Rainer @ Arcola Theatre

04.10.2021

Arriving at Arcola Theatre’s outdoor space, I was pleasantly surprised, without yet knowing how suitable the venue would be for this piece. Sure enough, the opening scene showed Sorcha Kennedy as Rainer, walking through the audience, helmet, and ‘Angel Deliveries’ jacket on. This introduced the play as one which frequently broke the fourth wall, as Rainer began by addressing the audience directly.

Depicting the story of a woman who is forced to take up a job as a food delivery cyclist, as she isn’t quite ‘making it’ as a writer, Rainer is a funny, witty and at times, sinister piece. Throughout the show Sorcha performs multi-role play, becoming all the people Rainer interacts with, including an ex-boyfriend, a current love interest, and her boss, just to name a few. Her use of accents was a joy to watch, and the multi-role play really showed her versatility as an actor. I think the multi-role play could’ve been tidied up in places; I would’ve liked to have seen her perform the characters varying mannerisms, and ensuring that Rainer’s voice didn’t blur into the voices of those character’s she was depicting. However, the pace of the piece was demanding and her performance, nonetheless, impressive.

Throughout the play Rainer’s deliveries are interrupted by snippets of Rainer’s counselling sessions with her ‘shit NHS counsellor’. These scenes successfully explored mental health within a backdrop of underfunded mental health services in the UK. The script was rich in thematic content, with other topics including love, class, sexual assault, grief and (of course) COVID-19. I found the content of the play entirely relatable, and its exploration of these themes nuanced, all the while being laugh out loud funny. The brilliance of the script made sense when I discovered that its writer, Max Wilkinson, has previously won the Stage to Screen Award.

Throughout the play Sorcha frequently ran laps around the audience, while on her one of many ‘trips’ around London. The scripts successful ability to depict the areas of London meant that you felt you were on that journey with her, visualising each setting as she whizzed past. The ‘pinging’ of the delivery app, jolting her into action again and again, while the slightly less warm auditorium aided the realism. The ever changing settings were depicted usually by a small change in lighting, or music, with very little need for props. Despite the sparse stage, the writing and performance convinced you of the scenes.

All in all, I think the writing, performance, lighting and sound came together to provide a unique and gripping show. I’d love to see more of Max’s writing, and I think Sorcha’s energy and versatility make her an exciting performer to watch. I think if you get a chance, absolutely catch this piece before it finishes!

In conversation with Mike Leigh @ London Film School

Photograph:Wikipedia

14.01.2021

Mike Leigh OBE begins the Q&A session by reflecting on his beginnings in theatre and film. His first cinema inspirations came after moving from Manchester to London, where for the first time he saw subtitled film and works such as Ermanno Olmi’s formed his biggest inspirations. As he trained to be an actor at RADA, he realised he was able to sneak into the LFS lectures without raising too many suspicions and there he began an education in film. Not long after, his first feature film- Bleak Moments– was created as a collaboration with a school friend with a budget of less than £20,000, largely donated by the lead actor.

What I found most interesting about Mike Leigh’s conversation was learning of his relaxed approached to film creation. Despite being known as a screenwriter, he never writes a script but rather has an idea of what he wants the film to be about and where he wants it to go. Once the idea is formed, he will organise a cast who he then collaborates with in creating the scenes. Afterwards it is written up as an ‘assembly’ for sound production to use. He explains that he began creating Naked– his film about an unemployed Mancunian who vents his rage on unsuspecting strangers- with only the remotest notions of what he wanted to create, embarking on a journey of discovery. This free way of working extends across all of Leigh’s work, as he refuses to use story boards even when it means fighting with his crew on Peterloo, sticks to small crews as well as budgets. The only ridigity it seems Leigh adopts, is that he is firm that actors should only ever know what a character knows at any given point, allowing for the most authentic of performances. It is clear his works are real passion projects focused mostly on exploring character rather than subject, but that his films are always about things which interest him, as Vera Drake was born from his consciousness of illegal abortion growing up. Leigh is definitely proof that for film, you really don’t need a rule book to be successful just passion, inspiration and of course, money.



The Outstanding Limited Series Emmy nominations are unified in shining a light on female and racial oppression but can they incite real change?

