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Killed by my Killer Concept!

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Out of nowhere, an explosion goes off in your head and you suddenly have the best idea in the world. It’s a beautifully complex and unique concept that is going to change everything! It’s fun, it’s edgy, it’s intelligent, it’s the Ironman of all ideas. Your eyes widen and you can’t believe it’s your own. Quickly checking to make sure you haven’t accidentally ripped off a Christopher Nolan flick you rush to the nearest sheet of paper, scramble to find the nearest pen and…

and…

Nothing…

Why can’t I write it down?

It’s so clear in my head but…

Just can’t put it into words…

Has any other writer, or any kind of artist, come across this before? When your own concept suddenly grows too big for you and you just can’t handle it?

I say suddenly, but it doesn’t have to be. Rather than a great idea being impenetrable right from the get go, it’s also more than possible, and in fact pretty common, for something to slowly grow and morph into something else entirely. The danger comes when the author of this work can’t grow and morph with it.

I’ve seen it happen a lot before in films or books. When I feel like the idea has run away with its writer and s/he can’t keep up with it, or when characters are so much smarter than the writer that s/he can’t write for them anymore.

Holes start to appear in plots which seem sound at first. Characters start using what I call the ‘Sonic Plotdriver’ (named after Dr Who, who is so guilty of this he ought to be put in a cage made from pure logic and made to think about what he’s done) in which a previously doomed situation will be resolved at a push of a button or some convenient, last minute techno-magic.

I actually stopped watching Who because I felt like anytime he was put in a mildly perilous situation it felt like the writers didn't know what to do so would just come up with an easy get out clause.

I actually stopped watching Who because I felt like anytime he was put in a mildly perilous situation it felt like the writers didn’t know what to do, so would just come up with an easy get out clause.

It’s annoying as hell to an audience member, but I have to confess I can see how it happens. Far too often I’ll suddenly hit on an idea that is so good that I’m sure if only I could write it down, it would be an overwhelming success. However, there just is no way to get it down.

In my head it makes sense, because in my head it doesn’t have to confine itself to any sort of linear structure. It can be as complicated and ingenious as it needs to be when its floating around in a non-formatted, imaginary bubble, but when it has to be trapped and pinned down by words or paint or choreography it suddenly seems as if the idea could never have made sense in the first place.

And then I’m left wondering: Am I having trouble committing it to words because it’s actually such an awesome concept that I simply can’t handle it myself? Or, does the fact I can’t work out how to write it down mean that the concept is actually pretty rubbish?

L and Light Yagami, two characters who I feel, in the tv show at least, got too smart for the writer who wrote himself into a corner and then had to take extreme measures to get himself out of. In a way this created an interesting situation where I as an audience member was genuinely shocked at where the story went, but it also meant that a number of 'quick fixes' had to be established to get the show back on track. I feel that ultimately, the show suffered.

L and Light Yagami, two characters who I feel, in the tv show at least, got too smart for the writer, who wrote himself into a corner and then had to take extreme measures to get out of it.
In a way this created an interesting situation where I, as an audience member, was genuinely shocked at where the story went, but it also meant that a number of ‘quick fixes’ had to be established to get the show back on track. I feel that ultimately, despite pulling the rug out from under my feet, the show suffered.

Lost. Found. Remembered

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picture197Last week, I decided it was about time to put some pictures up on my walls. After all, I have been living in this room for about 7 or 8 months already and I haven’t made any attempt to make it my own.

Not having the money or attention span to go out and buy pictures or posters I instead decided to open an ancient chest of old bits and bobs that I have had hidden away in the darkest depths of my room (actually, I use it as a bedside table).

As the old chest creaked open, months old dust rising from it, I found myself wondering; what on Earth was in there? I had no recollection of any specific thing I had exiled into the chest and no idea what may have appeared from within. Waving my hand in front of me to clear the air, I peered into the dark, neglected chest and saw nothing exciting whatsoever… Just creased and dirty paper, half used pencils and a spider that would make Peter Parker himself recoil in fear.

Once a small, yet epic battle had occurred and it became apparent I would in fact have to work around this eight legged menace, I set to work pulling out all the old pieces of paper, trying to cause as little discomfort to the Spider as possible.

Rifling through them, I was delighted to find sketches and scratches from an age long past, a boy almost unrecognisable. Here, were line drawings of superheroes, anime girls and Star Wars characters. There was a portrait of my very first girlfriend right behind a kick ass picture of Samurai Jack.picture190

All these, were drawing and sketches that I had done not so very long ago, and yet they had been almost forgotten until this moment. In me flashed a deep nostalgia, as I began to remember the boy I used to be, and I couldn’t help but feel gleefully childlike again.

Rooting a little bit deeper I found some super short stories I had written in Barcelona two years ago. These flash fictions were surreal and vividly colourful; a real tribute to the time I spent in Barcelona. They captured perfectly the half crazed and (quite honestly) alcohol induced haze that has settled over those months of my life. I started to pine for those steep, winding streets, for that almost nonsensical architecture and those insane inhabitants.

Among these stories was a poster for the show we had created and performed there, once again, displaying well the mindset of that timepicture195

And then, after this, I came to what I like to call; The Seemingly Endless Age of Despair and Belated Teenage Angst.

