Tuesday, 26 March 2013

JB Shorts 9

JB Shorts always provides an interesting mix-up of styles and approaches, and none more so than on this, its ninth outing. Although there is diversity in setting and mood among the plays, from police training and first dates to breakdowns and bonhomie, there are some common themes. Technology, and the frustration with it, comes up several times, as does the role of the writer; two of the six plays deal directly with the struggle of writing. But, as always in this short format, simple stories with emotional truths make for the best work.

Blind Date covers old ground – dating – in a way that makes it seem new. In this two-person play, writer Dave Simpson looks at dating for people with low self-esteem, who are trying to make the best of what they see as a bad hand. We already know that people exaggerate when they meet online, and that meeting someone new can be a stomach swirling experience, but the innocence and directness of the two characters cuts away preconceptions, and reveals the humanity behind looking for love. It deals with the topic in a humorous, but melancholic, way. Susan McArdale and Will Travis are funny and likeable as the two would-be lovers, while director Alice Bartlett makes use of some wonderful transitional scenes to hold it all together. A very good play, indeed.

Old, New, Borrowed And Blue is at the other end of the love spectrum, set moments before a wedding is due to take place. The main characters are two sisters, one of whom is about to get married, while the other thinks it is all a big mistake. They cover their family history and the trajectory of their lives as each tries to convert the other to her point of view. Samantha Power is excellent as the bride-to-be, dishing out some very intense glares and stares without being over the top. The play also manages to do something very tricky in 15 minutes, which is to have a twist that is not obvious yet not unexpected and, hardest of all, not contrived.

As alluded to already, two of the plays deal with the difficulties of being a writer and expressing yourself creatively. Are We Cool sends up late night review programs like Newsnight Review in a way that, while entertaining, does not cover new ground. The jokes of writer James Quinn gained the cast some of the biggest laughs of the night, but the play descends into farce for no good reason. In a similar vein, The Script plays on a fairly familiar idea that ‘luvvies’ end up destroying the thing they set out to create, namely by ignoring the writer. Again, the play is funny in parts, and very well performed, but it is too easy a target.

The remaining two plays struggle with the parameters of JB Shorts. 15 minutes is not a long time for a play, and the set and staging are inherently limited. Zeroes And Ones deals with a man having a temporary breakdown, and conveys the stress of family life very well, but some of the speeches about the evils of technology seem a bit sluggish, and there is simply not enough time to deal with so many conflicting and difficult issues. Baaji On The Beat, on the other hand, needs more focus and a more believable set up, as it quickly descends into silliness.

As ever, some moments are brighter than others, but the overall quality of the six 15 minute plays is excellent, and JB Shorts continues to be something to look forward to in the theatre calendar.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Images: courtesy of Joshua Brooks.

Monday, 25 March 2013

This City Is On Fire presents: Paul White.

Outside of their annual Sounds From The Other City stage shares, the last time the Mind On Fire and This City Is Ours music promotion squads teamed up was just over three years ago, booking a little known ambient production duo back when you thought Mount Kimbie was an obscure summit in the Rockies and dubstep was barely grazing music’s collective consciousness, nevermind under consideration for a 'post-' tag.

Now Then was also around back then, in blog form, and here’s what we said.

The two have belatedly fused their musical minds and monikers once more and in a stroke of inordinately uncanny accident, the week of their follow-up show has coincided with the announcement of Mount Kimbie’s sophomore LP, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth.

Paul White is the next headliner they’re fast-tracking to further fortune. I won’t lie, at first his name sounded like the indifference provoking hybrid of a professional snooker player from the 1980s and a smart casual fashion label. But I’ve been told that my own name sounds somewhere between middle management bureaucrat and trainee accountant, and perhaps some other occupations associated with service sector drudgery, so who am I to talk? Maybe we could both do with boarding the good ship pseudonym until such assumptions burn out. Or we could both embrace our appellations; I'll find a steady and unremarkable 9 to 5, and he'll be stitching the latest line of snazzy waistcoats and bow ties in no time. There we'll both be, our roads never to cross, living out predetermined paths through to the epitaph. But I digress.

