The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

May the power of the brolly live on!

@MycroftBrolly
British. Londoner. Campaigner. Gandhian. Tatchellite. Works at the Terrence Higgins Trust. EQView Arts Editor and Writer. Theatre (esp @NationalTheatre), film and TV geek. Sherlockian. All views my own.



s1

SherlockNight

The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
- Dinah Craik, in A Life for a Life (1859)


Sherlock: The Abominable Bride - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of The Abominable Bride, the Sherlock Victorian Special, where Sherlock and John are placed back in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Victorian London setting. I gave my personal take on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Sherlock Special.

My review of "The Abominable Bride", the Sherlock Victorian Special, can be found here:
http://eqview.com/2016/02/01/sherlock-abominable-bride-review/

Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE - REVIEW

After a two year hiatus, Sherlock returned to cinema and TV screens on New Year’s Day 2016 with a Victorian Special, placing our modern day Sherlock and John back in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Victorian London setting.

The reaction to this Special was, it is fair to say, mixed. Like most Sherlock fans, there were aspects of the Special I loved, and other aspects which were … a bit not good! Exactly one month after its original screening, this review is my very personal take on what I thought was the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Victorian Sherlock Special.

THE GOOD

Victorian Setting

Sherlock’s USP was that it was a re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes characters and stories, relocated to present day London. As viewers, we have grown to love Sherlock and John, the modern day Holmes and Watson. Would they survive being transported back in time to Victorian London? For me, the answer to this question was a resounding yes, and it was a real delight to see characters whom I know and love placed in Victorian London, interacting with that world.



Sherlock Holmes

Benedict Cumberbatch, when he is playing Sherlock in the modern day, is a ball of energy, quick as lightning in thought and deed, but hyperactive and slightly autistic in his behaviours. Relocated to Victorian London, Cumberbatch delivers a calmer, more rational, more conventional Holmes. He retains his razor-sharp mind, but here he conforms more to society’s rules and norms. This version of Holmes is closer to that in the original Canon.

Mrs Hudson

Mrs Hudson was, as always, a real joy. She stated clearly at the start that she does not just show people up and serve them breakfasts; she is not just a plot device; she is an important character; part and parcel of the Holmes myth. Having made her point clearly and concisely at the start, Mrs Hudson refuses to let Watson reduce her to a minor character, she falls silent, refusing to speak, and her silence speaks volumes. As viewers we are left in no doubt as to the pivotal role Mrs Hudson plays, and her importance as a character, and a substitute mother, to both Holmes and Watson.

Mycroft

Mycroft Holmes in the Canon has a very different physical appearance to that portrayed in the modern day Sherlock (and in this respect he is similar to Moriarty!). In the original stories, when we are introduced to him in The Greek Interpreter, Mycroft is described as “a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock. His body was absolutely corpulent”. In a later story, The Bruce-Partington Plans, Mycroft is described as “tall and portly”, “heavily built and massive”, with a “gross body”. I was delighted to see this description fully realised in the Victorian Special, where Mark Gatiss playing Mycroft was as big as a house, and resolutely set on eating his way to an early grave. This version of Mycroft, was a total contrast to the Mycroft we see in modern day Sherlock, where he is as thin and sleek as a cat.



Moriarty

Much to the delight of his legions of fans, Moriarty returned for the Victorian Special. As Sherlock’s arch-enemy and nemesis this was inevitable, as Sherlock cannot get him out of his head. Sherlock is trying to figure out how Moriarty managed to blow his brains out and remain alive. Andrew Scott is on top form throughout the Special, and revels in playing mad, bad and dangerous to know. This being the Moriarty of Sherlock’s mind palace, he is even madder than before. I also like this version of Moriarty because he is so full of mischief, always ready with a witty one-liner to throw at Sherlock, “Why don’t you two just elope, for God’s sake?!”. Moriarty lights up every scene he is in, and the piece de resistance is Moriarty in a wedding dress, the most hideous bride Sherlock’s mind palace can conjure up!



