Category Archives: Culture

Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model @ Bristol Old Vic (Studio)

The basic message of this post is going to be go see this show if you can! This was one of the stand out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe that I unfortunately never got to see. Luckily the show came to Bristol from the 20th-22nd of February so I jumped at the chance to go!

Bryony Kimmings, along with her 9 year old niece Taylor, have created a truly incredible performance of discovery that looks at how young ‘tweens’, particularly girls, are targeted by the media. Having spent time with her niece over the last year, Kimmings was able to look at the world through a nine year-old’s eyes, and see what a truly terrifying prospect it presents for their future. Uncontrolled access to a virtual world where violent and sexual images are more than easy to find for their curious minds; targeted marketing telling girls that they have to be famous, attractive and sexual to be valued in the world; what the curious and sponge-like mind of a 9 year old actually perceives – all this was explored within the space of an hour through song, dance, monologue, and stories.

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What really got to me about this performance, and genuinely made me well up, was the sadness and desperation that you feel from Kimmings – she is trying to fight against a world that is not obviously going to change. Although I have always and will always advocate a feminism that allows a woman to dress and act however they want as long as it is their choice (and doesn’t hurt anyone, but that is a general life rule I feel), Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model really made me question this. The popstars that young girls look up to – Jessie J, Katy Perry, Beyoncé – almost exclusively wear tight, short, or revealing outfits and dance sexually. While this is their absolute right – women should be able to be as sexual as they choose – the way this comes across to a young and malleable mind is that the only way to be famous and successful (and as Kimmings relays in a monologue, the two are now equated more than ever in the minds of tweens) is to act in this way. The element of choice is taken out of the equation.

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I happened to be looking at dance videos on YouTube the day after seeing the performance, and stumbled across a National Dance Competition in America. What I saw really quite disturbed me – girls as young as 8 in tiny hotpants and tight crop tops gyrating, grinding on the floor and displaying their crotches to the audience and judges in a supposed ‘Jazz’ routine. If they were above the age of 16 I probably wouldn’t have a problem with any of these dance moves. But they were young children who really did not need to be dancing like that in order to win a competition. While they were fantastic at the technical jazz dance moves, these added extras seemed totally inappropriate, and born of a culture where younger and younger children are taught to act in a disturbingly sexual way. Kimmings touches on this idea – when Taylor shows us the dance she learnt to a Katy Perry song, Kimmings does the actual routine behind her, showing just how sexualised Taylor’s idols are. Similarly, the show opens and closes with a dance to Jessie J’s song Domino. At the beginning Kimmings dances along with Taylor, happy to be joining in with something that her niece loves. But at the end, after this journey of discovery, Kimmings looks on upset, as she sees how Taylor is moving and singing along to a song that is far too grown up for her young mind.

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This idea that children and tweens (a term I really dislike) need a role model that doesn’t exclusively talk about sex, fame and money lead to the creation of Catherine Bennett – a palaeontologist/ popstar who sings about the things she cares about: friendship, polar bear, the future, her neighbourhood. She is managed by 9 year old Taylor, who helps her come up with song and video ideas. She works in a museum when she isn’t singing, she likes to read and hang out with her dog Cookie, and she likes to be silly so that others know it is ok. Towards the end of Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, Catherine is introduced to the audience, and we all join in with the actions to Animal Kingdom – this is a really fun element to the show that really showcases how great the Catherine Bennett project is. As Catherine sings Taylor to sleep, Kimmings comes out of character and speaks to us frankly, all while Taylor has her ears covered by noise cancelling headphones (which are used in the more adult sections of the performance). She laments how Taylor is already growing out of Catherine Bennett, and will soon have to face the real world, away from the magical glen they have created together. Kimmings talks about what she might pack into Taylor’s backpack so she can face this journey: feminist awareness, creativity, faith in herself. While we would expect all parents to want to give their children these tools, Kimmings reminds us that it cannot just be up to those who have produced children to take on this responsibility. We must all play a part in creating a better, safer, more equal world to which the younger generations can bring a fresh outlook, and maybe a new hope for the future.

Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model is beautiful, powerful, funny, tear-inducing and possibly the most thought provoking performance piece I have seen in the last 5 years.

Go see it if you can.

If not please support the Catherine Bennett project, and get Taylor the 1 million YouTube hits she deserves!

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https://www.facebook.com/socatherinebennett

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The Commitments @ The Palace Theatre

The Commitments is the story of an Irish band that tries to bring soul back to Dublin. Based on the book by Roddy Doyle, the storyline of the musical version follows a very simplified tale of how the band form, break up and reform to play their biggest show yet. Throughout all the great soul hits of the time are played, including Uptight, Mustang Sally, and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

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Musically the performances were amazing. Killian Donnelly who plays lead singer Deco had one of the best male singing voices I have ever heard, and was perfectly complimented by backing singers Imelda (Sarah O’Connor), Natalie (Stephanie McKeon) and Bernie (Jessica Cervi) – who each get their chance to shine during the performance. My only musical critique would be that the songs could have been worked better into the storyline. The songs are only performed when the band is rehearsing or actually performing, rather than being used by the characters to express their feelings as in traditional musicals. For example, Try a Little Tenderness could easily have been sung as a love song between any number of the couples that form throughout the show, instead of being a number in the final performance.

