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BlacKkKlansman – a review by Eva marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In the wake of the Black Lives Protests, it has become clear that the majority culture has missed a few episodes so a look at Spike Lee‘s BlacKkKlansman is needed. The film makes subtle points in a non-subtle way. The most important is that white liberal middle-class Christian male identity is the ‘original’ identity politics. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a white liberal middle-class Christian man, the problem lies in the refusal to see that our society has been shaped in that image and our consciousness reflecting specific prejudices and values. 

Society is not a neutral space where individuals interact with other individuals, as libertarians think. Society has structures of power, which create obstacles for the Other (the non-white liberal middle-class Christian man). Culture is the narratives that emerge from social relationships and that legitimise them. The image of a neutral individual colour-blind, gender-blind, etc. is ‘white privilege’, the privilege of not being racialised, gendered, othered. White privilege means never having to ask yourself what it means to be white. BlacKkKlansman explores what it means to be black and what it means to be Jewish, but also how white Christian nationalism has shaped whiteness. 

BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), an African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. He does so by establishing contact with Klan’s leaders on the phone and through a Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Spike Lee oscillates between teaching his audience about American history and identity politics and portraying the KKK as fools, between tragic and comic mishandling both. I grew up with Spike’s movies. They shaped my consciousness, so I miss the old Spike. 

In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee has played it safe giving us a crowd-pleaser, but one that is muddled and weakened by the tension between comedy and melodrama. Gone are Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing with their uncompromising look into a messy reality told with ironic anger.  Yet, buried underneath the self-satisfied humour and self-righteous preaching, BlacKkKlansman offers a few glimpses of the making of racial identity that are worth considering.  

In the film, the KKK repertoire of language, symbols, and rituals is contrasted with that of the Black Power Movement. The storytelling of White Supremacists watching DW Griffiths’ A Birth of a Nation, is counterposed with Harry Belafonte’s telling of the lynching of black people. American culture has been shaped by Christian nationalism and capitalist individualism. It has been presented as the default, the universal, while suppressing the experiences of the Other and depicting them through stereotypes and labels, and confining them into social roles (e.g. women as mothers and wives).  Above all, it has hidden the systemic violence and oppression black people have suffered and are still suffering.

BlacKkKlansman shows that racism and systemic inequality have been legitimised and reproduced by the cultural process of Othering. Racism is not merely individual prejudice, but a whole set of norms and material obstacles that keep the Other in ‘their place’.

The film highlights that race is embodied but also performed. Ron Stallworth does a ‘white voice’ to fool the Klan, but can only infiltrate it because of the ‘white body’ of his colleague Flip Zimmerman. To persuade his boss to let him go under cover with the Klan, Ron tells him there are those who speak ‘King’s English’ and those who speak ‘Jive’. He’s perfectly fluent in both. Ron needs Flip Zimmerman to play him as a white man with the Klan. In a moment of camaraderie, under instruction from Ron, Flip tries to perform a speech by a black power leader, only to be outperformed by another colleague (on blackness, performance, and politics see Patrick Johnson’s Appropriating Blackness). 

The image we have of the body is also highly racialised (voice, hair, skin etc.). White privilege means whites do not normally ask themselves what it means to be white. Yet, there are many shades of white. Foreign-born and Jews are not considered ‘whites’. Zimmerman had never considered himself anything other than white because he had not grown up as part of a Jewish community. It is the Klan’s idea of whiteness that leads him to confront his identity. 

Flip tells Ron that he was not raised to be Jewish, it was never part of his life, he had never gone to bar mitzvahs, and never had a bar mitzvah. He never had Jewish friends, he was just another ‘white kid’. Flip’s Jewishness is called out by a colleague mentioning his ‘Jewish necklace.’ Flip replies that ‘it’s not a Jewish necklace, but the Star of David.’ Asked whether he’s Jewish, he says: ‘I don’t know. Am I?’ Zimmerman realises he too is Other as he faces white supremacists.  

The most poignant scenes are the real footage of Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right Rally,’ where a white supremacist drove his car deliberately into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters and killed Heather Heyer, to whom the film is dedicated. It may seem far away from our British and European sensibilities and yet it is very close, we just have not talked about it much (please read Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack). BlaKkKlansman is weighed down by its pedagogical impulse, yet it’s a lesson many have not yet heard. 

