Archive | May, 2012

Brighton Festival Review: Be Outraged – There are Alternatives

25 May

Pavilion Theatre: Tuesday, May 22 2012

It’d be difficult to disagree with the motives and messages of this event.

In a series of short lectures, Richard Jolly, from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, and Stephanie Griffiths Jones, from Colombia University, forensically critiqued the global financial crisis and, more pertinently, dissected what they argued were the ill-advised austerity messages being adopted to tackle it.

They stated that Europe’s obsession with cuts was at the expense of economic growth, and urged governments to learn the lessons of the post-war period when those in power stimulated the economy with investment.

The Keynesian policies of 1948 to the early 70s led to more jobs and greater national prosperity, they argued. Likewise, they made a compelling case to claim how the cuts disproportionately hit the poorest, and especially women, while fatcat pay soared.

While their reasoning was spot-on, as a spectacle, the event was somewhat lacking.

The slides which accompanied the lectures were less than inspiring while the dramatic representations of the themes by students were well-intentioned but unconvincing.

The missing ingredient from all of this was what the people who are legitimately outraged by the cuts are doing to fight them.

The focus on economic policy issues accompanied by subtle-as-a-sledgehammer drama, lacked any convincing human touch. It barely touched on the scores of grass-roots protests and anti-austerity campaigns that have sprung up.

The subject matter had the potential to provide an inspirational mix of academia, activism and call-to-arms alternatives, but what we got was one of those 9am university lectures that covered the basics, but largely failed to live in the memory.

Brighton Fringe Review: Phil Kay

25 May

Quadrant:  Saturday, May 19 2012

There’s no middle ground with the whirlwind Scottish comedian Phil Kay.  His shows are either manic, ridiculously absurd and hilarious, or so shambolic and rambling that it’s nigh on impossible to follow his train of though, let alone pick out a joke.

Thankfully, in his second of three Fringe shows, we got the former. His set featured some delightfully obscure and improvised ramblings, including a fast-paced rant about the 24-hour chemist opposite the venue (“You can have whatever you like, as long as they can fit it through the little hatch,” he said. “There are trained chemists from Cambridge University over there slicing sandwiches into bite-size bits so they’ll fit through”).

The cash loan premises over the road got the same treatment (“They are the kind of loans I like best,” he said. “Give me cash over grapefruit every day”).

His bohemian and anarchic mindset means that audiences have to go with him and be prepared to stumble down some dead ends to be fully rewarded when he hits comedy gold.

At times this can be awkward to watch as he seemingly racks his brain for some vague semblance of a punchline. If he can’t find one, he just stops and careers off in another direction.

Although at times it can be frustrating, it’s genuinely refreshing to see a comedian who hasn’t polished a routine with the aim of getting (back) on TV, but one who likes the thrill of winging it and living on the edge of his wits. Just keep your fingers crossed you catch him on a good day

Brighton Festival Review: Is Britain Still Great?

15 May

Corn Exchange, Wednesday March 9 2012

“Is Britain still great” said Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee towards the end of this debate. “I think we could have had a discussion about every word”. It’s a shame they didn’t.

What was plugged as a to and fro about the state of British society, frequently failed to live up to its billing.

And while panellists author Adam Foulds, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and Toynbee touched on what was the premise of the debate, most of the talking was centred on readings from their respective writings and, at times, well-rehearsed comments about the past rather than the present.

To be fair, Toynbee made a good fist of arguing that the last Labour Government did quite a bit of good, even it could have gone a lot a further, she said, before it royally soured its legacy with various debacles.

It was Manzoor, however, who was by far and away the most engaging. His story of growing up in Luton as an alienated, young Pakistani before charting how he came to appreciate Britain, successfully put immigration into a heart-warming, human context.

That said, while this event provided a pleasant enough evening out, it was largely a wasted opportunity; What should have been a free-for-all about the state of modern Britain, was largely a southern England-focused discussion that had more in common with the hackneyed debates witnessed among the political elite, rather than being a genuine boundary-pushing discussion about the here and now.

Still, it might have sold a few more books for the panellists.

