Another Embarrassing University Story

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Fellas and fellettes, here’s a little story. According to the event details, it was upon the fictional day of Tuesday 9th March 2017, not the actual date Tuesday 7th, that a small group of creative writers were invited to come to a special lecture by student-turned-author David Owen, after being assigned to do a presentation on his book. This class may have been for MA students, but we were permitted to come along.
We went, we sat and we waited. MA students flood in, no big deal; it’s their class after all. 10 minutes pass, a woman stands and says ‘let’s do the register’… where’s David Owen? Of course, he must be making a dramatic entrance in a minute. The register ends… “So today, we will be looking at editing for your projects” ..Oh no, this is just a regular MA class that the five of us second-years are now sat in the middle of, whilst all the mature students are clearly thinking “who the shitting hell are you?”, but are too awkward themselves to say a word. What’s happened to the David Owen lecture?… 5 minutes pass – one of us makes a move and dives out the class.. no one notices; lucky bastard!
15 minutes pass; we are still there. We don’t know what to do. This lecture/seminar could well be three hours long; we have to get out! But how? We’ll have to not only admit to an audience of MAs, which is so large she hasn’t realised we’re not supposed to be there, that we have come to their seminar for no reason, but now after silently sitting there in discomfort for 15 minutes…
And that’s exactly what happened. Of course it wasn’t me – my social anxiety was so high at this point, I would’ve probably sat there for an hour after the seminar had finished. Apologies said, we slowly and shamefully made our way across the lecture room to the exit, surrounded by the blending of minor chuckles and the quiet of people embarrassed for us. Except for one of us, who found the seminar so interesting that she just gave up dignity and stayed. Good for them!
And what of David Owen? Well folks, according to the service that has currently sent me into over 20 grand of debt, Tuesday 9th March 2017 is the fictional name of Tuesday 14th March 2017… You can see the easily made typo there, can’t you?
Following this wincingly harrowing cringe-cluster-bucket disaster-fest, I made my way home and ate an absolute fuck-tonne of burritos.
Then I wrote this.. The end.
Horsey out x

REVIEW: Anything Goes (Performing Arts Winchester)

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When a university performing arts society took on a thorough product of its time… and managed to really make something out of it!

As good as the song numbers are, it’s hard to deny that there are stronger stories than Anything Goes. It does simply put a classic rom-com formula on cruise ship: not to mention the added baggage of a strange criminal subplot.

However, when Performing Arts Winchester picked up the rights, they certainly made the best of it to put on a lavish show. Embracing its old-fashioned elements with open arms, they successfully evoked what made 50s theatrical cinema so iconic. The strong ensemble cast looked straight from one of Jimmy Stewart’s parties, with voices that had been well-practised in capturing the classic musical theatre sound. Combine this with large, elaborate dance pieces and an expensive set that held up a full brass-led band and you have one classy production.

The only major issue that stood out was the dated gags. As charming as old-fashioned can be, it can also be racial stereotypes. Performers playing Chinese boys was quite uncomfortable; American characters impersonating them made it a little worse. It’s a product of its time, but an alteration here would have overcome this issue. Whilst the audience, myself included, really enjoyed it, some of these jokes met little laughs.

Performing Arts Winchester, University of Winchester, 22/02/2017

Biscuit Barrel – How I’m feeling

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Tomorrow, I’m putting on my first self-produced show and this is how I am feeling about it.

Tomorrow will include a surprisingly influential point in my life and work. On the surface, it is just a sketch show that I decided to do for my open project module. However, as much as I try to deny it, whatever response this receives will decipher the direction I take next. Essentially, this is my prototype tester for what show I aspire to potentially do at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2018. Ambitious, I know. I know that I would either do a sketch show or a clowning show. This is the decider.

Undoubtedly, even if I did go down the route of sketch show, a lot of what we do tomorrow will not get that far. I believe that what we have done is indeed funny; I cannot deny my belief there, as foolish as it may be. However, the Fringe is the dream of my entire adolescence and, inevitably, that comes with the baggage of reckless perfectionism. This is my first attempt and, once you have done that, you get an immediate sense of what to do with yourself next. However, what I can confidently say is that I am satisfied that I, amongst a group of thoroughly collaborative and engaged people, have created a cohesive show that we can realistically perform.

This is not to say that I have perfectly executed every aspect of professionally putting on a show. Just last week, it became clear that I had not enquired deep enough into the technical side of things. In fairness, I was not well-informed in the first place. However, when that happens, you should really push further until you find what you need. I did not do this and I shook up a few people in the process: I still shiver at the thought of what people must have said. Fortunately, I was met with enough friendly faces to sort this out and it has all been resolved.

