Amédée – Madness at the REP!

contributed by Harriett Stothard, LANS Year 2 student

I went in to this play completely blind (and slightly late – oops!), aside from this very short description I skim-read:

‘Frustrated playwright Amédée (played by Trevor Fox) is still trying to finish the play he started writing  . . . 15 years ago! Meanwhile, his wife Madeleine (Josie Lawrence), works hard in telecommunications to keep them in their dilapidated London apartment. But the couple are keeping a secret. A big secret that seems to be getting bigger by the day. A terrifying secret that is now threatening to take over their lives. A secret that has grown into an unwelcome entity they can no longer hide. Now they urgently need a plan of how to get rid of it!’

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The wordy trailer….

I assumed that it would be a kitchen-sink comedy drama type thing, which I thought would be interesting if a little dry, but I was so wrong! Turns out, Amédée is a little known Theatre of the Absurd play from 1954, from one of the first voices in Absurdist theatre, Eugène Ionesco, who was in the forefront of this movement along with Samuel Beckett. It has been adapted by Sean Foley and produced by Roxanna Silbert, the Artistic Director of the REP (with this trailer).

It did have elements of the domestic/kitchen sink/sitcom drama style with a bickering couple, except with a mysterious growing… thing in the next room and mushrooms sprouting through the walls! One would be mistaken (as I was) for thinking at the beginning that the growing thing could be their child and that the play was reflecting the common parental anxiety of children growing up and flying the nest, as Madeleine had a sense of the maternal about her, but it ended up being a growing dead body that she accuses Amédée of killing because it was her young lover. This is never really agreed upon amongst all the weirdness in the play, for example Madeleine’s job as a switchboard operator in their apartment, fielding calls for and from various heads of state and often answering nonsensically, Amédée’s vision of himself and Madeleine when they were younger, and the absolutely mad ending, which I won’t spoil in case anyone who hasn’t seen it wants to!

It is very confusing to pick up on different themes from this play as I am no expert in the Theatre of the Absurd, but I found it interesting to witness the (non-physical) transformation of the body in the other room from unwelcome, mysterious house guest, to child, to feared, semi ridiculous growing body, to ex-lover, to Jesus/God (from the layout of his body on stage) to finally, and most bizarrely, a sail!

I mustn’t forget to mention the kind of police state they seem to live in, with Madeleine informing someone over the phone about it, although without having been outside in 15 years, and Alfred Hickling interprets it as an allegory to the emergence of far right politics at the moment.

All in all, it was a fantastic play to see, even if I left feeling not a little flabbergasted and confused, but it was an enjoyable and very intriguing experience, which I recommend to anyone if they get a chance to see it. Lucy and I talked about it all the way home!

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Diana Spencer‘s input:

I find the challenges of absurdist theatre refreshing as well as provocative. Living within a context where norms and values seem to shift daily, and within which the ability of anyone to say ‘I belong’ with any sense of confidence has diminished, the worlds of Beckett and Ionescu become increasingly relevant. Like a number of the LANS group, I had been guided by the blurb into expecting something like Look Back in Anger (and was a little bit ambivalent about how such an adaptation would work). Perhaps a better way to my mind of characterising what we experienced was Joe Orton crossed with Monty Python, with a dash of Antonin Artaud.

The play left us processing the challenges of variant and fragile versions of ‘reality’, and it prodded us to examine what constitutes a sense of self and how this reacts to but also models the various modes of existence available to us. We wondered, discussing the play afterwards, whether the growing corpse was symbolic of the ego and its destructive potential. We also wondered to what extent the incomplete play (and the incomplete/dynamic corpse) signalled a wider challenge to the idea of iterative self-fashioning as a way of coming to terms with the daily grind of life. Is it ‘better’ or ‘worse’ to acquiesce to these patterns and normalise them? Or should we seek to ‘resolve’ the irregularities and the mundane experiences that frame them by stepping outside?

I think we all marvelled at the play and the ideas it generated; it’s not necessarily a play to like but it is a play to come back to, and kept creeping into my thoughts all weekend.

