Thursday, April 24, 2008

Doctor Who Raped My Eye Sockets With A Sandpaper Condom

I’ll tell you who’s a menace to society. Doctor Who. That’s who. That’s what I’ve induced after watching however many episodes of this fancy new regenerated version of the show as it’s possible to cram into a few short hours.

Yes I’ve only just got round to watching this apparent saviour to British TV. This could be seen as having something to do with the slight weariness I felt towards a show which I remember from childhood as being a Philadelphia Light slice of schlock BBC science fiction entertainment mainly involving men in rubber suits for it’s emotional connection and a complete lack of fancy computer graphics to make things shiny, but then again I was three at the time so maybe this new one deserved a chance.

Or maybe it was the fact that the few new episodes I had chanced were seamless continuations along this theme, the only differences being half the rubber, double, maybe even triple, the CGI budget and bungled attempts to hack at the heartstrings.

Doctor Who afficionados assure me this is because of some timey-wimy slip up which meant I only sat down in front of the idiot lantern when a particularly piss poor episode was on, like a diver who keeps missing the pool and landing in a bloody and smashed heap on the pool edge time after time.

I reckon it was probably because I always had a nagging suspicion it wouldn’t live up to Whedon.

Whatever the reason, I’m like a moth to an atom bomb when it comes to revision distractions and I’d watched that episode set in Pompeii a few weeks back and it caused a reaction inside me. It felt like… happiness? Through the television the Doctor reached me and changed my robot brain and circuitry into real flesh, filling me with these things you humans call… emotions.

You might suspect that this is a lie, or exaggeration of the truth if you’re feeling morally dubious, and you’d be right. But if I were in a Doctor Who episode that’s the kind of thing that would happen. And the Doctor would heal another rift in the time/space insertrandompieceofbadsciencejargonhere, while simultaneously decapitating bad guys with laid back witticisms and getting off on the sexual frustration of young girls. Then next thing you know he’s only bloomin’ well teleported halfway round the sodding multi-layered, multi-dimensional, persistent jelly that is Time to do the exact same thing again.

What seems to be pretty constant with this Doctor fella is that shit follows him around like a fly follows shit. Or vice versa. Personally I reckons it’s the versa. This is a Time Lord who can travel anywhere in time and space, bending and changing whatever he deems fit. And what does he spend the majority of time doing? Pursuing his favourite pastime of sticking his feet up and watching millions of humans die at a time until stepping in at the last minute when he could quite easily have prevented the whole thing in 30 seconds.

Honestly, all he has to do is nip in the TARDIS, hop back to a point where whichever nemesis threatening reality itself is a gamete, or whatever these alien types use to reproduce, give ol’ Poppa Nutballs a swift kick in the groin/sensitive reproductive nano-plunger and relax after a job well done on a sunny beach with the intergalactic equivalent of a rum and coke.

But no. There are Rules. Rules that must be obeyed if it means doing anything apart from letting things get to their very worst before stepping in like some Hero of the Hour prick and solving everything, preferably while hefting a bloody big sledge hammer into the porcelain display case of Time. Just to show that if you really want to you can stick two fingers up to the fabric of reality if it makes your life more exciting. Git.

Oh sure, when the shit really hits the fan he tries to justify it all by healing everything up and making it like it was before, but whenever he knows that he can adopt an Etch-a-Sketch Time Policy, where everything reverts to how it was before, the body count always seems to be suspiciously higher than when he can’t. Almost as if he values the deaths of these people less, feels like he can watch these people die if he can make it all like it never happened… he likes to draw it out to feature lengths if he can, just so he can watch humankind come close to obliteration time and time again.

At least that’s what I used to think. Then I realised that the Doctor’s actually quite sincere in his repeated attempts to stop us crazy apes from letting ourselves get wiped out yet again. He’s just a patsy. For the very most evilest (and I don’t use hyperbole lightly) mind in the entire Multiverse, that sonofawhore TARDIS. The Doctor’s not a bad pilot, the TARDIS just loves dumping him wherever he knows the Doctor’s gonna be drowning in Shit Creek, especially if it means he has to choose to wipe out a people.

Right, right… the TARDIS just happened to travel to the end of the Universe, find the dormant Master, help re-awaken him and bring him back to wipe out half of humankind? It just happened to fall into a parallel world where it knew Rose would be compelled to get involved and risk everyone’s lives. The TARDIS just happened, by sheer coincidence, to butcher every last creature in the galaxy, using the time vortex to create eternal torture for every living thing, spending an eternity laughing at Creation’s destruction by its hand. (I must admit that last storyline is taken from a bit of personal fanfiction).

This would be fine, happy coincidence, if it weren’t for the fact that the TARDIS is alive. Yet it never thinks to travel to a time where solving the problem would be simple. Never does anything to prevent itself getting nicked, breaking down at just the wrong point, or being generally impotent whenever it would be a really useful ‘Get Out of Certain Death Free’ card.

The TARDIS is either fixated with watching the Doctor die, or suicidal. Maybe it misses all the other TARDISsssss in the world, I don’t know. I’m not a TARDIS. What I do know is that this thing’s a damn menace and the sooner the Doctor can realise this the sooner the TARDIS and the Doctor can duke it out in a Fantabulous Christmas Special Extravaganza.