Europeans (THE GUARDIAN) – A Review by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you, like me, are tired of the formulaic plot-driven writing that saturates our screens, head for The Guardian channel on YouTube. There you will find Europeans, a series of seven short films with seven writers, each from a different European country: Poland, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, UK, and Ireland. The Guardian shows that it’s ahead of the game in producing documentaries and now drama. The writing of Europeans is fresh and original. The format allows the films to go beyond the demands of TV, where short films have no presence, and crucially the constraints of national cultural traditions.  

The films are so different you wonder whether they were responding to different briefs, but that is precisely what’s good about them. They are not made to fit into a category, although all of them have a strong theatrical voice. This is partly because each film is a monologue delivered to camera exploring Europeans relationship with Europe. 

The series opens with the French film One Right Answer, the most overtly political episode of the series written by Alice Zeniter and performed by Sabrina Ouazani. A young woman talks of her experience of democracy betrayed. She voted for her first time against the Treaty of Nice in the European referendum of 2005. The referendum was lost and yet the result ignored. She was against the neoliberal Europe dominated by consumerism and the free market, but little transpires as to what she believes in. Sabrina Ouazani gives credibility to the monologue, but it doesn’t go past the disillusionment with the process rather than touch on a generation’s aspirations for Europe.  

Borders, the second episode comes from Poland and was written by Jakub Żulczyk and performed by Jacek Koman. It is the story of a lorry driver who has travelled Europe everywhere but has been nowhere because always on the move. Before Schengen, he travelled east and would read books during the long waits at the border. The lorry driver had to sacrifice time with his family to put food on the table. Today, he travels to Germany in a Europe that has no borders. A Europe where his son earns well and can spend time with his family.  

In the UK episode, Dim Sum, written by Clint Dyer and performed by Javone Prince, a bailiff acts tough while he empties a house. It is the longest piece, which allows the monologue to be interspersed with short bursts from the people whose house is being emptied. The bailiff, a black man, presents himself as the product of British society, where people only care about themselves and trample on others to be rich. He is British and has nothing to do with Europe, though he is not blind to the deep racism that casts him and his children as outsider in their own country. The bailiff does his job with no compassion, and yet, that one time, when a pregnant woman from a European country opened the door, slightly trembling and then crying, that time left a scar. The captivating writing gives life to a rounded character. Javone Prince’s intensity makes us relive with the bailiff the memory of that encounter. 

Equally dramatic is Terra Firma, the Spanish episode, written by Blanca Doménech and performed beautifully by Paula Iwasaki. A woman tells us of when she left her rural village for London only to find herself exploited in demeaning jobs. Now back home, as she walks down the streets of her village, her anger at the dehumanising economy is mixed with a feeling of guilt for betraying her roots. She looks up, to the statue of Mary during a procession, and all is forgiven. She is lifted up, away from the the everyday struggle, from the pain, and feel worthy as a human. Thus she can be true to herself.  

For the German episode, Neanderthal, the writer, Marius von Mayenburg, has chosen a Neanderthal man, performed by Robert Beyer, to tell a poetic tale warning of the danger of forgetting the past. It is the story of a tribe that thought themselves stronger than others, which led to war. As he tells the tale, the setting changes from a museum, to the woods, to a theatre, just as a country and a continent change throughout history, and yet repeat the same story, that “Those who don’t want to live together, will die together.” Only in friendship there is life and the future. 

Written by Jonas Jonasson, Top of the Class, the Swedish episode makes fun of the Swedish attitude of superiority saying that “We didn’t really join the EU, we rather decided they could join us.” It blames social media for reducing politics to soundbites and creating divisions. The shortest episode, it is performed well by Viktor Åkerblom, but it feels a little too underdeveloped.  

The Irish Fake Tan, written by Lisa McInerney, alludes to Brexit by presenting an Irish woman splitting up from her British boyfriend. Lighter in tone, the woman, played delightfully by Evanna Lynch, is the embodiment of an Ireland that no longer needs Britain and can fit anywhere.  

I was particularly touched by Dim Sum, Terra Firma, and Neanderthal, which convey complexity through elegant simplicity. They are part of a whole. The films may seem very different dramas, but you get a sense of cohesion, partly achieved by the excellent direction of Amy Hodge, who conveys the emotions in a few careful shots. This cohesion out of difference is just what Europe is, or dreams to be. Europe is not defined by the past but by a dream of the future. Europe looks to what has been to imagine what can be. It is my hope that The Guardian will now commission a series that speaks of our hopes, our dreams, our imagined future. 

