June 18, 2009

Interview with Lizzie Gillett, Producer of The Age Of Stupid

Lizzie Gillett, the producer of The Age Of Stupid came to Warwick Arts Centre for the screening of the film, as part of the Burning Issues series and we interviewed her!

Credits: Lizzie Gillett, Rhian Humphries, Simon Ferdinand, Rebecca Sykes, John Gore and Catherine Allen

Any comments?

March 12, 2009

The Overcoat – "Get the coat, get the girl, save the world.

By Rebecca Sykes.

Like Joseph’s Technicolor variant, the overcoat found in Gogol’s short story of the same name, incites at once adoration and venomous jealousy in all who make the acquaintance of its owner. In this case, the recipient of so much vehement sentiment is Akakki, a solitary office clerk who loses his grip on reality following a devilish flirtation with the finer things in life.

Gecko’s thrilling production successfully teases out the more maniacal and, at times, diabolical elements of the celebrated story. Two locations frame the narrative, a bedroom, which inescapably brings to mind Raskolnikov’s torturous lodgings, and an office in an unspecified department of the Russian bureaucracy, complete with teetering stacks of paper and shrieking bells. Such a conceit serves to neatly frame Akakki’s suffocating existence: place, attitude, occupation never vary as he oscillates between the sites designated for work and rest. Even when the character believes himself to be alone in his room, he in fact never escapes the external world which overwhelms his waking hours. The very walls which contain him are supported and shifted by bodies whose faces loom over his as he sleeps. At one point, following a bungled moment of sexual respite with his landlady, Akakki is literally swallowed up by his bed, blurring the lines between grinding reality and the character’s own private abyss.

Gecko’s chief innovation, amongst many, with regards to the original story, is the inclusion of a love interest into the narrative. This fellow worker is the only source of pleasure in Akakki’s life, and becomes his primary motivating factor for acquiring the coat that is quite literally danced in front of his eyes by a nefarious tailor. Dressed only in his original threadbare overcoat, Akakki’s darling fails to even register his attentions beyond mere civility. However, once clad in cloth seemingly spun by the devil himself, the girl’s sinister seduction can begin. When Akakki loses his coat, however, he loses the girl who is ultimately seduced by another sordid, yet well-turned out, suitor: the better coat wins.

Gogol’s original story is laden with symbolism and imagery which lends itself to a successful translation into theatre. There are many striking images in the production, not least the portentous overcoat that hovers above the stage throughout the performance. Such visual magic offsets the deliberately sparse dialogue, at times no more than a slurred blur of Italian-French-English. But no matter, it is the characters’ throbbing physicality that really tells the story. Certainly, the many physical routines incorporated into the piece are truly awesome, hinting at the decadent, seething energy that rages beneath the chill, grey exterior of polite St Petersburg society.

The Overcoat also contains moments of silliness, like when Akakki belts out Rags to Riches following a transformation that’s not too dissimilar to Jim Carey’s The Mask. Far from inane, it is these moments that most contribute to the timelessness of the moral tale we are being told. Both Ti Green’s design and Dave Price’s original music work to create an oppressive, yet frenzied working environment that many of today’s commuters will be familiar with.    

It is possible to read Gecko’s interpretation as a sort of perverse inversion of the Emperor’s new clothes, as a man’s character and fate are subsumed beneath his overcoat. Tellingly, when Akakki’s landlady discovers his corpse, she instinctively reaches for her own coat to wrap around her body. The final image of Akakki, being led away to the shadowy underworld in ragged underwear is the moment when his humanity is most forcibly evinced.

March 04, 2009

Don John

March 03, 2009

The Overcoat

The Overcoat at the Arts Centre!

February 28, 2009

Don John – Sex, death and power cuts.

By Rebecca Sykes.

It is at first obvious why Emma Rice, artistic director of Kneehigh, decided to set Don John, a modern adaptation of the Mozart/Da Ponte Don Giovanni, in 1978. It is the winter of discontent and the eve of Thatcherism. “The world has spun off its axis”, the chorus cry out and hell fire cannot be far away.

Certainly, John’s punk carnality as an unfettered libertine, played with menacing physicality by Tristan Sturrock, and his refusal to repent, is presumably intended to represent a time when narcissism and masochism collided head-on. The original score by Stu Barker and innovative set design by Vicki Mortimer help to summon the dolefulness of a picket line and superbly accommodate  the many scenes of raucous seduction that pepper the storyline.

