Reviews

The Hallé, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, 27th November 2013

(My first attempt at reviewing a concert. NB my musical knowledge goes as far as Grade 5 theory and an AS Level. So relatively limited.)

With a highly varied programme of classical gems and a live broadcast on BBC Radio Three, the Hallé’s flying visit to Nottingham was certainly not to be missed. Indeed, the anticipation was tangible as a practically full house applauded conductor Markus Stenz taking his position at centre stage.

The very slightly hiccupping slow introduction to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in which a couple of the entries were fractionally dis-coordinated was more than made up for by the subsequent refreshing, fast paced and throughly enjoyable four movements. The orchestra made fantastic use of dynamics allowing for a high degree of expression; this was particularly effective in the second and fourth movements. My only criticism would be that the third movement was a little fast for my taste; however, it was supremely accurate and well executed (perhaps I could do with broadening my horizons to embrace the pace.)

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, characterised by its long trills, revealed Lars Vogt as a clear master of his instrument. This piece is particularly enjoyable for its juxtaposition of two, fairly rapid major movements with a more sombre minor one sandwiched between. This piece is charming both for its call and response texture and for the points at which strings and solo instrument blended together – something the Hallé did flawlessly not just in the Mozart, but throughout the programme.

The second half accelerated dramatically into the latter end of the Romantic period with much expanded brass and percussion sections and two highly animated pieces by Strauss, Don Juan and Til Eugenspiegels Lustige Streiche. These two pieces have clear narratives, which was reflected in how gloriously varied they were in their instrumentation, range of dynamics, melody lines (particularly in the bold and deliberate brass) and contrapuntal texture; it had us on the edge of our seats. Just before the end of the latter of the aforementioned pieces, the finale, there is a wonderful interlude in the strings which seemed to reinstate the contrast between the two halves of the programme and demonstrate how the use of the strings in the orchestra developed through time.

A tremendously thoughtful programme which was thoroughly entertaining, hugely varied and supremely well played. I highly recommend listening again on iPlayer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j9x55

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Rants, Reviews

Women before the lens: Miss Representation and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Let’s not beat about the bush; as far as women in the media go, you’re heaps more likely to get an eyeful of boobs rather than brains. It seems that every single and facet of the media is fascinated by the female body and sexuality, deeming it acceptable to present it as a commodity to be bought and sold by the masses. Sadly, the Women’s Network’s screening of Miss Representation, a documentary which explores the representation of women in American media, only cemented these the ugly truths about modern media, and it’s safe to say I left the SU’s Hub feeling disturbed, angered and vicariously violated.

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It was profoundly affecting to have the powerful brain-washing effects of today’s media unveiled before us, which normalise the implication that a woman’s worth is decided by whether or not she is wanking material – a worth defined by unattainable, inhuman standards thanks to gals’ best pal: airbrush. It was shocking to discover the extent to which I, as a female viewer, had been exposed to the objectification of my own sex yet had somehow missed a trick; so customary is the ubiquitous focus on the female body that it actually took *watching* the documentary for me to fully appreciate what I’d been unconsciously condoning for years and years. The insight was remarkable, but shaming. I couldn’t believe how naïve I’d been; I couldn’t work out of I was at fault for being too ignorant to recognise some of the more minute details, or if the white, male, degree-boasting over 35s who run this TV shit were by showing me my fellow women as commodities since my birth.

Because that’s all we get as youngsters, isn’t it? Even our beloved animated Disney films subject their female characters to being perceived as helpless, beautiful dependants – hell, in my favourite childhood film, The Little Mermaid, the female protagonist doesn’t even have a voice for half the time. It’s also pretty unsettling that Ariel is silenced by a fellow woman, which reinforces a scary notion that women can be oppressors of their own female peers, or even themselves. Miss Representation touched on the idea that women are guilty of criticising other women on the grounds of their appearance, be it in conversation, journalism, news or comment broadcasts which reflects patriarchal conventions; it seems that we too are preoccupied by how old our peers look, how much weight they’ve put on, the amount of make up their wearing. Miss Representation calls for women to be more supportive of one another’s accomplishments, in the hope that it catches on.