This article contains spoilers.

I was surprised when I saw that all of the Outstanding Limited Series nominations focus on either female or racial oppression, particularly as previous years Emmy’s have seen no such unification in theme. Although previous nominations such as Big Little Lies and When They See Us also discussed female and racial oppression, no other year has seen all the nominations include it. However, understanding art as a reflection of its time, it makes sense. The nominations suggest that each year of the last decade has become increasingly demanding of change, verified by the global #metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements. The arts are amping up their support of social dilemmas, the question is whether or not they can help bring change, or whether they are simply holding up a mirror.

The first, Mrs America, is an undisguised presentation of the history of female oppression, as it follows the women at the forefront of the 1970s America Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA. Throughout the show we see how the women pushing the bill ‘suffer for the cause’, as they allow themselves to be felt up by my men in positions of authority, in order to get their backing. The most interesting feature of the plot, if it were not true, is its Republican anti-heorine, Phyllis Schlafly, whose STOP-ERA party grouped housewives against the bill. Phyllis argues the bill would disadvantage housewives, cause women to be drafted into the military and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases. Ultimately indoctrinated by patriarchy, we see her repeatedly elbowed out of conversation with men in the workplace, who ask her to ‘take notes’ rather than share insights, as well as fight her husband on her right to study law, all without ever recognising the ERA plight. The show contrasts Schlafly’s private life with the private lives of the main ERA proponents, presenting her marriage as one of tradition and constraint while theirs, new wave and free. The most interesting character trajectory however comes from Alice Macray, Phyllis’ right hand woman. Alice aids Phyllis throughout, but is forced to reflect on their incessant opposition to the ERA, when she is unexpectedly enlightened at the liberal National Women’s Conference and learns of a fellow party members suffering in the home. The show’s documentary footage from the 1970s rallies and marches, reminds us that this isn’t just a drama, but history and the more recent footage reminds us that men and women are still not equal by law in America. It highlights the experience of women in 1970s America and their necessity of being attractive and compliant in order to gain recognition. But more importantly it celebrates, with a star-studded cast and beady eyed script, the women at the forefront of the movement, the sisterhood they formed and the leadership they showed. It is a great proof of the female battle and an unsurprising nomination for the Outstanding Limited Series award.

Unbelievable, by contrast, is primarily a detective series but, much like this year’s I May Destroy You, it spends an extraordinarily long time with the victims of sexual assault. It presents real female victims, not just the young, reckless and attractive ones we are told about in the media but also old, overweight and from mixed ethnicities. It presents two female detectives who work solidly on the case, as though their own safety depended on it, as they discuss the injustices in their own police departments and acknowledge the failings of male detectives in rape cases. The success of this series is due to its ability to properly reflect the complexities and realites of sexual assault, crime and policing. It is an american police drama devoid of ego or showmanship but with reflection and honesty. It faces up to the fact that there are criminals within American law enforcement and asks why, if as many women in the police department had hit their child, as men who had hit their wife, they would all be out of their jobs, while men remain. Sexual assault is shown not just as a crime, but as a life-altering and often life-destroying event particularly through its focus on its female protagonist, Marie Adler, who after having repeatedly fallen victim to the state, only has that used against her when reporting the crime. Unbelievable is not only the victim’s story, but a call for revision in law enforcement and social systems; it is about the oppressed and the oppressor equally.

The most focused conversation about feminism out of all the nominations, is Unorthodox as it spotlights women in Hasidic Orthodox Jewish communities, through its protagonist Esty. The series has been widely recognised as groundbreaking, but mostly due to the fact that it is primarily spoken in Yiddish and is the first of its kind to represent the Hasidic Orthodox Jewish community more broadly, even having its own ‘the making of’ documentary. Inspired by Deborah Feldman’s auto-biography The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, the plot shows the constraints placed on women inside strict Jewish communities. Constant scrutiny from her new husband’s family, which extends to her sexual and reproductive capabilities, leads Esty to seek a new life in Berlin. There she begins to experience the freedoms of life outside of the community, as she becomes inspired to pursue her dreams in music, which she was previously forbidden to practice. She also reunites with her mother who had been excommunicated when Esty was young, for refusing to conform. Through a shared enemy, the pair begin to rebuild their relationship as her mother seeks to prevent her from returning. If feminism is defined as a woman’s right to choose, Unorthodox shows Hasidic women are forced to exchange their communities, for autonomy. A revealing, focused and moving story of female isolation in religious communites.