However, I have (almost) learnt to forgive myself for this error and every other I have made throughout this process. Creatively, I made mistakes. Casting process, I made mistakes. Professionally, I made mistakes. I have never put on my own show before and am certainly no professional. Youth and naivety are still traits that haunt me and, at this stage of my career, I cannot hide from them. The financial charge on the show also proved this. At £1.50, the cost is there to both fill in the costs of the show as well as a starting point for this future show that I will spend the next year of my life developing. However, whilst I believe these reasons are just and fair-game, my mind never considered what the university would make of a show on their campus asking for money. Fortunately, I was pardoned here too, but it just goes to show what must be thought about when you’re on a less friendly playing-field. Honestly, this was something I had kept in mind for public venues, yet I completely overlooked these rules for my own university.

Before we have even performed, I have already learnt so much. Now, it’s time for the big questions. Will people show up? Will they laugh? How much will they laugh? Will they say this is something I should stick to? Will they say I should move behind a desk? Will they I should leave the writing to someone else? As typical as you’d expect, terror and excitement hold hands in how tomorrow will affect me. This is probably the most exposing thing I have ever done. After this show, I do not feel I have much left to hide. The question is – will that be worthwhile?

I would like to thank Tom, Phoebe, Jess, Daryl, Alex and, very importantly, Kim for their input and support throughout this entire project. I could not have done this alone.

Horsey x

‘The Biscuit Barrel – A Sketch Show’ will be performed tomorrow (Sun 19th) at The University of Winchester in PAS 2 at 7.30pm (entry from 7pm, £1.50)

Valentines Day?.. Yeah, why not!

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There’s no denying that Valentines Day is now yet another tale of Christian-festival-turned-corporate-prostitute. When St Valentine was martyred by the Romans for being caught dealing out Christian weddings like crystal meth, I’m sure he never imagined that, in multi-millennia to come, his name would be commemorated with heart-shaped cushions and the Durex bumper box. Love and money are two very powerful things and companies certainly know how exploit the former to bring out the latter.

On top of this, speaking from previous experience, if you are single around Valentines Day, it is about as fun as it must be to be a Muslim during… the vast majority of any Western celebration. It is a time of year to feel sorry for yourself.

It is also very true that love should be an aspect of everyday life, not just concentrated onto a single day so you can detach yourself from romanticism for the rest of the year. Although, if that’s truly how you do it, then I’m truly impressed how dull your life must have become.

However, after all those reasons why Valentine’s Day is the Devil’s spawn, I feel that, very much like Christmas, it is what you make of the occasion. Whilst your love for your partner should be an aspect of everyday, it is not everyday that you have an opportunity to commemorate it. True, cards and gifts should not be needed in this celebration. However, myself and my girlfriend would find it hard to deny that giving each other presents is something we thoroughly enjoy and so we will relish any and every opportunity to do so.

None of these ‘Christian’ festivals are prioritised for the Biblical implications behind them anymore. First and foremost, Christmas is no longer a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Instead, it has evolved into a celebration of family: time to give your loved ones presents but also your presence. For children, it is undeniably about Father Christmas. Yes, Santa is the poster-boy for all shops and stores, but his myth is something that I thank for strengthening my imagination and sense of wander and that is a right for every child have: their are worse lies that parents can tell their children, come on. For Valentines, this is even less so about the story of St Valentine – it is commemorating your love for another person.

This is not the case for everyone and that is perfectly fine. It is simply that, in our case, excuses to give each other stuff is very much part of our lives and, consequently, we shall continue to embrace consumerism like a sponge and spoil each other with Valentines gifts, Easter Eggs and everything else Mother Corporate wishes us to buy. Yeah, we’re giving rich people more money, but we live in a world where we do that everyday anyway.

Sincerely,

A self-proclaimed capitalist slave.

REVIEW – Matilda the Musical

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★★★★★

No adaptation has successfully lifted Roald Dahl’s world out of the books to the extent that Matilda does. Perhaps, with Rob Howell’s refreshingly abstract set design encasing the entire show inside an environment made up of novels and over-mutated Scrabble tiles, it could be argued that this is because it never truly does leave the book: it simply takes us in. Also tying in beautifully with our brainy heroine’s awareness she’s in a story, the musical is an advocate for reminding us that we shape our own narrative.