This attempt to mix both the salacious and spiritual can, however, come across as a little glib. Against the prognosis of humanity’s impending spiritual wantonness is the uninspired avouchment by the ghost of Anna’s father, murdered by John: “care is all there is”. John’s death by overdose that immediately follows this clunking scene and his deliverance to hell is no longer a moment of doom and condemnation but one of welcome escape.

The production does succeed, however, in magnifying the carnage that John and Nobby, John’s unscrupulous companion, leave in their wake. In particular, Rice’s intention to “reclaim the story for the female characters” in a ‘what women want’ fashion is partially realised in the stand out performances by  Craig Johnson as Derek and Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir as his wife, Anna.

For once, the stealthy physicality that Kneehigh excel at, voluptuous and brutal with John romping around a stage like a dog-on-heat, was overshadowed by the quiet, fallible character of Derek. A disenchanted vicar, by far the most tragic figure in the story, who is desperate to be hip and sexually impulsive to please his wife, but just cannot change. In fact, in a production full of bawdy carnality, it was the interplay between these two characters and their joyless marriage that provided the most fleshed-out and penetrating moments of the production.

February 25, 2009

Warwick Writing Pirze: a student event?

Yesterday, the very first Warwick Prize for Writing was awarded to Naomi Klein in the Mead Gallery, rewarding her for her devastating analysis of disaster captalism, The Shock Doctrine. She was given a tidy sum of 50 000 pounds, which presumably came from the very pockets of the University that we, as students, fill with our tuition fees. I may be wrong, in which case, comment on this blog, or throw rotten fruit at me as you see me on campus..but my guess is that, if you're a student, you had absolutely no clue that this was happening.

This being the very first Warwick Writing Prize, there were inevitably going to be a sense of the organisers testing the waters and trying out new ideas, but this, frankly, is a problem. The shortlist was fascinating, the judging panel full of interesting individuals which clearly all brought their separate ideas to the table, and as Naomi Klein said herself in her acceptance speech, this is a prize that is innovative in many ways: it takes all writing, whether it be fiction, non-fiction or poetry, and groups it under one award,  and the books which are submitted to be on the shortlist are chosen by any member of Warwick staff, from any department or sector. This is a prize, we are told, that celebrates the university, the exchange of ideas and people.

Where, then, are the students?

I had the chance to take part in the Student Shadow Judging Panel, in which we chose our own winner (Fransico Goldman's The Art of Political Murder), but, as great an experience as it was, we were an afterthought, and not mentioned on the night. The event itself was only attended by those who received an invitation, and so there was only a handful of students there. If this had been opened to the public somewhat, and publicised to us common mortals, then I believe that there would have been a dedicated group of us that would have been overjoyed to attend an event with Naomi Klein, as I was...

Of course, this has its set of problems. The prestigious nature of the award means that making it public would require changing the event completely, and I am also aware that it appears as if I am simply moaning about not being mentioned when the Prize is already laudable in so many ways. If it celebrates the crossover of people here on campus, however, I can't help thinking that in two years' time, when the next award is given, the logical action would be to put a student on the actual judging panel.

This is perhaps an unrealistic, fantastical thought... But isn't the situation bizarre as it is? When 50 000 pounds is given to a world-renowned writer, and my fellow students, even those interested in publishing and literary culture, are unaware?

February 17, 2009

The Reader – Finally a three dimensional female

Catherine Allen

The Reader 6-9 April 09 at Warwick Arts Centre

Even now, it is still is rare for a big budget, well known film to have convincing and meaninful female parts with integrity. Of course, a big reason for this is that most screenwriters and directors are men; women write just 10% of Hollywood films, and direct just 6%.

"Part of the reason is that so many more big films now open simultaneously all over the world, to maximise that crucial opening-weekend box office, which is predominantly generated by teenage boys. And the studios believe male directors are better attuned to exciting that audience. " - The Times, February 2008

Even though The Reader is both directed by a man (Stephen Daldry), originally written by a man (Bernhard Schlink) and adapted by a man (David Hare), the part of Hanna, in my view, comes pretty close to the standard of most male parts in films.

