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Review of City Love by Simon Vinnicombe at CLA Art Cafe the Bussey Building

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on Saturday, 21 September 2013
City Love by Simon Vinnicombe

From 9th September to 28th September 2013.

The Bussey Building AKA the CLF Art Café, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham Rye, SE15 4ST

Web site http://www.citylovetheplay.co.uk/ and clfartcafe.org   Box Office Tickets 0844 477 1000

 4 stars

This two-hander story of twenty somethings falling in love in contemporary London – on the number 12 bus route to be precise - has much to recommend it and the script by Simon Vinnicombe, ably interpreted by Ian Bonar as Jim and Natasha Broomfield as Lucy , manages to catch the chaotic desperation and destruction of their young love with a winning simplicity.

By the end I felt quite moved at their plight and felt it attained a tragic dimension – in the sense that what destroys their relationship is their tragic flaw of insecurity and a fear that they don’t deserve to be loved. Thrown in a couple of really good performances and it forms a very watchable piece of theatre.

The first part of they play when they fall in love against the odds in the huge and anonymous city, does get a bit too sentimental sometimes, and at points I felt I had accidentally wondered into the latest Richard Curtis feel good comedy, but the reversal and descent when it comes is arguably all the more horrifyingly tragic because of that sentimental build up: after all they are basically sweet, kind people. They expect too much from love when it finally arrives and it is I suppose also part of the theme of the play that the way these characters speak and dream is in the language of British style romantic comedies – though the script does become harsher and more bitter in the second half.

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Fig. 1. Ian Bonarm Credit Sam Swainsbury

Bonar’s Jim is a graphic designer and something of a loner, who starts to believe he can really be a traditional man after meeting Natasha Broomfield
’s Lucy, she in turn finds that her career obsession with becoming a buyer for some kind of store quickly gives way to a rather more traditional desire to be a wife and mother - something she'd repressed after getting hurt before in love: neither ever expected to find anyone. Love dissolves their insecurities, but it doesn’t really solve them and their love means that suddenly their expectations are raised. But it is Jim’s very traditional male insecurities about failing to be a successful breadwinner, like Lucy's golf-playing father that eventually drive him into depression, which Lucy can do little to alter and she in the end grows to hate him for the fact he has hurt her. Their striking lack of empathy towards one another as things go wrong, is one of the clever things in the play and in fact shows how far each have raised the other’s expectations unduly - love has become something unconditional :if it is Jim’s awakened masculinity which is undone by the economics of getting a mortgage on a minimal salary as a graphic designer, then it is Lucy’s inability to recognise what is going on with the man she clearly loves, that is equally disturbing.

I wasn’t so keen on the austere design by Zanna Mercer – although the mobile sculpture swinging above the action was a rather nice melange of whimsical moments of their past lives and dreams – as for all its blackbox minimalism it tended to ignore the fact that London is such a powerful and complex presence in the script. When they fall in love London seems to become a beguiling playground of transformations and futures, mirroring the way their new expectations transform their insecurities.  However, when things start to go wrong it becomes alienating, nightmarish and the question of economics – how can anyone in their twenties apart from bankers or those who have substantial trust funds afford to buy a house anywhere in London ? – takes on an overbearing, crushing importance for Jim.  I couldn’t help but think they should move to the country, have their baby there, and forget about the rat-race and it is part of the appeal of Vinnicombe’s script that you feel angry while and at the same time sympathetic to the way their love has been lost. It is not a political take on the question of love – like Sarah Kane’s Cleansed – and in a sense the character's dreams are unremarkable: to be a suburban father with a mortgage on a decent house and to be a mother with a loving husband whom she can trust. However, their blissful view of love as being something taht ignores reality means they can't see how it is affected by the rest of the world and in this case that means the city. Maybe it’s a question of theatre economics, but I thought much more could have been done to project images of London or choose some interesting music and sounds that brought the city to life.

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Fig. 2. Ian Bonar and Natasha Broomfield, credit Sam Swainsbury.

