It’s March and Spring is in the air! I want to share what I got up to in February with you all. Despite the winter weather it was lovely to try out a few new things…
Last Saturday we went to see Sonia Friedman’s production of Hamlet at the Barbican. The one with Benedict Cumberbatch that’s been the ‘play to see’ this summer in London. I’ve been patiently waiting since getting the tickets months ago!
The performance was utterly incredible. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play and this was the most memorable production I’ve seen of it. For a play where the language is archaic, I think it’s really important to have other aspects telling the story too. I don’t find it easy to follow Shakespearean English, yet the plot was easy to understand, and there wasn’t one moment where I thought ‘is it over yet?’ It was a visual and emotional feast.
I thought that Hamlet used everything at its disposal; lighting; sound; acting; set; costume and props brilliantly to tell the story. The set’s designed as a large room in the castle in Elsinore with a lavish wooden balcony and flight of stairs that stayed static. Props were brought in to transform the room into a banquet hall, office, graveyard, woodland or living space for Hamlet and his family. The colours of costumes and furnishings were beautiful; deep blues, moody turquoises and dark purples to suggest a sombre atmosphere after the king’s death, Hamlet’s state of mind and foreshadowing the death and despair ahead. The costumes and a large Persian rug in the centre of the stage retained a lavish richness, appropriate for a royal family.
Actors wore dark modern clothes, without too much adornment. This only served to highlight Hamlet’s ‘madness’, whether real or imagined, when he swapped his dark casual blazer jacket (worn even when other characters dressed in white for Gertrude and Claudius’ wedding) for a bright red and gold soldier costume and played in an adult sized fort as if he was a child. In the second half, the dissolution of each character slowly unravelled before us, and to reflect this visually, the set was transformed with huge piles of grit and dirt blocking entrances and exits and scattered across the stage, as if the very castle was crumbling to the ground. Ophelia’s last moments on stage were painfully tragic – it was hard to mistake her emotions in the final scene as she, sobbing, exited barefoot across a rubble strewn stage.
Our seats were up at the very top of the gallery, but the view was barely restricted. The stage seemed to stretch back about the same depth as the stalls, so we easily looked down at every detail of the set. Benedict Cumberbatch (Hamlet) and Ciarán Hinds (Claudius) were particularly good at acting to everyone rather than out to the stalls so we didn’t feel forgotten.
We saw Hamlet quite far into its run at the Barbican. It was criticised when it began because Hamlet’s famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy had been moved to the very beginning of the play. I was relieved that it had been moved back by the time we saw the production. I think the soliloquy is an important crescendo in Hamlet’s emotional state and to have had it at the beginning would have felt like we were joining the play half way through. Mind you, I don’t doubt now that Benedict would have done an amazing job if it had stayed at the beginning. I was incredibly impressed by his performance. He balanced deliberate, paced delivery with raw, emotional acting, inserting comic asides to guide the audience to some lighter moments of comedy.
I’ve always found the tragic ending of Hamlet difficult to connect to emotionally. The final scene where every character except Horatio dies feels a little melodramatic to me, no matter how it is staged. I sometimes think that if Shakespeare had written another short act, exploring Horatio’s emotions in the aftermath, my own would catch up with the storyline. However, it was hard not to connect emotionally to the finale of this production of Hamlet.
After the applause, Benedict Cumberbatch stepped forward and addressed the audience. He did this several days before we saw the play and I wasn’t expecting it to be repeated. Again, he quoted refugee Warsan Shire’s poem Home: ‘you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land’. Lumps stuck in throats as he vividly described Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland – mothers, children, families. He compelled us to act, while condemning our government’s ‘slow response’ to the crisis. We were given the opportunity to respond immediately; staff held Save The Children buckets to collect donations as we left the theatre.
I was incredibly impressed by this humble act – to share the stage figuratively with thousands of men, women and children he has never met but chooses to represent at the end of each performance to voice their plight to a captive audience. I have a feeling that Benedict’s zeal and strength of character will stay with me far longer than his fictional performances of any character he’s represented. Hamlet, however brilliant, included.
A few final things:
1) There are a 30 £10 tickets available on the day to see Hamlet at the Barbican. Go if you can! The production runs until 31st October.
2) You don’t have to see Hamlet to help refugees. There are plenty of ways you can help. One way is donating to Save The Children who help provide aid to refugee children across the world.
3) If you are going to see Hamlet and have forgotten the finer points of the storyline (like I had) then I recommend watching John Green’s 3 part recap and analysis over at the Youtube channel Crash Course. Much easier than rereading school essays.