What’s more, the handful of supposedly emancipatory protagonists – I’m thinking Lara Croft, Catwoman, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada – in the end are just extending this inexorable pursuit of female beauty; Miss Representation introduced me to the term ‘fighting fuck toy’ for characters such as Croft in her outrageously impractical, undermining outfits. Ambitious, successful women are also treated particularly harshly; Andy’s success in her career costs her her partner, relationships and her sense of self worth.

Miss Representation also pointed out that the stories of the minuscule proportion of protagonists who actually *manage* to be female are almost always directed and written by men. Hence, the portrayal of the female experience is shifted into the bias of a male perspective which begs the question: how can the story of a woman which is written, developed and conditioned by men ever truly be authentic, or reach the *whole* population? A great example of this is the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, which, coincidentally, I went to see the day after the screening of Miss Representation. Screenplay: written by men. Directed: by a man. Protagonist: female. And yes, Katniss is supposed to be troubled, socially inept and distant by nature, but in Catching Fire she’s just… cold. Cold, at times vapid and a little cruel. As an audience member I was presented with a strong, brave, independent, intelligent woman which should have been thrilling for me, yet I COULD NOT empathise with her. She’s the best example of a female dominating a film in a long time… and I was rooting for her male co-star throughout.

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Something that the documentary touched on that we would perhaps like to have seen developed further alongside the misrepresentation of women is the analysis of role models for young men in the media. Interestingly, hours after watching Miss Representation a friend this clip of a discussion concerning male and female protagonists and the kinds of plots children are presented with in films targeting their age group:

Just as young women absorb messages about their appearance equating their value, so do men see their worth presented in physical prowess, in the car they own, in whether or not they’re a ‘stud’ or a sporting legend. Young people are impressionable; if we’re prepared to admit that young women are conditioned by the media into believing that their appearance is of greater worth than their accomplishments, should we disregard the fact that young men’s attitudes could be warped by their being exposed to multitudinous narratives portraying male protagonists who treat women as commodities? I think there’s scope for taking a step back and wondering if whether the resulting psychological infringement of women which is just accepted as a norm also seeps into the lives of men.

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Personal

Lame Fresher Diaries: Blue Hair

To my mind, a quintessential part of being a fresher is to have a bit of a fiddle around with your identity. It’s a bit like being high on independence – an entire age group countrywide totally belly-flopping into the alien world of making their own pasta daily and operating the iron solo – they literally have not a single domestic higher authority to tell them when to change their socks and it’s enough to make anyone lose a proportion of their shit.

Severing childhood ties with home and parents and asserting yourself as grown up in the world of adults seems to inspire a wish not for total reinvention as such, but for something which illustrates a change in life situation, be it a risky/loud/outrageous item of clothing, an idiosyncratic body piercing or putting a silly colour in your hair that your secondary school wouldn’t allow you to have. For my own personal dynamic transgression, I opted for the latter.

Lame as I am, it will come as no surprise that having blue put in my hair was a highly exhilarating yet deeply frightening experience; after getting all gowned up in the salon and making it VERY CLEAR that I wanted the extent of visible blue to be AS SUBTLE AS POSSIBLE, all that was flashing before me were the cons of the experience. The potential for an horrific reaction to the chemical being lacquered onto my barnet. The various judgements of my peers. The possibility of hindered employment prospects. Looking like a twat. So, sweeping the “women’s interest” magazines boldly aside and fishing out my copy of The Tempest, all I could do was was wait for the dye to seep into my bleached hair.

Reader, I strode out of the salon a new woman. Aside from lamenting the fact I hadn’t worn my Docs to add to the edge, I felt confident in the blueness of my hair – catching sight of it in shop windows on my way to Wilkinson’s to pick up some shampoo for coloured hair WHICH I CAN NOW DO FOR REAL BECAUSE I NEED IT was seriously elating, and I even noticed a couple of fellow pedestrians’ gaze being caught by the shock of blueish strands amongst my everyday brunette. Or they could have been staring at my remarkable, freshly dyed blue ears.