I also thought that Sarah Bedi’s direction while good on allowing the actors to portray their characters and fine at catching the rhythms of the plot, could have been less naturalistic and static for at least some of the time. She seemed to be more worried about ensuring the audience could concentrate on the characters in the somewhat awkward space of the Bussey Building’s stage, rather than trying to create any memorable shape for the action, but surely one of the points of the script is the way in which these rather shy and isolated characters connect and disconnect and the joy and sadness they feel? For instance the sublimity and exhilaration of their initial getting together, tended to depend wholly on the two actor’s excellent performances, without much help from the direction. However, despite these minor quibbles there is much to recommend this play and I left the theatre in a thoughtful mode: ‘Thoughts that lie too deep for tears’ are not - in the final analysis - always happy ones.

Review of Sunstroke by Chekhov/ Bunin Belka Productions

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on Monday, 09 September 2013

Sunstroke inspired by Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog and Ivan Bunin’s Sunstroke.

August 28th to September 21st 2013.

The Platform Theatre, King's Cross, , Granary Building, 1 Granary Square (off Goods Way), King's Cross, London N1C 4AA

Web site http://www.belkaproductions.co.uk/productions/Telephone  Box Office020 8123 1604

3 stars

Sunstroke ROSY BENJAMIN and STEPHEN PUCCI


Figure 1. Rosy Benjamin and Stephen Pucci are Chekov’s lovers, Anna and Dmitri.

Belka Productions are making a name for themselves in bringing Russian theatre to the British stage - following A Warsaw Melody at the Arcola last year - this new outing is an experimental piece which chooses two prose stories that Russian scholars have linked and then dramatizes them in an intriguing, inventive and intertwined performance. The platform theatre at King’s Cross is a relatively new space part of the Granary Building development by St Martin’s – comprising a studio theatre (which Sunburn utilised) and a larger auditorium.

Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog (1899) is a well-known prose piece about a 40 something man having a passionate, devastating and transformative affair with a much younger, married woman in the seaside capital of Yalta. In contrast, Sunstroke (1927) is less well known in Britain, though as a story it a parallels and echoes Chekhov’s masterpiece and it is also about a man having a summer affair with a beautiful, but unhappy stranger – this time abroad a steamer - though as befits its post-revolutionary origins it is all round a bleaker, more painful take on the subject, though it dwells on the transitory momentary pleasure of his grand passion.

Belka have chosen a traverse staging, as well as a filmic, poetic multi-media approach using projected images and music and essentially broken the two stories down into sections, which echo one another and are played alternately. The action of the stories is interspersed with some beguiling dancing by Masumi Saito, set to mostly traditional Japanese music, which evokes the way that turn of the century Russian’s perceived the exotic sensuality of the east, epitomised in the Sydney Jones opera, the Geisha, that Anna and Dmitri see in section III of The Lady with the Dog.  (The Geisha is the story of an engaged man who nevertheless falls in love with a Geisha. It is at the opera where Dmitri and Anna are first reunited after he leaves Moscow to search for her in the unnamed town where she lives.)

The approach that director Oleg Mirochnikovic is elegant, poetic and often languorous – redolent of the heat of the southern summer with many of the passages spoken directly to the audience as if first person narration – mainly by the men. There is some nice and simple design work from Agnes Treplin. Rosy Benjamin and Stephen Pucci are Chekov’s lovers, Anna and Dmitri. I felt that the age gap in the story wasn’t perhaps as clear as it should be: Dmitri is a greying, womaniser in his 40s who finds love for the first time with the much younger, unhappily married Anna. I also didn’t feel there was much passion between Benjamin and Pucci and didn’t feel much of the sense of their love as an irresistible force, although Pucci gave a good impression of man gripped by the power of obsession, after believing he can easily forget a woman who is just another conquest. Part of the problem here was less the acting than that the heavily stylised movement and interrupted structure of the piece, especially the dancer, which tended to slow down the love stroies. Just when you started to become engaged by them the story swapped to Oliver King’s Lieutenant and Katia Elizarova’s Woman or the dancer.

