2017 – Brief Reflection

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Well, that’s 2017. At times I feel that I spent a lot of this year preparing for the next, yet I look back and there’s still so much there. Barbecues on St Cath’s Hill nearly burning all the food, the nights where alcohol cancels out that dancing’s a bad idea, rolling about with laughter whilst rehearsing shows that had all the odds against them, laughing just the same with your family in an obscure part of Crete reliving the warmth you feared to lose, getting lost in Edinburgh Old-town with a good mate to watch seven shows in a single day, waving goodbye to familiar faces, the incredible surprises brought by new faces, standing at the top of a small unspoilt Devonshire village descending down a hill towards the sea.. But, most importantly, those nights stuck indoors with your favourite twats either watching mediocre 00’s films with Sainsbury’s SFC chicken bucket or staying up until 3am trying to finish the extended Return of the King with the greatest bastard of them all! Yeah, I’d say that’s a year well-lived. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s healthy to both celebrate and feel a sensitivity towards the good times you’ve had. In many contexts, I think it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as ‘just being sensitive’. Happy New Year!

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A Modern Christmas for Me

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Modern Christmas cynicism isn’t something I’ve ever bought into. Particularly in the UK, whilst our increasingly secularised society has opened the door to a long overdue freedom of thinking, there also seems to be an undercurrent of Christmas-shaming; those who feel superior for disliking the celebration Christmas over those who do.

Whilst I can appreciate the atheist and counter-spiritualistic positions of disliking many aspects of the Christian faith, as well as the anti-capitalistic stance on how corporations abuse the season for that sweet dollar, I cannot help the emotional value Christmas has for me.

As I grow further into the depths of adulthood, with every exciting and terrifying development that it brings, I have always had this safe-place in the year that I get to come back to and be with the family I see increasingly less and less of. Life should be about change, and it should be something that challenges you. However, ‘safe’ is not an ugly feeling and Christmas really is that annual fireplace; a familiar warmth that will always be waiting for me at the end of yet another 365-day journey. I know this will not be Christmas for everyone, but I do not feel bad that this is what it is for me.

In recent years, there has been a growth in intellectual hierarchy of perceiving those who enjoy Christmas as inferior. Because we are the societal slaves to ritual who just go through with the festivities because we have to: we’ve been institutionalised by an ugly marriage of religious doctrine and western capitalistic practice and values. Well, if that’s what makes you celebrate Christmas, then you should definitely stop. But I celebrate Christmas because I genuinely enjoy it.

My argument has always been that, despite whether our prior purpose in life was to simply survive like every other species or not, the human race has now reached a point where it has evolved an improved perception of what the meaning of life is. That purpose? To enjoy it; to experience happiness.

We have evolved the concept of enjoyment, so let’s use it! These cynics spend their lives thinking ‘what’s the logical gain in just living for happiness?’. Well, what’s the point in being a slave to logic when happiness is far more gratifying a life experience? Who’s the real slave here?

As an agnostic, my whole approach to life is to not worry too much about the bigger existential picture; to simply try to be nice to one another and have fun, no matter how successfully that often goes. What’s the point in choosing to dislike one another to simply relish in conflict, hatred and superiority when that gets us nowhere? As some are aware, I struggle with an anxiety that frequently subjects me to a whole host of negative emotions – I don’t have the time to experience negativity when I don’t need to. For me, Christmas is my time to get away from these petty and ugly attitudes that I have to see others express every other waking day and simply enjoy the warmth of what life should be.

Sat in the living room with your family, view from the front window blocked out by the tree, watching tales of optimism with familiar snacks and treats, playing games that bring chuckles of arguments, waiting in anticipation for each other’s facial expressions as they open that present you were so gratified to find, then watching your stupid little dog trying to open said present, before everyone huddles round the table to enjoy a warm dinner that tastes better than any other meal you’ll have that year. In life, your family changes and evolves, but my experience and reliance on Christmas is something I never wish to see the end of. More so this year than ever before, I’ve learnt how much that really means to me.

