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Why Must We Accept Casual Racism in Pop Videos? A response

13 Nov

sexist

In her article, ‘Why must we accept casual racism in pop videos?’, Ikamara Larasi includes the presumed dealbreaker: ‘I am a black woman’. I don’t know what we’re expected to think here. Well done perhaps? Well done for being a member of a minority and well done for speaking up and of course, well done for letting us know how it really is?

Well, I am a black woman, and I have to call bullshit. The interesting premise of the article’s title question is barely explored, let alone answered by Larasi, and what is conveyed has no real direction.

All I read was a garbled complaint that people only sit up and take notice when white women like Miley Cyrus are over-sexualised and that, by default, the complainants accept the over-sexualisation of black women. I find this very hard to swallow, given that so many of the recent critiques of Miley Cyrus have centred on her appropriation of black culture and her use of black female dancers to give her ‘edge’.

Clearly there are major problems with representations of race in music videos but I don’t see why they should be isolated from the gender and sexual representations already being covered. After all, each is intrinsically connected. Yes, hip hop is predominantly black and the go-to genre if you want to see a bit of casual sexism or a woman on a leash, but I don’t think this has been ignored. The people that take umbrage at the way naked young women parade around the fully-dressed and fully middle aged Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines are, I suspect, the same people that would take umbrage at bikini-clad black girls pawing rappers in any hip hop video.

The problem is that the sexist imagery of hip hop videos is so much more deeply ingrained that it becomes increasingly hard to do anything about it. Conversely, as these kind of portrayals spill over to more mainstream videos, it is easier to feel you can take productive action. The kind of overt sexualisation seen in anything recent by Miley Cyrus is not, as yet, the norm; so kicking up a fuss about it, and its potential effects, feels like a less thankless project.

I believe there is no question that black women are more objectified in music videos than white women are, and this is definitely a problem. It’s also definitely a problem that singers like Miley Cyrus seem to think it’s a good idea to ape this kind of objectification and then call it empowerment. But let’s not get into the whole feminist v. black argument. What’s the point in creating more rifts when the ultimate aim of equal representations and a fair society is shared by both ‘sides’?

When black commentators like Ikamara presume that white people don’t ‘see’ the unfairness in media representations unless they are carried out against white people, they themselves are evincing prejudiced attitudes. Just as in following up a racist comment with ‘I have a lot of black friends’ does not negate the comment’s racism, including the caveat ‘I am a black woman’ does not guarantee that any race-centred argument you make is accurate.

Furthermore, if we are going to talk about misogyny being unchallenged in some areas of the music industry, I think we need to go way way beyond the race lines. The fact that media commentators only seem to get themselves into a big huff when an obviously objectionable video like Blurred Lines comes out, says much for what is not noticed than what is.

Take Selena Gomez’s video, ‘Come and get it‘, or the girls in just about any male or male band’s music video. Women are consistently paraded about as personality-devoid objects of lust even in their own songs, where statements about ‘powerful’ sexuality are confused for grinding against wall in a bodysuit at the behest of a music exec. Katy Perry’s anthemic Roar – supposedly a big middle finger to her ex Russell Brand – features her airbrushed to within an inch of her life and wearing as little clothing as possible and this is supposed to be empowering?

The sad fact is, K Pez’s nakedness is not anything really, it’s just an industry standard. Women have hot bodies and wear as little as possible. These are the base issues that need to be explored before you can even begin to dig beneath the surface of a Miley Cyrus or a Rihanna.

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Happy 9/11

11 Sep

On this week’s Any Questions Simon Jenkins was widely berated for claiming that every year we- the West – celebrate the ubiquitous 9/11. This of course, was a repulsive assertion, why would anybody celebrate the deaths of three thousand people in appalling circumstances? But a peremptory examination of the week’s news stories and TV schedules certainly attests to the preoccupation, nay obsession with, the events of ten years ago. Like the victims of World War II concentration camps, the Twin Towers dead are held up as often as possible as symbols of freedom threatened, whose deaths are wrapped in rhetoric of bravery and war, when in actual fact they were simply victims of a terrible, if highly organised, criminal act.

