Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The singer not the song

No, the ‘Father and Son’ hit-maker hasn’t renounced Islam and started taking pictures of indie-rock royalty. Instead his namesake exhibits her wealth of musical portraits, including Joanna Newsom and PJ Harvey, at Rough Trade East this month.

The former Plan B picture editor has shot some of the most exciting new artists of the last five years and her playful photographs have been snapped up by record companies and magazines alike, including Island Records and Vogue.

Ranging from theatrical musician-in-a-dressing-up-box shots to simple expressive portraits, Stevens’s work shows an extraordinary sensitivity to her subjects and captures the magic of music making.

‘The Singer not the Song’ runs at Rough Trade East, Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London until Jan 30th 2010

Friday, 20 November 2009

Monday, 9 November 2009

Branded

Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s no doubt that you’ll already know the distinctive figure of Grayson Perry. The 2003 Turner Prize winner, whose transvestite alter ego Claire was courted by a bemused press at the time, uses traditionally ‘safe’ media such as ceramics and textiles to communicate shocking modern issues.

This month’s exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery features Perry’s largest work to date, a 3m x 15m tapestry, which was designed specifically for the gallery’s top floor exhibition space. Depicting a life that stretches from womb to tomb, the Walthamstow Tapestry is scattered with numerous brand names that have been stripped of their distinctive logos. Paired often with incongruous scenes from daily life – a folk art hair hops over a scribbled ‘durex’ – the tapestry demonstrates how heavily branding is woven into everyday life. How alien they look without their emblems, alone, a bizarre collection of letters.

Striking lime greens and a scarlet and fuchsia umbilical cord anchor the piece firmly in the 21st century but its naïve style draws upon the folk art of eastern Europe and the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s an impressive piece both in size and detail and, from ex-hippies to hoodies, chronicles contemporary life in all its triumph, anger and inanity.

Alongside the tapestry, a large body of Perry’s new work is on display including a number of large etchings and ceramic pieces. Despite dealing with dark subject matter such as child abuse, political hypocrisy and environment apocalypse, Perry’s work is also delicate and beautiful. Sumptuous glazes, graffito drawings and decoupage photographs cover his curvaceous pots, luring viewers close before confronting them with uncomfortable ideas.

The winning combination of a Turner Prize artist, a crowd-drawing hit piece and the gallery’s stunning views over the east London rooftops, meant that this was always going to be a monumental exhibition. But smartly calculated to coincide with the release of a major new book (Grayson Perry by Jacky Klein, Thames and Hudson, £35), it’s also an interesting admission that even artists are not above branding, consumerism and well-timed self promotion.

Grayson Perry – The Walthamstow Tapestry runs until the 14th November

Monday, 2 November 2009

Prenez soin de vous

Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel Gallery
Until Until 3 January
www.whitechapelgallery.org


After being unceremoniously dumped, most women reach for the Kleenex and ice-cream and call around an army of militant friends – but not Sophie Calle. The French photographer, celebrated for her documentation of engineered social interactions, instead opted for an altogether more public affair. Asking 107 women to respond to a heartbreaking email sent to her by her lover ending the relationship, she then transformed the results into an exhibition for the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The premier of the English language version of Prenez soin de vous (Take Care of Yourself) is just part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s larger Calle retrospective. The entire downstairs space is filled with photographs, films and physical relics, where the seemingly empowered women have used their professional skills to interpret her ex-lover’s sentiments. A film of a soprano voice belting extreme grief with operatic facial gymnastics sits alongside the framed and bullet riddled email. Each usage of the word ‘love’ has been precisely targeted and eliminated.

The scale and variety of the responses is overwhelming. Varying from an unemotional accountant’s tottings up of the total assets and total liabilities to the melodramatic performance of actress Miranda Richardson with her seemingly unimpressed tabby, the work as a whole demonstrates different and complex responses to loss.

As a piece of work, it cleverly functions much like a grieving woman. Surrounding herself with a circle of mirror identities, Calle almost compulsively over-analyses the email’s every word to the point of obsession. Except from the initial missive, there is no opportunity for the offending party to explain himself. He is now, a separate body without a voice, detached and internalised.

The exhibition is at times cruel and self-deprecating, such as when an employee of the Libération news desk refuses to publish the email on premise that the “letter interests nobody”. But many of the interpretations – Brenda the parrot’s beaky destruction of the email for example – are humorous. It’s selfishness and sense of revenge element may make many viewers uncomfortable, but it is this raw honesty that makes Take Care of Yourself a confession worth hearing.

