Thursday, March 17, 2011


This was my first NT Live experience, but a long fascination with all things gothic meant I couldn't resist Danny Boyle's Frankenstein, screened live at Jersey Opera House.

Mary Shelley's novel is a seminal work and the play encapsulates themes which have become mainstream now - the dangers of science, playing God, responsibilities of procreation & parenting, nature vs. nurture, enslavement, disability, social acceptance & exclusion and Christian allegory.  The strength of this production is not in Nick Dear's somewhat pedestrian script however, which seemed to falter under so much symbolism, but in how the themes are given physical embodiment.

In a tour de force visceral opening sequence. the creature (tonight Benedict Cumberbatch, alternating with Jonny Lee Miller's Victor Frankenstein in other performances) breaks out of a womb-like pod and gradually gains control of his body, struggling to raise himself, to walk and make sounds, to eat and drink.  There is a child-like joy as he discovers the world, the heat of the sun, grass, rain, snow and fire.  He will learn to speak, to quote Milton, debate his condition and feel emotions - beautifully expressed in a dream dance with a female creature.

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph described it as "like watching a speeded up version of human evolution" and for me it evoked memories of Dudendance's Spaceman, (performed at St James last year as part of a Jersey Arts Centre residency) as did the play's final exit through an Arctic doorway of light.

The NT Live experience itself is a curious hybrid of theatre and cinema.  The liveness of the event, (broadcast to 400 venues in 22 countries), creates a sense of anticipation and excitement.  There is also a feeling of intimacy, of sharing an event with a particular audience.  One can't fault the camera work either which is excellent - unobtrusive and moving easily from aerial views to close ups and giving access that you wouldn't get in the theatre.

I did miss the freedom you have in the theatre to read visual content and discover meaning, to let your eye frame a scene, rather than a lens do it for you.  The design of the production is beautiful, particularly the large canopy of hanging lights flickering with frissons of galvanic energy - but there's something different about seeing light rather than being in the room with it and experiencing the light and dark yourself.  And although you are with an audience, it is a different audience to the one the actors are in some kind of symbiotic relationship with.  The screen itself acts as a kind of fourth wall.

And I did wonder why the creature was wearing a flesh-coloured loin cloth in the opening birth sequence when reviews and production photographs suggested he would be naked, which would seem more apt - some kind of caution to not offend global sensibilities or invoke cinema censorship restrictions?  Curious...   

But this feeling of being at one remove, of 'secondhandedness', doesn't make the experience not worth having, it just makes it a different experience. And importantly the broadcasts widen access to those who wouldn't be able to make it to the National Theatre in London or to buy a ticket, to a global audience.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Prophet

French film A Prophet (Director Jacques Audiard), screened at Jersey Arts Centre this evening, manages to intercut a viscerally realistic and violent portrayal of prison life with fleeting and mysterious images of ghosts and prophecy.

Stripped of its supernatural dimension, the film would still be impressive (and some might argue tighter); the interplay between naive convict Malik (Tahar Rahim) and Corsican gang leader Luciani (Niels Arestrup), as one gains in understanding and power at the expense of the other, is played out with subtlety.

But it is the images of Malik's dead victim Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) - bathed in flames, some kind of prison mentor, ghostly companion or conscience - that linger in the mind.

I like films that plant images in your consciousness asking to be interpreted and leave you wondering about what happens to the characters as they exit the final frame...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011



                             the flowers

are my song

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

grave song

                                              a bird sings in the forest
                                              its song is invisible

                                              i hear you daughter
                                              your words are invisible
                                              the echo of your words is invisible
                                              the wind taking your words away is invisible

                                              you found my footsteps
                                              followed my invisible feet
                                              to my old man’s bones

                                              here among the trees
                                              soon i too will be invisible

                                              i see your red smile
                                              questions scar your face

                                              circle me
                                              push your feet in earth
                                              leave me your dance
                                              i will remember it

                                              take my dreams
                                              they are invisible
                                              hide them

Monday, March 7, 2011

Waiting for Godot

The Estate of Samuel Beckett maintains tight control over how his plays are performed, with productions expected to strictly adhere to his stage directions.  Maybe this is partly what makes Waiting for Godot such a classic piece of theatre, that it hasn't been constantly 'reinterpreted' according to the latest social trends or vogues of director's theatre.  There are a finite amount of elements to play with, maybe five characters (six if you include the unseen Godot) a tree, some boots, some root vegetables... However, this restriction also makes it fascinating to compare different productions.

photo: Daniel Austin

Jersey Arts Centre's recent Waiting for Godot was directed by Daniel Austin (17 - 19 February) with a refreshing lightness of touch.  Craig Hamilton and Andrew Oliveira were a younger Estragon and Vladimir than usually seen, but this helped to reinforce a dreamlike quality, a sense of the unreality of time which is in the text anyway.  Part clown, part tramp they were boisterous and still, poignant and lyrical, making the characters fresh.  I liked the way Vladimir scuttled across the stage with the posture of a farm labourer.

