Sunday, 28 November 2010

Madame Arcati Uncut

Just to warm the cockles of your frozen heart this chilly Sunday night, here's a previously unpublished i/v with media blogger and celebrity scourge Madame Arcati, she currently channels through Victor Olliver, film critic and newspaper journalist. Just last week, Darling MA exposed an X Factor contestant's raunchy granny's porn / escort past in true tabloidese, and the blog which was established in 2006,  peaked at over 40 000 hits in a week. Be warned, you are no longer in Kansas, Dorothy. 

For For over six years Darling MA has brought us exclusive scoops and news that hacks and haquettes drool over and couldn't find with a 500 watt bulb, a farm tractor and an Associated Newspapers  expense account. Think of her as the media's answer to  The Equalizer and WikiLeaks. 

What made you start writing up the trivia and torpedoes of the media / showbiz world's gossip? Was there a shortage of good gossipistes? Did you fill the *ahem* gap? Who is your favorite gossipiste du jour ( I know this is subject to change hourly, double Gemini just take a tabloid and stick a drawing pin on a page. Ouch)

My dear, Madame does not gossip. Gossiping is what you do when you don’t know anything: I’m sure Peter McHackey of the Daily Mail will concur. A more accomplished bottom feeder of others’ droppings I have yet to encounter. Madame shares what she knows with her discerning public (and a few loafers indentured on newspapers seeking a free lunch) and in turn a few of them tell me what they know. 

This exchange is less complicated than sex and no one ends up stalked.

The best supplier of actual information is probably Nicky Haslam - he has the stamina and memory for all the parties. The best gossip (in the sense of not knowing anything) is the above mentioned Peter McKay (aka McHackey)  who daily fills his Mail  Ephraim Hardcastle ‘column’ with the bruised peel of yesterday’s fruit nibblings

What was your biggest scoop?

Where do I start, poppet? Certainly my best recent scoop was breaking the news of Sebastian Horsley’s untimely death - his body was still warm when the news went up, and for half the day a great many arts hacks thought I’d made it up. People say I’m tasteless but a least I didn’t put up the photo of Seb fucking that quadruple amputee woman.

The scoop I’m most proud of was my revelations about a London newspaper editor who left his wife and family for the London mayor’s comely PR person - a potentially tricky matter given that the mayor had a say in where the editor’s paper could be sold on London Transport property. Happily there was no conflict of interest; but it’s best to know of these things than not know. The newspapers ignored the story, natch. Editors like to cover each other’s back. 

What was your biggest disappointment?  

So many, my sweet.  So many. I am by nature a trusting person. The writer Precious Williams deeply wounded me. She assured me over and over again (in emails I still possess) that she did indeed have a relationship with the Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow - which he denied. He even denied knowing her. Precious promised me proof. I am still waiting. My thumbs have been twiddled to limpness. My finger nails have been drummed into the bone. I find it astonishing that Mr Snow then married Precious - another Precious, that is. Such a common name.

Jon Snow and the real Precious

What do you wear while you blawg? Do you blawg naked? Do you have an aperitif to get you in the mood?

It depends on the time of day and who’s in the room. Mornings I have been known to face the blog in my lace and poly silk negligee designed by Jane Woolrich while a stranger’s hands search my person fervently for signs of (re-)arousal. Writing about the likes of Kevin Spacey in such a situation adds a frisson to one’s online breakfast. Of an evening I have been known to sip a certain anise-flavoured beverage as I deliberate on the fate of some unfortunate TV host favourite - a few words and it’s all over for them. Power must be exercised responsibly. Top up!
Kevin Spacey's Third Eye.

What's the view from your desk? Keep it clean dearie.

Well, I’m most concerned about the Union Jack that used to flap about in my peripheral vision in a neighbour’s garden. It has disappeared. I think a storm the other night brought down the pole, most distressing for the Dame Vera Lynn fans who erected it. You just can’t get the wood nowadays. Otherwise a copy of Lady Colin Campbell’s novel Empress Bianca sits on my desk as a paperweight. Any attempt to read it would lead to much documentary chaos.

Tell me your most perverse fetish. Don't keep it clean.