There was no war before the West asserted it so by responding to the battle cries of al quaeda with what can only have been the group’s desired response: a call to war. While these people could have been remembered simply, and respectfully, as lost brothers, sisters and mothers, they have been made unwilling martyrs to the subsequent military action and attacks on civil liberties, so justified by the threat to ‘our way of living’ that 9/11 is popularly held to be.

In referring to the ‘celebration’ of the fateful day’s events, it is quite clear that Jenkins does not refer to the actual deaths or destruction caused by the hijackers, but to the response and the surrounding ideals- much more potent in America- of the day. Like the idealised ‘Blitz spirit’ of London during World War Two, post-9/11 America is portrayed as a nation brought together by grief and determination to beat the causes of this terror. What is not so widely reported, but which is quietly promoted, is the fear that intertwined the experience of Americans after these attacks. Noone talked about the increase of crime under cover of Blitz darkness, and while Islamophobia is discussed by some media and governments it is always secondary to the dominating discourse of 9/11, which is to fight the enemy. And in fighting, casualties like men feared for the sole reason of an Arab appearance, are accepted as necessary evils.

 

The news this week has become an orgy of voyeuristic and satisfied disgust at the sadness and destruction wreaked ten years ago. We exhume the bodies of the buried with endless tales from their bereaved relatives and bloodthirsty inspections into thus unexplored corners of their demises. Earlier this week BBC One aired ‘The Twins of TheTwin Towers,’ a show whose concept was, unbelievably, just as awful and tacky as its title suggested. Exploring the ‘untold story of the twins who lost their other half’ on 9/11, this programme managed to identify an angle of loss within the great drama of September 2001 that was a dream in terms of PR and clever wordplay. Much like Channel 4’s increasingly gratuitous titles for endless programmes about the unfortunate and disfigured, the BBC took on a sensitive, tragic subject and gave it an exciting spin.

The paradox of beating ‘the terrorists’ with a war on terror, is that it is this very rhetoric and these very actions that feed our perceived threats to democracy. This is not to doubt that certain groups do seek to destroy Western democratic structures, but to doubt whether they would actually be a threat if we chose to ignore them, or at least not to enhance their profile, thence power, with extensive coverage and red alert prioritisation.

The huge shebang of this ten year anniversary – with much the same level of coverage as would befit the anniversary of a royal death or wedding – serves to drudge up barely buried feelings of fear and loathing, as well as sadness. We are sucked in by the sheer awfulness of the tragedy and made to re-think positions on subsequent wars and laws that, when inspected so closely to the grieving mothers interviewed on page two, can easily begin to lose their bad taste.

Rather than having a black party and ogling the tears of the directly affected, surely it would be wiser to let people grieve in peace and quiet. Not to forget the dead, but also not to use the anniversary of their deaths as an excuse to fill news pages and bulletins with the same greedy, sensationalistic stories that tell us nothing new, and which serve to glamourise what are, ultimately sad and unexciting deaths, genocidal or otherwise.

Review: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

9 Aug

‘I want to sit in the lounge.’ This was the first requirement of one of my Dinner acquaintances and the reason for our group arriving, or at least planning to arrive, half an hour early. Unfortunately the Mandarin’s lounge is not all that, and drinks weren’t forthcoming, so having scored early minus points, we decided to draw a line under the pre-lunch experience and moved on (drink-free) to the object of our Knightsbridge trip. Namely, Dinner. Well, lunch anyway.

The restaurant is simple: dark brown and cream, with an impressive kitchen, fully visible and encased in glass through which you can see rows of pineapples being slowly roasted on the rotisserie and a surprisingly calm front line of chefs. The menu held no surprises, as we had all done our internet research, and of course at least two of us were bound to have the restaurant’s first signature dish, the meat fruit. As a signature dish, the meat fruit more than fulfilled its premise. The appearance of a tangerine, the taste of the smoothest parfait of chicken liver and foie gras that you could ever hope to come across and the skin of a mandarin, so fine that you almost couldn’t separate its texture in your mouth, but which added a minute and perfectly weighed fruity tang. I, with my roast marrowbone – which was incidentally, more than satisfactort, with well balanced flavours and just enough anchovy to give it a gentle kick – suffered severe food envy.