Richard Pedley's sadistic ringmaster/demonic patrician of a Pozzo was very sinister, wringing humour from each mannerism and tortured syllable, and Simon Macdonald's Lucky suitably cringing and bizarre.  And last but not least, Tom McGoldrick's boy confidently closed each act with news of the illusive Godot.

Graeme Humphries' exquisite design - white floor cloth and white cyclorama and a real tree (Himalayan Birch) looked good enough to eat, like a pristine iced cake, while giving a sense of enclosure.  His simple lighting design gradually suffused the stage over the course of each act with the corals and pinks of sunset, giving an air of enchantment, and ending with a cool blue moonlight. 

photo: Daniel Austin

It brought to mind this painting by Caspar David Friedrich which Beckett apparently attributed as a source of inspiration for the play:

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon
Caspar David Friedrich ca.1824
A beautiful and high quality production.  Hopefully we can look forward to more such in coming seasons. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011


                                             because of the tree
                                             because of its branches
                                             because of its leaves
                                             because it is green
                                             because of your hands
                                             because of your hands in soil
                                             because you planted it
                                             because it is solid
                                             because it has roots
                                             because it will grow
                                             because of the wind through it
                                             because of the dawns and the sunsets
                                             because of the birds
                                             because of their wings
                                             because it will change colour
                                             because it will look the same
                                             because it will outlive us
                                             because of the earth
                                             because of the sky
                                             because of your breath
                                             because of the moon
                                             because it is silent
                                             because I hear wings
                                             because of the silence
                                             because of the stars
                                             because it's a symbol
                                             because it is fixed
                                             because it will grow old
                                             because it’s not me

Black Swan

Birds, wings, flight, dreams of flying & falling and metamorphosis into a bird are powerful as symbols, windows into the unconscious, in art and in language...We feel caged, have our wings clipped, fly the nest....

Darren Aronofsky's film Black Swan is a gorgeous dark fairy tale.  I love the way the meaning is layered and complex so that for those of a prosaic disposition there is a literal pathway to navigate the story, but the imagery also works on a symbolic level as the story of ballet Swan Lake, the competition between the white and black swans, and also as a metaphor for the creative process, what art does to the performer, what they do to themself.

Little girls' dreams of being a ballet dancer are brutalised in the transformation of Natalie Portman's character Nina, who has to release and almost rip-out an erotic and self-confident black swan from her body, from this fragile and vulnerable mummy's girl.  The film is also a staged conflict between perfection and passion and about what ambition does to you, what you will do for it.

The other women in the film serve as distorted mirrors to Nina: her possessive and controlling mother living vicariously through her daughter's achievement (Barbara Hershey) the older, jealous, suicidal and discarded principal dancer (Winona Rider) and sly and sensuous Lily (Mila Kunis), her doppelganger rival.  They even look like her, or how she might become, and she has to attack them or escape them to suceed.

The final image of her is almost post-coital, triumphant and bloodied, lying on a mattress...

World Book Day/Night

I've had a lot of time to read in recent months and it struck me this week, in thinking about World Book Day, how much of that reading has been about escaping into other worlds.  In particular the cold and gloomy landscape of Nordic crime novels. 

I've been to Sweden with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, to Norway with Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbø, travelled in Iceland with Arnaldur Indridason, and voyaged from Denmark to Greenland with Peter Høeg.

Literary qualities vary from the Rock and Roll Nesbø, to the soulfulness and social conscience of Mankell and the poetic Høeg (Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow) but there's something about those cold climes, people pitting themselves against the snow and ice and aware of the changing landscape and light, that is engaging and suits the crime thriller genre - lots of potential for danger and picturesque crime scenes...

Maybe it's because I've never really travelled to any of these places that I enjoy escaping there in books.  That sense of a different way of life glimpsed even through translation.

For a writer it's good to be able to 'adjust reality' slightly, to imagine a world slightly other, which is why I've also dipped into Japanese fiction recently as well.  In particular the bizarre and dark horror stories of Otsuichi (Zoo) and fiction of Natsuo Kirino - In her novel Out, four Japanese women with difficult lives, working the graveyard shift in a packed lunch factory, get drawn into a dark and murderous world.  It's very gripping and I couldn't imagine the novel working transposed to an English setting, with English characters, which is why I liked it - the behaviour and perspective are slightly an interesting way...

Les Gellettes

One of my favourite walks last autumn was at Les Gellettes - a wooded hillside at the end of the road where I live.  Like many places in Jersey, evidence of the German Occupation in the last war is visible but partially blended into the landscape, so it was a surprise to learn from last week's Time Team episode just how much activity there once was on the site - machine guns, anti aircraft guns, perhaps as many as 200 soldiers living there.

Peaceful now...