Image from lipsticktracez.com

Saturday, 10 October 2009

SNAP to it

The fruits of my screen printing efforts at Bristol's SNAP gallery.

Monday, 21 September 2009

It's all so quiet...

Well, I've moved to London and started studying my heart out so things might get a bit quiet here on Magpie and I. But never fear, when the work cloud ascends they'll be plenty more news and reviews of all the art, music and films I can get my grubby London paws on.

In the meantime, feel free to email with your comments: laura dot snoad at hotmail dot com

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Let me see the colts

A review of Billy C's show at the Thekla last month via Suit Yourself Magazine.

For a long time, fans have watched Bill Callahan skulk quietly at the sidelines – sometimes literally at ex-squeeze Joanna Newsom’s gigs – always threatening to break into mainstream notoriety but never quite making it, but not that he seems to mind. A self-styled lo-fi outsider, Callahan has commendably remained in the shadows even when relationships with high profile songstresses Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Newsom could have propelled him into mainstream stardom and has instead let his understated and extensive discography do the low and hushed talking.

It’s this same Maryland dark horse that greeted an audience at Thekla for a series of live dates to accompany new album Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – the second recording since dropping the Smog moniker. Beside admissions to be glad to be on a boat, rather than in one of the series of churches that this tour had led him into, Callahan’s banter with the crowd was kept to almost unbearably tense minimum; the electric silence between songs providing each musically offering with spine-tingling intensity.

A reverent audience watched the silver-haired anti-hero work through a varied set, including many tracks from the impressive new album as well as past Smog classics such as Cold Blooded Old Times and The Breeze. When doe-eyed and silver-tongued support act Sophia Knapp joined Callahan for a particularly intimate rendition of The Wind And The Dove, both his words and presence gave Knapp a gravitas that her own tender but clichéd set had evaded.

Callahan’s signature deadpan baritone was matched by an almost disparaging expression, broken only by the often comic cries of an over enthusiastic fan. But it’s perhaps the aloofness, this guarded and disappointed persona, that gives Callahan’s tales of the natural world, rivers, birds and relationships such weight and a hint of only half-convalesced pain. Constant melodic and lyrical repetition, borrowed heavily from American country music, and a refusal to comply with verse-bridge-chorus song-writing makes for powerful listening. It is this cumulative richness, as well as an impressive ability for vivid picture making, that sees Callahan rightly celebrated as an anti-folk heavyweight. Once again, slow and steady wins the race.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

New Kids on the Block

Bristol has been blessed with a new free music and art rag this month in the perfectly formed shape of Crack Magazine. Inspired by the likes of Plan B and The Wire, Crack attempts to take on the Bristol art and music scene with a elegant combo of strokably expensive matt paper, large helpings of literary-style prose and a good deal of youthful cockiness. The current issue features interviews with urban artist Hollis and undulating jazz maestros Portico Quartet, among album reviews, gig previews and a mini-festival guide. Pick up your very own copy from one of the many independent retailers on Gloucester Road or Park Street or download the PDF here.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Back to the Future

My review of the Arnolfini's latest exhibition 'Sequelism Part 3: Possible, Probable or Preferable Futures via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Even before entering the Arnolfini’s whitewashed innards, I’d already discovered that this exhibition’s title alone required a hefty amount of brainwork. Sequelism is a made-up term that has been constructed to mimic the recent phenomenon for moulding new words from hybrid mutants of already existing and quite sensible terms – think ‘synergy’ – to represent emerging concepts and movements. In this case, the title is intentionally void of a concrete meaning and anticipates definition in the future. It might seem a little odd to name an exhibition with a seemingly meaningless moniker but for a show that is all about what our visualisation of the future say about present social identity and fears, it makes a certain amount of sense for a future date to allow us to define a current exhibition. Lost yet?

As often happens when an exhibition is dictated by a concept rather than a particular artist or movement, Sequelism is a motley crew of very different pieces. Immediately visible is Haegue Yang’s Holiday For Tomorrow, whose rainbow coloured blinds and lattice panels give the impression of forming an intimate chamber within the gallery space. Light and not entirely solid, it houses a film featuring images of Seoul during the Korean harvest holiday Chuseok. Using a rather miserable sounding female voice, the piece explores both the emotional anticipation of holidays and the oddness of experiencing socially contrived days of rest.

