Creditors, at The Lyceum.


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This is one intellectual heft of a piece of theatre and for that reason it most definitely is not for everyone. If you are even considering a coin toss between this and Wicked, showing down the road at The Playhouse, I’d probably recommend you opt for the green faced fun.

Because fun is not an adjective I’d reach for in describing David Greig’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 Swedish tragicomedy.  (For Celtic fans I am sorry to advice that there are no references to Hibernian FC setting up their B team in Glasgow at that time).

There are laughs in act one, don’t get me wrong, but not fun laughs.  Sharp intakes of breath precede most of them as we observe, almost voyeuristically, an encounter between two men nearing the end of a six hour conversation (or is it a therapy session) that may have started out as, or may be concluding with, a detailed autopsy on the young Adolph’s infatuated love for his wife Tekla.  The older man has much advice for his sappy companion, all of which undermines him and his relationship with his wife.

It’s a complex, extremely dense psychological drama that has a neat technological twist in Act Three that breathes a great deal of life into what would otherwise be a marathon two hour sitting.

Indeed the Act 3 device is both innovative and exciting and makes the last act crack along to its dramatic conclusion.

Director Stewart Laing has introduced an intermissionary theme that uses a UK Garage track to underscore a group of Girl Guides robotically trekking through the surrounding Swedish countryside.  It’s funny, fresh and ultimately plays a role in the play’\s denouement.  I liked it a lot.  Although entirely (and deliberately) out of place its very presence emphasises the tension that is developing in the main body of the play.

On returning to the dialogue, each time, it accentuates the cold, serious tone that reflects the period, location and nature of the play with its deliberately mannered acting.

And so that brings me to the performances.  Edward Franklin, Stuart McQuarrie and Adura Onashile present a master class between them.  It’s difficult to present material this dense whilst maintaining the audience’s deep concentration and to make what could easily turn into a dirge a vibrant enthralling psychological drama.

Really this a supremely confident and grown up production that would be packing them in on a London stage.  Let’s hope there are enough wise old souls in Edinburgh wiling to take a chance on a play that rewards throughout and leaves a deeply satisfying aftertaste to savour long after.

Reverse Evolution. How Dr. Martens are trying to defy the laws of Darwin.


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During Darwin’s trip to the Galapagoan Islands he noticed that, island by island, the local finch populations had adapted their beaks in shape and functionality to perform the rudimentary tasks required to feed themselves from the available food source. Et Voila! the theory of evolution began.  Small positive changes over a period of time that made the species stronger, fitter and better equipped for long term survival.

So it had been with the Dr Marten boot, which too displayed Darwinian evolutionary principles, from its birth in post WWII Germany until the early 21st century when its popularity, in decline at that time, nearly bankrupted its makers; R Griggs and Co in 2003.

The Dr Marten started out as a working man’s boot/shoe with their comfortable bouncy ‘Airwair’ sole that made them de rigour for factory workers, posties and coppers before becoming the anti-style statement of a succession of youth movements, all of whom could, in one way or another, be described as anti-establishment.

But the DM (my preferred moniker for the Dr. Marten shoe or boot) has unquestionably  evolved, virtually shapeshifted in fact, since its heyday in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

My own discovery of DMs (the 1461) came in the late 70’s as a spotty university student (may have been my latter school days, but I can’t really nail it).  I wasn’t a punk – the discovery was largely based on comfort.

Sure, the ‘comfort’ proposition came with a caveat. They were difficult to break in.  The ankle area around the Achilles Tendon would take a severe bruising and chafing for several weeks, but it was worth worth it in the long run because what followed was years of indestructible comfort.

I have never felt confident enough to choose the yellow stitching variety – so strongly associated with rebellion. Although I did once purchase brown – not even ox-blood – 461’s  when brown shoes and blue jeans briefly defied the long term rules of fashion.

I wore them with a suit – my own private rebellion at a time when DM’s were in serious decline and seriously lacked style credentials.

I didn’t care. (That’s why I am an archetypal DM wearer.)

When I became the proud father of teenage kids I desperately tried to persuade them to wear DMs because, to me, they were such an anti-style statement that I foolishly believed they (my kids) would look cool.