In terms of the story it was very simple, and odd at times. The band must deal with the ego of lead singer Deco, the promiscuity of trumpet player Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan (who incidentally is a born again Christian who is repenting for his former hedonistic lifestyle), and the doubts of others about their potential success. There is a definite lack of any proper character development (which I am assured does occur in the book) and the non singing characters, which includes manager and founder Jimmy, feel a little surplus throughout.

The set was phenomenal – the street, a bar, Joey’s garage, various venues, and the interior of Jimmy’s house were all created to give a realistic representation of Northside Dublin in the 80s. The street scene stayed constant, while all the other sets were individual moving parts which was hugely impressive visually. The costumes were also fantastic, and very true to the time. I especially loved the pink boiler suit warn by Natalie during rehearsals.

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The band rehearsing in Joey’s garage. 

Despite this is would really recommend The Commitments – it isn’t ground-breaking theatre, but it is a really fun show to take your family to, and the choice of amazing songs that most people know is enough to get everyone standing up and singing along at the end.

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Coriolanus @ Donmar Warehouse

I have to start this review by saying that Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays. It is a political tragedy based in Rome, and the main character has a bit of an Oedipus complex – none of which screams entertainment at you when comparing it to say, Macbeth or Much Ado about Nothing. Nevertheless I was really very excited to see this performance, mainly (and unsurprisingly) because of the casting: Tom Hiddleston plays Coriolanus and Mark Gatiss is Menenius.

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I was actually a little nervous when Hiddleston started his first monologue – he was gesturing exactly to match what he was saying, which looks very amateur and a little wooden. However I think he relaxed a bit more as his character developed more, and overall I think he was a very convincing angry and slightly mad military leader and traitor. The director was also clearly aware of Hiddleston’s fan base, as we were blessed with the most gratuitous topless shower scene I have every witnessed, but I am definitely not complaining. I’m sure that’s what Shakespeare envisaged anyway.

Mark Gatiss was wonderful from start to finish, expressing fear, regret, pride and power with subtlety and conviction. Similarly, Deborah Findlay who played Coriolanus’ over-affectionate mother Volumnia, created a very believable character who I think probably made most of the audience a little uncomfortable with her very involved relationship with her son. Unfortunately Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from Borgen) who played Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia was not the best. Admittedly her character is not the most interesting, however I think she made the fatal combination of over the top hysteria while underplaying every other emotion to have a generally dissatisfied look for most of the play. The rest of the cast were generally very good, with the people’s tribune’s being particularly terrifying in their fight to have Coriolanus exiled, and the physicality of the soldiers being very impressive.

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The set before the performance 

The set and production were particularly good. The stage was empty but for a single ladder rising up to the ceiling, and a line of chairs which the cast moved forwards and back as needed. As in Macbeth the play seemed to be set in an ambiguous modern time, with the soldiers wearing leather breastplates with tight trousers (again, thank you to the costume designer for that one) with hiking boots, while the women wore a mixture of non-descript shift dresses and a tight lace number for Virgilia. What I found most interesting was their use of multimedia. Specific lines and words from the script were projected on the exposed brick back wall of the set, which also had Roman graffiti painted on it at the start of the play. On the floor various lines were also painted to indicate the walls of a rooms. One quite divisive production choice was the music, which was only used between scenes. It was very jarring electronic music, which I enjoyed because I thought it reflected the troubled times and events portrayed in the action, but my sister found it to be at odds with the seemingly timeless setting.

Overall, while I don’t think I would necessarily choose to see other interpretations of Coriolanus, I did enjoy this one because of its impressive cast and interesting production choices.

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Radio

Burst Radio (Bristol University Student Radio) is up and running!! I am really proud of how the first week is going, and would love if you nice people could give it a listen. There is a huge variety of programmes, so there is something for everyone.

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As well as presenting The Culture Club on Tuesday’s at 5PM (http://www.burstradio.org.uk/shows/the-culture-club/), I am also Co-Head of News this year. As well as being responsible for producing the pre-recorded news segments that play every hour, this year we have introduced a longer, live news segment at 1PM. This is the first time there have been ‘newsreaders’ on Burst Radio, and we are very proud of how it is going so far.

I think student radio has given me and everyone involved such valuable experience and I am so happy to have had the chance to discover what I think I want to do professionally post graduation.

Did you get involved in any extracurriculars that ended up being your career?

