Category Archives: Literature

Top Tunes with Rachel Trezise

Photograph of Rachel credit Jon Pountney

Hi Rachel great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a novelist and playwright, probably most well known for the Dylan Thomas Prize-winning short story collection ‘Fresh Apples.’ My plays include ‘Tonypandemonium’, ‘We’re Still Here’ and ‘Cotton Fingers’ which will be touring parts of Ireland and the UK this year.

In 2007 my nonfiction book about the Welsh music scene ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ was published. Somewhat bizarrely, Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist, Duff McKagan listed it in his autobiography as one of his all time favourite music books.

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?

‘The Girl from Chickasaw County’ box set was released in September last year, commemorating the legacy of country music singer Bobbie Gentry. There are eight CDs in all so I’m still digesting it. My mother was a huge country and western fan. She played Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bobbie Gentry, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette throughout my childhood. Gentry was always my favourite. I was about nine when I really started listening to the lyrics and realised the songs were all short stories. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with ‘Fancy’, a song about a girl called Fancy who’s mother sells her into prostitution: ‘I might have been born just plain white trash but Fancy was my name.’

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

1 Appetite for Destruction – Guns ‘n’ Roses – Guns ‘n’ Roses have been my favourite band since the age of around thirteen. They are my coming-of-age soundtrack. People have often asked me how I can be a feminist and love songs famed for so much misogyny.

I’ve tried to answer this question in an essay titled ‘Nothing for Nothing’ published in ‘Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women And The Women Who Love Them’ edited by Rhian E Jones and Eli Davies.

2 Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes – I listened relentlessly to this album while I wrote and rewrote my first novel ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’. I quoted a lyric from one of the songs on the flyleaf. The themes in it are guilt, alienation, childhood trauma and adult inadequacy. They are also the themes in my novel. At the time I was listening mostly to Metallica, Pantera and Megadeth. A female singer-songwriter, and piano music in particular was quite a departure for me.

3 The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers – The Manic Street Preachers were the first Welsh thing I was proud of. Growing up in the 80s, Welsh culture was all about Max Boyce and Aled Jones, then here was this intelligent working class band telling the real story of the boredom and alienation I knew growing up in a south Wales destroyed by Thatcherism. By extension, the Manic Street Preachers made reading literature something to be proud of rather than slightly embarrassed by. I still listen to this album every few months.

4 The Clash – Combat Rock – Whereas country was my mother’s thing, my brother who’s ten years older than me was always listening to UK punk: The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Generation X et al. Via him I discovered one of my favourite bands, The Clash. Combat Rock is a controversial choice but it includes my favourite song ‘Straight to Hell’ which talks of the immigrant experience and the death of industry in Northern England, but was mostly considered their ‘American album’ because it dealt with the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the hypocrisy of the American dream and referenced Taxi Driver. The Clash have always been relevant and seem everyday to grow more so.

5 The Future – Leonard Cohen – It’s difficult to choose one Leonard Cohen album but I’ve gone for ‘The Future’ which includes the song ‘The Future’ which is how I discovered Cohen via the movie soundtrack for ‘Natural Born Killers’ produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.

Cohen said once that the demographic of people who like his songs could be called ‘the broken-hearted.’ I do go to him when I’m sore and looking to be mended. I listened to his early albums a lot after my mother died for example. I have the much-celebrated ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ lyric from ‘Anthem’ tattooed on my arm to remind me that however imperfect I am, I am enough. It works sometimes.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

IfwhiteAmericatoldthethruthforonedaytheworldwouldfallapart by Manic Street Preachers. I haven’t stopped thinking about this song since Trump got into power.

Becoming Oneself on Stage. Robinson. The Other Island. Behind the Curtains, Part 3 By Eva Marloes

Production photograph by Jorge Lizalde

Robinson. The Other Island, the latest production by director Mathilde Lopez, fuses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s version of the story in Friday.

