Edinburgh Fringe 2014 Review: Occupied

Image: Alixroth/Flickr

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31 August 2014, ThreeWeeks Edinburgh Review

From issues of patriarchy to the moral difficulties of hummus, ‘Occupied’ portrays the world of student protest in its overbearing earnestness. When a production of ‘The Producers’ is threatening the Fringe, a group of protestors occupy the theatre to stop this (probably) offensive production taking place. The stock protesters are all there: the anarchist, the Marxist; and the long skirted one who sings songs about the Scottish referendum (a song about Alex Salmond to ‘The Real Slim Shady’ was a particular audience favourite). The play could be seen as a cynical view of protest, but a sense of the difficulty that faces this group does come through in this engaging, funny and farcical production which is ultimately good-natured.

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Theatre Review: Shoot Coward

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30 October 2013, Varsity Online Theatre Section

The staging of three of the best Latin American plays of the past 30 years was certainly an ambitious project, particularly as these three plays had not been seen in Britain before. What’s more, their themes span some of the most fundamental questions to humanity: life and death, the impact of totalitarian regimes on the individual, and the cult of celebrity and fame. The production was solid, with good performances which kept the audience engaged in the action and prevented it from dragging.

The plays are simply staged, with only a park bench or a few chairs as the backdrop for the action. This contrasted to the plots of the plays, which at times could feel ludicrous, but were carefully handled by the performers who used this minimalist staging to create multi-faceted and sometimes multiple characters.

In the first of the plays, Secret Obscenities, two flashers appear to be vying for the bench outside a prestigious private girls’ school in Santiago. But the play subtly progresses into a statement about totalitarian politics, and the action is rarely all it seems. The play features some great comic turns from its two performers, Tris Hobson and Jake Thompson, particularly the former who deftly manoeuvres the comic aspects of this play alongside its more serious political statements. Nonetheless it is ultimately this coupling of performers who keep the audience in suspense about the direction of the play: the moments of co-operative interaction between the two performers are gripping.

The second play, Bony and Kim, was perhaps the play with the least novelty to offer its audience in terms of script. The two female lovers turn from “respectable” robbery to sensationalist sprees on fast food joints, all with the aim of gaining fame and renown. That said, Megan Dalton and Lili Thomas conveyed an irrepressible energy and vigour which managed to make theirs the most enjoyable play of the evening.

Looking into the Stands was without a doubt the most bizarre play of the evening. A mediocre matador (Margarita Milne), and the bull she is attempting to slay (Gabriel Cagan), fall into a discussion about the bull fight, life, love and death. The coexistence of their visceral dislike and mutual recognition of each other is convincingly portrayed by the two actors.

Overall, despite the challenging and often bizarre plots, solid performances brought to life these plays which may otherwise have felt contrived. Nonetheless, the content of plays was neither novel, nor did it seem uniquely Latin American, which may have made this production more exciting.

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Comment: So…Why Can’t You Just Borrow Money From Your Parents

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5 November 2013, Varsity Online Comment Section

“Can’t you just borrow the money from your parents?” was the refrain one Gonville and Caius undergraduate was allegedly met with when trying to explain to a college official why they couldn’t pay their bill.

It is not surprising that any Caius student should struggle to pay their college bill this term. The college have recently come under scrutiny by announcing that the price of student accommodation at Caius would increase by 9.5 per cent, while food prices would also rise by 6 per cent. The announcement has been met with suitable consternation by the student body and alumni alike, who are worried that an “increase of this magnitude is unnecessary and potentially very harmful to the wellbeing of the student body.”

The college official’s words were clearly ill-advised, particularly for a university which has long been (unsuccessfully) trying to shed the image of catering only for the upper echelons of society. The comment makes it clear that Cambridge is still very much a university which views its students as the children of those with deep pockets. There is almost some sense in this argument: why would anyone be willing to pay £9000 fees on top of the cost of living? I certainly wasn’t, and had the advantage of being a Welsh student in the year they decided to subject a generation of students to crippling debt with little chance of payoff, otherwise I wouldn’t have applied. It is comments like these which will prevent many others applying.

It seems that Gonville and Caius have followed this line of thinking. Perhaps they do not expect a diverse range of students in their intake, and cannot comprehend what those whose parents can do little or nothing to ease the burden of extortion are doing there. The state is seemingly no longer responsible for the welfare of their students, and as a consequence, only those who already have the resources can be expected to gain an education. This attitude, although untenably cruel, is merely a reflection of the broader attitude of a society in which the majority of people, and particularly young people, are being increasingly marginalised by the current government.

