The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

Enjoy yourself – it's later than you think!

Marriage Made in Hell Leads to Divorce Shocker!

Marriage liesHappy now? Everyone in the UK outside of Scotland, London, Northern Ireland, Liverpool and Manchester? I say the UK but it’s hardly going to be a united kingdom for much longer now – that’s for sure.

In the last day so many quotes and images have come crashing into my head. I’ve tried to expel the very unpleasant ones: Farage‘s valedictory speech with his mouth spouting offensive crap (‘no bullet fired…’) and his eyes showing a mixture of astonishment that a majority people believed the crap and fear that the mob may just turn when they realise there wasn’t a scrap of truth in any of it. There was also the press conference with the three stooges of Johnson, Gove and Stuart with Clown Master Johnson trying unconvincingly to appear Prime Ministerial while wearing that general Brexit look of stunned ‘oh fuck, what do we do now… ?’ Images from fiction include the final scene in The Planet of the Apes (‘You finally really did it! You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you to hell!) and any film where the main protagonist finds him or herself mistakenly locked up in a lunatic asylum and the only person who can save them has been murdered in the first reel.

Trying to explain the whole sorry mess to non-British chooms is interesting. You can  break it down like this: vast areas of the country are working class and they used to have the Labour party. But the Labour party are now either the metropolitan political elite or the loony left – neither of whom have a clue how to relate to the traditional voter. Just as vast is the area of the country peopled by those who enjoy a more comfortable way of life – traditional Conservative voters who don’t trust the ‘new’ more liberal Conservatives (quite similar to Labour’s elite – see above). You would think these two massive groups would never get it together. But they had two major things in common: fear of immigration and an idea that Britain could be ‘great’ again (like in the 1970s LOL). And lo and behold there came a unifying force called UKIP who joined them together with Nigel Farage presiding as a wild-eyed slavering preacher-man. The union being gleefully announced in the couple’s respective newspapers (or xenophobic small-minded brain-washing bog roll) The Sun and The Daily Mail.

So what’s ahead? For me personally – and as someone who voted to stay with the UK marriage back in September 2014 – I am willing to reconsider the Scottish proposal. Look at it this way: we have lots in common: we both love travelling in Europe, are uber committed to  LGBT rights and we’re living together already anyway. Plus Nicola Sturgeon looks like she could conduct a better ceremony. But before we draw up the contract – can I see the ring first… ?




A Clockwork Orange in Rome

ELISEO_TE-MASTER-Manifesti-cartoline-fronte-18091514 copia(1)

What’s it going to be then, eh? Doing a brand new production of A Clockwork Orange is always going to be problematic. Visually do you go with the iconic – the one false eyelash; the Doc Martens boots; the braces; the bowler hat? And even if you’re not going to go with these iconic ingredients – you certainly have to suggest some elements of British yob culture. The boots – surely? Essential for employing a bit of the old ultra. Well – slooshy well, my droogs: I’ve seen a few stage productions of A Clockwork Orange over the years and while they always crave to be original there’s no escaping the big bolshy elephant in the room that is the Stanley Kubrick film.

Of course these productions have all been British and performed in English/Nadsat. British being the key here. In the original book Anthony Burgess captured the whole Anglo-Saxon mixed with Celtic and Viking mentality of being in a gang and looking for a fight. Nothing much has changed over the years and the old ultra-violence is indelibly inked on our psyche so no wonder we Brits are good at portraying it artistically.

So can the land of music, art, beauty and general gorgeosity lower itself into the depths of a very typically British hell? Oh yes, yes, yes my little droogies!

First off – the visuals: this production doesn’t take the easy copycat route. Instead of the hard carapace of the original uniform as per the book/film we’re presented with Alex and his droogs in stylish Italian suits and soft slip-on shoes. They also wear pieces of shaggy fur which suggest their animalistic tendencies and give a promise of the carnage that will ensue. In place of the maskies the droogs put on pairs of spectacles and just before the ultra starts they check their cuffs in true dandy fashion. These devices are simple, effective and manage to capture something of the spirit of the image-obsessed delinquents of the original book and as well as being so typically Italian. Very clever.