A few weeks later and yes, it *has* gone a bit shitty and green. But do I regret it? Do I hell. It’s encouraged a social interaction (ie “Your hair is blue, it wasn’t blue before”), livened up my otherwise fairly Micky Flanagan hairstyle and, since a vast proportion of my wardrobe is blue, co-ordinated with quite a few outfits along the way. All in all, having blue hair has been rather enriching. And also very much enhanced the hue of several of my paler items of clothing… #semipermenantproblems

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Rants

“Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”: Thoughts on Lily Allen’s comeback single

Speaking as a strident Kate Nash fan, I properly advocate the riot grrrl punk pop movement. I love that Kate has grown up and found her true identity within her art form. It is true that her Girl Talk is worlds apart from her charty, ‘cutesy London girl’ debut album Made of Bricks and this has tended to put people off her; one grows accustomed to hearing various lamentations such as “why has she like, gone punk?” and “I don’t like her new shouting”. But I’ve simply adored following her over the years, charting her development and sort of feeling like I have grown with her as a feminist. I’ve always looked to her music for motivation in times of low confidence and dwindling self esteem – Kate’s music always seems to have the answer to typical, everyday psychological issues that are fairly universal and prevalent but aren’t necessarily recognised as feelings that shouldn’t ignored or stifled.
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The emergence of Lily Allen’s shiny-new-comeback-feminist-anthem sent me seriously giddy because THIS felt like British feminist music’s first real chance, as far as I’m aware, to finally seep into the charts and align itself with popular ditties, such as that misogynist atrocity ‘Blurred Lines’, in order to challenge and supersede them. It could perhaps even be graced with the massive and diverse audience that Radio One is capable of giving and hopefully start encouraging people to REALLY think about what their favourite tunes are actually saying to them, and whether or not they are messages we want to consider/be exposed to.

The song, Hard Out Here, certainly lives up to expectations. It is a very satisfying listen in that it is both catchy as they come since it conforms to the conventional structure of pop songs (which should get it shitloads of that all important reception). Though not so gnarly as Kate Nash’s brilliant, relevant and downright attitudinal Rap for Rejection and All Talk, Hard Out Here can boast some pretty straight talking as well as exploration of modern social taboo; I especially love the quasi-polite opening lyric “Well I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking.” In fact, the term “bitch” is purposefully over-used throughout the song which kind of makes its use as a weapon redundant and transforms it into a word that is derogatorily defunct. I love the fact that Lily suggests that ANY woman boasting ANY kind of sex life can be labelled a slut in not disclosing her own – she simply sings “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut”, before asserting that when men boast about their multiple partners, or “bitches”, “no one’s making a fuss.”

There’s also a whole load in there about superficiality and pressurising women into having stereotypically desirable bodies: Lily adopts the voice of the patriarchy, suggesting that women who “aren’t a size six… should probably lose some weight”. This is particularly important since women can’t actually function unless they’re in a relationship or married, so all this face and body fixing must be completed pronto “or you’ll end up on your own”. She does offer a glimmer of hope for women who aren’t “good looking”, promising success is guaranteed if you’re “rich” or “real good at cooking” – essentially Mrs Bennet’s dream daughter. Sarcasm aside, though, Lily also challenges the school of thought that deems feminism futile in this day and age with the resounding middle eight phrase “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay, / Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away”. And she’s got an awful lot of evidence to back it up.