They wouldn’t.  Because they, as ‘millenials’ (Christ, I fucking hate that word) had no rebellion in them and so need for DM’s

Perhaps inevitably popularity declined.  Rebellions ran out towards to the end of the millennium.  ‘New Labour’ was a reflection of us all going soft perhaps.  It was Toryism in disguise after all.

The role of the DM to kick holes in authority, with its comfortable bouncy soles and high quality leather upper (sometimes hiding steel toe-caps) was in, at the very least, abeyance.

And so the DM had to reinvent itself.

It started with a business transformation, making what may have seemed essential but will come back to bite in the long term, by moving their manufacture from England to Taiwan and China and, not that long after that in 2013,  the company sold to a private equity company,

The result?  Quality has taken a kicking.  The soles split easily.  The uppers tarnish, flake and generally do not serve their functional purpose and, actually quite quickly their new found fashion icon role.

And yet, as the shoe’s quality product credentials have plummeted, its ‘coolness’ has increased.

This is reverse Darwinism.  Evolution in a horrible, spastic contortion where DNA gets mangled for short term fitness at the cost of long term survival.

How many people under 20 have you seen wearing Ramones T Shirts?

“Who are the Ramones” you might ask them.

Glassy eyed looks might be the response.

So it is with the DM.  It now comes in what seems like 5,000 styles.  A veritable cornucopia of designs largely spray painted onto the blank canvas of the 460 boot and 461shoe.

These new, shit, versions cost 2.5 times as much as I paid for the originals. This is not the result of inflation – were inflation at play they may cost £60-70, but they are £115 or, if you want what me and my pals used to buy (the ‘Vintage”), you’ll pay 3 to 3.5 x as much at £150 – 170 a pair.

British fashion is really rubbish sometimes.  The Mini is another good example of a brand having a purpose (size and economy) and that purpose being OVERWHELMED by fashion.  The Mini is no longer small.  It’s not a fucking Mini any more.

Anyway, here endeth my rant.

I have three or four very old pairs of DMs.  They are intact.  I wear them regularly.  I will not be buying shit Asian imports at £115 and/or paying £150 for the same shoe at double its real value.  I will seek dead mens’ shoes in charity shops and vintage stores to keep my love affair alive.

Long live DMs.  Death to the new fashionista version.

 

 

 

 

Rhinoceros: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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To give you a deep insight into Rhinoceros, here’s a cat.  And three fledgling fascists.

If Theatre of the Absurd kicked off with Becket’s Godot it may have reached its zenith in Ionesco’s work; most famously in Rhinoceros.

It’s not a big stretch of the imagination for the audience to understand the concept that’s being ridiculed in this 1959 play about the pre WWII rise in fascism.

The way in which it overwhelmed an intelligent, educated and huge populace of Germany (in Nazism), but many other European countries too,  does seem, on reflection, absurd but terrifyingly so.

And you’re left in no doubt that this is an absurdist comedy in Zinnie Harris’ epic production, because the word is liberally sprinkled throughout the script.

And you’re also left in no doubt that what was a mid 20th century phenomenon is prescient in these pre-Brexit days where the threat of religious war hangs heavily over us all, tainted as it is with accusations of brainwashing, fundamentalism and all sorts of ‘-ification’.

Ionesco saw 1930’s fascist ideological conformity as abhorrent (and like us he had the benefit of hindsight).  His response was an absurd construct that portrays the emerging nazi’fication’ of Europe as a metaphor.  Ordinary people’s metamorphosis from essentially liberal political belief-sets and world views to the fundamental acceptance of extremes of right wing doctrine was, in his play, like turning from humans into rhinocerii.

Absurd.

And yet it happened.  And, like a plague, the more it became ideologically acceptable the more it became the accepted norm.

Few felt able to challenge and rail against it. And the more the pendulum swung the more

One of the few, in Ionesco’s world, is a simple village drunk called Berenger (played enthusiastically and engagingly by Robert Jack) who simply doesn’t understand what the world is rhinocerising.

His friends (led by the ever brilliant Steve McNicholl) gradually desert him as he becomes a lone voice of not even reason, just questioning.

It’s in parts hysterical, in parts just a bit too full-on to assimilate and in parts beautiful.

The live score by Oguz Kaplangi is mesmerising. (I will go again to see this simply to decode his incredible soundscaping of the piece with music, sound effects and rhythmic underscoring – it’s a gem of a thing).