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Figure 2. Oliver King’s Lieutenant and Katia Elizarova’s Woman

King’s Lieutenant was an effectively hapless young man while international model Elizarova’s beautiful stranger ( Elizarova was making her stage debut), was a suitably beautiful but fantastic figure of a woman. Bunin’s story is more slender and obsessive than Chekhov’s – the woman is more a figure of fantasy and he never learns her name - and this meant there was more use of film projection and less words , though it also meant the second story seemed to be over too quickly in the second act.

Sunstroke MasumiSaito

Figure 3. Masumi Saito, the dancer.

Personally I’d have taken each story separately and trusted to the audience to find connections rather than intertwining them and I’d have saved the Japanese element for perhaps the final performance of watching the opera. I also do wonder if part of the problem comes from trying to stage these stories as two person plays as they are less dramatic than studies in how men deal with the surprizing power of love and obsession.

In the end it is brave and fascinating attempt and all concerned deserve much credit -  if not altogether successful - it still tells us something about the difficulty of adapting these stories and their dependence on the medium in which they were originally written

Review of Making Home – Exiles: the Ugandan Asian story

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on Saturday, 07 September 2013
Making Home (Exhibition) – Exiles: the Ugandan Asian story

Friday 6th September 2013 to Sunday 15th September 2013 and touring subsequently.
Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), 1 Kensington Gore, London

Location Royal Geographical Society 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR

Web site http://exilesproject.org/introduction/

4 stars


Elixabete Lopez Photography 2013 11 of 38 1

All photos credit Elixabete Lopez 

This free exhibition forms a salutary and significant exploration of the history of the Ugandan Asian community, forced into involuntary exile in 1972 by dictator Idi Amin, who stripped them of the businesses, possessions and savings. While India remained indifferent to their fate, regarding this at best as an Imperial problem, their possession of British passports led them here and despite facing significant racial prejudice, the community managed to prosper after such inauspicious beginning with little more than their wits and education.

It is a story that has largely been forgotten in contemporary Britain, as in general the community has proved successful, but nonetheless it is an important part of Britain’s history as the modern country has always been created by influxes of immigrants and refugees. As Daniel Defoe argued so eloquently in the True Born Englishman (1701), when he mocked xenophobia, there is really no such thing a racial purity in these Isles: ‘speaking of Englishmen ab origine, we are really all foreigners ourselves.’

The Council of Asian People in partnership with Amphora Arts and Collage Arts, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, created the Exiles project of which this is part. The curatorial team who created the exhibition drew in the main on oral history and at its heart are 40 stories collected from Ugandan Asian migrants who came to Britain after the expulsion. These are supported by a poignant collection of memorabilia from those who came to Britain with their single suitcase – all that Amin’s government allowed – as well as art and video material which adds significant layers of meaning to what could easily have been a mere collection of storyboards.

Elixabete Lopez Photography 2013--¼ 35 of 38


While the oral history material will be on the web, the combination of different elements in the presentation makes for a touching and valuable commemoration of the events in Uganda which led these exiles to Britain.  There’s a strong, effective framing element of text that explains the complex relationship of the Asians to Uganda and why they were there. as well as the effects of independence in Uganda and  the rather perverse reading of the principle of Africanisation, that led Amin to blame the Asians for Uganda’s ills, as well as simultaneously seeing a chance to enrich himself and his supporters at their expence.

Elixabete Lopez Photography 2013--¼ 10 of 38


My main caveat is I was a little surprised to see few accounts from Ugandan Asian Muslims and a bigger project could arguably have done rather more to bring out the comparative nature of the experience of the migrants from India throughout East Africa. However, this is a moving and thoughtful exhibition -presented with care and attention to detail - which deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.



8th Music at Paxton Festival

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on Wednesday, 24 July 2013
5 stars



The annual Music at Paxton Festival (19th-28th July 2013) has become one of the most popular and critically regarded festivals of chamber music in Britain and after visiting the opening weekend of the 8th Festival at Paxton House – perhaps the finest neo-Palladian building in Scotland – I was certainly not disappointed.