Little Fires Everywhere bridges the gap in the nominations in that while it is undoubtedly feminist, in its focus on motherhood, it is primarily about race. The show explores the dynamic between a white mother, Elena Richardson, and black mother, Mia Warren, who become acquainted when Elena takes pity on Mia and her daughter Pearl and offers for them to live rent free in her apartment. Despite all her good intentions, Elena exhibits white saviourism, as she becomes dissatisfied when her charity isn’t met with enthusiasm. She offers Mia a job in her house on the assumption that she needs help and prides herself on fighting Mia’s daughter Pearl’s battles for her, but begrudges Mia when she is met with hostility. The show explores how racial biases do not stop at the parent -even in a progressing society -but is handed down through generations, as Lexie, Elena’s daughter, uses Pearl as a scapegoat when filing her abortion and gentrifies Pearl’s hardships in order to get into Harvard. The gnawing anxiety Mia experiences when she sees a police car, juxtaposed with Elena’s ability to rely on the police department for favours, is just one of the ways the show reflects on how whiteness contributes to an easier life. This is stated no more clearly however, than through a third mother, Bebe Chow, who after coming to America from China to give her daughter a better life, resulted in abandoning her at a fire-station due to poverty and post partum depression. Regretting her decision, Bebe searches for May- Ling but it is Mia, a colleague of Bebe, who informs her that May-Ling has since been adopted by a white American couple who are friends of Elena. Bebe, forced to fight for custody of her child in court, has her biological claim is pitched up against the benefits of finance and stability which the white couple offer. The jury assess what constitutes a good mother, in a world where white always wins. Little Fires Everywhere is an aptly timed discussion of racial bias and white privilege, during the biggest push for racial equality of the 21st Century, following the death of George Floyd.

Most surprising of all the nominees focus on oppression, is Watchmen, whose comic book series and 2009 film only ever partially addressed race and focused around white superheroes. Lindelof, the show’s creator, reimagines the world of Watchmen by placing it firmly within a discourse of racial oppression and white supremacy. Beginning with the depiction of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, a significant incident of racial terrorism in American history whereby the ‘Black Wall Street’ was burned down by white supremacists, aided by the National Guard, the series makes its anchor in history a racism fuelled atrocity. Catapulted forward into the present, we are introduced to the current world through the eyes of an African American protagonist Angela Abar, whose alter ego Sister Night, is a caped heroine working for the police. This America, led by liberal president Redford, appears an improvement on our currently reality, as his agendas include reparations for black people, a Victims of Racial Violence Act and the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage, reconnecting black people with their ancestors. In this America, police officers mask themselves for their own protection and primarily work to fight masked white supremacists, known as the 7th Kavalry, descendants of the KKK. However, the noosing of Chief Judd, a white police officer, by a black man who claims to Abar’s grandfather, throws this narrative. Forced to ingest ‘nostalgia pills’ to fill the gaps in her past and discover the truth about her grandfather, Abar sees her grandfathers life following from the Tulsa Race Riots. Through her grandfather, we learn that apparent racial progress is just a veil to cover persisting white supremacy, as he discovers a secret white supremacist organisation known as Cyclops. Disillusioned with the justice system, he unexpectedly learns that if he is to take out white supremacists or real criminals, he would have to do that in a mask, rather than wearing a badge. Hence the beginning of the ‘hooded justice’. However, it becomes clear that Cyclops never disappeared but still includes leading members of the police and government who are working to try and inhabit Doctor Manhattan, to regain full control. While the world Lindelof uses is undoubtedly more fantastic than our own, he uses it to make powerful statements about the current state of America. By taking a real historical event such as the destruciton in Vietnam war and making it the work of super power Dr Manhatten, Lindelof likens white supremacy to the work of an evil super power. The greatest acheivement of the series, is that it takes the only superhero of colour from the original comic, the traditionally blue Doctor Manhattan and gives him a reason to be a black man. Watchmenreverses the trend of the ‘black villain’ by giving us not one, but three black heroes: Sister Night, Doctor Manhattan and Will Reeves against white supremacy. It even addresses the importance of children having a superhero who looks like them, as Angela’s childhood obsession with Sister Night grows because she ‘looks like her’. Therefore in creating three black heroes the show provides, just as Sister Night did for Angela, something for black children to admire.