Cling film aside, I curiously delight in Royal Doulton’s Bunnykins collectables based in the mythical village of Little Twitching. I have only to run a finger along the cool English Translucent China of Reggie Bunnykins’ floppy-stiffy ears and my thigh muscles relax somewhat. God help you if you're in the same room as I should I be caressing a Reggie figurine and his floppy-stiffies. My cleaner gives me a wide berth at such times.

Which Jean Genet character are / were you in your last / next life?

It would have to be the straw in Un Chant d'Amour through which smoke is exhaled in what must be the smallest prison glory hole in 20th Century movie history.

What do you have to say to those calumnist columnists who steal your copy and lift your exclusives like peeling skin when the SPF 50 has rubbed off?

Fucking heterosexuals. They’re all the same.

Who are your favorite subjects? Who are the most devoted Arcatistes and why do you think they return for more love / ego-stroking / abuse, for another ride on the carousel of desire in your tunnel of love?

Madame Arcati is the only website conductor in the world who drew in Kevin Spacey’s entire family (almost) and then artfully set them against each other for years. On my blog you will find a textbook-sized amount of info on the clan - it was the blogosphere’s very first reality soap. People come to me to spectate, to observe living slebby drama, to conduct feuds and serve up the Revenge dish. Madame Arcati is indeed a tunnel of love, and one dripping with authentic lubricant.
Steph Mastini
Cock pic by Steph Mastini

How do you bring your alleged psychic powers into your work?

Alleged? How dare you. Madame Arcati casts her horoscopes and sees beyond the rational spin and din. But I am responsible. People must go through certain experiences for karmic reasons, such as public and humiliating exposure on Madame Arcati. It’s not my business to editorialise fate’s design.

Can you tell me (privately of course) who some of your sources are?

I find that death makes people garrulous.

What's your 'scope and how does it effect the vapours and whims of your blogging?

By ’scope you mean horoscope? It’s a little like illegal phone hacking. The trick is to find a trail that disguises the illicit means of discovery. The PM’s spin master Andy Coulson will know what I mean.
Quentin Crisp

What happened to the most requested author of HMP Holloway, Susan Hill and you?

I don’t know about Susan. One minute she was confiding the most extraordinary things in me (my lips are… coated in a Tom Ford Private Blend). And in the next she had swanned off to the Spectator and now writes a very tiresome right-wing blog there about hedgerows and Wellington boots. I don’t know why I thought she was a socialist. But anyway, I have a soft spot for Sue who I think should be made a Dame for her services to ghosts.

What do you think about celebrity bloggers? Tell-all biographies? Boxers or Y Fronts and on the   Brighton sea front is it a one piece cozzie or a tankini?

Like gossips (or gossers as I prefer), sleb bloggers know nothing about slebs, except what they’ve read in the weeklies. Perez Hilton now thinks he’s a sleb when in fact he writes his PR sheet from his mum’s house and has to wank a lot cos he can’t find enough living spunk buckets. At this time of year Brighton sea front is scrotally challenging.

What's your philosophy in life? if you could be the gusset in someone's drawers whose would you choose? Just for a day of course. Health and Safety and all that.

Do unto others before they do unto you. I would be most interested to be the scented paper in Kevin Spacey’s chest of drawers. Perhaps I’d find my neighbour’s Union Jack.

Chanel or Adolfo?

I have no time for Hitler.

You're often heavily criticized for your unflailing support of some of your protegees and your long, actually unending engagement to bad girl Molly Parkin is leg-end-ary. Will you ever tie the knot or will you just continue to tempt and tease your many paramours by putting them always in second place.

Madame Arcati is loyal, poppet. Pure and simple. The joy of an engagement is the delayed gratification itself - so why end it? Why spoil it by gratification? I’d make a splendid agony aunt.

That bicycle. Comment please. Do you have the panier for packages and testubes of animal sperm and parcels or did you dump it for aerodynamics and the power of speed?

Animal sperm? Enough about Perez, please. I cycle very fast and as close to pedestrian elbows as possible.

If you could be anyone in history who would it be? And no, you can't be the Child Catcher. That is already taken.