Do a little digging and his name pops up everywhere. His production credits go back more than five years and he’s recently supplied a rework of Seaming’s ‘Vertigo Billy’ for her Ronseal simplicity inspired remix album, entitled The Remix Album. Diplo (whose Mad Decent label is under fire from the plagiarism police for failing to credit Plastic Little’s “do the Harlem Shake” vocal origin on Baauer’s YouTube indebted hit) has declared that he is “his biggest fan,” placing himself at the front of a queue of music industry admirers that includes trend setting disc jockeys Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson.

A fascination with obscure psychedelic records is evident in Paul White & The Purple Brain, an LP released via Stones Throw offshoot Now Again Records and dedicated entirely to samples of Swedish multi-instrumentalist and guitar FX pedal champion ST Mikael – whose own cosmic exploration has crossed sonic paths with Dungen’s Reine Fiske. More recently, White’s compositions have edged closer to hip hop, working with MCs such as Homeboy Sandman, Jehst and Danny Brown on Rapping With Paul White – an album with a diversity exemplified by the appearance of the North West harpist Nancy Elizabeth reciting a poem through stifled laughter.

It’s a strong CV for a Manchester first-timer, and on Friday he’ll be wearing yet another hat. This show introduces his new live trio alongside drummer Mo Kolours and saxophonist Tenderlonious, so expect all of the above (barring the snooker threads) with added jazzy dexterity.

Words: Ian Pennington.
Paul White poster art by Dead Pheasant.
Mount Kimbie poster art by Mike Newton, Herbal Sessions.

Paul White headlines Kraak Studio on Friday 29th March. Support comes from Manchester’s Ape Cult and Danny Drive Thru. Sounds From The Other City takes place on Sunday 5th May, with the This City Is On Fire stages across both floors in The Kings Arms.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

¡VIVA! Festival 2013 @ Cornerhouse

This month The Cornerhouse plays host to the 19th ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, transporting audiences away from the grim, grey streets of Manchester and into a world filled with the spice and colour of Spanish culture.

From the get-go, however, ¡Viva! demonstrates how Spanish and Latin American identity is made up of much more than just pure fun and frivolity. Yoshua Okón’s video installation, Octopus (2011), in Gallery 1 reminds us of the incredibly dark undercurrent that has plagued life in Guatemala since its civil war in the 1980s.

The performance itself is a re-enactment of this civil war, with the performers made up of those who were forced to fight. There is one major difference, however. The old battleground of Guatemala is instead replaced by a new one: the carpark of a Home Depot in LA. The war itself claimed over 200,000 victims, most of whom were Mayan Indians, in an attempt by Guatemala’s military leaders to eliminate the leftwing guerrilla uprising that threatened the existence of the country’s rightwing dictatorship.

Rather than use graphic imagery to draw attention to the sheer barbarity of the civil war, Okón uses satire to demonstrate how these atrocities were not only ignored by the Western world, but actively promoted. Okón’s positioning of the piece in a Home Depot, a physical embodiment of American capitalist society, points to the controversial relationship between Guatemala and America.

Reagan’s administration in America helped support the oppressive totalitarian regime in Guatemala by approving the sale of $6.36 million worth of military arms to its genocidal dictator, Efrain Rios Montt. Okón explores this through a layer irony, which is achieved using a complex system of camera angles and perspectives, projected into an almost 360 degree environment, completely immersing you in the action.

The accompanying piece in the gallery, US (2005), has a similar tone of to it. It is a single-channel four minute animation which consists of a solid gold monument of the letters ‘US’ towering above Washington, DC. The letters revolve on the spot and appear to act as some sort of shrine to either the American dream or corporate greed, the difference between the two being perhaps too close to separate.

The premiere screening of the festival’s launch night was ¡Atraco! (which translates as Hold-Up!), directed by Eduard Cortés. The film explores the real life events which led to an attempted jewellery shop robbery in Madrid during the 1950s. In an elaborate plot, akin to that of the Ocean’s Eleven series, two Argentine Peron loyalists attempt to steal back jewels which had been previously pawned to fund their leader’s time in exile. The reason for wanting the jewels was that they now risked falling into the hands of the Spanish dictator General Franco’s wife, having been previously owned by Argentina’s first lady Eva Peron. Still with me?