Paxton House itself is a rather beautiful example of the neoclassical style, a grand villa created in Enlightenment Scotland as  travellers on the grand tour discovered a new interest in the classical period. Begun by Patrick Home in 1758 the architects were John and James Adam of Edinburgh, it was later extended during Georgian times – while retaining its classical proportions – to create the picture gallery where the concerts take place. The neoclassical setting of Paxton’s Picture Gallery – hung with fine pictures from the National Gallery of Scotland – is the kind of grand salon for which such music is intended and this gives an entirely different atmosphere to the pieces you hear, when compared to viewing them in a large auditorium for example.

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Fig. 1. The Picture Gallery, Paxton House.

Under the careful eye and ear of festival director Helen Jamieson this joyful celebration of music brings together keen young performers on the cusp of stardom, more established names and enthusiastic and discerning audiences into exactly the kind of intimate space where chamber music really shines. There is an exciting range of music in this year’s festival from things you might expect to hear like Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann to the wilder folk-inspired music of Dvořák, a celebration of the French composer Poulenc who dies 50 years ago, to period baroque works played by Florilegium and a new commission by Anthony Payne in the shape of an octet.

 
However, leaving aside the splendid setting, there is an array of virtuoso talent on display, coupled with some bold, inventive programming. Forsaking a simple medley of the old Romantic favourites, there were surprising, unusual pieces, as well as strong interpretations of familiar, well-loved work.

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Figure 2. The Rhodes Piano Trio

Pianist Alasdair Beatson and baritone, William Berger, partnered in an opening concert of summer-imbued music with a strong folk element that seems so at home in the wild borders between England and Scotland. They performed songs by Ravel, Fara and Dvořák; Berger showed his ample interpretative skills in bringing these songs to life. It is fascinating to be close enough to the performers to see the expressions on Berger’s mobile face as he literally acted out the story of each song. 

 

In the following concert they joined the renowned Endellion Quartet. This saw performances of two works for string quartet and voice: Samuel Barber’s setting of Arnold’s melancholic poem Dover Beach and Respighi’s sublime Il Tramanto, which uses a translated text by the poet Shelley. Both of these are romantic works, whose seriousness of purpose lies in evoking the beauty of place and which worked extremely well with an audience surrounded by the green countryside of Paxton.

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Figure 3.  The Endellion Quartet

The effective coupling of two of Schubert’s powerful meditations on death: Death and the Maiden and the String Quartet in D minor, D810 demonstrated the rapport between all of the different musicians and the Endellion Quartet’s ability to conjure up the powerful conflicts and changes of mood in the work. Although not a typical choice to be played together, this juxtaposition did a great deal to make me see their emotional affinities and in particular, the composer’s emotional ambivalence and struggle with his grief over a lost loved one.


On Saturday Beatson undertook a solo recital of Beethoven’s mysterious and musically revolutionary Sonata in A, op. 101, paired with Schumann Fantasy in C, op. 17 – Beatson’s musicianship was a striking as his moving, sensitive interpretation. It is easy to see why he is making such a name for himself on the concert circuit. The Rhodes Piano Trio followed this with a vigorous, and charismatic concert of music by Czech composers that made me rethink some musical assumptions and to consider in particular how the nationalist, folk-inspired music of the nineteenth century became linked to the more experimental primitivist modernism of the twentieth century.

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Figure 4. Alasdair Beatson


Lastly, if you decide to visit Paxton for a few days, then nearby Berwick-on-Tweed makes for a quietly charming base from where you can explore the many, waiting-to-be-discovered pleasures of the English-Scottish borders. It is a rather forgotten backwater in parts but is full of intriguing places as well as unspoilt countryside. Berwick itself is a slightly sleepy town, where building seems to have stopped with the Georgian period and it allows easy access to the coast – Northumbria after all is filled with wonderful golden beaches and ruined castles – as well as the Tweed river which must be crossed to enter Scotland. The town possesses a set of largely intact Elizabethan defensive walls that can be walked, providing interesting vantage points on the town and some picturesque views of the sea.  Holy Island and Lindisfarne castle are not far away and there are boat trips to see Puffins and other sea life. Accommodation seems plentiful and I very much enjoyed my stay at Alannah House, a Bed and Breakfast set in a 300 year old building in Berwick and run by a very friendly and informative couple, Mr Stephen and Mrs. Lynn Flook (www.alannahhouse.com).