Review: too pretty to punch, edalia day, vault festival by hannah goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Edalia Day has brought a very unique and very interesting production to the forefront at this year’s Vaults.

Beginning slow and slightly awkward, Day seems nervous and uneasy in this plain white room. Soon we are to realise, this is very much a clever theatrical technique to their story and very much the beginning of something special.

Too Pretty To Punch brings Day’s autobiography to the stage. Identifying as trans, Day transforms the stage into their life story, the trials and tribulations and turmoil in accepting who they are and seeking acceptance in society. It then continues into a widen view of the issues trans people face and eventually brings in verbatim videos to others facing the daily obstacles.

It would be easily and still powerful to have used these videos to support Day’s points, but they go the step further – animation is projected onto screens, one an ordinary square screen, another slightly misshapen and another as a moveable canvas. These are used to flick between images and animations as they move across the stage, along with physical theatre by Day, making the action come to real life in our eyes.

Some of the performance feels like we are getting to know a new friend – Day addresses us and talks to us like a new friend being made, but then some poignant moments being transferred into visual elements adds a unique and clever nature to this production and hits the points home.

Supported at times with kitsch music that reminds me of Golem by 1925, this makes the production feel a little special and like nothing on the theatre scene right now.

Too Pretty To Punch is not only a really important production to see but is also one of the most unique and fascinating pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.

Review: Animals, Conscious/Unconscious, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

What can I say that drew me to this production? Ultimately that the show image is of two men in the nude hiding their gentlemans and looking like they are loving life.

Animals is the story of two cousins, a long way from home, trying to make a life in London. They enjoy drugs, music and cheese. They enter moments of absurd hallucinations, finding the meaning to life but ultimately gaining a new love for their friendship.

Animals is an interesting production; mainly consisting of a duo doubling up on characters, there’s an element of The Inbetweeners, with rude jokes, silly humour and really unique moments of comedy.

It took me some time to get into the rhythm of the production and understand its niche concept, but equally there were moments of comical genius and once I understood the approach, it became more enjoyable.

The two performers play very good parts; similar yet very different, there was a naturalism to their performances, even as hallucinated characters, and the chemistry between them was relaxed, bouncing off one another with ease.

I am not sure where this production can and should go, but it felt much as if there needed a bit of development and perhaps a moral direction to the narrative.

Animals is comical, enjoyable and unique. While I wouldn’t say that this is a must see production at the moment, I would say that it is however a good laugh and an easy production when you’re not in the mood for anything too heavy.

Review: LIFE: The Gameshow, Dave Bibby, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take audience participation, the hilarious parts of life and throw in two comedians and you get a whole hour of a great night out.

Dave Bibby, in his new show, takes his usual love of getting the audience involved and on stage and transports us through elements of life, competing to be the better sex.

Games range from releasing blown up balloons, representing our first poo as babies, to scooting along our bums in our first car, to losing our virginities with slinkies. The inventiveness and creativity of the games and their representation is unique and clever, leaving us laughing firstly at the intelligent creations but also gearing us up for how the ordinary human completes such a task.

Bibby is totally honest with us, finding elements hilarious, turning any “mistakes” (as this is a show in progress) into a hilarious addition, and picking up or moving along the action with ease and confidence. We feel safe and well within his hands but happy to make fools of ourselves and join together to cheer on strangers.

Life: The Gameshow is exactly what we need in these uncertain times; a moment to relax, have fun, be pleasantly surprised but also to join together for common enjoyment.

Fabulous Animal Live Performance – A Review by Eva Marloes

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Fabulous Animal is a composite artistic project, which includes photos and videos of professional dancer Zosia Jo and of workshops’ participants and Zosia Jo’s live performance at Cardiff Made. It is an exploration of the body in its fleshy and animalesque dimension. The performance begins with Zosia Jo feeling her body, her teeth, her arms, licking her arm, comparing the hair in her armpits with the hair on her head. She stretches her muscles and shakes her body. She dresses and undresses.

The performance starts with playfulness and warmth. Zosia Jo is friendly and puts us at ease. Zosia Jo has a beautiful physicality and control over her body. Every move looks natural, with no tension, and easy. As her body moves slowly and softly, it becomes seductive. It is seductive in the literal sense of the word, in bringing us closer. She embodies an eroticism without a mask.