On the opposite wall, Graham Gussin’s Hypnotic/Dystopic/Optic is a kaleidoscope of whirling science fiction novels where – the original cover indecipherable – the books form hypnotic blurs of colour. The way that the artwork has been supplied with power means that each sunflower-like head has an electric stem, which all join on the floor in a tangle of cable and socket roots. For me the strongest work of the show, it almost acts as traditional landscape painting made from modern technology and unidentifiable fictions of the future.

In the second room a taxidermy fox head stares blankly at the viewer, suspended by wrought iron supports. Somewhere between a voodoo fetish and a mechanical altar, it seems to hark back to the primeval animal deities and yet draws on present day controversy over the hunting ban. Another piece by Romanian Victor Man sees patent black text on wall reading “we die,” crossed out with wiggly neon cross. The use of a comma rather than full stop anticipates future syntax, and perhaps the afterlife, but is instantly negated by the gaudy neon tubing.

Sequelism is a challenging exhibition that was at times thought provoking but often alienating. Although this is often an intentional feature of both sci-fi and futurology, much of the work felt cold and introverted rather than awe-inspiring. It’s important, however, for galleries to put on difficult shows like this to avoid becoming crowd-pleasing, art-for-postcards merchandise factories and even if this one wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, I’ll definitely be back to see what boundaries the Arnolfini are crossing next time.

Exhibiting between Saturday 8th July until Sunday 20th September 2009 @ Arnolfini, Bristol

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Bear Necessities

A few weeks ago I decided to give myself a 3-month clothing challenge of ditching high street brands and buying only from local boutiques and independent designers. So far, it's been pretty easy. Mainly because I'm incredibly skint and haven't bought anything at all. Not even lentils. But after I received a few shiny pennies for a writing job I did yonks ago, I thought I'd dust off my debit card and see what local gems I could discover.

Bristol's a wealth of creative talent and many of the city's top-notch graffiti artists and illustrators also have their fingers firmly caked in various fashion industry pies. Gloucester Road's new hip-hop paradise Avalaan, Park Street's My Yard (formerly BS8) and queens of urban patchwork, Shop Dutty, all stock pieces from local creatives as does a number of the city's smaller galleries, like Weapon of Choice.

After a lot of indecisive flailing, I finally invested in a sweater from Bristol label Grizzly Nights. Their gorgeous current collection features delicately penned line drawings of some of nature's most fearsome creatures... and some pretty birds. Menacing tigers, open-jawed bears and a rather mashed looking owl were all up for grabs but in the end I settled on two wolves howling at the... well, at my face. I love their simple but charming designs and thanks to their online shop I'll be back for more, even after the London move.

Whether I can afford to explore Bristol's indie threads any further in the coming months still remains to be seen but one things for sure - I won't be crawling back to Topshop.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The End of a Supergiant


To my delight I stumbled across the very fine handiwork of illustrator Ashley Le Quere when passing the window of Start the Bus this morning. She's intricately penned a herd of now defunct Woolworths shop fronts in all their different and charmingly wonky incarnations. Maybe it's just my magpie-like nature but I'm really drawn to art that hinges on collecting things, especially if it has some sort of social-historical slant. I wonder what will come to fill all these empty shells.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Gardener's World


Here's my Review of the magical mash-up that was Secret Garden Party 2009, via Suit Yourself Magazine and my favourite photo of the weekend - a tribe of angry santas.

An elf, a robot and a barn owl walk into a bar… No, it’s not the beginning of a surrealist joke but an average spectacle at Cambridgeshire’s flamboyant celebration of all things wacky, Secret Garden Party. At few other festivals will you stumble upon mobile bicycle-come-piano concoctions, a main stage modelled on a snake’s ferocious jaws, shabby chic wonderland houses in the woods and more bizarre art installations than you could shake a kag-in-a-bag at. Audience participation is the name of the game so, whether it’s tag-team mud wrestling or early morning opera, sitting passively at the sidelines is never an option.

Not quite as secret as last year, the capacity doubled for 2009 to a still petite 12,000, but the head gardeners worked hard to keep the atmosphere of discovery and individual expression intact, as well as again providing plenty of green space for gardeners to relax, romp and rave. Once inside the site’s stunning landscaped gardens - complete with streams, woods and hillocks galore - rules are few and far between, meaning the duck-filled waters were ripe for swimming, boating and generally adding the aroma of pond to your fancy dress.