This generation of millenials have borne the brunt of austerity cuts. The average student debt is now the size of a small mortgage, and this is but the tip of the iceberg of stress, worry and financial hardship to come. Many students, after completing their degrees, will fall into an endless series of often exploitative, unpaid internships, part-time work and further training before they can even hope to enter the sector of their choice. The majority of these placements are in London, and the Help to Buy scheme indicates that the most profitable and beneficial place to live in the nation is probably unaffordable to most young people. Additionally, with the economy in its current rut, who knows if there will be any employment anyway?

As a consequence, these millennials will have to return to their childhood bedrooms for an unspecified number of years, watching the wallpaper peel and aspiring to independence, yet unable to establish themselves outside their parents’ arm span. Adolescence is being artificially extended, and individuals – who considered themselves to be adults – are forced back into the rules and conduct they did not expect to return to. It cannot be said that the super-rich are any less reliant on their parents to give them money for a deposit, get them work and enable them to launch their own lives, but independence has never before been as much the preserve of an elite as it is today.

Gonville and Caius may be willing to accept the individualist attitude of the current climate, but they will ultimately be the ones who suffer. It is the diversity of the college which generates the discussion, debates and counter-culture it must maintain to keep its intellectual and creative flair. The students applying to Cambridge this year will not to be doing so solely for the academic education it offers. It is the social scene that is just as important in giving the education we need. This atmosphere can only exist as long as students have the resources to attend societies and engage with other students, and these resources are often financial. Therefore, Gonville and Caius may well be robbing itself of the very resources it requires to appeal to students in the first place.

The future for this generation of graduates is bleak, but it will considerably worsen if universities become even more the preserve of the rich and lose the diversity which ultimately makes them attractive and useful. Without opportunities that universities offer their students, the millennials being forced into a depressing spiral of debt will lack the skills they require to challenge their life pattern. An institution which can only attract the elite will ultimately lose its raison d’etre and the very elite it desired.

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Preview: The Penelopiad

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20 November 2013, Varsity Online Culture Section

Homer’s story of Odysseus, the Trojan hero and model of masculinity, is almost universally known in the West: the brave soldier endeavouring to return home to Ithaca, the battles with sirens and sea creatures he faces, and the paradigm of all wifely goodness, Penelope, waiting on her isle with tapestry in hand. It was in the second wave of feminism that Margaret Atwood brought the paradigm’s voice to the world with The Penelopiad, and it seems entirely appropriate that in this third wave of feminism we should have Penelope’s perspective put under the spotlights by a fresher cast at the ADC theatre.

Penelope, played by Aoife Kennan, and her fellow characters narrate their role in the myth from Hades, and it is evident that the cast and crew have been going through a day in Hades when I meet them the day before the play opens. Georgie Henley, who has been cast as Eurycleia, has been taken seriously ill and director-turned-understudy de Ferrer has been manically learning all her lines within the space of three hours. Nonetheless, everything is now going smoothly, a feat which the director attributes to her cast who have worked ceaselessly on the music, movement and prose to bring this production to life.

The themes of perspective and voice, as well as the novelty of inverting the almost sacred text of Homer, were what excited de Ferrer about directing this play, her first in Cambridge. Having read the Odyssey, and being an Atwood fan herself, she was interested in how Atwood had “taken something that was a mere footnote in Homer’s original”, the vicious hanging of Penelope’s twelve maids, and “created a whole backstory.”  For de Ferrer, she has given these women who “had no name, had no face”, a voice.

The feminist credentials of the play have been a great source of interest, particularly Atwood’s subtlety with them. For de Ferrer, these centre on the realism of the characters, who challenge the stale, conventional image of women presented by Homer. “Penelope says in the opening speech how she has become an edifying legend, a stick used to beat other women with,” says de Ferrer. Through her Brechtian, stripped-down staging, she has attempted to draw attention to the words the actors utter and their meaning, taking voice as the central aspect of the play.

The Atwood text, which has very little stage direction, is the perfect play for this director to “bend and really play with”, as it has enabled her to bring in her love of physical theatre. Movement and music inspired by Baz Luhrman’s soundtrack to The Great Gatsby, as well as some original pieces choreographed by the cast pervade the production.  The effect of this innovation is such that The Penelopiad should have the shear physical emotionality of a ballet in its “movement which animates text”,challenging the idea of Homer’s static women from the outset.

