Grayson Perry – Descent of Man Review

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Picture from Penguin Books

 

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry is not a forensic study of its subject and so doesn’t lend itself to a particularly academic review. However, it introduces a couple of phrases to the lexicon that are well worth contemplation.

The book is premised on the notion that ‘upgrading’ men to improve their ‘adaptability’ to the modern world would be of huge benefit to men, women and the planet. Grayson Perry’s premise is well understood, and his opinions which fill the book are intelligent and apt.

Ample ink is spent pointing out male domination of various aspects of human affairs, something of a stream of consciousness, sprinkled with empathy for the position of men in 2018 and heavy dollops of ridicule of boorish male behaviour. Perry is knowledgeable without going the extra mile, and as a result The Descent of Man is as valid a review of masculinity as any well-intentioned and considered opinion on the subject. Continue reading

Review: Matt Okine at Soho Theatre

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At first glance, it is difficult to imagine Matt Okine having the discipline and drive to rise in the early hours for three straight years to host a national radio breakfast show. His easy style and unflustered lyricism belie what must be a fierce work ethic and creative urge. But this is what Okine does: laziness is his mask, the lie that he uses to present his truth.

The Australian is much decorated and lauded for his acting and stand up, and is a serious all-rounder: he presents a cookery programme on TV and raps as part of Boilermakers. Okine’s success sees him sell out comedy shows wherever he performs and now he is back in London at Soho Theatre, ostensibly talking career changes, but there is much more simmering under the surface in his show ‘We Made You’.

The opening night at Soho saw Okine in full flow for a full hour. This was a comedian who delivers with clarity and panache. Virtually non-stop, the intensity of his performance was complemented by his laid-back style, giving him an authentic edge, sympathetic and apparently very real.

There was a conspicuous lack of confrontation during Okine’s hour on stage, with any aggression reserved for rants at potatoes, crabs and other sources of nourishment and irritation – food being his favourite subject. His charming, disarming ease with the audience meant the Soho Theatre was quickly relaxed, with plenty of laughing out loud, while Okine kept an emotional distance, never quite straying in to vulnerability, although he hinted at pain throughout the hour.

Matt Okine’s light touch works as a layer above an undercurrent of tension. He expressed a struggle between the real person and the personality adapting to the modern world and its absurdities. The silliness of mainstream popular culture formed the basis of Okine’s act: exotic crisp flavours, eight-hour binges on TV cookery programmes, social media and the rest. All this was done without criticism, Okine being the passive and innocent consumer, with the effect of him being far funnier than any comedian attempting to intellectually deconstruct consumer culture.

Okine occasionally juxtaposed his light-hearted observations with revelations of his inadequacies and insecurities: body image, hair loss, ethnic identity and facing his contradictory relationship with his father. What can you say and what can’t you say? Again, the tension between being authentic and adapting to modern life, with the mask of a media savvy, successful 30 something.

There is something of the nihilist in Okine. Or perhaps it is that he reveals a strange western digital age mass nihilism in which we have so little control over our lives and environments that we sink into the minutiae of our particular preferences and irritations as a way of avoiding the facts of our mortality and the moral bankruptcy and degradations of consumer society.

Whatever, he’s very funny, a natural, and this show is highly recommended.

See Matt Okine: We Made You, at Soho Theatre, London until 29th August.

http://www.mattokine.com/

http://www.sohotheatre.com/

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Electric Breakfast

Venue: Electric Diner, Portobello Road

Meal: Breakfast

Rating:

3.53.5/5

It’s 11.45am on a Tuesday in March and I’ve just come back to Portobello after moving some things into a Brentford storage unit.

Heavy work, so you’d think a full English carb fest was on my mind. Not so, here’s why…

…So, we get to the door of the Electric Diner on Portobello Road, only to be greeted by our regular (Antonio Banderas looking) waiter.  I may have appeared a bit rude as I zipped past him fully aware of the clock ticking away on our 50% local discount deal as it fast approached 12.00. I rushed past into the ready and waiting waitress. “Will you still honour the discount as it’s not yet 12 O’ clock”?  I said in a half couldn’t care less way, without revealing the fact that her answer was a remote control to push an invisible button to send me away or make me stay, just like a puppet”. ” If you order before 12.00 it’ll be fine”. She said. You’ve never seen a person sit down so quickly.