Eva Braun. The mountain views from the Berghof were enchanting, and think of the things that usefully could be dropped from a very great height.

Sometimes the comments on some of the articles look like the mess after a sixth form common room (co-ed) party. How do you decide when to censor and when not to?

I rarely censor - the very idea! People feel relaxed in my drawing room blog, they let go, along with the syntax etc. But accusations of prime ministerial bestiality cannot be encouraged.

Is it true about Duncan Fallowell's cock? Evidence please.

The picture of his cock is on Madame Arcati. I rest my case.

Do you think people are generally good or generally evil?

I think people are generally.

Do you believe in god? Don't give me the Nick Cohen atheist lisp please.

There is no God but we were invented by something recurringly sentient. Even George W Bush was invented by something recurringly sentient.

When you dance naked around the ouija board what is the music piping from your iPod?

Oh Justin Bieber! Isn't he adorable? I wonder if he’s had his first wet dream yet? Plus I love Cliff Richard dance remixes on YouTube.

Blackberry / iPhone?


Jordan / Katie Price?

Jordan is a safer place to holiday.

Christmas / Hanukkah / Eid?

Winterval darling with touches of Dickensian reinvention.

and anything else you wanna add......or leave out of course.

Thank you for your wonderful questions, Farah. 
And to think we’ve unleashed Piers Morgan on a blameless America. 
Love, MA xxx

Friday, 26 November 2010

Watch Art Bubble

The full length version of Ben Lewis' unmissable film-exposé on the con in the contemporary art world, Art Bubble,  is showing at the Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch,  on Sunday at 2 pm. Ben followed the contemporary art market for two years till it crashed spectacularly in October 2008. He  added more mid-recession update in 2009  and his research resulted in a film that shattered the myth built up and perpetrated by dealers such as Larry  "Go-Go"  Gagosian and ex-corporate raider turned collector-dealers such as Asher Edelman.  Ben describes this faux-market created on hype and hyperbole as "the biggest, longest lasting, bubbliest bubble of them all."

This is the first time the full 95 minutes of the film has been shown in the UK.  Buy the DVD here

Well-respected as an art critic and film-maker but not unfamiliar with controversy himself, Ben Lewis was banned from  Damien Hirst's  £120 million auction, in which Hirst  by-passed his dealers, Jay Jopling in London and  Gagosian in New York, and put 300 lots of his art for sale through the  auction house Sotheby's.  Ben Lewis was banned  because   he had written previously about  the art market, so citing that article, Matthew Weigman, the head of sales publicity at Sotheby's, wrote to him: “In the ordinary course of things, your impressive credentials as a journalist, film-maker and commentator would have provided easy entrance through Sotheby's doors. But these are not ordinary circumstances. The frank bias, even contempt, you have expressed in your commentary about the world of contemporary art, which is an important part of our business, is impossible to ignore … Therefore … we have taken the virtually unprecedented decision not to allow you to film during our upcoming exhibition and sale of works from the studio of Damien Hirst, nor to allow access into the press area for the print media.”

Ben Lewis, Three Card Monty or art investment?
Ben Lewis objects to the  lack of transparency and accountability in a market in which millions of pounds of public money is spent. The dealers and their clients the collectors who basically back the dealers  create false markets which ordinary people buy into and lose money on. In the Saatchi -infested YBA generation of artists, artists became the gladiators of ancient Rome and stars on a level with Premier League football players. 

 "I don't think there is a disconnect—there is rather an over-connection. The money splurged on these big-name artists generates headlines—the money and the headlines make the artists into stars. The museums want attention and to increase footfall, so they exhibit the work of these new stars"
                                                                                ~ Ben Lewis

Presently prices in contemporary art sales are down by 40%,  in what is described as a top-end meltdown and scary stories of art remaining unsold or bought in by artists or their gallerists  (remember the Hirst diamond encrusted skull pictured above which sold for over £9 million,which Hirst later admitted he had bought a 1/3 stake in himself, later)  are doing the rounds, similar to those which precipitated the crisis in the art market in the early 90s and two years ago.