What makes Hanna interesting, and different from other female 'villains' in films is that her character is not two dimensional and reliant on on perception that women are either good or evil with no inbetween. Hanna's  existance and relevance to the plot is also not reliant on a male character; she is what pushes it forward.  Slumdog Millionaire's (The Reader's highly acclaimed Oscar competitor) main film synopsis on the Oscar website has no mention of Latika, the only major female character in it at all. We are given barely any idea of her background, motivations or character other than the fact she is beautiful.

In a landscape of films which are very good, yet written with the male gaze in mind, The Reader triumphs in its deep and detailed portrayal of a woman.


BY Danielle Coxon
If you haven’t already, don’t read anything about Spyski. Don’t Google it. Don’t read the Arts Centre’s brochure (apart from to check the time). Don’t do anything. Part of the enjoyment of Spyski is that you genuinely don’t know what’s coming next, and even the slightest bit of info gives away too much. In fact, I think I’ve given away too much just by saying that - it is about spies, after all (that much I can say, the title makes it obvious), so secrecy is the best policy.

Not saying anything about a production makes a review quite difficult, so rather than giving a blow-by-blow account, I’m going to tell you what I didn’t expect to see:

Monty Python-esque ham acting
An interesting use of props (watch out for the hospital close-up)
A surreal dream sequence
Doubling or even tripling up of roles – the cast consists of only 5 people
A spy story that’s not a spy story but a spy story in a play not about a spy story – this is why you have to see it, if only to figure out why this sentence makes perfect sense
A lot of very random comedy, including my favourite line, ‘I’M VERY TENSE’, shouted in a similar manner to Brick Tamland’s ‘LOUD NOISES’ in Anchorman

The acting, by the way, is supposed to be overblown, especially in the first ten minutes, which may make you question what you have stumbled in to. The acting, and the ingenious props (which often have as many roles as the actors do) all serve to give it a thrown together style, which is exactly what the storyline requires. And it does demonstrate how good the actors are when they can play themselves so badly.

I could go into an in-depth analysis about how the fragmentariness, multiple personalities and actors playing themselves reflect the post-modern theatre that the Peepolykus company obviously immerse themselves in. But this would be far too fancy-pants and would detract from the fact that this is a very funny piece, done in a highly tongue-in-cheek manner, by skilful and underappreciated actors. The only sad thing about the performance was that the room was half-empty, which must be very disappointing for them in what is a very audience-aware show.

If you are a Bond fan, the show is probably even funnier. I say this because I got the distinct feeling that, having never watched a whole Bond film (shocking, I know), I was missing out on some of the spoof. But I think thespian types will get a kick out of the main Russian character ‘Stanis Lavski’, a nod to the famous Russian director/actor, whose system of acting is no doubt is rather tested here.

The show runs until Saturday, so if you haven’t seen Quantum of Solace yet, don’t bother. Go for two hours of complete randomness instead. Just watch out for the Chinese…

BUIKA– la estrella nueva española

By Yosra Osman

There’s nothing like a bit of Latin music to warm up these cold November nights- and that’s exactly what Warwick Arts Centre is welcoming in the form of Concha Buika, a Spanish singer who seems quite different from your Enrique or Julio Inglesias. Everything about Buika is unique, from her name to her fusion of flamenco, jazz and funk.

While browsing the internet for some information, I noticed that on the webpage for one of Spain’s major recording companies, ‘Dro Atlantic’, Concha Buika is described as being ‘one of the most lively and spontaneous artists in the current Spanish musical scene’. This made me think about the Spanish musical scene at the moment, and then that led me to realise that there aren’t that many singers or bands from Spain that are big globally. Think about it this way, if the only Spanish band that I can recall as having a hit in the UK is Las Ketchup, then we’re not really off to a good start.

It may be that there is a big gap in the market for Latin music in general. Once a Latin-American singer goes into the mainstream, it’s as if there has to be some sort of pop influence to make the song a hit and Buika’s music seems to be more authentic. For example, ‘Jodida Pero Contenta’, which is available to listen to on her myspace (see link below), has a definitive Latin feel to it- the flamenco vibe fused in with her soulful voice and a bassline typical of funk or jazz works fantastically.

