A Word on Culture…
Perhaps I am alone, but when I look at a beautiful work by Renoir, Rousseau or Friedrich, I find great difficulty in acknowledging ‘Banksy’ as an artist of equal stature.
Recently, issues of cultural identity have pervaded the news, with emphasis being placed on protecting a European way of life. Predictably, the left immediately mobilised to claim no such identity exists, or worse yet, that European cultural heritage is something to be ashamed of.
Clearly such people have not attended a decent production of Shakespeare in a while, or spent an evening at the Royal Opera House.
Watering down entertainment, education and development to meet with misguided attempts at diversity will not benefit anyone in the long term.
A contingent of lefty literati have such a perceived stranglehold on what does and does not constitute ‘good’ art, that people are afraid to offer different perspectives and, most importantly, call certain artistic contributions exactly what they are – shit.
It reminds me of an old TV show called ‘Faking It’. One particular episode saw a girl who played classical cello professionally, attempt to convince a panel of experts (in this case, uneducated former drug addicts in the guise of musicians) that she was a pro DJ, after just a month of practice. She successfully duped the experts. Now, let’s see that done the other way around…
I therefore venture that love of the high arts is not snobbery, but simply good taste. There is nothing exclusive about culture, just as listening to the Beatles is not the reserve of working class Liverpudlians, the problem is simply that instant gratification seems to be the order of the day for the great unwashed.
A Nice Cup of Tea (2016)
The Evening Standard published George Orwell’s essay on ‘a nice cup of tea’ over 70 years ago. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of individual tea bags, electric kettles and an ever increasing variety of teas. Therefore, as an avid tea drinker, I felt it appropriate to update his original treatise.
Tea drinking is synonymous with Englishness…
…Other countries may have perversions of preparation and drinking rituals, but the following points outline supplementary guidelines for the Englishman’s convenience.
They are as follows:
- Breakfast or everyday tea should drunk from a mug . This offers a larger serving, appropriate for dipping biscuits. This also avoids delusions of grandeur— drinking cheap tea from a fine china tea cup is akin to drinking ale from a champagne flute.
- The tea drinker must strive to drink the tea at optimum temperature. After it has cooled enough so as not to impair the flavour, but hot enough that the flavour of milk is not more apparent than that of the tea. If this happens, it should be poured away.
- Contrary to Orwell’s advice, African tea is acceptable before lunchtime and largely unavoidable in tea blends. Afternoon tea should be a more delicate variety, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Lighter teas can also be drunk at bedtime.
- If pouring from an electric kettle, the water must be poured slowly and carefully after boiling has finished, to avoid any limescale finding its way into the cup.
- It is more than acceptable to add milk to all black tea. However, the appropriate shade differs with different kinds. A rich copper is appropriate for stronger blends of assam or ceylon tea, whereas darjeeling or a good Earl Grey should have a slightly more pallid almost cloudy appearance.
- To reiterate Orwell, adding sugar to tea is no better than adding coca cola to fine scotch, or tomato ketchup to a prime steak. it is unnecessary and contrary to one’s health.
- Loose leaf tea is vastly superior to tea bags and should aways be chosen in preference to the latter.
- If entertaining guests, tea should be brewed in a pot and not the cup. It is also appropriate to offer more than one variety of tea.
- Lapsang shouchong is an abomination and should not be drunk by any civilised human being.
I must also add the caveat that, tea is essential to one’s vitality and must be drunk in whatever style that circumstances permit. That is, any of the rules can be discarded if adhering to them will prevent one from drinking tea at all. However, when possible, the highest standards of tea making should be observed.
These are simply my own guidelines. I would refer anyone to Orwell’s original essay on tea for further suggestions of good practice. I have avoided the subject of which biscuits, sweets or tea cakes should be served, as opinions and options are so diverse that it would be pointless to suggest any common taste.
Lawrence After Arabia, Hampstead Theatre – Reviewed
Lawrence of Arabia
Thomas Edward Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—the much chronicled but little understood hero of the first world war, has been something of a historical enigma since his death in 1935. This play by Howard Brenton attempts to cast light not only on his character and personal relationships, but also his disillusionment with the British military establishment, and his unease with the fame thrust upon him after the war.
Lawrence After Arabia
Commissioned to mark the centenary of the start of the Arab Revolt, The play focusses on Lawrence a few years after the war, and is told through conversations between he and his close friends: the writer George Bernard Shaw and his wife, Charlotte. These conversations are interspersed with flashbacks to his time in the desert, to provide context to what’s being discussed.