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It was about 11:52 when my guest: sweet Juliet ordered her poached eggs on toast with  avocado and a bit a lemon on the side, accompanied by a pot of mint tea to kill the chill. Note below, the avocado’s succulence. Continue reading

‘WE ARE’ ….at The Ugly Duck

 

After months of planning, The Kitchen Table Collective, who previously gave us 1x Tab Breakfast, poached egg, no mushroom 1x sides, sausage: New Stories from the Tabernacle, have expressed a touching and thought provoking exhibition through the eyes of immigrants.  The incredibly diverse quintet of Artists including Emma Mudgway, Claire Tipy and Alexia Villard successfully gave us a very personal look at the alien experience in the UK through their art.  ‘We Are’ can be seen today at The Ugly Duck Gallery at 47-49 Tanner Street in Tower Bridge.

We are here until the afternoon collecting great thoughts and insights to see what it feels like to be an immigrant.

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We’re going in.

 

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Claire Tipy and Sarah Tilotta’s collaboration, ‘Where Do You Think I Was Born’, seen in motion. Each actor contributed their own heartfelt monologue and drew us totally in. Continue reading

Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar!

BATTERSEA ARTS CENTRE

(c) Alex Brenner, no usage without credit; Jackson's Way Christmas Top-up @ BAC (_DSC4940).jpg
Photo by Alex Brenner, Jason’s Way Christmas Top-Up @ BAC

2004 Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Will Adamsdale plays spoof American life coach and motivational speaker Chris John Jackson in his offbeat and genuinely madcap show Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-up Power Seminar!

The show takes the form of a life coaching session which begins with a Jackson voiceover urging the audience to, Feel the energy in the room! And Harness their thoughts and feelings! As well as other assorted life-coaching bromides. Adamsdale makes good use of en vogue Mindfulness terminology about being present and litters it with the mediated language of modern warfare, Drone strike! Boots on the Ground and Tailspin are all used, to create a bizarre yet chillingly realistic motivational-speak lexicon

White trainer-wearing, chino-sporting, ear-piece donning Jackson finally emerges to the melodies of Coldplay, I forget which song, but does it really matter? He instantly starts banging on about the Jackson’s Way and Jactions, which are pointless tasks done for absolutely no reason at all, except they are pointless. E.g. picking up a discarded cup and finding another one exactly the same and swapping them over. Jackson calls this Trash Exchange. The show bounces along in Jackson’s illogical and wholly demented ‘way’, with excellent and ludicrous audience participation involving clapping, rhyming words that can’t rhyme, staring at a wall and trying to move the floor. Jackson produces nonsensical graphs and images to explain what he’s trying to achieve, which is never really clear, and the performance ends with him revealing his messiah complex as he places himself as the baby Jesus and then God in a nativity scene made out of junk that Jackson calls The Team.

(c) Alex Brenner, no usage without credit; Jackson's Way Christmas Top-up @ BAC (_D3C0187).jpg

Photo by Alex Brenner, Jason’s Way Christmas Top-Up @ BAC

Adamsdale’s frenetic energy and sharp-eyed satirical observations of the motivational speaking world keep this performance bundling along nicely. His likeable character is made more agreeable as he appears to be suffering from the delusion that his crackpot ‘way’ works, when in reality he’s actually in the grip of PTSD or other forms of mental illness shown through his irregular flashbacks and allusions to a rather painful past.

Like all good theatre, and comedy for that matter, the spotlight, although centred on the shambolic Jackson, in fact, shines a light on the audience and therefore the world we live in. Why is it that so many life coaches, motivational speakers, faith healers, psychics and televangelists become so successful? What is it about us collectively that puts some of these people on a pedestal and bows down in reverence to their way of doing things?

I suspect it has always been so. People’s lives are hard, they are unfulfilled and it’s easy to look for a ‘method’ of doing things in order to be richer, better looking, more successful, and happier. And in a culture where happiness is traded on material gain and in a system where we’re consistently told we’re free to go out and get what we want and that if we’re unhappy then it’s our own fault…and then the benchmark for ‘happy’ is set ridiculously high; big houses, expensive cars, perfect kids, fine clothes, lots of holidays, lots of parties, lots of friends, then it’s no wonder people will up look to any charlatan with any shady idea of how to help us. The con then becomes very lucrative.