In the very small space of Cardiff Made, Zosia Jo projects a sense of wider nature. She moves like the waves of the sea, like the movement of our lungs as we breath. What is striking of the performance is her ability to give a sense of being in nature and part of nature. Zosia Jo is successful in stripping us of our everyday masks and let us see that underneath our clothes we are animals. In nature, the spectators would have been able to sense more their own body and their relationship with rocks, sands, trees, or water.

The texts beside the photos give a thoroughly research context linking this exploration of the body and nature to feminism. However, it is too abstract for the performance, while it is probably more powerful in the contexts of the workshops Zosia Jo did in Egypt. The exploration of the body outside of societal constructs of beauty, strength, and skill can resonate with men as well as women. In a disembodied society, we can all benefit from experiencing our bodies differently. At the performance, we remain spectators; yet as we watch Zosia Jo, we can imagine her as an animal. Like a butterfly she spreads her wings and she is nature. She is a fabulous animal.

You can watch the video online at the following address: https://www.zosiajo.com/

Review: Message In A Bottle, Peacock Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I am going to be honest with you dear readers, I was rather dubious about Message In A Bottle.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sting or The Police, but the fact this was another dance production by the wonderful Katie Prince of Zoonation fame (of which I am a fan) I was really intrigued with how the two could combine.

A really poignant story, Message In A Bottle focuses on a family torn apart from war and disaster, facing a life of a refugee and starting life again. A story that has often hit our newspaper headlines and breaking news articles on TV.

Zoonation has been known for its comedy – taking existing stories and giving them a comical yet urban feel to them. This production from Prince is something so different and dare I say it, my favourite to date from this choreographer and director.

Somehow the music from Sting fits every scene so well, without much change to the music, the world this family exist in feels almost alien and somehow the electronics of his songs, and the earthly beats of others just fit so well to the story and the characters.

The dancing, of course, is flawless and awe inspiring as Prince’s work always is. It is great to see her branch out even more with choreography – previous work lending to the fact it is urban, a hip hop version of a story; this production has these moments, but there are also beautiful contemporary moments, really showing the skills and versatility of each dancer.

And a review cannot be written without mentioning the set – a combination of multimedia usage with projections, a cubed stage where the background is ever changing, costumes that just fit effortlessly with the colour schemes and the lighting effects that are those I haven’t seen before in a show but also manage to include us the audience – an absolute triumph.

Message In A Bottle is an absolute masterpiece. It is everything from a dance show and more, and somehow, if you weren’t a fan of Sting or The Police before, you will now have them on repeat.

Complete perfection.

Review: I Think We Are Alone, Frantic Assembly, Theatre Royal Stratford East, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I had been a long time fan of Frantic Assembly.

Growing up, I studied them intently, seeing majority of their shows whenever I could, fan girling over them each time. When hearing about I Think We Are Alone, and that the equally inspiring and admired by me since I was a kid, actress/director/creative extraordinaire Kathy Burke was involved, I literally needed to see this production.

Perfection as always, the stage is beautifully set – simplistic yet interesting and comprising of moving blocks of glass, the stage is open for all possibilities.

I Think We Are Alone looks at the intertwining stories of five people. It’s all about human feelings, real love, between family and friends and partners. About loss. And about how fragile life is.

The play is funny, it’s witty and it’s well written. But I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. If I had come to the production, without a name such as Frantic Assembly to it, it would be brilliant. Perfection, well executed, with fantastic acting, brilliant direction and a stand alone wonderful play. But there was very little physicality, boundaries pushed and that special Frantic Assembly essence that I have grown up loving and inspired by.

They add a little bit, a lift here and there, using the glass squares as climbing frames, but this could have fit in any play and been just as good a direction. I felt that I was always waiting for a crescendo or for Frantic to really throw themselves, splashing their trademark across the stage and into our hearts.

I Think We Are Alone is wonderfully written, fantastically acted out and as it’s own production, heartwarming and heartbreaking – I just wished that there was more of Frantic Assembly in the final product.

A scene from I Think We Are Alone by Sally Abbott @ Theatre Royal Plymouth. A Frantic Assembly and Theatre Royal Plymouth production. Directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham.\r(Opening 05-02-20)\r©Tristram Kenton 02/20\r(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com\r\r\r\r\r\r\r\r

Review Carmen, WNO by Barbara Michaels.

CARMEN Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Opera: Georges Bizet

Libretto: Henri Melham and Ludovic Haley

Director: Jo Davies

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opera aficionados are fortunate to have seen Jo Davies new production of Carmen for WNO when it was first staged here in the Donald Gordon theatre last year.  Now there is another chance to see this production again, with different artistes in the main roles. 