Buika is a naturally talented singer, and her music is both passionate and refreshing. The fusion of different genres compliments her voice, and I for one think that it would be amazing to see her enter the UK charts. I really hope that concerts like her set at the Arts Centre will help her to become a popular singer in the mixed up world that is the UK music scene, just to add that little bit more variety and to represent Spain for the passionate country that it is.

To hear some of Buika’s music, then you can check out her myspace: .http://www.myspace.com/conchabuika.

Youtube also has a variety of her videos- here’s the link for one of her most popular ‘No habrá nadie en el mundo’.

Tim Crouch's England – Art For Art's Sake?

At first glance, England, ‘a play for galleries’, appears to deliberately set out to bewilder and bemuse it’s audience. This is perhaps attributable, however, to Tim Crouch’s preoccupation with blurring the lines between theatre and conceptual art; England is suitably ‘staged’ (if I can use such a term) in the Mead Gallery. As the performance began, a litany of questions were immediately posed, if not expressly asked by the audience (like the couple stood behind me): “where is this supposed to be?”, “who’s speaking?”, even, “why are we in a gallery, I thought we were going to the theatre?” The confusion continues as two actors (Crouch and Hannah Ringman) narrate the first act by both speaking for the same character, maintaining fixed grins throughout and gazing at the audience with eyes as vacant as their smiles. Although initially disquieting (why are the English so bad at holding eye contact?), I found that the impression produced was strangely beguiling, coupled as it was with simple and honest dialogue.

It initially appears that there is a complete absence of staging, however, it soon becomes obvious that the art which already fills the space, namely, sculptures by Phyllida Barlow, serves to mould our responses to the performance, as well as providing the immediate setting of an art gallery. For instance, the blank banners that fill one corner seem to bolster the politics, both personal and global in scale, that are at the centre of England. Certainly, the audience is left to infer and make assumptions throughout the narrative that spans the globe, as the character struggles to recover from heart disease, culminating in a meeting with the widow of his/her eventual donor (whom we presume lived in an Arab country, though we are never told for sure). The piece as a whole demands an active engagement with the questions that are posed and the performers implore us to “LOOK!” at what is in front of us. What we see, however, is often far from pretty.

The exploration of the role of art in today’s frequently messy, ugly, dishonest world (some rather unsavoury details emerge as to the possible circumstances under which a replacement heart was procured) is what I found most fascinating when watching the play. “This is art”, we are told. However, precisely what ‘this’ is is never made explicit. At one point the character proudly asserts that “my boyfriend says that art is universal”, but then only minutes later, proclaims: “my boyfriend says good art is art that sells”, and seems just as satisfied with this particular edict as the last. Certainly, more questions are asked than answers offered. Is a certain level of cultural intimacy required for genuine communication to take place? Is art truly universal, or only culturally specific? Amusingly, we are told to look at the “clean lines” of the art that surrounds us whilst the character simultaneously observes her/his American boyfriend, who sells art to international clients, speaking in Dutch, on a telephone line that stretches 4000 miles.

However, the idea that art can no longer act as a common language in world riddled with such vast inequalities is forcibly communicated in the second act, when the character visits the grieving widow of his/her donor. She/He offers “a gift! A work of art, from England!”, ‘valuable’ no doubt, yet contemptible in its inadequacy compared to a lost husband whom the widow believes to have been murdered. The painting becomes an unfeeling abstraction from the realities of her hash, day-to-day existence: “we have nothing”, and art is rendered bogus and obtuse. Both the character and the audience are left feeling helpless and frustrated at their inability to communicate with the widow: “How am I to have a conversation when I can’t see her face?”, the character protests, alluding to the Islamic veil, but also indicating the extent of the widow’s revulsion at her gift as she physically turns away.

Ultimately, I found England to be an intensely layered, almost sculpted piece of work. In fact, if anything, there are perhaps too many ideas clamouring for attention, particularly in a piece that is barely an hour long. However, the world we live in today is far from simple and England succeeds in presenting what amounts to a very human account of the problems we often refuse to face.

England is at Warwick Arts Centre in the Mead Gallery until Saturday 15th November.

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  • Hero, clearly you have misunderstood. The article link that I posted was praising rom–coms from the … by Rebecca Sykes on this entry
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  • Totally agree with many of your points. I definately saw John's death arriving not with a bang but a… by Andy on this entry
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