Robinson is stranded on an island for 28 years, Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, is alone in her flat reading about Robinson. Defoe’s and Tournier’s stories of Robinson come together in Bianca’s reading. In turn, Bianca, as a reader, identifies with Robinson, gets angry at Robinson, and feels sympathy for him. The multiple layers of theatre reminded me of Pirandello’s layers of reality. We watch a story that has a story within itself and discover that we are part of it. This is made possible by the ingenuity of John Norton’s binaural in-ear mics that takes the audience into the heads of the actors

We are Robinson experiencing the loneliness of the island, but also Bianca who reads about Robinson in her own loneliness, and spectators who discover their own loneliness by being isolated through headphones.

Robinson is a reflection on loneliness. It cuts deep into human experience and fragility. It is universal; yet it is conveyed through the particularity of the characters and the actors. Robinson Crusoe is a 17th century man with a colonial mindset, Bianca is a 21st century woman in Cardiff. Luciana Chapman, who plays Bianca, is a 25-year-old Dutch-American black woman living in Cardiff. As a black woman, she feels anger at Robinson’s misogyny and racism. She feels disgust at Robinson having sex with the island. As a human being, she sympathises with his isolation. She tells me,

“He speaks so lightly about slavery, about the ‘negros’ … it closes up my throat, makes me feel very angry, I have tears behind my eyes. You have to tell yourself that it was a different time. I find it very difficult. … Yet, when he speaks about thrusting his penis into a mossy crevice, the woman in me cringes and finds it disgusting, but as a human being thinking of that as a need for contact, something everyone craves, all of a sudden it becomes a beautiful moment. He’s really making love to that piece of earth. It sounds weird, but it’s pure emotion.”

Luciana says that today she cannot be made into a slave as in the past, but there are still people who see her as an object, sometimes as a woman she’s seen as a sexual object, sometimes as a black person she’s seen as not human. Luciana, as a black woman, experiences Robinson from her own particular identity; yet, as an actress, she needs to go beyond that and connect with her own character. Luciana tells me that she’s ‘an involuntary method actor,’ her character often slips into her own life. She says,

‘I was in Tesco and I found an orchid and I absolutely fell in love with her. I never bought a plant in my life and all of a sudden now I’m in a play that is all about plants and my character has her own plant, I, as Luciana, find this plant and take it.’

Acting allows one to go beyond the characters we create for ourselves in our daily lives. It lets free all those parts of us that are out of place, silenced, or simply not required. That, I believe, is why Luciana finds theatre ‘real’ for her and freeing. It is not deceit or mere representation, but the acting out of personas who are passive inside of us. She says,

‘In a weird way, theatre is real for me. Yes, I’m acting but when I’m doing it right there it is all real. It’s a play but it’s real. I’m really going through the emotions, I’m really feeling them. … The character comes alive in me. … Certain characters and plays bring out other aspects in me and I blow out those types of aspects, but it’s always a part of me with a different name.’

Acting allows experiences and the expression of feelings to be lived within a structured framework. The actor might be vulnerable as they tap into their own emotions, yet the set lines, movements, and space provide safety. Luciana tells me,

(Acting) is when I feel most free because I find real life really confusing, because things always happen and no one tells you how to deal with it, there isn’t really a booklet on how to deal with things. But in theatre you study things for so long you know what’s coming and you can wholly have that emotion safely in that moment and people seeing it. That’s beautiful.’

Acting is never a lonely experience. It presumes an audience. In theatre, the physical presence of the audience makes the feelings the actor feels and seeks to convey a shared and intimate experience.

‘I love that I can feel something and have people feel it with me. I’m removed from people … but it’s so extremely intimate because they’re all watching you. I feel like I’m around people in a safe way. I love the attention … I love making people feel things.’

Luciana becomes Bianca on stage, who becomes Robinson by reading the book. At one point in the play, she stands tall on the stage and commands the ‘Governor’s coat’ be fetched and brought to her. She wears the coat, as Robinson did in asserting his colonial power over the island. While Robinson does so in broken sentences, giving his back to the audience, Bianca exudes strength; yet when she confronts Robinson and tries to hit him, she sees him in all his vulnerability and gives up. Luciana says,

‘There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re a victim. Everyone needs much more vulnerability. Then we can console each other.’

Bianca experiences anger and pride, loneliness and compassion. It is in the portrayal of contradictory feelings that we glimpse our shared experience of being human.