Prior knowledge of Lawrence’s escapades is not necessary, as Lawrence After Arabia stands alone as a narrative piece, but appreciation of his social position and the political climate would perhaps be better understood if the viewer is at least familiar with his accomplishments in Arabia.
Lawrence frequently visits the Shaw’s house, as Charlotte helps to edit his biographical Seven Pillars of Wisdom. As she progresses through his notes and diaries, inconsistencies in Lawrence’s accounts begin to appear. Notions of anti-establishment, sexuality, and the imperial gaze that Lawrence comes to realise and abhor, are discussed as we delve deeper into his psyche.
Despite these conversations being pure conjecture, the events they describe are based on a collection of historical accounts and theories regarding Lawrence’s sexuality, his alleged penchant for self degradation, and his desire to escape the limelight. Furthermore, the inaccuracies that Charlotte Shaw discovers in Seven Pillars of Wisdom are genuine, and the subject of ongoing debate.
The issue of sexuality is constantly present, like an elephant in the room, until it is eventually directly confronted by Charlotte Shaw. The play alludes constantly to Lawrence’s alleged rape at the hands of the Turks, when he was their prisoner in 1917. Historically, Lawrence’s sexuality has been a subject of debate (though many contemporary sources claim he was actually asexual). The story of the rape itself is also thought to be a fabrication by Lawrence, in an attempt to publicly flagellate himself for what he saw as his betrayal of the arabs.
Lawrence is portrayed by Jack Laskey to have an almost childish zeal, at times possibly over-acted but in no way unconvincing. Jeff Rawle, as G.B Shaw, provides the occasional comic relief and Geraldine James carries her role as Lawrence’s confident superbly. Khalid Laith brings poise and bearing to his Prince Feisal, whilst the American reporter Lowell Thomes—the man responsible for Lawrence’s fame and villain of the piece, such as their is one— is played convincingly by Sam Alexander.
Clearly well researched and offering a fascinating insight into this enigmatic historical figure, Lawrence After Arabia is an understated masterpiece. Superb performances and an emotionally undulating script make this an engaging piece of drama, that is as challenging as it is educational. Whilst it only recounts a minute period of his life, it offers anew perspective on Lawrence’s complex persona and addresses colonial attitudes to imperialism and sexuality, that are not entirely irrelevant to today’s audience.
The Witch – Reviewed
Intro – Real Witches Of the New World
Released in March of this year, Robert Eggar’s The Witch is a refreshing break from the over-produced and tiresomely predictable horrors that have churned out of Hollywood in recent years…
It follows the misfortunes of a family of puritan settlers in 1630 New England, after they are forced out of their community and attempt to start a new settlement at the edge of a foreboding forest…
Eggar has rooted this work in realism and historical accuracy and uses low-key British actors as opposed to porcelain looking starlets, ensuring the dialogue is delivered as closely to the original articulation as could be reasonably expected. Furthermore, the complete absence of special effects further punctuates this picture’s break from the mainstream.
Witches were perceived as a genuine threat in the 17th century, both spiritually and physically. As Eggar frequently stated in interviews, his intention to emphasise this real world threat, the movie presents the traditional images and folklore of witchcraft, akin to those originally featured in the more macabre Grimm fairy tales, before they were sanitised by Disney.
The English Actors
Ralph Ineson gives a commendable performance as the family patriarch. His undeniable Englishness and rough demeanour lend themselves well to the role – a far cry from his days as ‘Finchy’ in The Office. The family children are all played adeptly, given what must have been a challenging environment for them to film in. Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter, Thomasin—who is arguably the focus of the suspicions throughout the movie—seems a little lacklustre in comparison to her fellow artistes, but believable nonetheless. The really standout performance is given my Katie Dickie, as the grief ridden Katherine who maintains a constant air of foreboding throughout the movie.
Script, Plot and Themes of The Witch
The script itself is based upon surviving diaries and notes of contemporary accounts. It has echoes of Shakespearean dialect. To give an idea, much of the conversation is in the nature of ‘what say thee’, ‘she be the witch’ – essential to maintain the illusion, but at times a little challenging.
There isn’t a great deal by way of a plot, it’s fairly basic: the family leave their original plantation, start their own and struggle to provide for themselves. All the while a malevolent presence seems to be stalking them. The merits of The Witch lie in it’s atmosphere, accuracy and the gradual building of suspense, rather than any narrative set-pieces.
