Thank you to my (very) old friend The “Lady” Bunny for having me on the podcast to discuss many aspects and politics surrounding the big farewell to Queen Elizabeth II. The good, the shady and everything in-between.
Through the mirrored lenses of mental illness and delectable absurdity, Peter Hamilton takes us to his Playground— an effortless exploration of existentialism within the confines of involuntary restraints: simply put, the play is an out-in-out head trip. Within the context of serial killings, arrested development, people abused with drug treatments and (in)equality of the commune, Playground invites us on a journey into the perceptions and pursuits of (un)happiness.
Key to the Fringe success of Playground is the informed, intelligent ensemble cast. When Danny (Richard Fish) beckons a journey via his mental challenges we follow, disarmed by the implied frailty; Bella (Sarah Quist) eerily navigates through song then circumstance, and we relinquish the path; as Inspector Mitchell (Dan Maclane) proposes to solve the troubles, we recognise the uneasy misgivings of trusting authority; as Deputy Inspector Birch (Christopher James Barley) shrewdly & skillfully reveals his stratified personalities — from whimsical schoolboy to undercover coquette to lamenting public servant — we’re reminded of the perils of identity; while Stuart (Simon Every) reveals himself, we are challenged with the societal perversion of innocents; and finally with Carolyn (Josie Ayers) we return to an uneasy home with the teacher/librarian/neighbour we once loved, but didn’t bother to save from ostracism. Of special delight at last nights’ performance, was stand-in actor Matilda Kime reading the part of Tamsin on-book, who used her pages as intended props with precision — very much in favor of the abstract world of the play. “Why should you have to do something with your life?” indeed.
Sound heavy? To the contrary, the pièce de résistance of Playground is the acerbic wit — we’re compelled to laugh at the most special of needs — giving the audience a precarious precipice on which to engage. Political Correctness discarded, with a purpose. The stage direction avoids heavy-handedness and overstatement supporting the twisted atmosphere. The strongest part of Playground is in the presentation but quick abandon of obvious, trite storylines — in this case melodramas of love, or cheap coincidence fall on the sadistic sword of dramatic savvy. And Thank God a new avant garde is emerging to challenge the prescription-drug status quo before we lose another generation of misfit toys to Ritalin. The play is alive, and thankfully in a theatre, with people — as opposed to celluloid projected on a wall to die.
A progressive work in progress, I look forward to the next incarnation of this collaborative project, where the spirits of Brecht and George Bernard Shaw might soon be inclined to accept an invitation for a tea in this brave new valley of dolls. In terms of a subject still considered taboo — because we awkwardly laughed, we learned. Theatre, about the (supposed) brain-dead for a thinking audience — a welcome role reversal.
Playground, Clockschool Theatre Company, at The Old Red Lion Theatre through 7 November. For more info: Old Red Lion Theatre.
A recent conversation with a bigwig producer in NYC about the dumbing down of our society, and the mediocrity of the agora gave me pause.
The thought of having to re-word & re-submit that funding application o-n-e m-o-r-e t-i-m-e gives me agida.
Other than the shrill of January, September is perhaps my least favourite time of year. If according to Rimbaud, “Spring brought the idiots’ frightful laughter,” September brings their precocious Christmas chatter. ach-em.
But then, this budding playwright wanders into Mr Barr’s London Literary Salon, and a talk with fellow expat New Yorker John Lahr – probably the only living man qualified to speak on a grand, global scale about acting, performance and theatre. He reads and discusses his new book: Joy Ride.
“Part of the theater’s big magic is its ability to exhilarate; […] to put us beside ourselves, to banish gravity, to call out our most buried feelings, to make the moment unforgettable, to kill time. That’s its joy ride.”
“If we need better plays—and we do—we also need better audiences.
Quoting Tallulah Bankhead to a would-be actress: “If you want to help the American theater don’t be an actress, dahling, be an audience.”
“Theater is an artisanal industry in a ethnological age. Everything about it goes against the grain of our distracted, fast-moving cultural moment. A play requires an audience to work […] in a film, the audience sees what the director wants it to see; with a live production, the audience must take more responsibility…”
Quoting George Bernard Shaw: “The play was good but the audience was terrible.”
Quoting Fanny Brice: “There’s no director who can direct you like an audience.”
“Terrorism makes a spectacle of absurdity, in which pain unmakes the world. Theatre, which attempts to understand our pain, makes a spectacle of meaning and coherence.
Now, more than ever, theatre is not only a demonstration of courage but an engineer of it.”
Thank you, Mr Lahr. You saved me from September. I’ve always relied upon the strangeness of kindreds.
I never cease to be amazed at the sophistiated creativity that continues to emerge from the 80s-90s East Village New York City scene — which I enjoyed and knew at the time as merely a safe haven for a band of misfits. Never underestimate the short bus. From Rupaul to Antony Hegarty to John Cameron Mitchell and many others, Gotham has purely gone global. Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s show at Vitrine, London is informed and cohesive, with a strong personal narrative — my favorite kind of art. The diptych portraits of Mx JVB juxtaposed with model Karen Graham are soft and alluring, yet bear a compelling human-ness that lifts the figures beyond the surface, and creates a conversation between the deities and observer. Although I’m not a professional art critic, I did notice that Mx JVB’s technique is precise, and does not rely on laissez-faire watercolouring of the inattentive hand.
Taking this from ‘show’ to ‘experience’, which many attempt but few manage, is how Mx JVB steps beyond the fourth wall of the gallery space in the front window. Upon arrival, to my delight, a large crowd gathered outside — not to wait in some queue while vying for some perverted association with fame (which haunts most openings imho) — but to observe the artist transcend the barriers of ‘art’ and present an opportunity for observers, both intentional and passersby.