One final note. I realise that I have probably made a million mistakes, contradictions and outright lies that would see me hung in a Doctor Who court. Thankfully we don’t have one of these because the fans are yet to take over the world, but if you do want to bring out a few Doctor facts to cripple my well-researched, thought-out and planned babble, as it seems some fans are desperate to do, then feel free. Just so I know who to… as a Doctor Who villain would say with the irony still dripping … ‘thank’ later.

Meaning I’m going to process your body and turn you into a mindless slave. Probably with metal bits attached. It’ll definitely be an evil plan anyway.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Brief Word On What Follows

The stuff down below that's all been added at once is the reason that I haven't posted on here for a while. A couple of weeks ago I was at the National Student Drama Festival where students come together and put on shows for the general delectation of the public. Thankfully there's a publication called Noises Off! which is published daily where cantankerous people like myself can voice their opinions on what they've seen.

I spent the whole week writing stuff and staying up til 5am publishing the damn thing which is why I've been reluctant to leap back into writing. There's stuff up there but the brain just seems hesitant in getting it down. I wasn't going to publish the articles on here cos I thought they would be irrelevant and misleading but I've got to put something up, so here it is.

They're in no particular order so view as your will takes you.

When You Cry In Space A Fairy Shits Herself

The stuttering child’s voice and five on stage characters dressed like members of a Scout cult group with the number 8 pinned over their hearts may at first disturb the audience. But When You Cry In Space Your Tears Go Everywhere (a mouthful of a title if ever there was one) unfolds as a joyous half hour full of a childish sense of exploration and adventure, of discovery and struggling for dreams.

The play comes alive through an imaginative and innovative use of its props that are mainly paper, cut out and constructed during the play like a child’s card set, each piece, from the rotating story wheel to the space rocket and mountaineer’s gear are beautiful in their simplicity and deftly incorporated. Indeed the high production values of the play overshadow the actors who are mostly the props of the various effects, having little other role to play.

The sense of perseverance and resilience needed in scaling life’s mountains are embodied by the ever-climbing mountaineer in the background who never stops marching towards her destination. Meanwhile the others rocket into space and gasp at wonder at everything they see from there, before the mundane nature of reaching their proverbial stars is revealed in the scientific dissection of moon dust and one of the most finely crafted jokes of the Festival that plays on the monotony of routine present in even the most other-worldly kind of environments.

There’s a whole load of horseshit spouted about discovering the inner child, but for thirty minutes I was struck by how well the Tinned Fingers crew encapsulated that sense of childish wonder and translated that to a broader view of life’s journey. If there was any bad side to the show it was that I now have Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You stuck in my head. Yes, I’d have to agree, this would be the worst song to be singing to oneself at the moment of death. This thought will occupy my nightmares for a good while yet.

The Day Today

As Gary Glitter once sang, ‘It’s good to be back’. Speaking of inappropriate stains, NSDF has begun again. It’s an exciting moment, that point where the first snowflakes in the forms of addled students ready and willing to tear into the nitty gritty of that most elusive enema, theatre, gather on the mountains of expectation.

I began the day with a stroll along the coast. As you may have noticed, we are located slap bang next to the sea. It is both dramatic and attractive. I wholeheartedly suggest a morning walk along the sand as it is both good for the constitution and aids motion. There are a series of algae covered rocks towards the right hand end of the beach that look like tiny hills. Feel like a giant bounding across the Dales if you are looking for some light beach entertainment.

On returning to The Complex I joined the 2 o’clock excitement that is registration (early rising is easy to avoid) and braced myself for the relentless hordes of eager beavers just begging to get their hands on a laminated ID card if only to give them that sense of cliqueness when walking around Scarborough town.

I braced a little more than necessary it turns out. Not a releasing of the sluice gates this year, more the faulty drip of a hose tap. Being the studious investigator that I am I sought out il commendatori Kendrick and asked her about the apparent drop in numbers. It’s true, our numbers are fewer than last year but that’s not anyone’s fault apart from the Christians. If they’d chosen a fixed date for their pagan festival instead of fannying about with lunar cycles then NSDF wouldn’t have to happen earlier and clash with some students finishing dissertations and what not. (That’s my view by the way, not Holly’s who is a good god fearing Christian for anyone who cares).

No doubt this will be a year of quality over quantity and the idea of less crowded workshops and discussions has this foolish optimist excited about the upcoming week.

Topping the euphoria of registration is a difficult task but what the smug git didn’t know was that the Opening Ceremony had an ace slyly placed in its bra. The Decrees were dictated by a humorous musical duo of Tony Blair The Musical fame. If fascists had caught on to the idea of issuing their World Order by the medium of song the motto of this festival wouldn’t be the cheekily suggestive ‘Bring It On’ but rather ‘Theatre Makes One Free’. Some other admin things were said both before and after the song and dance but my mind had drifted to roast beef sandwiches.

It turned out that the Opening Ceremony was a mere façade, a means of securing an audience for the first show of the Festival, Tangle by Unlimited. The overriding theme was that of a peculiar piece of quantum physics which involves two tiny particles that share the same characteristics and react to stimuli simultaneously and in the same way no matter how far apart they are. Mind boggling stuff indeed. Unfortunately if it’s true, as the play suggests, that there’s someone else in the world who shares common feelings with me then I apologise for sending him/her into a catatonic sleep.