And another, shorter, comment: I went along with no idea what to expect and left with just as many thoughts flying around my head! Absolutely bonkers, but also hilarious and thought provoking.Lucy Fellows, Y2

To be or not to be absurd: the existential question of Amedee

contributed by Emil Toescu, LANS team

Amédée, you are the artist: highfalutin with words, working with them, spontaneously. But unable to string them on paper when it matters, but you try.

She’s telling you – she will divorce! Amédée, in all this time, you did no do a thing about it! You just let it grow.

Oh, this antipathy, this pathetic antipathy, la-di-da, like corn is born when thrown, you see!

Amédée, you need to do something about it, you need to overcome these growths, they flourish everywhere, and they might be poisonous, they might be toxic, they might be delirious – they grow and it grows, its nails and hair, all certainly in geometric fashion. Bring on science, bring on numbers, so that we have an understanding: 6 cm in the last hour or so -we do have some control now!

Over Vitebsk Marc Chagall

Another flying man – this one depicted by Marc Chagall

It started in the bedroom: the lover, or the corpse, the baby?, a positive or a negative – depends on the point of view, but both and all expressions of a missing…

Amédée, she is going to divorce you, if you don’t do anything about it! – and if you do? Well, Amédée, then you are going to go, with it, with the relation, with the corpse. She had enough of cleaning and brushing, Amédée, and you’ll be floating, up and free, dead or alive – it’s all just a matter of a point of view.

Whatever you feel it is a right description for this case, Eugene! – we’ll drink to that, us all, la-di-da, with the patophysician on duty near the hatstand.

And the clock eventually stops, the moon shines – it don’t mean a thing even if it got that swing…

(it’s all about this Amedee)

Banff Mountain Film Festival experience

Contributed by Lizzie Slattery, LANS Y2 student

On Saturday 4th March, LANS went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival on tour in the Birmingham Town Hall. It was quite unlike any other LANS trip we’ve been on before and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The event consisted of the screening of seven short documentary films which had been selected from those shown at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival. Below I’ve given a brief comment on my three favourite and one least favourite films…

  1. Doing it Scared–  Filmmakers: Catherine Pettman (trailer)

A short film about a British climber Paul Pritchard completing a very personal challenge. Eighteen years before the filming of the documentary, while climbing the Totem pole in Tasmania, Paul’s rope dislodged a rock above him which fell, hitting his head and leaving him partially paralysed. Following this man on his personal journey and the way that his disability has become something which he immensely values as having taught him valuable lessons in his life. It was an unexpected and interesting outlook on a catastrophic accident which radically changed his life. I was interested in the way he talked about being far more scared on his second ascent, not principally because of his disability but rather because he said he had so much more to lose than when he was younger.

  1. Dream Ride– Juicy Studios; Filmmakers: Lacy Kemp and Ryan Gibb (check it here)

My least favourite of the films, this followed a mountain biker through several North American landscapes. While the footage of the biking and landscapes was stunning, the accompanying poetry was less than. Filled with clichés at every turn, I felt that if the writer had been less concerned with rhyming and more with meaning, he might have produced some more interesting poetry.

  1. La Liste (a 47 min version of the film here, from the RedBull site)

A young French skier Jérémie Heitz undertakes the challenge of skiing 15 of the steepest peaks in the Alps in two ski seasons. A fast paced and gripping film, with Heitz skiing some 4000 metre peaks which look completely vertical. The cinematography is beautiful with some stunning aerial footage of the Alps.

  1. Mira (check further details here)

This was my favourite film, it followed the journey of a young Nepali girl named Mira Rai from her humble beginnings in rural Nepal to becoming a world class trail runner. Her incredible determination, spirit and belief in her own ability were astonishing to watch. I didn’t even know it was humanly possible to run over 110 kilometres through mountainous regions and all weathers. Mira’s tough upbringing in the mountains of Nepal prepared her for future career as a trail runner and gave her an amazing outlook on life. I was struck by her incredible calm and positivity throughout her journey.