Opposing sides of the lake were this year separated into the two zones: the sensuous, hedonistic Babylon and the enlightened Eden. Either Edenite or Babylonian, festival-goers were encouraged to look the part, leading to plenty of appropriately, or in most case inappropriately, arranged fig leaves, a tribe of Babylonian whores, lions of said Babylon and in one case a bizarrely seductive lion-whore cross. Not ones for theme fascism, life size cornflakes packets, zombies, a mob of angry Santas and woodland creatures of every kind pranced throughout the festival, happy as Larry. Well, apart from the Santas.

In Eden the weary could rest their partied-out bodies with plenty of massage in the healing fields, enrich their brains by watching crazed professors attempt spellbinding experiments or explain astrophysics and get creative with life drawing classes. Entering through the back door of the conspiracy tent, you would find crowds of twitchy theorists preaching the gospel of underground plots. Over in Babylon, the Feast of Fools stage introduced many the compelling musical genre of Medieval-core – despite its wiki-absence it does exist, promise! – while the main music stages provided more conventional entertainment. A Saturday night fire extravaganza harnessed the primeval power of the feast, as everyone stopped to witness a wicker man inspired ritual conflagration. The lake’s central tower of Babylon was burnt to ashes, whilst a giant writhing snake led a procession of fire jugglers and drummers whilst fireworks whistled overhead and Chinese lanterns floated into the sable black.

Although SGP is never reliant on a one-stop-shop line-up to draw in the crowds, focusing more on the idea of festivities and artistic ‘action camps’, there’s always titillating new music to be heard alongside the squeaky breath of nox balloons. The bendy one himself, Mr Jarvis Cocker, performed a particularly energetic headlining set, while invisible handed Rodrigo and Gabriela strummed, plucked and drummed at the speed of light the following evening. For most, the festival hinges on abandoning a time table-wielding mindset and simply stumbling upon smaller talents - highlights this year included Caribou, Portico Quartet and Peggy Sue – listening to them if they capture you and moving on if they don’t. A party rather than a music festival, SGP will never rival other festivals for music. Instead the head gardeners have a charmingly genuine dedication to artistic expression, physical freedom and pure fun that most festivals forget about in their eagerness to book big names. It’s this exploration of the true sense of ‘festival’ that’s the secret to Secret Garden Party’s success.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Tick, tick, tick... JUNE!


Suit Yourself vs. June now available online here.

Here's a tantalizing taster (... and my Carniville review) below.




Saturday, 13 June 2009

Come on in...


A review of The Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio via Suit Yourself Magazine.



Like many on the Gloucester Road to City Centre shuffle, I trudge by the unobtrusive mass of the Jamaica Street studio nearly every day. Despite its size, it’s easy to pass its scarlet and green frame and abundance of windows without realising it’s the diamond in Stokes Croft’s creative rough. Sometimes a paint-covered overall with a fag and a cup of tea in hand reveal its secret, but you’d rarely guess that inside this discreet building there’s a frenzy of activity as a community of artists go about their creative business.

Last weekend’s open studio was a chance to wander through this usually unseen warren of art, natter with the artists about their work and purchase their skilfully crafted wares. Selling in a mid-recession market has been tough for many of the studio’s artists, but economic downturn hasn’t affected the incredibly high standard of work found within these walls nor the overwhelmingly friendly atmosphere.

After venturing up the narrow staircase beside a decidedly rickety-looking iron elevator, punters were met with room upon room of treasure-filled studios. The range of media that the building houses is as varied as it is impressive. The hidey-holes of more traditional fine artists sit comfortably aside those of illustrators of children’s books, edgy ceramicists, machine embroiderers, poster-makers and jewellers. Highlights included Sophie Woodrow’s beautiful porcelain mutants that combine cutesy fauna with urn-like menace, Karin Sabine Krommes’ intricate paintings of aircraft mechanics, kooky characters and visual puns from Bjorn Rune Lie and the playful and exquisitely embellished textile pieces of Louise Gardiner, among many others.

The Jamaica Street creatives were well aware that all work and no play makes dull artists and the opening night was just as much of a wine-fuelled celebration as a serious exhibition. An electric after-show party at the nearby Croft saw cracking sets from the strangely attractive Dagger Brothers – tiny t-shirted electronica meets performance art that must be seen to be believed – and plenty of DIY athleticism from loop peddle champion S J Esau.