What it’s not, is logical.  This is theatre you need to engage your brain to enjoy.  I liked that.  And yet it has a simple charm that makes it palatable.  For the most part you can simply enjoy the obvious metaphor and the fun that Zinnie Harris’ ensemble cast bring to the stage.

It’s laugh out loud many times.

And it’s fresh as a daisy.  Albeit one that’s grown through a cow pat.

 

 

Things I won’t be doing this weekend.


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This weekend I won’t be cheering on my daughter at a Cross Fit open competition in Stratford.

This weekend I won’t be walking the canal at Hackney Wick.

This weekend I won’t be having dinner at The First Dates restaurant.

This weekend I won’t be sampling real ales and pizza in The Crate Brewery.

This weekend I won’t be rummaging through the Gods Own Junkyard in Walthamstow.

This weekend I won’t be enjoying a free historical photographic exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

This weekend I won’t be eating Peruvian at Cevicheuk.

This weekend I won’t be wandering hand in hand round the V&A with my wife.

This weekend I won’t be going to a jazz club (possibly Ronnie Scott’s).

This Weekend I won’t be giggling and acting like a doting father with my daughter.

This weekend I won’t be Eating crushed advocate on toast in a bijou flat in Stratford East.

This weekend I won’t be trying lunch at Goat.

This weekend I won’t be taking part in a musical singalong at The Pheonix Art Club in Soho.

This weekend I won’t be visiting the Columbia Road Flower Market.

This weekend I won’t be on a free street Art walking tour in Brick Lane

This weekend I won’t be sampling vegan food at Mildreds

This weekend I won’t be Touring the Houses of Parliament thanks to my local MP.

This weekend I won’t be eating lunch overlooking the Thames in the HoP members restaurant.

This weekend I won’t be viewing London from the Sky Garden in The Shard

This weekend I might be making ANOTHER FUCKING SNOWMAN.

#BeastFromTheEast

 

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A Brief History of Capitalism) by Yanis Varoufakis: Book Review


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Yanis Varoufakis is the economist that shot to fame as the poster boy of Greek economic fuckwittery.  His job was to unfuck the institutionalised fuckwittery, caused by a seemingly ingrained national sport of ‘not paying tax’, that left the Greek economy as the basket-case of the Euro, in the wake of the economic crisis in 2008/2009.

Varoufakis became Greek Finance Minister in January 2015 and lasted till July of that year.  Not exactly jaw-dropping credentials for being the Oracle on succesful economic strategy.

But he was an academic, so he knew the answers, right?

Frankly, he seems to have been spending his time writing books about his experience rather than actually unfucking up Greece.  And maybe that’s why he only lasted 7 months doing the job.

This is one of the books.

Its construct is as a letter to his, now, 14 year old daughter, Xenia, who lives with her mother in Australia.  One assumes Yanis and Mrs Varoufakis had some sort of marital difference of opinion.

And I’m speculating that Yanis’ wife said to Xenia.  “Darling, let’s get out of this country that your dad is supposed to be unfucking up.  As far as I can see he’s too busy writing books about how the economy got fucked up in the first place to actually unfuck it.  But I’ve heard the Australians understand the economy and we can swap a diet of olives and Retsina for steak and Shiraz.”

Several months later Xenia woke her mum to say.

“Mum, fuck sake, Dad’s written me this fucking 200 page letter about the fucking economy that’s all fucking fucked, instead of fucking unfucking it.”

I mean, if you were 13 years old (then), and on another continent, and missing your Dad would you be high-fiving the entire population of Sydney High School shouting.  “Whoa guys, my Dad just wrote me a 200 page book about Capitalism, what did your Dad do?  Take you to the Melbourne Cup?  Go surfing all weekend?  Barbie like it’s 1999?  Fucking losers!”

So, the reader is treated like a 13 year old girl (who probably doesn’t give a flying fuck about anything other than getting to second base with Bruce) as Yanis explains the principles of Capitalism, and consequently how the economy works.  Why he believes he is qualified to do this, when his only practical experience is of not succeeding in reducing the world’s oldest and most enduring culture to a pile of rotting fishbones, I know not.

Perhaps it’s his academic credentials.

Anyway, he succeeds in explaining what inequality, money, labour, tax, trade debt, profit, and banking are before reaching out to his local pharmacist to ingest a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs (roughly half way through).