Behind the Curtains, Part 1: Robinson, The Other Island By Eva Marloes

Robinson, the latest creation of director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, artistic director of the company Give It A Name, is taking shape in the Stiwdio, the large room part of Chapter Arts Centre. Robinson is as much a sound exploration as a textual engagement with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Michel Tournier’s Friday. Defoe’s book, published 300 years ago, is a dreary propaganda for colonial exploitation, while in Friday, or The Other Island, written in 1967, Tournier explores the relationship between our ideas of civilisation and of noble savagery. In the hands of Mathilde Lopez, Robinson is a parable of solitude, which is conveyed through an innovative use of sound, designed by John Norton.

Director Mathilde Lopez

I sit down and I am given headphones. Every member of the audience will wear them. I hear the waves of the sea, the tweeting of birds, Caribbean music, and Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, reading, but not in both ears. The headphones and mics are binaural, to recreate how our ears perceive sound. I hear Bianca speaking softly in my ear as if I were reading a book. I hear birds tweeting and a mosquito buzzing around my left ear evoking a tropical island.

The stage, for the time being, consists of three tables stuck together lengthways cutting the space in two. This will later be replaced by pallets filled with various materials, including cans and empty plastic bottles. The actors perform on the tables and around them. They’re still finding their feet. The text is not finalised, the action still to be worked out, and the cues set. The play is in becoming. I’m witnessing the creative process, which, under Mathilde’s direction, is playful and cooperative. Mathilde often laughs. She laughs at what the actors come up with, she laughs at herself. She makes suggestions, gives indications; she never raises her voice, never criticises. It’s always ‘shall we do this,’ ‘can you do this,’ and ‘thank you.’

A big black box arrives. There’s dough inside. Mathilde has fun taking it out of the box and playing with it. Her happy and excited face is like that of a child. Luciana punches the dough while John, who plays Robinson and is an experienced bread-maker, kneads it. John wants to throw the dough to Luciana. She’s afraid of missing. She doesn’t. Mathilde encourages the game. She thinks that Luciana should drop the big blob of dough on the table. Luciana has put the big blob of dough on her face. Mathilde laughs and says, ‘It’s a bit Elephant Man.’ Turning to sound tech Jack, Mathilde asks for a recording of John as Robinson saying, ‘Can you put the soporific John?’ I stand next to them. It’s intimate and warm in a very cold room. I listen to Luciana reciting her piece. Mathilde, John, and I listen while playing with the dough. It’s like children playing quietly while their mother tells them a story.

This story is one of solitude, colonialism, capitalist ethic, and freedom. It begins with Mathilde’s love for Tournier’s work. In Friday, Robinson has sex with the island and even with the child of the island. Mathilde has focussed on solitude and the antidote to solitude: reading. ‘When you read, it has your voice.’ In Robinson, Bianca reads the book Robinson Crusoe directly into our ears, as if it were our voice. The solitude of reading a book is ‘not the solitude of watching telly,’ she tells me. In reading we use our voice, our rhythm, we are part of the book. ‘Your voice becoming a book is an enormous, physical exercise in compassion,’ says Mathilde. By saying the words in the book, we get closer to the characters and understand them. ‘It’s much harder for actors to remain oblivious to the suffering of the character they’re playing because they’re saying those words.’ Reading is thus a way to open ourselves to others, practise empathy, and participate in the humanity of others.

Robinson is alone on the island for 28 years. We participate in his solitude, but we’re also horrified by his misogyny, racism, and colonial attitude to nature.  The novel Robinson Crusoe is a ‘twisted inheritance,’ tells me Mathilde. Facing up to the slavery and colonialism of the novel, makes you deal with where we’re from. In Mathilde’s play, the passages on slavery are not sanitised. They are kept and dealt with. Bianca gets angry and plays Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon, which in 1970 denounced American social inequality and racism and that is still relevant.

