Thursday, 23 October 2014


So many things about theatres make me nervous. These things include, but are not limited to: the possibility of actors flubbing their lines and everyone has to pretend everything is fine; the possibility of an actor seeing you and thinking you're bored when actually it's just the way your face goes; everyone being able to hear you eat/drink/sneeze; the idea that the people in front of you spent double on their seats; people saying really embarrassing pretentious things in the queue for the toilets in the intermission; the fact that everyone seems generally quite rich and smart and always seem to have one hand in their pocket while they stroll about; and the nagging thought that the whole production would be better if it was a film. While theatre ought to feel purer than cinema, I end up thinking about all these extraneous things and not paying as much attention as I should to the play.

I thought 'Bird' would be like that, but actually - even more so than when I saw, say, Hamlet soliloquise at the RSC - it made me understand why you'd choose theatre as a medium for your story. I'm sure Amaka Okafor as Leah Bird would be brilliant in some filmed version of 'Bird', but having her wandering around right in front of you, talking the way friends do about their new boyfriends, was this unrivalled, captivating experience. In the bar afterwards, me and the people I went with said how whenever Leah posed a question we'd felt compelled to answer her. It was fully immersive - the light touches of unreality, instead of throwing you out of the world of the play, simply pushed a little at the boundaries of what you accepted. 

The monologue Leah delivered snowballed from its kind of funny, kind of kitchen-sink beginning to something that was grotesque, heartrending and yet never heavy enough to be unpalatable. Leah, who is being exploited by an older man whom she describes with such loving, adoring detail, is a character who uses asides, detours and conversational dead-ends the way any other fourteen-year-old girl does. It was very difficult to sit and listen without wanting to help her; Okafor's performance was full of moments that made Leah this vital but vulnerable character (and 'We Found Love' by Rihanna, which plays a couple of times in 'Bird', has been recategorised as a tearjerker in my head now). Wonderfully, the dialogue never dipped into that horrible fake teenage-speak that some writers use when writing about young people - that weird soup of out-of-date slang, peculiar swearing and attitudes that are either completely childish or ancient. Laura Lomas' words were simple, clear, and real.

Sunday, 5 October 2014



I read Gone Girl when I was going through this huge thriller kick one summer - inhaling all the Thomas Harris and James Patterson I could find, and completely wrecking my attention span in the process - and for a few heady days, it was all I could think about. The prose is beautiful, just lyrical enough, and there was nothing lazy in the machinations of its plot. However, if I could go back, I would have refrained from reading the little review quotes on the first few pages of my copy. They were all talking about the HUGE TWIST. I was constantly alert for this HUGE TWIST, and felt like I was David Tennant in Broadchurch, hired specifically to unspool the thread of this dark incident - to figure out the twist before it was revealed. When the HUGE TWIST came, I was just like, oh. There it is. I was mainly relieved. 

The HUGE TWIST is that Nick Dunne didn't callously murder his "New York wife", Amy; she removed herself, to teach him a lesson. We learn this halfway through the book and film. In a clumsier author's hands, this would just be rude, frankly - a cruel "it was all just a dream" tactic, for shock and not much else. The first chapter where Amy reveals her plans is one of my favourite things, not least for the "cool girl" rant that helps wash away the bitter aftertaste of Nick's casual misogyny. I was so interested to see how they handled the twist in the film, because in the book it's easier to move from narrator to narrator, our narrow focus tilted this way and that by the warring parties. 

The first half of the film, pre-twist, follows the book closely. One of the things I was most excited about was to see how Fincher captured suburbia, and he didn't disappoint: his shots all looked like something from Arcade Fire's The Suburbs album booklet, all angles, with clear, crisp colours and liquidy lighting. If The Social Network was a wash of yellow, Gone Girl is pale, soft blue, the shade of sky and lake. We follow Ben Affleck as Nick, who remains peculiarly unaffected by his wife's disappearance, moving through this landscape with the broad confidence of the popular guy in high school. Affleck is so, so good as Nick - I didn't particularly like his character in the book, but something about seeing his inappropriate grins and ridiculous remarks play out in front of you makes it hard not to like him. The whole cinema was laughing at him in a sort of fond way every time he said anything. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014


NT Live performances are always a nightmare for my attention span. There's something about theatre that makes you so aware of the people around you - the little shuffling noises they make, or their laughter or their muttered remarks to each other - and with NT Live screenings, despite the fact you're in a cinema environment, you're still thrust into a state of hyper-vigilance. You see the crowd's faces alongside those those of the actors; they're a little like a sitcom laugh track, their gasps and laughs nudging you towards an appropriate emotional response. They're almost a chorus. And sometimes they're annoying and distracting, like the chap whose face kept looming into view during 'Two Gentleman of Verona' last month, wearing a tiny smug grin, like some kind of overenthusiastic extra.

The Young Vic's 'Streetcar' pushes and pushes this sticky, rather uncomfortable awareness of your own role as spectator. Blanche, Stanley and Stella do not remain safely sequestered behind a proscenium arch, but stride about in a house that is, for all intents and purposes, all windows. We are the neighbours, the observers, the unwanted visitors; our remarks about the action feel like nothing other than gossip. And the rotating set means that, despite everything, our view and comprehension is never quite total. A wall or pillar will cut across a character's face mid-sentence, meaning we miss out on a crucial expression, or a room will spin completely away before we understand fully what is happening within it.

Sunday, 31 August 2014


(Spoilers throughout.)

There's a point in every film where you're presented with what the protagonist has to lose. Squashed just before the halfway point, you're presented with an almost-perfect diorama, one you know the hand of the plot will mess up any second. Your character has made some gains. They've reached whatever they've been looking yearningly towards for an hour - it's either in the palm of their hand or so close they can almost touch it. Perhaps there's a cheerful montage. (I love a cheerful montage.)

For Tom Ripley and Richard Karlsen, their Things To Lose are things I would really hate to lose. Tom Ripley is just having a brilliant, brilliant time with Jude Law: on a boat, on sepia-toned cobbled streets, in a jazz bar. The bit when Law's character Dickie Greenleaf gestures for Tom to join him on stage for a sort of tasteful bit of karaoke made me realise that perhaps that's been my own life goal all along.

Richard is having a cracking time too. His beautiful girlfriend Lara is making him imagine a house, and then carefully interpreting what every feature means. They're looking at each other across a cafe table with gooey fondness in their eyes. This adolescent attention to detail is so lovely that it's what I kept thinking about for the rest of the film: two people, opposite each other, relishing even the most mundane parts of each other's brains.

Friday, 29 August 2014


Kevin Spacey is my best friend. When I see pictures of him - stills from his films, or photographs of him brandishing a cane at the Emmy’s - I feel warm inside. Like, oh you, Kevin Spacey!! What are you like! Obviously Kevin Spacey is not in the habit of associating with tiny English students whose only topic of conversation would be “Can you sing Beyond the Sea again please, Kevin Spacey?” - we made friends only in some cheerful corner of my mind, one that, on finishing the first episode of ‘House of Cards’, decided that, yeah, we were going to get along just great.
'House of Cards' was the reason I got Netflix in the first place. I'd been on a 'The Thick of It' kick and craved seeing more politicians being vile to each other. After a few episodes, I was telling everyone I knew that they really, really had to watch it. It was the combination of a killer theme tune (it's honestly brilliant), slick production values and Kevin Spacey's character, Frank Underwood's way of directly addressing the audience that made me such an evangelist.