans to work towards making Edinburgh a dementia-friendly city in November 2013. The report published at that time estimated there were 7, 688 people with dementia in the city and expected that number to increase by 62% over the next 20 years. It identified the need to increase awareness of the issues that affect people with dementia and challenge some of the stigmas attached to the condition. In order to become a dementia-friendly city, the partnership will reach out to retailers, public transport providers and partners in the health and voluntary sectors to provide advice about how to help people and service users with dementia. 

Hearts & Minds is a Scottish arts-in-health charity that aims to improve the experience of people in hospital and in hospice, residential and respite care by using the performing arts to encourage communication, interaction and laughter. The charity operates two specialist creative programmes; The Clowndoctors, who work specifically with children, and The Elderflowers, who work with elderly people with dementia.

Plutôt La Vie is a Scottish touring theatre company producing imaginative, entertaining and visually driven performances,the quality of which is recognised by Creative Scotland, press and audiences alike. Their most recent project, the UK premiere of La Tragedie Comique by Yves Hunstad & Eve Bonfanti toured throughout Scotland in 2014. Driven by the unique collaboration of Tim Licata and Ian Cameron, Plutôt La Vie has delighted audiences throughout Scotland with A Clean Sweep (“innovative theatre that defies classification”-The Sunday Times) By the Seat of Your Pants (“…sequence after sequence of inspired comedy and a profound playfulness...” The Scotsman) and First You’re Born, co-production with the Byre Theatre (“…Top of Form – a white-knuckle roller coaster ride into the” The Stage). In 2013 Plutôt la Vie and Strange Theatre collaborated on Couldn't Care Less, a moving story of a daughter caring for her mother with Alzheimer's disease. Inspired by the experiences of carers, Couldn’t Care Less is a dark, surreal, funny and moving story of two women whose lives are disappearing and featured in the S.M.H.A.F.F. and Luminate Festivals in 2013. Ian Cameron and Tim Licata also work as Elderflower Practitioners with Scottish charity Hearts & Minds, working with ladies and gentlemen with dementia in residential care.

Getting Viler on the Audience

New licensing regime to ensure robust controls on air weapons.

New legislation to tighten access to air weapons in Scotland and other measures to improve public safety has been announced today.

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, brought forward by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and published today in Parliament, sets out new proposals for a range of licensing issues including air weapons.

Alongside air weapons, the Licensing Bill also includes provisions covering:

Scrap metal dealers - clamping down on metal thef through a tighter licensing regime for scrap metal dealers, including new rules that will prevent payments in cash
Alcohol creation of new offences of giving, or making available, alcohol to a child or young person for consumption in a public place
Sexual entertainment venues – a new licensing regime for lap dancing venues that will allow greater local control over the number and operation of these venues
Civic – introduction of a new role of Civic Licensing Standards Officer to help enforce civic licensing regimes.

Fifty Shades of Musical Parody

Fifty Shades The Musical! The Original Parody++++=
Grey gets a day glow make-over

Since the novel set the bar so low in terms in characterisation, plot and prose style, this parody of *3Fifty Shades *2easily captures its thin eroticism and pornography of consumerism. There's no doubt that the musical has been designed to appeal to fans of the trilogy – there are two topless men to one scantily clad female backing dancer – but the script expects no prior knowledge. Sending up E.L. James' writing with fondness, the parody revolves around a book group's overheated engagement with their latest set text.

The songs are gloriously crude – dumb like The Ramones, revelling in a blunt, coarse humour and mocking both the book and prudery. James' use of metaphor in the book – the various coy names that body parts get called, and the extended metaphor of the 'inner goddess' – give the company plenty of material.

The cast clearly enjoy camping up the script, and launch into the musical numbers with energy and vocal ability. The choreography is predictable – although the ironic ballet pas de deux marking the lovers' first tryst is witty and technically strong – but the music ranges about through funk, gospel and even Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches to keep the pace fast and the audience cheering.