Now came the crux of the day, the very reason for ignoring my university career, a NSDF selector approved piece of student theatre that was Lost in the Wind. It was nice. Following it I retired to the Spa bar. Where else can you see the elites of the theatrical world getting drunk and reminiscing on old times? I can recommend nothing more than sitting and listening to the ruminations of these Titans.

Actually that’s not entirely true as the end of the night (or the beginning of work as I’m coming to think of it) brought Holly Jazz Lowe’s voice with it and it is a voice I want to place in a small wooden box and bring out on occasions when I want to smile and nod my head in whatever way is the fashion with the kids these days. I have a powerlessness against this kind of voice and now that the cold dark embrace of layout beckons I shall hold my head up high as I seek out some more caffeine.

Sunrise, sunset

Did you know that NSDF used to travel from place to place back in the day? I don’t know the details but I hope the hosting city was decided based on a Eurovision Song Contest set of rules where the previous year’s winners hosted. How you might ‘win’ at NSDF is something of a mystery though because this is an entertainment medium where there are no winners, only losers, but we’ll see which company gets the most awards at the end of the week and then decide.

Moving on, travel it did until settling in Scarborough’s buxom bosom in 1990, although it took another year for the Festival to slide down the hill towards the coast. Fascinating facts abound dear reader! And who can blame it? There’s a bloody big sea on the other side of the road, which enjoys nothing more than putting on a show of its own with blasting waves and dramatic sunrises. I find the sea a terrifying place because it’s so untouched by human hand. Look behind you and you can see how the earth has been shaped by human hand, but look ahead and there’s an endless abyss that looks just as it did 4 billion years ago.

Which is why the pointless lights that dazzle all over it every night perturb me slightly. Why are they there? If NSDF is worried about saving some mahulah and funding Tibetan orphans in their theatrical endeavours they could start by slashing their power bills in half by turning off the fucking lights. I know that it’s fun for the techies to try and shine some lights into the endless dark just because they can, which is why I asked a VC of an unnamed venue who I’m friends with to tell me about the lights.

Yes, he could confirm, they are bloody big lights. And they drain a whole load of power. It takes as many as four people to move them off turrets (whatever they are, I get lost in technical language) and even he admits they are entirely pointless. ‘Not any more’ was his response to my question of, ‘Are they dangerous?’ which was reassuring. However, he did remind me that the lights above the Vitadome are Park Ammms (spelling?) liable to explode when wet, due to the high voltages pulsing through them and exposed electrical connections, which would cause burning hell fire to rain down on those below. This is why techies scare people.

Mind you, expecting sensible planning from the people who have nicknamed me Richard Dawson, no doubt because of some hilarious in-joke I’m not part of, on my ID card might be a little much. I kid, the organisation has been wonderful so far. And you can’t help but have respect for people who throw caution to the wind and let all those lucky 17 year olds enjoy a few pints in the bar.

Is it just me though or is the Festival really starting to pick up? The first few shows have come and gone and people seem to be settling into the whole swing of the thing. I was just privy to a touching moment where two apparent strangers realised that they’d both graduated from Warwick in 2001 and had both worked in theatre there. Touching stuff, right here at the NSDF.

After much contemplation I’ve decided that the best way to end this is by answering some of the question that you have been asking on the NOFF Ideas and Question Board. First off the bat is Yellow Post-It No.1 who asks,
“I am in a school. We are bored of doing the same plays. What plays should we do?”
On asking my magic number 8 ball (choosing a random play in the index of Raw Talent, a detailed history of NSDF on sale now for the bargain price of £10) it responded with Jacques by Euegene Ionesco. So there you go, a bit of absurdist theatre for you to get your bored teeth into you cheeky scallywag.

Pink Post-It No. 2 asks, “How do we make theatre more like film?” By transferring CGI technology to the medium of live stage productions. Gasp as spaceships hurtle past you at the speed of light, shriek as an alien prowls past you in the aisles, chuckle manically as D-Day soldiers are torn to pieces in front of your very eyes, all in the comfort of a large dark auditorium. Or just go to the fucking cinema. Theatre and film are media that are worlds apart in every way, you might well ask how we make theatre more like comics or computer games. Actually, why haven’t there been any stage adaptations of Watchmen or Resident Evil?

Pink Post-It No.3 wants to know, “Where can I find a pub with a giant pink arse outside?” Wherever the randy Scarborough baboons go to wet their whistle. (Notice how I resisted the urge to offend Christians by answering with “Any pub opposite a church”).

Strict Machine Review

There came a point about two thirds of the way through Strict Machine when I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Are they taking the piss?’. I had tried hard to interpret the physical dancing of the two women on stage as well as possible when suddenly I had an epiphany. During one scene I understood fully that they were competing to impress a man at a bar and when they each pulled out a trumpet it was because they were, literally, blowing their own trumpet. Feeling very proud of myself for solving this particular puzzle I allowed myself a smug sit back in my chair. And then the projector, which until now had cast only obscure images onto the back screen, shone the simple message, ‘Blow your own trumpet’. My smug sense of self-satisfaction was destroyed in one quasi-literal blow.

Thankfully my sense of pride did not get in the way of my enjoying an energetic piece of theatre. The foreboding introductory song that was sung by performers Abbi Greenland and Helen Gaolen set out the theme of the show of women struggling against each other to succeed in business and from there they launched into a series of eclectic dances that conveyed the story.