The production took inspiration from the National Theatre’s recent production of Antigone, in which the chorus move and chant in discord while still remaining a cohesive unit. The aim in The Penelopiad is to individuate the characters, while signalling their common struggle with class and gender which is still relevant today. The director does not wish to sanitise the play. For instance, there is a rape scene which is played out in the style of a “frenzied tango” which conveys more than perhaps a one line of dialogue ever could.

By directing this play, de Ferrer hopes she will be able to encourage others to perform more physical theatre in Cambridge, which she believes is sorely lacking. Having seen the ease with which she and the cast have blended simple but effective movement with Atwood’s punch packing words almost faultlessly, I can only hope she will succeed.

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Theatre Review: Jitters

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27 November 2013, Varsity Online Reviews Section

From the moment you enter the Corpus Playroom to watch Jitters, an original comedy written by first-time writer Mollie Wintle, you can see the two main cast members lounging about on a sofa onstage decorated with Turkish rugs, coffee tables and plush furniture. From this you can establish two things: firstly what the two main cast members will be doing throughout the play (that is, not a lot) and the middle class nature of the play.

In Jitters the tasteless Martha, played by Laura Inge, is finally doing the decent thing and getting married, which is a great relief for her equally foul family who desire nothing more than to get rid of her at any cost. While everyone is preparing for the wedding, Freya and Sophie, played by Freya Mead and Rebecca Cusack respectively, avoid the wedding flurry by sitting upstairs and moaning about their lives and family. The events take a turn when it appears the husband-to-be Jack, portrayed by Tim Crowter, is experiencing jitters and can’t go through with the wedding.

Despite the potential for comedy, the play does not deliver the laughs it promised at the outset. It is neither a social satire of the middle classes, nor simple satire. Some of the scenes which are intended to be funniest, such as Jack’s wedding jitters, feel slightly overacted and never quite achieve hilarity. Jitters’ comic characters also fail to play their part correctly as they never become more than caricatures of sullen teenagers, Daily Mail readers, nerds and uptight middle class women. Additionally, the play undergoes a tonal shift at various points toward the end where the actions and dialogue of the characters become somewhat serious. However, this – and what it brings about as a result – is unconvincing as a particularly meaningful sacrifice.

The main problem with the two main characters is that they remain sitting down, muttering truisms and making vapid remarks about others and complaining in general, and after a while become more frustrating than amusing. Additionally, most of the male characters appear to serve no function at all: they may enter the stage for a scene to either do something practical or just say hello, beyond that they are nothing more than enablers. That said, Laura Waldren deserves high praise for her subtle and convincing portrayal of a Marian who has been brought to the edge by her sister Martha and her freeloading ways.

All in all, Jitters is funny enough to engage the audience. But it contains tonal shifts which are unnecessary, and portrays characters it is hard to like or sympathise with. It demonstrates some excellent performances, but that may not be enough of a compensation.

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Theatre Column: The National Theatre

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29 November 2013, Varsity Theatre Section

The National Theatre, a by-word for theatrical excellence, celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month to commemorate what it has done best for the past half century: produce and import quality products no matter how uncommercial they sound, and use new methods such as physical theatre to illuminate the themes of the play, creating a production that can serve as a reflection of our times.

The National Theatre has a far greater responsibility than any other theatre company in Britain: being our national theatre, it has to walk the line between providing a high quality service, and catering to the public’s wants and desires.

In order to do this, the theatre embodies the belief that people understand and respond to quality, not just performances staged purely to entertain.

The National Theatre has consistently advocated originality, and has since become the benchmark against which all other British theatre, including our own theatre scene in Cambridge must measure up.

Here in Cambridge, Michaelmas term has produced its usual show of quality. It has seen an acclaimed production of The History Boys, as well as The Bacchae, a tragedy by Euripides which was updated to serve as a reflection of our times.

Even if the latter production did feel like a somewhat contrived modernisation, the innovative spirit is to be applauded. In future, I hope to see more shows which place a greater emphasis on illuminating the script rather than modernising it simply for the sake of it.

Jez Butterworth’s epic play Jerusalem also took to the ADC stage to reflect the condition of Britain amidst the erosion of rural ways of life – and to great success.
Perhaps more experimentally, Shoot Coward! took three Latin American plays that had not even been shown in Britain before and staged them in the Corpus Playroom ­– a move as daring as any done at the National Theatre.