Meat fruit

 

Eating starters, and on our second bottle of wine, all five of us were more than content, but the service score was still suffering. We had been sat without a drinks list and not approached with one before asking. In a restaurant where the average spend per person is around £100, I don’t think it is too much to ask for the waiting staff to be diligent enough to think of drinks before we do.

We drank Billecart Salmon Brut (New Zealand), Albarino (Rias Baixas) and Sancerre first of all and were brought a Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon just in time for our red necessitating mains, which encompassed powdered duck, spiced pigeon, and two great hunks of meat – a rib-eye for one and a wing for two. The duck was probably the best of the dishes, ‘powdered’ meaning that the leg was a coated with spices including fennel and star anise, and providing a burst of pungency that begged for savouring. The pigeon was impossibly soft and smelt amazing in ale and spices, whilst the great quantities of steak with chips (not triple-cooked. The potatoes aren’t ready until September) were nicely fat-laden and rich in the taste of pure, bloody, carnivorous meat, although the rib-eye was slightly over-cooked. The sides deserve a mention, not least because the chef among us declared the pommes puree to be the best thing he’d eaten at the table. Exquisitely seasoned and emitting surprisingly strong flavours, the carrots were so good that you almost didn’t want to share them with the mainstays, instead enjoying the multiplicity of flavours within each meat-free mouthful.

Tipsy cake

 

Feeling spoilt for choice and sure that any preference would cause consequent regrets and inedible green-eyed monsters, we made the wise decision to get five desserts to share as pudding tapas. Feasting on chocolate bar, brown bread ice cream, tipsy cake, lemon suet pudding and taffety tart, the verdict was more or less unanimous that the ice cream and chocolate bar were the standouts in a competitive crowd. I couldn’t find the time or words to accurately and tangibly describe how truly great the brown bread ice cream was. Served atop crunchy salted butter caramel, it had savoury tinges of brown bread and salt that assimilated perfectly into the sweetness of the ice cream and the sugar, with a clashing and fusion that demonstrated complete understanding by one of the other.

Unfortunately, the same could certainly not be said of the £15 liqueur coffees that two of us ordered post-dessert. Triple layered in naff glasses, the booze stayed firmly at the bottom, the coffee somewhere in the middle and the cream managed to marble its way through the whole beverage infecting it with a tepid and lukewarm flavour.

Leaving suitably drunk and full of good food and wine, we argued over whether or not Dinner would or should be awarded a Michelin star. I would say not yet, but a cranking up of the service and a few serious floater coffee training sessions later, and it ought to be rearing to go.

 

 

Review: Dover Street Restaurant

30 Mar

Getting to Mayfair’s Dover Street Restaurant, on Saturday, looked likely to be something of a challenge. At around the time we stepped into our taxi, angry protestors were reportedly smashing up Piccadilly Square, and our driver was despondent about our chances of getting the car onto Dover Street.

Said driver spent the greater duration of the journey gossiping excitedly on her hands-free set, ooh-ing and aah-ing and ‘oh my gawd-ing’ about the ‘hooligans’ running the streets. It was something of a surprise, then, to arrive at our destination unscathed; unaffected even, by anarchical protestors.

My mum and brother had chosen this restaurant not so much for its menu (not that there was anything wrong with it), but for its multi-entertainment purposes. The restaurant’s website brands itself as ‘the complete night out in Mayfair,’ replete with late opening hours, live band and dance floor. Fun for all the family.

The venue itself is nice, in a shiny sort of way. The walls are adorned with black and white photos of classy entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, the staff are smart and attractive – but no more skilled or knowledgeable than your average casually-attired waitress in a small bistro – and the two bars, resplendent with glowing spirits and liquids of every imaginable type,  are lit up to high heaven in various hues.