The rest of the staging is staggeringly well done. There’s a general black/white/acid yellow (orange would have been too obvious) colour scheme which lends an air of danger and edginess like having lemon juice dripped into your eyes which (like Alex) you can’t close as you remain fascinated and horrified at the same time.

So what of the iconic (there’s no getting away from that word… ) set-pieces? The Ludovico treatment/torture scene is probably the most striking and is used as the opening scene as well as taking its place later on in the story. Bolts of electrical energy shot down from above into Alex’s head in imagery that’s reminiscent of Frankenstein which is a neat little nod re his becoming the automaton of the title. Just as effective though is the notorious rape scene – done in slow-motion – which is chilling and sickening – as it should be. The setting – the ‘Home’ residence of the gang’s victims – is a sterile glass box with minimalist furniture which is probably the one image most similar to the film. However the whole idea of moving the box towards the audience is a genius move making us watch in horror (echoing Alex’s words: ‘viddy well’).

The music is wonderfully effective as well. Ludwig’s glorious Ninth is put to good – and integral – use. But there is also some marvellous original material – for example when Alex returns home after his treatment there’s a gloriously queasy soundtrack that’s paired with the visual image of an opaque shutter being brought down at the front of the stage. It reflects beautifully his alienation and bewilderment and like so much of this extraordinary staging is marvelously imagined and executed.

Okay – I’ve raved on enough about the staging – maybe because as my grasp of the Italian language is so woeful I have to depend on the sensory experience. But excellent performances transcend language barriers and that’s what you get from this stellar cast – particularly from Daniele Russo as Alex.

I mentioned before A Clockwork Orange being essentially a British construct and Anthony Burgess was a very British author. But we have to remember he was also a lapsed Catholic and lived in Rome for some time. He also resented that this notorious work was what he was best remembered for. Free will, religion and what makes us human were the important themes which informed his work. They are there in A Clockwork Orange but down the years they have been swamped by the imagery of the Kubrick film. As well as the striking images this production also has the important themes – Burgess would have been impressed.


Wonderful dream

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Source: Wonderful dream

With another round of ‘vote for me’ coming up when politicians suddenly find it necessary to engage with the man, woman and non-binary person in the street – how refreshing to have this view from the incomparable Richard Innes Mulvey. Also fitting as it’s the second anniversary of the taking of the Chibok girls in Nigeria. Where’s the ‘bring back our girls’ campaign these days? Is it out of fashion and/or not deemed to have enough political capital? Disgraceful and just shows how useless politicians are.

The Lone Sisterhood

M Oliphant

If you’re in Edinburgh and want to celebrate International Women’s Day in a typically Edinburgh kind of way – that is low key, understated, unfussy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it – get yourself along to the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. There’s a small but beautifully formed tribute to 19th Century Scottish women called Out of the Shadow. Ironically it’s set out in a small passage way linking two of the main halls, on the far side of the building away from the main staircase.

Of course there are numerous famous and not-so-famous wimmin celebrated elsewhere in the staggeringly beautiful building (go see, if you’ve never been) but this collection is marvelously inspiring and uplifting in a completely unflashy way. Which is apt because these women just got on with it. They didn’t need anyone saying ‘yes, you can’ and ignored anyone saying ‘no, you can’t’. Become a novelist, artist, mathematician, poet, political reformer? Why not?

You know the quote about feminism being ‘the radical notion that women are people’? I prefer the notion that people (not just women) are individuals. Of course movements, groups, organisations are important when you’re battling arcane systems and attitudes. But once you’ve won that battle what better reward than becoming your own person? It’s a luxury but it’s a luxurious gift from the lone sisters who went before us.