Four abstract paintings rendered skillessly in watercolour. I remember this point in my life quite well because I didn’t enjoy it much. This was a time in which I would assemble my painting materials, sit and prepare to colour some comic-like masterpiece. And then, no sooner as the paintbrush had touched the page I would toss it aside in anger and frustration that nothing creative was occurring. Covering my hands in paint, I’d scratch and punch the paper not realising quite how melodramatic and ridiculous the whole thing was.

Still, I was quite proud of this one. I call it…Rage. <_<picture192

Well, this wasn’t a particularly dark time in my life, just a time I was being particularly foolish. Even so, it’s good to be reminded of it now that I can look at these and laugh. Truthfully, I’m just glad I didn’t attempt any poetry during that time. No doubt it would have been awful, the kind which would make poor William Pratt cringe.

There sure was a lot of crap I dug out of that chest, but it’s all on my wall now, displayed proudly. Not because I think any of it is artistically strong, but because each and every piece reminded me of myself at a different stage of my life. Some were sweet, some were cringe worthy, all were wonderful.

Coincidentally, today I received a message from WordPress reminding me that I’d been here for a year. That’s a year of blogging. A year since I left drama school.

It’s a funny and rare thing when one has a chance like this to reflect on who they once were, and by degrees, who they are now, and it should be cherished. Through these old discoveries I was sent on a sort of journey through my life. I didn’t really have any great epiphany on the way, and I didn’t learn any valuable lessons, it just made me smile. Simply and plainly.

If any of you have a secret chest of old crap hiding away, I highly recommend you fight off what ever monsters are safeguarding it and delve in. Go through all your old drawings or stories or diary entries or whatever it is you did back then. See if you remember being the kid that first put them there, and be happy to be the adult who took them out again.

See if you can go on a similar journey to me. It’s fun, you’ll enjoy it. It only takes 5 minutes and you can take a cup of tea with you.

I hope it makes you smile too.

Invader Zim vs The Lloyd of Dirkness!

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I’ve been reading quite a few children’s books recently. The other day I picked up one called Dark Lord: The Teenage Years and proceeded to devour it over two long train journeys .

I quite enjoyed the book in a easy-to-read pass-time sort of way, but I was more intrigued by the similarities and differences it bore to one of my favourite kid’s TV shows, Invader Zim.DL-ding

The two are relatively similar in story, style and at times, tone. Firstly and most simply is the story. In one, an alien is sent to Earth to conquer it. While there he must disguise himself as a human “worm baby” and attend school whilst finding a way to conquer the planet, enslave the human race and destroy his sworn enemy Dib. The other sees The Dark Lord (AKA Dirk Lloyd) ruler of the Darklands propelled to Earth and trapped inside the body of a “pitiful human child”. He must attend school whilst finding a way to restore himself to his former glory, reclaim his home land and maybe enslave the human race if there is time. The differences are in the details: Zim seeks to disguise who he really is where Dirk seeks to prove himself. Zim makes enemies where Dirk makes friends. Etc.

But the very basic premise is almost identical: ‘An alien Invader/Dark Lord takes on human form, attends school and deal with the mundane day-to-day problems of human life whilst continuing with their evil plans and dark purposes in secret.

The biggest similarity is in character. On the surface Zim and Dirk are very, very alike. So much so, that when reading Dirk’s dialogue I couldn’t help doing so with Zim’s voice. Every cry of “Cower before me pitiful humans!” rang around my head in Richard Horvitz’s wicked tone.1-invader zim-wallpaper

However, surface likeness aside, there is also a huge difference between Dirk and Zim which I found extremely noticeable whilst reading Dark Lord. That difference lies in the level of malicious intent, or ‘evilness’ if you like.

So the big question is; who would win in a fight between Zim and Dirk?

Well, Zim has his advanced technology, but this usually proves to be less than functional, and to counter this, Dirk had his magic, which one can only assume will grow stronger after the close of book one. Also, Dirk is far more intelligent than Zim, who let’s face it, is as thick as two short planks.

So far, the odds are stacked in Dirk’s favour. But there is one more very important factor to consider. When the battle is done, and the victor stands tall over his fallen opponent, what then? Both Dirk and Zim would chant an evil Mwa ha ha! I’m sure. Both would taunt their enemy and proclaim themselves the glorious victor. But I think it is only Zim who would crush his enemy under the heel of his boot. Only Zim who would kill Dirk.I-am-zim-invader-zim-2879951-1023-768

Throughout reading Dark Lord, I have been given no reason to believe that Dirk is actually capable of any sort of evil act. We are told that in the past he has crushed cities, enslaved entire races and driven some creatures to extinction, but we are never given evidence of this. I think the mos evil act Dirk is guilty of in book one is petty theft, gluing someone’s shoes to the floor and sending his unattached arm to shave the beard off of someone’s face.

Zim, on the other hand, constantly gives us examples of just what he is capable of. In one episode he harvests the organs of all his class mates, replacing them with inanimate objects. In another, he brainwashes a child by ripping his eyes out and replacing them with robotic ones, the child is then attacked (and presumably killed) by a squirrel. And the absurd list goes on. All these things may be completely obscure and ridiculous but they are without a doubt, pretty evil. They really do solidify Zim as a particularly nasty character and allows for to be quite scary when he wants to be also.

Dirk unfortunately lacks this. The closest we get to any sort of evidence that he is capable of anything even remotely nasty, is in the first few chapters where he attempts (without any effect) to summon various spells of destruction on people.

