On Racing Minds and their ingenuity

“Put an effigy of the Queen in a cup of tea and make him queue for it” was just one of the brilliantly created and deployed lines of the evening, this one referring to what it means to be British.

Racing Minds was a show split into two, the first act was titled ‘And now for something completely improvised’ building off of the incredibly influential Monty Python group. Here the group create a play as the hour goes on based around the key themes that were picked by the audience on the night. No two shows are ever the same.

Daniel Roberts dressed as a Butler proceeded to ask the audience for a name, place and title for today’s play – after being singled out I managed to come up with the top of the Eiffel Tower as the setting ; pleased, the Butler rewarded me with a worthers.

Watch this space.

Watch this space.

The quartet then began the show: each of them trying to out-wit the other, whilst ensuring that there was a rough continuum and enough scope to continue through to the end, but jam-packed with laughs both on set and from the audience.  The play progressed with many ingenious one-liners, stitch ups and altogether exceptional acting. “He was a murderous Rector. The Die-rector.”

After a brief interval, the quartet appeared refreshed, accompanied by two guest actors from the Maydays, Rebecca and Heather. The seven, including the very talented pianist who never missed a queue, performed a more casual set of improvisation; firstly based around the word ‘armadillo’ and then secondly ’bespoke’.

Racing Minds are brimming with talent ensuring each show is a guaranteed success and thrilling to watch. I cannot recommend them enough, they were truly one of the most exciting, enthusiastic group of actors to watch live – you really could see their brains ticking over how they would get out of difficult situations. Truly spectacular.

All I can say is that I am sure we have not heard the last of these guys.

 

The day Game of Thrones destroyed my soul

I think this may be the only means I have to express myself properly. The rage and anger and sadness and hurt and betrayal I feel from watching the most recent episode of Game of Thrones needs to be said. I was warned, but I did not listen. Oh why did I not heed those warnings and go back and wait till next weeks, just skip an episode, it will be fine. I mean how much devastation can happen in one episode? Surely the writers can only incorporate a certain amount of George R. R. Martin’s novels into one episode.

Oh hell no. They went and did. The Rains of Castamere is potentially the worst thing to come into existence since, since, I can’t even think of a good comparison. Death comes with the territory of Game of Thrones. We all knew that when we signed up for the show, we knew we would be watching a testosterone fuelled programme full of sex and bloodshed. We all knew that this would happen; but not in a million years anything along that colossal scale.

Robb Stark

It is one thing to kill one of your favourite characters in an episode. It is one thing to kill one character that you vaguely like because of what they stand for. It is an entirely different things to go and butcher them all in one sitting. And I mean sitting, because yes, they were sitting down at a feast. Even the pregnant queen was sitting when they crept up behind her and stabbed her five or six times in the stomach.

Not only was the butchery violent and painful to watch, even for the shows standards. But they really played at our heart strings. Twice in that episode the Starks were almost reunited after all this time. Since the very first episode. Jon Snow was just outside the tower where Bran and Rickon were hiding, and Arya was just outside the building whilst she realised her mother and brother were being slaughtered inside. We all knew it was going to happen. The scene where Arya stood watching her family in the distance as she spoke of her worry that they would slip away again foreshadowed it all. Yet we still carried on watching.

Death is not a surprise anymore...

Death is not a surprise anymore…

Why? Why do we become attached to things that are clearly no good for us? Game of Thrones used to be a laugh, sit down and play the drinking game, taking a shot every time somebody died. But not now. Those days are long gone. I don’t think they are coming back either…

On Gatsby and the loss of its’ greatness

I finally have seen it. After all this time waiting in anticipation, and also a lot of angst that I wasn’t going to like this film, or even enjoy it. I watched Gatsby. Yes, I was right I didn’t like it.

I enjoyed the film, I really did, but I didn’t like it. I decided before I went into the screening that I would try to appreciate it as a film and not compare it to the novel. This was a good decision but it was so hard; having the day before sat an exam on the book. The film was a good film, there were stunning visuals and the props and wardrobe clearly had a never-ending budget because the glamour and the wealth was extravagantly done. The houses were big and the champagne glasses were fuller and I think it really created the atmosphere well. The cars were fast and shiny, freshly made to help belong in the new fast and free world that the new American culture was supposed to offer.