Christian Grey, the romantic hero, is given a brilliant twist, and his extended work out of I Don't Make Love is both a masterpiece of dirty humour and vocal dexterity. Fans of BDSM-lite won't be disappointed, but there is also a sly wink towards the novel's absurdity.
(Gareth K Vile)

Coming from a critic who is self-consciously pretentious and sexually frustrated, Gareth K Vile's review of Fifty Shades The Musical! The Original Parody is all the more convincing. Clearly signalling his dislike of the source novel ('thin eroticism... pornography of consumerism... mocking both the book and prudery... BDSM-lite... the novel's absurdity'), Vile is clearly comfortable with the musical's approach to the material, and the 'brilliant twist' (unrevealed for spoilers in the review, but actually the casting of a nimble fat guy as the hero) undermines the po-faced seriousness of the Grey Trilogy and its opponents.

In the light of the release of the film of the book, Vile has spoken out on his review, hoping to clarify a few points. Meeting the press in his office around the back of the toilets in the CCA, and looking as if he hasn't had a bath or a shave for the past month, he read a prepared statement in a terse voice.

'Fifty Shades The Musical! The Original Parody,' he explains, 'can now be seen as an expression of the superiority of theatre over film. While I support no boycotts of any art - a position I hope to develop in the upcoming months - I would suggest that the film Fifty Shades of Grey, in line with the book, is less an erotic imagining from a female perspective than capitalism having a big wank over itself. Having read the fucking thing from beginning to end, the traditional values it espouses are not expressed by the sexual scenes - which are boring and trivial - but the overall narrative arc. Grey starts off as a neurotic millionaire. He ends the trilogy as a good father, saved by the love of a good woman. This is the fantasy, the romantic delusion.'

Vile's philosophy has always emphasised the point of contact between audience and art as the 'moment of meaning': far from insisting on a definitive meaning of a particular text, he recognises the complex and fluid nature of interpretation. As such, defenders and complainants against Fifty Shades both mistake their readings of the text as complete.

'A boycott determines that a text has a fixed meaning... in the case of fantasy like this, that fixity goes against the grain of the text. Given how badly it has written, the text allows for multiple readings. A more consistent attack on the novel or film would be to reread it as if it were a satire or a detective story.'


Red Note Ensemble - red as in radical, note as in music (perhaps like the brown note, a frequency that engages the body in a particular manner - a call to arms, a revolutionary new music)... 

Sorry, where was I?

It's time to keep an eye on John Harris and his gang.
12 February 7.15pm
Lachez Tout (Enough Already)
François Sarhan

Co-production with LOD Music Theatre, with
introduction by Wannes Gyselinck, Concertgebouw, Bruges, Belgium

François Sarhan, composer in residence at the National Theatre in Orleans between 2009 and 2012 is simultaneously a cellist, composer, author, encyclopaedist, and a creator of stop motion animation and film. Lachez Tout is a concert and silent film with live music, actors and two Foley (film sound-effect) artists, with François Sarhan himself performing on stage. Circassian actor Claudio Stellato plays Bobok, the central character of the film, and the Foley Artists create the sounds of the doors slamming, the footsteps and the passing trucks. Lachez Tout is a total experience halfway between a detective story and a philosophical tragicomedy.

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Violin Jackie Shave
Saxophone Gareth Brady
Guitar Malcolm MacFarlane
Percussion Tom Hunter
Synthesizer Simon Smith
Foley Artists Julien Baissat and Celine Bernard

6 - 10 March 7.30pm
Reels to Ragas Two
Mission House Harris, Ceilidh Place Ullapool, Universal Hall Findhorn, Victoria Hall Glenbuchat and Big Shed Tombreck

Scottish-Indian fusion as Red Note Ensemble
is joined by the superb tabla player Kuljit Bhamra and piper-and-multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield for new and traditional tunes. Expect love songs, dance music, a hint of Bollywood and plenty of tunes you’ll recognise immediately even in their new guise.