Today, in a world of extreme inequality, where the relentless pursuit of economic growth is threatening our planet’s very existence, Robinson’s obsessive work on the island mirrors our belief of constant activity as a value. ‘It’s morally right to do a lot,’ says Mathilde. The myth of self-reliance of Robinson is but a fig-leaf for exploitation of the land and of the labour of others. Robinson ‘has to do all the time because he’s terrified of living.’ In Tournier’s Friday, when Friday appears and makes all his goods explode, there is a shift in Robinson. He cannot go on in the same way. He no longer imposes ‘civilisation’ on the island.

Robinson’s ‘civilisation’ rests on slavery and the unsustainable use of nature. He looks at the world and the island as a good, as Mathilde explains, just as when we look at one another in terms of what we can get out. ‘Nothing has a value in itself. Everything is a means. The island is only a means for him throughout … Freedom starts at the point when things stop being simply means.’ Nature and human beings are value in themselves. At a time when we might feel discouraged at world governments’ inaction in tackling climate change and inequality, it might be tempting to despair. As Robinson reminds us, despair is a sin. Mathilde says, ‘bad fortune happens, but your own reaction to it is your responsibility.’

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson. The Other Island offers a multilayered way to rethink the book. Director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, Artistic Director of the company Give it a Name, blend Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s Friday and convey a somber mood through an original sound experience, devised by John Norton and Jack Drewry. The play unfolds in our heads as we listen to the sounds, words, and music with headphones. Robinson is more than a play; it is a shared and intimate experience of reading and reflecting on solitude.

The Robinson Crusoe of Robinson. The Other Island (played by John Rowley) suffers a maddening loneliness alone on the Island, but lonely is also Bianca (played by Luciana Chapman), who reads Defoe’s and Tournier’s books. Bianca is alone in her flat, eating microwavable meals, trying to work out how to fix a leaking tap, hiding from her father, and yet seeking a connection with him. As Bianca reads about Robinson in our ears, it is also us who experience loneliness. Isolated from other members of the audience by headphones, yet establishing a connection with them as we watch and listen together. The drama is at times broken by the lively and funny interventions of book clubbers talking about Robinson Crusoe into the mics of Robinson and of Bianca. It is effective, although on opening night there were perhaps too many voices, rather than the one or two during rehearsals, thus losing intensity.

Robinson Crusoe’s misogyny, racism, and colonialism are not brushed under the carpet but take centre stage. They are tackled with humour, puzzlement, and even violence. At the words ‘I bought me a negro slave,’ Bianca gets angry in her anger she becomes Robinson. She orders to fetch the Governor’s coat (Robinson’s), smokes, and reads the horrendous passage where ‘negroes’ are things, tools of work, lesser humans. The colonial racism is juxtaposed with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon,’

The 1970’s that contrasts the power of white man colonising the moon while black people have no money to pay the doctor’s bill. Bianca takes up a plank of wood and attacks Robinson breaking into the world she is reading about.

Bianca and Robinson interact only slightly. It is a dance of two lonely people seeking connection and forgiveness. Robinson is shown in his humanity: lonely, resourceful, exploring and observing the island, fighting against his destiny, and begging for forgiveness. A soft music creates intimacy. Bianca and Robinson sit together playing with dough like children and like children the audience listens to the voice reading the book. In the week when Jean Vanier, the founder of the community L’Arche, died, Robinson reminds me of his teaching on loneliness:

‘Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart. … It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.’

Robinson is a meditative piece that stimulates thought and nudges us slightly towards compassion.

The production plays at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and then tours.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Robinson: The Other Island, performed by the ‘Give It a Name’ theatre company at Chapter Arts Centre in Stiwido Seligman, follows two people who are stranded in two completely different worlds. This stage play is based heavily on the Novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which was done in an intriguing and exciting way.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was the studio was that there were headphones on all the seats which at first made me apprehensive as I thought the use of headphones would be a distraction but in fact, it actually really helped with the creation and development of the play itself.   The concept of this play was that Bianca played by Luciana Trapman wanted to escape the modern world through the ‘portal’ of the pages of the three-hundred-year-old book. At the same time, Robinson Crusoe played by John Rowley is trying to escape the island which was clear within the play itself.