Unfortunately, without this evidence, we just can not believe or give any credit to Dirk’s being anything more than a slightly mischievous child.dark-lord--da-gibts-nichts-zu-lach-1

What’s more, the Dark Lord’s evilness is again called into question during the tail end of the book, when he scrys his army of Orcs and Goblins being executed by his enemy’s army of white paladins. He states that even he would not stoop so low, that even he would show mercy, only killing a few of them to set an example, that even the so called Dark Lord, ruler of the Nine Hells  has more honour than the supposed good guys (because remember; Dirk is supposed to be the bad guy! Even if he is the protagonist!) But now, we’re not even following the exploits of the bad guy!

In Zim, it’s always apparent that although stupid and incompetent, Zim is the bad guy. It’s why we love to see him fail and are secretly delighted to see him victorious. It’s also why it’s a genuine surprise if he does anything even vaguely noble. With Dirk, I was never surprised to see him express feelings of happiness or compassion because I’d never really been given any real evidence that all he usually feels is hate and anger.a3ef7b86_htf_imgcache_39698

There is a scene in every James Bond film where we see the bad guy kill somebody who was powerless to save themselves, in Bond, this is usually a woman. This scene exists simply to solidify in our minds that he’s a horrible person, and this is all we actually need to justify James dispatching him as violently as possible.

In any story which features a bad guy who finds redemption, or even becomes the good guy we’ll be shown something similar, so that we have something to compare his new found goodness to. For example, Zuko’s transformation in The Last Airbender, wouldn’t be convincing if he hadn’t hounded the Avatar so ferociously to begin with.

Dirk needed something like this. He needed than one act which makes us think ‘Ah yeah, he is pretty evil actually’. It’s not enough to simply mention something that he did in a former life when he was a giant demon. We need first hand evidence that he is what he says he is, and we need it now, while he is in the form we know him in.

I don’t know exactly what it is Dirk should do to prove this, and Dark Lord isn’t as absurd as Invader Zim, so I doubt it could get away with some of the things Zim does, but even so, we really do need something.

An exciting month ahead

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As I promised earlier in the week, I have added a page to this blog dedicated to my show ‘Pages from the Book of…’ Please read, learn and let me know if there’s anything I can do to improve it.
On other news, my other company ‘The Same, But Different’ is performing in 2 weeks time as part of Lost Theatre’s 5 Minute Festival. For this, we’re adapting our show ‘Starring James Franco’ to apply to the festival’s rules, that is, to be 5 minutes long.Excitingly, you can all watch this online and vote on your favourite act (us of course). Every night there are 2 winners who all go through to the finale. Then, of course there will be a vote for the winning company. Competitions aside, it’s going to be great fun and a highly energetic night I’m sure. Here is what’s written on the Lost Theatre website:

We live in an age when no-one has time.

Average viewers spend between 3 and 7 minutes on an internet video.

Advertisers get whole stories into 30 seconds.

Reduced Shakespeare squeezed the bard’s works into 70 minutes.

Hamlet thought brevity the soul of wit.

The Japanese that haiku was the highest form of art.

LOST is proud to present the UK’s 40 most talented, innovative companies battling it out in front of a live and online audience to make it to this year’s Grand Final. Each night will consist of ten companies performing for five minutes each.
Watch this space, and I will provide more details about the show and a link to watch it on-line, before the day.
One other thing, also ‘Same but different’ related; as an experiment in writing more than one chapter every 3 months, I have signed up to NatNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. So, in November there will hundreds of people stressing and straining to write a 50,000 word or more novel in a month.

My novel will be based on my persona in The Same, But Different, Gylligan the Traveller. Other than this, I have no idea what I’ll do with it. Anyway, I start this tomorrow.

So, exciting days and exciting blog posts ahead, better than this one at least. So, come with me readers, and we’ll talk theatre, literature and absurdity!

Open Class: Stanislavski Continues at the Moscow Arts Theatre

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The first thing I noticed about Moscow is how big everything is: The buildings are massive, the roads huge and the beards impressive. The next thing I noticed is the total lack of English, that is, the lack of even a Latin based alphabet. Now, this might sound obvious, but for those of you who don’t know, Russia uses a Cryillic alphabet which is very beautiful but very different from our own. Again, this may all sound pretty obvious but it surprised me just how much having a different alphabet would affect me. I’ve been travelling quite a lot this year but Russia is the first place I’ve been that I was unable to at least guess the road signs. Every now and again a word might jump out at you, but it’s rare. This turned out to be rather daunting and somehow exhausting. It makes things such as taking the Metro an intimidating task, but more about the Metro later.

What also didn’t help, was the amount of horror stories one hears before going somewhere. Endless warnings were given us about how harsh everything is, how we shouldn’t smile and how dangerous the streets are. All these things travel with you, and you enter the country on guard. Well, surprise surprise, it turns out that most of this is wildly over exaggerated. Sure the streets are dangerous; as dangerous as any big city. It is true however, that no one really smiles! At the beginning of the week we took part in a cabaret of sorts. During the introduction the hosts made comic remarks about the “Russian face” – a sort of lifeless, fed up expression. They told us we could use this anywhere we went – and it seemed kind of true. Our hosts then made jokes about how foreign men could find and woo Russian girls: “Hello.” Says one of the hosts pretending to be a foreign man approaching a Russian girl. “Ah!” cries the other, taking on the role of the female, “Ah! I love you! Please!” He (she) thows himself onto his knees and embraces the other around the waist. “I’ll be the best wife you can ask for! Just please, take me away from this country!”

But it’s harder for girls to meet Russian men we are warned: “Hello.” Says the foreign girl. “Oh! Oh you are beautiful! Please take me with you! Get me away from this country!”