The video, however, isn’t quite the patriarchy-smashing wonder the song portends. Some bits are undeniably fabulous in my opinion; having just had two babies, Lily lies on an operating table in the opening seconds with half a dozen plastic surgeons sculpting her body into something resembling a ‘desirable’ woman again – it’s sickening to think that when a woman choses to become a mother she can no longer transgress that role without having to be surgically reconstructed to some kind of perverted former glory. I also love the direct pisstake of Robin Thicke’s alleged “big dick”; Lily doesn’t need someone of the opposite sex to dance around her proclamations of a “baggy pussy” to promote/glorify it necessarily, she just galumphs around it in a sensible amount of clothing of her own accord as if to say “This is me and actually don’t give a shit.”

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However, I don’t think I’m alone in the qualms I have about the number of extremely scantily clad black woman who surround Lily throughout the video whilst performing highly sexualised dance routines. For one thing these women have obviously be valued by and selected for the video because they have desirable figures which are being exploited by the pointlessly skimpy outfits they’ve been told to wear. This seems to totally undermine what Lily was getting at in the song about the industry being unable to cope with the way motherhood has affected her body and basically writing her off because of it, a contempt which is alluded to at the operating table when her old, tubby, white, male manager asks, disgusted: “How can somebody let themselves get like this?”. If there were allusions to these women going beyond the success they enjoy from being slim and beautiful then there’d be grounds for Lily’s argument that she “don’t need to shake [her] arse for you / ’cause [she’s] got a brain”, ie a woman’s beauty and intelligence can co-exist. However there is none of this, the video portrays the stereotypical pop music spectacles of semi-naked women, alcohol, indefinite money and a gold plated kitchen. The inclusion of a token, white, larger women also holds absolutely no significance or moral/social stance since she’s only on the screen for about half a second, illustrating that even in a feminist video only physically perfect women are deemed worthy of representation. Popular, patriarchal culture still prevails, unfortunately.

I can appreciate that the video does attempt a satirical representation the treatment and perception of women in popular culture, but perhaps Lily is aware that details of her video are questionable, particularly as one of her lyrics is “If you can’t detect the sarcasm / you’ve misunderstood” – sounds to me like she’s trying to cover her own back…

You can watch the video for Hard Out Here by following this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0CazRHB0so

Kate Nash’s Rap for Rejection:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw0Nvav6VRY

Kate Nash’s All Talk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj1sN9YxGew

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Reviews

Back to Oblivion at the New Theatre, Nottingham

Matthew Miller’s Back to Oblivion is a highly domestic piece of theatre which charmingly epitomised the ethos of low budget, quality studio theatre. Set entirely in the living room of a young unmarried couple, Back to Oblivion explores the renewed relationship between two old schoolmates, Andy (Omid Faramazi) and Gary (Gary Berezin) who, after roughly a year apart following a dispute, have decided to settle their differences now that Gary and his partner of fifteen months have separated. Meanwhile, Andy claims to have “never been happier” since returning to his girlfriend Debbie (Amelia Gann), though as the drama unfolds, Andy’s joblessness and strong reluctance to prise himself from the comfort of his sofa (with the exception of popping to the kitchen for a can of larger) begin to suggest weaknesses and insecurities he has striven to conceal…

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Back to Oblivion was performed in one of the New Theatre’s smaller studio spaces, which was apt since the entire production was staged in a living room; presenting the piece in a more compact environment maximised the intimacy of action, plus the actors proximity to the audience meant that our attention was theirs for the entire performance of roughly an hour. The set, designed and built collaboratively by Miller, director Lilly Dawson, producer Ginny Lee and designer Tom Selves, had all the charisma and allure of a family home – until you spot the coffee table littered with larger cans, pizza boxes and tabbacco packets. Its dishevelled and squalid focal point offered a brutal contrast to the its homely features such as the ornament depicting the word “love” and the sofa in the centre – it suggested a kind if discordance that we see bled into the characters’ relationships and personalities, an indication of things not quite being what they seem.