It is this willingness to try something novel, and produce it with creativity and finesse, which I hope to see more of in the Cambridge theatre scene.

In spite of its initial resistance to the National Theatre, British theatre has been well served by it, given its willingness to adapt and look abroad for inspiration, as well as accept the literary shifts and attitudes in Britain.

The Cambridge theatre scene has perhaps emulated the National Theatre’s ideals in its willingness to experiment with unknown plays from other cultures, aided in part by its diverse student body and its large international student intake.

Nevertheless, the student productions of the day might continue to better themselves by examining whether the staging of their productions are mere aesthetic, or add meaning to their texts.

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Film Review: Kill Your Darlings

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19 December 2013, Varsity Online Reviews Section

There has been a glut of Beat generation films recently: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl (2010) and Walter Salles’s On the Road (2012) were both caught up in the paraphernalia of smoke, drink, jazz, and manic energy of the Beats, but failed to capture their artistic vision. Kill Your Darlings momentarily allows itself to indulge in this dark glamour, but is by far superior in its visceral portrayal of its characters, and its stark depiction of the bloody birth of the Beat poets.

Kill Your Darlings documents the relationship between the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), and his somewhat unhinged and dangerous classmate, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). All the main players of the Beat generation come into the fray to form Ginsberg’s artistic and sexual awakening, which is rudely interrupted by a ferocious act of violence which will at once bind together the Beats, only to pull them apart.

The film provides a fresh insight into the world of the Beat generation, and suffuses blood into a movement which is often portrayed to be devoid of reality, offering little more than a sham aesthetic. While the film is filled with frantic montage scenes in which the poets tear apart books and type in a drink-and-drug-induced frenzy as the soundtrack beats, bops and swings along with a constant ebb and throng, its true energy and vigour emerges through its cast who excel in bringing this movement to life, without resorting to bland stereotypes of their respective characters

The performances of DeHaan, and particularly Radcliffe, deserve considerable praise. DeHaan portrays the disturbed, but glamorous Carr with a quiet but fiery brilliance, creating an enigmatic and fascinating puzzle for the audience to resolve. Radcliffe’s performance of the infatuated young Ginsberg is both considered and intelligent: he manages to turn in a performance which creates a feeling of vulnerability and longing in such a way that is devastating to watch.

Where the film lapses a little is in its lack of a plot: the violent action of the film does not occur until quite near the end; although the tone is saturated with an anxious apprehension of what is to come, the film perhaps could have exploited those moments a little more. That said, the climax of the film is done expertly, and creates a certain chill.

Overall, Kill Your Darlings is an energetic, highly enjoyable film which presents an altogether different perspective on the formation of the Beat movement. The film is at times slow burning, but the performances of DeHaan and Radcliffe above all create an exciting film.

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Television Review: Call the Midwife – 2013 Christmas Special

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4 January 2014, Varsity Online Culture Section

“At Christmas, we like to see things in their proper place”, cooed Vanessa Redgrave at the beginning of this year’s Christmas outing of Call the Midwife. This was rare festive television in that everything actually did fall into its proper place, producing a suitable addition to the winter schedule.

It was a cheerier affair in Poplar this Christmas compared to last. With this year’s episode showing on Christmas Day, the writers couldn’t match the gritty themes of their previous special, and instead contented themselves with shell shock, wedding jitters, polio, unexploded bombs and Sandi Toksvig thrown in for good measure. The episode blended a warm dose of Christmas values with Call the Midwife’s usual stirred depictions of the working class East End.

The episode concentrated on the upcoming nuptials of Shelagh and Dr Turner, who appears to be the only physician in the city. Coupled with this, the discovery of an unexploded German bomb under the streets of Poplar, which put the whole area in jeopardy at the height of Christmas celebrations.

It often felt as if this episode was trying to fit too much into too short a time, which I suppose is rather apt for Christmas. Its dealings with polio were particularly disappointing, in that they were relegated to playing a side role.

Nonetheless, writer Heidi Thomas deserves credit for steering these many streams into a single, seamless flow shot through with moments of comedy. Mention must also be made of the episode’s cast, particularly the scene-stealing Chummy, played by Miranda Hart.

All in all, this Christmas outing managed to combine a good deal of festive cheer with high-quality drama, even if it did feel a bit too busy in Poplar. With a good dose of humour and added tinsel, Call the Midwife was a joy rather than an unnecessary supplement to a bloated day.

