Blurred Lines – National Theatre, The Shed

Blurred-Lines-NT_2794882bIts title inspired by the infamous song from Sexist-of-the-Year Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines explores contemporary gender politics through sketches and songs.

Written by Nick Payne and directed by Carrie Cracknell, the piece covers prostitution, rape and workplace sexism. It opens with the eight-strong female cast reeling off stereotypical roles – “Northern blonde, bubbly” and “killer’s wife, non-speaking”. This is not a drama where you invest in characters and their story.

We are reminded that these are actors, presumably to place focus on the ideas. In one scene, a married couple discuss the man’s use of prostitutes who, he maintains, are in the profession by choice. But what precedes this is them bickering about who will play husband or wife, which detracts from a compelling scene. By making us aware that we are watching an act, it’s difficult to engage emotionally. Combined with the sketch format, this can be confusing and lessens the impact of ideas.

It’s a strong cast and, at times, a good script, as demonstrated by the workplace scene. A woman is confronted by her bosses who believe baby vomit on her clothes is “indicative” of her inability to cope. It raises working mother issues in an entertaining way as the female boss is painfully patronising while trying to remain politically correct.

But this scene also shows how the set detracts from powerful moments. A white staircase lit up with red lights is visually impressive but leaves the cast awkwardly navigating it in scenes where it has no relevance.

The only time the staircase works is during the performances of songs including The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” and Tammy Wynette’s “Don’t Liberate Me (Love Me)”. Interspersed between scenes, the songs work well to punctuate different points.

It concludes with a false ending – a Q&A featuring Marion Bailey as misogynistic male director and Sinead Matthew as submissive actress, discussing his motivation for including a violent bedroom scene. Sitting arrogantly with legs apart, Bailey’s performance is entertaining, but the play they discuss is not the one we have just seen – metatheatre at its most confusing.

At a time when a new wave of feminism is gaining momentum, Blurred Lines could have explored gender politics in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, but it presents issues we already know exist, without any comment. It presumably intends to make us think, but provides nothing new to think about. Like the stairs to nowhere, the play consistently tries to reach a point but never quite gets to it.

Secret Theatre – an inspired initiative or post-structuralism gone mad?

The new season of Secret Theatre at the Lyric asks its audience to take a leap of faith when buying tickets, as they won’t know the play’s title, who’s in it, or who wrote it – it could be a brand new play, a quirky adaptation, or a classic production. Whatever it is, the idea behind Secret Theatre is that you won’t know until the curtain comes up. Continue reading

International Women’s Day 2013

As today is International Women’s Day, here’s my pick of some of the most inspiring women from popular culture today.

Beyonce

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I worked with a guy who once told me (via email and sitting right next to me) that he ‘hated Beyonce and didn’t give a crap about Adele.’ To me this only affirmed their status as amazing women – needless to say I ignored his email.

Say what you will about Beyonce (except don’t, because I don’t want to hear a bad word against her), she’s been criticised recently for posing in GQ, but being a good female role model doesn’t mean you have to dress in a potato sack.

There’s a reason why she’s dubbed Queen Bey – with songs like ‘Independent Women’, ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ and ‘Run the World (Girls)’ – she’s an empowering role model. Plus she’s pretty much the biggest female artist in the world right now and she can actually sing – really bloody well I might add. And before you bring up the whole presidential inauguration lip synching incident – she put that to bed with this:

She’s also an amazing dancer, and she’s proof you don’t have to be stick thin to be super hot.

Adele

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Just to elaborate briefly on my male co-worker who shall not be named but who insulted Beyonce and Adele – he also said Adele was for people who don’t like music. As someone who is obsessed with music, and likes Adele, I can confirm this is in fact incorrect. Glad we’ve cleared that up. Aged only 24, she’s already released two albums, one of which, 21, has broken multiple records. These include being the first artist to sell more than 3 million albums in a year in the UK, as well as having two top-five hits in both the UK Official Singles Chart and the Official Albums Chart simultaneously – something that hasn’t been achieved since The Beatles did it in 1964. More recently, she won an academy award for the Bond theme song Skyfall. All in all, I’d say she’s a pretty impressive role model.

Caitlin Moran

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I recently finished reading How to be a Woman (extensive post on this to follow) and have since become a bit obsessed with Caitlin Moran – not in a creepy stalker way, more that I idolise her – she’s basically had my dream career. The book aims to counter all negative stereotypes associated with what it means to be a feminist. Not only is Moran insightful but she does so while being relatable and hilarious.

Lena Dunham

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You probably wouldn’t want to model yourself on her character in Girls, Hannah. But in real life she’s pretty inspiring. Dubbed by many as the voice of her generation – she writes, directs, and stars in Girls, and has signed a book deal – all by the age of 26. Plus she’s making strides to normalise real women in Girls, through appearing naked in most episodes like it’s no biggie.

Jessica Ennis

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It’s fair to describe Ennis as the poster girl for the London 2012 games, and she did everyone proud winning a Gold Medal in the Heptathlon. Although some of us might be hard pushed to do a Heptathon (slash most of us), she’s certainly an inspiration to do more of whatever exercise you enjoy.