Mary

Mary translates well into the Victorian setting, as she retains the strength of character, independence and courage that she has become known for in the modern day Sherlock. Here, far from being the stay-at-home wife that she is in the Canon, she is a Suffragette, campaigning for Votes for Women, and working for Mycroft on the sly. Mary is out and about as much as her husband, is more intelligent than him, and she is fearless, ensuring she is part and parcel of the adventure by working with Mycroft. She was a real role model and she made me proud!

Reichenbach

Although I loved the St Barts Hospital rooftop confrontation between Sherlock and Jim in the final episode of Series 2, I missed seeing them battle it out, in hand to hand combat, at the Reichenbach Falls, with the waterfall as their backdrop. However, my wish to see this iconic scene was granted in the Victorian Special as the famous confrontation between Sherlock and his nemesis, Jim Moriarty, at the Reichenbach Falls was vividly recreated. The scene itself was electric, the showdown was full of drama and tension, packed with witty one-liners, and was all that I could have wanted – and more!



Drug Addiction

Something that originally attracted me to the Sherlock Holmes stories was his dark side. Holmes was a regular drug user – when his brain was not solving cases, crimes or murders, he would turn to drugs and his trusted seven per cent solution of cocaine. Holmes’s regular drug use has been played down in Sherlock, although it is referenced in the fact that Sherlock is an ex-smoker, using nicotine patches to wean him off this addiction. Within a Victorian setting, it was safe to re-introduce Holmes’s drug-taking and, specifically his use of cocaine, as being a central part of the Holmes character and myth.

THE BAD

John Watson

I love Martin Freeman’s version of John Watson in modern day Sherlock because you can see quite clearly why Sherlock would want John as his right-hand man. He is a qualified doctor, an ex-military man, and he is intelligent, strong, brave and loyal. That John is worthy of being Sherlock’s best friend. I felt in the Victorian Special, Watson reverted to being a figure of fun and a buffoon. He is vain about his writing, he has grown a moustache just so he can be recognized, he is rude to the lovely Mrs Hudson, he gets his sign language wrong, and he thinks Mary can best help by cooking them dinner when they return – this is not the Watson I know and love! To put it bluntly, this version of Watson did not work for me, as I failed to see why Holmes would want him as a confidante or why he would wish to spend any time in his company.

Molly Hooper

There was a similar problem with Molly – the re-imagining of the character in the Victorian setting simply did not work. In modern day Sherlock, Molly is an intelligent woman, working as a pathologist, and a loyal friend to Sherlock. Sherlock needs Molly to help him with his work in the laboratory and he also relies on her as a friend. In the Victorian setting, Molly has become Dr Hooper, dressing and passing for a man to get on in a man’s world. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Molly does not look remotely convincing as a man and I very much doubt she would have fooled anyone! In addition, she was leading a group of women to fight, not for equal rights, equal votes or for equality of opportunity to work, but to exact revenge on lovers who had jilted them. Molly was a character who was not in the Canon stories but was created specifically for Sherlock and I felt it would have been better if she had been left in the modern world as her reinvention in Victorian London left a lot to be desired.

Juxtaposition of Past and Present

Most of the Special takes place in Victorian London and that works well as you simply see the old and familiar characters in the new Victorian setting. However, with 30 minutes to go, the Sherlock creators and writers try to tie the past and present together, and to bind up the modern day Sherlock and John with the Victorian Holmes and Watson. We discover the Victorian story is only taking place in Sherlock’s mind palace ie it is just Sherlock’s mind and his imagination, attempting to solve his present day problems by puzzling it out in a Victorian setting. This also serves to explain some of the anomalies in the Victorian setting, for example John’s character being a buffoon and Mycroft being fat. This brought back to my mind when a whole series of Dallas was explained away by it being a dream Bobby Ewing had in the shower! I would have preferred for the Victorian setting to be a stand-alone story, taking place in a different Sherlock world or in a parallel Sherlock universe. The attempt to link the past and the present, and bind the two stories into one coherent narrative, just did not work for me.

