Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Phaedra's Love

Richard Watson is skeptical of a performance of Phaedra's Love

Phaedra's Love
by Sarah Kane
Hull University Drama Department
Gulbenkian Theatre Studio, Hull, 24th October
Dress on the 22nd

Phaedra's Love, at the Gulbenkian this week, is a surprisingly tame performance of one of troubled writer Sarah Kane's lesser-known plays.
As a playwright, Sarah Kane is distinguished by her own mental health problems, graphic on-stage displays of sex and violence, and her early suicide after writing just five bitter, caustic plays. What makes her interesting is her divisive effect on audiences; generally, people either love the daring, honest and gritty depiction of Kane's world, or hate being subjected to gratuitous sex, violence and harrowing mental pain. A good production of a Kane play should have this effect on an audience, and her work is usually at least good for setting up a debate on the value of shock factor in theatre and if there can ever be too much sex and/or violence on a stage.
Unfortunately, Hull University's extra-curricular Phaedra's Love – with an admittedly short rehearsal period – fails to do this. It lacks the visceral edge that is really needed for Kane's work, and the audience at Wednesday's Dress Rehearsal were left neither loving nor hating it. The tension and genuine feeling are both missing from this piece, and only very rarely does the pain shine through. A feeling of pain, be it mental or physical, is vital for a Kane play, and maybe this cast simply hasn't had time to find it – whatever the reason, its presence is sorely missed here.
Phaedra's Love is Kane's modern version of the Greek legend of Hippolytus, virtuous bastard son of Theseus, and his step-mother, Phaedra. The French writer Racine also updated the story for the 1670s, and Kane has given us a modern Hippolytus – a repulsively feckless prince, spoilt from birth. He spends his life waiting for something to happen, though it takes him a long time to realise when something is finally happening. As in the original Greek story, Phaedra's love of the title is for her step-son, Hippolytus, who has no interest in her whatsoever. As in the Greek story, Phaedra's reaction to this is what Hippolytus into trouble with his father, Theseus. The rest of the cast is competent in filling the roles of doctor, daughter, priest and later townsfolk, but there is never enough depth of feeling from anybody to really live up to a Kane script.
While this production is happy enough to indulge in the various acts of oral sex and masturbation, it skimps on the violence. There is an admirable bravery – surely to be applauded by fans of Kane – in the blow job delivered at the front of centre stage, but something distinctly lacking in the fight and rape in the penultimate scene. These events – played at the same time – are rushed and lack all that should make them shocking, dangerous and painful. Without shock and pain, Kane is nothing.


Catherine Jebson comes back for more, this time with a review of an Oasis gig in Sheffield.