Join internationally-renowned tabla player Kuljit Bhamra each day for a family-friendly hands-on Indian drumming workshop, introducing some of the rhythms and musical ideas that drive Reels to Ragas.

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Tabla Kuljit Bhamra
Cello Robert Irvine
Violin Jackie Shave
Pipes Fraser Fifield

8 - 12 April
13 Vices by Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe
Collaboration with Ensemble Doubt
The MAC Belfast, Great Hall, Magee Campus Derry, Droichead Arts Centre Drogheda, National Concert Hall Dublin, King’s Place London

Inspired in part by Mihail Chemiakin’s 'Children are the victims of adult vices’ (a series of grotesque sculptures located in a park in Bolotnaya Square, Balchug, 800 metres south of the Moscow Kremlin) this unique work is the result of a collaboration between two of Ireland’s most dynamic compositional voices - Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe. 13 Vices melts down the boundaries between disciplines and dominates the space that lies somewhere between theatre, contemporary classical, free improvisation, opera, conduction, poetry, thrash and trash!

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Violin Jackie Shave
Viola Max Baillie
Cello Robert Irvine

5 May 7.30pm
Plug Festival opening concert: Simply Red Note
Ledger Recital Room, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Plug is back! The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s festival of new music is a celebration of potential. As Associate Contemporary Ensemble, we work alongside student composers and guest artists and soloists. Plug starts with intent, and we get our hands on the first new scores at Scotland’s festival. #Plug2015

Nicholas Olsen New Work
Thomas Brown New Work
Donagh Marne New Work
Jay Richards New Work

Robert Allan New Work

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Flute Ruth Morley
Clarinet Yann Ghiro
Percussion Tom Hunter
Violin Nicolas Miribel
Cello Robert Irvine
Piano Simon Smith

8 May 7.30pm
Plug Festival closing concert with MusicLab
Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Plug culminates with a combining of forces, as we are joined by the students from MusicLab to close the festival with a bang. The programme features a large-scale composition from doctoral student Colin Broom, as well as last year’s winner of the prestigious Craig Armstrong Prize, Jay Capperauld.

Colin Broom 7 Pictures of an Electronic Life
Jay Capperauld New Work
Jamie Wilson New Work

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Flute Ruth Morley
Sax Gareth Brady
Percussion Tom Hunter
Piano Simon Smith
Cello Robert Irvine

13 May 7.30pm
Leverhulme Fellows Concert
Ledger Room, Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

The culmination of masterclasses with Garry Walker held earlier in the year, this concert joins Red Note and the Leverhulme Conducting Fellows. Two pieces from Kagel's Windrose series and two new student compositions using the same salon orchestra set the scene for this concert to head in almost any direction!

Red Note Ensemble Performers
Flute Ruth Morley
Violin Nicolas Miribel
Viola Jessica Beeston
Cello Robert Irvine
Bass Rick Standley
Percussion Tom Hunter
Piano Simon Smith
Harmonium Julia Lynch

19 – 20 May 7.30pm
Watching Over You with Karen Cargill
St Andrew's in the Square, Glasgow and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

The premiere of a new song cycle by Scottish composer Rory Boyle, setting a specially-written set of poems by Dilys Rose, for Scottish Mezzo Soprano Karen Cargill and the Red Note Ensemble. The seven songs tell, in honest first-person detail, of the joys and trials of early motherhood. The programme also includes Janacek's deep and personal string quartet, Intimate Letters.

Red Note Ensemble conducted by Jean-Claude Picard

24 May afternoon concert
Sounding Brass
Bath International Music Festival, Cleveland Pools, Hampton Row, Bath.

An open air concert in the atmospheric setting of Cleveland Pools, the only remaining Georgian Lido in the UK, set by the River Avon close to the centre of the world heritage city of Bath.

Red Note Ensemble Performers to include:
Trumpet Mark O'Keeffe
Percussion Tom Hunter