Thursday, 16 February 2017

Us/Them

Our first play of the year came a little later than usual but on Tuesday 7th Feb we travelled to the Dorfman at the National Theatre to see 60mins of 'Us/Them'.

My Theatre Mates

A family friendly show about a terror attack - doesn't quite add up when you think about it does it? But the more you do, the more you realise that Carly Wijs' direction might just be genius. All too often when we retell moments of our past, we embellish and adapt - particularly when we are children - my nearly-3-yr-old niece would of course deny this entirely.
But when children witness traumatic events, how much of it sinks in? How much do they let it? Kids are more resilient than we think, but they're also like sponges, they take in the world at a rate that dizzies us as adults. So what if, in a place they all feel safe, like at school, they endure something terrible?

National Theatre

Us/Them is directed in a way that addresses this. As we begin with chalk drawings of the school's layout, a competition of information between our two leads and some essential facts to present the provenance of our piece, we are slowly lulled into a comedic security, brimming with innocence.

However, as the piece unfolds we are pulled ever closer to the truth, the REAL terror attack on these young children on a day that held them captive for 52hrs, killing 184 children and 148 adults. But we never really get there, the truth. The truth remains suspended in the well constructed strings that span the stage amidst a maze of conclusions and childhood storytelling.

The Stage


Our leads are enthusiastic and convincing in their confidence, as well as in their coyness. As they traverse the stage energetically, we are drawn to them even if we never really know much about who they are. Chalk drawings and imaginative commentary provide the basis of the all-too-familiar 'Us and Them' argument, with seemingly no understanding of why 'they' are 'them'  and'we' are 'us' - or of why they are being held hostage in their own school.

As a family show, Us/Them definitely helps broach the subject of death in the family if you don't have a pet that's likely to kick-the-bucket anytime soon. But it's also a fun show that incorporates dance with energy that never really allows for sombreness or pain in a concentrated quantity. It's full of imagination, both in script and staging but it's story holds a truth that makes it as devastating as it is entertaining - that is if you take a moment to Google the Beslan Massacre.

Exeunt Magazine

Read more about the production and the real event here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/review-usthem-dorfman-national-theatre-london-the-story-of-beslan-makes-for-a-remarkable-harrowing-a7539296.html

href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_siege">https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_siege

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Denial

I deliberately went to see 'Denial' without reading up about the film, or the facts about David Irving or Deborah Lipstadt.
Moment Magazine

What greeted me was a whole host of emotions in a film about the 1996 libel suit in which David Irving accuses Penguin books and Deborah Lipstadt - who, in her book 'Denying the Holocaust' wrote that 'David is a liar, racist and extremist' - of slander and a conspiracy to debunk his reputation.

I'm a young ambassador for HET, a charity dedicated to educating young people and empowering teachers with knowledge of the holocaust and highlighting the roles of the ordinary people that lived to see it and experience it. We speak regularly on the subject alongside survivors and try to be visible both in our communities and online.

I have often, during my time as an ambassador been named on social media as 'part of the conspiracy'. In 2014 for example, myself and two young colleagues ran a 10km to raise money for the charity and were met with direct Twitter comments including this one (pictured). I, like Deborah, struggle to separate my emotions when comments like this are made. In fact, twitter is an engine that has given voice to many more deniers than before were heard. During the launch of a London exhibition early last year, I was asked via Twitter if holocaust survivors would be present - quite an innocent question it seems, until I did some digging and found that the user was in fact a holocaust denier who has previously directly targeted survivors.

Over Facebook I also received a direct message, as a result of a post I'd written about the rise of the far right in Greece with parties such as the Golden Dawn with a view to championing multi-cultural society. It might not be holocaust denial in this instance, but a direct attack on the very foundations of a society that values the lessons we have learned from it. I think this response speaks for itself...

I've received direct messages like this since my work began at 18 and it is sad that we must be so vigilant.

The film 'Denial' did highlight the question of what to say to these deniers. Do we stay silent and let the facts speak for themselves? Or do we give in to our emotions and respond? Can we be educated enough to do both? There are many of my peers I believe could be one day - but none of us can ever be armed with enough, can we?

There were more parallels than this though. Young lawyer Laura Tyler stays up late into the night incessantly working on the case, much to the annoyance and intense misunderstanding of her partner who managed to sum up what many peers have thought of me and my work as an ambassador and probably of Lipstadt too.