Despite its complexity, the film is undoubtedly an audience pleaser, with the two robbers in question truly stealing the show (cough, no pun intended). Guillermo Francella and Nicolás Cabré perform their roles as Merello, the exasperated veteran, and Miguel, hapless sidekick, down to a tee. In fact, the best moments of the film come when both characters argue and engage with each other in a quick-fire comedic way, re-enforcing their roles as experienced pro and naive first timer.

One of the funniest running gags throughout the film was how both of these Argentines managed to wrestle with the task of pretending to be Spanish in order to not arouse suspicion. In one scene, in which Miguel tries to rehearse the robbery, Merello tells him to be more Spanish and shout “bollocks” when he walks into the store. This, of course, goes about as well as you can expect, provoking a greater amount of laughter than it does terror.

Ultimately, it’s the fine balance between comedy and tragedy which makes ¡Atraco! such a captivating film to watch. Through his direction, Cortés has managed to create a film which is warm, charming and enjoyable, and yet also makes us question the true meaning of loyalty, family, friendship and brotherhood.

Words: Joseph Barratt.
Images: courtesy of The Cornerhouse.

The 19th ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival continues at The Cornerhouse until Sunday 24 March, 2013.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Best @ Lass O’ Gowrie, 12.03.13

George Best was one of the most brilliant sportsmen of his era, a man possessed of natural talents coupled to good looks and charm. He was the first celebrity athlete, in the sense that his fame eventually had nothing to do with the game that he played, and everything to do with his personality and lifestyle. He was a storybook hero, a boy from the streets of Belfast made good, beating the rest of the world and getting the girl(s). But, like so many heroes, he had an Achilles heel. Best's was drink.

'The Best' is a lost script by writer Jack Rosenthal that was recently discovered in the archives, and has now been adapted for the stage by Ian Winterton. The play follows George Best through the twilight years of his career, once the glory was over and he was merely a journeyman footballer. It deals with many complicated issues, but all of them have a common source: self destruction through drinking. The question that the play grapples with is why; why would a man who has it all need to drink?

The subject is tackled through group interrogation while Best is trying to dry out in an American clinic. His fellow patients shout, swear and berate him, always asking him why: why would you hurt your wife? Why are you throwing your talents away? Why can't you be happy? Of course, there are no simple answers, and if there is one thing I took away from 'The Best' it is that addiction has many parents. No one thing causes someone to drink, and no one thing can cure them.

Benjamin Patterson as George Best was presented with a difficult task; to be charming, troubled and somewhat of a bastard all in just over an hour. He succeeded admirably, managing to portray red-eyed bleariness, raging self hatred and impish charm. Charlotte Dalton, as the long-suffering Mrs Best, was certainly believable, if not quite as engaging as Patterson. The cast as a whole was strong, with a notable comic performance coming from Sinead Parker as Best's mother. Even the difficult issue of the cast performing much of the play in American accents did not prove a problem; never jarring, if not quite hitting every note.

The set was simple, with white walls invoking a changing room and a clinic. You could almost smell the disinfectant, mixed with the sweat of a used football shirt. The compact nature of the Lass O' Gowrie was perfect for representing the claustrophobia of a rehab clinic, the pressure of being hunted by the paparazzi and the shuttered world of an addict. The direction never got in the way of the story, allowing the dialogue – and there is a lot of dialogue in 'The Best' – to be heard. A few flourishes, such as repeated crowd chanting of “Georgie”, by the entire cast, strobe-lighting that imitated flash-bulbs and a projection of the real George Best scoring a goal, added to the immersive quality of the play.

For a script written almost thirty years ago, the issues dealt with in 'The Best' are surprisingly modern. Sportspeople, particularly footballers, are now personalities first and athletes second, and George Best was the first of their breed. Private lives have become public, with dozens of magazines and TV channels devoted to tracking the every move of ‘celebs’. 'The Best' asks the question: why did George Best drink?, but it ends up revealing something more disturbing. With that much adulation, that much pressure and that much temptation, drinking yourself to death suddenly seems like a reasonable response. Don't be surprised to see 'The Best' touring soon as it is very strong play, well performed, with effective staging and direction.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Posters: Anthony Dry.
Photo: Simon Lee.