But then again, the never risk-averse Gagosian  opened a new gallery in Calvin, Switzerland  this week, perhaps so he can race his money to the banks more quickly.   Come and ask Ben difficult questions in the Q + A  after the film premiere,what he thinks of the contemporary art market and whether the recession  has changed the two-faced art-world forever. Tickets available here

Buy Art Bubble and Ben's other notable art documentaries, Art Safari, here.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Name of the Rose

Into the wild hinterlands of Dalston for Gandhi and the Coconuts, to watch Kali Theatre's adventurous new production at the Arcola theatre. Written by  acclaimed playwright Bettina Gracias who is half Australian and half Indian, this piece of theatre starts out as somewhat whimsical and sterotypical of the light farcical fare that  is expected of Indobrit theatre thanks to Tamasha,  Tara Arts and the Waterman Arts Centre, but is a story told on many levels which drives home an important message.
Sophyia Haque as Asha

Rez Kempton as Ajay

Asha has come from Goa, to live in England with her husband Ajay.  Her initial amazement,
"I'm so lucky to be here,"
soon descends into disenchantment. The milk back home "was the sweetest, the creamiest",  and she yearns for that life, when people were interconnected and the milkman brought her the daily gossip.   The gorgeous, sexy Sophiya  Haque plays the timid, plump housewife, so typical of subcontinental women who live in their husband's shadow, who daren't dance and barely move. It's as if, like an exotic bird  which shimmers in the sunshine of warmer climes, she has lost all her colour and her song has become tuneless. Every day Ajay (Rez Kemption, Spooks,  Banged up Abroad)  goes to work at his boring job and every day she kisses him goodbye and tells him to have a good day. Everyday he responds

"I won't."

The monotony of their day-to day life is enervating to the point of distraction and Asha is certainly distracted after being rejected by her racist obnoxious neighbour ("Turn that Paki music down , one phone call and I could have  you arrested"). Poor Asha is too frightened to leave her high rise prison  to follow her dreams of impossible happiness and adventure, so the gods of her dreams come into her living room. First enters Gandhi-ji, who has chunked up a little and is very hungry after 62 years of not eating. He regrets his life-long ascetism, declaring

"The pleasures of the flesh are what makes life sweet," which only adds to Asha's  confusion.

"What does it matter of I exist or I don't exist?" He challenges her, when she fears that he is just a projection from her mind. He insists on staying for tea. Then Kali, the Hindu goddess of sex and death appears.

Gandhi and Asha, over a cup of tea
Played by a sibilant, serpent-like Nimmi Harasgama, Kali explodes onto the tiny set with a burst of sexual energy and slinky hips. She flicks her tongue like a crazed lizard, intent on performing cunnilingus on the whole universe and her femininity which is channelled through sex , death, power and "releasing the tiger in the core" are life lessons for Asha who is dazed that her second favourite deity has entered her space, her first being the god who removes all obstacles, Ganesh. Not far behind Kali is a repentant Lord Shiva, who has been absent for 100 years, after 100 years of love-making with his wife. She abuses him and accuses him of being with his first wife Parvati.

The three deities (Gandhi is a deity in Asha's mind too) take Asha on a mind-jolting frenzy  through sexuality, lust and power, Kali urges her to release her power through her feminine life force, like a tiger. Sadly Asha is more like a   hippopotamus, a baby elephant and Gandhi  has "has released his gay butterfly." When Asha tries these moves on her husband, he is horrified and accuses her of being like a prostitute. The male deities question their existence and the paths they have chosen with some particularly hilarious comments from Gandhi, resenting he gave up all earthly comfort. Shiva proclaims that Gandhi is the higher god, and that he should have been more like him, followed in his footsteps to which Kali retorts

"His footsteps don't lead to my bedroom."
Lord Shiva

Kali gets some of the best lines, she is the irresistable feminine force, Shiva cannot resist her, no man can subvert her sexual prowess. She forces Shiva to lie at her feet, accusing him,

"Are you like every Indian man, thinking sex is wrong? ...You are a fraud. You could not live in our union."

She screams, as she despairs about ever being able to help Asha to uncover her real self,

"I have been trying to inject fire into Indian women for hundreds of years!"