The Beauty Cursed with the Pretty Face

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Armed with only words and voice,

And a guitar free of audacious drum or bass,

She mesmerised her entire world:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

Her words honest to her generation’s lives,

Ambiguous love stories nowhere to be traced.

Her tales were real and raw as life:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

Her voice would trickle with highland springs,

Soft howls like the wolves once roaming St Andrew’s place.

The most gorgeous thing one’s ears had seen:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

Her instrument was a ferocious foe

To any dire digitised aggressive pace.

Like any threat, it had to be stopped:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

O the joyous unspoilt noise,

That absolutely nothing could replace.

Still, they had to ruin it in the end:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

Following their genitals and not their ears,

All they saw was that pretty face.

They paid her well to strip her soul:

The beauty cursed with a pretty face.

Speaking with more flesh than words:

Designed to compete in a financial chase.

Persuaded by big numbers, she’s sold and labelled:

The product cursed with a pretty face.

For all time, is this our path?

Where he will always exploit her grace.

For all time, will he just overlook

The beauty cursed with a pretty face?

REVIEW: Man in the High Castle – Season 2

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Who would’ve thought you could achieve characters with moral ambiguity in a setting as supposedly clear-cut evil as a Nazi-dominated world? Well, in this second season, they’ve done that with practically the entire ensemble! The standouts are definitely the driving forces of Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) – who’s constantly pushed to betray multiple sides, leaving her unsure of which one she should be on – and, more so for me, Obergruppenführer John Smith (the impeccable Rufus Sewell) – who’s put in the position where his family could be jeapordised by the very ideology of the empire he has a part in running.

Outside of those key players, there is a rich ensemble to cherry-pick favourites. On the Japanese Pacific end of the States, Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) is put through a fantastic crisis of priorities, whilst also having the smoothest voice of anyone on the show. Then, the character with the most obscure journey is Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), whose spiritual venture to elsewhere soon manifests as one of the most important cogs in the machine.

What could’ve been no more than an interesting idea-turned-miserable look into a darker world is elevated to an exciting piece of drama, which both thrills and still saddens you by the tragedy of its entire concept. However, to end on generic satirical commentary, it does leave much to think about when it comes to our present political climate.

You can stream both seasons on Amazon now.

Horsey out!

Fire Extinguisher

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She breathed the room alight,

Potential burning bright.

Her steaming mind of might

Saw a future taking flight.

 

Peers of Potential’s past

Watched cadets raise the mast.

And so a journey they thought would last

Showed no signal of ‘Avast’.

 

Victory was her taking,

O’ the history she’d be making.

But cruel Fate had been faking,

And soon Potential’s heart was breaking.

 

She went as far as Fate allowed her.

Flames extinguished blessed power.

And so Fate and The Man did cower

As Potential died up in the tower.

 

**

This poem is a tribute to Firdaws Kedir, the 12-year-old who was awarded the winning ‘Debate Mate’ prize by Bill Gates, before dying in Grenfell Tower months later.

REVIEW: Dunkirk (BFI IMAX)

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Never has a film taken me into itself the way that Dunkirk did. Whilst studying history informs us of what happened, it isn’t until rare occasions, such as this, where the power of film can actually add the necessary emotion/feeling to that information; for one to really understand the terror and fight for survival that these humans, who actually lived through what you wrote about on that exam paper, endured.

To be fair, seeing it on the UK’s biggest screen, with one of the most advanced sound systems, certainly helped. However, at the same time, you couldn’t improve a turd by making it bigger. At this point, Christopher Nolan has made a fine art of working with the IMAX technology, as opposed to letting it do the work for him. With this remarkable tool, the audience is taken onto the beaches, into the air and onto sinking ships that have a fate far more terrifyingly blunt than that of the Titanic. All, may I add, without the need for 3D.

Now, the main debate that has been had over the film is the lack of character backstory: whilst some criticise its absence, others argue that it is about the whole situation and not the characters. Well, I’m here to say that is about the characters and that all necessary character development is shown through what is happening in the present. There’s no time in a war-zone to sit down and tell everyone your life-story; the point is that everything you need to know about every characters’ humanity is visually presented to you through their actions and the action that happens to them.