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

There was also some really impressive acting I thought on behalf of the minor role, particularly George and Myrtle Wilson. George captured that hope of a social climber at the beginning and then the despair and rage that accompanied the death of his wife. Myrtle, although I have to say I really cannot stand her as a character, nor Daisy for that fact, but I thought she was acted well. She was a wannabe wag. Social climber who tried to act the leisure class lifestyle that she wanted. I really did like the juxtaposition of the introductions of both Daisy and Myrtle. They happened one after the other, Daisy elegantly lounging amongst blowing white drapes and Myrtle walking down the stairs with big red hair and lipstick, kissing her sister on the cheek with as much effort as could be. She was as far from the leisure class life as could be, which I liked. Not in a sadistic way, but purely because it was in-keeping with the book.

But some characters really felt so fake and unbelievable that I couldn’t warm to them. Gatsby. I don’t even know where I can begin. The overuse of his catchphrase “Old Sport” in the first few moments he was on-screen bugged me. Yes he says it a lot in the novel. But that was just ridiculous. His accent was also very confusing, it seemed like a mixture of English and American, was he trying for the sophisticated education that he supposedly had in Oxford, whilst also showing his Americanism? I don’t know. I really don’t know how they could possibly think that he would sound good talking like that. What annoyed me most was the Gatsby/DiCaprio hero-worship. There were times when it was difficult to differentiate between the actor and the man he was acting. The moment we are first introduced to Gatsby, he spins around, smile painted across his face, cocktail in hand and fireworks exploding in the background. This would have been a great unveiling of the elusive Mr Gatsby, the man who was possibly second cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, a Prince, a murderer if it had been done right. Swift and brief and it wouldn’t have been too cheesy. It would have probably even told the audience that this is a great man. But instead we had to wait for the music to crescendo and the fireworks to fade, Nick to get a grip of his grin and DiCaprio to lower his class. It felt like an eternity.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Nick. Nick Carraway. A failed author who tried to make in the stock business. A man who throughout the novel is not only the narrator to the story, but is also perhaps the one and only decent and real character among the lot: and they send him to a mental institution. This not only horrified but truly saddened me. He was the one figure that I just about liked in the book, and he was turned into a depressive alcoholic, who in order to make himself better, writes down his story; which, you’ve guessed it, becomes The Great Gatsby. The writing out of your story is overused in film in my opinion too, generic and easy way to have a narrator voice-over events as they unfold. I know that in the novel Nick is effectively the author of the events, but he does so from the comfort of his own home, in order to preserve Gatsby’s memory and set the truth straight. Not in the selfish way the film does it.

Sex sells. I know that. I understand that this film has been made for a modern audience and with a modern twist on it, but it felt a bit out of place. The party lifestyle was overdone I felt. The scene at the beginning when Nick is drugged by Myrtle’s sister and then ends in the destruction of pillows, the removal of clothes and the music getting louder just felt unnatural and entirely staged. There is a lack of sex in the book, which has often been criticised by academics as down to Nick’s romantic narrative voice and his aesthetic censorship of the gender politics and the social differences. That doesn’t mean that sex wouldn’t have happened between the characters, I just felt that it was made too prevalent in the film. Too much attention was focused on it. I was a huge fan of the soundtrack as can be seen in my previous post I wrote in the run up to Gatsby’s release and I did like its’ use in the film. But sometimes it just felt too modern.

Sex sells.

Sex sells, perhaps I am just a prude. 

Perhaps The Great Gatsby is just one of those novels that cannot be transferred to screen well. The novel has so many layers to it that it is both dark and light simultaneously, this film focussed mainly on the dark aspects I felt, which is perhaps why it was unlike the novel and why I found it hard to like it. I really wanted to like it and I really tried, but there were just so many things that I couldn’t see through that made it hard for me to do so.

Gendering in our society: Violence and Silence

I am honestly nearly finished reading the book. Some reason I just haven’t been able to find the time just to sit down and read for hours – I blame exams and revision for this. Whenever I begin reading All Change Please or my recent choice Birdsong, I feel immensely guilty and stop after 20 minutes or so because I should be re-reading Gatsby or Eliot in preparation for exam season.

But yet again in another attempt to procrastinate (and if I am brutally honest, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a professional procrastinator. I mean, the amount of stuff I am able to get done whilst not doing the stuff I should get done is impressive. I mean I watched all of Seasons one and two of Game of Thrones in anticipation of Season three in 3 days. I know, I understand your jealousy…) and prolong judgement day, I found myself on TED Talks earlier.