I’m very late with this post about Latitude, a combination of being busy and not quite knowing where to start to cram three jam-packed festival days into one blog post!
In the meantime I’ve read other people’s reviews of the weekend and, to quote The 405’s William Caston Cook: ‘The first night is always the worst at a festival’. Yes, yes it was. Not because it was an excited night where we did too much, but because we were stuck on the M25 for an extra 4 hours in a traffic jam. An unexpected 8 hour journey and sleeping in the car overnight was a pretty inauspicious start to the weekend!
With San Fermin‘s help we blew away the cobwebs the following morning in the BBC 6 Music tent. Somewhere between an orchestra, a jazz band and a pop band, San Fermin was a highlight of the festival. They’re made up of eight musicians performing music about different characters composed by Brooklyn based Ellis Ludwig-Leone. I’d listened to them before but never appreciated quite how electric their live performances were: a trumpet and a saxophone jamming together was a brilliant start to the weekend.
Latitude was stuffed full of glitteringly good bands. From Canadian jazz trio Badbadnotgood, Suffolk based rock band Dingus Khan, and britpop legend Damon Albarn and his host of special guests, through to Icelandic sensation Asegir, SOHN, Marika Hackman, Haim, First Aid Kit and RY X‘s haunting band The Acid.
The one frustration of Latitude is that there’s just too much to see. Three or four timetable clashes is not unusual, and as well as wanting to see nearly all of the music acts, I’d happily gobble up the literary performances, poetry, theatre, experimental live art … heck, finding time to say hello to the sheep during the weekend is hard! We popped in to see Home Live Art‘s fun and creative Alternative Village Fete, watched the wonderful and hilarious Michael Rosen speak about chocolate cake, marvelled at the innovative use of sets and costumes during Full Stop by Light The Fuse. The list goes on – I just wanted more time to see everything!
It was Atomic Bomb! Who Is William Onyeabor? that really stole the show. Filling the Sunday main stage midday slot, hundreds of bodies jumped along to the beat of African synth pop. As well as being one of the most enjoyable musical moments of the festival, the background of the Atomic Bomb! band is incredibly intriguing. William Onyeabor, originally a Nigerian funk musician, recorded 8 albums between 1970’s to 1980’s and then became a born-again Christian, abandoning and refusing to speak about his music. An awesome supergroup of musicians have resurrected his work: Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, Pat Mahoney (LCD Soundsystem), Money Mark (Beastie Boys). They’ve been touring their tribute to William Onyeabor this year and Latitude was their final performance. And then they brought up Young Fathers and LAW during the set, then added in some African dancers and essentially started a huge joyful bouncing African-themed party from the stage. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning!
What better way to celebrate Valentines Day than to watch a one woman show about online dating?
We opted to see writer and deviser Hannah Pierce’s show: ‘Hannah_27 Valiant Adventures in Online Dating’. The performance replays out her decision to start dating online after being single for several months, through to her conversations and dates with men on dating sites Guardian Soulmates, Match.com and Tindr.
The show that had a minimal set, one beanbag and a projector, and simple costume changes, consisting of Hannah changing removing or putting on a onsie and a pair of boots, with a casual ‘dating’ outfit underneath. The one hour show was almost solely formed of Hannah telling us what happened, a really impressive feat of remembering lines as she had no other actors to take cues from on stage too!
Two main things that I loved about this show were that it was funny and that it was self reflexive. Hannah could have poked fun at the men she dated, but instead she poked fun at the whole idea of online dating – the fact that you have to brand yourself ‘trendy/ natural/ classic’ and the associations that go along with those labels (natural means dirty, for instance) – and at her own mistakes, such as a particularly bad nickname that she hadn’t thought of the implications of using as a profile name: Yoghurt_Chin.
The most obvious conclusion of the show, and the one we were all rooting for of course, was for Hannah to find her ‘soulmate’, but she didn’t. If the show had been a film, I expect we would have felt a little cheated. Where’s the sweeping romantic finale, where ‘The One’ appears at the last second and saves the day? I’m glad we weren’t subjected to the ‘happily ever after’ trope, because Hannah’s ending was refreshing and honest and thought-provoking.
Looking back at the sometimes cringe-worthy experience didn’t make the audience feel alienated. Hannah’s show had a feeling of camaraderie throughout it, that we are all in the world of dating together, whether single or in a relationship. It was a great topic to produce a show about, as the audience were mostly made up of young people in their twenties, negotiating their way through online dating. Hearing Hannah reflect on her experience, and what she learnt from it, was uplifting and heartfelt. We need more stories like this.