As a student studying the practice of scriptwriting, it is one of the golden rules that if you can execute a scene’s functions/purpose without the use of dialogue, don’t use it. With this remarkable screenplay, Nolan makes a point of how he needed barely any for the entire movie. Indeed, Dunkirk is a fine tapestry of visual storytelling.  With the exception of some fantastic exchanges, with the very deliberate casting of a master of words such as Kenneth Branagh, most scenes involve between one-sentence lines to simply non-verbal cries. In such a high-budget production, this minimalist approach is such a bold one and one that, for myself at least, really hits it home with what the film is trying to do.

This film is a true ballet of suspense. Using techniques that have a similar DNA pattern to a well-made horror flick, the execution of the storytelling is what makes you feel the terror these soldiers really faced. For myself, this was most felt quite early on in the film: as planes approach the beach, Nolan pulls no punches in showing the audience what it’s like being exposed on a large open space with nowhere to hide.

Dunkirk is no less than a masterpiece and is the best example of a true-life event captured in a bottle that I have ever seen. It is honest and it is blunt, but it is never disrespectful by any stretch of the imagination.

A true testament to why films are best seen in a cinema.

Horsey out.

Dunkirk, BFI IMAX London, 24/08/2017

Speech.

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Self-belief; it purges my speech.

Ripples my words when I want a smooth stream.

But how can I speak any more coherent,

When those around me keep kicking the current?

Forced into the frame of socially-incapable,

But it’s alright mate; your appearance is somewhat serviceable.

But I’m more than that, I have so much to say –

I’m not a still image; I’m a video struggling to play.

So many years, they disrupted my signal.

Spinning me round on a buffering circle.

But I managed to find a better connection,

But the update was never going to be a smooth expansion.

Constantly remoulding and reshaping the model,

Hoping for distraction from the software internal.

This isn’t right, where’s the pride in introversion?

Is it there, or is the answer physical compensation?

Nerves are the enemy; confidence the cure.

Former prevents the latter; a paradox I endure.

But you think that subtle alienation’s going to stop me?

You’ll be the one who’ll first face my fixed personality.

Except, do I even need to be fixed?

Succumbing to all of conformity’s tricks.

You stick by those who embrace your flaws and your grit.

I’m damaged and I’m strange – Fucking deal with it.

 

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon

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This pioneer of putting ‘cutting-edge’ into musical theatre may be about the squeaky-clean followers of the supposed third testament, but it’s also a real testament to how a comedy-musical can execute singing and dancing as well as any other musical, as opposed to those aspects having to be spoofed because it’s a comedy. This smart tapestry of satire, smut and character-based comedy knows where its humour is supposed to be and the skill and complexity of the song-numbers is as strong in their performance as its West End counterparts and never half-arsed. Some of the tap dancing in Mormon is astonishing, as are some of the more advanced vocals.

Still, the star of the show remains as the mercilessly outrageous sense of humour that pierces through the entire show, whilst the innocence and good intentions of the characters keeps the audience on-side in one genius balancing act. If you’re easily offended, this is probably a danger-zone. However, I will say how surprised my prejudiced young-adult self was at how many grey heads were bobbing with laughter through the whole thing.

Unavoidably likable characters, a blistering sense of humour that never feels mean-spirited and a stellar piece of musical theatre, The Book of Mormon is a full-package delivery that sends a massive Hasa Diga to anyone who thinks comedy is ‘lazier’ genre.

Horsey out!

Prince of Wales Theatre, 16/07/2017

Response to article: ‘Spare me the fawning tweets saying your A-level results ‘don’t define you’ – they do, and they should’ …nah.

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(Explicit)

Article: Spare me the fawning tweets saying your A-level results ‘don’t define you’ – they do, and they should

Honestly, I’m sick of our ‘betters’ pointing to what they consider ‘below’ in an attempt to enforce what should or shouldn’t define us. It’s the individual’s choice what defines them. The fact that there’s two arguments from those supposedly superior to us, just because they got some time on a newspaper’s click-bait by the way, surely suggests that they have as much of a clue as we do; shit all!