THE UGLY

Women’s Equality, Suffragettes and Feminism

Along with women the world over, I had a real problem with the central plot being that the murders were carried out by women exacting revenge on lovers who had betrayed them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned etc. This is an incredibly insulting way to portray women, especially if you link the women to being those campaigning for women’s equality and Votes for Women. Showing them performing some mad ceremony, complete with Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods, is not helpful either. Whilst I understand this was all in Sherlock’s head, and this may be how he perceives women, I still felt the storyline reduced women to merely being pawns in a man’s game, rather than characters in their own right. It was grossly insulting to the Suffragette movement, making them out to be a bunch of vengeful women rather than women campaigning for equal rights and equal votes. All in all, this plotline was a big fail for me.

Overall, the Victorian Special was a very mixed bag, with good and bad all wrapped up in one big parcel. There were aspects I loved, and aspects I loathed. Sherlock Series 4 will begin filming in the Spring and, in common with Sherlockians and Holmesians worldwide, I am hoping the next Series marks a return to form for the Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss creative and writing partnership.

Sherlock returns to our TV screens next year.

The Dazzle, Found111 - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel
DAZ_ENCORE_500x500.jpg

My EQView feature this week was a review of The Dazzle‬ at Found111, a play inspired by the lives of the Collyer brothers. Heart-warming, heart-stopping and heart-breaking, with dazzling performances from Andrew Scott and David Dawson.

My EQView review of The Dazzle at Found111 is here:
http://eqview.com/2016/01/27/the-dazzle-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

THE DAZZLE - REVIEW



The Dazzle by Richard Greenberg is a 2002 play examining the lives of Homer and Langley Collyer (The Collyer Brothers). Its UK Premiere stars Andrew Scott, David Dawson and Joanna Vanderham, and it is playing at Found111, a new theatre space for London, housed in the former Central St Martins School of Art at 111 Charing Cross Road.

The Author’s (Richard Greenberg’s) note in the programme states:

“The Dazzle is based on the lives of The Collyer Brothers, about whom I know almost nothing”.

The Collyer brothers, were two American brothers, renowned for their compulsive hoarding, and living very isolated and secluded lives. In March 1947 both brothers were found dead in their New York home, surrounded by the 136 tons of debris, antiques and junk they had amassed. Greenberg uses these basic facts as a jumping off point to imagine the story of the Collyer brothers shared life together.

I was lucky enough to see this production twice, in December and January, and it is genuinely one of the most impactful and moving theatre experiences I have ever had.

The building and the theatre space are perfect for this play. The theatre space is housed in the former Central St Martins School of Art and, as you enter the building, and make your way up the multiple flights of steps, snaking around a derelict lift shaft, you get a real sense of a building which has a history and was a place of beauty, but is now past its prime, having fallen on hard times – a trajectory followed by the Collyer brothers over the course of the play.

When you enter the theatre space itself, you see the seating comprises individual chairs, very varied in terms of styles and sizes, each one is unique, and the seating blends into the playing space. The theatre space is small and intimate and, as an audience member, you feel as though you are in the Collyer brothers’ living room. Everyone, regardless of where they sit, is in close proximity to the actors, and this draws you in and makes you feel part and parcel of the action.

The main focus of the play is the symbiotic and codependent relationship of the Collyer brothers, Homer (played by David Dawson) and Langley (played by Andrew Scott). This relationship gives them strength and resilience, but prevents them from pursuing their own dreams and living independent lives. “Fraternal love is a powerful thing” is a constant refrain throughout the play, and is the overriding theme of the play.



This is very much a play of two halves – the first half could be titled “promise”, and the second half “disillusion”. The characters and the set are transformed, during the interval, so they mirror and reflect the change in the fortunes and prospects of the three characters.

In the first half, we encounter the Collyer brothers as young men about town; educated, intelligent and privileged; living a charmed life; with the world as their oyster. But the seeds of future troubles have been sown – Homer has had to give up his lucrative job as an Admiralty lawyer to become Langley’s carer and to manage Langley’s career and finances. Langley is a gifted concert pianist, but he clearly has special needs and managing day-to-day life is beyond him.