Jackson’s Way is an amusing riot of a show, not to everyone’s tastes, and occasionally falling flat, it does however have more triumphs than stinkers and is well worth an hour of anyone’s time. Achieve!

 

Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-up Power Seminar is on at Battersea Arts Centre until the 12th December. Bookings here.

 

Bradley Russell.

Measure For Measure (In the Wake of the Paris Attacks)

YOUNG VIC

12/11/2015

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Ivanno Jeremiah & Zubin Varla in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison.

The Nineteenth Century essayist, poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise of Shakespeare. He once said of The Bard;

‘Shakespeare knew the human mind, and its most minute and intimate workings, and he never introduces a word, or a thought, in vain or out of place.’

I was reminded of Coleridge’s acclaim as I sat watching The Young Vic’s production of Measure for Measure last week. Even as Coleridge battled crippling opium addiction and debilitating episodes of self-doubt in life, he found joy and freedom in the world created by Shakespeare. He discovered a liberty from his own weak will, and a license to suspend his disbelief in order that he whole-heartedly enter into the dramatic world of the play unfolding before him. He said that incredible or fanciful work would break this spell and bring the ludic performance crashing down and that one must be able to give themselves over completely to the drama. And the writer he identified as the illusionist dramatist par excellence and most suited to this task was, of course, Shakespeare.

There were moments between Angelo and Isabella, Claudio and Isabella, The Duke Vincentio and Pompey et al, when discussions centred on the nature of human virtue, clemency and spiritual and corporal corruption, at such times it was as if I was watching and hearing a divine puppeteer interweaving all the thoughts and feelings of humanity, mixing the conflict between self-preservation and empathy, expounding the collision of desire and morality and underpinning all with a firm and sure depth psychology. Watching Shakespeare at these moments is a special kind of poetry, one that may grant the audience access to an exquisite divinity beyond their normal everyday human experience.

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Measure for Measure is a rampant, cut-down, boisterous affair. The play moves along at a blazing comic pace, but as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, it never moves too far from the darkness at its centre. Vienna is a city overflowing with brothels, pimps and scoundrels. The Duke Vincentio tells his advisors he’s leaving the city and then disguises himself as a friar and stays within the city walls. He leaves Angelo in charge, an unbending guardian of morality who instantly closes all the city’s brothels and sentences Claudio to death for the act of fornication with Juliet, whom he has made pregnant. Isabella learns of her brother Claudio’s punishment and goes to Angelo to beg for clemency. During the course of their meeting the morally incorruptible Angelo begins to feel lust and desire for Isabella and tells her he will spare Claudio’s life if she should yield to him her virginity. Isabella then goes to see Claudio, tells him of Angelo’s advances and expects that he will face death with dignity. Claudio begs his sister to give herself up to Angelo to save his life, and she refuses as she doesn’t want to sacrifice her immortality, or Claudio’s in the afterlife.

Hill-Gibbins’ and Miriam Buether’s radical exuberant production and design gives us swirling images of blow-up dolls representing the vice and corruption of Vienna, a Kardashian-style sex-tape of Claudio and Juliet, and dazzling camerawork, backgrounded behind closed doors, to show us the dark, ever existing underbelly of a city crawling with debasement and debauchery behind its moral veneer. I’m a fan of this seemingly, de rigour use of camerawork, as it compellingly captures and enhances human emotion, intensity and intimacy. The cast is uniformly strong, with Paul Ready’s cloying, convincing, bureaucratic Angelo and Tom Edden’s turn as an evasive New York Jewish gangster-pimp Pompey, complete with spectacles, suit and baseball cap, my personal favourites.

This thoroughly enjoyable and vivacious production ends with a startling image of The Duke, played by Zubin Varla, not only telling Isabella of his intentions to marry her, but lining up the entire cast of the play in couples, in a desperately awkward and dreadful tableau. This creates a striking image, although the characters may be saved from hell, are they any better off in the strange, mixed-up relationships and marriages they end up in, where they may succeed or fail, and advance through life in an utterly muddled human procession?