Davies’ take on the popular opera retains all the drama of the original, despite being transferred from Spain to 1970s Brazil., the girls from the cigarette factory being clad in boiler suits and machine gun toting soldiers in khaki guarding the garrison. Some excellent performances. Including that of young Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard, are a major feature but what this production – emphasising the power of women in tune with the ‘woke’ attitudes and mores of today’s world – lacks is colour.  Although we are treated to a fore screen of garish oranges and reds, pretty well everything else is monotone until almost the end. Drab grey army uniforms and American-style bucket helmets versus the traditional colourful gear of the Spanish soldiers in Bizet’s original make it hard to see the raison d’etre for the sexual chemistry and passion which lead to the downfall of the free spirit that is Carmen and the soldier Don José, whose love and jealousy erupt to cause the tragic finale.

Making her UK and WNO debut, Julia Mintzer plays Carmen as callous and calculating, using her wiles to ensnare anything in trousers.  A prostitute with a heart she ain’t, but Mintzer’s portrayal does not prevent some stunning performances in her singing of the wonderful Habanera and in her duets with Carmen’s soldier lover Don José, sung with skill and empathy by Peter Auty, one of Britain’s leading tenors.  

Auty’s performance, both in his duets with Mintzer and with Pritchard, as the naïve country girl Micaela whose innocence is no match for Carmen’s wiles, is outstandingly good.  The same can be said for Pritchard, a heart-breaking and totally believable Micaëla.  Pritchard’s pure soprano soars into the realms of absolute joy.

The third side of the triangle is the bullfighter Escamillo, sung by Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro.  Caoduro has performed leading roles with major opera companies, including singing Dandini in Cenerentola with WNO. Caoduro’s baritone, andstage presence are great for the role, with the caveat that a tad more swagger wouldn’t come amiss.

As Carmen’s friend Mercedes, who does her best to stop Carmen in her tracks, young artiste 
Angela Simkin, who has also sung the role at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is a great fit and a young singer to watch, as is Korean singer Haigeee Lee as Frasquita, another friend.  Some superb dancing is choreographed to include sultry and sexy Argentinian tango steps, a cape-swirling Paso Doble, a mock-up of a bullfight – and more.  Ole!

As for the setting: inspired layering replicating a tenement block allows for interaction beyond and above what is happening on stage – on the whole an overall benefit, but at times irritating, as well as detracting attention from the main onstage action.

Under the baton of the young and immensely popular conductor Harry Ogg, Bizet’s superb music is done full justice from the stirring overture with its hint of tragedy to come right until the curtain comes down.

Run:  Saturday 29 February, 2020 then touring.

Review: Omelette, Long Distance Theatre, Vault Festival, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

What do you get when you cross a budding relationship with climate change? You get Omelette.

Written by Anna Spearpoint, Omelette sees the meeting of Mo and Mia, as they embark on not only fixing the planet but on their developing relationship. The pair start by attending protests and quickly begin to make more and more changes to their lifestyles, together, to continue the good, all the while falling in love and falling out of love. Over a small period of time, the constraints of their lifestyle and the fast pace that their relationship has developed, all becomes sour until they realise how much an impact only one small change can do.

Set in the round, the actor’s begin quite far apart, slowly closing the distance and contact as their relationship blossoms, to eventually inhabiting the circular sheet in front of them. Representing the World (and possibly also an omelette) this circle is where it all happens – the dead centre of this play. For them, this is the centre of their World.

There are no curtains, very clever and quick scenes changes, making this seem a long period of time until we realise it is only a matter of days, weeks, months. The chemistry between the two performers is electric; it is both adorable and awkward, a period in new love that we can all relate to. They are almost an oxymoron – effortlessly and perfectly awkward.

At the beginning, the conversation is quick in pace and wit, and it is a wonder where they have time to get a breath but we realise this is a clever technique; reflecting their relationship stages, they become quieter, more silent and slower when they become angrier, less fond of one another and less in love.

Absolutely chocked full of comedy, Spearpoint’s play cleverly makes us think about climate change all the while making tears of laughter stream down our faces, all culminating in the realisation that all the drastic changes they have made haven’t made the World brand new but only made them miserable; when suddenly they figure out that even a small change is big in the long run, the whole narrative feels ironic and in itself is comical.

Omelette not only makes a political point but is full of fun, comedy, great writing and just as great acting. A real masterpiece.