The action in the first half is driven by Homer and Langley encountering Milly, a rich heiress, who could be the answer to their prayers. Milly is attracted to Langley and is one of the few people able to communicate with him on his level. Homer sees an opportunity to secure the family’s finances, and to have someone with whom he can share the burden and the reward of looking after Langley. Homer and Milly decide a marriage between Langley and Milly would be mutually beneficial, but fail to think through the implications of marriage for Langley eg leaving home, and all he knows, behind. They will all pay a heavy price for this oversight.

When you return after the interval, time has marched on, and the intervening years have not been kind to any of our three characters. The set has been transformed during the interval to reflect this change – in the first half, the living room looked cluttered, but in the second half, the living room looks almost uninhabitable, with the debris, antiques and junk piled high from floor to ceiling.

Homer and Langley have isolated themselves further and withdrawn from society, and society has turned its back on them. They are routinely pelted with stones and rocks by their neighbours simply because they are perceived as strange and different. Langley’s appearance is transformed – in the first half he was immaculately dressed and well turned out as a concert pianist and his jet black hair was slicked back. He now appears looking like a tramp, very dishevelled, with string tied round his waist, holes in his woollen gloves, and with wild hair. Homer’s appearance is less changed, but his circumstances are transformed – he is now almost completely housebound, never venturing outside.

Much to the brothers’ surprise, Milly re-enters their lives but she, too, is a shadow of her former self. For her, the Collyer brothers’ house is a place of safety, despite the state it is in. Unspeakable things have happened to Milly since the brothers last saw her, scarring her for life. Her appearance, like Langley’s, is transformed. She looks like an old woman, or a bag lady, she is hunched over like an old hag, and her beautiful golden hair has turned white.

Milly’s arrival shines a light on the flaws of a codependent relationship because she notices something about Homer in a flash, something Homer has been waiting for Langley to notice for years, and yet he has failed to do so. Milly’s revelation about Homer, explains why everything has fallen apart and gone to rack and ruin. When she makes the observation it seems blindingly obvious and yet I, like Langley, had failed to see something that was staring me in the face. Milly’s revelation came as a shock.

For the briefest amount of time, the play allows you to hope, and the promise of a better life for all three characters appears tantalisingly close, but this glimmer of hope is soon extinguished once and for all. Milly vanishes from the brothers’ lives as quickly as she came and all hope is gone.

The closing scene, featuring the two brothers nearing the end of their lives, is heart-breaking to watch, exquisitely played by Andrew Scott and David Dawson, and left me in bits.

In less skillful hands, the dark content of this play could have made it very depressing, but the writing and the playing in this production are very clever, there are many funny lines and comic moments throughout the play, and both actors capitalise fully on all of these opportunities. The play frequently turns on a coin, going from high comedy to dark tragedy and back again, in the blink of an eye, and this is all down to the skill of the actors.

Both Andrew Scott and David Dawson gave superlative performances. They portrayed Langley and Homer Collyer in all their eccentricity and complexity, they made you believe in the brothers’ deep and abiding love for each other and, through their heartfelt performances, they made you care about the brothers. All these factors contributed to making the Collyer brothers’ story more touching and heightened their tragedy.

This is a heart-warming, heart-stopping and heart-breaking production, which quite took my breath away. Andrew Scott and David Dawson both dazzled in The Dazzle and it was a totally unique and completely absorbing theatrical experience. Although 2016 has only just begun, I am in no doubt that this will be one of the best productions I have the privilege of seeing this year, and I have no hesitation in awarding it a maximum 5 shining stars.

The Dazzle plays at Found111 until Saturday 30 January.

For more information, check out The Dazzle website:
http://www.thedazzle.co.uk/

Tinderella : Cinders Slips It In, Above the Stag - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of Tinderella : Cinders Slips It In‬, the latest gay adult panto at Above the Stag Theatre. I had a hugely entertaining, enjoyable and fun night out. Absolutely fabulous!