In this humour, one can sense a bitter irony, I suspect that as much of a joke as this was, a small amount of truth can be found in it.  Perhaps more so for the older generation, as younger people felt a bit more free and weren’t so fond of the “Russian face”.

This “Russian face” was very popular indeed on the metro, and as promised, I’d like to spare a word for the Metro.

I’m pretty sure this was the station next to my hotel

It. Is. Amazing. Words cannot describe it. You’re on an escalator and already you begin to notice how big everything is, how high the ceilings are, etc. You get to the bottom, walk around a corner and notice hundreds of chandeliers lighting your way!

The Moscow Metro was first opened in 1935 and is apparently the third most used underground rail system in the world. It was made over a large number of years and was delayed by WW2, also, the art deco style at some point met with more Soviet themes. Then in the cold war, more stations were opened to act as shelters in the event of a nuclear war. Due to all this, every station seems to have its own distinct and individual style, and whilst one can defiantly notice that what we’re in is a glorified bomb shelter, you cannot help but marvel at the architecture. The trains themselves are fantastic, again from different times. My favourite ones being these wonderful art deco things that must date back to the 40’s or 50’s. They threaten to slice you in half if you don’t clear the door in time, and they rattle along quite noisily. I really could have spent hours going from station to station looking at the decor. Interestingly there is a book called Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky in which people are forced to live inside the Moscow Metro system after nuclear bombardment. I’d quite like to read it.

How cool looking is the Metro map?

Moscow, as a city, didn’t feel especially hospitable, what it is though, is beautiful and fascinating. I really felt like it was a city of opposing elements, in certain parts of the city you can really feel hung over Soviet influences fighting with more capitalist elements. As everyone knows, Russia has a fascinating, rich and tragic history, and all this is immediately noticeable in the city. Remnants of the past are to be found everywhere. Architecturally the city is stunning, as I said the buildings are huge and beautifully extravagant, some of the more wondrous buildings can be found in the marvellous Red Square, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Monuments and statues from various moments in history are scattered throughout the city. For me, some of the most impressive pieces were left over from the Soviet era; large, imposing statues of Lenin, fantastic tributes to the working classes, etc. I wont try to describe much because it really all has to be seen first hand. I can not overstate how fascinating it all is though.

Monument to the conquerors of space

My favourite thing I saw in the city, and probably my favourite piece of architecture ever, was located near our hotel (and more on the hotel in a bit!) in Prospect Mira. It is called ‘Monument to the conquerors of space’ and it’s a 110 metre tall, titanium spaceship taking off. The monument was built in 1964 to celebrate the achievements of Soviet space exploration. But actually, it wasn’t the spaceship that impressed me so much; around the base of the monument are two absolutely stunning murals telling the story of space exploration. It’s almost like something you might dig up in an ancient tomb, albeit a bit more sci-fi. The images are rendered in sharp, almost comic bookish style, which was typical of Soviet art. It depicts scientists working on new technologies and astronauts climbing stairs into the heavens, all under the watchful eye of Lenin. It’s completely fascinating and totally beautiful. The monument was located in a park, which was all space themed with metal statues of the solar system and constellations, etc. Even our hotel was called The Hotel Cosmos.

And just a very quick word on the hotel. If you have seen the film Day Watch by Timur Bekmambetov, then you have seen our hotel. You know the bit when the car drives across the side of the building before crashing though the windows – that’s our hotel! And that’s about the coolest thing about it. It was built around 1980 by French and Soviet architects for the XXII Moscow Olymics. The place was huge, our room being located on the 22nd floor, it was also, for lack of a better phrase, a bit tacky! The sort of place for wealthy businessmen looking for cheap thrills and expensive entertainment. Everything was overcharged and the place was teeming with prostitutes, who actually seemed like nice girls but they didn’t bother talking to us, I presume because of our unkept, slightly scruffy attire. I think they were probably catering to a different (read: richer) class of man. Either way, it was an experience, and it was very kind of the Moscow Art Theatre to put us up there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a proper hotel like that before.

Now imagine it flashing around the sides and top every night…

And look at this, almost 1000 words in and finally I mention the Moscow Art Theatre! Now lets talk about the actual reason I was in Moscow in the first place!

Anyone who has studied acting or performance should have heard of the Moscow Art Theatre. It is the theatre that was founded by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. The theatre was first created as a place to break away from the melodramas that were popular in Russia at the time, and to instead showcase a more ‘naturalistic’ theatre. It goes without saying, that here, for the first time, shows were put on regularly using the Stanislavski acting method. The MAT soon became one of the most well known and respected theatres in the world. Obviously it’s not quite that simple, and the theatre had many ups and downs, but I’m not going to go into its history right now.

When you walk into the MAT there is a family tree of all the people involved, from Satislavski and Danchenko all the way up to now. Just glancing over this makes you remember just how important this theatre was and just how exciting it is to become part of its history. One can find on this family tree impressive names such as Anton Chekov, Mikail Bulgakov (whom we visited the house of…and it was wicked cool) and Vsevolod Mererhold (personally my favourite theatre practitioner) just to name a few.