Rehearsal images by Jorge Lizalde

The two contrasting characters, the modern day young woman and the shipwrecked old man, provide the perfect contrasts which allowed the audience to easily follow the story and portrayed the area, date, and context of where each ‘part’ was taking place which was cleverly done. As an audience member, we can see the staging being built in front of us which only added to the immersive-ness of the play. The company had engineered the headphones so the audio is split between the left and the right ear which means you can be apart of both of the ‘worlds’ at the same time. While we could hear the calming reading of the book from Bianca in one ear we could also the sounds of the stranded island (e.g. sea noises, voices, etc.) This was done to illustrate the fact that when a person reads a book it helps build a visual picture of what is being described in the book. Due to this the audience is an external third party, we can see Bianca reading the book and the story being created in front of us. This was a really ingenious concept from the director Mathilde Lopez. As a literature fan I could easily recognise and relate to this. The use of headphones made this play unique, modern and contemporary.

Robinson Crusoe was clearly shown as a shipwrecked man and was based on the description as described in the book. The character did look as if he could have been shipwrecked and his voice suited the role perfectly. The character, however, did have some problems. The first time we encounter the character was at the beginning of the play when he delivered a speech about laws and legislation of the new island. However, this speech was done on top of a step ladder into a microphone, which was done facing away from the audience. It may be a personal opinion but having a speech done away from the audience and not being able to see the actors face is confusing for the audience especially considering the headphones make it had to locate where the sound is coming through. After this, we walked across the stage to collect props which sort of detached the character from this the deserted island. The stage could have done with an exit from one side of the ‘stage’ to the other. As Robinson, walking across the stage distracted the audience that could have been avoided. This collecting props was a problem throughout the play. As the prop table was sort of on stage we could hear all the rustling and banging which broke the calmness and soothing-ness of Bianca’s voice.

The actress who played Bianca had a very calming voice. The almost whispered tone was really soothing through the headphone which was really nice for the audience. Her voice was almost ASMR like which was very nice. However, this character was very relatable. She was portrayed almost like a teenager who experiences the struggles of the modern world. Due to this she does use swear words which clashed with the ASMR voice used while reading. This was a little confusing but the actress used two distinct voices for reading (which was the ASMR style voice) and a normal conversation voice she used when chatting to her father etc.

A really nice touch was that when her phone was ringing we could actually see the screen on her phone that told us someone was ringing which was really cool and helped to add to the realness. In conclusion Robinson: The Other Island was an intelligently designed show which was contemporary, unique and unlike another play I have seen before. If you are interested in plays and wonder how theatre can evolve in the future then I advise you to watch this production, it is not to be missed! I give this play 4 out of 5 stars as it showed me a side of theatre I never knew existed!

Review ‘Some Pink Star’, Sophie Essex, review by Lois Arcari

Sophie Essex is a powerhouse of Norwich poetry. Often seen promoting events on the Norwich Poetry Group on Facebook, and manning the monthly Volta open mic nights at the Birdcage Pub. I eagerly awaited the chance to see her poetry stand out on its own. Her new chapbook ‘Some Pink Star’ explores the physical embodiment and embroilment of relationships. She uses sparse, purposefully disintegrated poetry to muster up a sense of confusion, and ‘bruises’ her poems with dark themes blithely explored. Manipulation, coercion, romantic apathy and disgust sitting alongside more ‘docile love’ (as described in Bubblegum, one of the best poems in the collection.)

Her writing shines when she lightly employs the contrasts in her work. The use of colloquial language in the middle of more philosophical writing gives an earthier, characterised feeling to poems that might otherwise remain too stylishly vague. Essex knows how to construct such short poems well, but there are moments where it seems she’d be better served by a larger variation in length. 

While Vanilla Sky is frustratingly brief, Violet Volcanoes, just a page over, uses its form to perfect effect. 

The brevity is best employed to make her heady metaphors pack more weight, anchoring them in something real. Otherwise they can sometimes overlap each other too voraciously. It’s hard to separate what differentiates the better dreamy poems from the ones that leave your ‘head in the clouds.’ But the difference is palpable. Another problem is that sometimes the sexuality seems a little too on the nose, the contrast between sugary sweets and sex too sickly a simile. But again, when grounded in her techniques of repetition and invoking the so called ‘real world’, they shine. 