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Justitia @ Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre

I was lucky enough to be able to go to the press showing of ‘Justitia’* – the new production by the Jasmin Vardimon Company. Billed as a dance piece, I would say Justitia was more of a movement heavy physical theatre piece – there was a very strong crime story line running through the piece that you don’t often see in modern dance.

The concept of the show was really interesting – exploring the justice system, the audience were asked to be the jury in a murder trial, and were ‘played’ the various scenarios that may have lead to the crime. Being physical dance theatre, this was a hugely evocative and powerful way to explore such themes as rape, crimes of passion, marriage and abortion. There was also a sub-theme running through the whole piece about the power of words. During various scenes the court stenographer’s notes were projected onto a screen, questioning whether something happened because she wrote it or vice-versa. It is safe to say the whole piece had a truly harrowing edge to it.

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The set was phenomenal – there were 3 sections on a rotating platform, a living room, a dining room and one representing the court and a therapy room with chairs stacked into the wall. The space was incredibly well used, with doors allowing seamless movement between sections. Similarly the music was fabulously chosen –  a mixture of well known songs (such as Bridge over Troubled Water) and beautiful electronic music. And the Pac-Man theme song with a dubstep backtrack. That was very cool.

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In terms of the choreography there is very little I can fault. Each character had their own movements, and there were various motifs running through the piece that tied everything together. There was a perfect balance between straight dance sequences, more symbolic sections and proper physical theatre that allowed the story to be told without the audience every forgetting that these are dancers, not actors. My favourite character was the court stenographer. She had a very animalistic feel to her movements – everything was very low and smooth. The murder victim also had a very interesting movement style, which seemed to be based on a 70s sleaze-ball/ breakdancer which made for an hilarious combination. All the dancers were fantastic – it sounds silly but they were just SO physical; jumping, leaping and falling to the floor with incredible ease and lacking any fear.

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What was lovely about this piece, other than the sheer beauty of it, was that the entire company has just moved to Ashford in Kent, where the performance was created. The council has effectively given the company a disused sports centre where they plan to create a dance school and permanent rehearsal space for the company. Listening to everyone talk with such enthusiasm about this project was really inspiring and the work they are planning to put into the area and the community really shows how valuable creative spaces are. I was lucky enough to meet Jasmin, who is a wonderfully gracious and lovely lady, and I really wish them all the best!

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*Justitia was playing just for the week at the Peacock Theatre, but do look out for more performances from this very exciting dance company.

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Music of the Moment

After a summer of culture I have got quite a few new top songs, and an old favourite! Here are my top 5 of the moment:

1. Disclosure

After seeing these guys at Latitude, I can firmly call myself a fan! They’re clever brand of electro-pop is great to dance or chill-out to.

2. Matt Corby

I finally got round to buying the Into the Flame album, and as suspected I loved it. My favourite song has to be Resolution.

3. Katy Perry

I fluctuate between loving and hating Katy Perry. But her new song Roar is exactly the version of her I love to see – empowered, talented and with a good message. It is so far from California Girls, or Peacock, and much closer to Firework. Although I have to say the video is a little over long…

4. Ellie Goulding

I don’t normally like Ellie Goulding, but her new album has very much changed my mind. In particular, Anything Could Happen makes me very happy and relaxed.

5. Adele

This month I have spent a lot of time on trains, and my favourite relaxing train music is the sweet tones of Adele’s singing. I love so many of her songs, but one of the best has to be Crazy for You.

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West Side Story @ Sadler’s Wells

I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend to see the Sadler’s Wells production of West Side Story. I am a huge fan of the film version, but have never seen a stage performance, so was really excited to see one of my favourite musicals live on stage.

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I have to say, unfortunately, I was not blown away. Many of the singers were very good, especially Tony and Anita, and the choreography, following the original by Jerome Robbins, was superb. However much of the actual dancing was pretty lacklustre, and the actor playing Riff wasn’t obviously the strongest singer or dancers in the Jets group. Indeed one of the most enjoyable songs was “Gee, Officer Krupke”, in which Riff doesn’t feature. However, the performances were generally strong, and really picked up in the second act. The ending in particular brought me to tears – Maria was exceptionally powerful in the final scenes.

I think my main problem with the stage version of West Side Story is that I just prefer it in film. While the choreography is fantastic, much of the ‘fighting’ requires way too much set up for my liking, and this makes a lot of the main scenes lose pace. It is very obvious where the film has changed scenes around or cut them out altogether, and I think in some places this was for the better. There was a rather strange dream sequence where Tony and Maria envisage a world where everyone gets along. While this is a good message it didn’t seem to fit into the flow of the musical in general. However it did showcase the style of dance that seemed to come most naturally to the cast, which was nice to see.

This review may seem quite negative, but I have to say I did enjoy West Side Story, and I am very glad I have experienced the original stage version. I suspect the problem was just that it did not quite live up to my expectations, and I think that is quite a typical problem with ‘summer stock’ performances.

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