IdeasTap Takover: Love runs from 13th to 16th February and is supported by Arts Council England.
Image taken from IdeasTap website
A Valentines takeover is not as scary as it sounds; nobody’s going to get hurt. Simply, if you’re stuck for what to do this year, whether you’re single or in a relationship, or fancy a change from set menu dinner dates, you should check out this Arts Bites guide to the alternative Valentines Day.
Forget Dinner, Go Straight To The Movie
On Valentines Day, cinemas around the country are showing old films, letting you catch up on a classic. I suggest going to an independent cinema to make the event even more memorable.
If you’re after a romantic comedy, The Phoenix in East Finchley is showing the 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally, and Everyman Cinemas (not strictly independent) are showing Hepburn masterpiece Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
For an atypical take on romantic films, head to The Exhibit in Balham showing Midnight In Paris, The Duke of York in Brighton showing Only Lovers Left Alive or the BFI in Waterloo, which has a great selection of films on 14th including Sebastiane and Blue Is The Warmest Colour.
Be a Culture Vulture
There are tons of exciting events happening on Feb 14th – from free theatre, to one night only museum exhibitions.
IdeasTap Takeover: Love
IdeasTap are putting on an exhaustingly jam packed weekend programme of free theatre on the theme of Love at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green.
Museum of London’s Late London: City of Seduction
The Museum of London have a huge array of alternative and risque romantic things to do happening at their one-night-only event and exhibition. On display will be erotic tiles from the 18th century, interactive art installations and spoken word seductive performances by Untold London. And if you fancy absinthe tasting or a chance to dance, this is the place to do it!
Vault Festival 2014’s Vault Lates: The Art of Hearts
Running ’til 3am, watch secret performances, dance in two rooms of music and see large scale installations as part of Vault Festival’s rampant party atmosphere Valentines night.
Late Night Keats – Valentines
Unleash your inner romantic with Keats readings, pop-up workshops, Regency games and a torch-lit tour of Keats’ house, where he courted Fanny Brawne, who lived next door.
What will you be doing to celebrate?
Happy Valentines Day!
February typically isn’t a busy month for cultural events, as seasons usually start in March. But you don’t have to look too far to get a fix of the creative arts! Here’s the Arts Bites guide to what’s on in February, the first part of a monthly series.
Come Rhyme With Me – Literary Performance
Friday 21st, The Writers’ Place BRIGHTON
Friday 28th, Cottons Islington LONDON
Book tickets to hear the hottest slam poets, musicians and rappers perform in London and Brighton every month. You’ll be treated to a delicious Caribbean supper, and have the opportunity to take to the stage during the open mic part of the evening. Compered by performance poets Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger.
Made in China ‘Gym Party’ – Performance
Wednesday 19th, The Junction CAMBRIDGE
Made in China theatre company begin their UK tour of Gym Party in February after a successful run at Battersea Arts Centre. Hilarious, playful and innovative, this show will be on at The Junction in Cambridge and continue throughout the country until May. Check out my review of Gym Party last year.
David Hockney – Exhibition
5th February – 11th May, Dulwich Picture Gallery LONDON
A chance to see David Hockney’s printwork in London begins this month. The Dulwich Picture Gallery will exhibit 60 years of his experimental print work, the first exhibition to do so.
What takes your fancy this month? Let me know what you are going to see in the comments section.
I popped over to Battersea Arts Centre last week to catch one of the final performances of Gym Party by the brilliant Made in China a theatre/ live art company. The hour long show was bewildering, tragic and side-splittingly hilarious. Three characters, ambitious to the point of obsessive, spent performance vying to win three rounds of bizarre and occasionally heartbreaking challenges, from seeing how many marshmallows they could stuff in their mouths at once (24!), to waiting for an audience member to select them to dance with.
Actors Jess Latowicki, Ira Brand and Christopher Brett Bailey offered us intimate spoken and acted memories from their characters’ childhoods to illustrate their desire to win. The monologues felt honest and raw, yet allowed room for the actors to perfectly parody obsessive ambition.
The challenges began with benign silliness reminiscent of PE lessons and children’s parties, yet the punishments for ‘losers’ were severe and violent. The juxtaposition was extreme. The performance felt like an examination of ambition through comedy and parody, rather than a comment on our daily lives, but it did make me wonder – do we push ourselves too hard to be the best? Do we punish ourselves and others too harshly for not ‘winning’?
Gym Party was commissioned by and developed at Battersea Arts Centre and co-commissioned by Pulse, Sprint, Mayfest and Sampled festivals
Photo from Battersea Arts Centre website