There’s no right answer. You can fail school and still accomplish an impressively evil corporation or you can find success through the doors qualifications open; there’s no one path and not everyone is programmed for the same one path. I mean, I’m studying Creative Writing so, if anything, I may find less opportunities from my £21,000+ burden than someone who didn’t bother with uni in the first place, but my poor educational decisions are another story!

Bottom-line is that the older and more experienced need to stop being so dictatorial over what the young should feel they need to define themselves by, just because they happened to come out of a vagina twenty years earlier than us.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Part 4 – Reviews for Thursday 10th + Friday 11th August

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Thursday 10th August

After a traffic jam that turned a twenty-minute bus into forty, we missed the show we’d booked tickets for. However, the guy at the box office said that we could use our tickets for tomorrow’s show and, following a pint of cider and a very persuasive flyerer, we ended up at a nerd-fest upstairs instead:

Rik Carranza Presents: ST vs. SW

(13.10, Monkey Barrel Comedy)

At the end of the day, this show was just an hour of shameless fun, as we watched three geeks rant on a stage. However, Rik Carranza did an excellent job at giving that fun a structure and format that allows him to comfortably change the two guests debating either side every show. With the subjects and questions of debate as well; nothing in the show was too specific or alienating (ha!) for a more casual viewer such as myself. The guy defending Star Trek may have seemed to know as much about it as me, but that didn’t really matter and, even if it had been distracting, you’re never going to have it perfect when bringing in random comedians. The atmosphere was warm and the show was an unexpected bonus to our Fringe.

3/5

The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show

(14.40, Underbelly Cowgate)

Three years after I last saw this show, I returned to find that they had boldly refreshed their entire roster of material. It’s always hard to let go of a working formula but, whilst I did miss middle-aged Charlie being depressed under the burden of running the chocolate factory, I was glad to see what else this thematically unique sketch troupe could do. Probably the only show that can identify the holes in my university education, few authors, poets or indeed illustrators (unless ‘Where’s Wally?’ is the height of contemporary metafiction) are left unscathed by the quill that quipped this script together.

Yet, the material is equalled and sometimes excelled by the calibre of the performances in the show which, at one point, left myself and Alex wanting slide onto the floor and die pissing ourselves. Some shows are self-confessed hit-or-miss; this is more like laugh-or-learn, much like what you get from the more intellectual end of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

If you want a sketch show that diversifies a market so saturated by the straightforward revue, then let The Canon sort you out. Though, make sure you’ve read a book or two first. If you’re a literature student, this should be an absolute liberation!

4.5/5

Sleeping Trees at the Movies – Sci-fi?

(17.30, Pleasance Dome)

Our second time seeing the Trees this Fringe (if you have the time to watch the whole trilogy, do! They alternate everyday), ‘Sci-fi’ may well have upped it for me from ‘Mafia’ (read Part 2 of my Fringe blog for that!). When you’re a group who creates all the characters, story and imagery through voice, body and music, science-fiction must be the hardest genre to execute. But yeah, they did it. Whether it was someone doing a hand stand to form the front and handles of a bike-speeder or a perfectly synchronised robot army, it is easy to overlook what the quality of physical theatre that lies at the backbone of the Sleeping Trees’ work. It’s brings a whole other layer to their comedy and their storytelling, celebrating the fact that they’re in a theatre and not confined to what works on a screen.

Not missing the opportunity to pull in even more obscure jokes through the sci-fi premise, whilst once again working with a fully cohesive story that was easy for the audience to follow, the Trees continue to solidify the ‘narrative comedy’ genre as their domain. Glad we got to see them twice.