Leviathan, you creature of the seas…

contributed by Cassidy Locke, LANS Y2

When I went to see Leviathan at the MAC last Friday, all I knew was that it was a contemporary dance piece based on the story of Moby Dick.  It sounded intriguing enough, despite the fact that I was having trouble remembering the basic storyline of Herman Melville’s classic novel, having never read it.  I had seen the film, years ago, but all I could remember was a vague impression of a crazed sea-captain of a whaling ship being absolutely determined to catch some particular whale at any cost.  Ahab, this captain was called, and the whale was Moby Dick.  Ahab sought revenge on the whale for biting his leg off at the knee on a previous expedition.  My lack of knowledge was not to be a problem, I was relieved to find. The performance was only loosely based on Moby Dick, picking up key themes rather than attempting a complete retelling.

Throughout, the performance evoked the theme of obsession and desperation that runs through Melville’s novel, poLeviathan-spouting-girl_1000rtrayed through a remarkable flow of capoeira, martial arts and stunningly athletic dance.  The result is hard to put into words.  The stark lighting, making use of black and white, with rare flashes of yellow, the arresting artistry and deft expression of the dancers, accompanied by a moving electro-rock soundtrack by the Polish prog band Lunatic Soul melded to create a remarkable show (check this trailer of the show).  The only prop was long lengths of heavy rope, skilfully used.  The rest of the time we were left to marvel at the dancers.  The female lead, dressed all in white as some embodiment of the whale that Ahab seeks, maintained her distance from the audience all evening.  We were never acknowledged, scarcely saw her face, were treated to long moments where she seemed to flex each individual muscle in her back.  She was completely ethereal, totally elusive, neatly giving us an insight into Ahab’s frustration that he cannot catch her. This is a frustration that we saw mounting all evening with Ahab’s vocal and dynamic performance evoking the chaos of his mind.

leviathan2Every dancer was perfectly poised, panther-like in their bounce and stealth, radiating strength and artistry in a way that I could never have expected when I settled into my seat that evening.   The performance was creative and innovative in every aspect.  There were times when they were all linked together and sailed over and under one another in a way that did not seem possible, even as they proved me wrong.  The James Wilton Dance company gave us something unique, something startling, something powerful.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Year 2 Trip to Brussels by Dr Shelley Budgeon

 

June 5-8, 2016

Cityscape

This year I had the pleasure of accompanying the second year on a trip to Brussels – a timely location indeed. The referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU was in the forefront of our minds as we headed out of the north gate car park on our way to the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras station. Questions surrounding governance, democracy, multiculturalism, migration, and identity had been circulating in the media for many months prior to our trip. The theme of the trip, “Borders and Belonging: Diversity and Community in Europe”, drew from across a range of social, economic, political and cultural issues central to debates about Britain’s relationship to the rest of Europe. Brussels, as the seat key political institutions governing the EU, and a diverse and rich cultural city provided an ideal setting for thinking about these matters and the debates being so passionately engaged with by the British public.

Some of the ‘big questions’ which framed our visit included: What does it mean to have a European identity and belong to a European community? What is the role of the EU in making societies stronger? Is this project a ‘failure’; a ‘success’; or one in need of ‘reform’? What effect do decision making bodies of the EU have on creating a European identity or community?

We were given plenty of opportunities to consider these complex questions and the range of perspectives which necessarily inform available answers.

Day 1

Eu flags

We first visited the European Commission where we learned about a range of responsibilities the Commission is tasked with including proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. This was followed by a general presentation on the EU foreign and security policy. From these presentations we began to gain some insights into the complex and multifaceted nature of EU institutions and decision making processes. As a starting point for our exploration of the EU the visit provided us with a lot to consider.

Students on bank

Since the sun was shining we enjoyed a moment of relaxation (with ice cream for some) in the beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire before heading to the Grand Mosque, Islamic and Cultural Centre. Given it was the first day of Ramadan the Mosque was bustling with preparations for the meal that would take place that evening at sunset. As a key religious institution in Brussels the Mosque represents an important site of everyday life for the citizens of Brussel and our visit, again, helped us to understand the complexity of cultural identity in a European community that is multicultural and diverse.