This year the MAT are celebrating their 150th anniversary, and as a part of these celebrations they decided to hold a week long festival earlier this month. Invited to perform in the festival were 9 schools from San Francisco, Italy, France, Hungry, St Petersburg, Poland, Germany, the MAT itself, and of course England. Our show ‘Pages from the Book of…’ based on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, was selected to represent England in the festival. The festival itself was given the name ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’. By calling it an ‘open class’ the MAT are attempting to open a forum for discussion in which each of us could watch one another’s work, discuss and see what is being done on the world stage. There was no competitive element to the festival like in the Istropolitana Projekt in Bratislava, instead we were just encouraged to meet other theatre people, discuss ideas and see how Stanislavski’s ideas have evolved, changed and been adapted over time. Suffice it to say, it was a huge honour to be a part of such a prestigious festival, and it was uber-cool to perform on a stage in the MAT!

Some of the work was great as well. What surprised me was how little of it was naturalistic in style, I was expecting to get there and be one of the craziest things on stage, but actually this wasn’t at all the case.

Without a doubt the best thing I saw, was a show called “FUTURISMVISIONS” by the school in St. Petersburg. The work was developed from a class project and made up of 22 etudes based on Futurism poetry. Linking these was a fantastic band made up of industrial, found (may I venture to say MERZ) objects, which set up the world perfectly. Here, we were presented with an industrial hell in which the upper classes were the denizens and victims of war its public. This was 3 hours of abstract Russian poetry which had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Obviously, I didn’t understand a word of it, but the visual, musical and performative elements were just stunning. Luckily, I know enough about Russian history and Futurism to grasp onto some of the basic ideas if nothing else. Even so, this was one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a while.

As I said, it was an honour to make up the English contingency of this festival and I was very glad to see how well our show was received. As usually happens I had people approaching me saying “Where’s my father?” which always makes me very happy. You see, in the show my character is forever searching for his father with little to no luck, so this has sort of become my catch phrase! In general, people were very appreciative of the show and seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, a lovely hungarian girl approached me and told me that I am the spitting image of her fiancé! So much so, that she had to double take at me when I walked on stage. So, not only is there a Slovak Jack, there is also a Hungry Jack out there in the world somewhere. Also, one of our guys found his Russian double and the likeness is really very strong. This always seems to happen when we travel abroad!

Anyway, if you would like to know a little more about the Open Class: Stanislavski Continues festival and about old Stan himself, here is an interview that the head of my school Michael Early gave on Russian TV. There is also, floating somewhere on the Russian digi-sphere a news report with me being interviewed! Although I can’t seem to find it right now I know it exists, because it was on the Russian Channel 1 at about 10am! We saw it on the hotel lobby tv! How very exciting.

In fact, this whole trip was very exciting. I never thought I’d go to Russia, and god knows I never dreamed I’d be performing in the Moscow Art Theatre! I really cannot thank the organisers of Open Class and of course Rose Bruford College enough for making this possible.

Now, I have realised that I’ve spoken about this show quite a lot on this blog, and hopefully, will do many more times. However, many people who don’t know me and haven’t read any of my older posts probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Obviously I can always link you to our website, but I think it might be nice to have something a little closer to home too, so, in the next few days I’m going to make a new page on this blog about the show and the company. Maybe I’ll continue to do this with other projects too, and make this blog a little hub for myself.

Next time I’ll hopefully have news about my other theatre group The Same, But Different, and some novel related news.

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K.

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About a day ago, I arrived in Moscow to perform as part of the ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’ festival with my show Pages from the Book of…

The festival is a congregation of international drama schools, in which we are the British contingency. It’s all very very exciting, and I’ll make sure to do a long post on it when I return to sunny England (I highly doubt I’m going to have time to do it here).

In the meantime, here is a post I wrote about a week ago, after I finished reading Franz Kafka’s The Trial and never got round to posting.

It’s interesting that the final chapter of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, is the shortest and most abrupt. Before now, the book had carried on in long-winded and excruciatingly eventless chapters. That’s not to say it’s boring or without meaning! No, no, no! Each chapter is carefully constructed to emulate the slow, or in fact motionless nature of the court which has accused Joseph K. At the same time, they supply just enough information and present enough intrigue to explain K.’s insistence to take his case into his own hands, and to keep the reader, at all times, on tender hooks.

The Trial is the most famous, and often regarded as the greatest of Kafka’s works. It’s a masterpiece of literature, and as such, I don’t need to tell you how beautiful the writing is, how profound the philosophy or engaging the story is. I also don’t have to recommend that you read it, instead I need only inform you that it should be read without need of recommendation.

So, instead of all these things, I’m just going to share some of my thoughts on the book, and specifically, on the final chapter. It goes without saying that there are SPOILERS AHEAD, so you have been warned. It should also be obvious that there will have been hundreds and hundreds of people, most of whom are smarter, or at least better educated than me, who have interpreted the book, so these are just my ideas.

The Trial, like much of Kafka’s work, remains unfinished. But this is merely a detail, and it doesn’t change the fact that the story does end. In an afterwards by Max Brod, a friend of Kafka, he explains that Joseph K.’s case would never have made it to the high-court spoken of in the book, and though Kafka planned to explore the later stages of the trial and the workings of the mysterious court, the case, in many ways, would go no further, and so the book could in fact ‘stretch on to infinity’. But, it doesn’t. The book ends, and the trial of Joseph K. is abruptly and violently closed, and this, is a very important thing. I think an interesting question, is why the book came to an end the way it did.