As the Dahl intended, the child characters are the ones with one foot in reality, whilst the adults are played absurd and they don’t come more absurd than Miss Trunchball – modern musical’s best villain. Almost like an infant Blackadder, Matilda is the straight-thinking observer to an exaggerated world. Scribe Dennis Kelly may side-line Matilda’s powers until later on, but he keeps things focused on the most important power: knowledge.

The archetypal songwriting of Tim Minchin keeping the characters governed by the Dahlian language we know and love, it gives the musical its own stylistic identity which, as Les Miserables and Wicked have previously shown, is key to withstanding the ever-oversaturated tide of the West End.

James Horscroft, Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, 18/01/2017

Terry Jones

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I thought that I was going to read that Terry Jones had passed away. The actual news was close-to-worse. What a horrible condition to suffer from for the remainder of your life.

Personally, I still consider him the finest comedy drag actor EVER. No one can match his immortal high-pitch screeching, nor his ‘confused buffoon’ persona. It’s sad to hear of his unique voice being silenced this way. He’s not the Messiah, but he was one fine comic actor. And writer and director, I may add.

LINK: Monty Python’s Terry Jones diagnosed with dementia – BBC NEWS

Suicide Squad: There is no critic bias

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I may have read a few comics over years, but I’m no avid comic book reader. Yet, I really enjoy comic book films. Following the controversially mixed response to Suicide Squad, I’ve heard some pretty flawed excuses to why the critics and some of the audiences haven’t responded well to the film. There are two waves of conspiracy to it. I that think the first wave of conspiracy, to say that critics don’t rate them because they don’t read comics, is ironically a discredit to the quality of the movies that this argument is trying to defend; if you couldn’t understand the movie on its own without the context or engagement in the comics, then the film hasn’t done a very good in self-sustaining itself. In my personal opinion, almost all major releases of comic-book movie releases, no matter what degree of quality they are, have translated very well to the mass audiences who generally aren’t well-versed in comics on their own merits, myself case-and-point.

As for the critics, a general bias against comic-book movies simply isn’t there. Yes, there are many critics in the world and some may have this unfair bias (check out this arthouse critic that irritated me here: https://horscroft.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/my-counter-argument-to-captain-america-civil-war-how-i-was-bludgeoned-by-a-blockbuster/). However, as objective review-compiling site Rotten Tomatoes has shown, a lot of movies in the comic book genre have gained a majority of positive reviews, meaning that they are largely recognised by critics as a good product.

By the way, a brief attack on that stupid petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes after a collected negative average for Suicide Squad reviews, to reemphasise, it is a completely objective review-compiling system. What the people signing this are essentially doing is campaigning against a calculator. A calculator cannot have an opinion; it is taking in data created by other people.

Anyway, the second wave of conspiracy suggests that critics are showing a bias in favour of movies made by Marvel Studios and against the rival comic company, DC’s, big-screen outings through Warner Brothers Pictures. Whereas all of Marvel-produced movies have all received a positive majority on Rotten Tomatoes, the past two DC movies, which have been an attempt to create a shared cinematic universe like Marvel’s, have received a negative majority. This has led to many conspiring that critics have either just chosen to have a shared agenda of preferring Marvel over DC, or that Marvel is a corrupt organisation of whom, through the influence of their daddy Disney have managed to pay off an overwhelming number of critics to damage the efforts of DC and, I’ve got to say, these ideas do seem to have a degree of truly reaking bullshit to them.

The pay-off theory can be debunked right away: why would a company not only waste so much of their funds on paying off this majority of critics, of whom must be in their several hundreds or maybe thousands, but also risk at least one of these hundreds or maybe thousands blowing the whistle on such a major scandal? What a ridiculous suggestion that a company so successful, both critically and financially, would risk all of that to ensure another company gets mediocre reviews. On top of that, the problems with Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad were also felt by a lot of the audiences, myself and a lot of my friends included (I am yet to see Suicide Squad but I am going in open to enjoy it, in spite of the reception, but I’ll get onto why that’s important). Were the audiences paid-off too? Of course not, they were quietly manipulated by the critics who were paid-off, in spite of the fact that, when seeing BvS, none of the group I went with actually read the criticism of the film’s problems and yet still recognised them. It’s as far-fetched as The Pixar Theory

