Posts tagged ‘The Culture Vulture’

March 15, 2013

Doctor Faustus at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Last week, my friend and occasional ‘cultural conversation’ partner Jo and I were lucky enough to be invited to a performance of Doctor Faustus at the West Yorkshire Playhouse through our friends at The Culture Vulture and we’ve been meaning to write our review ever since. Unfortunately, events conspired against us so far, but, finally, here it is. And just in time for you to catch it before it closes this weekend! We talked in the interval, and since, about the impact the play had on us, and the questions it raises about decisions, faith, morality, and – perhaps most importantly – how amazing Mephistopheles’ final costume was. I’ve reproduced some of our conversation below, with huge thanks to Jo for her fabulous contributions and apologies in advance if I accidentally shift from ‘we’ to ‘I’ continually throughout this piece …

If you’re the sort of person who likes your Marlowe and Shakespeare served traditionally, Colin Teevan’s Doctor Faustus probably won’t be your cup of tea. Personally, I’m happy for myths and legends to be re-imagined in a modern context—it replaces the natural evolution of stories that happens in oral traditions—and as the Faustus tale explores such a juicy question—what it means to lose one’s soul—it’s ripe for adaptation across centuries and continents. Luckily for both of us, we really enjoyed this version, and admire the boldness of both Colin Teevan for adapting such a well-known and loved piece of work and the Playhouse and Citizens Theatre, Glasgow for producing it.

From the Playhouse trailer,  we were expecting something much darker than the lurid show we saw.

The sense of menace came in the form of Mephistopheles (Siobhan Redmond) who, we both agreed, stole the show. Jo said that she wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see her floating rather than walking across the stage; she oozed otherworldliness. Mephistopheles’ excellent performance was closely followed by Alasdair Hankinson’s back playing Marilyn Monroe. We’ve never seen someone act with their shoulder blades before and Hankinson has set the bar high!

Flanking the main stage space with a secondary set—rows of vanity mirrors, suggesting a theatre dressing room—was a clever touch, creating a blur between audience and actor and allowing us to be in on the jokes played on Faustus—we see a male devil gleefully don a wig, veil and wedding dress when Faustus asks Mephistopheles for a bride. This distinction was played with again, right at the end, when the edges of the theatre backdrop lifted to expose a part of the Playhouse backstage area, repositioning the audience emotionally from being outsiders looking in to complicit in the scene; a small act with a massive effect.

There were a few really nice details in the piece, from a brief moment at the opening of the play when the ‘off-stage’ characters all sit up in their chairs and lean, as one, towards the action, to an Elvis rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ in a Las Vegas scene.

Jo did have rather a WTF moment about a rabbit. In a scene of debauchery, one of the participants appears in a bunny head. Apparently, nightmarish equals giant rabbit. Cue her version of Tito’s rant about dwarves in dream sequences (Living in Oblivion). There. She’s said her piece. I’m sure she feels better now …

The language in the contemporary parts sometimes felt a bit too obvious, and as a result,  sometimes it felt as though Mephistopheles lost a little of the otherworldliness introduced and performed with such brilliance in the first acts. We perhaps didn’t need to have such blatant examples of evil in order to believe… Having said that, we did enjoy the contemporary acts of the play, and the contrast between them and the original Marlowe text; they were bold, quite fun and introduced a bit more of the conflict in Faustus’ mind.

Whenever Faustus begins to examine the wisdom and morality behind his choices he is told to ‘think on the devil’ and a distraction is created to divert him. Similarly, the heavyweight ideas in the fabric of the play disappear once the show is done, leaving behind a sense of having been thoroughly entertained.

Doctor Faustus closes this weekend, but if you get the chance, do go along to see it. We’d love to hear your views …

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February 4, 2013

A visit to Opera North

Last week, I was given the opportunity to visit the opera by The Culture Vulture and Opera North. I hadn’t really thought of opera as being for people like me so I hesitated at first, but it seemed a good opportunity to challenge my assumptions and so, encouraged by my friend and ‘culture date’ for the evening, Jo, I accepted the ticket.