The Telegraph
They have asked me, 'isn't it time to let the past be the past', say 'you're obsessed', ask me 'why do you even care, you're not Jewish' and tell us there is 'more to life than the holocaust'. But in the same room the question has been uttered 'What is the holocaust?'. For me, it is impossible NOT to involve myself in the continuance of holocaust awareness and education. Because once you have looked truth in the eye, walked the rubble and ruins of Jewish cemeteries and visited Auschwitz, you cannot live with a version of yourself that is silent. I cannot be uncaring, I cannot forget, and I cannot deny that it ever happened.

Denial wasn't just about the libel suit, but the absolute passion for truth, that the holocaust HAPPENED. It was about speaking against all prejudices and facing denial in all it's forms, from bedroom-denouncings to outright racism.

odeon.co.uk
I've been to Auschwitz and 'Denial' managed to capture the exact essence of the place that remains through some respectful film-making - although I am sure that many early mornings were needed to find the place so empty. From the shoes and suitcases of Auschwitz 1 to the endless rows of barracks and razed crematoria at Birkenau. Upon my visit I did not cry but since then, I have come to consider many holocaust survivors I work with, as friends or extended family even. To see that place again, was as though I was seeing it through fresh eyes, and I cried. (This helped me to gain some idea of why some second and third generation survivors cannot bring themselves to know their family stories in detail). The stillness of the shots, the mist, the coldness of the image, the quiet - it was exactly the eerie place I remember. Somewhere you can almost feel the past vividly. 
The film reflects and values this experience. It also asks us to be vigilant in our analyses and critique those who claim to be experts in the field but he film above all, champions that the truth is ultimate. The outcome of the case was as it should be, and Deborah and her legal team can indeed say that the voices of the victims were heard as justice was done.

EveningStandard
The fact that posters for the film were defaced with anti-Semitic comments and drawings here in London, tell us exactly why it's important to show it at present. The fight against denial did not end when Lipstadt and her team won the case. It continues today and is rife in social media. What comes next is up to us but it's important I think that we take from the film, that truth is ultimate. Do not deny truth. Be someone that fights for it. 

time.com

Friday, 27 January 2017

Oil

The Arts Desk
Oil begins in 1889, with no escape from the bitter cold but by the sparse candlelight dimly lighting the table. But then an American man appears, promising the light and heat that comes with burning oil. The family at the farm have no interest in this new thing, but May is pregnant and her eyes look to the horizon and one night she needs to take a walk, and she keeps on walking.

Fast-forward a few years and we arrive in Tehran, Persia, 1908. A desperate mother seeks work serving diplomats and military men whilst her daughter, fluent in Farsi, mourns the loss of her teddy bear. May is not silent in her emancipation, as she speaks freely in her opinions alongside fellow waiter who accuses the men of scheming against the young king, getting him drunk and offering him less than the fruits of his land's resources.

Time Out

Time Out
Back to Britain 1970 Hampstead and May is an exec of an oil company, regularly under addressed as foreign companies talk instead to her male colleague. 15yr old daughter, Amy is less than impressed and as she explores her sexuality and pushes the boundaries of her and her mother's relationship, we can't help but feel an unspoken love and understanding between the two strong independent women, with high hopes for the future. Amy converses with our foreign visitor in Farsi, much to her mother's distraction, and the lack of empathy and mutual understanding between nations when this encounter is denied, is gaping and obvious. ('Libya is in Africa, not the middle east')

The Telegraph
Persia - Our young females are getting more vocal as a daughter comes to Persia to build a life among new friends. She speaks their language and denies all links to her own culture. Her protest against her mother, who works for an oil company. This tone quickly turns on it's head as her new friend tells her to be grateful for her mother and for what she has - for she has been left with nothing from the years of war that have gripped Persia (now Iran). Is she so unaware as to deny her own part in the system? Is she so ungrateful to those who lost their lives in her country so she should have heat and light in her home? It's a plaguing thought for an audience.

The Arts Desk
Back in Britain, Cornwall, 2051, a cold, oil-less Britain. When a Chinese saleswoman appears selling nitro-fusion.

It's a scarily probable future, where energy resource is so sparse that it costs a fortune to use and so we are thrown back to layering our clothing and shivering even in our own homes. When along comes another resource; cheaper, ever-lasting, independently controlled. It seems that we will not be content with emptying our own planet of its resources, but we will travel to the moon to exploit that too. Where will it end, when will humanity orbit away from exploiting everything it touches?