Our pre-dinner drinks, which included an Apple Martini and a Mojito for the females of the group, were delicious and beautifully presented, but the wine chosen to accompany the meal – a Chilean Ochigavia Sauvignon Blanc, was a little disappointing; sharp and tangy, yes, but not fresh.

To start, I had crab au gratin, whilst my brother chose toasted goats cheese with roasted Mediterranean vegetables. Both were sizeable dishes with simple strong flavours, that were tasty if not particularly interesting. I was more excited about my main course. I’d picked the most expensive seafood option (£22.50), for its combination of sautéed king prawns, scallops and crab claw – surely a guaranteed winner. The seafood came in a green pepper and a (separate) champagne sauce, which was strangely and colourfully presented in rows beneath two lines of prawns and scallops, met at either end by a crab claw. Bringing the dish together – if only aesthetically – was a carefully piped line of mashed potato running through the centre of the square plate. I ate with an open mind, but still fail to see what the stodgy mash added to the plate, except for a heavy stomach. The fish, however – and most notably the king prawns – were perfectly cooked and delicious.

Shortly before ten, and we were given dessert menus that were, frankly, uninspiring. Crème caramel: check; chocolate gateaux: check; cheesecake: check. Boring, boring, boring. We were, however, shortly to enter the night’s entertainment phase. No sooner had the last table been cleared from the centre of the restaurant, than middle-aged women in inappropriately short dresses and impossibly high heels, began flooding onto the newly-revealed dance floor. And instead of the soul band, advertised to come on at ten, we were treated to hits by the likes of Wham, Take That and Spandau Ballet. A personal highlight was the moment when a James Caan (Dragons’ Den) lookalike, sporting a sleazy pinstriped suit, danced his way, elbows jutting and fingers clicking, onto the floor, in what I suppose he imagined to be a style reminiscent of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He was presently joined by a squat blonde who’d spent the previous hour hanging from the arm of another suited and booted man at the bar. Both looked pretty pleased to have found dance partners to equal their own prowess.

We didn’t see the band, which was reportedly going to come on an hour later than advertised, but after the night’s antics so far, I wasn’t altogether assured that we wouldn’t have been treated to a wedding band- style re-hashing of Al Green and Lionel Richie.

The night as a whole was enjoyable: the food was nice, but nothing to write home about and the entertainment – though not what we’d expected – was certainly, well, entertaining. If you came here with work, you’d probably give Dover Street Restaurant ten out of ten, but for smaller groups it is somewhat lacking in intimacy.

 

 

Spinning..? I think ‘hell’ would be more appropriate

27 Mar

On Thursday, buoyed up by Tuesday’s first Camden gym session, I positively bounced into my local sports centre, confidently announcing my name sans membership card, and entered into the cardiovascular world of treadmills and weights with none of the trepidation that had accompanied my initial foray into this previously abhorred fitness environment. So confident, was I, about my place in this body-beautiful, muscle-bound sphere that I even planned my trip so that I could enjoy forty minutes of individual workout before embarking upon my aero-biking class.

After some level nine running and moderate cross-training, I approached a scarily fit-looking woman who was warming up on one of the spin bikes. Was she doing the class? Yes, she was doing it, but not running it. Apparently, this lady in super-tight lycra was just so keen to get going that she turned up early for some extra ‘bum up, bum down’ repetitions on the bike. She was wildly enthusiastic about the class, telling me several times that I should take part, despite my protestations that I was already booked in.

This lycra-bound lady should have been the first sign. I would never generally trust that level of enthusiasm, especially not for exercise, but two visits in, and I was actively pushing negative thoughts to the back of my brain.

As more women arrived, I started to get nervous. How had I failed to realise that ‘aero biking’ was spinning under another name? I wasn’t mentally prepared for this much hardcore exercise.