The themes of The Witch are introduced in the opening scenes: religious devotion, familial conflict and fear of the unknown. The ritualistic elements of both puritanism and paganism – particularly the those of prayer and sacrifice – are built upon throughout the picture as we, the audience, experience the family members’ personal conflicts and temptations as they struggle to meet the impossible standards of the puritan dogma.
The family’s constant struggle for survival against both natural and supernatural elements add an urgency to everything and exaggerate the consequences of even the most minor malady.
Low level camera angles or shots partially obscured by tree branches help to create a sense of claustrophobia, despite the events taking place against the backdrop of expansive wilderness, and Mark Korven’s soundtrack is of the atmospheric, that is, non-musical kind and at some times abrasive to the ears. It builds discord and an uncomfortable response, keeping the viewer on edge.
An unsettling experience overall— the idea that children are being targeted by a evil daemon is never going to be lighthearted and the eerie soundtrack and claustrophobic cinematography do a good job of keeping the audience in suspense.
Mention has to be made of the satisfying ending. At times The Witch looks as the it is leading toward the now cliched plot-twist or ambiguous ending, but fortunately resolution to the story is offered as blatantly as slap in the face and it was refreshing to see Eggar commit to it in such a way.
That being said, It did feel a little unfulfilling. Perhaps this viewer has now been corrupted by years of exposure to the aforementioned cliches, but the film as a whole didn’t feel quite engaging enough to rely so heavily on the atmospheric subtlety that it did. If viewed as a creepy historical thriller, then the film is a tour de force, but as a film to scare the living daylights out of the viewer, it falls short.
Overall, The Witch is a welcome break from the copious supernatural fantasies that have proliferated in cinema over the last decade. It gives viewers a genuinely suspenseful cinematic experience as well as an insight into historical superstitions and existential hardships of the 17th century.
MANGA SHAKESPEARE! Series Review
A few excursions to the Globe have taught me that it’s a good idea to be acquainted with the plot of a Shakespeare play before seeing it performed – I mean, imagine being one of that handful of people that always leave half way through, presumably because they can’t follow what’s happening!
This is where the Manga Shakespeare series comes in. A useful cheat sheet, bridging the gap between text and performance, his most famous works, abridged and reimagined, in Japanese comic book form. Admittedly not for purists, the series is nonetheless a new and fresh take on the works of our most celebrated playwright.
Each edition opens with a full colour character list and has a convenient plot summary at the back for reference. At around two-hundred pages, they are a quick read and, as such, there can surely be no faster or more cost effective way to blag some Shakespeare expertise.
I finished The Tempest in a couple of short sessions on the train, The whimsical imagery of which lends itself well to the graphic novel format. As You like it was likewise a quick and delightful read and I am currently in the middle of Othello – the artwork of which is my favourite thus far.
My only reservations at this point are that the stories do occasionally feel a little chopped. The texts obviously have to be cut for the format, but it seems clumsy in places – similar to when a movie has been obviously edited for length.
Manga and Shakespeare…
I’m no expert on Manga, but the illustrations are fantastic and really give a sense of action. The characters are expressive and everything has the illusion of movement. Most of the background settings have been re-envisioned (Manga Macbeth is set in a post-apocalyptic Japan, for example) to make them more appropriate to the style. The three editions I own are illustrated by three different artists and each have their own nuances and build their own atmosphere.
Setting any snobbery aside, as all Shakespeare productions are, after all, interpretations, the series works really well. Despite being heavily cut, the words and images form a cohesive story. My only quibble is that, aside from a few colour pages in the intro (which look incredible), everything is in black and white, as is the tradition with Japanese comics. It seems a shame as the opening pages look so good, the following monochrome ones seem a bit drab.
All in all, Manga Shakespeare editions are fun and easy to read, providing an accessible way to approach The Bard’s work. Highly recommended, but only as a starting point – Nothing can beat seeing the plays as they were intended: in performance.
Canterbury, England: Churches, Castles and Chaucer
God Save The Queen!
Jeremy Corbyn’s recent decision to remain silent during the national anthem offended a lot of decent, patriotic folk.
As the decrepit firebrand refused to join in at the Battle of Britain ceremony, his followers quickly took to social media to spew anti-monarchy rhetoric in a show of solidarity with their new messiah.
The three most parroted gripes appeared to be:
- The monarchy are too costly for the taxpayer
- They were not democratically elected
- They no longer have political value
Of course, arguing with this kind of zealotry is a forlorn cause, but I wanted to at least present an alternative view.