Oil was an intimate exploration of the mother/daughter relationship through time, packing a powerful anti-exploitation punch thrown in the direction of oil companies and entitled and ungrateful Brits. It was a fly the flag moment for strong female characters, grasped beautifully by the talented Anne Marie Duffy and Yolanda Kettle. it also warns of the consequences of misunderstanding being 'strong' with being 'unfeeling' or 'greedy'.
oneworld.org
Some brilliant writing (Ella Hickson), some great live music/sound, minimalist lighting, projections and minimalist staging from Vicky Mortimer that worked so well to give us the versatile set that a story spanning so many generations and locations needs. And two months later, I still can't stop thinking about it.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

whatsonstage.com
The Young Vic's A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing has had good reviews across the board from the critics.

I have to applaud the efforts of Aoife Duffin, who holds the stage with a raw quality we learn to appreciate quickly.

But I'm not entirely convinced.

I have admitted many times before that I struggle to appreciate one-woman shows. This was slightly different in that, the title suggested she wasn't just a woman. She appears fragmented, which is no surprise as we progress to learn about her past.

Aoife Duffin rises to the challenge of multi-rolling... or is she replaying these moments from her past in her head? We never really find out. So instead we allow ourselves to forget that it is just Duffin onstage and are captivated by the puzzle before us.

From troubled siblings, to an unappreciative mother, to an abusive uncle - Duffin's character finds herself swept away in seeking love elsewhere, which often leads her into manipulative relationships and in danger of being mistreated.

Overall Duffin aided the script to bring it a tragically living, breathing power, with a stellar performance from our lead which helped earn her a place on the shortlist for the Emerging Talent Award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2016.

(Written in 2016 - delayed post)

Thursday, 26 January 2017

School Swap: Korea Style

scn0s.com
Kids in South Korea can rack up a huge 90 hours of learning in just 5 days. In fact, it is even considered the norm. Kids here in the UK spend only 6.5hrs or so at school each day - sometimes less - dedicating themselves to education. Of course there are exceptions, but the differences across the two education systems, are staggering and plain to see.

South Korea is rated at the top of the PISA education rankings table, Wales is (at the time of broadcast) rated 36th. However, if you look at the happiness levels of the same pupils, it becomes increasingly obvious that South Korea falls at the bottom of the table. So why the disparity?

bbc.co.uk
The suicide rate of young men aged between 10 and 30 in South Korea, is the highest in the world. we meet one man, who lost two close friends to suicide along the way, put down to educational pressures and exertion. And with up to 18hrs of studying a day leaving kids sleeping at their desks, it's no wonder that the figures are that bad. In a country that's economy has rocketed over the last ten years, where illiteracy feels almost phased out and where education is embedded as part of religious ceremony, exam results might just be the most important date in the calendar, which is an undeniable achievement, but is also putting an incredible amount of pressure on young people.

bbc.co.uk
In South Korea teachers are respected and education is valued, seeing approx 99% of students continue to study beyond the age of 16, as opposed to around 50% of Brits. As our Welsh students maintain, there is definitely something to be learned from their education system, though perhaps the way forward is to find a middle ground. There needs to be a culture of self-improvement, a desire to be educated in the UK, that simply isn't there at the moment. The 6 kids seemed to unanimously agree that a system somewhere in between the two cultures would be a healthy compromise. A system that allows time for creativity, for free expression for recreation and relaxation but one that also values learning, offers additional support and encourages educational engagement.

dailymail.co.uk
The show couldn't have chosen more polite kids to partake in the 3 day experiment. After 3 days of intense study and lack of sleep, our kids from Wales were definitely pleased to get back to the UK's more relaxed approach to schooling. There may not be roads filled with private tutors open until 10pm, nor schools that are open until midnight but there is an education system that allows us not just to memorise facts but to learn, think, form our own opinions and challenge our knowledge and others. Perhaps trips like this are the way to inform our governments on how to reach a happy medium that will allow us all to better ourselves intellectually but never at the expense of our happiness.

Read more about the School Swap here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-38080752

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Jade: Why I Chose Porn

notinor.com
Carly Rae Summers has nearly 60,000 followers on Twitter, can earn over £1200 for 2 day's work, travels the world and has 9 videos (and counting) to buy instantly from her website and top up her funds - it's what we all dream of right - success? BUT perhaps working with men endowed generously with 12-14 inches down below and constant clinical testing to rule out any potential dangers of the job - there is perhaps more to this lifestyle than meets the eye.

'Jade: Why I Chose Porn' allows Jade to tell her own story. It doesn't completely escape judgement, with Shooting PD Rachel Tracy offering up concern and doubt over Jade's choices - not on a moral level but enough to allow the audience too, to doubt Jade's convictions.

