Looking for Christmas.

A time of stillness and memories-
a gathering against the dark.
A time of roistering and foolishness-
dressing up and pigging out.
Silly jumpers, bright red trucks,
naughty elves and melted snow.
Flickering candles, holly wreaths,
home made treats and fire glow.

Memories are laid down,
milestones alongside the path of life
as the young rush forward.
Still believing. Still alight.
Christmas is always real to a child.
Thoughts of how things used to be
hide behind watching faces.
Still hoping. Still wishing.
They remember how things were-
before the season slipped away.

The world doesn’t stop,
but in the silence
you can feel it turning.
A pinprick in the darkness
revealing a star.

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Turner Prize Exhibition 2017. Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.

Last House. Hurvin Anderson. 2013

I enjoyed the Turner Prize exibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull so much more than I expected to. There was only one artist- Andrea Buttner- whose work didn’t appeal to me at all, too strident and didactic, and one- Hurvin Anderson- whose work I enjoyed for its beauty, but somehow it didn’t make me stop and wonder. I have a feeling it may not last long in my memory. That leaves two artists who really did make me think. Either of them would have been worth the journey on their own.

A still from Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Electrical Gaza. 2015.

A still from Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Electrical Gaza. 2015.

Rosalind Nashashibi’s film piece Electrical Gaza from 2015 is an interesting watch which draws you in slowly as you realise what she is doing and recognise inferences, contradictions and connections. I watched it through twice and I think I needed to. It is a clever mix of animation and live film footage which gives a wonderful pay off at the end when you are made to do a double take, squinting to check whether something you are shown is real or not. There is teeming life, strength, suffering and love here as we are shown the offcuts of everyday life made into a kind of poetry. It is as close as you can get to being there. The camera shows you the kind of inconsequential, random images that your eye would follow while you explore, alongside a wider portrait of a crowded community struggling to survive.

A Fashionable Marriage. Lubaina Himid. (1986) As installed at the Ferens Art Gallery Hull for the Turner Prize exhibition.

Finally we come to my winner. I am writing this on the morning of the day that the actual winner will be announced so I am getting in first with my own personal award. Lubaina Himid, born in Tanzania in 1954, makes me glad that there is now no age limit on those who are eligible for the Turner Prize. Her work is full of colour, playfulness and humour shot through with serious purpose and a real cutting edge. It is both a rebuke to all those who neglected to recognise black creativity and culture- and even persecuted it- and a celebration of the strength and talent that allowed that culture to thrive anyway. Her large piece A Fashionable Marriage (1986) is based on William Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode. Hogarth’s vision is transposed to the materialistic, hedonistic culture of the 1980s- a perfect fit- and it is all there. Hogarth’s servant becomes a black woman artist, shifting their role from servant to freedom and creativity and the countess becomes Margaret Thatcher. It is beautifully installed and lit like a showstopper. Erudite, accessible and witty.

Swallow Hard. The Lancaster Dinner Service is a much more recent work from 2015. It is made up of the kind of china that was in houses across Britain a few generations ago- all very familiar to me- a random assortment found and collected by Lubaina Himid and redecorated with poignancy and wit to remind us of the unseen and undervalued black presence and culture which was an unspoken part of that world. It is quite haunting and tells the story of slavery, without using horror tactics or pointing fingers. We get the point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is also a selection of framed Guardian front pages which have been over-painted to provide the same kind of witty, pointed comment on the content of the articles. It’s a nice idea and adds an extra layer to the story which has been missing. I really hope that Lubaina Himid wins but if she doesn’t a lot of northerners will have had their eyes and their minds opened so that is a prize in itself.

 

Hedda Gabler. National Theatre at Hull New Theatre. 18.11.17

Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

As he got out of his seat for the interval one of the young guys sitting behind me said ruefully, “she reminds me of a girl I once knew”. This was probably as succinct a tribute to Patrick Marber’s new translation of Hedda Gabler as you could hope to hear. The National Theatre’s 2017 production is bold, modern and minimalist, full of ideas, and not a word of this new, fresh version jars.

I will admit to being disappointed when I found out that Ruth Wilson, who played Hedda in this production’s sold out run at the National would not be playing the part in Hull, but I needn’t have been. I was on the front row so I had the benefit of seeing Lizzie Rowe’s performance close up and she understood the part perfectly- I felt as though I could see every thought. She lights up when she can see a way to niggle someone and encourages confidences because she knows that the information may be useful to her. Nothing is heartfelt and real except her wish to serve her own ego. In modern parlance you could say that Hedda is a drama queen- everything is about her. She is used to privilege, to being admired and deferred to and this has helped to give her cruel and self centred nature free rein. She really doesn’t give a damn and people who genuinely don’t care about the consequences of their actions are dangerous. They may be beautiful, charming, funny- but they are also very dangerous. It is not a stifling marriage to someone who has not paid her enough attention that destroys Hedda- the seeds are already there, sown in her own nature. She does not have the warmth to accept compliments from a loving aunt or the generosity to give her husband, Tesman, the admiration and support that would draw him towards her in the way that Thea Elvstead, her old schoolfriend is able to do. Kindness is seen as vulnerability and punished. She needs to have power over people but can only exercise it by small acts of cruelty. The fact that nobody has ever faced up to her and stopped this leads her to take her cruelty to a new extreme and when her actions are found out she destroys herself rather than live with the consequences of what she has done; a husband who is finding love and support with someone else and a ruthless man- Judge Brack- who knows her secret and can destroy her any time that he chooses. I agree with that young man- we have all known someone like Hedda- they just haven’t pushed their luck quite as far as she does.

