Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Second Review

Pastor L. J. Darkside, following his controversial review of 'Life', has penned another review for the appraisal of those who remain on this planet. Enjoy...

The Second Review

(by Pastor L. J. Darkside)

In my review of today’s theatre performance I am compelled not to be too biting. As I have said repeatedly to my readers: ‘I don’t bite’.

My first point would be to say that none of the show was realistic. It was an anachronism. The aesthetics were lacking in some way. I appreciated the slightly camp symbolism in the ‘over the rainbow’ entrance and the psychedelic lighting which filled the huge venue. It was – perhaps, like Sharif’s horseback entrance in Laurence of Arabia in some ways. Except the desert was the barrenness of the scriptwriter’s imagination in this particular production.

But please, spare me the clouds and the flying horses. If one were a marketer or advertiser, one would use the visuals to promote beer, which, is, ironically, precisely what I require after experiencing this shambles.

Not that it was without merit. In some ways it was like a forgotten Frankie Goes to Hollywood video – but I could clearly see the discrepancy between reality and the cloudy backdrop. The effects were lacking. Aren’t we beyond this? I mean – angels – really? Angels. As, I say, archaic and condescending in many respects.

I had heard much about this show prior to its release – rumour had it that it would be a satisfying end to anyone’s day. There was a mixture of expectancy and nervousness surrounding the whole performance. How long did it even take to recruit such a vast army of extras? Points are gained for detail, but that is all.

And that was the problem for me. It simply was not realistic enough, at some points it went into out and out fantasy. There was no life to it. It lacked the X-factor.

The rest of the audience seemed to be either thrilled or horrified. One man turned to me and said ‘Told you so’. What was that even supposed to mean? Clearly we held very different artistic sensibilities. We were in very different places.

As a production, it appeared to be performed simultaneously across the globe. And that was the problem, not merely the appropriation of the platform to force this performance on (often unwilling) crowds, but the thoughtlessness, the crass nature of the whole drama. Some of us were busy.
I am not one to criticise a free performance without cause. I am no philistine and I have reviewed many, many such shows for papers. But the audience was clearly divided in their appreciation and reaction.

I cannot, of course, criticise the aesthetics inasmuch that the special effects were effective to an extent. But please – a man on a white horse coming in the clouds to save humanity? In terms of narrative it lacked any satisfaction on a personal level. In terms of endings it was both predictable and slightly depressing. At least for me.

Spoiler alert: The lacklustre character on the white horse won – at least in some people’s eyes. So predictable. And unnecessarily violent. There seemed to be an underlying hypocrisy to it all. It was even gory in places when the dragon character succumbed to the mouth-sword prop. A bit of an over-reaction towards a character with no discernible or meaningful backstory. Was he killed by bad breath? Many of us were left wondering, I can tell you. For some reason I am unable to parallel these archetypal characters with any previous form or genre. I fear they are stereotypes. The best that can be said of them is that they are caricatures, but I am stretching the parameters of my goodwill.
I watched, hoping for some kind of resolution to the drama, some kind of redeeming quality. Drama should be uplifting, especially in these troubled times. But I found that it was not life-affirming at all. I found it to be quite the opposite. I pride myself on being in-touch with my audience and that was one of the problems of this performance – it was so out of touch with the day to day life of the hoi-polloi.

I saw faces in the strangely painted stage clouds and I would suggest that they were the faces of similarly disappointed viewers. At one point I found myself distracted by what seemed to be a great crested newt in a spiral of contrived cumulonimbus. The newt turned to me and said, ‘Remember Tangier?’ I forget the specific point at which this happened, but it seemed incongruous and irrelevant, my fascination with this detail only revealing the depth of my ennui.

Then there was the whole battle scene – both brief and unsatisfying. The dragon character seemed to come from nowhere and was dispatched with the sword-prop coming from the mouth of the protagonist in an instant. Many viewers were left wondering what on earth was going on. The antagonist had popped up from nowhere. What was that all about? An army on horseback riding through the clouds, simultaneously performed at a number of venues? It reminds me of the ending to some half-forgotten tale from childhood. I feel I should remember it, but for the life of me it has passed me by. I would say though that the lead actor was the only one who seemed to be taking the whole proceedings seriously, albeit he was far too melodramatic. Perhaps he could do better things than this. I can see him in a Woody Allen adaptation one day.

The relevance of the trumpets at the start I will leave to your imagination. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd introduction was less of a cacophony of noise than this. It was an assault to my virgin ears. The shofars were too Jewish.

During the performance, I turned to my neighbour and asked him what he thought. But he was engrossed, his eyes glassy, as if hypnotised. His entire demeanour shouted: ‘Drug-induced psychosis’. I think he had been to the toilets and tried to make the performance more tolerable in the only way he knew how.