At times it was difficult to see exactly what message the two were trying to convey (hence my pride at interpreting the bar scene) but the divide in personalities set up between the two women in the introduction and the twitchy, manic physicality with which they threw themselves about the stage was more than enough to keep the audience interested and curious to see how the next dance would fit into the story.

It’s difficult to know how to comment on the feminist theme that ran throughout of the decisions women have to make between adopting a dominant, male strategy in business compared to that of the more feminine approach, because men never have to make that kind of decision, but Strict Machine made clear the kind of conflict that arises between women as a result of such decisions. The moment that one changed from wearing a skirt to trousers, the other was entirely subservient and eventually physically destroyed. It was touching to see the remorse felt and the eventual reconciliation between the two, something that would be noticeably absent from a male interpretation of surviving in business.

The music that accompanied the dancing was for the most part electronic and synth heavy, fitting perfectly with the routine-driven business world the characters inhabited but the transitions between songs could have been smoother. One could almost hear the sound engineer clicking ‘next song’ on the iPod. The use of a projector was also largely superfluous and distracting (and ruined my one moment of clarity) but as a whole it was a pleasurable and interesting forty minutes.

Proof Review

It seems that some people have taken issue with what they perceive to be the negative reviews present in this here publication. There is a lack of balance, they claim, which is caused by these bitter, hate-filled individuals who are clearly in the group who can’t and therefore teach. And so in order to pander to the sentiments of those who blanche at the very idea of an individual having an opinion about a piece of theatre (or at least any opinion that isn’t the same as their saccharine version of events) this review of Proof will be divided into two halves consisting of things that were good about the production and things that were not so good. If you liked Proof then read the first half. If you didn’t, read the second half. Or if you’re feeling really brave, read the whole thing at once.

Good things about Proof:

1. The acting was really really good!
2. The set was wicked!
3. Ohmigosh, there were twists in the plot and everything!
4. It was both funny and touching. What a combo!
5. There was an interesting theme to do with trust and believing in the words of others throughout, which, like, totally tied in with the title of the play. Where do these geniuses get their ideas?!?!?!?

Bad things about Proof:

1. A script that was more film than theatre. Pointless!
2. A live piano soundtrack that told the audience when and where to feel emotional. It worked but in a way that was manipulative rather than moving. Who do these bastards think they are, telling me how to feel, eh?!
3. Blackouts that went on FOREVER. Some of us have got places to be, yeah?!
4. The lack of clear meaning at the end. My not completely getting it = bad, geddit?
5. The actor who was meant to be 28 years old looked about 10 years younger than all the other actors. Where’s your naturalism now, huh?!

There. A balanced review. Are you happy now? If you wish to further discuss the views expressed here with me in person then I’m the tall lanky one with Richard Dawson inexplicably written on his ID card. However, I’ll probably just quote the infamous words of a certain editor which apply to the majority of people at NSDF, including myself: “Are you being paid for your opinions? No? Then fuck off.”

Diversity at NSDF

White middle class guilt is a powerful force. It’s a good thing that the sense of enjoying such luxuries as political stability, clean drinking water and student theatre while some other poor bastard is stuck around the u-bend of life through no fault of their own but the location of their birth and the world’s prejudices causes people to want to make the world a better place.

I don’t know if this was the feeling that Mark Ravenhill was trying to evoke when he opened up discussion on what NSDF should be doing to increase the diversity of shows at the Festival but I imagine that was the initial gut reaction of the largely white middle-class audience. As noble as the sentiment is, using an emotive response to fully answer a question like this should be dismissed from the off.

Thankfully the people I’ve spoken to about the issue have agreed that NSDF should always be about showcasing the very spanking best of student theatre. Positive discrimination of any kind when it comes to selection would be disastrous. If it happened the Festival Director might as well get up on stage with the ‘tick-a-box’ show, pat them all on the head and distribute ‘Didn’t they do well?’ badges. It’s offensive to all involved and benefits no one.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a huge proportion of people who are not represented in student theatre. The point David Betz-Heinemann made about not being able to find a black female student to cast in a play is definitely something that’s true in Bedlam Theatre at Edinburgh University. I think we’ve wanted to put Othello on there for about the last 15 years now.

This is down to a problem with higher education in general though and these theatre companies are the wrong places to look if you want to increase diversity. However, as long as they remain the dominant forces in terms of repeated return years at NSDF it’s difficult to see how this will change.

The areas where attention needs to be focused is the drama companies that are just starting up, the ones that maybe don’t have financial means of others or come from places where putting on theatre is not the norm. These are the places where the quality of theatre may not be up to NSDF standards, caused by a lack of experience as opposed to talent. If these groups are given the support they need to sustain themselves over a period of years then no doubt down the line we’ll see a better slice of British culture at NSDF.

Expecting NSDF to fill this role though is expecting too much. The barriers to entry in theatre are just too high. With football anyone can pick up a ball and show off their skills (although they’d probably be better if they kicked it) at close to no cost. Before you even begin contemplating putting on a piece of theatre you have to pawn off at least one treasured item. And once you’ve done that you have to mortgage your grandmother in order to get to NSDF, because they’ve got spiralling costs and a foetus like reliance on the Arts Council’s financial placenta goodness.