Is the monarchy value for money?
Anti-monarchy pressure group, Republic, claim that sustaining the royal family costs the British taxpayer around £334 million per year.
Of course, figures vary massively depending on who you ask, but for now we can take this liberal estimate as accurate.
VisitBritain – a public body promoting UK tourism – estimates the tourism revenue brought in by the royal family at £500 million – quite a mark-up on the figure put out by Republic – and that’s without the £249 million generated from the crown properties portfolio.
Just to err on the side of caution and give Republic a fighting chance, if we halve the figure estimated by VisitBritain, there is still a surplus of over £40 million!
So is the monarchy good value? I know what I think.
(Incidentally, the official figures have it that the monarchy cost each of us around 53 pence per year)
We didn’t vote for the monarchy…
True, the queen may not have been democratically elected, but the anti-monarchy brigade might find they come up short if the issue were to be put to the vote – a survey carried out by the Sunday Telegraph showed that 66% believed that Britain was better off as a monarchy, compared to only 17% who would prefer a republic. Furthermore, only 14% of those surveyed believed that Britain should become a republic if the queen was to abdicate.
Does the monarchy have any political clout?
Queen Elizabeth’s detractors also like to dismiss her role as an advisor to government ministers as something purely ceremonial.
It is worth remembering that she is now our longest reigning monarch and, as such, has been holding regular meetings with our leading politicians since 1953. She has monitored the political landscape of the nation for decades and held confabs with PMs including Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Ted Heath. She is in a unique and qualified position to give insight beyond the myopic scope of any four year government.
There are few politicians that can boast that level of knowledge and experience.
So the royal family is more valuable than Facebook or Twitter activists would have us believe, the majority of the country support them and Queen Elizabeth knows her stuff.
No doubt the hard left republicans will keep up their incessant whining until we are all living in grey towers, eating organic hummus and worshipping Russell Brand, but whether they like it or not, the monarchy have a lot of support and – figures and politics aside – they are a living link to our history and have provided a cultural identity for hundreds of years.
Pomona, National Theatre – Reviewed
Written by Alistair Mcdowall and set in the underbelly of Manchester, Pomona is a kind of looping dystopian nightmare that unfolds in cars, brothels and a mysterious underground lair. Dealing with themes including sexual exploitation, violence and organ harvesting, it’s not exactly upbeat stuff.
The play opens with a healthy dose of the surreal – a man in underpants and a duffel coat gorges on chicken nuggets whilst giving a ranting synopsis of Raiders of the Lost Ark to a young girl. Watching silently in the corner is a strange figure in a bizarre octopoid mask…
Initially the weirdness is more of a curious novelty, but the story soon starts to unfold and quickly engages. At times the plot seemed a little confusing -the idiosyncratic style and surreality were a little bewildering and I am certain that a few of the key themes went over my head, but Pomona is generally easy to follow.
Ollie (Nadia Clifford) searches for her twin sister who, along with several other women, has disappeared. She soon finds that everything is leading her to Pomona. Ollie’s search is interwoven with two other characters playing a role playing game, which simultaneously gives the audience a kind of alternate reality.
The ominous Pomona itself, a mysterious concrete wasteland hidden in the centre of the city, was obviously symbolising something of the unknown and unpalatable aspects of life, that are concealed – or ignored – despite being all around us. An ambitious attempt, but I felt that the story was perhaps not the best vehicle to convey such messages.
The cyclical narrative was both interesting and slightly infuriating. Whilst it was thought provoking, the movie goer in me, raised on classic American adventures (such as Indiana Jones!), wanted to see some sort of traditional resolution to the story, but many questions went unanswered. I may be missing the point, but at times I felt the play was a little too disjointed.
The performances were commendable; the characters were individually captivating, though the interaction between each occasionally seemed superficial. I felt that Clifford was a little weak at the beginning. Perhaps she was just initially overshadowed by the more interesting character of Zeppo (Guy Rhys) who, along with Sam Swann as Charlie, gave the standout performance.
Strobe lighting, complete darkness and chaotic scene overlaps added to the excitement; though giving a distinct impression that the play was aimed at a more youthful audience, they were a creative way of meeting the challenge of an arena stage.
Thought provoking and entertaining, the story was just a little too movie-like to not be resolved.
Blog coming soon….
My blog is under construction. I will commence posting shortly….
– Marcus Aurelius