The end of the whole show was ridiculous. As I say - It simply was not realistic. Where was the life? Where was the passion? One can sense when there is love behind a performance and I can only think that the actors had all had a bad day or were being underpaid. A massive over-reaction from the protagonist towards the dragon character resulted in it being thrown into some kind of fiery pit which appeared stage left. Surely that was a fire hazard? Indefensible of the producers. The theatre programme suggested a backstory for the protagonist that was a contrast to the angry vengeance he displayed. It seemed as if he and the character from the backstory were two different characters, one kind and gentle, the other the reverse of everything he had ever stood for. And as for that fiery pit – it lacked any kind of beauty. Such an ugly thing. Anyone could have fallen into it at any moment – and it was too literal. Indefensible. I confess to feeling sympathy for the dragon character at this point. It was the sheer predictable didacticism of the performance which was its greatest failure.

Where was the irony? Where was the passion? It was a perfunctory anti-climax. I’m sorry, but it was. No questions were answered. No words were spoken in the whole drama. Pathetic.

Spoiler alert… I laughed at the epilogue – the finale when the audience members began to ascend from their seats. How passé. They were clearly stooges who had been placed in the audience with wires attached. It was a low-brow, people-pleasing effect. If I had wanted to see Wicked I could have gone to the West End any day of the week. Even my neighbour turned out to be one of the plants.
The rest of us watched as the assorted hoi-polloi extras ascended to the clouds. And that was the problem, as I have said – this sheer lack of realism. Most of the audience seemed to be terribly pre-occupied – why stage such a divisive performance during such tense political times? The mind boggles.

I confess to feeling somewhat unnerved, disturbed even by some aspects of the show. But it was disturbing people for the sake of it. Street art is fine – and in effect, that was what this was - but artists do not disturb for the sake of disturbing. It seemed so contrived. I am not the only one who felt no feelgood factor, no affirmation of life. And that is important, because it is important for a show to create a sense of joy, a sense of bliss and there was none of that. Where was the bliss?


Note for the editor

I rushed home and was so affected by this performance that I quickly wrote this review. However, I was unable to post my review on the newspaper website as there appears to be a blackout in the area and neither my mobile or computer seem to be working. So I have been forced to write this by hand. That I am reduced to such a platform is a problem but I’m quite sure that you will be in touch presently. At present you appear to be unavailable.

I have some pressing personal matters right now but shall invoice my fee as usual when things return to normal.

Information for review box graphic:

Overall: 1 out of 12 stars.

Positives: The camp portrayal of angels in a sky-based psychedelic backdrop.
Negatives: Where do I start? The protagonist seemed familiar somehow. It detracted from the performance. Had he been in The Bill? I think even I could have done a better job than he did.

Personal note for final draft:

Delete the reference to the cloud-newt. Tangier should not be mentioned for obvious reasons. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Lost books

Brian Haw

In my glory days, back in the early noughties, I worked in London as a trainee staff writer at a trade magazine. It didn’t last long. The truth is that it was not as glamourous as it may sound and in the end I returned to the Midlands, defeated by London. When a man is tired of London he is tired of life they say. And I left London both tired and a little jaded. London had been fickle to me.

But occasionally I would still go back to the capital. On one journey I met the anti-war protester Brian Haw in Parliament Square in his makeshift protest camp in support of ordinary Iraqi families. He died from cancer as he was a smoker (but this one fault did not outweigh his great principles – he was a man of genuine conviction).

I talked with him a little in Parliament Square. I mumbled about how he needed to be heard in the media and how he deserved to be taken seriously. He spoke to me of how one of the large established churches in London had rejected him and his cause even when he had asked them for help. That was very sad as he was one of the most conscientious Christians I have met and he deserved to be supported. He wore badges on his hat, some of them Christian badges which praised God, others were badges of protest and resistance. He stood (or rather sat) to defend humanity – to defend the ordinary people of Iraq who were suffering because of UK sanctions and who later suffered even more from UK war intervention. He made great personal sacrifices to protest and was treated with disdain by the British Government of the time who preferred war, for their own agendas. The Government considered him to be invisible, as they do to many of those who oppose them. To ignore someone is often an act of enmity.

When I met Brian, he asked me to fetch him some tobacco from a newsagents and I went to the shop and bought a pouch of tobacco for his roll-ups. I didn’t know that he would later die of cancer - I just wanted to be of help at the time. When you are consciously resisting the Government day and night you really do need some kind of comfort and some human faults can be necessary.

And Brian Haw showed me a book which he was writing. It was a handwritten diary of his experiences and life story. He had no computer. He only had pen and paper and principle.
And sometimes, late at night, I wonder what happened to that book.

What happened to it? Where did it go? Why was it never published?

I’ve searched for any reference to Brian Haw’s book over the internet but I can’t find anything. The distrustful, jaded side of me speculates that it was ‘appropriated’ by Government. But it seems to me that it is a little like Anne Frank’s diary. One document is lost, another is held as rightfully important. Sometimes important things are lost or kept private. Sometimes the truth doesn’t out in this lifetime. And how can it without people working towards that?

We all have stories to tell. They are documents. They are often important testimonies to the events which we experience and which we cause. Some are more important than others. But many deserve to be told.

And Brian Haw’s is one of them.