No doubt there was many a headache when then studio opened it doors bright and early the following morning but these guys are professionals and the show must go on, hangover or no. It was once again a pleasure to have brief glimpse into a studio that is at the epicentre of Stokes Croft’s creative and cultural identity. As the builders begin to encroach, let’s hope that this gem is kept well and truly away from the property developers’ greedy paws. To ensure the studio’s future, the artists within need to raise the money to buy the building themselves and so please donate and support them in whatever way you can.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio 2009

A bit of footage to whet your art-loving whistle ahead of the Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio this weekend.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Fantasty-tastic


A review of Canadian fiddler extraordinaire Final Fantasy's St George's gig last week, via Suit Yourself magazine.






Last time Final Fantasy, aka Owen Pallatt, was in town, he persuaded a mesmerised audience to forget the Louisiana’s sticky, beer-soaked floor and sit child-like before him and his violin. Back once again, his well deserved success has meant an upgrade to the bigger venue of St George’s but the intimate atmosphere, civilised seating arrangement and the audience’s youthful wonderment was still very much intact.

The Canadian string-arranger to Arcade Fire has developed a reputation for technical brilliance, quirkily-looped soundscapes and touching lyrics that has inspired almost fervent worship in fans. Fitting then, that a hushed St George’s should be host to his choirboy-like vocals and violin’s soaring heights. Support was provided by the caped Castlemusic whose delicate vocals were accompanied by such minimalist and rawly played guitar riffs that it was sometimes uncertain how long she’d been playing. At times powerful, at others utterly vulnerable, her ditties formed impressionistic sketches using old folk emblems. Tales of sea-faring wives and leafy forests were entangled with more modern touches, the best of which saw Castlemusic abandon her guitar, using her voice alone to fill the church’s lofty heights.

After a brief interval, Final Fantasy treated a now fuller nave to a mammoth set of new tracks, many of which Pallett endearingly excused for not being quite polished enough. Heartland, which looks set for release at the end of the year, is not a giant departure from previous records: lyrically marrying the fantastic and routine and musically forming entire arrangements from bass and percussion to melodies using his trusty fiddle. Yet there is perhaps more confidence seen in the tentative first performances of these new tracks than before, or maybe this is just Pallett’s ease at playing not only in a venue more frequently used for classical musicians but also a former place of worship, harking back to Pallett’s formative years performing alongside his church organist father.

Almost the entirety of Pallett’s set was accompanied by a silhouette artist who transformed coloured scraps of acetate into kooky audio-visuals using a clunky overhead projector. With the help of a mirror, aeroplanes soared across the ceiling, lace-gloved hands played piano and a mass of flowing locks were trimmed to form a face resembling Final Fantasy himself. Although at times the DIY aesthetic felt a little bit stilted, the final projections on to St George’s balcony and roof, which saw glittering stars brush Pallett’s face and violin in the darkness, were particularly enchanting. Two encores later, a bewitched congregation finally filtered out into the Bristol night, filled with awe at such a beautiful and seemingly effortless set. Praise be to Pallett, Hallelujah!

Sea Sew



A review of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan's debut album via Suit Yourself magazine.


Even if her name doesn’t sound familiar, only those hiding under a rock the size of Dublin will have missed the distinctive voice of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan. Her velvety vocals weaved their way through Damien Rice’s hugely successful 2002 album, O, and the more recent 9 like a sultry ghost, winning both musicians much critical acclaim. After a rather hasty departure from Rice’s side – to her surprise, Rice announced that he no longer required her services whilst they were on tour in Munich – Hannigan, with several years’ worth of songs in her head and notebook, returned home to start work on her debut.

The eagerly awaited result, Sea Sew, not only exudes Hannigan’s familiar, fragile and beautiful wheeze but also showcases her talent for orchestral arrangement. Horns, strings and classical piano tussle with folky guitars, whilst Hannigan undulates between fragile child and jazz vixen. It’s a playful album – echoed by the kitsch needlepoint artwork knitted and embroidered by the singer and her ma – that shows that being taken seriously as an artist doesn’t mean taking yourself too seriously.

Aquatic opener Ocean And A Rock begins the album-long sea metaphors and showcases a breathy and guttural richness that cradles the listener back and forth in the wave-like rhythms of Hannigan’s phrasing. Sea Song has a similarly strong sense of movement this time employing salsa rhythms and entangling violin wails to provide something sexier than some of the more Radio 2 suited tracks. The haunting Keep It All is where the record becomes really interesting, with heady twangs of bass strings and a dark Portishead-like vibe. Tender and commercially successful Lille provides a spectacular finale, complete with plonky xylophone, pizzicato violin and some elfin intonation that would make Joanna Newsome proud – in fact Hannigan enunciates the word ‘arguably’ in eiree similarity to the pixie-child herself.