I’ll leave the final quote to Margaret Oliphant (featured in the exhibition)

Oh, never mind the fashion. When one has a style of one’s own, it is always twenty times better.


Arty but definitely not farty…


Question: What’s art history for?


a) To give privileged kids a subject to get a degree in

b) To keep art historians in work

c) To provide everyone with a key to a magical world of colour, wonder and imagination

Up until a few years ago I’d give you full points for saying a & b. But c?  Maybe if you’d substituted ‘the few’ for ‘everyone’ that might have been nearer the mark. Which leads me to art history as television.

Is it entertainment? Is it education? Is it art? The joy is these days you can decide for yourself – choosing from a virtual galaxy of programmes available on YouTube, BBC iplayer, old OU broadcasts. From the pale males of the Anthony Blunt era whose measured, static presentation gives you the visceral pleasure of actually standing in a British art gallery while the rain lashes down outside. You can go on a trip with the positively bonkers Sister Wendy (who suggested that all those dirty schoolgirl jokes about nuns and candles did have some factual basis). And how about checking out Robert Hughes’ seminal The Shock of the New which weirdly seems like the shock of the old now but it’s still thrilling; a bit like re-reading or re-watching A Clockwork Orange.

All this choosing for yourself is all well and good but sometimes we all need a little guidance, a little nudge. Waldemar Januszczak‘s last installment of The Renaissance Unchained airs tonight on BBC4 and if the first three are anything to go by there should be some nudge, nudge, wink, wink to go along with the nudge in the right direction. If this all sounds gimmicky – it’s not. Waldemar’s love of his subject shimmers like the Venetian satin he told us about last week. And in a series about art it’s wonderfully free from artifice. His trademark opening soundtrack of flat-footed pad-pad-padding over piazzas and cobbled streets – telling us he’s everyman schlepping his way across Europe in order to send us back that precious postcard.

Not for him zipping along the autostrade in a sporty little number and slipping effortlessly into the local lingo. No posing about in linen suits and brushing away a floppy fringe as he gesticulates in front of a Caravaggio. Waldemar is big, sweaty and wears his East European heritage as proudly as his flashy death’s-head bling ring. Best of all as he isn’t a stereotype we don’t get the stereotypical point of view. Proving that you don’t have to be that unremarkable kid from the privileged background to get access to that magical world a thousand years plus in the making.

Tonight is Hell, Snakes and Giants – can’t wait!!







Deadpool – dead good!


Once upon a time superheroes on screen were of the camp ‘Kerpow!’ variety. Strictly two-dimensional with no nod to the post-war shadows that gave them their birth in print. It wasn’t until 1978 with Superman convincing the studios that men (and women) in lycra saving the world could make an initial $55 million gamble pay off in the multi millions. It’s a marvelous triptych of a film in three parts starting with the crystalline beauty of Krypton, moving to the Edward Hopper inspired landscape of Smallville before the familiar 2D characters are made part-flesh, part-cartoon in the glorious technicolor finale set in Metropolis. It set the standard below which so many in coming years would fall. Including all the others in that particular series.

Batman – of course – was always a more complicated guy with nastier adversaries. But in common with the Man of Steel the first in the re-boot series (this time in the 80s with a scenery-digesting Jack Nicholson) was always going to prove the law of diminishing returns.

Hollywood muddled around for a few years, losing its superhero way until the perfect storm happened with comic book geeks coming of film-making age; the advent of CGI and the cinema money-men advising that all the spending power was with young men. Plus there was the curious phenomenon of geek-chic. People whose only experience of hanging around musty-smelling comic book stores with even mustier-smelling socially-inadequate guys being done vicariously through The Big Bang Theory. People whose only tactile pleasure of the genre was handling the decidedly chic-less Marvel satchels, mugs, key-rings and ring-binders cluttering up the supermarket dump-bins. Superheroes were being seriously devalued.

