Category Archives: rage

[REVIEW] Bitch Boxer at the Soho Theatre

On Wednesday, I saw Bitch Boxer at the Soho Theatre; a one-hour, one-woman play written and performed by Charlotte Josephine. Having seen Josephine in Julius Caesar earlier this year, I was excited to see her own work – and, to be honest, I’m a bit in love with the Soho Theatre and their apparent directorial policy of ‘stage work that Sophie wants to see, and don’t charge her more than a tenner for doing so’. For me, Bitch Boxer was an incredibly inspiring, salutary and encouraging piece of theatre. Alongside my fascination with the play’s story and characters, I was delighted to see such a young writer and performer performing with such skill and immediacy – and being so warmly received.

Bitch Boxer is the story of Chloe, a young working-class boxer from Leytonstone, East London, who is gearing up for her final qualifying fight before the London Olympics; the first Olympics in which women could box. I am a bespectacled, myopic, borderline-dyspraxic, undersized and severely uncoordinated scrap of laziness, and I came out of Bitch Boxer wanting to box. The play’s exposition of the sport’s technical side is unexpectedly fascinating. I also found Bitch Boxer a more complex and nuanced exploration of boxing than On It, Tony Pitts’s recent Afternoon Play about the late Liam Jones, a young drug addict who attempted to conquer his addictions via boxing. Both plays tell powerful stories of pain and loss, but Bitch Boxer gets far further beyond the predictable narrative of boxing-as-emotional-salvation. Not only does Chloe use boxing to express and control her adolescent anger, but training and fighting give her an identity that reorders and reorients the rest of her life. Bitch Boxer‘s most emotionally articulate scene is Chloe’s recognition that her opponent in the ring is as determined, excited, frightened and committed as herself. This gives the boxer a compassion and respect for the process of fighting that makes the final confrontation moving, but not mawkish.

I said that Josephine was warmly received by her audience, and the vast majority of the reviews have also been excellent. However, one critic has objected in misogynist – and also misspelt – terms that Charlotte Josephine’s body is not plausibly that of a boxer, and that this physical dissonance damages the integrity and believability of the piece. That is an extremely polite paraphrase of what this lone lunatic actually came out with, and I’m not going to link to the review, because, well, don’t feed the trolls.

Firstly, Charlotte Josephine’s body is very plausibly that of a boxer. Secondly, and not to position myself as the tiny Cassandra of critical misogyny, but after watching Bitch Boxer, I was expecting to find that this kind of play would draw this kind of criticism. Women cannot put their bodies out in public looking like Charlotte Josephine looks, without attractive derisive male comment. Josephine looks fit and strong, in a way that’s toned but which connotes substance, strength and stamina, rather than the ultra-tiny LA yoga bod that’s the  mainstream default and pinnacle of the sporty female body. She looks admirably powerful. It’s not really surprising that a woman daring to be visibly sporty, healthy and herself causes controversy: for God’s sake, look at what happened to Rebecca Adlington and Jessica Ennis.

I sat there watching Josephine and I thought how brave she was not to be in Sweaty Betty pinkified sports gear, but instead to look like a boxer, in Lonsdale shorts, black ankle socks and an ordinary vest; all of them sweat-soaked, as the intensely physical piece progressed. And then I wondered what the hell had happened to society, and to my brain, that I found it brave for a young woman to dress as her character without concessions to sexiness, and that I couldn’t ever remember seeing an actress visibly sweat. In order to bring out the troll in one theatrical critic, all Charlotte Josephine had to do was be visible as a professional and as an artist. Quite often, that is all we have to do, as women, to infuriate misogynists: just show up. I encourage you to show up at Bitch Boxer, as soon as you can.

A Snuff Box Theatre production, Bitch Boxer runs at about 65 minutes, includes Eminem karaoke, bereavement, a confrontation with a savage dog, and a controversial pair of Nikes. With Julius Caesar only last month, I’m suddenly incredibly hopeful about the future of feminist theatre.

 

We Are In Drought.

"Drought".

I am sick of this weather. We are not in a drought. That is not an explanation for this farce of an April. Here are some better reasons for what’s been happening:

1) Apocalypse.