It is clear that what this year’s best limited series’ nominations present is a world in much need of a revolution. Mrs America wakes us up to the fact that men and women still aren’t equal by law in America. Unbelievable acknowledges that most rape victims weren’t drunk or wearing too little and that male police officers could also be abusers, while Unorthodox highlights the isolation and restriction placed on women in Orthodox religious communities. Little Fires Everywhere discusses the acumulative effect of white privilege while Watchmen demonises white supremacy and celebrates blackness. Most unifying in the nominations is their sense of restlessness and as a viewer, this has to have an a cumulative effect. Much like an addict admitting they have a problem, the existence of these series are a proof of progress, in at least recognising the problem exists. I think most likely to isight change is Watchmen, in its use of shock factor as well as Unbelievable, as it provides a naturalistic, honest and informative depiction of sexual assault. Both of these series succeed in being informative and I think in the very least, will encourage reflection if not revision.

I May Destroy You- The first in a new wave of writing.

Photograph:BBC Pictures.

I May Destroy You is an eye opening focus on sexual assault following a young writer called Arabella and her group of friends. The story begins with Arabella attempting to complete a writing submission by morning, but she is quickly tempted into attending a night out with a male friend nearby. Sat back in the office the next day feeling hazy, she becomes suspicious when she realises she can’t remember smashing her phone or how she got back, beginning her investigation into what happened that night. As she comes to terms with her assault, the script explores it through the characters which surround her and it starts to feel as though trauma is lurking in every corner of society. I May Destroy You is a great piece of writing, one of many ‘firsts’ for the BBC, however it isn’t the strongest piece the BBC have produced.

A Representative Portrayal of Black London 
One of the most notable aspects of the piece is that Coel provides a relatable young black Londoner’s experience, as she soundtracks the series with black content creators and musicians. I May Destroy You reveals the failures of other BBC dramas; all too often they present only one dimensional black characters, involved with gang crime or living in poverty. Coel presents black people in positions of power and wealth, in creative work as well as in the traditional first generation home.

The Creative’s Struggle
It is clear from the writing that Coel is young and newly established, as she spends much of her time focusing on the young creatives struggle and the pain that often comes with freelance work. We see it in Arabella’s battle to stay as a commissioned writer while dealing with trauma and missing a formal education, as well as with her best friend Terry’s attempts to get cast for low level acting jobs. One of my favourite aspects of the whole series was seeing them ecstatic for Terry for finally landing a paid TV commercial, even though it was brief and cheesy. It is this that made me realise how rarely the BBC has reflected the young creative battle that so many are familiar with.

Sexual Assault 
Finally and most significantly, Coel discusses the many guises of sexual assault, as she educates the viewer in consent, through some grim but truthful scenes. I May Destroy You strays from the usual heteronormative portrayal of rape on screen, which spends little emotional time with the victims and assumes all the victims to be female. It instead presents a vulnerable society, where anyone could fall victim in a wide variety of ways. Most importantly the series places more focus on subsequent trauma, than on the event itself. From the millennial need to turn your trauma into ‘social media inspiration’, to pathetic art therapies, it explores the long term effect of sexual assault. Good and evil are constantly trading places as the lines between victim and perpetrator blur continually, showing that it isn’t as black and white as the media would often have you believe. The best discussion of trauma however, came in the ending which speaks to both the reality of most conclusions of sexual assault, as well as what real recovery from trauma looks like. Often it is not vengeance or ‘justice’, but letting go which is considered to be the best possible ending.

