A Word on Culture…

 

Perhaps I am alone, but when I look at a beautiful work by Renoir, Rousseau or Friedrich, I find great difficulty in acknowledging ‘Banksy’ as an artist of equal stature.

Recently, issues of cultural identity have pervaded the news, with emphasis being placed on protecting a European way of life. Predictably, the left immediately mobilised to claim no such identity exists, or worse yet, that European cultural heritage is something to be ashamed of.

Clearly such people have not attended a decent production of Shakespeare in a while, or spent an evening at the Royal Opera House.

Watering down entertainment, education and development to meet with misguided attempts at diversity will not benefit anyone in the long term.

A contingent of lefty literati have such a perceived stranglehold on what does and does not constitute ‘good’ art, that people are afraid to offer different perspectives and, most importantly, call certain artistic contributions exactly what they are – shit.

It reminds me of an old TV show called ‘Faking It’. One particular episode saw a girl who played classical cello professionally, attempt to convince a panel of experts (in this case, uneducated former drug addicts in the guise of musicians)  that she was a pro DJ, after just a month of practice. She successfully duped the experts. Now, let’s see that done the other way around…

I therefore venture that love of the high arts is not snobbery, but simply good taste. There is nothing exclusive about culture, just as listening to the Beatles is not the reserve of working class Liverpudlians, the problem is simply that instant gratification seems to be the order of the day for the great unwashed.

A Nice Cup of Tea (2016)

The Evening Standard published George Orwell’s essay on ‘a nice cup of tea’ over 70 years ago. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of individual tea bags, electric kettles and an ever increasing variety of teas. Therefore, as an avid tea drinker, I felt it appropriate to update his original treatise.

Tea drinking is synonymous with Englishness…

…Other countries may have perversions of preparation and drinking rituals, but the following points outline supplementary guidelines for the Englishman’s convenience.

They are as follows:

  • Breakfast or everyday tea should drunk from a mug . This offers a larger serving, appropriate for dipping biscuits. This also avoids delusions of grandeur— drinking cheap tea from a fine china tea cup is akin to drinking ale from a champagne flute.
  • The tea drinker must strive to drink the tea at optimum temperature. After it has cooled enough so as not to impair the flavour, but hot enough that the flavour of milk is not more apparent than that of the tea. If this happens, it should be poured away.
  • Contrary to Orwell’s advice, African tea is acceptable before lunchtime and largely unavoidable in tea blends. Afternoon tea should be a more delicate variety, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Lighter teas can also be drunk at bedtime.
  • If pouring from an electric kettle, the water must be poured slowly and carefully after boiling has finished, to avoid any limescale finding its way into the cup.
  • It is more than acceptable to add milk to all black tea. However, the appropriate shade differs with different kinds. A rich copper is appropriate for stronger blends of assam or ceylon tea, whereas darjeeling or a good Earl Grey should have  a slightly more pallid almost cloudy appearance.
  • To reiterate Orwell, adding sugar to tea is no better than adding coca cola to fine scotch, or tomato ketchup to a prime steak. it is unnecessary and contrary to one’s health.
  • Loose leaf tea is vastly superior to tea bags and should aways be chosen in preference to the latter.
  • If entertaining guests, tea should be brewed in a pot and not the cup. It is also appropriate to offer more than one variety of tea.
  • Lapsang shouchong is an abomination and should not be drunk by any civilised human being.

I must also add the caveat that, tea is essential to one’s vitality and must be drunk in whatever style that circumstances permit. That is, any of the rules can be discarded if adhering to them will prevent one from drinking tea at all. However, when possible, the highest standards of tea making should be observed.

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These are simply my own guidelines. I would refer anyone to Orwell’s original essay on tea for further suggestions of good practice. I have avoided the subject of which biscuits, sweets or tea cakes should be served, as opinions and options are so diverse that it would be pointless to suggest any common taste.

 

Lawrence After Arabia, Hampstead Theatre – Reviewed

 

lawrence_of_arabia-1Lawrence of Arabia

Thomas Edward Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—the much chronicled but little understood hero of the first world war, has been something of a historical enigma since his death in 1935. This play by Howard Brenton attempts to cast light not only on his character and personal relationships, but also his disillusionment with the British military establishment, and his unease with the fame thrust upon him after the war.

Lawrence After Arabia

Commissioned to mark the centenary of the start of the Arab Revolt, The play focusses on Lawrence a few years after the war, and is told through conversations between he and his close friends: the writer George Bernard Shaw and his wife, Charlotte.  These conversations are interspersed with flashbacks to his time in the desert, to provide context to  what’s being discussed.

Prior knowledge of Lawrence’s escapades is not necessary, as Lawrence After Arabia stands alone as a narrative piece, but appreciation of his social position and the political climate would perhaps be better understood if the viewer is at least familiar with his accomplishments in Arabia.

Lawrence frequently visits the Shaw’s house, as Charlotte helps to edit his biographical Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  As she progresses through his notes and diaries, inconsistencies in Lawrence’s accounts begin to appear. Notions of anti-establishment, sexuality, and the imperial gaze that Lawrence comes to realise and abhor, are discussed as we delve deeper into his psyche.

Despite these conversations being pure conjecture, the events they describe are based on a collection of historical accounts and theories regarding Lawrence’s sexuality, his alleged penchant for self degradation, and his desire to escape the limelight. Furthermore, the inaccuracies that Charlotte Shaw discovers in Seven Pillars of Wisdom are genuine, and the subject of ongoing debate.