And therein lies the question at the heart of the dilemma of being an Asian woman.  In the Hindu pantheon, the female goddesses dominate, even Lord Shiva is subjugated by Kali's energy. Asha delights in the shimmying shapes of Bollywood dances, alone in the privacy of her living room, throwing her ample bust around and shaking her hips hard, but in front of her husband she is  docile. When she tries to express her needs and her hungers, when she tells him that she has needs too, he is repulsed. "Like a naughty sneeze in the dark on a Saturday night" they have sex once a week. Surely that is enough, after all he is tired, he works to provide a home for her, to send money home to his family in Mumbai. he is exhausted and he wants "normal" when he comes home.
Kali reading Grazia

During his trek through the universe, looking for the perfect flower for Kali, Shiva has found a black rose. He presents it to her as a peace offering and gives a blush pink rose to Asha, to represent her sweetness and simplicity. The conflict is in combining both aspects of light and dark and being a woman. Women are meant to be all light and candy-floss, not this dark, sexually possessed, hungry deity who can control men and her own fate by her sheer force of will. The play raises a lot of questions about how Asian women in particular seek out a sexless identity, in order to conform, but at great expense to their own desires and ambitions. This from a culture that gave birth to the Kama Sutra and the erotic statues of  Khajuraho Temple , Indian women are meant to subsume their natural sexuality and become chaste and unsexual. 

Another question the play raises which asks,  is it more important to be happy or to be sane, is one which doesn't discriminate about gender.

This is  a fine, thought and issue provoking  piece of playwriting, which tours the country nationally and  boasts some of the finest British Asian talent around. Sophyia Haque performs exquisitely, hamming it up in her Bollywood item number and drawing the audience into her character's private interior world with absolute pathos as Asha becomes undone. As Asha she covers a range of emotions and expressions in three hours that  Z-lister Konnie Huq can only dream to achieve in a lifetime. This could be Sophyia's big break, she deserves it, having done the Bollywood bibi rounds and achieved some mainstream fame in productions such as The Far Pavilions and Bombay Dreams

This is not only clever and entertaining theatre directed by Janet Steele, the themes of this play reach all women, no matter their culture or colour. Watch it at the Arcola till December 18th and then on tour in Plymouth, West Bromwich and  Leicester.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cherchez la muse

'Tis a complicated business, this whole muse - artist relationship-business.
Yasmin and Nick Byfield Ward

Generally the muse is at her happiest when left to fly free, like fairy dust, bringing creative magic, flitting through her day, spreading light and joy. So whatever happened to renowned sculptor, Jonathan Wylder, which caused his self-confessed  "fall from grace" doesn't matter.  What matters is the chance meeting with Yasmin le Bon, fashion and style icon, yummy mummy exemplar of west London and west Hollywood  which freed them both up from any self-imposed restraints and inspired Jonathan to return to his work as a serious contemporary artist.

The muse hasn't seen the final bronze sculpture yet,  it is to be unveiled at a private viewing tonight and  she is rather nervous. But Jonathan cites gracefully,
"This statue of Yasmin is the most inspirational work I have ever done."
Beauty reflected

Yasmin  (c) Chris Bissel
Yasmin, Bronze by Jonathan Wydler
Jonathan Wylder, definitively restored to grace and Nick Byfield Ward

Anton (c) Chris Bissel
Also in the exhibition at Jonathan Wylder's, 87 St James' Street, London  which runs until December 4th, are works by Chris Bissel, society and fashion snapper, whose photographs are like intimate essays into the character of his subjects, whether it's a picture for a high luxe fashion campaign or a candid portrait of a modern day robber baron, Bankster.  He creates compositions which invite the viewer to enter into the story behind the picture, intertwining both in its poetic narrative.  

The question remains: can the artist enslave the muse, make her earthbound, not ethereal, clip her wings, steal her soul in bronze or a freeze frame photographic moment and make paintbrushes from her eyelashes? Do both die a little and learn a lot from the process?

Cherchez la muse.  