2) God having too much fun with the Titanic’s 100th anniversary and wishing to create re-enactment using Oxford as test place (poss with Rad Cam as iceberg, since with the stacks 7/8 probably are underground);

3) Official statement by Mother Nature on the stupidity of the Olympics;

4) Evidence of curse on all representatives of water boards/councils enforcing hosepipe bans, who must now be subject to hate speech and violence whenever they appear in the media.

For the past two weeks, I seem to have been permanently damp and cold. To be precise, I’ve been in the degree of damp and cold which usually comes from standing in a mediocre British themepark and straying too close to the log flume. Occasional variations have included the bone-chilled misery last felt on a school trip to North Wales, or the recognisable sogginess commonly derived from harbour walls in October half term.

"Hosepipe ban".

Goodness knows how international students (from anywhere other than… I don’t know, Iceland ) are coping. The malaise everyone’s feeling is now beyond Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s the legitimate rage of being permanently bent double, bedraggled and (more often than not) struggling with an umbrella that’s warped itself into the shape of a disabled vampire bat.

I am not asking for the Camus-like heat of summer, in which the tarmac starts sweating and there’s a simmering feeling that people might start eyeing each other with reference to knives. I don’t even like summer that much; as one of life’s consummate sunburners, I find the season heavy on Factor 50 and short on bikinis. But I would like some Spring. I’m not even asking to go straight into ballet pumps and bare legs. I’d just like my boots to dry out between outings.

Which E. F. Benson Character Are You - possibly the least likely internet quiz ever.

I can’t believe I’ve just found this much to say about the weather. Oh dear.

This has been the most British of blogposts, grumbled out between marking essays and crossly sipping my tea. Thank you for your patience. I hope if it really does flood, I can float out to sea on a table like Mapp and Lucia; but only if I can live in an E. F. Benson novel when I get back…

The History of the English Language: (1943) and (2011)

Competing (and interestingly conflicting) histories of the English language. The first is by the British Council, produced in 1943, with according anti-German propaganda, emphasis on John of Gaunt’s Richard II “sceptred isle” speech, and a  cameo by Churchill. The second collates the 10 shorter videos produced by the Open University, narrated by satirist and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

1) History of the English Language (1943)

2) The History of English in Ten Minutes (2011)

 

As you may have guessed, my teaching for the the Final Honours School Linguistics paper begins tomorrow! Hurrah for Private Eye‘s contribution to the same. In other news, I am going to Montpelier to perform in Antony & Cleopatra.

In news the third, I would like to make an official declaration that it is never, ever sexist to ask a five-foot-tall girl if she would like any help lifting a frankly ludicrously large suitcase from high train to platform. All those decent, strapping men forced by equality-panic to disguise themselves as bovine, selfish oafs (for indeed, this can be the only explanation): consider yourselves relieved of your potential chauvinist arsery. Ask me if I’d like some help. You will STILL be enlightened male feminists. I promise.

Victorian Scandals & Glittery Skulls

Emmanuel Ray, Gisele Ganne, AW 08

Last night, I stayed up (too) late reading about family scandals, hatred, illegitimacy and death in the supposedly idyllic domestic life of one of my thesis’s subjects. The actress in question is Madge Kendal (1848-1935), an incredibly successful, powerful Victorian actress – and just about one of the biggest hypocrites I’ve ever (literarily) met.

The past few days have involved a lot of reading about Victorian marriages – the bride, the wedding night, divorce laws and annulments, and rituals surrounding mourning and death. My love of genealogy and my love of scandal are both growing exponentially with my doctoral research! Last night I found exactly what the Kendals’ youngest daughter did, to warrant being disowned, and it shocked me horribly.

Today I’m having to be good and get back to hermeneutics. But then I saw this image, and it was so gloriously, gaudily, bitterly self-indulgent with all its splashy Victorian mourning glitz that I had to include it.  It reminded me so much of all the accounts of mourning I’ve been reading – in public, theatrical, self-indulgent form. It’s Gisele Ganne‘s mourning-inspired jewellery collection, and the model is Emmanuel Ray. I love it, Madge Kendal would hate it, and since her sustained vileness to her offspring deprived me of my sleep, that seems an excellent reason to reblog!