The issue of sexuality is constantly present, like an elephant in the room, until it is eventually directly confronted by Charlotte Shaw. The play alludes constantly to Lawrence’s alleged rape at the hands of the Turks, when he was their prisoner in 1917. Historically, Lawrence’s sexuality has been a subject of debate (though many contemporary sources claim he was actually asexual). The story of the rape itself is also thought to be a fabrication by Lawrence, in an attempt to publicly flagellate himself for what he saw as his betrayal of the arabs.

The Cast

Lawrence is portrayed by Jack Laskey to have an almost childish zeal, at times possibly over-acted but in no way unconvincing. Jeff Rawle, as G.B Shaw, provides the occasional comic relief and Geraldine James carries her role as Lawrence’s confident superbly. Khalid Laith brings poise and bearing to his Prince Feisal, whilst the American reporter Lowell Thomes—the man responsible for Lawrence’s fame and villain of the piece, such as their is one— is played convincingly by Sam Alexander.

The Verdict

Clearly well researched and offering a fascinating insight into this enigmatic historical figure, Lawrence After Arabia is an understated masterpiece. Superb performances and an emotionally undulating script make this an engaging piece of drama, that is as challenging as it is educational. Whilst it only recounts a minute period of his life, it offers anew perspective on Lawrence’s complex persona and addresses colonial attitudes to imperialism and sexuality, that are not entirely irrelevant to today’s audience.

✭8/10✭

 

The Witch – Reviewed

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Intro – Real Witches Of the New World

Released in March of this year, Robert Eggar’s The Witch is a refreshing break from the over-produced and tiresomely predictable horrors that have churned out of Hollywood in recent years…

It follows the misfortunes of a family of puritan settlers in 1630 New England, after they are forced out of their community and attempt to start a new settlement at the edge of a foreboding forest…

Eggar has rooted this work in realism and historical accuracy and uses low-key British actors as opposed to porcelain looking starlets, ensuring the dialogue is delivered as closely to the original articulation as could be reasonably expected. Furthermore, the complete absence of special effects further punctuates this picture’s break from the mainstream.

Witches were perceived as a genuine threat in the 17th century, both spiritually and physically. As Eggar frequently stated in interviews, his intention to emphasise this real world threat, the movie presents the traditional images and folklore of witchcraft, akin to those originally featured in the more macabre Grimm fairy tales, before they were sanitised by Disney.

The English Actors

Ralph Ineson gives a commendable performance as the family patriarch. His undeniable Englishness and rough demeanour lend themselves well to the role – a far cry from his days as ‘Finchy’ in The Office. The family children are all played adeptly, given what must have been a challenging environment for them to film in. Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter, Thomasin—who is arguably the focus of the suspicions throughout the movie—seems a little lacklustre in comparison to her fellow artistes, but believable nonetheless. The really standout performance is given my Katie Dickie, as the grief ridden Katherine who maintains a constant air of foreboding throughout the movie.

Script, Plot and Themes of The Witch

The script itself is based upon surviving diaries and notes of contemporary accounts. It has echoes of Shakespearean dialect. To give an idea, much of the conversation is in the nature of ‘what say thee’, ‘she be the witch’ – essential to maintain the illusion, but at times a little challenging.

There isn’t a great deal by way of a plot, it’s fairly basic: the family leave their original plantation, start their own and struggle to provide for themselves. All the while a malevolent presence seems to be stalking them. The merits of The Witch lie in it’s atmosphere, accuracy and the gradual building of suspense, rather than any narrative set-pieces.

The themes  of The Witch are introduced in the opening scenes: religious devotion, familial conflict and fear of the unknown. The ritualistic elements of both puritanism and paganism – particularly the those of prayer and sacrifice –  are built upon throughout the picture as we, the audience, experience the family members’ personal conflicts and temptations as they struggle to meet the impossible standards of the puritan dogma.

The family’s constant struggle for survival against both natural and supernatural elements add an urgency to everything and exaggerate the consequences of even the most minor malady.

Low level camera angles or shots partially obscured by tree branches help to create a sense of claustrophobia, despite the events taking place against the backdrop of expansive wilderness, and Mark Korven’s soundtrack is of the atmospheric, that is, non-musical kind and at some times abrasive to the ears. It builds discord and an uncomfortable  response, keeping the viewer on edge.

The Verdict

An unsettling experience overall— the idea that children are being targeted by a evil daemon is never going to be lighthearted and the eerie soundtrack and claustrophobic cinematography do a good job of keeping the audience in suspense.

Mention has to be made of the satisfying ending. At times The Witch looks as the it is leading toward the now cliched plot-twist or ambiguous ending, but fortunately resolution to the story is offered as blatantly as slap in the face and it was refreshing to see Eggar commit to it in such a way.

That being said, It did feel a little unfulfilling. Perhaps this viewer has now been corrupted  by years of exposure to the aforementioned cliches, but the film as a whole didn’t feel quite engaging enough to rely so heavily on the atmospheric subtlety that it did. If viewed as a creepy historical thriller, then the film is a tour de force, but as a film to scare the living daylights out of the viewer, it falls short.

Overall, The Witch is a welcome break from the copious supernatural fantasies that have proliferated in cinema over the last decade. It gives viewers a genuinely suspenseful cinematic experience as well as an insight into historical superstitions and existential hardships of the 17th century.

✭7/10✭

Blog coming soon….

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“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.
The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

– Marcus Aurelius