 

 

 

Day 2

On the second day our activities focused on getting to grips with key EU institutions despite their inherent complexity! We first called on the European Economic and Social Committee and enjoyed a very lively and engaging presentation on the role the EESC plays in strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States to express their views at European level. This was followed by a thought provoking discussion on Britain’s decision to leave or remain in the EU and the role the younger generation must play in making this decision about the future. Again, we were reminded of the challenging issues constituting the theme of our trip and in particular, what it means to practice active citizenship in a globalised world. Following the presentation we were invited to enjoy the views of the Parliament from the terrace.

Student group

In the afternoon we accepted the challenge of playing the role an MEP in the EU Parlamentarium simulation – a scenario in which we were invited to ‘become a “near-perfect” politician’. At times a bit frantic and stressful, the role-play helped us to understand the pressures involved in making policy decisions when reaching consensus is an imperative. At the conclusion we were pleased to have reached agreement despite our differences resulting in the creation of some sound policies in response to a ‘water solidarity directive’ and the ‘personal identification directive’! From participating in this scenario we appreciated the range of skills MEPS must exercise in order to collectively tackle common problems faced by the member states.

Parlementarium flag

In between the rigors of learning about the role of the EU and reflecting on Britain’s future we took advantage of all that Brussels has to offer culturally including the wide range of museums and cultural institutions; opportunities to sample the cuisine (think Belgian chocolate/frites/beer) and free time to explore the city’s many attractions. The final night was celebrated by a wonderful meal at Chez Leon where mussels and frites were consumed enthusiastically while the conversations flowed!

Heading back home we reflected on what had been achieved: a greater awareness of debates surrounding culture and identity; an enhanced understanding of governance structures and policy making; and the opportunity to strengthen the friendships which are at the heart of the University of Birmingham Liberal Arts and Sciences community.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Brussels Trip: A student perspective by Thomas Belcourt-Weir

Monday 6th June 2016

After arriving in Brussels and briefly orientating ourselves in the city centre on the Sunday, on Monday morning we visited the EU commission. As soon as you arrive at the building there are clear efforts to display who is the head of the commission and try to gain support. On the outside of the building there is a large #TeamJuncker and on the walls of the foyer is a large display of the roles Jean-Claude Juncker and the other commissioners have. We were given a talk on the general role that the EU Commission plays as an institution, learning about how it proposes laws, enforces laws, manages budget and represents the EU outside of Europe. Interestingly, the speaker didn’t touch much upon the unelected nature of the 28 Commissioners, something which is a key argument within the Brexit debate.

We also had a talk about the European External Action Service, which serves as the EU’s foreign ministry and diplomatic corps, essentially representing the EU and its foreign policy outside of Europe. The main insight I took from the talk was how the EU Commission’s overall mission is to try to represent Europe’s interest as a whole, as if it were one nation, and the difficulties that come with this; staying supra-national and neutral, when the ‘interests of Europe’ are really just made up of the interests of all the constituent countries. It has to be said that the talk was a little lacking in useful and interesting information relative to only the common knowledge we had as a group about the EU. However, it was valuable to get the general gist of who the commissioners are and what they do, and just being in and around the building brought to life what you normally hear on the news as “over in Brussels”.

After this, a visit to Brussels largest mosque was made quite brief by the impending preparations for Ramadan, but nonetheless it was a good representation of the diverse ethnicities in Brussels as the political centre of an ethnically diverse Europe.