However, while Coel undoubtedly presents a powerful script filled with originality, the delivery lacked subtlety and flow. I found the throwing around of timelines amateur and the obviousness of the content frustrating. Everything being said was great, it just felt too forced. I May Destroy You is said to be ‘revolutionary’ and while Coel was certainly the first to bring such an inclusive portrayal of sexual assault and young person experience to the screen, her content is simply a reflection of millennial and gen- Z Twitter and Instagram feeds, moved into mainstream media. Although this is certainly a feat, and it is great to finally see social media discourse and TV merging, I think we can expect to see better dramas coming forward from the new generation of writers who are also familiar with this same online narrative. I May Destroy You is a season of firsts, but it certainly won’t be the last or the best executed.

7/10

Little Fires Everywhere – A perfectly timed discussion on race.

Photograph:The Radio Times

Little Fires Everywhere focuses on two mothers: Elena Richardson, a white middle class writer and all round do gooder and Mia Warren, a black artist who moves from state to state in her car with her daughter, Pearl. The two meet when Elena Richardson takes pity on Warren and allows her and Pearl to rent her apartment for free. Elena prides herself on the action and sees it as an opportunity to do good in the world, soon sparking up a friendship with Pearl, who in turn becomes close friends with her own children. The story becomes, in the most part, a discussion about race and class, but also about motherhood. Ironically released during the biggest discussion of race the world has ever seen, following from George Floyd’s murder, it is a loud and glaring discussion of white privilege in America, from dolls only being made in white, to Elena’s trust in the police department versus Mia’s fear. However, the biggest and most thoroughgoing discussion of race and motherhood comes in with a third mother, Bebe Chow, who came to America from China to give her daughter a better life. The show sees her fight for custody of Mai Ling, in a world where white always wins.

What I loved…

The acting in the series incredible; Kerry Washington undeniably owns the show with her moving portrayal of Mia Warren. However, I found the shows young cast especially impressive, specifically Tiffany Boone, who plays the younger Mia Warren in the flash back episodes. Despite having a smaller part, her ability to mimic Kerry Washington’s mannerisms and facial expressions made for an uncanny likeness. She is one to watch.

The conversations the season has is undoubtedly its most interesting feature. It is the most mainstream discussion of racial bias and how it filtrates into the minds into even the most seemingly anti-racist people, I have ever seen. This comes through most clearly in the Richardson family, in particular through Elena’s character, who despite all her good intentions, still holds biases that she herself is blind to.
Alongside and tangled up in its conversation about racism is its discussion of motherhood, in particular mother daughter relationships, which forms a relatable and moving dialogue throughout the show. The season parallels Elena’s relationship with her youngest daughter Izzy (the one she didn’t plan for) with Mia’s relationship with Pearl. Both girls experience problems with their own mother and in turn seek solace in each others. Izzy, who can’t cope with her mothers need for control enjoys the company of free spirit Mia, while Pearl, sick of having no sense security or grounding, can see the value in a tightly organised home. The fact that both girls find qualities in each others mother’s more agreeable than their own shows that the concept of a ‘good mother’ is subjective, based more on preference than truth. This dialogue is played out with Bebe’s fight to keep her daughter, when the court gets to decide what constitutes a good mother. Through these three women the show discusses the inadequacy, survival and criticism of mothers.

Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful, political, feminist watch.

9/10

BlackAF

Photograph: Gabriel Delerme

Looking for an easy watch comedy during the lockdown? Look no further than Kenya Barris’ BlackAF, following on from his earlier series ‘black-ish’, ‘grown-ish’ and ‘mixed-ish’. Despite being criticised for being a rehashing of ‘Black Ish’, viewed in separation this is a funny and fresh watch, readily available at your Netflix fingertips. The series is a satirised depiction of Kenya Barris’ life, a wealthy comedy writer, presented as a documentary attempt by the protagonist’s daughter for her college application. Showing his black middle class family living in a white middle class world, the series confronts issues of prejudice, cultural identity, and ‘black art’ success in a way that (prior to Black Ish), I had never seen before. Kenya Barris may need to push himself to get away from the shadow of Black Ish, but here he has stuck to what he does best: expounding on his personal narrative in a satirical context.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

Set in France in the late 18th Century ‘Portrait On A Lady on Fire’, is a progressive period drama about a solo female artist named Marrianne, who is commissioned to complete a wedding portrait of Héloïse, against her knowledge. In this wonderfully feminist piece the four main parts are women, with the addition of Héloïse’s mother the countess and her maid Sophie. The film is ultimately a discussion of the female gaze, a woman being painted by a woman, who also gazes upon the painter, both constantly under scrutiny. The male absence in the film is glaring and yet the female oppression is loud; it is in Marianne’s need to paint in her father’s name as well as Héloïse’s arranged marriage. Throughout the film Héloïse, Marrianne and Sophie the maid, form a kind of sisterhood like that seen Mustang, coming together through difficulty.