REVIEW: MONSTERS, BT STUDIO, PICNIC PRODUCTIONS

Monsters, by Niklas Rådström, deals with the 1993 killing of toddler James Bulger by eleven-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The script veers between self-righteous harangue, and the disingenuous blurring of fiction and reportage. Most of Monsters’ dramatic force derives from co-opting Venables’s confession, a verbatim text that, in describing Bulger’s slow death, would horrify whether read by cast, lawyer, or android. This sickening account made me want to leave the theatre, but this is no tribute to Rådström. His own writing is mainly overwrought posturing: avant-garde theatre at its exploitative, sensationalist worst.

Monsters opens with a choric harangue of audience by actors. They don’t know why we’re here. They don’t know what we expect. They don’t know what we want from a play about children killing a child. Do we think it’s useful? DO WE? Once the cast have stopped criticising the audience for having the temerity to turn up, Monsters consists mainly of quotations from Venables and Thompson’s interrogations, interrupted by further choric hand-wringing and hectoring.

Director Matthew Goldhill’s cast are four good actors doomed by a dreadful script. Standout moments include Fen Greatley’s childlike demeanour as Thompson under interrogation. Chloe Orrock is memorable as Thompson’s mother, describing his childhood: her understated delivery somewhat tempers Rådström’s melodrama. All four could excel in a better play. Throughout, Monsters fails to fully engage with the specificities of regionality and abusive poverty that surrounded Bulger’s killing. Murder happens everywhere, but by ignoring the details of location, cyclical abuse and social deprivation, Rådström’s text – heavy on handwringing, low on characterisation – does not universalise what happened on Merseyside. Instead, attention is refocused away from the murder, back to the four performers. Too often the consequence is the spectacle of bright young things in a state of unfocused indignation about a death they were barely born for; privilege theorising its unimaginable reverse.

The temptation is to turn the play’s questions – is seeing Monsters useful? Moving? Educational? – back on performers, director, and ultimately on Rådström. Why is anyone there? To help thesps feel angry? To let audiences look sombre? Underpinning Monsters are two insulting and reductive suppositions: first, that nobody has attempted to think deeply about the murder before, and, second, that we share complicity in Bulger’s death. The first is laughable; the second dangerous. There are ways not to be complicit: voicing our suspicions and be prepared to risk our own safety in defence of a child’s. Monsters does not reflect this, preferring its dubious mission of blame and mimetic outrage.

Like the press coverage of which Denise Bulger complained, Monsters withholds James Bulger’s real name until its closing moments. Everything – injuries, indignation, avant-garde posturing and vague sympathy for the killers – is made more important than the personhood of that little boy. Ultimately, Monsters is guilty of the fetishisation and exploitation of which it accuses its audience.

Monsters’ cast were born at about the same time as James Bulger. He deserves a better memorial than that afforded by Rådström’s play.

 

A version of this article originally appeared at Oxford Theatre Review.com

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REVIEW: Theatre Set-Up: The Merchant of Venice

The garden at Hall’s Croft first came to my attention when I learned you could get married, or have a civil partnership in the grounds – it’s a shame you can’t do the same at the Birthplace, but we’re a lot closer to traffic and you’d run the risk of your wedding being papped by 60 ecstatic Japanese tourists. One of the great things about the garden at Hall’s is the potential for outdoor theatre – a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I went to see Theatre Set-Up’s latest production of The Merchant of Venice.

Half an hour before it opened, I was sitting on the steps opposite, staring in fascination as the elderly rich of Stratford (so elderly! So rich!) carted the contents of (what they probably call) their sun lounges, conservatories, drawing rooms and breakfast bars into the green and pleasant land of theatre. There were cloches. There was cutlery. Chairs were de rigeur, and in one party of six septuagenarians, I distinctly saw a snowy tablecloth receive, on platters, two cheeseboards and a quiche.

The sheer stamina on view impressed me. People whom the uncharitable might regard as nearly dead were acting as their own pack mules, deckchair in each hand as they trekked through an Old Town heatwave, determined to live the dream of eating an excellent dinner, while watching mediocre Shakespeare.

Antonio opens the play saying that, in sooth, he knows not why he is so sad, and by the end of the play, I was still none the wiser. Generally, the characterization was unfocused and the relationships undefined. I didn’t know why Portia loved Bassanio, or why he reciprocated – Salanio’s claim that Antonio ‘only loves the world for’ Bassanio describes an intensity of emotion that nobody onstage seemed to feel. The most interesting thing about the production was their use of the text. Not so much individual line-readings; in fact, the performance was characterized by inaccuracies; but with the ingenuous system of doubling and cuts. With a cast of only eight actors, it’s a tribute to editorial skill that the only felt losses were Gratiano’s mocking repetitions of ‘a Daniel’ in the court scene, and a few choppings from Nerissa and Jessica.