At an early stage in the book, I guessed thatJoseph K.’s case would come to a bad end, although, the dismal and somewhat cold conditions in which he was dispatched, did come as a surprise. The reasoning for this end, is highlighted in the final chapter. In fact, I think that the final chapter stands as a summery and parable for the entire book. It calls to mind another moment earlier in the story. In the chapter called ‘The Cathedral’ a priest, who is also the Prison Chaplin for the court tells K. a parable from the Court Scriptures. This parable is then deconstructed by both characters in so many ways that the meaning of it becomes completely lost and they take from it what they will. The final chapter acts as a similar parable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the unfortunate downfall of Joseph K. finds its way into the Court Scriptures.

After fighting his case for over a year, two men arrive at K.’s house to execute him. The arrival of these two men obviously mirrors the first chapter, in which two warders arrive to inform K. of his arrest. The difference, is in tone. Here, K. is not caught unawares, but he half expected the men to arrive and he resigns himself to his fate. The men do not try to appease him, hardly engaging him in conversation at all. Instead, they remain solemnly quiet. It is very important, that at no point do they explain the reason for their appearance to K. He asks them if they were appointed for him, and they merely bow. From here, K. collects his hat and coat and leaves with the men. When they try to hold him, he insists that he remain free until they are outside. So, when they do restrain K. outside, it means that he has not only presumed their mission, but he has begun the journey towards his death on his own free will, and he has also given himself over to their hold. I can’t help but wonder what would have been if he had refused to go with the men, or at least if he had insisted to remain unrestrained. But even when held by the two men, it is still K. who leads the way. The two men represent the court both literally, and abstractly. From the very beginning of the trial, K. has been in the courts grasp, but it has not physically moved him. Instead, he has remained under its shadow, but has been independent in his choice of where to go and what to do.

As they walk, the following passage follows; “Under the street lamps, K. tried time and time again to see his companions more clearly than he had in the dusk of his room.” But, trying as he might, he can only catch brief glimpses of them. Again, this passage exists as a metaphor for the entire situation with the court. K. is always attempting as hard as he can, to learn more about the workings of the court, but with every step he takes, the whole thing becomes more mysterious and unknown.

Put out by the sort of people the court has sent to collect him, and in this, the whole way in which the court conducts its workings, K. comes to a stop, and so do the two wardens. It is in this moment of defiance that K. sees Fraulein Buchner, or someone who reminds him of her. The two warders are said to “try to repel K. from the spot; but he resisted them.” In this chapter, there is at all times, both the literal reading and the metaphoric meaning. So taking it literally, I must conclude that the two warders were simply prompting K. forward, because I can’t see how the two large men could be resisted so easily.  In the abstract then, it could speak about the way that the court often prompted K. into action with small tidbits of information and glimmers of hope.

When Fraulein Buchner appears, we are reminded of K,’s tendency to become distracted from his case by women. In this moment, he realises that resistance is futile and so, carries on his way, again of his own accord and again condemned by no other than himself. He resolves to go to the end of his case dignified, and at peace with himself.

“In complete harmony all three made their way across a bridge in the moonlight…”

So we come to the third section of their journey. If the first step of the journey is K. leading the court, as he did in the first few chapters of the book, and the second step is K.’s forced stop of the warders. The third step, is when K. and the warders all move in unison, and work together to reach the final verdict. The next break, comes when the trio stop in unison, and K. actually prompts the warders to move on himself by stating “I did not mean to stop completely.” So we come full circle and when K. and the court come to a standstill, it is K. himself who restarts the solemn death march.

Police line the way and soon the group is approached by a policeman on account of looking suspicious. The two wardens stop, but as the Policeman is about to speak K. drags the wardens onward and forces them to flee the Policeman. I have a few ideas about this bit. My first, and most immediate thought is that this scene represents K.’s tendency to refuse help from others. The Policeman, depending on how you look at it, could be seen as a representation of the court (as the court is of the law, as is the Policeman) in which case he could represent characters like the Prison Chaplin, or the Advocate who K. dismissed, against all advice. Or he could be seen as representing those outside the court (because the court certainly doesn’t hold up the traditional law of the policeman) and he could represent figures like K.’s Uncle or the artist Titorreli who could have helped K. had he not run away. K.’s act of running from the Policeman could also be because simply at any time someone has interfered with K.’s case it has somehow become more convoluted and unachievable.

So it is K. who leads the court, running out of the town and to the place of his execution. Here, the roles change a bit and the court finally takes the lead. The warders undress K. and find a suitable place to carry out the sentence. They lay him awkwardly over a rock and present a manner of execution which is as unconventional as I would expect from this bizarre and cruel trial. They produce a large, double-edged butchers knife and begin passing it over K. to one another, unable to decide who should carry out the sentence. It is written; “K. now perceived that he was supposed to seize the knife and plunge it into his own breast. But he did not do so…”

The act of taking the knife and killing himself would affirm the idea, here, that all the events leading up to and including the execution were entirely in his own hands. What’s important, is that he doesn’t do it. It wouldn’t be unreasonable now, to imagine that his death be postponed indefinitely and that the wardens might pass the knife back and forth over K.’s head for the rest of eternity.

But this is not to be. Looking around he sees a figure, or figures, in a window. A sudden burst of hope ignites inside K. as he wonders who, or what it might be. “Who was it? A friend? A good man? Or were they all there? Were there some arguments in his favour that had been overlooked? Of course there must be.” And just as quickly as this hope sets in, it is forcibly extinguished as he is struck through the heart (and it’s too late).

And so the trial of Joseph K. comes to its melancholic end.