Tuesday 7th June 2016

On Tuesday morning we began with a great talk at the European Economic and Social Committee. The speaker was bright, fun and engaging, and she gave us a clear overview of the work the EESC does as a consultative body to the EU. Essentially the EESC is made of members who represent either Employers, Workers, or Interest Groups, aiming to strengthen European integration, ensure EU policies tie in better with economic, social and civic circumstances on the ground, and promote the development of a more participatory EU which is more in touch with popular opinion. The EESC works by creating formal platforms for groups across civic society to express their views, and by creating official “Opinion” documents which advise the three main bodies of the EU (Commission, Parliament and Courts). They work across several sections, from agriculture and environment to economics and employment. It was really interesting to see how the EU attempts to stay in touch with everyday people and initiate participatory democracy – even though the EESC is only advisory and what they advise doesn’t necessarily have to be used.

After this we had a nice break and a group photo on the terrace overlooking the EU Parliament building – it’s huge!

After lunch we took part in a role-play activity at the EU Parlamentarium. This was another really great exercise which I personally got a lot out of as I’m sure the rest of the group did. We were given the role of MEP’s (Members of European Parliament) and the activity gave us a flavour of what their daily job is like. We were split into four political parties with differing agendas and went through the steps of discussing our position as a party, consulting experts and the public, and then negotiating between parties to try and reach an agreement on the issue of water management and bio-chips. After this we then had to try and also reach a compromise with the EU Council. At times it was frantic and difficult to find an agreement between the Parliament and the Council – probably a very accurate role-play of real life!

The afternoons and evenings were free time spent exploring Brussels. The EU quarter was sleek and modern, which contrasted with the artistic and historic centre of the city. The countless cafes and bars gave the cobbled streets and squares a great vibe. There were also quality museums such as the museum of musical instruments and the comic book museum. Of course the waffles, chocolate and frites were delicious and were sure to be a highlight. Of particular note was the fine Belgian beer, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to try all 3,000 types at Delirium Café…

Overall a great trip of interesting insights into the workings of the EU just weeks before we go to vote on the EU Referendum, and fantastic cultural experiences of a buzzing European capital city – all topped off by a group dinner on the Tuesday evening! Thanks to Ruth and Shelley for a fine trip.

LANS extracurricular programme

I am coming to the end of my first week in my new role as the Liberal Arts and Sciences Intern.  I am working in the office to develop the extracurricular programme that LAS runs alongside the academic side of this degree.  My job is to explore what all the students want to get out of the extracurricular programme, and how we can make it even better for next year.

 

The department provides us with tickets for cultural events that are going on in and around Birmingham.  We get free tickets to things pretty much every week.  The idea is that we’ll all become well-rounded students with knowledge of things outside university life.

 

We started last year with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s Hecuba, complete with an exploration of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s dressing-up box.

 

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Other theatre highlights from the year include Orpheus, Strictly Balti and Iphigenia in Splott – all amazing and unusual pieces of theatre which we would never otherwise have thought to go to.

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Images clockwise: Orpheus, Iphigenia in Splott, Strictly Balti.  Photo credit clockwise: John Hunter at RULER, Mark Douet for the Sherman Theatre and Farrows Creative/Travelling Light Theatre.

 

We saw the ballet Sleeping Beauty in February, and the opera The Marriage of Figaro in March.  What other students get to go to the opera? Despite my reservations about the highly-dramatic warbling that I thought made up opera, it was hilarious and I was thoroughly proven wrong.

 

My personal highlight of the year was Broken, a contemporary dance performance we saw in Warwick Arts Centre.  I have never seen anything so amazing or relentlessly jaw-dropping!  The strength of the dancers, their interaction with their set and the innovation of their moves made for a phenomenal show that I will never forget.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4tuIdK9rqQ

 

This is the Motionhouse Dance Theatre Company – if you ever get the chance to see them, please do not hesitate!

 

So, I have filled this rainy week with chatting to lots of lovely Liberal Arts people and collecting their feedback from the programme this year.  I am starting to get a very clear picture of what everyone liked most about the events.  Those that stood out were new experiences, things we would never have got to do otherwise and stuff to make us think.

 

My week has given me a good idea about what people want to get out of the extracurricular aspect of Liberal Arts.  I am very excited to explore the possibilities for next year.  I’ve had loads of amazing suggestions already – please keep them coming!

Cassidy Locke, June 2016