Dressed in a bright pink silk dress by Graham’s designer Frank Masandrea, we observed Mx JVB perform; taxis shuttling people to and from London Bridge Station slowed to watch us; and local residents on their way home summed up the invasion with piqued curiosity. The walls of the window and inside the gallery was covered with a bespoke wallpaper created from repetitive portraits, reminiscent to me in tone of the rare Warhol gold-leaf sunflower wallpaper — but this art is not ‘pop’ it’s present, a presence — complete with an intimate boudoir installation highlighting the relationship between the two characters. The atmosphere intimate, the crowd congenial, the conversation sublime. As a complete bonus, with a fortuitous announcement yesterday by the fine people at the Oxford English Dictionary, the prefix ‘Mx’ (pronounced ‘M-ix’) has been made official – a pure highlight of the event.
In the wee-early 90s, I met a Justin Bond, who in all honesty never ocurred to me as strictly male, female, or this or that. To me, Justin has always been Justin, simply a beautiful, determined being. Along the way Justin adopted, dare I say co-promoted, the gender-neutral prefix, which I first noticed on JVB’s web site. Now it’s official — a far cry from the raucous word-police vitriol of late — and to me curiously appealing, inviting, and freeing.
Now the only question I have for Mx Bond is: what is to become the associative pronoun-nomitive? Mr = ‘him’, Miss/Mrs/Ms = ‘her’ and so forth. What is to be used with ‘Mx’ and take the incredible chore out of sentence-crafting for articles and reviews like these? But au contraire, perhaps that’s the point: get rid of them all. Look at people as humans. Struggle to redefine…
What? Art, ideas, artists, stepping forward, affecting life? Being alive? Instead of, like Quentin Crisp said, being ‘hung on a wall to die,’ or buried in the comments section of some gossip column?
I know at least two old ladies on a wealthy pension who’ll drink to that.
-mlb, London 6 May 2015
Mx Justin Vivian Bond • JustinBond.com
through 13 June 2015
185 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UW
020 7407 6496
thanks to Christopher J Barley for additional photos
I haven’t been to a major celluloid soirée since New York City, at an Edith Head Gala for charity — film & tv are not typically in my otherwise literary/professional theatre travels. But something remains wild in my mind about watching the models walk the runway in Bette Davis’ dresses & Clark Gable’s suits. A little bit of Hollywood goes a long way.
Last night, I arrived with the pretty-much-early-on-time crowd for the official BAFTA-bash. Why not? Waiting for ‘the perfect time’ to coincide with the celebrants of 2015 was, to me, precisely akin to chasing a herd of cats. At Rosewood London, me & photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce (@garconjon) popped out of the Mercedes our gracious hosts from Grey Goose and Michael Weinstein Company sent to collect us. Outside were black ropes and red carpets — and another intimate party-of- five which included someone I very much admire, entrepreneur Kelly Hoppen (@KellyHoppenhome). I figured if Kelly can be early, we could warm ourselves by the faux fires that burned all around us without social stigma. Success runs its own time.
As things went from underway to full swing, and a milieu of celebrity (names you can get over from the boys at Hello) poured in, I began to notice how familiar yet sui generis things appeared to me, the expat New Yorker who’d lived several previous lives in rooms of fancy and faces. Perhaps it was the hour of the evening, or my 10-year old jet lag from crossing the pond, but I noticed something perhaps only Stephen Hawking might explain — a string theory in images.
Being an East Coast music and theatre-bred indigene the only sighting that excited me was Nick Cave…but the rest of the crowd certainly did not disappoint. They came, went, some joined us at our table along the route to their tables, and it was as if we were in some parallel universe far way, these happy, relaxed faces mingled. And it was as if this prime night gave everyone an excuse to just be, together. Sure there were a scant few operators, meh, but few anxious moments that tend to wrinkle the eyelid at such affairs. It was also refreshing to see some LA chickens out of their roost — perhaps London gave them permission not to perform so hard.
Yet it was within this excitement that this playwright-observer found new lament to the corporatization of this lost world. The cultural destruction of our cities came to mind — I cannot imagine the Paris soirées of La Belle Époch, the bashes at the old Algonquin NYC, or the swing of London thriving under the hammer of brand, label and spreadsheet. And it’s too bad that the world is so, very, troubled right now… humans tend to create pretty good drama when you allow them … thankfully these ‘last nights’ still exist in pockets.
Later, while awaiting our chariot, a black car pulled up and a very large man got out carrying his BAFTA Award — which he sort of carried like a notebook down by his side. We caught a brief glance and, noticing my attention to his shiny new accessory, quickly held it tastefully-halfway up for me to grab a seconds’ closer look, as if to say – “oh yeah, I got this, and it hasn’t sunk in yet.” And while Oscars are nice, I guess, in that moment I was reminded of the sophistication of Europe — (to which London shall remain a cultural and geographic part of despite the recent efforts of corporatists and political Philistines) — a sophistication that still has the potential and legacy to provoke the creative spirit.
Trophies are crafted to sit on shelves — BAFTA’s are crafted to wear, as it were. But also comes to mind, a column in Interview magazine way back when with a Studio 54 regular:
“You spend your energy getting in, and then you’ve arrived. Then you get into the VIP room, then you’ve arrived. Then you get invited to the manager’s private suite, and then you’ve arrived. Then you wonder what’s behind that secret door at the back of Rubell’s manager suite, and in a fog you go through it, and find yourself in the alley, on your way home.”
Time to keep creating…
MLB – London, 9 Feb 2015
(with thanks to Charlotte and the team at Grey Goose).