And it’s not for the joy of putting on a show at NSDF either. Of course there’s a huge sense of pride at being selected and a great chance for everyone to learn and experience new things; but the real use of NSDF is as a stepping stone. A chance to be noticed and meet professionals in the field. Those who get the most out of NSDF are those who are looking to pursue their career professionally and these are the opportunities that NSDF should focus on by selecting the most talented. Talk of elitism can ruffle feathers but if the Festival isn’t concentrated on representing the most talented then the opportunities it provides are severely reduced.

The buck can only be passed so far though. I was appalled at how many people had only heard about NSDF by chance. If we want to make sure that the best student theatre in the country is put on then every single potential piece of student theatre should be aware that NSDF exists. If a student group do manage to put on a stunning piece of theatre against the odds and neither they nor NSDF are aware of each other’s existence then there’s a criminal waste of potential, and one that NSDF is more than capable of preventing.

The question is one that’s a nightmare to answer and I can’t see the situation changing drastically anytime soon. There’s no excuse for complacency as it’s arrogant to assume that the largely homogenous student group here in Scarborough represents the very finest theatrical talent in the UK. It’s a problem that stretches beyond the means and purpose of NSDF and will require the kind of joint social effort that’s always harder than it sounds. The problems and possible solutions I’ve outlined here are brief ideas so please take issue with them and write responses as it’s an issue that should be discussed.

NSDF Awards

Repent ye sinners, the end is nigh! That’s right, despite expectations NSDF ’08 is closing its doors for the final time today, so we can all go home and think about what we’ve done. It’s customary to hand out awards at such a time, which is slightly bizarre given that appreciation of the arts is mostly subjective, but I’m a stickler for tradition and so I too would like to make some objective decisions about the shows this week and hand out some awards of my own. (Don’t worry, as is often the case in this political climate, every show will get an award so that the namby-pambies are left satisfied.)

The Trojan Award For Exemplary Manipulation of Rubber goes to Lost In The Wind for their insightful appreciation of balloons and the many shapes and sizes they can take. I have never been so emotionally affected by balloons before, and I’ve been to some fucking good balloon fairs. Well done!

The Dick Van Dyke ‘Cor’ Blimey Guv’nor!’ Award goes to The Dumb Waiter who warmed the cockles of this gaff’s heart by faithfully reproducing the accent of the much maligned cockney gangster with conviction and gusto. Huzzah!

The Happy-Slappy ‘What Was That For?’ Award goes to Fewer Emergencies for the bit of perplex glass barely visible at the back of the stage that apparently contained every object mentioned in the play. Entirely pointless and no doubt a massive drain on the budget but they went ahead and did it anyway, bless ‘em.

The Middle-Aged Mother’s Appreciation Award is customarily given to the show that evokes the biggest ‘Ooh, isn’t that nice?’ reaction from the audience and without a doubt this prestigious award must go to Proof, whose set was ‘just lovely’. A subsidiary Fuck Me! Award goes to the tech crew for getting said set out in under 15 minutes. Gosh!

The Frank Matcham Joke Award goes to that raucous bunch who put on When You Cry In Space A Fairy Shits Herself for constructing by far and away the best laugh of the entire Festival. I’m chuckling away now just thinking about it. (I’m not really, but it was still bloody funny.)

The Ian Shuttleworth ‘It Wouldn’t Have Been Allowed In My Day’ Award goes without question to Beautiful Thing, who dared to break down the kind of boundaries that would have been insurmountable 16 years ago. Challenging? You bet yer ass!

The John Leslie Award goes to Metamorphosis and if you need that one explained to you then you probably don’t want to know.

The Universal Acceptance of General Fluffiness Award goes to Jackajack, a show which evoked a feeling of warmth and love in all but the harshest of souls. I had to strangle a puppy on the way home in order to counter this feeling but still, congrats!

The Khalid Abdalla Póg Mo Thóin Award goes to the cast of Disco Pigs who I’m still convinced are going to leap out at me from a dark alley and proceed to beat nine shades of whatsit out of me, just because they can. I’m sure they’re lovely when you get to know them though.

The Michael Jackson Award For Scaring The Bejeezus Out Of An Audience was hotly contested between Metamorphosis and The Skriker because, quite frankly, both had ensemble casts that used guttural noises that made me want to turn my pants a darker shade of brown, but in the end the award had to go to The Skriker, specifically for that bloke with a stick who seemed to have dropped straight out of The Descent. Freaky!

The Boris Johnson Cigars And Brandy Award goes to those adorable girls from Strict Machine who in their own special way demonstrated why women should stay out of the workplace and in the kitchen. Mother knows best!

And finally The Move Them To The Fuck Of Their Heart Award goes to 4.48 Psychosis who, and I mean this in all sincerity, caused me to break into tears the instant I left the auditorium. The most touching, raw and emotionally draining show I’ve ever seen, quite exceptional in every way.

In conclusion I would like to thank every single person who has been involved in the Festival this year, it’s been a late-night caffeine fuelled blast and so the Thank Fuck You Were Here Too award goes to all of you lovely people, especially the Noffice crew. But not the Arts Council.

A Response to Some Angry Christians

I can understand why some people might have too little faith in their convictions to laugh at themselves or a fundamental belief system that would prevent them from seeing the tongue-in-cheek nature of my previous comments so let me briefly qualify some of the facts I mentioned about Christian and Pagan festivals.