When Tom, the trainer arrived, the lady adjacent to me, bemoaned the fact that Tom was replacing the usual Thursday class leader. ‘I thought we were in for a nice easy session’ she said. Shit.

The next thirty minutes were a blur of pain, embarrassment and occasional maniacal laughing. After around thirteen minutes, I genuinely didn’t think that I would be able to go on, but was saved – at least momentarily – by a faulty bike. I say momentarily, because Tom then moved me to the front-centre of the class, thus removing any possibility of cheating. I was nose to nose with the scary trainer, and next to the fitness freak. While I tried desperately to find a half-second where Tom’s vision was not focused on the class, so that I could turn down my dial, the ridiculously-toned spinner on my right, was going extra fast, and seemed to be genuinely enjoying it.

As we approached the half-hour mark, sheer desperation led me to disregard the knowledge that the class lasted three quarters of an hour, and as the minute hand moved closer to 12, I tried to imagine how brilliant it would be to no longer have my legs controlled by an unnaturally fast spin-cycle. After thirty-three minutes had passed, I reluctantly accepted that my ordeal was not yet over.

Strangely enough, after forty-five minutes of exercise more intense than anything with no actual life-saving value should ever be, I knew that I would come back. I think that spinning should be seriously considered as a means of teaching self-discipline to delinquents, and feel absolutely confident that it will make me a better person.

Review: Berwick Lodge

19 Jan

As a waitress, Sundays are a precious commodity that are not so much to be enjoyed as to be spent indulging other people’s brattish offspring.  As such, it was a great luxury to be free last Sunday to have people serve me, and some work friends, at ‘luxury country hotel and fine dining restaurant’ Berwick Lodge

The day began early, at Whiteladies Road Boston Tea Party, and then onto the number one bus, which takes you to within a twenty-minute walk of the Lodge. Our journey began before the rain, and was a pleasant preamble to what was sure to be a delicious,  expensive and boozy lunch.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were confronted with a rather scary fountain surrounded by broken-down old-fashioned streetlamps that must have escaped the hotel’s five years of regenaration, and a surprisingly small, but impressive, building.

Inside,  all was plush, and subtlety forgotten. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in a luxurious room on luxurious sofas, where heavy interiors and furnishings were completed by an over-the-top chandelier, Georgian-inspired furniture and a strangely mismatched modern painting whose presence apparently attests to the hotel’s ‘arts and crafts’ status.

Of the five of us, only four were given a menu, as one guest was vegetarian, and not generally catered to.  We were told that the kitchen had put together a pithivier for our herbivore friend, but disappointingly, the specifics of her special menu were not communicated to us, until she got up to ask the waiter, who had to bring a chef out to explain.

On to the dining room, and we were suitably impressed. We had a large oval table for just the five of us, and this room was much more simple and elegant than its predecessor, with sweeping white curtains draping large windows, and a more simplistic approach to interior design.

To start, we chose a bottle of As Laxas Albarino (£29), which was complemented by the delicious bread selection, and the starters, which were primarily fish, with three of the group choosing scallops. I ate pidgeon with walnuts, pistachio, cherry, cocoa and Turkish delight. It was absolutely delicious; the flavours complemented each other perfectly, and the turkish delight was especially savoured, as I tried to make it last the pidgeon (it didn’t). The scallops were reportedly under-salted; I did taste them, but didn’t take much notice, being distracted, as I was, by my own dish.

Pidgeon starter

Prior to the main course, we moved on to a bottle of red – a Prophets Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir (52), that was perfect – light and smooth, and chosen by our most wine-cultured diner (that certainly wasn’t me) who could surely describe it more aptly.

With the main course, I continued on a meat theme, and was not disappointed. My duck with foie gras, kumquats and red cabbage, was perfectly cooked, beautifully presented and completely satisfied my high expectations. The foie gras – which I have only eaten once before, and whose ethical questions I am vaguely concerned by – was perfectly textured – like a mousse, but somehow lighter and more substantial – and not nearly as rich as I would have expected.