Saturday 11th October, Sheffield Arena.
There are certain people who demand your attention. When the Pope makes his addresses from his seat at The Vatican, or the American electoral candidates thunder through the smaller States. When midwives across the globe declare a child's sex to their eagerly awaiting parents. All captivating moments of collective undivided attention, and yet none of them appear to have shit on the instant the Gallagher's take the stage at Sheffield. The level of devotion inspired by the first sight of Liam's trademark swagger is nothing short of religious. As the ultimate Northern lads band roll into town, their fan base have followed in almost pilgrimage fashion. The love has spilled onto the surrounding streets and trams, even into Meadowhall's unbelievably aptly named 'Oasis' food court where a coach load of fans had taken to terrifying late night shoppers with choruses of "You gotta make it happen!", as if the locals cowering into their cous cous had some immediate path of action to take. The excitement is infectious hours before the doors even open and leaves you feeling that tonight, Liam and Noel won’t merely be playing to an audience, they'll be entertaining their own troops.
This hype is nothing new of course. Oasis are hardly strangers to the Arena circuit and yet with the brothers' frequent skits and their anthemic set this feels as intimate tonight as it would were they to play in your back garden. Oases aren’t a band that can rest on their laurels and put on a half-arsed show in the knowledge that their new album's number one anyway. Real heart and thought has gone into this gig and it pays off. The roar that follows Gallagher Senior's introduction of 'Don't look back in anger' is Spartan in proportion. As the man points out, this is Sheffield's song, it being written fourteen years ago in a dressing room hours before the band were due onstage. Noel himself is on top form, an observation made more incredible by his currently nursing three newly broken ribs. His stunningly belted out acoustic rendition of 'Don't look back' thrusts two fingers normally associated with his younger brother at the Canadian wanker who could've put a stop to it all. The set is catered toward pleasing the populist fan, but with fifteen years of releases under their belt it's difficult to design a gig otherwise. The more hardcore fans are treated to old gems 'Slide Away' and 'The Masterplan' in favour of the career defining live favourite 'Live Forever', but the set is so blindingly polished and uplifting that it barely registers as amiss. Besides, when you're privileged enough to be played for at this quality for a relentless two hours, complaints would not only seem ungrateful, but downright anal. We even get some classic Liam remarks when he spots a glow stick wielding couple down the front. As they happily pull shapes to the new and gorgeous sounding 'Shock of the lightning' the epitome of Manc' charisma spits at them, "You're at Oasis, not the fucking Klaxons."
The older material predictably gets the warmest responses, but far from proving tired old accusations that Oasis are living off everything released before 'Be Here Now', when 'Songbird' and 'Lyla' get their airing, the crowd go just as nuts. Tonight though belongs to 'Dig out your soul'. The band's seventh and arguably their most groove-based studio album scales altogether trippier heights than 2005's 'Don't believe the truth', even boasting a piano ballad. It's still very much Oasis, but a deeper, more reflective and frankly, more intelligent sounding Oasis than ever before. The strength of this band therefore stands up and shines when new songs 'The Rapture' and 'I'm outta time' have the same proportion of the crowd singing every word as they did to their ten year old counterparts. The customary seven minute finale of 'I am the Walrus' is accompanied by an epilepsy-inducing strobing bonanza of green and red lights and screens. Everything tonight looks lush and sounds gargantuan, particularly as (after an initial fluff in the keyboard dept) Oasis lose themselves gloriously in a cover of the aforementioned Beatles song that the 'fab four' could never actually play live.
Oasis. So heart wrenchingly, throat achingly impressive that part of me can't help hoping Damon Albarn was watching.
Oh and the support, Twisted Wheel were not only forty minutes late, but also unoriginal Libertines wannabes. Volume and Topshop haircuts do not the good band make.

Friday, 17 October 2008

In the Chilly World of Snow Patrol...

In the chilly world of Snow Patrol, ‘the fun just never stops,’ apparently…

By Natalie Rosen

Listen everyone – I have some vaguely exciting news for you! Snow Patrol are back, and they sound the same as ever. Let’s celebrate with a bottle of ice-cold water, and possibly a bag of broken biscuits. I’m sure the band are doing that right now, as they unleash their mild new single, ‘Take Back The City,’ on the suspecting public.

Is anyone excited about the return of Snow Patrol, apart from Snow Patrol, that is? Just as well no one was bursting with anticipation, because as we all know, the higher your expectations of something, the more disappointed you’ll be. Remember the total solar eclipse of 1999? Free viewing-shades in cereal boxes, a mass migration to Cornwall, the end of the world predicted – and all we got was 100% cloud cover. Of course, at the back of our minds, we knew it wouldn’t be too spectacular, but we did hope it wouldn’t be rubbish.

Quite ironic then, that Snow Patrol’s forthcoming album promises, by its title at least, to be an even more brilliant celestial phenomenon than an eclipse – A Hundred Million Suns. Which probably describes the galaxy, and there are not many marvels of physics more wonderful than a galaxy, full of cute twinkly paper stars. That’s right – paper stars. Look at the album cover for proof, because what do scientists know about outer space, anyway? However, these five Northern Irish/Scottish indie boys deserve your sympathy: ‘Chasing Cars’ was voted Best Song of All Time by Virgin Radio listeners (you’d think that music was only invented in 2006), so for ‘Take Back The City’ to match the success of that sweetly yearning, radio-hogging ballad will be a challenge of Everest – or maybe Ben Nevis – proportions.