It’s certainly true that Christianity and Paganism have not shared a harmonious existence. This is because the Pagan festivals of winter and spring were in existence way before Mary got knocked up by some super-powered divine semen and were hijacked by Christians in order to make Christianity more appealing to the Pagan masses. The exchanging of Easter Eggs is an excellent example of this. Quite what a mythical bunny that lays chocolate eggs has to do with Jesus getting nailed to a cross and rising again three days later is beyond me. But look at the Pagan beliefs of fertile Mother Nature’s springtime rebirth and it all becomes clear.

As for Christmas, the Winter Solstice festival was not created by Christians. There is nothing in the Bible that would remotely suggest that Jesus was born on the 25th December. Is it coincidence that the remembrance of the birth of hope and light into the world in the form of a baby Jesus coincides with a time when people would celebrate the return of the life-giving Sun to the world? No, because the early Christians weren’t ones to miss a trick. In fact every element of the story of Jesus’ life, from the immaculate conception through to the death and resurrection of a miracle working character can be found in mythology that existed in many different guises since man first asked, ‘What are we even doing here?’

‘What has this got to do with the Festival of student theatre we are currently celebrating?’ I hear you cry. Nothing, which is why I just want to mention the brilliant pyro show I was privy to this evening. Sometimes (in fact all of the time) I think techies have a much better deal than anyone else in theatre. They get to play with awesome lighting, mind-bending sound effects and things that explode in a shower of flames and sparkles. How is that not the coolest job ever? Techies, I salute you and your ability to create literal pillars of fire.

If you're still offended by my words then I refer you to the incomparable Bill Hicks who, when confronted with Christians who took offence at what he said, simply replied, "Forgive me."

Fewer Emergencies Review

Fewer Emergencies is an extraordinary piece of writing. In fifty five minutes Martin Crimp explores such a broad variety of themes, from the personal coping mechanisms of a family breakdown in Whole Blue Sky to the most violent of human action born from nothing but boredom in Face to the Wall, that you can’t help but feel short-changed by those other playwrights who take three hours to tell us that protagonist X has experience Y. All of it is borne by an engrossing style and rhythm, combining abstract metaphorical imagery with intensely emotional outbursts.

Competently putting on such a play would be a phenomenal task for any company, demanding such a range and maturity as it does. It is perhaps unsurprising then that at times, despite mostly strong performances, certain areas of the script, meaning and intonation were lost in transit.

Crimp’s technique of having characters talking in the third person, initially throwing out ideas and sentences like a writing brainstorming session before settling more into defined roles, is similar in style to his other works Attempts On Her Life and The Treatment, and it is engrossing to watch a single actor use an anonymous series of characters to flow through a dichotomy of different states and thoughts. It can be tempting though to simply speak rather than act the more obscure lines, perhaps out of a lack of thought or assumed technique.

Of the actors from the University of Hull only Catherine Pugh seemed to have a confident grasp on the more subtle areas of the script. Her ability to sink further and further into the emotional state of the mother in Whole Blue Sky, her variation in character and reactions to the events going on around her separated her from the other three actors.

David Moss had some interesting moments as a man who calmly walks into a school and executes a group of children, trying to re-tell and remember without being prompted by the others about his despicable act, but it felt like there was so much more that could have been brought across, a more in-depth investigation into the mindset of the man who is driven to atrocity by a mundane suburban existence that was missed out on much of the intensity and tension of the scene. The same can be said of Jessica Clark, who had a great singing voice and portrayed the more obvious side of her characters ably, but left me sitting there screaming, ‘Give me more, take me further!’ in my head which proved frustrating.

Despite this reticence towards pushing themselves as far as possible, images such as the final one of a child with a shattered hip pathetically crawling up some stairs, described as the actors stood on a blood splatter of stage, were well put across and the majority of the show was slick and involving. It serves to show the real challenges of pulling off such a difficult script even with a group of talented actors.

On a personal side note, I would like to thank whoever’s decision it was to choose Kyuss’ Gardenia as the opening track. All the shows I’ve seen so far have gone with contemporary music that seems to mostly involve high pitched morse code rambling bass and hearing one of the greatest rock songs ever made me happy straight away, even if it was completely out of context with the mood of the show. Perhaps if Josh Homme had been playing guitar during the Going Postal Blues in D Minor song it would’ve have been loved by more people.

Dumb Waiter Review

Sometimes you can’t help feeling that there just aren’t enough plays about two male characters in a room discussing their situation. Thankfully you can always rely on Pinter to stick two fingers up to convention and so in the Dumb Waiter we have two male characters in a room discussing their situation.

The script is designed to leave the audience in suspense as to what exactly it is the two characters, Gus and Ben, are in the room for and what their ‘job’ is until the last third when it all is revealed. This method of drip-feeding the audience information is countered though by the Reservoir Dogs inspired silhouettes painted on the back wall. The heavy use of red, white and black is an evocative combination but it means that before the play has even begun you’re wondering when the guns and talk of violence are going to make an appearance.

Staging problems can be ignored if your attention is held by the actors and Will Edwards and Alex Smith for the most part do an excellent job. Edwards as the slovenly Gus is constantly fidgeting and scurrying about, from the beginning unable to rest, while Smith’s Ben makes much more precise and calculated movements, at times working hard to repress his desire to physically lash out. Clearly a lot of time and thought has gone in to working out how the differences in status and physicality separate the two characters and their commitment to these decisions is what makes their relationship so intriguing.