These poems also have an oral texture, reciting themselves in your brain as you read them. There’s a great well of potential, especially with the longer form poems that manage to sustain the delicate balance of liminal and localised. Also worth mentioning is the sheer insight into human character she manages to serve. While the collection seems to have a more thematic than narrative thread, the human aspect to the poems manages to be both relatable and insightful.

All in all, however, it’s a collection of brilliant, often piercing lines – which aren’t always best served by the poems around them.

Review Saethu Cwningod/Shooting Rabbits, PowderHouse by Eva Marloes

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

‘If I Can Shoot Rabbits, I Can Shoot Fascists,’ is the strapline of the first play by PowderHouse in association with the Sherman Theatre and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. It comes from the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,’

This in turn is inspired by the involvement of Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. The play Shooting Rabbits seeks to evoke the experience of a young Welshman travelling to Spain to fight against fascism in the 1930s while seemingly hinting at a similarity between fighting the authoritarian oppressor in Spain and the strife of Irish, Welsh, and Basque nationalism, given a new life by Brexit. Such an unwieldy subject matter could only fail on stage, especially when it is conveyed through a stream of consciousness dramaturgy that leaves the audience confused. Nonetheless the play succeeds in capturing the ambiguity of any proclamation in the name of ‘the people.’ 

Production Images credit Studio Cano

Shooting Rabbits co-directed by Jac Ifan Moore and Chelsey Gillard begins with a Northern Irish actor auditioning for a role in Wales. The casting director asks him to do a ‘more Irish’ accent, meaning one that is from the Republic of Ireland. The director expresses sympathy with the Irish, ‘Solidarity with you,’ ‘Wales stands with you,’ ‘Your people.’ The ‘solidarity’ is borne of the alleged ‘shared struggle’ against the ‘neighbours across the borders.’ The actor, played by Neil McWilliams, launches into a tirade questioning the very premise of ‘the people.’ Who are his people? Republicans, Nationalists, the IRA, Unionists, the DUP? The reduction of the heterogeneous reality of a country to one group betrays not just an ignorant and condescending attitude, but one that delegitimises whoever does not fit the image of the country, a country that is always an ideal, never a complex reality. This is nowhere more evident than in the impassioned and seductive speech of Francisco Franco performed by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira in Spanish. It appeals to the defence of the country and faith in the country, but it is a country that repudiates all those who do not abide by the script.

The appeal to ‘the people’ is a dangerous weapon that is wielded against the very people it professes to protect. ‘The people’ erases people as a heterogeneous empirical reality, disregards and delegitimises theirs diversity, their different perspectives, lifestyles, values, customs, and, above all, their overlapping identities. This is what the European Union aims to promote: unity in diversity. That is why Catalan, Basque, Scottish, and Welsh nationalist movements, to name a few, are often supportive of the EU. Thus, the EU does indeed undermine the nation state, conceived as a unitary and homogeneous entity, by giving voice to communities inside nations and across them. Today, the EU is embattled, but the crisis is not a battle between fascism and liberal democracy; rather it is more the result of established structures and politics being out of step with contemporary society and economics. That is why it is risky to draw any comparisons between today’s crises and the 1930s, as Shooting Rabbits seeks to do.

Shooting Rabbits is at its best when it exposes the naivete of the romantic ideal of fighting against fascism and of claiming to represent a ‘people.’ The young Welshman in 1930s Spain does not know what to do and begs to be told what to do. In front of the horror of the civil war, the volunteers of the International Brigade repeat that it was not meant to be this way. The play makes fun of political divisions and polarisations that create enemies. It is evocative and exhilarating. It is acted beautifully in Spanish, Basque, Welsh, and English by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira, Gwenllian Higginson, and Neil McWilliams, and it is supported by the music performed live by Sam Humphreys. It is also a missed opportunity. Shooting Rabbits flounders due to a superficial historical analysis and a stream of consciousness structure that disorients the spectator instead of bringing clarity.