Thereafter, he explores the Oedipal Complex, the Flight of Icarus, The Matrix, ( revisited no fewer than seven times – I mean, nobody on Planet Earth understand The Matrix, so why use it seven times to ‘simplify’ a concept as obtuse as capitalism and the economy),  V for Vendetta, The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, The Terminator, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, Faust and Doctor Faustus (seven times),  Frankenstein (six times), Harry Potter, Blade Runner, and Star Trek (five times) in an attempt to make the cerebral concept of Capitalism (and the economy) a bit more down with the kids.

The second half of the book would have made excellent arse-wiping material for Salvador Dali.

But the ‘best’ bit of all is his conclusion. (To his then 13 year old daughter, remember.)

In it he postures…

“OK, you will say, you reject the markets-everywhere solution and propose instead the democracy-everywhere alternative (really? is that what she’s grafiti-ing on the walls of Sydney High?). But how on Earth will your democracy save the planet, put the robots to work for us and make money function sensibly and smoothly?  What a great question! (If I say so myself.) While it would take a whole other book to answer it properly, let me offer a hint that may help you write that sequel yourself one day.”

“Aye. That. Will. Be. Right. Dad.  (Says Xenia.) Like I’m gonna write a fucking sequal to Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A brief History of Capitalism) ‘cos you don’t know the fucking answers yourself (and made silly Brits fork out £12 to not give them any fucking answers – well, at least I got to read the crazy pish for free).”

In his epilogue, like we needed more reading after the previous 80 pages of intellectual wank, he writes this.

“How can Dad have confused me with someone who gives a damn?”.  That is a very, very, very good question and probably the best in the book.

But he ploughs on regardless, sharing with us this earth-shattering hypothesis to conclude.

HALPEVAM.

HALPEVAM is a ‘magnificent’ computer created by a mad scientist (any guess who that might be readers?)

HALPEVAM: Heuristic ALgorithmic, Pleasure & Experiential VAlue Maximiser. (Oh, come on, the acronym isn’t even a fucking acronym, it’s a fucking fag packet doodle.  Let me help you Yanis.  How about: Heuristic Algorithmic Leisue, Pleasure Experiential Value-Add Maximiser?  There: that spells fucking HALVEPAM!

Or how about Bloody Unbelievable Leisure-Life Sensitivity Heuristic Improving Transactional Organ Made Easy To Effect Relaxation?

He explains: “HALPEVAM is the opposite of the horrible, misanthropic machines in The Matrix – it’s the ultimate pleasure machine”.

(You still with us, 13 year old Xenia?  Or are you in a Psychologist’s practice in Sydney asking for information on psychosis ‘for a friend’?)

Poor Xenia.

But, Xenia’s not our problem, Yanis is raking it in and Mrs Varoufakis is presumably on a pretty big financial settlement (if only Greece reported its taxes).

Try it, it’s fun.

 

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.


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Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.

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No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.

 

Darkest Hour: Movie Review.


Dullest Hour more like.

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It was all I could do to stay awake in this admittedly luscious, extremely well acted production.

But usually the Ring Cycle is also both of those things.  It doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable though.

Honestly, it goes on and on and on with little or no light and shade (other than in the sumptuous lighting of almost every shot  – Joe Wright sure can create a filmic canvas, but once you’ve seen 100 Caravaggios you’ve seen a thousand, and there’s a thousand on show here.)

Now, let’s consider Oldman’s performance.  It’s highly celebrated and he is hot favourite for all the acting gongs this season.  But it’s an impersonation (and one that’s been done well on more than one occasion before).

Compared to Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out it is far less engaging in my opinion.  His fear and horror is palpable.

Oldman does capture more than a cliched portrait of Churchill and shows sensitivity and wit, but he’s encumbered by too much screen time, monotonous styling and a sense of ‘wait for it, the big quote is heading this way in 30 seconds,’ time and again.

King George and Viscount Halifax both have to deal with speech defects that may well be historically accurate, but do nothing for either of their gravitas.

In a massively male movie (which is fair enough) Lily James as Churchill’s secretary adds light relief, but Kristen Scott Thomas throws shards of light.  If only she had more screen time.

Christopher Nolan’s magnificent Dunkirk makes a far more interesting exposition of the happenings in the French port in May/June 1940.  By contrast, this is just rather self indulgent, with little in the way of either entertainment or historical insight.