Post Script
The sculpture is g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s,  Jonathan and Chris made charming hosts and the paparazzi feasted like hungry sharks in a fish tank with the glamour Yasmin and crowd exuded.  Chris' pictures of Jonathan and Yasmin in his studio are spontaneous and capture her in all her natural beauty and uncover the  intimacy between the artist and the muse.  Jonathan Wylder will be sculpting and painting live everyday till December 4th in his studio, in the gallery on St James' Street. Don't miss one of the most fascinating, successful multi-media  collaborations of modern art to hit London for years.
Yasmin  by Jonathan Wylder, (c) Chris Bissell

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tell No One

"Take the medication," was the chilling instruction I was given by a man in a white coat standing outside Ladbroke Grove underground station. "Follow those people."

Following me were a horsey super Sloane ("daddy's a partner at Child and Child, I want to be  a solicitor. Or something that makes a lot of money") and her chaperone a trainee solicitor. The number of ugly terry cloth bathrobes people inhabit in the privacy of their own homes  is astounding.  Mine is an Abraham and Thakore cotton  number, more suited to Indian ocean spa, than the stark, tree lines streets of semi-salubrious west London.  SPA coming from the Roman Sanitas Per Aqua, or health through water.

Hoardes of people combing the streets of Ladbroke Grove on a freezing Sunday evening, in their bathrobes followed orders given by "doctors and nurses" on street corners. The haughty moon  staring down chilled and glazed appeared to be in on it. Something deliciously clandestine was afoot.

A disused mental facility off St Quintin  Avenue was the final destination for November's Secret Cinema.  This had been carefully managed so no one knew where they were going, all contact so far had been through cryptic e mails and pre-recorded phone messages.  I had to change my Facebook profile picture to my favorite yoga pose. The Buddha. I had to fill in forms and send them back and in my Gucci handbag, as instructed, I had a First Class stamp and a photo of someone precious to me.

Oregon State Mental Institution read the sign.  A line of greeters in white coats and fairly convincing mid-American accents greeted me, slapped a yellow plastic wrist band on me ( I was now sponsored by Windows Phone, the headline partner of the event) and showed me into the ghostly ghastly building which was to be my "home " for the next few hours.

Inside, the abandoned facility had been transformed to its former glory. Deranged "inmates" slipped by in the hallways doing the Thorazine Shuffle, one or two broke out in uncontrollable monologues, only to be swiftly recaptured and restrained by ever-present, all-seeing attendants.

The 4D film  experience this was all a part of was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , Milos Foreman's masterpiece staring Jack Nicholson and Danny de Vito. I was ushered off to buy my prescriptions,  which were then filled in small rooms off endless corridors and elected uppers, the experience of wandering round in the freezing cold, in my bathrobe, albeit a very nice one,  was sombering.

Fortified with a double dose of uppers times 2, I was ushered to meet the Director, who asked me if I knew what year I was in. JFK was about to be assassinated. Or had he already been killed? 1963? He told me I was well enough to reside at the facility.

"Do everything they tell you," He whispered ominously.

The tannoy in the hallway screeched,
"Art therapy will be held in Ward 9 in four minutes." So I made my way to ward 9.
"Art therapy will be held in Ward 8 in three minutes."
I was going crazy. Oh yes, of course, that is why I was there.

art therapy
Then there was Yoga therapy, for those who wanted to attend.

The entire space had been given over to this fantasy, small cell-like rooms had been converted into what looked like prison dormitories. 

I'm sure I saw a bed with Nick Cohen, raging anti-Islamic commentator's name on it. We become that which we most hate, something to think about within the cold cruel walls of this sanatorium.  The hospital staff broke into a scratchy version of Simon and Garfunkle's The Sounds of Silence  and encouraged rudimentary instrument-playing. An interesting immersive experiment was going downstairs into the unlit basement and watching the convincing and charismatic John Harrigan, director of Foolish People who had contributed to produce this event with The New Wellbeing Foundation. I'm still not sure what they are about, something to do with "solving the problems of control" but clearly there is a large section of youngish people willing to part with their hard-earned to be part of something quirky.  John was brilliant as the Nicholson character, daring people to go to the edge and to escape to Ward 12 which didn't exist.