As I said, the last chapter basically sums up the whole book, through its various implied elements. But it does one other thing; it ends the story, and in doing so, changes the whole book. From the start, it is clear that Joseph K. will be the architect of his own demise. The only action of the court, is to inform K. of his arrest. After this a first hearing is held, which K. dominates and leads the discussion. From here, K. is advised not to take action and wait for developments. After this, almost nothing is heard from the court, and K. is not really worried about his case. But in time, and specifically after the visit of his uncle, he becomes increasingly frustrated and begins to make inquiries, etc, of his own accord. We are given every reason to believe that this is the incorrect course of action, and that through ignoring advise to allow the case move along on its own accord, K. is actually moving it forward, and it is through this, that the case becomes less likely to succeed. We can see this in characters like Block who, after taking things into his own hands by hiring a number of ‘hedge-advocates’ found that his case is going badly. Obviously, the best course of action would have been to take no action at all after the first hearing. However, as K. stands still with his two wardens, it is he, not they, that moves the case forward.

But a contradiction occurs at the end when he refuses to snatch the knife and stab himself. The wardens (the court) are the ones who do it. Therefore, at the end, it is not K. who condemns himself, but the court after all. K. may have helped arrive at this point, but it is the court who do the final executing. In this moment, K. is absolved of his many mistakes and again becomes a victim of the court, not a self destructive fool. The fact that the end of the trial mirrors the beginning makes one think that the outcome of the case was always inevitable, and that K. never had any sway over it whatsoever.

It’s also important that K. dies just as new hope is kindled in him, and that in his dying breath, he sees the faces of the two wardens watching him die. This reaffirms the cruelty of the court and calls into question its operation. Does it operate by feeding K. false hope and then taking it away? Does it trick K. into moving the case forward just so that it can watch him slowly destroy himself, and ultimately watch the life drain from his eyes?

Like the Prison Chaplin’s parable, this last chapter (and of course the whole book) could have a number of possible interpretations, and probably after much discussion would render the whole thing meaningless – maybe that’s the point. But for me, I felt that the parable was violently and interestingly changed in this last chapter with the untimely death of Joseph K.

All the ideas above are sort my first impressions and if I let myself I could quite happily sit here thinking about it for several more hours.

I’ve really enjoyed this book, and I’ll make sure to read Kafka’s other works at some point soon.

Two weeks in Edinburgh

Standard

 It was seven am by the time I arrived in Edinburgh. The night of travel was mostly sleepless, but filled with momentary excursions into half lucid dreams. From these, I was usually awakened as the coach lurched and sent my head crashing into the window, knocking the oncoming dreams off course. If anything can be said for the Mega-bus, it’s that it is at least persistent in keeping you as uncomfortable as possible. Unfortunately, the time is nearing when I have to get back on this miserable bus for another 9/10 hours on my way back to London.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, surrounded by rolling hills and with its very own castle on top of a mountain, situated right in the middle of the city. It has a very rich history and is also an incredibly important cultural centre. One could be excused for saying that the city has a distinctly European feel about it. Much more so than most British cities I have been to.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh during August though, is not just a city, but is a city-wide event in which people from all walks in life come together to celebrate art in all its varieties. Home to the Edinburgh International Festival, the city is alive with theatre, literature, dance, opera, comedy, film, music, visual arts, circus and every other art related activity known to man.

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was first set up in 1947 and has two named beings to thank for its genesis. One is a horse called Ocean Swell. Ocean selflessly gave up its winnings from the 1944 Derby and the 1946 Ascot Gold Cup to the wife of his owner, who helped fund the first EIF. The other is Rudolf Bing, a refugee from the Nazis, who as soon as the war ended, set up the EIF as a way to connect people though our mutual love of art, after the fragmenting affect of the war.

From then, the EIF has only gone from strength to strength, and has gotten much larger. It now encompasses a number of other festivals, including the International Book Festival, the Military Tattoo and of course the Festival Fringe.

 The Fringe Festival apparently began in the same year as the EIF, when a bunch of theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform. Since then, the Fringe has grown so large that most people think this is the festival. Apparently, it’s now the worlds largest arts festival. This year, there are 2,695 shows from 47 countries. These take place all over the city in 279 venues. The Fringe doesn’t disallow any performances, meaning there is a varied degree of talent, styles, genres and forms to be had.

It all sounds pretty awesome, right? But not everyone thinks so. In recent years, the number of stand-up comedy acts have dwarfed most other genres, and even though these have now become the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, many people seem to consider the Fringe bastardised. In The Arts Journal Allan Massie writes;

“Edinburgh in August has now become a place for stand-up comedy, where reputations are made and prizes are won. This is a far cry from the ideals of 1947, an expression of culture more consumerist than uplifting. But that’s how it is. That’s where we are.”

Massie certainly isn’t alone when he calls for a reassessment of the festival, looking back at the ‘why’ behind the first EIF.

Now, I’m not really a fan of stand-up comedy but I do think some stand-up comics are very smart indeed, and sometimes, just sometimes they say something that matters. I certainly wouldn’t blame them for the downfall of culture in Edinburgh. What I will say though; walking down the royal mile, one is made very aware that the whole thing is a bit of a money making machine at the moment. Art has been commercialised to an extent I’ve not encountered before. It’s also super bitchy…But maybe that’s just what happens when you put this many theatre people together…

Whether you buy into it or not, this conflict of opinions does exist, and through it, a few pockets have appeared throughout the city, which wish to keep the spirit 1947 alive. One such pocket is the Summerhall venue.