My initial reaction to Angelo’s lack of tolerance for the business of prostitution and sex was to think how antiquated that attitude has become in the modern world. Sitting in a diverse cosmopolitan audience in a multicultural London, it’s easy to forget the patrician attitudes and intolerance that exist in other cities and regions. However, the ingenious presence on stage of a couple of dozen male and female blow-up dolls at times piled-high, at others waded through by the cast, and then thrown in discarded fashion upstage, started to put me in mind of a slaughter, the Holocaust perhaps? But then I settled on the fanatical nature of those purporting to represent Islam and calling themselves Islamic State. Intolerance to human desire isn’t antiquated or out-dated, it is a very real and evil threat. The next night that threat would be foregrounded once again in the shocking pictures and stories pushed in a vile centrifuge from the blood-soaked streets of Paris. Intolerance of people trying to live free lives, people in bars and cafes, enjoying rock concerts, massacred by those, identified over four hundred years ago by Shakespeare, who deign to impose their dogmatic views and calcified opinions on innocent citizens. Therefore, once again Shakespeare proves his genius. This thoroughly pagan Elizabethan playwright always manages to remain relevant and timeless in all ages, and how does he manage this? Because, as Coleridge had it, he knew the minutest and most intimate workings of the human mind. And no matter how much we may progress, technologically and scientifically, no matter how much we innovate and evolve, we are still Shakespeare’s humans; coiled and contradictory, floored and mistaken, emotional and desirous.

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The Company of Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison

 

By Bradley Russell for Urban Dandy

Why John Steed is the Greatest TV Character

Tribute to a unique Dandy

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Patrick Macnee, who played John Steed in the hit 1960s and 70s British cold war / spy / sci-fi programme The Avengers, passed away in Los Angeles aged 93.

Macnee’s long career was varied and distinguished, but it was as Steed that he played a commanding role in the quirkiest, campest, sexiest and most irreverent British programme ever made.

The programme’s creators, upon casting Macnee in the role, allowed the actor to portray the character as he saw fit. This meant that Macnee, a veteran of the Second World War, rejected the plan for Steed to carry a gun, despite the show starting out as a relatively conventional cold war drama.

Reflecting on being told he would have to use a gun, Macnee told the AP in 1997: “I’ve been in World War II for five years and I’ve seen most of my friends blown to bits and I’m not going to carry a gun.’ They said: ‘What are you going to carry?’ I thought frantically and said: ‘An umbrella.’”

This moment of clarity meant that Steed became a secret agent like no other, welcoming assailants in to his home by opening a decanter of Brandy, and rather than the cruder forms of violence he would knock them out with his bowler hat, and once even tickled an enemy agent in to submission.

As Steed, Macnee was never anything less than graceful.

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Co-starring our local heroine Honor Blackman, the early Avengers series were filmed for live TV. With the programme’s charm and Hollywood calibre storylines, Blackman became a star in James Bond and was replaced in The Avengers by Diana Rigg. Rigg and Macnee provided the best of the Avengers’ double acts, with Mrs Peel way ahead of Steed in intellect and physical prowess.

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But Macnee remained the Avengers’ mainstay, his humorous one-liners, ability to be enigmatic, mischievous and brilliant in equal measure and his tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a British establishment figure maintained the show’s unique appeal.

With only two television channels in Britain at the time, The Avengers’ viewing figures were well over 10 million during its peak. Rigg also became a star of 007, and was replaced by Linda Thorson as the younger, greener, cuddlier Tara King.

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By now in glorious colour for the American networks, Steed took on a more paternal role as Miss King’s mentor. Viewing figures declined, but the storylines remained the best and most accessible of their time.

Reprised in the 1970s with Joanna Lumley as Purdey in the much edgier New Avengers, the enduring appeal of Steed and Macnee was back again. And when C4 showed re-runs of the colour Rigg and Thorson seasons in the mid-90s, a new generation got The Avengers.

A true original and a dapper gentleman, Patrick Macnee was much closer to the Wildean dandy than today’s urban dandy. But this is a broad church and Steed will live on as an honorary urban dandy blessed with incredible warmth and wit.

 

Daniel Patrick Macnee, February 1922 – 25 June 2015

By Tom Charles, who has five tropical fish, for Urban Dandy