The audience is welcomed in the moments preceding the opening lines of the piece by Faramazi, already in character, slumped down on the sofa watching TV, a number of gormless expressions at his disposal and a hand down his joggers with Amy Winehouse’s I’m No Good on as background. The resounding message is: Andy is your typical ne’er do well. Gary’s arrival onstage totally brings Andy to life; all of a sudden he’s animated, desperate to interact and monopolising the conversation as well as the movement and gesture. It becomes very clear that in the pair’s school relationship Andy was the outspoken, popular and manipulative party, while Gary was perhaps more the adoring fan who just felt lucky to be friends with the big shot.

Of all the three performances, for me, Faramazi’s was perhaps the strongest in the projection of his voice, his captivating and natural stage presence and truly authentic way moving around in his performance space. That is not to say that the other two actors didn’t show exceptional class and ability; first time actor Gary Berezin really grew into his role as the play went on and his characterisation was absolutely spot on as years of frustration slowly bubbled to the surface. I felt I didn’t get to see enough of Amelia Gann’s Debbie since her time on stage was relatively short, yet she portrayed a multifaceted character most effectively in the time she was given meaning her’s was the character I was able to empathise with most easily, and I was set ill at ease by how convincingly powerless she was to Andy’s manipulations.

All in all, a fascinating, resonating and captivating production which was just the right length to tell a highly relatable story and to sustain the audience’s interest throughout. It’s certainly one I won’t be forgetting in a hurry for its effortless everyday comedy and haunting final moments…

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Personal

‘Mother is a figure of speech…’

The title of this post is from Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve – the full quotation runs:
“Mother is a figure of speech and has returned to a cave beyond consciousness”
Today is my mother’s birthday. Perhaps, then, it is little coincidence that this particular quotation has presented itself to my mind when its relationship to me is considered on a very introspective, familiar and local scale. I’m thinking in simple terms here: I’m spending weeks at a time away from home in longer bursts than ever before, and during that time the presence my mother occupies is a figurative one; I talk about her, she is anecdotal, she is a character we as a student community can commonly identify with and she is therefore unifying.

I’m aware of the underlying cliché of leaving home and the subsequent plethora of new responsibilities/ exploration of identity/ making sure I have sufficient clean knickers, but clichés exist because often there is some truth in them (even a cliché of say, a film, is still a truth within that medium, whether it resembles actual reality or not). Hence, it’s been important to me to put a few leagues between myself and home to grow, make half hearted attempts at transgressing the image my mother has helped to shape to prove I’ve developed (cough blue hair cough) and establishing a routine that she will never be fully involved in.

The quotation suggests a physical, perhaps mental, absence that has worked for some people. I asked myself who Jane Eyre would be, if not an orphan? Her parents, supposedly well off had they lived, might have indulged her, aligning her with her cousins and perhaps making her a worthier candidate of her Aunt’s love. She would surely lose, then, her staggering independence, her formal and emotional education at Lowood and the poetry of her revelations in the attic at Thornfield, with panoramic views stretching before her inspiring her will for “liberty!”

Only, my mother isn’t absent. Thinking about this in the pool today I kind of feel like my mother is a part of my psyche. She occupies the portion of my mind that deals with some aspects of morality, she triggers self preservation at road crossings, or is the filter over my eyes that sometimes encourages me perceive things in light of my life at home. The latter is particularly true of mealtimes; when faced with Lenton’s lumpy excuse for jam roly-poly, a pang of mum-sickness is a given.

Carter wanted to do away with the mother because it was important to abandon outmoded ideologies and tenacious 60s gender politics in particular. It’s important to me that I extend beyond the sphere of my mother’s existence and it is inevitable that some of her values will transcend with me, but equally inevitable that some will be scrapped. I like the thought of her return to “cave beyond consciousness”; it makes me think of the alien time before my birth and to imagine my mother as somebody I don’t know, who doesn’t need me, who can shelve the notion of being a mother just for a week or so before the next phone call or visit… it’s exciting.

Many people fear resembling their mothers. I have no wish to be her clone, but when people identify me as my mother’s daughter, when they see her reflected in me, I cannot help but feel astonishing pride to be so intrinsically associated with a woman so selfless, so loving, generous and wise.

Happy Birthday, Mum.

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