My EQView review of Tinderella : Cinders Slips It In at Above the Stag Theatre is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/12/30/tinderella-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

TINDERELLA : CINDERS SLIPS IT IN - REVIEW

This year’s Above the Stag panto is Tinderella: Cinders Slips It In by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, who have written a string of commercially successful and critically acclaimed gay adult pantos for Above the Stag Theatre.

Their pantos have a well-deserved reputation for being outrageous, silly, romantic and rude, combining long standing panto traditions, contemporary references, gay romance and comedy. Tinderella does not disappoint – it delights!

Tinderella is set in Slutvia, which means all of its inhabitants are Sluts, which makes for a strong running joke. The panto includes all the characters you would expect in a traditional Cinderella – Cinders, Prince Charming, Buttons, a Fairy, an evil stepmother, and two “ugly” sisters.

But this is an Above the Stag panto and so there is a twist. Cinders is a young man, not a young woman; the love story between Cinders and Prince Charming is therefore a gay romance; and, this being a modern take on a traditional fairy tale, Cinders and Prince Charming first meet each other on Grindr not at the Ball!

Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain, and Countess Volga (Cinders’s stepmother) makes for a great villain in this piece. At the start of the panto, she introduces us to her three former husbands, all now dead and buried, and at least one of whom she “helped” on his way. It is clear she will stop at nothing, including murder, to get what she wants, and we can boo and hiss her to our heart’s content.

My favourite characters were the sisters – Maude Escort and Nicole Ferrari. What I liked about this Cinderella adaptation was the sisters were not wicked – they each had their flaws, but they were both fabulous and fun. They provided the comic relief, drove most of the comedy, and were the life and soul of the Ball. Thanks also to Maude Escort, I was privileged enough to experience a real first – this was the first time I have ever seen a Gorilla in a production of Cinderella! (And yes, you did read that right, this production features a Gorilla in the Ball scene).



The panto ends with a big song and dance number – the Slutvian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, performed by the two sisters. It was then that I thought – I really have seen it all!

The ensemble was very strong – Louie Westwood and Christopher James Barley playing the sisters were superb and stole the show, Ellen Butler playing Countess Volga excelled at being evil, Joseph Lycett-Barnes playing Prince Charming was suitably charming, posh and hot, and Grant Cartwright playing Cinders combined innocence, vulnerability and a kind heart.

As with all productions at Above the Stag Theatre, the sets, the props and the costumes were fabulous; the musical numbers were genius; and there was a wealth of new acting talent on display. All in all, a hugely entertaining, enjoyable and fun night out – catch it whilst you can!

Tinderella: Cinders Slips It In plays at Above The Stag Theatre until Saturday 16 January.

Above The Stag Theatre is the UK’s only full time professional LGBT theatre.


My EQView interview with the writer Jon Bradfield about his Above the Stag gay adult pantos can be found here:
http://mycroft-brolly.livejournal.com/445293.html
http://eqview.com/2015/01/09/meet-writer-jon-bradfield/

Follow the link to the Above the Stag Theatre website:
http://www.abovethestag.com/

The Dazzle, Found111
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


Heart-warming, heart-breaking, heart-stopping. Andrew Scott and David Dawson both "dazzled" in The Dazzle! A totally unique and completely absorbing theatrical experience.

Full review to follow ...

World AIDS Day Interview - Ant Babajee “Unashamedly Positive”
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was published on World AIDS Day - 1 December. It was an interview with Ant Babajee, a Terrence Higgins Trust volunteer and trustee, who discussed living with ‪HIV‬ and his work with the Terrence Higgins Trust.

My EQView World AIDS Day Interview with Ant Babajee is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/12/01/world-aids-day-interview-ant-babajee/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

WORLD AIDS DAY INTERVIEW - ANT BABAJEE “UNASHAMEDLY POSITIVE”

For World AIDS Day I interviewed Ant Babajee, a Terrence Higgins Trust volunteer and trustee. Ant is a gay man, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. I wanted to hear about his HIV diagnosis, about what it’s like to live with the virus, and to learn about his involvement and work with the Terrence Higgins Trust.