The production’s heavy cutting of the ‘salads’ (Salanio and Salarino) should be a model for directors – they weren’t missed. My friends and I were divided on the success of the Lorenzo/Shylock doubling. I, personally, was a fan of both performances, but felt the company wasted an opportunity of shedding any light on the (as ever) under-directed Jessica. As Shylock’s daughter, the actress began with startling vitriol against her father, spitting as she resolved to become ‘a Christian, and [a] loving wife’ to the Gentile Lorenzo, only to transform into a sulky madam the second she actually got him. Perhaps the doubling was meant to show Jessica exchanging one identical set of problems for another, but there was no suggestion that the amorous lover was as difficult as the father.

Only one moment in the production really disturbed me, and it was the audience who caused me unease. It’s always nice when a play by Shakespeare can show you the mass of anti-Semitism eating Eton Mess in an audience. At the end of the trial scene, Antonio (still alive, still fully-fleshed) gets his penultimate kick by demanding that his Jewish adversary ‘presently become a Christian’. Most of the audience laughed.

There’s no humour in that line; no context or delivery could make it funny. There had been nothing in the production to suggest that a presentation of Shylock as cartoonish or laughable was what Theatre Set-Up intended. It makes me wonder, though, how often that line gets laughs, and where. Anyone else who’s seen a production of Merchant, did this happen to you? What’s the most shocking or upsetting audience reaction you’ve seen?

My sudden enforced awareness of the Merchant audience reminded me of Kate Woods’s Britgrad paper on Sophonisba (1605). The play was performed at Blackfriars where, for the first time, the lighting conditions of indoor theatre directed an audience’s attention right away from each other, towards the stage. Before that, daylit productions in the playhouses meant that audiences were completely aware of each other. It was a point I’d never really considered before – funnily enough, my research into theatre spaces really starts with Aphra Behn and discovery spaces. Today, open-air productions are our closest link to that kind of atmosphere, and it made me wonder what other audience are hidden by the comforting darkness of the stalls.

Zahra Rahnavard, Tehran’s women and the American mythos

Women rush to the aid of a man being beaten in Tehran.Women rush to the aid of a man being beaten in Tehran.

This picture makes me proud to be a woman. Also, yeah: don’t tell me my sisters in headscarves are passive, that they’re uneducated, that they’re apolitical (hi, Dr. Rahnavard, I hear you’re 64 and wear the chador) and automatically oppressed. There is nothing more political than these women, rushing forward in their religion and their politics. This is their revolution too. They will not disappear once it’s over (I don’t think it will ever be over).

Go here for quotations from Zahra Rahnavard. And go here for a bloody stupid line of reporting.

Nor do I like the awareness-raising meme post that’s been circulating on blogging sites, begun here. The sentiments are worthwhile (if poorly expressed), but the reference to how ‘For the first time in a long time, a voice for change struck the youth of Iran, just as it did for many people in the United States only seven months ago’ really bugs me. I know plenty of American media are suddenly interested in Iran because it can be written into a cosily Obama-analogous mythology now that the departure of Bush and the advent of Barack makes it easier for the US to look outwards and see itself as a saviour again, but, really. The situation in Iran, the situation in America? Zahra Rahnavard PhD, Michelle Obama? One of these things is not like the other. Iran isn’t important because it can be conveniently compared to the American mythos. The protests in Tehran aren’t important because they’re timely. They’re just important.

OUCA race shame

The (chief) racist berk in this article is my college grandson. I’m so proud.

Not all of OUCA is racist; I have some dear friends who are (or more usually, were) part of that organisation and who are – in behaviour towards men and women of all races and orientations – a world away from Gallagher (who admits telling the joke). I do not think any of them were at that meeting; I’d be very shocked if they were.

But any decent man would have left the room immediately rather than tell that joke, and I hope that everyone who stood around to laugh at it feels thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Perhaps they will also begin to recognise their resemblance to the predominantly working-class, white male BNP voters to whom they no doubt consider themselves manifestly superior.