There were other interactive participatory events, the little screening /torture room, the no-exit through the tunnel, the lecture to ascertain if I was well enough to be part of the chosen few who went in for "special treatment" in Ward 12. A lot of thought had gone into dressing the place for the happening, specimen jars of what looked like body parts and pills adorned shelves and surfaces, everywhere I turned, someone was asking me how I felt and if I knew where I was and why I was there. Every time I turned around, a really tall black guy was sweeping the floor, he saw me, stopped to stroke my hair four times and then resumed sweeping the floor. 

Perhaps there is something peculiar to the English psyche that needs to be controlled and contained  but after a while it started to feel creepy. I thought about leaving but there was a nerdy goon at the door who told me I was expected to stay  and "participate." Just in time, "Film Therapy" was announced.  There were three screening rooms, depending on the colour of the wristband dispensed upon entry and for a moment I worried about the Elf and Safety fairy, should this get out of control. There were a lot of people there.

People delved into the spirit of the evening, strangers laughed together, copious amounts of alcohol were imbibed, and a kind of insane hedonistic Nirvana was attained. It was like being at a grown-up kid's birthday party with permission to eat too many cupcakes and quaaludes,  sing too loud and have too much fun. Strange that it took being locked in a mental institution to "have fun."

Well not really Nirvana but it was fun and a good way to spend £30 on a Sunday evening. Drinks and food are extra. Book here . Take a sweater. And remember

Tell no one. 

Monday, 22 November 2010


 “Punish me or pray for me. Lock me up or look the other way. I’m not going anywhere.”

Six short plays, each thirty minutes long. Three in the afternoon, Charged 1 and three in the evening, Charged 2, at the Soho Theatre. This is the acclaimed current commission by Camden-based theatrical company Clean Break. Founded in 1979, Clean Break has established itself as a serious writing / commissioning theatre company which works with women  whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system and also women still in prison, through drama and writing workshops . It offers ex-offenders   mentoring programmes with well-known and respected playwrights . By “researching” with women in the prison estate, Clean Break is only too well acquainted with the issues that affect a woman once she enters the criminal justice system, the heartbreak of missing a child so much on her first night in prison that she hallucinates; the profound effects of misogyny in the police force; a writer who goes into prison to teach prisoners for “release “ and for “free association”  of their experiences” through the written word,  are just three of the stories explored.
The themes are the same, whether it’s about  the plight of girl gang members, being trafficked as a nine-year old child or a junky mother, meeting her maybe /maybe not  daughter who was taken away by the authorities and adopted, decades later. The underlying subject, which festers like a scar, being constantly picked and picked open again, is disturbing. Whether in or out of prison, women “at large” have no rights and are generally treated as objects. .  We are shown, over and over again that whatever  little we manage to wrench from the male hierarchy which makes the rules and enforces them, in order to survive in their world,  we have we have to fight and struggle to maintain.

Another theme is loss, the loss of wasted lives, of the sadness and pain that affects all the lives of those who are trapped in the system whether they are victims of it or whether they are trying to administer a man-shaped hole of a   punitive system, and forcing women into these ill-fitting preconceptions of justice and punishment.  We witness the devastating ripple effect, like a malevolent butterfly inflicting typhoons and hurricanes through the beatings of its wings, in other far-distant hearts.     Dream Pill by  Rebecca Prichard is an accomplished, heart stopping story about child trafficking and its vile consequences. Amongst the mostly white (I might have been the token brown face in the audience plus one other woman and there was one other black woman who attended) journalistic audience, there were a few teary eyes and sniffling noses. It was unbearably difficult to watch.  The sing-a-long style of speaking, in which nine year old little girls communicate with each other was a stark and horrific foil to the moment when they talked about the white man,

“their blood is white and sticky,
 I can tell you how to make them go quick, just go yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah. Like that.”

