Thoughts: Get Stuff Break Free

Written for Exeunt

Wow there’s a lot going on this year. THE DIAMOND JUBILEE! THE OLYMPICS! THE SHARD! “It’s good the Shard opens before the Olympics begins. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough hubris in London this summer,” tweeted Andy Field and boy is he right.

According to a dictionary definition of hubris it means ‘overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.’ That seems to fit the bill 2012 is an unusually preening twelve months isn’t it. Celebrate! CELEBRATE!

If you detect a note of sarcasm in my tone you’d be right. Who are we kidding? We liberals feel rather grumpy about all this money-sucking, altar-to-capitalism building, royals-on-a-boat style celebration.

The idea of hollow celebration is key to Made In China’s new show (although it is powered by something much more hopeful than that). Get Stuff, Break Free highlights society’s penchant for ‘bread and circuses’ – keep us diverted and distracted and we’ll play nicely. The piece involves party poppers, cucumber sandwiches, jugs of Pimms, balloons, sparklers, a dance and fireworks.


But what is it actually about? I have spoken to them about this; I should know this.


Tim: “We’re being cagey about this because it’s a bit like if you say that [earlier show] Stationery Excess is about superman…”

 Jess: “It ruins the show.”

Honour: “Absolutely. Yes. But so….how do I write about it?”


Made In China are Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki. They are passionate, involved, politically aware artists; ‘Look at this world you are so willingly a part of’ they challenge ‘Just notice it in all it’s problematic and grotesque glory.’

Get Stuff Break Free has been called a helpless acknowledgement of societal appeasement. But I think it’s too engaged for that. It’s a state of the nation piece.

It takes the form of a Q&A with a band who’ve seen it all. Maybe they are London; maybe they are society; maybe they are revolution; maybe they are a failed revolution; maybe they are human; maybe they are us.

Get Stuff Break Free is not a resigned shoulder-shrug to the schlock filled opium of the masses; its a clarion call to open your eyes and break out. It talks about large scale events from the capital’s past and present; riots, fires, weddings, funerals.

It’s Jess and Christopher Brett Bailey again (We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie)) but this time it’s also Nigel Barrett and Sarah Calver. Four figures looking like a folk rock group standing on a roof top of the National Theatre. I’m told people can see them when crossing Waterloo Bridge.

They look secure in clumpy ox-blood Doc Martens but also vulnerable, precariously perched on a platform so exposed the wind could lift them up at any moment. Safe and unsafe, I think it’s a metaphor for life – but is it?

It’s definitely both cocky and fragile; they’re like revolutionaries who’ve lost their way but still have flames in their eyes. “The world is explosive and full of greed. It won’t encourage questioning and it won’t give you space to be different.” It says. “But fight for that space because it CAN BE DIFFERENT.” It also says.

My use of capital letters here is not ironic. Made In China never are. Though they satirise the greed of the world, they are earnest in their call for the possibilities of change.


So, sorry, what is it about again?


I can’t stop thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps. ‘The first step is, admitting you’ve got a problem.’ That’s what Get Stuff Break Free is about.

Once we all do that, just think of what else we can do.


State of the Arts Conference 2012 Live Blog

Rather excitingly I’m one of the live bloggers for the State of the Arts Conference Live Blog (the clue’s in the name I probably didn’t need to state my role at the beginning, I’m going to stop talking now) and there’s some jolly good stuff going up daily so I thought I’d put a link to it here as well, just in case you fabulous people haven’t seen it yet.

State of the Arts Live Blog



Rough around the edges: personal and political snatches of thought.

“Nothing like heavy-handed police intervention to turn ambivalence into outright admiration #ows

This wasn’t me but it could have been. The police are kicking Occupy Wall Street out and my blood boils again. But Protest isn’t about the big bangs and whistles. It’s about the people who set up a new city within an existing one. The people who had the patience to create kitchens and schools, had libraries donated and broke down institutional barriers. Change is about the long haul and it’s an incremental and at times dull process. But attention must be paid everyday, not just on fiercely unjust ones such as this.

I say this more to myself than anyone else. Perhaps it’s hard to stay committed because the Occupy movement don’t seem to speak as one voice so I’m unsure what alternatives I’m supporting. Or maybe it’s because day to day they are fighting the very matrix we exist in, Capitalism. Its a faceless, nationless master and because it seems so natural it’s much harder to get furious with than a misguided police force. For long term support from those who aren’t naturally predisposed to protest the multitude of voices coming from those tents need to begin setting out an alternative however embryonic. And I need to pay more attention to the details of what it is they are saying now, to be prepared to sit down and engage in their sometimes conflicting but inherently right (with a capital R) provocations. Only then will I turn my sense of indignation today into a real commitment to action tomorrow.

Just Tell The Truth…oh alright then (Mike Figgis’ Ignition)

Written for Exeunt.

Deloitte Ignite returned for its fourth year with a contemporary arts festival curated by Mike Figgis over the weekend of the 2nd -4th September 2011 under the title Just Tell The Truth. Figgis’ core aim was to discover what we think about the state of the culture in which we all exist. Over a period of three days the public were invited into the Royal Opera House for a series of talks, performances, film screenings and installations with artists from all fields, including Matthew Herbert, Alber Albaz and Marina Abramovic. I went along on the Saturday and the below is my diary of the day: the statements in italics Just Tell,explain the facts of what occurred, whilst the others are ‘The Truth’, as experienced by me that day and as such are more personal, occasionally silly, but always true.