Duck

The others ate halibut, beef, chicken and ravioli, and all reported happily. I maintain (smugly) however, that mine was the best choice.  To pudding, and I wanted something light to follow my first two courses, and opted for the creme brulee with apple sorbet and compote. This was lovely and light, with welcome sharpness from the compote, but the sugar top was disappointingly lacking in the satisfying crack that you should experience when first breaking in to a good brulee. My friend’s chocolate coulant was over-cooked, but her disappointment was somewhat dissipated by the £25’s worth of ‘frozen brandy’ that she had to accompany it. I had a single shot of said brandy, and whilst it was undoubtedly very good, I did feel a pang of guilt at discovering that I – a non-brandy drinker or fan – had spent a lavish £12.50 on a digestif.

After lunch, we asked each other whether we would visit again. The general consensus, was ‘probably, but only after quite some time’. Perhaps for those more fiscally endowed, a repeat visit would be a nearer eventuality, but for myself, such spending on lunch must be spread out (occasionally) over various places.

My rating: 7/10

Review: Fela!

8 Jan

In a change of tack that I think is apt for the new year, I will begin 2011 and a regrettably long blogging hiatus, with a London-based review of the musical Fela! that I saw this week at Southbank’s National Theatre.

When I have mentioned this show to some of my ill-cultured friends, the response has invariably been surprise at the misguided notion that there is now a musical hit based on Shakespeare’s Othello.  I want to dispel this notion at the get-go, though who knows what Lloyd-Webber may be working on at the moment.

Fela! is a musical based on the life of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat musician who might be described – if somewhat reductively – as Nigeria’s answer to Bob Marley. Like Bob, Fela was a black musician whose political music transcended his own country in a time when racial equality was not what it is today.  Iconic, not just for his music, but for his twenty-seven wives and the Lagos Shrine within which they lived, Fela’s life story is rich with theatrical opportunity.

In the show, this opportunity is seized with such gusto that the audience feels not only like spectators, but like a part of the life that is musically depicted for them. From the very moment we sat down, the stage band and dancers had already begun to build a tantalising atmosphere that it would be impossible not to feel a part of. The buzz of anticipation was not one that is always seen in big shows, and to add to the colour and sound coming from the stage, were the posters and large video screen plastering the walls of the theatre, that depicted still and moving images of Fela, his mother and other players in Fela’s Afrobeat and political movements.

When Fela himself came on (played by hugely charismatic Brit Rolan Bell), it really felt like we were in the presence of a great star. He led the way telling a story whose path did not follow any one straight line, but which jumped from event to event with surreal yet convincing talks with his hugely influential late mother, Funmilayo, represented not only by actress Melanie Marshall, but also by a portrait that loomed large above the stage, eerily glowing whenever Funmilayo was mentioned.

Fela! masterfully avoided the kind of cheesiness that is so often synonymous with musical theatre, by weaving music throughout every facet of the play so that it was not just a story-telling device, or an opportunity for singing along, but an essential part of the very feeling and essence of the show.

As Fela, Bell sometimes spoke, sometimes sang, without there ever being a significant diversion from one to the other, and the amazing dances that were performed by the Shrine’s ever-present ‘area boys’ and Queens never seemed contrived, only a natural part of the show’s rhythm. The audience was encouraged to join in, and was for the most part, shaken out if its initial shyness. By the end of the evening, Bell/Fela’s calls for us to sing back  to him (‘Yeah yeah!’) were heartily, rather than tentativeley responded to.  I would have liked to see an audience, not bothered by English sensibilities,   getting involved in the dancing and singing of Fela! but cannot pretend that I was at the forefront of the audience participators. Never-the-less, the change in audience participation by the end of the show was itself, testament to the show’s triumph.

The only negative comment that I could make about Fela! was its length, which had me waning towards the end, but for everything else this is forgiven. I would absolutely recommend that anyone see this show, even if they do go expecting a musical take on a Shakespeare classic.