The one thing that everyone seems to know about Pinter is his penchant for pauses and the Dumb Waiter is no exception, indeed the first few minutes take place in silence as Gus fiddles with his shoes and Ben sits motionless on the bed, his face obscured by a paper. Edwards (who also directs because some people seem to enjoy punishing themselves) manages to ably sustain these silences, only occasionally are they unintentionally long or awkward due to a lack of motivation or slightly misjudged leading crescendo.

If there’s an overriding weakness in the play it’s to be found in Pinter’s script. It is for the most part uninteresting as he seems more than happy to throw in elements that are no doubt intended to be important but are too quickly forgotten about. The personal dialogue between the characters can be absorbing but their arc is never satisfactorily explored and the ‘shock’ ending feels more like a cheap trick than a revelation. All of which serves to make Edwards’ and Smith’s acting efforts more commendable.

Disco Pigs Review

There is a moment towards the end of Disco Pigs where the character Runt states, “17 years and fuck all change”. Exchange the timescale of 60 minutes for 17 years and you have an accurate soundbyte for the show.

From the moment that the ASBO without a cause duo of Pig and Runt bound onto stage with half a shopping trolley the energy is pitched at a level that clearly the actors were directed never to deviate from no matter what the subtleties of the script might suggest. To their credit, both Pete Day as Pig and Fiona Hamilton as Runt keep this energy up throughout the performance, but in doing so they destroy any meaning that the play has beyond glorifying youthful excess and violence.

Director David Betz-Heinemann has been lazy in his approach to the script, accentuating the exuberance of Pig and Runt’s relationship at the expense of the real emotional build-up that Pig has in trying to express his love for Runt. The moment where Pig realises his desire to be with Runt is the one of the most tender in the play but could still have done with a substantial change in pace, if only to draw the audience in to his moment of exposed vulnerability. The fact that these emotions drive him to beat a man who has shown an interest in Runt to death, a shocking example of a shared experience gone wrong, is instantly passed over with an emotionless ‘Cheerio!’ from Runt. If there had been a greater confidence in pausing and letting the dramatic moments play out in contrast to the hi-octane action such sections would have had a real emotional clout.

This laziness also pervaded the staging, which made no attempt to differentiate between the various settings beyond moving two tiny blue chairs. There was the occasional excellent use of props, such as the shopping trolley and manipulation of hoodies to simulate dancing partners, which gave scenes a sense of differentiation and theatricality, but all too often there was a reliance on… nothing. The disco scenes had all the thumping bass and strobe lighting effects you would expect, but the audience had to work hard to imagine the transition from takeaway parlour to coastal viewpoint because there was nothing beyond the words in the script to suggest such a change had taken place and this is live theatre, not a radio show.

If the energy that both Day and Hamilton had for the roles had been utilised beyond a ‘Let’s go cloobin’’ surface interpretation of the material, along with some imagination for staging each scene in a unique way, this would have been a significantly more satisfying production. As it is, Disco Pigs is unpolished and monotone in nature.

Beautiful Thing Review

Is it wrong to still expect a play about two male teenagers in a South London council estate discovering their homosexual feelings to be a hard-hitting and emotionally draining experience? The changes, both social and legal, that have occurred since 1993 when the play was first put on would suggest so. A play about homosexuality should no more be expected to tell a stereotypical tale than a play about heterosexual relationships should. So it’s encouraging that in Beautiful Thing the University of Sheffield has decided to focus more on the general aspects of first love rather than the controversy of being a gay teenager but in doing so they have unfortunately ended up shooting themselves in the foot with their choice of play.

This production is muddled in what it is trying to portray and for the majority treads a clumsy middle-line between the normality of a homosexual relationship and the avalanche of conflicting feelings that come with it. The fact that Ste is challenged by not only realising his sexuality but also acting on those feelings in the face of very real violence is largely glossed over to make way for the niceties that he and Jamie share. Alex Morgan tries hard to bring out the more timid and fearful sides of the character but when he admits that his father will actually kill him if he finds out he’s gay the other characters are as bleakly unaffected as they are by the escalation in beatings he suffers.

It’s a directorial decision that sucks all of the punch out of the pack and it can be seen in the relationship between Jamie and his mother Sandra as well. Luke Holbrook as Jamie is a convincing 15 year old and gives a fine performance while Lauren Knights as Sandra grasps the mindset and physicality of a 35 year-old single mother well (although there is a certain lack of variation in pitch). However by the end of the play they might as well be where they were at the start. There’s no hint that Sandra may be aware of Jamie’s sexuality so her brief and directorially befuddled anger, tears and complete acceptance come and go in an instant, leaving the audience feeling like they are watching an interpretation of Sisyphus having a bad day.

It’s even more surprising then to see the attempt that went for the lighter side of the script miss so many of the jokes. There’s a hilarious undertone of sexual innuendo running throughout that was either downplayed or ignored by the cast. This was certainly not helped the gaping cavern of the Spa Theatre that sucked up acoustics at will and in a smaller venue there would no doubt have been a more intimate connection with the comedy of the piece.

This production highlights how dated Beautiful Thing is in showing a homosexual relationship in terms of general conceptions of first love, something that could be written nowadays without much controversy but would have been alien 15 years ago. It’s nice to think that theatre has evolved since then.