Just Tell | The Truth

Deloitte Ignite 2011; a contemporary arts festival curated by internationally renowned English film director, composer and writer Mike Figgis | Figgis mingles with the crowd, blending throughout but marking his presence with a shocking pair of attention grabbing lime green shoes | It’s a weekend packed with artistic exchanges | Some events are outlined in big black marker, interviews, film screenings. Others are completely incidental taking place in and around the audience: “Wait…is she a dancer or just a crazy person” |

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“What do you think about Harold P?” A little something on Harold Pinter (very little, bite sized in fact).

(Written for Catherine Love’s Spoonfed article, but it made me happy to write it so I thought I’d post it full, even in all it’s briefness).

Harold Pinter has long been one of my favourite writers. Perhaps it’s because I’m a die hard modernist at heart and his plays are always prodding painfully at timeless universal obsessions; power, cruelty, the search for a connection, love. If Samuel Beckett dissected the tragicomedy of accepting the futility of life, Pinter’s plays seem to me to be full of the fury of fighting it. Out of that anger comes human truths that are as pertinent now as they were when he wrote them, but also an explosive poetry that is as simple as it is immense.

Edinburgh is like a box of chocolates, or it should be…

‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’ I spent most of this year’s Edinburgh with Forest Gump’s infamous hallmark card platitude twanging through my head. It may be a statement that stinks of cheese to high heaven but in terms of the Fringe it’s something we could learn from. For a lot of people the festival isn’t like a box of chocolates at all, but rather a very carefully chosen menu and it means they’re missing out on many of the Specials (ok I’ll stop this analogy now).

I’ll admit my new found admiration for pot luck comes from necessity. For the first few years of going to the Fringe my viewing output matched the input of artists that I knew, before slowly moving out to companies I admired and shows I’d heard would be ‘good’. Consequently for the first 8 years of my Fringe history my world was a very small place, full of people who agreed with my theatrical leanings. But in 2011 it exploded as I was plunged into shows and audiences I would never usually see.

Since I have begun writing about theatre I have been sent to things in all corners of the Edinburgh kingdom. Averaging around 6 shows a day it’s been an experience full of highs and lows. Of course I’ve delighted in some but others were a lifetime away from anything I would choose to attend; who really wants to see Paul Daniels: Hair Today Gone Tomorrow? (Actually he was quite good, review here).

It’s been exhausting but invaluable. Not only have I found a couple of hidden treasures (Real Men Dream in Black and White and At the Sans Hotel particularly) but I’ve had my eyes opened to a much more holistic view of the Fringe. And it’s HUGE.

Stop rolling your eyes at me. Of course I know that that’s a received wisdom but how many of us actually experience it in all its messy vastness? I certainly never used to. Now I’ve shared early morning coffee theatre with old American tourists, and marvelled at puppetry with 5 year olds, agog. I’ve despaired at a one on one performance that was meant to be for more than just me (being thanked at the end of that one for simply being there was a low point), relished obscure performance art, endured HORRENDOUS sketch comedy (Sketch Off – consider yourself named and shamed) and watched a lot of mediocre musical theatre. I’m only now really beginning to see Edinburgh for the tapestry that it is, warts, beauty spots and all.

£10 tickets begin to add up so I’m not advocating 40 unknown shows whilst you’re up there. But in between your carefully pre-planned schedule maybe take a dip in the chocolate box just once in a direction you wouldn’t normally tread. Sure, you may get a stinker, but either way you’ll share something with people you’d normally just storm past in the street.

Robert Sheehan: when the big names are calling we’re all only human right?

I seem to be ok questioning the commercial pretensions of Punchdrunk. But I’ve just turned the page of the Evening Standard and seen that Robert Sheehan is playing in The Playboy of the Western World at the Old Vic; in what I assume is the loose shirted lead. Quite frankly, I’m weak at the knees. I’ve just emailed my editor to beg for a ticket. I can’t deny it, in a commercial world, I am a commercial girl. I am a name slave.

Let’s just be clear, I love Sheehan for good reason. In Misfits, Channel 4’s insanely knowing sci-fi drama, Sheehan plays Nathan, the fast talking smooth chancer; Irish and arrogant, he is the twisted love interest to the sarky mouthed BAFTA winning Lauren Socha. I think he’s quite brilliant, funny and louche. I guess it helps that he’s also good looking. Would it be too much to say that he nearly fills in all the 21st century postmodern comedy gaps left by an overweight Oscar Wilde? Maybe it’s just me then.

So why is it ok, in my head, for a show to be sold as a commercial if it involves Mr Sheehan and not the great Doctor? I forgive this advert all its blatant fan manipulation in a way I wouldn’t do with Crash of the Elysium. Maybe it’s because of the idea of seeing Mr Sheehan in the flesh, a one off chance to experience my heartthrob right there. After all who is Doctor Who? Whether he’s ‘experienced’ at Olympia or Media City, or in a 3D Playbox experience, who’s really to tell the difference? But Robert, well as far as I’m aware there’s only one (legal) way to get this close to my fantasy buzz.

The Old Vic are masters of this name banging buck. With Kevin Spacey at the helm how could they not be. But for all my previous postulations, is there something in theatre giving us this immediate thrill (as well as a myriad of other vagabond things)? It’s always been the ephemeral art; the chance to experience something in a space for ‘just one night only’ and if it’s with a celebrity, surely so much the better?

I’ve been accused of being too cynical and maybe I should be a little kinder to Punchdrunk and all their corporate collaboration. I mean when the big names are calling we’re all only human right?