The Sound of Music @ the Hippodrome: Review

18 Nov

Last night the Hippodrome was ‘alive with the sound of music’ as Connie Fisher et al took to the stage in their curtained attire to entertain an audience of all ages, with what is probably the world’s favourite musical.

The show was brilliant, and Fisher pitch perfect, if a little irritating at times, in her exaggerated clumsiness with swinging that guitar case around her head and grinning from ear to ear. Expectations were, of course, sky-high. All of us there were huge Sound of Music fans, and unable to stop ourselves from mentally comparing each stage scene to its equivalent film scene. I feel that the film compares favourably, but then who has ever preferred a screen adaptation to a beloved book?

The sets were fantastic, especially those at the Abbey, and I often felt that if I looked behind me, instead of peering into the faces of other enthralled audience-members, I would instead see the Alps looming large into the distance. For this very reason, I ignored a nagging desire to turn my head, and the view in front was certainly far more entertaining.

Michael Praed, as the Captain was handsome, though I thought, a little old with grey hair that belied the more youthful black tresses of film favourite Christopher Plummer (that is of course excluding the real-life Captain Von Trapp). He was, however charming, and exemplified that literary phrase of ‘the softening of features’ upon the realisation that Fraulein Maria has brought music back into his house.

Unfortunately sparks between Fisher and Praed were only noticeable in their absence, perhaps due to the relatively few scenes between the two prior to the Captain’s return with the Baroness. It is understandable that the show’s writers did not wish to match the films 174 minute length, though I am confident that most of the audience – myself included – would have been perfectly happy to enjoy a lengthy scene-by-scene recreation of the film classic.

The greatest moments of the show were – as in the film – when Maria sang with the children. ‘Do-Re-Mi’ was a particular highlight, and the children were brilliant; Gretl (Claudia Hall) was perfectly cute, Liesl (Claire Fishended) suitably haughty (at first) and Brigitta (Eleanor Shaw) displayed just the right amount of precociousness. I was not impressed with the liberal song-swapping that saw ‘My Favourite Things’ displaced by ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ during the thunderstorm, but could just about forgive the added songs that deservedly gave Max (Martin Callaghan) and Baroness Von Schraeder (Jacinta Mulcahy), additional stage time.

Marilyn Hill Smith, as the Mother Abbess drew an intake of breath from just about every member of the audience as she reached the dizzying heights of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’s climax, with not a note out of place. Had glass been permitted in the auditorium, I’ve no doubt that the Hippodrome would have had more than one health and safety suit on their hands.

I have concluded that it is nigh impossible for a stage show to outdo a great film original, but given those limits, The Sound of Music certainly matched expectations.

Review: The kids are all right

4 Nov

The kids are all right can be most easily referred to as the ‘lesbian parents film,’ but thankfully it does much more than just fulfil a progressive agenda. In fact the film subtly makes fun out of its own ‘progressiveness’ with over-sexed nouveau hippies on eco organic farms, talk of ‘loving local’ and rubbishing of composting (that’s com-post-ing in Yank speak) all winning approving chuckles from the audience.

The story is this: Nic and Jules are a happy lesbian couple with two kids, Joni and Laser. When Joni turns eighteen Laser persuades her to search out their ‘donor,’ the handsome Paul – a manchild who capably shags nubile twenty-somethings and says ‘right on’ too much – and in the ensuing summer of discontent, his presence causes a shift in formerly-established family relations.

This is, essentially, a classic narrative of the happy family being challenged by the arrival of an erstwhile absent parent, with the inclusion of lesbians and a sperm donor to provide a modern twist. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are entirely believable as the long-term couple coming to terms with their children growing up and fighting the feeling of bitterness over the other’s imperfections. Whilst Mark Ruffalo is pitch-perfect as Paul whose new-age posturing and 20-year-old lifestyle, are at first only a bit annoying, but who – by the film’s close – looks like a sad man who doesn’t really know what he wants, but is immature enough to believe that he can obtain it without any integrity or significant effort.