Brighton Fringe Review: Foil, Arms and Hog

15 May

Upstairs at Three and Ten: Sunday, May  6 2012

The hardest skill of the rapid-fire sketch show troupe is to maintain a consistency of output across an hour-long set.

It’s all very well having two or three stand-out sketches, but if the other 50 minutes is awash with sub-standard drivel, then that will be what lingers in the memory. Just ask Mitchell and Webb.

So fair play to Irish trio Foil, Arms and Hog for rattling through a consistently giggle-laden routine, despite only showing rare glimpses of top drawer originality.

They are at their best when they are at their most surreal and absurd. There’s a nice twist to their take on phone sex adverts, a brilliant physical routine to the music of Microsoft Windows and a lovely, left-field pay-off to a sketch about competitive sandcastle building.

Elsewhere their subject matter can be a little predictable (the demented priest, pitiful rapper and dumb sister to name three), but they are repeatedly saved by their boundless enthusiasm and the ability to squeeze out every last drop of hilarity from any given situation, however half-baked its premise.

This knack of always being able to pack in the laughs, complete with flourishes of brilliance, suggest Foil, Arms and Hog could step up to the next level if they dared to push the boundaries more.

If not, with a name like that, they could always set up a law firm instead.

Brighton Festival Review: Alain de Botton – Religion for Non-Believers

15 May

Corn Exchange: Saturday, May 5, 2012

Alain de Botton tackles religion in the same manner that Alan Partridge extols the virtues of the Travel Tavern and its breakfast buffet; Namely, by filling his oversized-plate with the best bits while trying to convince us the concept isn’t the last refuge for the lost and lonely, but a functional necessity for modern-day life.

De Botton is a committed Atheist, but here, and in his book ‘Religion for Atheists’, he is determined to move on the debate from “sterile” arguments of whether there is a God, to look at how parts of religion could improve the lives of all.

He tells us that secular society could benefit from the belief in life-long learning that is prevalent is many religions, as opposed to being a mere buzzword among politicians.

Similarly, we could learn from religious art, which, no matter how intricate the work, the simple messages within them stir the soul and can be understood by a child.

Religion, he adds, also fosters supportive communities and has a far better grasp of architecture, as opposed to viewing land as a business transaction.

Unfortunately for de Botton, he fails to show how we could apply the best of religion to practical life. He also sidesteps the facts, for example, that the great religious masterpieces and the building of opulent cathedrals usually stemmed from blind faith and obedience.

Likewise, as some churchgoers will concede on the quiet, congregations are often not supportive communities, but actually riddled with divisions with only faith uniting them.

He fails to realise that if you take faith away, his religious breakfast buffet is left with little more than granola. Secular society, on the other hand, has been adequately filling the void with an almighty full English for years.

Live Review: Patrick Watson

15 May

Komedia, Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Patrick Watson’s third LP – the aptly titled Asleep in Your Own Back Yard – is an intimate affair that lollops along with gentle melodies, restrained orchestration and his trademark high-pitched missives.

But anyone expecting a laidback, serene show would have been left agog by this passion and pizazz-packed offering.

From the outset it was clear he and his eponymous band were in the mood to provide a memorable performance.

As the lights faded up, the Canadian began hammering away on the piano, gradually being backed by his four bandmates, and collectively showing that songs which can appear fey on record, actually pack an almighty sucker-punch when played live.

As a musical unit, they quickly showed they are as tight as George Osborne at a Make Poverty History whip-round, and they are masters at musical displays of light and shade.

Some of the songs started off wonderfully fragile, with tip-toeing piano or violin, until Watson’s voice took centre stage and the band exploded into life; It was measured, perfectly weighted and an absolute joy to watch.

Watson isn’t afraid to show that he’s having a good time too. At one point he stood on a chair in the middle of the crowd, orchestrating an astounding acapella version of Into Giants, with the audience singing along in unison.

It was so good it prompted one couple to get over-friendly, some to dance like it was New Year’s Eve and others to gawp in wonder.

Regardless of the reaction, everyone would have left knowing they had seen something pretty special.

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