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Comment: Debate – This House Would Send its Children to Private School

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23 January 2014, Varsity Online Comment Section

This was written ahead of a debate at the Cambridge Union

Against

Britain is one of the few countries in Europe where you can send your child to private school without impunity – at least according to Anthony Sheldon (head of Wellington College), who proposed earlier this week that households who earn upwards of £80,000 should have to pay a “contribution” towards their education if they attend a top state school. This statement occurred at the same time as Becca Atkinson in the University of Bristol’s Tab – read by around 40,000 people – argued that private schools are “obviously” superior to state schools. The moral implication of these statements is plain: if parents can afford it they ought to send their child to private school in order to give the poorest children a chance.

What both these individuals accept unconditionally is that the division between private and state schools is permanent, and cannot be remedied. In doing so they compound the problem; as long as parents choose to send their children to private over state there will always have to be an attainment gap which private schools will have to win to justify their existence. This doesn’t mean that private schools are better as such: they merely have the number of staff and monetary resources to encourage those would normally not achieve get the marks and contacts they need to succeed, a luxury many oversized and underfunded state schools do not.

It would seem that a simple increase in spending on education would resolve this disparity in access and results. The difficulty is that those who are best placed to pay for this increase are usually those who enrol their children in private education and are uninterested in and unwilling to pay for an education system they have no stake in. This results in the gross divide in Britain between the private and state school which continues throughout life into university, employment, and the highest offices of state. The private sector of schooling does not create a meaningful standard against which state schools can be compared and is damaging to the state of education as a whole.

Sheldon’s comments aim barbs at the wrong group. We should not castigate the wealthy that send their children to state schools. Equality can only be achieved in education, and British society as a whole, if everyone has a vested interest in the state of education. This cannot be achieved while private schools continue to gorge themselves on the resources and individuals which would have a wider and greater impact if they could be assigned to state education.

Our current educational system starts the cycle of inequality which begins the cycle of inequality that determines the life spans of the majority of people and, as a result, education is never just a matter of transferring knowledge but determining the form of our society. As long as our education system continues to be divided between the have-and-have-nots of private and state education our society will be too.

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Theatre Review: The Massacre at Paris

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13 February 2014, Varsity Online Theatre Section

It’s always good to see a little-performed play make it to the stage, especially when it is by somebody as revered as Christopher Marlowe, and this production of The Massacre at Paris appears promising at the outset. Entering the ADC Theatre you confront a figure draped in dense black shadow, sitting at a desk facing away from you. The atmosphere of bureaucratic callousness is palpable. But this production doesn’t quite deliver on its promise of icy tension. For an event said to make the Seine run with blood, it comes to feel oddly bloodless as it goes on.

The action centres on the Duc of Guise (Ruth O’Connell Brown) and the French royal establishment, including Catherine de Medici (Rebecca Hare). It takes place during the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of France’s Huguenot minority, and the wars of religion which ensued.

The massacre at Paris was underwhelming, and part of this problem lies with the play itself. It certainly lacks some of the linguistic elegance and punch Marlowe invested in Doctor Faustus and, for a play that is only an hour in length, it attempts too much in covering around a decade of some of the most turbulent years in French history. It moves far too rapidly, and the scenes are so brief that it is impossible to develop any sort of attachment to the characters, or for the production to rack up the ambience to the menacing undertones it requires.

The performances in the play were certainly solid, but inclined to feeling under-performed and somewhat detached from the drama. Unfortunately it was difficult to judge O’Connell Brown’s performance: she appeared to be suffering from a sore throat in a part which demanded speeches screamed to the heavens, boiling over with hate, bitterness and disgust. By the end of the play her voice was quite done for. As a whole the production did not produce any stand-out performances, and occasionally the cast appeared to lack conviction in their roles.

At times the play did come to life in the way it used the stage and theatre to include the audience in the shock and horror, and induced them to feel fear during some of the more violent scenes. The modern-day setting enabled some of the speeches to be communicated as news reporting on loudspeakers or radios: this was highly effective and an interesting nod to what the play must have originally been, namely, propaganda.

All in all, this outing of Marlowe’s play was partially limited by Marlowe himself, but the performers did not feel fully invested in the drama which, although solid enough, only occasionally glimmered.

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Preview: Duchess of Malfi

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25 February 2014, Varsity Culture Section

T. S. Eliot famously said that Jacobean dramatist John Webster was much possessed with death, and saw “the skull beneath the skin” in every act on stage. In none of Webster’s plays can the skull be seen so clearly leering through the drawn, waxen flesh as in The Duchess of Malfi.