Otello, based on the Shakespeare play, was performed by Opera North at The Grand Theatre in Leeds. There’s plenty of room on the internet for reviews about the performance but, for us, the opera trip was a catalyst for debate about what assumptions we had about opera, what the barriers to engaging with it as an art form were, and why people might think it’s not for them.

Me: I’ve always thought opera was for posh people, who dressed in fancy clothes so they could see other posh people, who were also dressed in fancy clothes, singing in another language. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, and, having sat through my first opera, I now know that my assumptions were wrong.

Jo: I love listening to opera but wasn’t that bothered about seeing it performed until I saw Opera North’s production of Don Giovanni last autumn. Now I’m hooked! Opera is definitely greater than the sum of its parts: melodramatic theatre, caricatured personalities and awkward scripting, all brought together to provide a stage for some really exquisite music. It shouldn’t work but it does.

Me: When I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to the opera, I got lots of questions about what I was going to wear.  When I looked around the audience, there was a distinct lack of evening dress. Everyone was just in smart-ish clothes – just the kind of thing you’d wear for any night out in town. I’m wondering we get a lot of our perceptions about opera from seeing it on period dramas or something!

Jo: I can understand why people think there is snobbery around opera. There was a ‘shushing’ incident during Otello. I don’t think the sush-ers meant to be rude, more that people get passionately involved in the performance. Powerful music needs powerful silence to let it breathe and be fully appreciated.  Most every situation has a kind of etiquette or ritual attached to it.

Me: Another thing much of the audience had in common was grey hair, but actually, because opera deals with dramatic emotion, it’s perfect fodder for younger people. I wonder if it’s because opera seems to have a feeling of being ‘classical’ – most people could name something like ‘Madame Butterfly’ but not a contemporary opera. Is there even such a thing?

Jo: Popular music is full of songs about love, jealousy, defiance and betrayal. Our greatest hits aren’t about having a nap or walking your dog. Music that grabs your heart doesn’t deal with the in-between moments of life. That’s true of all kind of music and opera is no different.  ‘No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.’ WH Auden.

Me: As Otello is sung in Italian, I was afraid it would be difficult to follow but the English sur-titles made it easy to understand what was going on. The language wasn’t at all complicated—the story and dialogue are stripped down to the bare bones. However, although the sur-titles were useful, they often reduced the emotional breadth of the music to just a couple of lines of dodgy dialogue.

Jo: As I got into the performance, I found the sur-titles really distracting. Next time I’d like to research ahead of time so I won’t have to read them. I think it’s like Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre—once you know the story, you can’t help but hear the instrumental characters in the piece.

Me: Although the production was impeccable, the opera itself wasn’t for me. There were some stand-out moments—the love duet between Otello and Desdemona—but for someone visiting the opera for the first time, Otello might not be the best choice. I think it’s a mistake to assume that because people know the Shakespeare play, they will find this particular opera accessible or appealing – even though the music was stunnin. They feel like two very separate entities.

Jo: I can’t fault the production, it’s just not an opera I’d choose to see again or recommend. The story didn’t satisfy me. I felt no investment in the characters: Desdemona was too wet; Otello wasn’t solid enough for his status; Iago’s strength was in the music; and Emilia just made me cross! Musically, my highlight was the love duet, ‘Gia Nella Notte Densa’.

Me: For me, the most impressive parts of Otello were when more than one character was singing at once and all their emotions and perspectives are woven together.  After eight years of living in Leeds, and countless visits to the theatre and ballet, I’m so glad I’ve finally seen an opera; I’m definitely a convert and a new fan of Opera North.

Jo: It was a huge privilege to stand on that stage; I now feel a personal connection to the theatre. I’m looking forward to booking my next Opera North performance, Dido and Aeneas. It’s only an hour and it’s sung in English and the cheapest seats are going for £15—it’d be a great place for anyone tempted to try opera out for themselves.