I came across Jackson Katz and his Violence and Silence talk. It focussed on the culture of our society where violence is such a prominent issue and yet gender violence prevention is still almost a taboo. He argued that gender violence is lexically viewed as a feminine one. Men seem rarely to get involved, they are women’s issues that from time to time receive help from a few good men. And that this needs to be changed – it is a male problem. Gender is not synonymous to women.

Now I understand that not all violent relationships are the fault of the male. In fact depending on the nature of the relationship, men may not even be present at all. But Katz’s talk focuses on the attitude of society and the attitude men take. And this really got me thinking about our society, not just from a feminist stand-point, but in general. Patriarchy is still such a dominant force that if you look closely enough, it appears in the most unlikely places. In the lecture, Katz gives an example of the nature of sentence structures and how in relation to domestic violence there is a tendency to focus on why the victim became the victim, rather than why the person who did it, did it. (Starts around 4 minutes) This completely altered my attitude towards literature. The active and the passive role that words play in sentences had never really been drawn to my attention before, other than in French grammar lessons.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

But also, if you think about it on a much larger scale, the sheer number of books, poems, plays, text, fiction and non tend to be patriarchal. It is almost like it is inherent in out being. The way we construct out views on Gender and the roles that specific genders play. The relationship between gender and sex. Is there even a difference? Do people recognise how important it is to differentiate between the two and that they are not just synonymous? A really interesting piece of literature that touches upon this is Fun Home  by Alison Bechdel, which I will review soon. By writing in the format of a graphic novel and not a traditional, archetypal novel she even does something to undermine the conventions of authority.

I also saw this status not long after watching this talk and although funny, and I can laugh about the casual sexism, there is still something prevalent within our society that makes it acceptable for such a statement to be classified as humour and not abuse:

BBQ RULES:

We are about to enter the BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity . When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.

(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.

(4) The woman remains outside the compulsory three meter exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.

Here comes the important part:
(5) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

(6) The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.

(7) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat

Important again:
(8) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

(9) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

(10) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes

And most important of all:
(11) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(12) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ‘ her night off ‘, and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

 

So whilst feeling bad about finding the humour funny after being inspired to such a degree I decided to write about it, I couldn’t help but think back to the video. I am sure that it will linger with any of you that watch it for quite sometime because I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

To see the entire video click here.

 

Review: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

I read this collection of poems a couple of years ago now, but the following two have always been more memorable to me. Remembering them while walking down the road, something I see triggers my memory. There are 30 poems in Duffy’s anthology, but these seem to really capture aspects of female life that are completely different and comparing them together offers . The poems are adaptations of famous historical male figures that have been changed to reveal a female opinion. Wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, goddesses and fariytale figures all feature in the poetry.

The Worlds Wife

The first is Little Red Cap, which is the first in the collection. I particularly liked this because of the reversal of roles, Little Red Cap is in control, she seeks out the wolf for her own pleasure. She uses him to help her become an adult, he buys her her first drink. At the end of the poem when she no longer needs him, she kills him. Instead of being the sweet little girl in the fable, she is empowered and she enjoys the appeal of an older wolf. Their sexual relationship  is one of exploration, she uses him to develop as a person, he teaches her about life, poetry and love; all things that she wanted as a child.

The poem seems to be a journey of love, her love of poetry allows her to find the wolf but it also helps to write the poem. The wolf’s lair is full of language, books and passion. Little Red Cap for me, seems to represent the curiosity of young girls on the cusp of adulthood. They are interested in experiences, in adventure, in all things that she should not have. Her love of adventure allows her to be brave and accept the wolfs first drink, then to follow him home. In comparison to the Brother Grimm’s tale however, she is not left helpless and powerless, she takes her life into her own hands when she realises that the wolf is no longer enough to satisfy her curiosity and appetite. She kills him “one chop, scrotum to throat” and in doing so she not only liberates herself but she also prevents the wolf from praying on other young girls.

In comparison to Little Red Cap is my favourite poem Mrs Darwin: 

7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

Th simplicity of this poem is what I love about it most. The suggestion that Charles Darwin’s most important work The Origin of Species is only a discussion of something that has always been noticeably apparent to others just seems to demean his work. Now I am a fan of Darwin and his theory of evolution, but in this poem the combination of the simple rhyme, short lines and form just seem to completely undermine his work. Also the poem written in the form of a diary entry relates to the main medium of communication Darwin used. He recorded all his findings in his diaries and journals while he was travelling on the Beagle and it makes sense that his wife would have too.