Death pervades this tale of love, corruption, class and the violent domination of women. In an attempt to secure her own happiness, the Duchess of Malfi, played by Charlotte Quinney, marries against the wishes of her sordid, tyrannical brothers – Ferdinand and the Cardinal – to the lowly Antonio. This sets up a chain of events which, when they come cascading down, result in tragedy and the merciless shedding of innocent blood.

Isabelle Kettle, the production’s director, acknowledges that the more sensational aspects of the Duchess’s plight may be the ones which draw people in. She herself laughingly quips that she thinks “sex and violence are really interesting”. It is the characterisation which has helped the play endure, however, and this was what attracted her to directing it, in particular the role of the Duchess – a rare example of a woman at the centre of a Jacobean tragedy. Quinney notes that what Webster seems to be doing for the first time is portraying a woman who “isn’t all about chastity”. She is a strong woman, and one “whose desire is given value within the play”. There is also interest for the actors in the role reversal between Antonio and the Duchess: “She has the power, she comes onto him”. This production stages Antonio as the “wife-figure” to the Duchess. It is these ideas of gender, sex, and power that Quinney says she would sell the play on.

What immediately becomes clear of the cast and crew is the delight they take in their characters and Webster’s idiosyncratic dialogue for each. “They’re real”, says Quinney, and as a result Kettle is determined to put the emphasis on the characters in this reading of the play. “It’s not trying to get across any message”, she asserts, and her aim is for the audience to “find the truth in it through the actors and through the relationships”. As much as the characters strive to find their own individuality and meaning in an oppressive and masculine world, so must the audience in the course of the play.

The actors hope to induce the same emotionality that they experienced in rehearsing this play. Quinney admits freely that she felt overwhelmed by The Duchess of Malfi at times. Kettle has sought to rack up the emotional turmoil, and “there will be a strong sense as the play goes through – and everything collapses and unravels – likewise the set is going to do the same.” Sound should also play an important role in the production, descending into a mix of broken chords and jarring sharps to match the scenery. They create a sense of a “whole world being deconstructed” as the tragedy tightens its vice-like grip on the characters.

This production is set against a backdrop of Italian Fascism in 1933. Kettles states that when she was reading the play the idea of Fascism illuminated her understanding of it: it seemed to be a natural fit. “What is contained in fascism which focuses this play”, says Bloor, is its ideological nucleus: “one, strength; two, control; and three, order. And purity comes out of order, and control of women comes out of strength and order”.

The cast and crew express some dissatisfaction with updates of plays which add aesthetic effects but contribute little to meaning. Bloor adds that a traditional “costume drama” feels too much like a story and produces something that feels distant. That is the very antithesis of her Duchess, and I hope they will succeed in creating the forceful, realistic and nuanced production they hope to.

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Film Review: The Double

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25 April 2014, Varsity Online Culture Section

Dostoyevsky’s psychohorror The Double has never been far from our cinemas. Its world of contrasts – white and black, good and evil, innocence and guilt – most notably influenced Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Finally, in this film directed by Richard Ayoade, the seemingly unadaptable source material is brought to the screen in stylish form, but is sometimes lost in translation.

The Double seems an unpromising subject: Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a pathetic push-over, lives in a depressing Soviet era style tower block and works in a depressing Soviet era style office full of Kafka-esque rules, broken lifts and tedious tasks to perform for his boss (Wallace Shawn). His life is even worse back at home: he’s a disappointing son, he can only gaze at the object of his desire, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) through a Rear Window style telescope, and the suicide rate in his area is ridiculously high.

All-in-all, this makes him the least remarkable man in existence – until doppelganger James Simon appears, that is. James enters the stage in swashbuckling style, convinces him to do his work for him, takes his girlfriend and gradually takes over his unremarkable little life.

The film is certainly a sensory experience; Ayoade excels at cramming the screen full of contrasting colours, shadow and light, word play and jarring notes to set the stage for the show-down between the two foils, played with great skill by Eisenberg, who seamlessly creates two reverse yet entwined characters.

An expertly-crafted melancholic humour is injected into the piece, which prevents it from becoming too sincere a work about the state of man and instead creates a sharp, witty and macabre piece.

At times it is too odd a world that Ayoade has created, and one which you feel you are constantly reaching out to grab but can’t quite get a hold of. The world of this film at times feels so abstract and remote that you feel unconnected from the action: perhaps the film’s trick is to make us feel as disconnected as the characters in their own story.

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