There are funny ha-ha moments when the audience laughs, but the whole issue of locking up women, of brutalizing them and further criminalizing them is one so close to my own heart and experiences, the laughter felt uncomfortable. I sat on the edge of my seat  throughout   Chloe Moss’ Fatal Light, the story of a woman who dies in prison and the consequences of that for her 6 year old daughter and her own mother in whose care  the child has been left. The story begins with an inexperienced police woman knocking at the door to break the bad news to grandma, and flinching when the old lady tries to hug her, desperate for comfort and consolation. But who wants to share the ugly pain of deviant women and their sordid stories. We want our justice sanitized, our criminals warehoused and the process of punishment white-washed and ultimately hidden away from us. Facts and figures such as there being about 5 000 women in prison at any given time are discreetly  ignored, except by vociferous campaigners and certain sector and gender specific  charities working towards changing sentencing and social policy.

The other play which  stands out, in its head-bangingly precise portrayal of the boredom of prison life is  by Rebecca   , That Almost Unameable Lust, a story of two lifers doing time in  a closed prison, attending writing classes, given by a writer who is engrossed in her own story and indeed her own forthcoming book, one of the woman expresses the frustration of her world being so different:

“...No. No actually I’m not all right.  You’re talking about some prophet in a cave. And you’re very nice and your book will have a shiny cover.  WH Smith and all that. Picture of you on the back”

The writer, well-intentioned though she is misses the point and that these two women can’t speak of their stories, can’t tell them in the way she would like so they evolve structured, orderly with a beginning a middle and an end. Life is messy, not like a fairy tale.

Charged 1 and 2 left me feeling slightly queasy and very shell-shocked.

 It’s essential viewing but Clean Break and the Soho Theatre have missed the point slightly by pricing out the people who need to see this body of work.  If all they are trying to attract to this extravaganza of deviancy and dysfunction is a white, do-gooding- middle-class audience then it works. Having spoken to a few workers “in” the criminal justice industry who have stated the ticket price is too high (it escalates the longer into the run the performance goes) , there might have been some consideration as to how they could have better reached their target audience.  The production is touring in prisons, so hopefully more people will get to see it outside the rarefied inner sanctum of the Soho Theatre’s boundaries, people who matter and whose lives have been touched.

Charged is at the Soho Theatre from November 10 – 27 2010
For more information please see

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bird Watching

London's first women only film festival, Underwire opened last night at the Kobi Nazrul centre off Brick Lane. There was a good mix of film-makers, culture vultures and a general (mixed)  viewing audience, there to watch the contributions to the representation and screen writing categories. Kat Banyard, director of UK Feminista  and the epitome of  cool edge of  modern feminism gave an inspiring talk about how scheduled festivals such as this one could make an impact on the film and creative industries and will eventually foster inclusion.

The films are all written / directed / produced by women so the feminine gaze, sadly  lacking in today's Hollywood bonk-busting boring releases, is evident. It's the tiny details, such as the gentle tapping of a manicured fingernail on the side of a steering wheel to the rhythm of a rock-song on the car stereo as she drives to her disabled war veteran's house in Love at the End of the World , to the sensual, repeated  shots of lip-sticked lips, soft skin, beautiful landscapes, there's a softer visual touch through which the feminine conciousness shines.

In Mother Mine by Susan Everett, a grieving adopted woman sends a video-tape to the woman who gave her away 28 years earlier. But, in art, as in life, it isn't all quite as simple as it appears.

Kat Banyard

Kathryn Bigelow achieved such acclaim for her film about war, outshining the "natural" for the year's Oscar

 for best director , her own husband and Hollywood royalty, James Cameron with his film about little blue people, she made people sit up and notice that a woman can make a "man's film."  Women need to be recognised for being able to produce mainstream films, attractive and marketable to both genders, regardless of the film industry's inherent stereotypical bias towards male and furthering their achievements. Hollywood remains resolutely the last bastion of "men only" networked connections. Underwire's dedicated founders Gabriella Apicella and  Gemma Mitchell certainly pave the way towards that, in providing a platform to female film-makers at the beginning of their careers. 

So tonight, producer of various films festivals Carla McKinnon, and award-winning filmmakers Destiny Ekaragha and Lindy Heyman are in conversation with Women in Film and Television UK TONIGHT at the UnderWire Festival - 6pm at Amnesty International. Tickets £5 from the UnderWire website or on the door (exact cash only)

Underwire continues  till Sunday November 21st 2010. The programme is here
For tickets click    here