‘Take Back The City’ sounds like an extra extra bonus track you might have found on Snow Patrol’s previous album Eyes Open. This is not a bad thing; their earnestly emotional tunes rightly sold millions. You know the formula now – soft, ear-pleasing vocals, crunchy little guitar bits here and there, melancholy yet hopeful lyrics, and ponderous, plodding rhythms. And always a faint chill, as if contemplating a vast expanse of ice. In these times of global warming, we’re lucky to get a decent frost; but Snow Patrol create a sound reminiscent of Narnia, where it’s always winter but never Christmas…

‘You can sing till you drop, ‘cos the fun just never stops,’ vocalist Gary Lightbody breathes, while his bandmates do their best to rock out. The subject of his cheery mood is the collection of skyscrapers, half-price sales, trendy young people and police incidents that we call ‘the city.’ Indeed, the tone is quite heady and uplifting, recreating the buzz of a night-time urban adventure. One of those rare times when you’re drunk on life instead of cheap beer. Still, this feeling is diluted by the song’s main fault – melodic repetition. The same notes are played and the same lines sung over and over, and you’ll probably fall asleep halfway through. Even the accompanying video, in which sociable citizens move at double-speed, will not keep you awake. But then, Snow Patrol aren’t famous for being fascinating.

I defy anyone, when listening to this track, not to wish for something – anything – unexpected in it, just for a bit of aural interest. Nothing too radical; perhaps a random Blur-esque ‘woo-hoo!’ or a naff robotic voice entreating you to ‘boogie on the dancefloor,’ or a few hip-hop exclamations of ‘yo, c’mon, this is how we do it, shorty’. Something memorable is needed. At least ‘Chasing Cars’ lodges in your brain because of the lethargic wail, ‘If I lay here, if I just laaay here…’ But ‘Take Back The City,’ even after a few listens, merges with their back catalogue into a Snow Patrol soup. Snow Patrol-flavoured soup would, I imagine, have no flavour at all. One of those boring, watery soups lacking tasty lumps of vegetables. If you prefer tasteless soup, that’s fine, but it will pass through your bowels leaving no nutrients. Similarly, this particular song is not greatly enjoyable, nor will it damage your health (I hope).

‘Take Back the City’ is serviceable enough to accompany your most mundane activities, such as driving to work, or organising your stamp collection. It is impossible to hate, like Snow Patrol themselves. As for ‘taking back the city tonight,’ it doesn’t quite cut the mustard, lyrically or melodically. There are much better singles, such as the fresh, upbeat ‘You’re All I Have’ or the youthful, energetic ‘Spitting Games,’ or the haunting duet with Martha Wainwright, ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ (incidentally, a live version of this features as a b-side to the new single). I think it’s time Snow Patrol had some new ideas, and then we’ll have something to be genuinely excited about.

Vivienne Westwood at the Winter Gardens

Katie E. Booth Ponders a Vivienne Westwood Collection
Many people assume that Fashion is merely pieces of clothing, selected to cover the naked form or in some cases express the wearers’ individuality so that people can point and gossip about their state in the street; but did you ever think of fashion as an art form? Well that is exactly what eccentric designer Vivienne Westwood is pushing you to believe with her touring exhibition celebrating her most infamous collections spanning three decades.

With its original start point the V&A gallery in London; I managed to catch up with the exhibition on its stint at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield. The gallery itself is home to many exotic exhibitions including a room filled with sculptures and garments made from woollen string and have held several pieces of work from renowned artists including Mark Quinn’s sculpture of a contorted Kate Moss. With the Gardens reputation and being an owner of a treasured pair of suede Vivienne Westwood ankle boots, I had high expectations for the exhibition (plus the £20 admission fee did not help the situation); and I was not left disappointed.

With a velvet red carpet leading the way, you are taken through the world of one of the most outrageous fashion designers and general nut job Vivienne Westwood whose motto for life is ‘You have a much better life if you have impressive clothes’. Beginning with her vital role in the emergence of punk rock in the 1970’s to her well known costume pieces of glamorous dresses and glimmering corsets. Showing exactly how she liked to push the boat out, you start with the ripped denim and studded boots of the Rock and Punk era. One piece that stood out was a simple black cotton t-shirt enclosed in a glass cabin with small bones attached by metal rings across the chest to symbol to word ‘Rock’. Learning her technique from the ever so familiar information cards, Westwood used small chicken bones collected from her local take away, boiling and drilling them she would attach them to her t-shirts to emulate key words such as ‘Rock’ or ‘Perv’: not only do you get an inside look of Westwood’s work but also her inner minds. Leading into Westwood’s bondage inspiration with full leather jumpsuits designed as a straight jacket, you also get to learn Westwood’s history and key aspects of her personal life that inspired her work. Usually I would skip these cards and gaze at the work but each fact was tied in with an outfit that gave you an insight into its creation.