So, opera is for me, after all. Which, I’ll admit is something of a surprise. Now, I really do think that opera is for anyone and everyone  – so, if you get the chance, do try it out. And if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can see Opera North, then grab that opportunity. Overwhelmingly, again, it seems that the only way to decide if you like something is to try it. Otherwise you’ll never know…

December 17, 2012

My Sole Christmas Gift Idea: Stack Magazines.

Regular readers of this blog might notice that I’ve been absent for a week or so. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading for my Goodreads Challenge (more on that in another post) secondly, I wrote a guest post about great Christmas gifts for gardeners for the utterly marvellous The Culture Vulture and lastly because the run up to Christmas is a bit crazy, and I’ve been struggling to find the time. And, if I’m honest, the motivation.

Having written one Christmas gift guide post, I didn’t really want to write another one, and the internet is overflowing with Christmas blog posts and wonderful gift guides anyway. I’m not feeling particularly Christmassy myself so haven’t felt much like adding my two penn’orth to the conversation until now. This isn’t because I’m feeling Scrooge-like about it, but I really only ever feel Christmassy in those final few days leading up to Christmas Day, when I’ve finished work and am at home wrapping presents, mulling wine and listening to Carols. I rather hate that we start being bombarded with Christmas stuff roughly the day after the shops have finished trying to sell us Hallowe’en costumes and fireworks. How cynical I am…

If you’re anything like me, you’ll still have gifts to choose and not much time to get them organised. So, in my only contribution to the whole Christmas shopping conversation, I present to you my last minute gift solution for that difficult-to-buy-for person in your life: A subscription to Stack.

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I’ve spoken before about my magazine buying addiction – and how it’s a constant battle, but one that I’m gradually winning – but the one subscription I’m not giving up is my subscription to Stack. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to go to a Guardian Masterclass on Reinventing Magazines, during which the founder of Stack spoke with lots of passion about the future of the printed word. When I got home from the event, I subscribed immediately. It’s a unique service, posting out a different independently produced magazine each month. You don’t know what you’re going to be sent, so each month is like a little surprise. The one thing that links them all is that they’re beautifully created. I’ve had a variety of titles, on subjects including film, food, cycling and urban art. All of them have had something to interest me, and in some cases, I’ve fallen completely in love with them. This month I received Delayed Gratification, a magazine dedicated to ‘Slow Journalism’ and it’s wonderful. Some other titles they send out include Little White Lies, Fire & Knives, Rouleur, Wooden-Toy Quarterly and Oh Comely. All of which are gorgeous, intelligent and worth savouring. Not like many other glossy magazines that are basically stuffed full of adverts and articles that promise to help us ‘Get the Perfect Life/Body/Wardrobe in Ten Easy Steps’… Or, in other words, a lot of wasted paper and ink.

Because I am tardy with my Christmas post, it’s too late to get a gift issue sent out before Christmas, but you can get a gift card right up to Christmas Eve so it’s a perfect last minute gift for someone who will then receive magazines in the new year. And given how much I love Delayed Gratification, that seems rather appropriate…

May 1, 2012

Call Lane Social: Tiki Hideaway

Last Thursday I braved the rain to join other Leeds based bloggers at Call Lane Social’s Tiki Hideaway to learn how to make a tiki cocktail and spend a little time pretending we were in the sunshine of the South Pacific!

Call Lane Social opened in 2010 and was awarded ‘Best Newcomer’ in the 2011 Bar and Club awards, but I think that what makes it really special is tucked away upstairs; a little slice of Polynesian heaven in the form of Leeds’ first and only Tiki bar.

Tiki bars became popular in America after soldiers who served in the South Pacific during World War Two began creating their own Polynesian themed bars once they returned home. These usually have vibrant fabrics and thatched walls and serve elaborate rum-based cocktails like the one we made, which had the glorious name of Amputated Zombie.