I have to say that I thought Abhin Galeya’s Tesman was a bit of a catch. He is lively, genial and good looking and has the potential to give Hedda the power base that she wants. He may be a second rate academic but with a bit of luck they might have got by as a couple. It was easy to see why Hedda had thought him a good bet as a husband who she could tolerate and manipulate……… until the honeymoon ended. I also liked Annabel Bates as Thea Elvsted. She has a natural, warm stage presence and the character has a genuine goodness which is important to the play, both as a foil for Hedda and as a way forward for Tesman at the end- a shaft of hope.

The production has some fine moments which spring out of the direction from Ivo Van Hove. I loved the sequence where Hedda trashes buckets of flowers and pins them to the wall with a stapler- more symbols of kindness and generosity destroyed. The intercom where we see the visitors before the arrive is a nice touch and there are many times where the action is freed up and allowed to be fast and intense by a light, unfussy approach. It was a good idea to have Berthe constantly at the side of the stage watching, a fine performance by Madlena Nedeva. She knows Hedda too well and with little to say she is left watching the inevitable play out grimly, knowing that all she can do is wait and obey. I would have gone for a different reading of Lovborg and Juliana but what I was given worked very well.

The set, designed by Jan Versweyveld, is a large white box with a plain picture window, stage right, that has the kind of pale blinds often seen in offices in front of it and a patio door. Light is important- Hedda dislikes it- and the window provides some nice effects. There is a feeling of a large, luxurious, unfinished space, the kind of space that people talk about rattling around in, and enough clear floor area for powerful drama to take place on a dramatic scale which focuses on the characters. This is never going to be a home.

I have waited a long while to see Hedda Gabler on stage. I am so glad it was this one.

Lives of Quiet Desperation.

Quiet desperation
does not rant and rail.
It does not shake its fist
at the injustices of the world-
although they are many.
It does not suffer.
It does not begrudge.
What it knows is how to endure.
It digs in its heels and stays put.
It waits and watches,
clings on and hopes.
It lasts out.

Quiet desperation
is the one secret
which everybody knows
and nobody admits.
Not even to themselves.
A secret which thrives
in sealed dark places-
the dark places within ourselves
where we dare not go.
It squats, wide eyed, lingering,
curtains drawn,
still and silent.

There may yet be time
for it to sing its song
before the lights go out.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
Henry Thoreaux.

More things, Horatio……….

Beneath the rings of Saturn the rain falls.
It begins as a sifting greyness,
born out of lightning.
A drift of carbon.
Soft, falling dirt
which hardens as it falls.
As it reaches towards the surface
of a hostile home
it blossoms into a cascade of
sparkling diamonds,
a short, sharp shimmer of wealth,
then melts into the arms of a liquid sea.
One thousand tons of them.
Every single year.
Wow…………

Of course nobody has seen this
and nobody ever will.
We have to believe…………
but it is good to imagine
that it might be so.

Farewell to the Futurist.

When they send in the Wrecking ball
let them think of this.
Hidden in the rubble
are the ashes of those who queued together,
sang together,
laughed together.
Two thousand people,
united by the simple joy of being there.
People who didn’t get out much
and now here they were,
glowing red from the heat of the sun,
filled with fish and chips and warm beer,
ready to see their heroes walk out
from the fuzzy grey of a television screen,
bursting into life, colour and movement
before their very eyes.

Twice nightly.
All summer long.

When they fill up the skips
let them remember this.
A pool of light,
a space once filled with joy.
Bob Monkhouse times a perfect punchline.
Ken Dodd spreads his own brand
of delicious, delirious anarchy,
and Tommy Cooper walks out, live size,
to face a tidal wave of pure love.
Mythical figures from a far off world
set amongst glittering curtains,
magicians, dancing girls and acrobats.
A safe haven where life is in focus,
brighter, kinder, sharper.
A chance to reach out
and touch our dreams.

Twice nightly.
All summer long.

How Quickly We Become the Past.

How quickly we become the past.
So many things we thought would last
hang, half forgotten, in the air-
so vivid and yet barely there.

The scent of tall geraniums
on a fly blown window sill.
The engraved surface
of a warm sixpence
clutched tightly in my hand.
The sound of voices,
singing their way home.
The colours dancing
in an open fire.
A blue dress with daisies.

Sitting in an old black Vauxhall
outside a beer sodden pub.
Singing wide eyed hymns
about fights and battles
from a tattered roll.
Stretching out my splayed fingers
to pop a shimmering bubble.
Watching scattered raindrops
as they race down a window.
I’d love a Babycham.

How quickly we become the past.
So many things we thought would last
hang, half forgotten, in the air-
so vivid and yet barely there.

Moments when we realise
that the world has turned
without us noticing.
Fragments of a time
which has been discarded
littering our days.

We blink at the unfamiliar,
tripped up by the sight of an eyebrow,
the emptiness inside a closed shop,
a space where a tree once was.
We have become strangers
in a world that has been changed by stealth.
Little by little the dust has settled over us.
We have been stripped bare,
set aside, but still here.

How quickly we become the past.
So many things we thought would last
hang, half forgotten, in the air-
so vivid and yet barely there.