Review: Every Word You Cannot Say, Iain Thomas by Sian Thomas

Iain Thomas is my favourite writer. Author. Poet. He honestly seems to be an advocate for self-love, for loving others, for recognising good from bad and good from great, for love, full stop. He seems to be an advocate for enjoying whatever it is you find in this world that you enjoy. I enjoy his work, more than I’m sure any language can help me spell out, and yet each time I try.
On my bookshelf, there is: I Wrote This For You, I Wrote This For You And Only You, I Wrote This For You Just The Words, I Wrote This For You 2007-2017, How to be Happy (Not a Self-Help Book. Seriously.), and 300 Things I Hope. And somewhere on my makeshift bookshelf because my real bookshelf is far too small for my wants, is I Am Incomplete Without You. I’m excited to add Every Word You Cannot Say to either of the shelves. I literally find myself unable to say that there’s any other author out there who I have followed this closely, for this long, and been so consistently delivered greatness on simple pages between a simple cover by.
I knew it was coming, the release of this book, and like many I did have to wait my turn to get it. When I did, I was in Waterstones, halfheartedly hoping they would have it (I was not convinced that they would). And I saw it, all the way down the bottom, way to one side: bright blue, jutting out, so different to the greys and blacks and whites (and one bright yellow) that I had grown used to associating Iain Thomas’s name with. I snatched it up and gave it the common flip through, and I loved the look of it and the feel of it and the way it felt exactly like all the other books of his I’ve read: like it was sure to give me something amazing. Which it did.
I ate this book up. Read it quick, flicked through again for an age, put sticky notes on the pages of my favourite pieces, used a highlighter on the ones I really didn’t want to part with. Like on page 131, “There is no register in the sky keeping track of whether or not you got angry as many times as you were supposed to. / You get to decide what eats you up. / And you have no obligation to kindness. / You can be kind as often as you want. / Kindness is not a currency, and if you treat it like one, then that is not kindness. / Within you, there is all the kindness you will ever need.” Or, page 80, “Maybe, in the story of your life, someone has written: / You cannot say why you loved them. / Only that you did. / Only that you don’t anymore.”
This book felt so new, and so fresh and different, somehow, from the other ones, despite still creating a warm and homely feeling in me as I read it, exactly like all the others had. I loved that, that kind of feeling from these books and these poems in particular, I always believe that that is irreplaceable – after all, I haven’t experienced it anywhere else or with any other author. I loved that there was playing with form, structure, even colour of the text. The drawings peppered throughout were lovely, and always in the right places.
I wish this is what all poetry did, that this feeling I got from this book is what I got from each one. I know that would make these books less special, but like I said: Iain Thomas really seems to be an advocate for love. I’m almost convinced he’d understand. And even still, this is one slice of favouritism I am not entirely ready to give up. This is why I gave it five stars. I always will.
Iain Thomas has a real skill here, an honest craftsmanship that I wish I could come close to. Some days, I try to (see: the centos I submitted to university groups, just so I could spill out a fraction of what I feel for this writing when it was my turn to talk).
I love the book. I knew I would.

Siân Thomas

Review The Patient Assassin, Anita Anand by Judi Hughes



10 April 2019 saw the centenary of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, an event that I had never heard of until I read Anita Anand’s insightful and brilliantly written book The Patient Assassin published by Simon & Schuster.

I really appreciated her fascinating account of events that gave me knowledge of a part of British history that I hardly knew existed. Put simply it’s about an heroic deed that avenged a horrific act, but it is so much more than that.  

I knew little of any of the history of British rule in India despite growing up in Leicester, a city where people from many parts of the Indian subcontinent live. I went to school in the 60s when the history I was taught was very white, very British and full of propoganda. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to find out more about the dark past of British Colonialism.

The book is set during the rule of the British Raj and concentrates specifically on the intriguing life of Udham Singh, from his experience of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 to his death by hanging for the assassination in London of Michael O’ Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India, in 1940. Udham, with his eye constantly on the prize, lived his life in many places, with stolen identities and in subterfuge for over 20 years until he was able to accomplish his goal.

I can’t tell you more because you have to read the book to discover this well told story which affected so many lives, meticulously researched and brought to life by Anita Anand.