As a result Batman got darker and darker (coupled with the real-life tragedies of an actor’s death and a cinema massacre) until he disappeared up his Buddhist Master’s timeline.  Time for the existential kick-back with Watchmen, Kick-Ass and the excellent, no-budget Super. Well, we all need a bit of deconstruction – don’t we? But that soon got the whiff of possessing the T-shirt that had been through the wash quite a few times…

So it was with more than a tad of apprehension that I approached Deadpool. I mean – how knowingly arch and genre-referencing can you be? But from the playful anonymous opening credits (‘some English dude playing the villain’ to the real talent being in the writing) to the slo-mo visceral gore which is just a bit slower and a bit gorier to underline – yeah, we know what we’re doing and we’re doing it better – this is genre rebuilding and reassuringly good stuff. Billed as a love story – it actually is – it works on so many levels with layers and layers of references not only from recent popular culture but from classic literature and fairy tales. The most obvious are Frankenstein (Deadpool as victim of a medical experiment / becoming the housemate of an elderly blind woman) and Beauty and the Beast. But there’s also Rumpelstiltskin (‘What’s my name?’) and the heroine being encased in a glass casket a la Snow White. It’s intelligent, funny, violent, with scatter-gun pop-culture references aplenty (remember the Spin Doctors anyone?) but most of all it’s got a massive big romantic – and vengeful – heart. If you haven’t seen it already – do yourself a favour and go see!

Also while you’re at it – check out this Guardian article on the (pan)sexuality of Deadpool and various other comic book characters. I particularly loved the Tank Girl references!





Happy Festive Families!

WaltonsWell – did you manage to survive the ridiculous Christmas bubble where people – through an accident of birth and not through any choice of their own – are forced together to make merry and perhaps even make conversation with other? Most people manage one day of festive torture when the pressure is put – witch-trial-like – on some poor individual to stage-manage the perfect day by providing food, presents and refereeing/counselling services and then getting tut-tutted at when she lobs the empty bottle of Bailey’s at dirty Uncle Billy’s head? I believe there are some people who attempt more than one day of this Big Brother-type set-up but then I suppose that is why we have pubs, shops and A&E!

Families have always been something that can drive you off the edge. They are endlessly fascinating though because – even if you’re lucky enough to be an orphan or choose to cut loose from your own – you can never escape. You will be subsumed into someone else’s at some point. And pick up a book or watch a film – your surrogate clan will be there. From Game of Thrones to Eastenders; from The Godfather to I Claudius; from Star Wars to Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart dynasty – we can’t get enough.

Personally speaking I like to keep with the fictional and give the real people a miss. As they say – ‘you can choose your friends… ‘


The Rachel Revolution – Chapter One

The Rachel Revolution

The French embassy in Abuja.

Mark checked the safety catch on the small handgun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He would have preferred to be armed with something more substantial but this was a children’s party. Little kids of all colours jumped and hopped and danced in that funny disorientated way that little kids do. Some were dressed in mini versions of traditional Nigerian dress, others were kitted out in suits and evening dresses. Mark had never really had much to do with children – he could take them or leave them but he had to admit they looked cute and funny. Plus he was getting paid pretty handsomely for providing the security at the birthday party of the French Ambassador’s six-year-old daughter which had to count as one of his easier assignments. Still, he couldn’t shake a dark feeling that kept trying to invade his thoughts. He…

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The New Normal? (Looking out for a hero)

Paris Peace imageDoes it seem that this big bad world can’t get any worse? Have the deepest pits of depravity been well and truly plumbed? It’s a living visceral nightmare with wall-to-wall shootings, beheadings, burnings, bomb-blasts, lifeless floating bodies – any horror you can imagine – and more besides.

Was it always like this? Or is just more extensive news coverage?