17th Ledbury Poetry Festival 2013 - Review

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on Thursday, 18 July 2013
17th Ledbury Poetry  Festival 2013 Review

5 stars

This is the longest running and easily the most important such festival in Britain and offers a chance to experience an extraordinary range of poetry and events that focus on the glory of the spoken word.  It is a cornucopia of poetic delights and there really was something for everyone, no matter what your taste.

This year it ran from 5th- 14th  July 2013 and while I couldn’t go for more than a day, I  could have easily spent a week there enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes – there was a special edition Ledbury Poetry Festival cider and plenty of welcoming cafes and cake shops- of what is also a rather lovely Herefordshire town filled with timber-framed mediaeval architecture. Carol Anne Duffy was quite right when she called the Ledbury festival: ‘A rare, genuine joining of poetry, people and place.’

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Figure 1. ' Emergency Poetry ' credit: Alexander Caminada

There were certainly some great examples of more traditional poet reading their works such as Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochhead, Owen Sheers and Anne Stevenson;    including some wonderful example of international poets in the shape of the Iranians Shakila Azizzada and Azita Ghahreman.  New performers were represented just as strongly as established names with Kate Tempest  - she recently won the Ted Hughes Award for her drama Brand New Ancients - headlining the festival itself.

But there were also workshops for aspiring poets , covering all manner of skills and a resident festival poet in the shape of Naomi Shihab Nye, as well as fun-filled poetry sessions for children and Juliet Stephenson reading from Sylvia Plath. There was also some surprising innovations with Wet Sounds, an underwater sound and light installation where you have to immerse yourself in the swimming pool  whilst exploring soundscapes over two distinct sound systems. Other highlights included public figures such as politician Tony Benn and Alexandra Schulman of Vogue choosing and reading the poems that inspired them. And there was plenty of humour for example in stalwart, celebrated performers from the performance poetry scene such as the always wryly funny, political poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

small Poetry Takeaway Alexander Caminada Photography2

Fig. 2 .'Poetry takeaway', credit: Alexander Caminada
You could order a poem on any subject from a list of topics.


One of the nicest aspects of the festival is the down-to-earth and friendly nature of the festival, it is largely run by poetry-loving volunteers from the local community and it is charming to go to events being held in neighbourhood halls and local cafes. You don’t have to be a poetry event regular to be made to feel very welcome and there is enough variety in this small scale and very human festival to meet any interests. We shouldn’t forget this is  a celebration, with its roots in local schools and the community and that it does impressive work in bringing poetry to school children who may not have experienced it before¸ Life Loves To Change is a community projects, where locals working with the Rural Media Company  has led to the creation of a new poem using oral material, while  the Rural Media Company have made a  series of films and photographs depicting life in Ledbury and the changing culture and identity of the town. The project has its own website – see www.lifelovestochange.org

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Figure 3. Ledbury Festival Poetry Goers, credit: Alexander Caminada

If you are a poetry lover, or just love historic old towns then you will almost certainly enjoy a few days or a week in Ledbury at next year’s festival. Check out their web site at www.poetry-festival.co.uk

PS Also don’t forget 31st October 2013 is the closing date for the national poetry competition – see www.poetrysociety.org.uk, while the main nature poetry competion closes 30 September 2013, see http://www.therialto.co.uk/pages/the-magazine/nature-poetry-competition-2013/ and there are also some prizes set up by innovative theatre company livecanon see http://www.livecanon.com/  Also look out for the Torbay Festival of Poetry Thursday 24th –Monday 28th October 2013. 


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