5/5

Siân and Zoë’s Sugar Coma Fever Nightmare

(18.45, Just the Tonic @The Community Project)

Another gem that proves it’s definitely worth seeing what you find on the flyers down the Royal Mile, this show provided the absurdity that ‘alternative comedy’ is really meant to be about; not just avoiding offensive words. After seeing so many classically-structured sketch shows, it was great to see a double-act completely break those conventions apart and just do their own thing. An organised stream of consciousness, the strange and unusual sketch conceits gave a really enticing blast of imagination and fearlessness. The audience was small, yet laughed with the decibels of double the people there, with myself and Alex certainly contributing to that.

There was also an unconventional level of audience participation in this sketch show, with provided a very engaging blend of sketch and character stand-up. A highlight would be a section where Siân and Zoë fished for dreams in the audience: his typical self, Alex revealed his dream about drowning in Tennent’s beer. Yet, I have little to criticise when I recall my response to thinking of a famous historical building; let’s just say, the building’s not there anymore. I think I need some kind of psychological analysis after that one. Though, to her (Siân’s) credit, she took the diabolical thing I said and managed to run with it.

Regardless, this show was one of my favourites on the Fringe this year and it deserves far more of an audience so please don’t miss them out if you’re going and somehow found yourself reading this!

5/5

 

Clusterf*ck

(20.45, Movement)

True to its title, this show’s a mishmash of what’s on at the Fringe, each act getting a ten-minute set to provide a sample of their main show. I always love this event as it exposes you to performers you would’ve otherwise missed. Leading out with a strong compere, we got a strong variety of stand-ups, double acts and a musical comedy group to finish off. Great time, excellent show, no more to be said…

…and that has nothing to do with the double-act Next Best Things. I mean, I’m constructive in my opinions, not another male swayed by the slightest bit of female attention; you can’t just flirt with me in the middle of your act and, there you go, you’re hilarious. What am I saying? As soon as what was happening made itself clear, it took one turn to Alex next to me for him to burst into an absolute fit, as he genuinely laid himself across the next three seats, pissing himself. And I.. Well, I had a great time. I’m sorry, but if you ask “can I call you ‘Sexy James’?” I’m going to enjoy the act! Honestly though, they had some brilliantly surreal ideas and are another act who seamlessly fuse audience interaction into sketch comedy with hilarious effect. If anyone has the chance, their actual show is 16.45 at Pleasance Courtyard. If I wasn’t on the train back the next day by then, I certainly know I would’ve gone.

10/5*

*may contain traces of bias and bad maths.

Friday 11th August

Lucy Pearman: Maid of Cabbage

(12.30, Monkey Barrel Comedy)

To end our time in Edinburgh, we got to see a true show of the Fringe; an absurdist solo character comedy. Despite solo character comedy being one of the most difficult things to pull off, Lucy Pearman made it look as easy as putting on another set of clothes. When the focus is on a singular character, every slight action or mannerism counts and Pearman had a strong command of this. That was what impressed me the most about this show: how well she immersed herself and held onto that character for the duration of the show. Some would assume that’s not as important in comedy as drama; it bloody-well is. You need to believe in the character before you can invest enough to laugh at it.

The audience interaction is also very prominent: I mean, just from the fact she gave the entire front row a cabbage, you should get a feel from the tone without me spoiling too much. I wasn’t left out either, though I think she may have regretted that. You see, she placed a tall black soldier’s hat on my head and, failing to turn my performer side off for a second, I decided to respond ‘in-character’. Looking back now, that was probably a bit unhelpful but it was a laugh all the same and she ran with it very well.

Through well-conceived and executed characterisation, Pearman managed to keep us under her hilarious, often endearing but even more often sinister trance for an entire hour. Usually, with character comedy, that can feel like an awful long time. With Lucy Pearman, we wanted it to be longer.

Thank you for ending our time at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 with such an A-class show.

5/5

I’ll have my concluding thoughts up in the next few days or so, but that is now all seventeen shows we saw that I have reviewed. Going back through them all was a great way to reaffirm them in my memory, and sure they’ll be there for some time. I hope to learn from all the excellence I saw at this year’s Fringe and carry it over when we perform there next year. Let’s hope!

Horsey out