Back in the 1980s – being young and depressed – I thought this surely had to be the worst of times… imminent nuclear destruction, the Cold War... How could I ever think that in the future I would look back and feel nostalgic? True – there was the Ayatollah, Gadaffi and various hostage-takings but the middle-east wasn’t even the secondary story-line in our western thinking but rather an opening scene in one of the Timothy Dalton Bonds. Africa was a poor starving child who needed help but we could stick some coins in a tin and feel better about that. Any tangible mortal danger to ourselves was the occasional explosion carried out by unwashed people in flares and long hair. These usually happened across The Channel or in London though so if you stayed indoors in your northern town you were OK. Except of course being in Manchester in 1996.

A quick skim through the history books should have made me feel better. Wars, torture, genocide. Yeah, that was in the past – we’ve got to be getting better, right? Wrong! And don’t try dragging out the old ‘imagine no religion…’ either. Religion doesn’t cause wars or conflicts – it’s just the window dressing. Some people will always be greedy and aggressive and find it necessary to push the less greedy and aggressive around. (I always suspected those unwashed people in flares and long hair were less ‘freedom fighters’ and more weed-smoking petty criminals desperate for a life less ordinary – these days it’s robes and beards but they’re still the same people) Every country, every race, every religion has – and has had – its bad guys. And when you have bad guys – you have to have a hero to take them on. From Spartacus, Beowulf, Boudicca and Joan of Arc to Superman, Batman and Captain America we’ve always needed someone to take on the bad guys and make it better. And even if they are hugely flawed themselves, at least their intentions are good.

If this all sounds horribly western and euro-centric – I’m sorry – I’m a child of my upbringing. But at least I can recognise there’s something wrong when the media here concentrate on the week-long anniversary of the Paris attacks rather than an on-going situation in Mali.

The call has been for artists of all descriptions to carry on doing what they do and show that creation is better than destruction. We can offer up our own take – however naive, small or personal – on how to save the world.

For myself – as much as I’d like to strap on armour and drive a chariot over the goons who want to slaughter their way into the history books – I know my limitations. Instead I’m mobilising my characters from The Rachel Redemption to take on the bad guys. This time it’s The Rachel Revolution and I’ll post chapters up as they’re written. It might not save the world but at least I’ll have tried.






Bob Blackman’s Tray

2015BOBBLAC_2ASometimes you will find something different on the Fringe. Sometimes you will be visited by an enigmatic man wearing a pin-stripe jacket and a red balaclava who will sit silently in the corner of the room and use thought-waves to will you to his show. That show will name-check people like Charlie Drake, Bernie Clifton, Roger de Courcey... and will feature the ‘funniest men in Newcastle-under-Lyme’.

Apart from the thought-waves Bob Blackman’s Tray is astonishingly below the radar so the tiny Three/Free Sisters’ Staff Room (fast getting a reputation for class acts) at yesterday lunch-time was sparsely occupied. Never mind – those of us who were there can boast in future about the experience or else wonder if it was some kind of acid-spiked dream.

There’s Richard Drake (wearing the balaclava) who provides segueways of an existential nature – a bit like Peter Cook’s E L Whisty but with a Northern accent. The totally wired component is the other bloke who takes on the guise of Johnny Sorrow – comedian from yesteryear – and Trevor Never – outraged indoor bowls fan with a grudge against Kirklees Borough Council. Physically he’s like a cross between Bez from the Happy Mondays and the ‘Committee’ MC from the Wheel Tappers & Shunters Social Club for those who remember or who have maybe studied UK social history.

I don’t want to give too much away but imagine a working man’s club run by the Theatre of the Absurd or an end-of-the-pier at the end-of-the-world show. It’s like Vic and Bob before they got on the telly but with less props. It’s a glorious vinegar-soaked valentine to northern comedy. It’s Frank Randle, the Crazy Gang and of course – Bob Blackman. It’s delightfully unhinged but never steps outside itself with Johnny providing some cracking lines and Trevor showing how a convincing meltdown should be done.

For all those who thought cult comedy had disappeared – don’t despair Bob Blackman’s Tray is here. Well, in Edinburgh until tomorrow…

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