Leaving the early years of Punk and Westwood’s starting points the exhibition seems to take a dull turn concentrating on the more ordain collections including the ‘Witches Collection’. One toned suits and drab dresses stain the electric reputation Westwood has held throughout her career. I attempt to read the history cards but once again find myself skipping past to the more glimmering collections. In an art exhibition that is only situated in one room, it seems a waste of vital space to concentrate on these lifeless pieces that, from reading the one history card in this section, are a collaboration between Westwood and her second husband Malcolm McClairin; where are the controversial garments and elaborate costumes I was promised? With the next stage of the exhibition titled ‘sex’ I had a feeling my question would soon be answered. The walls splattered with pornographic images and rubber curtains, the pieces filled with fetish rubber leggings and t-shirts with photographic prints of breasts on, I had finally found the quirkiness I had come to love from Vivienne Westwood. If the gallery had been crowded with people I probably would have skipped this section through embarrassment of looking at sex clothes but on this particular day the gallery was lifeless so I got a nice long look at the intricate detail of the stitching on the all-in-one play suit. However my eye was being drawn to the final part of the exhibition: the costume gala. I had finally found the source of the bubble of light you see shining over the cabinets as you entered the gallery; a circle of sequins and fabrics seemingly sewn with golden thread. The famous ‘Mock Crock’ platforms that saw Naomi Campbell fall flat on her bony behind on a runway in 1993 where encased in a glass cabinet in the centre of the room but I was drawn to the wall behind. A glimmering tribute to Westwood’s work with the traditional corset, specimens made from fabric, bone, sequin; I felt more like I was watching a Kylie concert than viewing an art exhibition. Select pieces from the recent costume collection from Paris Fashion week last year towered on a platform in the centre, garments looking like they had come straight out of littlest girls dressing up box but some how emulating the modern world of today’s fashion. A luscious Ball Gown trains crimson silk along the floor with details of golden thread giving the air of royalty.

Emerging from the room of glamour and glitz I feel I have just been released from the inner workings of Vivienne Westwood that, ignoring the dull periods of her McClairin stage, is wonderfully captured in this touring collection. Although I will not be spending £75 on the exclusive lipstick print white t-shirt, I can now challenge those who dismiss fashion as art: I challenge them to take a step inside the world of Vivienne Westwood.

The Peasants' Revolt

Catherine Jebson visits the Ringside Pub on Beverley Road to savour some burlesque.

The Peasants Revolt
The Ringside Revue at the Ringside

Being asked to provide the warm up entertainment for an evening centred on stunning women taking their clothes off is no easy task. Despite their admission that they don’t know what burlesque is, and have never played to a strip-hungry audience before, The Peasants Revolt manage just fine. It becomes apparent from the moment they stumble on stage that they have decided to get into the spirit of the show and not take themselves at all seriously. Far from this seeming sloppy and disastrous however their friendly interaction with the crowd suits the candlelit, chatty proceedings surprisingly well. Their opening banter is relaxed and though much could be said for their attempts at stand up, they settle into their first cover effortlessly.

Musically the band is tight, giving us suitably bare back-to-basics strings and vocals that get even the highest heeled foot tapping. The feeling that they’d be out of place anywhere but at a function or local gig is inescapable, but the intimate atmosphere tonight allows them to have fun with their set. Everything from Duran Duran’s Rio to, worryingly, Britney Spear’s back catalogue are certainly originally done. Anyone who can take Hit Me Baby…and add a wonderfully done mandolin solo deserves at least some credit.

The transitions between songs are chaotic and the covers themselves are occasionally punctuated by mock arguments between the band. Luckily for them this hilarious dialogue is excusable because, after all, few of us are there for the music! The Peasants Revolt held up well and kept heads nodding along to their poppy acoustics tonight, but the question on everyone’s lipstick was whether this spontaneous routine was something the band would unleash again the night after, and the night after that, and the night after that…

Catherine Jebson.