Although the album shares a lot of similarities with Rice’s work – slow building crescendos, minimal production and heart-wrenchingly raw vocals – Sea Sew clearly shows Hannigan heading in a different direction to her previous collaborations. Hannigan isn’t always the most profound lyricist, teetering at times towards the twee: “cup of coffee, splashy splashy,” but then if Kate Bush can write an emotional voyage inspired by a washing machine, perhaps the kook can be forgiven. It’s a strong and confident debut from a justifiably assured artist, whose previous experience will no doubt yield stunning live dates.

Catch Lisa Hanningan at live on Tuesday 14th July 2009 @ The Fleece, Bristol

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

MAYFEST: A Review


The end has come!

Some snippets from behind the scenes of Mayfest, via Suit Yourself magazine.

As part of Bristol Old Vic’s front of house team, I seem to witness some pretty wacky things. I’ve spent shifts hunting for dinosaurs in the Studio along with gaggles of excitable children and I even once served a coffee with a shot of gin in it – yes, it did curdle – but nothing has come close to delight and frenzy that has been Mayfest.

The fest has been a two-week whirlwind adventure of ground-breaking theatre, a fun-loving atmosphere and seemingly never-ending bar shifts. As soon as the influx of reclaimed chairs, kitsch tablecloths and dusky lampshades arrived, we knew we were in for enchantment. The downstairs bar was transformed from wipe-clean chic to a vintage cornucopia. This prop shop-come-folk den provided some unusual finds, like a telephone box once frequented by Daniel Radcliff that “smelt like magic and horses,” according to one FOH joker. The joyous soundtrack to the Old Vic’s temporary makeover was provided by Mayfest co-producer Matthew Austin’s ipod, Beirut and Bat For Lashes making each lonely bar shift (it’s pretty lonesome when you guys head inside) that little bit more inspiring.

At the launch party we worked like speedy bar squirrels to make sure we kept up with your insatiable thirst but also played the part of ushers-come-maiden aunts, preventing the more inebriated punters (and staff) from initiating a health and safety nightmare. Live music and reviews floated back to us throughout the night and we felt like disco-Nazis when, after time was finally called, we had to heart-wrenchingly shoo out all the merriment. The usual perks of the job applied, like being to ask the actors all those niggling questions over a post-performance pint, but during Mayfest every query seemed a tad more bizarre. From “which character suits you best: dog, penguin or walrus?” (Polaris) to “how’s onstage nudity treating you?” (Kellerman), it all felt like pub banter between friends rather than pretentious hob-knobing.

Not only was there camaraderie behind the scenes but the audience too seemed far keener to get know the folk that tore their tickets. Whether it was the charming Mayfest regulars or hip, young things that hadn’t lingered about the theatre before, there was more post-play chitchat, complete with loving, loathing and liquor, than ever before.

One of the best parts of the festival was sharing with the you some of the Old Vic’s stunning and secret enclaves that we have the pleasure of wandering through every day. We led you backstage to our paintshop, an intimate space with an arty warehouse feel, perfect for animated puppetry of The Paper Cinema and playful DIY aesthetic of Our Father’s Ears. During The Weepers, you saw the exquisite and historically invaluable Theatre Royal from an actors-eye view and had a chance to witness the charming mechanics of lowering the iron. Kellerman may have sparked marmite-style reactions, but most agreed that the visually stunning blurring of the cinema/theatre divide helped to see a very old space in a startlingly modern light. And ushering for My World Is Empty Without You tested my commitment to contemporary theatre to the limit – I stood alone on a Clifton corner for several hours in squall and high-viz, like a weathered neon hooker – but I pulled through and was still smiling, mainly because my features had frozen that way.

Amongst Mayfest’s packed programme of shows, workshops and events, we were all entertained, inspired, touched, educated, provoked, impressed, intrigued, offended, excited and challenged. We shared drinks, opinions, ideas, debates, fish and chips, cycle rides in the rain and bacon sandwiches. We made new friends, made new discoveries and some were quoted as having had life-changing experiences. What more could you ask for from a theatre festival?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

MAYFEST: Polaris


A review of my Antarctic pilgrimage with Czech physical theatre company Adriatic, via Suit Yourself Magazine.


