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!

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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.

Why Cirque Berserk wasn’t all just clowning around.

contributed by Helena (Chloe) Gooding, 1st LANS student

If I am to be honest, I signed up for Cirque Berserk because it was offered, it sounded entertaining and I was up for a free laugh at the Circus. But I left thinking I might actually have learnt something, or at least made a few interesting observations. It wasn’t until I found myself laughing at the ridiculous and perfectly choreographed antics of the clown that I realised how much I had needed that time to destress. At university I find that there isn’t constant pressure placed on me by others, like teachers and family, as was the case with school, but it is self inflicted pressure. Essays and exams loom over us like horrifying storm clouds, distant but always present. Have I read enough? Did I really spend those 7 hours in the library effectively?

And how do most of us cope?

We got out, we drink, we make poor life choices in the confines of a club or bar because that’s the only place we are allowed to fail, make fools out of ourselves, and by the next morning its forgotten. We get to forget the storm cloud for the night. Not that this is a health coping mechanism, but it’s the only one we are taught, by our siblings, our friends, even our parents.

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Tweedy from the Cirque Berserk troupe

You know what they don’t suggest you do to relieve stress? Going to the Circus. I felt a strange connection to the clown on stage. Like when he attempted to pick up one object but would drop another, comically lunging after his hat while his broom fell the floor. Repeating the same old silly mistake. Attempting to carry too many things at once. That is university, that is our life. Study for hours and we’ve dropped our responsibility to our friends, spend the evening watching a movie and instantly remember that chapter you had planned to finish two days ago. Life is a juggling contest, and the clown affords us the opportunity to laugh at this, to forget the storm cloud, to reflect on the storm cloud if we’re not too busy laughing. The trick where the gymnasts jumped through hoops was strangely cathartic. We jump through hoops daily, finish this assignment to get here, say this to that person to make that connection. When I imagine jumping through hoops I see myself more nervously lolloping towards my goals. Leaping with all the grace of a flying turnip and quite possibly falling on my face the other side, but at least I got through the hoop right? Does it really matter that I broke my leg in the process? But these gymnasts did it so beautifully, leaping and twirling and rolling, they jumped through their hoops in style. Maybe I should set myself the challenge of jumping through my hoops like them, with a bit of pizzas, that is if the exam officer doesn’t mind.

Reflections on an evening with Angela and her Bach.

contributed by Lizzie Slattery, 2nd Year LANS student

Last Friday a group of LANS students and staff members attended an Angela Hewitt piano recital at the Birmingham Town Hall where she played six suites by Johan Sebastian Bach. Hewitt is arguably one of the most accomplished pianists alive today, having started her piano studies at the age of three in her home of Ottawa, Canada. She has since performed all over the world and is particularly known for her cycle of Bach recordings which took her over ten years to complete.

I am certainly no expert on classical music or piano playing and so cannot comment technically on the performance. However it appeared evident that Hewitt is a pianist of astonishing skill, and is deeply emotionally connected with the music of Bach. It is quite something to sit through six Bach suites, particularly if, like me, you are unaccustomed to doing so, and I sometimes found my attention wandering. It was always brought back, however, when I focused in on the music and listened to the weave of incredibly complex harmonies and rhythms which are constantly interacting in Bach’s music, as well as the dazzling gold dress she wore.

I asked some of those who attended to share their thoughts on the evening:

“Riveting. Ravishing. And Radiant. The whole performance was surreal. Angela Hewitt did not just play piano, she performed with her body and soul. It was extraordinary to watch. A definite must see for anyone who loves piano or classical music!” – Kimberley, year 2

“I’d never seen someone just play solo like that for a whole show which was really cool and it’s not something I’d go to otherwise. I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it was that amazing so I doubt I’ll go to something like it again, but I’m glad I went especially because the venue was so impressive.” – Joe, year 2

“I thought it was a lovely evening and very sophisticated. The playing was amazing, the standard too. And the riff at the end that she played was a funny, I can’t remember what she said now, was it what inspired Bach? Either way the history and playing was lovely.”  Miriam, year 2
“I thought it was an interesting experience. She was extremely talented. I think it may have been a difficult choice of music if you had never seen classical music before. But overall I enjoyed it.” – Sophie , year 2

And if you would like to read a professional journalist review of this show, you can always check the local press’ views

Dear Angela

contributed by Dr. Emil C Toescu, Science Tutor, LANS course

Dear Angela, I love Bach. And I like you, but…

hewitt-concert-in-birmingham-bachThis was a concert of two halves. In the first part, mostly minor keys, it was like you came out of a sauna, and your sound was sweaty, cloggy, like emerging from a treacle, notes were overdone, and were bursting with emotional loading – where Bach is something else, a pure crystal of music.

But in the second part, you seemed to find ‘my’ Bach – a half that was played more in the Swiss Alps (ok, in the mountains of Bach’s Germany!), with clean, clear, fresh air whizzing through the notes and through the phrasing, with notes separated and becoming more like drops of music.AngelaHewit

Angela Hewitt at a piano, engaging in her style with Bach’s music

To understand my point about the ‘quality’ of the notes, and why in Bach the notes should be as sharply defined as possible, with as little legato and “expression”, is probably important to realise that this music has not been written for the tonally rich and hugely expressive modern piano, but for the straight and ‘simple’ harpsichord, just a plucking instrument!  It is probably best to experience this difference in sound, and here youtube comes in handy. I was not able to find too much Hewitt  playing the French suites on youtube but two hugely important pianist of our time are Andras Schiff and  Murray Perahia. Here is the French Suite No. 6 (E Major) (the one that opened the second part of Angela’s concert) with Perahia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cMZ-6vWZWM ) and with Schiff (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkNPezHTWzU ). And, for comparison, this is the harpsichord, ‘original’ sound of this suite – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyHeOOHt3Fs . Most relevant to my points about the treacle, clogging sound of Hewitt is to hear the difference harpsichord – piano in the slow, stately part, the Sarabande (starting at around 4 -4:15 min).

But then, I also enjoyed the exposure to the whole package of the French Suites – I have heard all of them before, here and there, but never listen them one after the other. And when I did that I eventually heard how they are coming together to created the atmosphere of a huge Baroque party. Only by hearing them as a package one can really appreciate their fundamental structure: bringing together different forms of dances, popular at that time. And I also did not appreciate that these suites have a very similar structure, with a starting Allemande, followed by a Courante, jollier and jumpier, and then by a stately Sarabande, all slow and in danger of becoming a raking heavy stone caught in thick mud if treated with too much respect (and, here, Angela, all your Sarabandes were like that, and in each I felt like caught in quicksands…).

The section that I enjoyed most of the whole concert: the last section, the Gigue from the 5th Suite (in G major). I can’t find a Hewitt on this, but I could find a Schiff playing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz0V8HDGnDI. Incredible – so ahead of its time, so complex while crystalline. And, in Hewitt’s interpretation on the night, almost so jazzy, flowing with a swing! Which brings me to the last element that I’d like to bring in this mix – that Bach’s music has represented a good hunting ground for an educated jazz ear – and no.1 in this list is the French pianist Jacques Loussier, and here is a whole album of this music: Jacques Loussier Trio play Bach – The Bach Book (complete album): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuv9gSu09U  (and some purists really hate this take on Saint J.S.Bach).

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The Jacques Loussier Trio

Two hundred years ago, Bach would be looking forward to his 32nd birthday in about a month and half’s time. And after all this time, we still see him as a point of huge musical and cultural reference.