It is a heartbreaking and beautiful LGBTQ film. 9/10.

Viewed on MUBI.

Mustang – film recommends.

Photograph: Allstar/Canal+

A tale of sisterhood.

This Turkish language film by Turkish-French film director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is set in a small village, near to Istanbul. The film depicts five orphaned sisters who live with their grandmother and presents their struggle growing up in a conservative society. The plot begins with typical childhood scenes of the girls on their way home from school, playing with a group of boys in the sea. When they reach home however, they are met with fury for bringing ‘shame’ on their family and are forbidden from leaving the house. The film is an aggressive discussion of female oppression in conservative countries, covering dark topics such as gender violence, assault and suicide. However, it is the friendship, rebellion and most importantly sisterhood, which makes this film so memorable.

A stunningly portrayed feminist work, 8/10.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie @The Apollo Theatre

23.05.19

Last Night I FINALLY got round to seeing Everybody’s Talking About Jamie starring the amazing Ru Paul’s, Bianca Del Rio and Faye Tozer from Steps. The show exceeded my already high expectations; an incredibly tight production with a very talented cast. If you are a theatre lover and haven’t yet seen it- stop reading now and go and do so. For those readers that have seen it, here are some thoughts I had…

The Set

Set is not always a feature of a production which I normally leave thinking about that however the set for ETAJ is flawless. I loved the unravelling kitchen which stays on stage at all times, the painfully accurate grim school toilet, the multi-use single door leading to abyss’ beyond (i.e. the club door, the classroom door, the stage door). The set was both simplistic yet advanced.

The Cast

Layton Williams was astounding as Jamie New, I couldn’t fault his performance which is no easy feat.

Roy Haylock/ Bianca Del Rio- It was a dream to see Bianca del rio (as Loco Chanel) on stage as any lover of Ru Paul could imagine. However, I think her lack of performance training showed slightly next to the cast- her projection wasn’t great at times and her performance as Hugo was seemingly lacking in confidence. Having said that, once she stepped into drag she was indistinguishable from Bianca Del Rio- witty, loud and high class. I think the short run for Hugo Taylor may have meant a lack of rehearsal time in comparison to the rest of the cast, which may account for the slight disparity. Regardless, overall I was delighted to see Roy Haylock in this.

Sejal Keshwala- The unsung hero of the piece as she played friend of Jamie New’s mum, Ray, perfectly. I’m not sure if it’s the incredible acting or the well- written character I fell in love with here but she brought the most emotion to the play, offering the completion of Jamie’s unconventional family. She brought both brilliant wit as well as poignant familiarity as she provided the most authentically northern character in the piece.

If I had to moan:

Honestly, I would’ve liked to have seen more drag. Jamie New was never once seen in drag only as a ‘boy in a dress’. I understand the time pressures of transforming someone into a drag queen, so I wasn’t expecting it to come early on. They tease at the idea with the clever use of the projector at the end of act one and I kept assuming their would be a grand unveiling towards the end, however the unveiling never came. Maybe this was due to wanting to stick to the original story (as we know the musical is based on the BBC documentary) but if thats the case who gives a damn about authenticity, let Jamie New come in FULL drag to the prom. Give the audience what they are after. Surely in a show all about an aspiring drag queen, it has to be done once right?

Similarly, Roy Haylock only appeared for a brief time in drag and spending 3/4 of her performance as Hugo rather than Loco Chanel. Give the audience what they want!

Aside from my drag hunger- Everybody’s Talking about Jamie is an incredible watch well worth the pricey ticket. Filled with a top class cast, cleverly executed design and genius script.

My rating 9/10. Shantay you Stay.