White-coat-clad scientists and relationship gurus alike have been telling us for years that up to 80% of human communication is nonverbal, but somehow it still seems astonishing when physical theatre – a form of drama that uses the body as a storytelling vehicle rather than the voice – can be just as, if not more, expressive, exploratory and touching than its talkative counterpart. Polaris, the creation of Czech company Adriatic, is one such breathtaking piece. A wordless pilgrimage to the harsh and eerie landscape of the Antarctic, Polaris transforms the black canvas of the sparse Old Vic Studio into an unforgiving wilderness, conjuring the Antarctic’s threatening and fragile geography through a number of charmingly performed tableaux.

Once surrounded by a hostile and otherworldly environment with nothing more than brotherly companionship and a whispering gramophone, the two explorers wearily struggle to survive the desolate climes and their frostbitten hunger. We witness their world seen and unseen, from their often thwarted attempts to find food to the moans of the women in their cold-inspired hallucinations.

But it is not just man’s interaction with the South Pole that Polaris captured; actors Vojta Svejda and Jan Benes-McGadie metamorphosised before our eyes into boisterously dancing walruses with their guttural calls and heavy blubber. Penguins waddled almost matronly about the stage, cheeping at each other in a shrill duet and at one point feeding a vulnerable fluffy-headed chick by mouth. Gulls swooped and dived through the sable black and the ice, imbued with Rime Of The Ancient Mariner style menace, rolled and roared as if alive. Comic and touching, each creature was rendered with such astute observation that one almost expected the dulcet articulations of David Attenborough to drift into the studio.

Although the piece was without words, it was anything but silent. The growling ice and the fauna’s cheeps, howls and wails were accompanied by a poignant score, complete with rich orchestra stirrings and occasional gypsy flourishes. The lighting and set was minimal but carefully chosen; glowing orbs and red hues brought out the delicate loneliness of the environment and ragged skin suits spoke of an empiricist past hinged on nationalistic pride and perilous scientific endeavour.

Without the safety net of language to express a thought or emotion, there is a dangerous tendency in physical theatre to stray into over-acting. Polaris however, felt entirely natural, honest and unpretentious. After waiting for rescue that never comes, the final moments of the play provided a tender communion between the human and animal kingdoms. The explorer’s frozen body sinks majestically to the bottom of the ocean accompanied by a tentative Lou Reed melody and is gently investigated by a lone fish. It’s a moving end to an awe-inspiring journey, made even more perfect as snow magically issued from the Studio’s heavens.

Monday, 11 May 2009

MAYFEST: All the fun of the fair


A review of the tremendous Carny-ville courtesy of Suit Yourself Magazine.



Sinister magicians, bearded ladies, pox-infested nightwalkers, a cage fight between a seal and lion: it’s probably not your average Saturday night out in Broadmead. Existing in a dream-like realm between a party and a play, Carny-Ville was an old-fashioned circus-style romp masterminded by the overwhelmingly skilful Invisible Circus, a now Bristol-based collective of circus and street performers. Complete with Dickensian rogues, popcorn stall-lined dance floors and oozing faded gypsy glamour left, right and centre, Carny-Ville offered a night of devilish entertainment that encompassed a variety of circus treats from fire dancers to old-school fairground games. Over 200 volunteers came together to transform the former Police and Fire Station, now a collection of studio spaces known as The Island, into a giant den of debauchery for three nights only. Roll up, roll up… the circus of your nightmares has come to town!

In the vast outdoor area gypsy beats, dance troops and many a weird spectacle could be seen on stage, as the entertainment only paused for breathtaking sets from trapeze artists – who incidentally seemed to get more androgynous as the night went on – and death-defying tightrope walkers. The master of ceremony, a captivatingly belligerent bearded lady, teamed up with a drag queen DJ to keep the party alive and caused clouds of fire to spew from the twisted Victorian lampposts at moments of intense excitement. In the main theatre glitzy showgirls performed flamboyant cabaret and seductive hula tricks, whilst others gracefully entwined their athletic bodies in trapeze ribbons before swinging dramatically from seemingly perilous heights. Performers sinisterly mingled with the crowd, although many punters got into character so well it was often hard to distinguish your average ne’er-do-well from the actors.

Dotted around a warren of delight-filled rooms was an assortment of other wonders. Put your pennies in his slot and the human jukebox would issue you with a charming rendition of any tune from an extensive list, including his own covers if you asked nicely. Behind an unmarked door, noticeable only on account of incongruous sack of peanuts outside and the excess of shifty characters about, was the animal brothel.