Summerhall is Edinburgh’s newest arts venue. Bought for a pretty reasonable £4 million by one Robert McDowell, the former ‘Royal Dick Veterinary University’ has been turned into a centre for the arts. With over 500 rooms, Summerhall is home to a number of performance areas, art exhibitions, an in-house printing and publishing office (where the Arts Journal came from), a brewery, its own tv station and much more. What’s beautiful about Summerhall, is that because it’s privately owned the building is being kept pretty much as is. It’s not being made up to actually look like a art gallery, but is being aloud to keep its character. McDowell says that it is still a vet school. It’s important Summerhall keeps this character because it ” is to be both a forum for interdisciplinary experimentation and a venue for research and education as well as performance”. This shows in the fact that Rose Bruford College is about to open it’s first ‘campus abroad’ at Summerhall.

I was here last year, the first year for Summerhall, and thought it was a pretty cool venue then. This year, it has come on leaps and bounds, and there’s still work to be done. Of course, what makes Summerhall stand out is the quality of the acts. I have seen some truly great shows in the last 2 weeks. So many, that it would take far too long to write about them all here – and this post is already about a week late!

Instead, I’ll talk a little bit about the Polska Arts season here.

Polska Arts is a fantastic season of – guess what? Polish Art. Put together by the Adam Mickiewics Institute in Poznan (which I visited earlier this year), Polska Arts showcases a huge variation of works at Summerhall. Here we have the likes of Teatr Tsar with their show Caesarian Section: Essays on Suicide (which was awarded a Herold Angel Award last week) and Song of the Goat with Songs of Lear and much more.There’s also some spectacular outdoor shows from Teatr Biuro Podróży and KTO theatre in the Old College Quad.

The two shows I have enjoyed the most from Plska Arts are:

neTTheatre’s Puppet: Book of Splendour

Like my show Pages from the Book of…, this work was inspired by Kantor. Likening the story of The Book of Job to the life of Kantor, the show was visually stunning and incredibly dense. Perhaps too dense at times, as the narrative (if such a thing existed) was lost, twisted, ripped apart and scattered to the wind before the end of the show. Puppet: Book of Splendour is a highly visual and intelligent show. The director, a disembodied voice guides us through the production and makes light of the seriousness of the production. He also subverts what is considered to be trademarks of Polish art, in a highly intelligent and funny way. At one point he jokes saying “People have said the second part of the performance is boring. So, when you are bored you know it’s the second part.” Unfortunately, he was not joking, I did get bored. Very much so. I think the biggest problem with this show was that it was not edited well. There was so much going on, so many images and metaphors that it lost the attention of the audience. Through its flaws though, I really found the show very interesting and I’d love to connect with neTTheatre at some point.

Future Tales: Sierakowski by Komuna//Warszawa. 

Future Tales was absolutely mad. It tells the story of four possible futures for Sławomir Sierakowski, the most significant contemporary Polish left-wing intellectual, according to different writers/philosophers. For example, in one possible future, Sierakowski will become a Buddhist in 2019 and die in 2074, in another future according to H.G. Wells, Sierakowski will survive a Martian invasion and later be digitally immortalised. The show is highly political and very satirical. It’s an absurd lecture interspersed with bizarre punk rock songs, where what is being said doesn’t always correspond with what we are seeing. Something to note is the use of the language in this piece. Polish is a very beautiful language, and in this work I realised just how musical it can be. Just repeating a single phrase seven times becomes poetry.

It’s a great show. Utterly bonkers. But great.

The Polska Arts program is soooo good! So good in fact that I’ve been cheerfully collecting badges with the Listen, See, Touch logo’s on, pretending to be part of the program.

Other honourable mentions at this years Fringe:

Don Quixote! Don Quixote! by Panta Rei Theatre Collective.

Telling the story of Don Quixote, the show is a spectacular excursion into a world of madness and hallucination. This modest show is full of visual flare and some stunning performances. Despite being told in two different languages through the lens of a delusional mind, the story is never lost on us and is at once funny, touching and at times haunting.

Dead Memory House by Theatre Corsair.

This three woman company creates a space in which we are allowed to feel comfortable and then almost instantly make it known that we are not welcome. The show, set in a house belonging to these three girls, gives us an insight into the lives and psychology of the girls. The audience are included in the action, but are made to feel that they are witnessing the ghosts of the past, some well known, some secret. This is a cleaver and innovative character study in which we are given a brief glance into the lives memories of these girls.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour.

Well, I’m not sure…but this might be one of the most important plays I have ever seen.

I think the best justice I can do for the show is to keep quiet about what it is. Instead I will just tell you that you should go and see it. I suspect that one day, given the right circumstances, this play could change the lives of an entire audience.

Well, I hope this has given you a bit of an insight into my experience at the Edinburgh Fringe. Our show has been going well, and we have gathered a nice collection of 4* reviews. Find the links below if you’re interested and a link to a video about us.

TV BOMB

Broadway Baby

Three Weeks

This one is a bit special, written by the lovely Jane Frere who interviewed me about the show.

The video

I’m feeling nice and inspired after this trip, so I’m hoping to get on this blog a bit more next week. Tomorrow is my birthday, but considering I will be performing for half the day and fighting with the Mega-Bus for the other half, I’m going to postpone it to the 25th. I plan to spend this day be at home, in bed, preferably with my beautiful girlfriend. So after this, I will attack the blog and start trying to make a dent in my book. See you next week.

Jack.