Ellie Simmonds

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One of the most high profile women from the 2012 Paralympic Games, winning two Gold Medals and setting a World Record in the 400m freestyle. This year she was awarded an OBE – and she’s only 18 – that’s just insanely impressive.

Helen Mirren

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Here’s hoping we can all be as cool as Helen Mirren at age 67. Not only is she an incredible actress, but she’s a Dame for gods sake. Plus she seems like she’s still up for anything – recently on The Graham Norton Show she had a cheeky kiss with Paul Rudd, just because well…she can. And she also died her hair pink, and pulls it off – basically she’s just pretty damn cool. If you need any more convincing on why Helen Mirren is a great female role model, see here.

So, who runs the world?

‘Di and Viv and Rose’ – Hampstead Theatre

Having been slacking a bit on the theatre ticket front, I managed to go to two productions in one week. First was Tina In the Green Dress, at the Roundhouse, and next up was Di and Viv and Rose at the Hampstead Theatre.

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Di and Viv and Rose features a great cast – Anna Maxwell Martin, Gina McKee, and Tamzin Outhwaite. Their real ages span from 35-48, yet they are completely believable as undergraduates fresh out of school.

The play tells the story of their friendship, from university up to 2010. We first meet the girls in their halls of residence. The dialogue captures the experience with complaints of breezeblock rooms, and the exciting but uncertain time of establishing new friendships.

Rose is posh but kind, if a little promiscuous – she discovers at university that ‘if you ask a boy to sleep with you – he will.’ At the other end of the spectrum, Viv is a serious intellectual, writing an essay on the corset and how the female waist is a male construct, apparently. She also ‘dresses like she’s from the war’, Rose observes. Somewhere in the middle is Di – obsessed with sports, and a lesbian, but only in term time in the safety of her university world.

The first act covers how their friendship blossoms up to graduation, whilst the second half shows how their friendship changes post-university – relationships, careers, misunderstandings. I won’t give anything away, but it’s an accurate depiction of the contrast between carefree student days, and life afterwards which is never quite what you thought it would be.

The staging of the play is effective in moving the story along quickly. The backdrop of the set features three squares through which we see different scenes of their initial university experience. We learn a lot in a short space of time through Rose’s phone calls home, and different conversations between the characters in various settings. The production also makes use of a projection of the year to inform us when time has moved on.

As well as effective staging, a great cast, and a fast-paced script, the show is energised by its brilliant soundtrack, including songs from The Cure, Eurythmics, and Prince. One of the best scenes presents the girls returning from a night out and dancing around like lunatics to Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ – I have a not-so-distant memory of a similar scene in my own house at university, with the minor alteration of Beyonce instead of Prince.

The play finishes at Hampstead tomorrow, but is likely to transfer to the West End – it’s a production definitely worth seeing.

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Tina in the Green Dress: The Experience – The Roundhouse, Camden

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I recently went to see Tina in the Green Dress: The Experience – an immersive theatre production, at the Roundhouse in Camden. Having never been to any kind of immersive theatre before slash not entirely knowing what such a thing entailed, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Part of me was envisioning it being similar to sitting on the front row of a stand up comedy show and constantly being picked on – luckily this was not the case.

The concept of Tina in the Green Dress: The experience, is to immerse yourself in music, bringing it to life, in an age where music is so rapidly consumed. As aptly summarised by the creators of the production – TwistedHip – ‘great new music deserves more than an instant download.’

The music in Tina in the Green Dress: The experience comes from a band called ‘A History’ and ‘Tina, In the Green Dress’ is their debut album – inspired by a suitcase of old letters they found in Coney Island, which tell the love story between Tina and Jimmy – a soldier in Vietnam. The letters are all from Jimmy, so their songs imagine the otherwise unknown side of the story from Tina’s perspective.

So now you’re up to speed on the concept of the production, here’s how we were ‘immersed’ into it. First, we were given a number from 1-4 and instructed to line up in separate groups. We’re then given headphones and taken into some darkly lit tunnels, where we promptly have a bag of sand thrust upon us to carry. If you’re thinking – well that sounds kind of unpleasant, I’m not gonna lie to you, it was – and this was one hell of a heavy bag of sand.

But, we don’t carry them for very long, and it turns out they are part of the set that transports us to a warzone-like environment. Fair enough then that we are momentarily uncomfortable as, you know, a war is going on. We watch for a while, behind these sandbags, as if we too are part of the war, before we are transported on a ‘boat’ which takes through another tunnel to a speakeasy bar.

This was probably my favourite part of the production. The band, A History, are on stage performing, their lyrics providing the story. While at the same time, the cast, which includes four couples who each represent Tina and Jimmy, provide the action. The scenes in this speakeasy bar are particularly enhanced through the concept of immersive theatre, as we are experiencing the story on two levels – visually and musically, as well as being part of the action ourselves.

Tina in the Green Dress: The Experience is an interesting concept, and has definitely inspired me to try out more immersive theatre (now I know what it is). The production had a great cast, impressive musicians, as well as brilliant staging. The show had a limited run at the Roundhouse, but there are talks of it moving elsewhere.

You can find out more information about the project, here.