The argument that, if not that, then all of these critics have just united against DC, faces the same problem. There are too many critics to organise such an agenda. You have to face the facts, just because these two movies have had mixed reviews (MIXED, not every critic even gave it a negative review), doesn’t mean this agenda exists. Prior to this, lots of DC movie adaptions received overwhelmingly positive reviews. I’m hearing “It’s only since the MCU became a thing that they have,” well The Dark Knight Rises came out the same year as The Avengers and that didn’t see a largely negative response occur against it. In fact, the critics appeared to regard it more highly than some of the audience. “It’s only since DC tried to compete with the MCU that they have” The critics don’t care about how these movies connect; they are just reviewing these films on their own merits. In BvS and Suicide Squad’s case, they recognised some flaws. If you disagree, that’s fair enough. I may have, like the critics, thought there were problems with BvS but I still enjoyed the movie overall and I won’t let their opinions effect mine when I see Suicide Squad, which I’m looking forward to seeing!

Professional criticism and those who just go to enjoy the movies won’t always see eye-to-eye and that’s fine. It’s just a disagreement; not a malicious agenda… Anyway, that’s too many minutes of my life gone, thanks for reading.

 

 

Ice Age’s Collision Course to Failure

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The Ice Age franchise has been withering away upon the aching shoulders of its brand appeal f0r ten years now… which was when they released the second one. Now, the fifth one has finally led the franchise to tank at the box office, being the first one to open to under $40 million with almost half that at just $22 million (don’t worry, I find it depressing that in the movie industry, these numbers are a disappointment too). It is a clear sign that you have thoroughly ruined something once-good when it is popular to claim that the original successful product was never much good in the first place. I beg to differ.

I am at an age that the first film qualifies as childhood ground. In fact, so does the second. But I really loved the first and so did my nan. I loved all the distinctly different colourful characters. Manny the sarcastic grump of a Mammoth (hence why Ray Ramano fit the part so well). Sid the deliberately and, originally, endearingly annoying Sloth. Diego the Judas of the pack, who has a deep internal conflict of whether he achieve the goals of his sabre-tooth pack or embrace the friends he’s unintentionally made on the film’s journey. This stuff is half-decent writing for an animated film. That reminds me too, you are made to feel the journey with these characters. It is a bloody road movie on-foot! On top of that, you have the tragedy of the baby being separated from his father and then loses his mother, yet is too young to be aware of any of it and the only parental figures he now has are these three oddballs who don’t know what to do for him but don’t want to leave him. On top of that, you had the hilariously executed silent comedy of Scrat and his nut, which held the whole film together…

What the fuck happened?

Biblical flood caused by Scrat? Dinosaurs underground, unearthed by Scrat? Tectonic plates separated by Scrat? Now, bloody planet alignment and meteor shower caused by Scrat? Yes, the premise sounds absolutely hilarious. But, the increasingly ridiculous stakes have completely butchered Ice Age’s grounded-setting success. We’re not being taken to the confined world that was the Ice Age anymore. We are now taken to distractingly unrealistic bizarro age, where a squirrel and his nut accidentally performs the acts of God upon the entire universe. It’s not as funny as it sounds, okay. In the movies, the stakes are just not there anymore. Yeah, the characters are in a bit of peril from these events. But you can’t take it seriously when you go back to the fact that it was all caused by the squirrel, I’m sorry. Admittedly, Ray Romano’s decreasingly sincere delivery doesn’t help either. It’s double-decker sarcasm: Romano’s sarcastic towards having to deliver his lines that are meant to sarcastic in-context to the film.

The humour’s not there, either. The past two have reached Alvin and the Chipmunks-level immaturity. Admittedly, Scrat is still funny. No stopping that. However, the rest of the content seems to be a lazy excuse to give Scrat the opportunity to all these things. There is one shot from the latest one’s trailer that makes my stomach cry. It is literally Manny, Sid and Diego standing in a line and being struck by lightning and turned into a puffball, one-by-one. It is so forced and so sad to these three characters being put through such crappy gags. It really is!

The worst bit is that, other than these sequels, Blue Sky doesn’t appear to be a lazy studio. The stylistic efforts put into the imagery of both Horton Hears a Who and The Peanuts Movie show true artistic attention to detail. Horton looked like a Dr Seuss illustration brought to life and Peanuts looked like a living Peanuts strip. It’s not just adaptations, either. Whilst some of Robots didn’t work, the flare of invention was there. Why don’t they do more stuff? You ruined your once-great Ice Age. You don’t make enough money from it, anymore. Release the boxset and call it a day. In fact, release a special edition of the first one and have the sequels as mere insignificant bonus features, tucked away. Thank you.