After a tentative knock, you were led to meet a menagerie of creatures, including the feline king of the jungle, a vain peacock, hyperactive and mischievous ape, child-like seal and a bolshy pimp, who would ask punters in a indistinguishable eastern European accent whether they wanted to ‘spend time’ with some of his ‘pretties’. After propositioning your beast of choice, you arranged a price (mostly in monkey nuts) and then ventured into the caravan, yes caravan, to get your money’s worth. Inside portraits were penned, philosophy was discussed and no doubt many an animal lover was worked into a frenzy by some heaving petting, if you’ll excuse the pun.

For the spectacular finale, ghost-like maidens abseiled from the building’s heights as another seemingly peddled across the outdoor arena on an imaginary bicycle immediately above the audience’s heads. Meanwhile a mass of fire-dancers gyrated and performers cackled; captivated onlookers had no choice but to pinch themselves in disbelief. After the main acts were over, revellers danced late into the night, pausing to rest their weary bodies on a lush collection of sofas, beds and the odd coffin. In the taxi queue a charming gentleman fresh out of nearby Syndicate asked me where the hell we’d come from. I simply answered, ‘another world.’

Friday, 8 May 2009

May I?


The super-cool, super-beautiful, super-super May issue of Suit Yourself Magazine is now available online here.





Look how smart and shiny they've made my Antony and Cleopatra review, the clever things.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


The June issue of the super chic, vintage-tastic BBC Homes and Antiques magazine is now ready for your reclaimed and lovingly restored coffee table. Check out my One-Minute Guide to French porcelain masters Sevres on p. 21, along with more beautiful interiors than you can shake a Georgian, whalebone heirloom at.

Pattern.one



A review of the launch night of audio/visual treat Pattern at Start the Bus, Bristol via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Mayfest is here!


Mayfest, the brainchild of University of Bristol graduates Matt Austin and Kate Yedigaroff, is a manic two-week romp though some of most exciting and challenging contemporary theatre of the moment, taking place at numerous venues around the city. Ranging from intimate one-on-one perfomances to ambitious theatrical endevours, whatever you see, it'll be anything but ordinary. Visit the Mayfest website to find out more.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Monday, 6 April 2009

"The nobleness of life is to do thus"


My review of the second installment of The Tobacco Factory's Roman season, the magnificent Anthony and Cleopatra, via Suit Yourself magazine.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Dumb Founded


Head down to the Stokes Croft's Here Shop and Gallery this month and you in for a... well, chaotic suprise.

Here's my review of London illustrator David Shillinglaw's latest exhibition via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Friday, 13 March 2009

My latest love: Bruno 9Li


A dozen snakes encroach around a deathly tribal mask, as a wretched spectre issues from its lips. This is the distinctive vision of Bruno 9Li, the young Brazilian illustrator whose bold handiwork and eerie characters have made an equally striking impression on a host of recent admirers, Amelia’s magazine and Creative Review included.

Despite its limited palate, the cryptically titled Doze Segredos (Twelve Secrets) channels vibrant energies. Heavily-penned serpents writhe for attention against a delicate wilderness. Haunted by ancestral ghosts, 9Li’s apparition conjures both Aztec and African facial representation as well as the spine-tingling aura of Tutankhamun’s funeral mask. The choice of pastel hues and a bold style may have kitsch appeal but the image threatens ancient voodoo. Whether the Medusan warrior is aided or destroyed by its serpentine mane, viewers shouldn’t hang around to find out. Medusa may paralyze but Bruno 9Li has the power to hypnotise.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Introducing...


... another tasty installment of Suit Yourself's On the Sly, featuring, among many other delights, my thoughts on The Lasting Days' initial EP-age.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Lasting Days


A review of The Lasting Days EP via the delightful Suit Yourself Magazine.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Your hair was long when we first met.


A glowing review of the Bristol Old Vic Young Company's adaptation of Samson and Delilah via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

On the Sly


The first issue of Suit Yourself's On the Sly monthly online mag has just been uploaded, much to the delight of paper cut victims everywhere. Flick through its ethereal pages here.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Goodbye H&A

Well, my stint at H&A is over and apart from honing my writing skills no end it has taught me that there is such a thing as too much free cake. All my lovely clippings will be up as soon as they are published/I plug in my scanner.

Next stop, the glamorous world of Bristol's top glossy, AREA Magazine. Time to power dress!