Lost In The Wind Review

Lost in the Wind is a play about a man who gets blown into a world full of strange characters who initially treat him with suspicion and mistrust before arriving at a state of common understanding and making a brave journey into the wilderness. Or it’s an allegory for the suffering of an armless widow and her rickets-riddled children in the Great Plague. It’s hard to know for sure and only the synopsis in the program would suggest that the former is closer to the truth.

The problem does not specifically lie in the lack of abundantly clear narrative, which would be expecting a bit much from a piece of physical theatre that contains minimal dialogue beyond yelps and gobbledegook, but more in the confused and jarring mixture of tones that are present throughout.

The characters inhabiting this other world are without exception schizophrenic nutjobs with the combined mental age of a baby chick who’s mother hen mainlined smack into her eyeball. One minute they’re quite contentedly getting on together, the next one has viciously attacked another’s pet potato, cried about it and felt remorse, then not ten seconds later he’s having a fight with another character and his snake, beaten him up and started crying again. But by the time all the characters are back together on stage again all previous grievances appear to have been forgotten and they’re off in some other crackpot direction involving being a submarine and firing foam torpedoes at someone they don’t like.

That would be fine if there were any sense of direction or progress behind the characters but like goldfish in a bowl they just keep floating around, apparently blissfully unaware of a sense of raison d’etre beyond who has the bigger balloon. It’s no wonder that the main character who has ventured into this world is initially confused before slowly submitting to their banal madness. What you feel these toddlers of the imagination need is a quick clip around the ear and a few minutes in the cool down corner but that never happens.

The story is no doubt forsaken to make way for the physical set pieces and in places there are some wonderful moments. The exploration of different elemental conditions on stage, especially the snow laden finale, are clearly presented and create some powerful images. But elsewhere the show is let down by a lack of technical proficiency. Trying to mime that a floating balloon is immobile requires the mime artist to ensure that the balloon does not move at all, not even a little. It may seem like nitpicking but it’s just one example of where the imagination and commitment of the cast is let down by an inability to professionally manipulate their tools.

The ultimate complement that can be given to a puppeteer is that their movements were ignored due to all the attention being focused on the puppet’s motions. But the puppets in this case were either poorly conceived (a shapeless newspaper construction that is more human than broadsheet) or interesting to watch but pointless. If you can’t believe in the human characters, how are you meant to commit to a stick figure puppet who is parachuting just for the hell of it?

There was nothing overtly offensive about the production, there was just nothing for the audience to connect to, to make them feel that they were part of this world. This was not helped by moments where the actors would turn to the audience and play for laughs, a ploy that was completely at odds with the overall mood of the show, nor by a non-committal stance on gobbledegook. A play without dialogue is one thing. A play where the cast communicate via incomprehensible mumbo jumbo is another. But a middle ground of some characters who are unintelligible and some who’s meaning is basically clear if you listen hard enough, achieves nothing but confusion and muddle.

Lost in the Wind is a sketch of what it’s trying to be. The ideas are there but it lacks direction and execution. At its best it’s nice to watch. And that’s meant as a complement but not an overwhelming one.

Tips for Companies at NSDF

So it turns out that all the rehearsing, planning and stressing was worthwhile because thanks to a combination of talent and luck a NSDF selector has decided that your show is what this festival needs. There’s a great deal of expectation on the companies to perform shows of the highest standard and for some this pressure can be too much, so here are some tips to help you get the most out of NSDF and relax.

1. Never relax. You are ambassadors of student theatre. Every action both on and off the stage is constantly being monitored and scrutinised. If you are not performing to the highest standards at all times then you’re not only letting yourself down but also your company and the whole of student theatre as we know it.

2. Always remember that as theatrical pedigree your status at NSDF is slightly above God. Maintain a constant air of superiority to other festival goers, mixed with a few dominant hints of irritability and impatience. Verbal and physical lashing out at those who annoy you is both expected and encouraged.

3. Respond to any cock-up, no matter how minor, by driving the person(s) responsible into the sea while brandishing flaming sticks and frothing at the mouth. Cries of, ‘You’ll never work in this town again’ will give your understandable ire a weight of professionalism.

4. A list of the cast’s favourite drinks in the programme will help adoring fans know exactly how to best please you at the bar. Be sure to wordlessly accept the drink and turn your backs to them so that they don’t get any ideas above their stations.

5. If you have not brought a significant crew with you take every opportunity to make as many disparaging remarks about anonymous techies and their dark ways as possible. Some of the most stimulating and constructive debate of the festival comes from visiting that uncharted subject of how actors hate techies and vice versa.

6. Discussions can be tense as the ignorant plebs try and give you some supposedly honest feedback on your show. You’ll get the most out of these sessions by remembering that criticisms are born from jealousy and compliments from rational adoration.

7. There are awards at the end of the week and the only way to secure the best is to wage a Clintonesque mudslinging campaign against all the other inferior shows. Justification is on your side as your theatrical expertise gives you a keen insight into the flaws of others.

8. Being able to do four performances in two days is a Herculean effort beyond the capabilities of most. Give yourself a pat on the back every time you muster the effort to sleep through workshops and undermine the confidence of others.

9. If you feel that you’re unfairly suffering from a torrent of abuse in these pages then keep in mind that certain NOFFice staff are not above writing a glowing review in return for favours, be they alcoholic or sexual or both.

10. Remember that the Arts Council are here assessing the festival and if NSDF loses its funding it’s your fault. We have your name, we know where you live and you’ll never work in this town again.