We were given the chance to step behind the bar and learn to create the Amputated Zombie, mixing several types of rum and freshly squeezed juices, topped off with an alcohol-infused sugar cube which was set on fire! Not only does this give the whole process a brilliant air of drama, the caramelising of the sugar adds a depth of flavour to the cocktail too. I had lots of fun doing this and I really recommend you give it a try if you ever get the chance. I even managed to mix the drink up in its shaker without tipping it all down my back, which I’m rather proud of. I have to say that I left the ‘setting-the-cocktail-on-fire’ part to Andy, the professional mixologist. I know my limits! Our second cocktail, a gorgeous lime and ginger infused drink, was named in honour of the Emma from the wonderful ‘The Culture Vulture‘ website, who organised the event for us. This one, we made in the glass instead of using the shaker, which was less dramatic. Until we set that one alight too, with a mixture of honeycomb and chocolate. Brilliant…

Here is our friendly and knowledgable mixologist Andy Gilpin, who shared with us a little of his knowledge about the differing rums and their varying tastes. I was really interested in learning about how the balance of flavours, rather than the alcoholic content, is what makes a great cocktail. The Amputated Zombie we made proves this – although it contains no less than three different types of rum and is undoubtedly potent, it has a gorgeous taste and is much easier to drink than its name suggests.

With thatched walls, laidback music and great attention to detail in the decor, Tiki Hideaway  feels a million miles away from Leeds and would be the perfect place for a private party or a few exotic drinks with friends.  It’s open Thursday – Saturday night from 9pm, and if you did want that private party, you can book it from the early evening until 9pm on those nights. It’s such a great place and I’ll definitely be back. I hope to see you all there…

April 9, 2012

Language Lessons.

By the time you read this, I’ll (hopefully) be on my way to Italy. Where I will attempt to use the three sentences I’ve managed to learn during my not-so-successful experience of self-taught Italian language lessons. I have realised that in order to make lots of progress, I need more structure to my language learning and a proper teacher. It has been fun learning slowly on my own though, and I need to remember that fun is partly the reason for learning.

I had to make fast progress with my Italian the last time I was there. We had a villa and I had to call the housekeeper (who spoke no English) and confirm my arrival time, that I needed the to collect the keys from her, and the location. A difficult situation, considering that I spoke no Italian at all and was armed only with an phrase book. Still, I managed it and it taught me a lesson.

So often I have waited until I thought I was good enough to do something before doing it, so I don’t let anyone down, or worse, make a giant fool of myself. I’ve since realised that I’m never going to be good at anything if I don’t at least try. Purely because I am interested in so many things, I never devote enough time to learning just one thing, in the way that a specialist would put in the hours and hours of study of a single thing in order to be truly exceptional. I will never be a concert pianist! However, waiting until I’m ‘perfect’ is no use at all, it just means I grind to a halt and never experience the things that I truly want to.

So my new attitude is to do things badly, instead of not doing them at all. I’m going to jump in, make a mess and be absolutely rubbish. Really, the worst that can happen (as long as we’re talking sensible things here, not attempting surgery) is that I probably will make a fool of myself. However, the next time I try the same thing, I will make less of a fool of myself, and so on. So, the waiters of Rome are going to be at the mercy of my three sentences, because I plan to unleash them at every opportunity in the hope that after three days of repeating myself, I will be a little less foolish. A little better.

In a similar vein, I wrote my first review as a guest blogger for The Culture Vulture recently. It was a small review piece about the Leeds Young People’s Film Festival, but the minute I pressed send on my email, I wanted to retrieve it so I could re-write the whole thing. It was a good example for me of jumping in and taking a risk. Assuming I get the chance, the next time I write for them, I will be better, but the fact is that my little post was published on a website that I value and respect enormously, So I’ve made progress with something I’ve been trying to pluck up the courage to do for ages and it is such a great feeling.

Next on the list of things to do badly are kayaking and (possibly) singing or even hula hooping…

So, perhaps you could take a risk and have a go at something scary, instead of waiting until you think you’re good enough. You never know, you’re probably already better than you think…