Huffington Post UK
It has though, allowed us at least to see Jade as herself. She is confident enough to not wear make-up on camera, she has gained body confidence from a growing career in porn. Jade is a normal 22yr old girl, and despite the immediate stereotypical opinions that seem to befoul sex-workers in general, she is largely portrayed as comfortable and in control. Jade isn't ill-informed, she isn't naive, she is a feminist who enjoys freedom, is driven in her work and has dreams of a lifestyle that many of us would be jealous of. But what does it take to get her there? And why porn?

StarNow
Jade knows about the danger of viewers believing that schoolgirl fetishes and patriarchal dominance throughout porn are reflections of the real world. She understands the danger of young men believing that women should perform sexually at their every whim. Jade herself experienced assault but we cannot cast a shadow on Jade as a victim, she is not a victim.

Despite physical trauma at work (the result of a personal choice not of anything untoward), a choice between a relationship or work and earlier haphazard videos where she didn't aways feel in control, Jade emerges strong.

This is a woman who has taken control. She means it literally when she says 'I've worked my ass off' to get where she is. Despite a largely negative reception to sex-work, porn is a controlled environment where the men treat you with respect and professionalism, where you can be confident that you won't catch diseases or infections and where you can stop, simply by saying so. She's been let down in the past, men in the real world have treated her (like many of us) with less respect than we deserve and now Jade has chosen a career that grabs that by the horns, has boosted her self-confidence, her body image and her bank account.

BrunchNews
But what about when you aren't attracted to your co-star - there isn't that connection that prompts you to WANT to have sex with one another. It seems for both parties that the sex that can follow a mutual non-feeling, fuels self-doubt and can leave both parties more vulnerable than before. Perhaps it's a bad day at work and all of us understand the self-doubt that can follow a moment where we have not performed to the best of our abilities. It's no different here. But it has got me thinking about the psychology of sex and about the way our minds and bodies react to sex in different environments and scenarios. Does sex as work change any of this? I'd certainly be interested to find out.

But in terms of Jade's own story, I'm glad that we were introduced to a girl who clearly expresses that she has CHOSEN to work in porn. Jade is the master of her own future and that is the thing I took from the 40min doc. And if it didn't quite manage to reserve it's judgement completely, at least it's heading in the right direction.

For Jade's own words, click the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jade-buxton/carly-rae-summers-jade-buxton_b_11217422.html where most importantly she says:

"My ambition is to live life to the full and to keep on living by this mantra. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made up until this point. Unlike many career focused people, I don’t have a five or ten year goal. As long as I’m successful and happy, then I’m hitting my target".

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Pomona

Delayed post from Nov 2015 


timeout.com
It's been a while since I've been to the Temporary Theatre. This time we arrived to see a piece staged in the round, with high hopes of tension and unease for our Saturday night entertainment. 

It started well, with heavy whirring sounds and strobe effects. We are met with a tale that hangs in the balance of chance, it seems, as our protagonist rolls dice to summon the answers she's looking for. The opening scenes show a man who seems to be homeless, throwing his ego around with a bag of McNuggets in hand, as a young girl approaches him whilst searching for her missing sister. We get the sense that there is more to this man than we first think. 

timeout.com
The tension soon dissolved with the arrival of the loveable, comical Charlie who offers a lust for adventure and friendship.....The slick entrances and exits were the only thing keeping the momentum going as we spiralled towards the end.

The story however, became less and less chilling and more and more confusing. We follow our characters through endless rounds of Dungeons and Dragons unsure of whether to take them as a metaphor for this make-believe, elaborate concrete jungle. 

We never really know where our leading lady ends up, what the purpose of her journey has been. as she escapes the clutches of whatever lurks beneath the hatches and doors of Pomona - although I'm aware that's probably the point. Has she pondered through the dungeon to find her sister or has she, all this time been looking for herself? All seems not to be quite as it should. By this time the masked monster has lost its horror, as we meet the meek woman underneath the mask and understand that she is in fact as naive as we are. It was a little underwhelming by the time the ending came - it seemed that no-one, wherever they were in the chain of command, had any idea what was really going on here - which of course meant that we as an audience remained ignorant too.

timeout.com
That meant that the tension that had been created at first, soon diffused to nothing and all we were left with were some fast entrances and exits, a lot of hearsay and the revelation that the McNugget man is implicit in this apparently menacing unknown plot.  It's a shame it didn't quite live up to its Lovecraft tin, but at another roll of the dice. Perhaps it might.
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