Dramatic as the plot sounds, the kids are all right maintains humour throughout that keeps it from becoming too heavy. Nic and Jules’ penchant for gay male porn is a source of laughter more than once, particularly when Jules attempts to explain to Laser why she and mom prefer ‘gay man porn’ to lesbian erotica. Cue serious embarassment, not from teenage son, but from mom 2.

Paul easily has the funniest lines, telling his newly-discovered offfspring ‘I love lesbians’ on first meeting, while Julianne Moore perfects the laid-back adolescent mannerisms of Jules that veil disenchantment with a lack of achievement that compares so unfavourably with her doctor wife. But it is Annnette Bening, often pitted as the least likeable of all the characters, who really shines in her unglamorous role.  On discovering a shocking piece of information that belies her usual red wine-inspired confrontations, Bening shows all the emotion and resilience of the moment without a single word, as the rest of her motley family carry on as normal around her and makes you feel the tension of the situation beyond the screen.

The kids are all right – though occasionally smug in its middle-class organic openness – ably treads a fine line between comedy and melodrama that never quite teeters over into the tearful end of the pool, and makes you forget that you came to see the film about the lesbians.

Review: the Misanthrope @ Bristol Old Vic

25 Oct

In order to better oneself – you know, culturally – one should regularly take a trip to the theatre to enjoy a play in which one is unlikely to understand all of the words. But what if one doesn’t even understand the title?

Although opening myself up to ridicule I have to admit that upon being asked which play I was going to see (The Misanthrope), and what this meant (the word not my activities), I realised that I actually had no idea what misanthropy was. It is one of those words that you read a number of times, and presume to understand until actually put to the challenge. I had assumed that the definition was just out of reach on the tip of my mind’s tongue, but on later googling said word, I realised that this was nothing but self-delusion.

The definition of a misanthrope – someone who dislikes people in general – is the definition of our protagonist Alceste, a cream-blazered, shouting cynic who spends the play either rallying against social niceties and hypocrisies, or fawning pathetically over his conniving girlfriend, Celimene. Much of the first act of director Tony Harrison’s adaptation of the Moliere classic is spent with Alceste and his more moderate chum Philinte, as they argue tirelessly about the use (Philinte) or idiocy (Alceste) of social conventions.

I was quite astounded at Philip Buck’s (Philinte’s) ability to retain such close proximity to the obnoxious shouty man portrayed by Simon Armstrong. Even from the far reaches of the gallery, Alceste’s over-zealous bitching was giving me cause to hope that his increasingly red face showed signs of an impending heart attack. But, alas, he’d just forgotten to take a breath in between the last fifty words.

Fortunately, the play was rescued by Oronte, a fat man with a shiny bald pate, who brought humour and a break from Alceste’s shouting to the play with his rebuffed declarations of admiration for Alceste’s literary work and an attempted kiss. A woman just behind me practically shrieked at this hint to homosexuality, but she needn’t have worried as Celimene soon entered the scene as the object of both men’s affections.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett was pitch-perfect as the  flirtatious, social-climbing Celimene, whose clever malicious wit would cause her to be both revered and reviled. It was soon clear that Celimene rather than Alceste, was the axis of The Misanthrope, as fighting suitors and jealous women pontificated on subjects of unrequited love, prudeness and sincerity that were mostly brought about by Celimene’s self-serving behaviour.

The Misanthrope is a character-driven play that did not always play on its best characters, and which I felt was not entertaining enough to make up for lack of plot. Celimene is a great Becky Sharp-esque character, with entertaining admirers, but her boring boyfriend, whose errors stem from either the actor or the character or both, is much too prominent.

Many members of the audience audibly found Alceste’s cutting lines hilarious, but I found it all a little try-hard and was constantly distracted by the reddening of his face, as he struggled for air and bile.  I was also distracted by the sixth-former sitting next to me, who insisted on knitting with giant clacking needles throughout the entirety of the play, but that’s another story.

If I were to rate The Misanthrope, I’d probably award it 6 out of 10, but this isn’t that kind of review.