This story for her has a personal perspective as her grandfather survived the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. At her own admission she struggled to distance herself from it, yet she wrote it with a graceful objectivity that allows the reader to hold final judgement. Anita Anand is an accomplished author who I had only known previously as the presenter of Any Questions. I highly recommend this book and will definitely be moving on to more of her works. @tweeter_anita congratulations on  this great book.

Review Hellboy (2019) by Jonathan Evans

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Remakes and reboots are a bit of a tricky subject for reviews. Reviews themselves should be relative not absolute but you still need to take into account better or worse movies within the genre or subject matter. We have a new Hellboy movie that is not a continuation or has any involvement from what Guillermo Del Toro started back in 2004 when it must also be noted there were far fewer Superhero movies. A movie that carries the same name as the original has to stay true to the spirit and tone of what it is adapting or remaking while still distinguishing itself. It’s a delicate act, but some have done it right.

What helps Hellboy be distinct is Hellboy himself. He has an obvious, distinct visual to him but also his mentality, he is essentially a blue-collar Superhero. He wants to do the job in as short a period as possible, then kicks back and watch the latest sports game and enjoy a beer. When he goes in and investigates and it turns out there’s a monster his thoughts are “Ah hell, this is gonna take a bunch more hours.” One of the strongest elements of this movie was the casting of David Harbour, he comes with a deep voice, dry humor and a nonchalant attitude that fits for the character and this world. 

Anyway, the movie kicks off with an opening voice monologue spoken by the character Trevour Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). About the old days in King Arthurs time when an evil witch Vivian Nimue (Mia Jovovich) was about to unleash demons upon the land but was betrayed by her own witches and King Arthur impales her and cut her into pieces, but she does not die, so each of her body parts is sent far away to be hidden. While this is playing out it is in black and white except for anything that is red and a few swear words are thrown in. It sets up the movie as a whole well, some sort of cool stuff, a bunch of violence and a few swear words in the mix in an attempt to be cool.

Apart from Harbour, McShane and a few others in the background, these are bad actors. Well, not so much as they are bad but these are bad performances. I’ve seen some of these actors in other things and know they’re capable, but they do not do their best work here. Their line delivery is flat and unenthusiastic. Perhaps this is a case of the director not spending enough time with them, or they were uninvested in the material I don’t know and at this point, it doesn’t matter, we have two actors doing a good job and the rest just don’t care. 

Speaking of line delivery something went wrong with recording during filming or during ADR because we can hear all the actors reading their lines crystal clear. You would think that this would be good but there’s no leveling going on. If a character is in a close-up or far away it’s still like they are right next to us and rings of artificiality. Maybe if they had some supernatural, all-powerful specter on screen speaking then there would be a reason for this but for every character, it is one of those finer details of post-production that goes a long way if you do a good job on, which they haven’t.

Special effects do not make a movie but they are needed so you believe something is really there. These are terrible special effects. Whatever digital company did these effects are not up to scratch, they are poorly rendered and obviously artificial that this whole movie could be mistaken for coming out in the early two-thousands. There are a few effects where they linger on them for a long time so you can get a good long look at it as if they were proud of it, but it reeks of fake.  Even then some of this could be forgiven if you cared about the people/demons that were within the scene, but we don’t, it’s the worst kind of narrative, where you aren’t invested, nothing clever is happening and so it’s just stuff happening on-screen.

Editing is one of the most essential elements of movie making. It is what defines it from theater or literature. It is the art of taking the raw footage and carving it into something defined and with shape. Timing the cuts right and sometimes not cutting so you can let the actor’s expressions really sink in and to mood resonate. This is neither of those. What has come with the fast format of digital is the ability to cut willy-nilly and go crazy without thought or reason. The editing within this movie is a mess, they cut and cut not because one thing leads to another but because they want to keep the audience paying attention and think that by editing it within a blender is the way to do that. this isn’t cutting the footage, it’s hacking at it so now you just have a mess.

If you are going to compare this movie to Del Toro’s movie then Del Toro is the winner. If you let this movie stand on its own then it still isn’t very good.  It is still unique amongst the now much more crowded competition of Superhero movies but even then they are of a much higher quality.