Review: The History Boys by Alan Bennett

Education and knowledge are always interesting points of discussion. Learning the right information just so that you will pass the exams at the end of the year, or knowing for the sake of knowing. It is sad that in the modern day schooling system that knowledge has become a necessity and not an enjoyment, even those who go on to read a subject at university normally only do so to further there career. Fast-track way to get a better job in theory…

This issue seemed to be at the heart of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, with the two different teachers Irwin and Hector. Hector taught his boys things that they enjoyed and that they would remember in their last days, poetry recitals, French plays and gobbets of information that could potentially be useful in an exam, but wouldn’t necessarily enable them to make the cut and pass the Oxford entry exam. Whereas Irwin has been specifically hired by the school to help the boys study what they will need to get into the prestigious university, he is their private tutor.

History nowadays is not a matter of conviction. It’s a performance. It’s entertainment. And if it isn’t, make it so.

This was one of the problems that was central to the progression of the play, the clash of old and new in the schooling system. Hector is there to teach the boys ‘General Studies’ things that should help them in later life, but in the current climate the boys have no need to waste time memorizing Thomas Hardy’s Drummer Hodge they want to get into Oxford or Cambridge and so they should be studying for those exams.

The play also questioned the extent to which pupils should have a relationship with their teachers – and I mean that in every sense of the word. The sexuality of both the teachers and the students are not only questioned but pushed to the very limits, which I found very interesting to read. In my school experiences I never saw a student openly ask a teacher on a date and yet it didn’t seem too odd that it could happen at this school set in 1980’s Sheffield.

"History is just one fucking thing after another"

“History is just one fucking thing after another”

Although the narrative jumped around and was in no-sense of the word linear, the flash-forwards and flash-backs because of the intertextual references make the setting believable. The play is set in the past, it is also set in the present day, it also talks about the past even further back than the 1980’s. This is a school where students learn, regardless of what they learn, the primary intention is the pursuit of knowledge. For me, it was this that helped the play really connect with me as a reader. Everyone has been in a classroom and it is a place that is safe, ok you may have to sit a horrific exam in there at some point, but nonetheless it is still a place where you can develop as a person. The characters in the play felt like real people. Real people who just want to do the best and the most they can with their lives.

Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I can’t bring myself to write that I didn’t like this novel, declaring that outright seems almost like an offence. But I certainly didn’t love it. There is something so completely and utterly chilling in the thought that boys as young as 6 are capable of killing. I understand that this is an allegorical novel and that the children represent both sides of humanity, both good and evil, but Golding has used young boys as his medium to tell the story. Which for me almost made it too uncomfortable to read.

Lord of the Flies

I am glad that I did read it though on a few levels however, and so I don’t want to turn readers away because of my experience of the uncanny. Firstly, the character development is fantastic. Jack particularly interested me because he is determined to win, determined to receive more support than Ralph and determined for things to be run his way. Jack represents all that is bad with mankind, savagery, brutality, an instinct to prey on the weak and vulnerable and most importantly the desire for power. Without Jack acting as the novels antagonist there would be no need for Ralph. Without this murderous 12 year old boy the book would perhaps have been more enjoyable to read, which is why I like him. He manipulates fear to his own advantage, even for a brief moment convincing Ralph and Piggy, the figureheads of order and civilisation, that being a member of a tribe is the only option.

Secondly, glasses. Piggy and his glasses. For me this was a crucial aspect of the novel because so many of the events relied on who had possession of the glasses, and therefore who has power over fire. Although the glasses were crucial to the boys survival on the island, something about them experimenting and playing with an ordinary object helped them to be children again, no matter how briefly. Similarly at the begin of the novel when they swim in the lagoon, this is easy to read because it is children acting the way we expect them to in society. This becomes uncanny and uncomfortable to read when events turn sour very rapidly.

Finally, the Lord of the Flies himself. The dark and confusing island that the boys inhabit is a hot bed for the mythical and savage. The boar’s head represents all that is wrong with humanity whilst at the same time offering salvation, without sounding too philosophical. The head declares that the beast lies within all the boys and they are the only ones that can do anything about it. SPOILER ALERT Simon’s death however takes the truth with him and this has a strong resonance, I felt in reality. For everything that is good, there are far more things that are evil.

It was this that I found so disconcerting and uncanny, the book offers no real salvation, no optimist opinion of the future. The future is bleak because all humans are instinctively savage and brutal and those who do possess rare inherent moral values would be “dealt with”.

The only redeeming point that I can pick out from that would be that at least those people do exist.