EQView: Tell us about yourself.

I am 37 years old, gay, and of mixed heritage – my dad is from Mauritius. I grew up in Somerset but I have been living and working in London for more than eight years now. I used to be a BBC journalist, but I now work in marketing for a university. I love the arts, and theatre in particular. Like many gay men, it would seem, I have a real passion for the Eurovision Song Contest!

When were you diagnosed with HIV and what was your immediate reaction to your HIV-positive diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with HIV on 2 January 2007. I had tested negative in August 2006, but I had a risky encounter that October, a few weeks after which I started to experience flu-like symptoms and I began to feel low – both physically and emotionally. I knew something was not quite right.

I now know I was going through something called seroconversion – when your body first starts to mount an immune response against the virus. For some people their seroconversion symptoms are so mild or non-specific that they don’t spot them, and that is why some people can have the virus for a number of years without knowing. The only way to be sure of your HIV status is to go and get a test.

I eventually managed to get time off work to go for a test at my local sexual-health clinic in Somerset just before Christmas. I got a call early on 2 January from a health advisor saying there was something “unusual” with my test result. “Happy New Year, Ant!” I booked an appointment for the next day when I was given the news in person and had a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

This may sound strange but my immediate reaction was relief. I knew something was wrong, and now I knew what it was. I had a HIV-positive diagnosis but I knew that HIV was treatable – you can live with HIV; it is not a terminal illness in the UK if you find out soon enough. I had tested early, and got an early diagnosis, so I knew this was a health condition I could live with, not something that was going to kill me. Medically I knew I’d be OK, but the emotional burden of HIV took much longer to overcome.

Who was the first person you told about your HIV-positive diagnosis and how did they react?

I told my parents on the same day I got the phone call about the HIV test. They are both nurses and they were both very understanding, sympathetic and supportive (I had come out as gay to them some 10 years earlier during my first year at university). Disclosing my diagnosis and my status to my parents brought me much closer to them.

However, despite being healthcare professionals, they still had some misunderstandings about HIV. They thought HIV was something that could be treated once and would disappear, or that there was a “cure”. Neither of their assumptions was true. HIV is a lifelong condition and, once diagnosed, you will be living with HIV for the rest of your life.

I told my sisters a few years later. They asked me why I did not tell them earlier, and the main reason is that when you tell people about your status, especially those closest to you, you often need to provide them with the emotional support to help them through the process. That takes energy and so you need to be in a place yourself where you can provide this.

Following your HIV-positive diagnosis, how did your life change?

I attended a newly diagnosed support group for gay and bi men living with HIV and I found this very helpful, as we could talk openly and share experiences about what living with HIV was like. Without the newly diagnosed support group, even with a very supportive family, I would have felt isolated and alone after receiving my HIV diagnosis.

Six months after being diagnosed, I moved from Somerset to London. I wanted to move to somewhere where I would no longer be the only gay in the village, but part of a gay scene where I could be part of a much wider and more diverse gay community.

London is a thriving metropolis – bright lights, big city – and it took me a while to build and develop a network of friends. Volunteering for the Terrence Higgins Trust connected me with many other gay men, some of whom were also living with HIV, and I found lots of amazing people who have become good friends.

Being HIV positive changed my outlook on life – it made me reassess what was important to me. It brought me much closer to my family, especially my parents. And it made me much stronger and more resilient as a person.

Looking back, what advice would you give to a newly diagnosed HIV-positive gay man?

I would tell them they don’t have to get through it alone. There is plenty of support out there, and there are networks they can tap into to access advice, support and help.

In terms of disclosing your status, it is your choice who to tell and who not to tell. If and when you do tell your family and friends, remember you may need to support them through that process, and this will take time and energy.

Have you told your friends and family you are HIV positive? Any particularly positive or negative reactions you would like to share with us?

One of the ways I used to “come out” to my circle of friends was in 2012 when I went to the private view of a photo exhibition of people living with HIV in which I was featured. By that time, I had been living with HIV for about five years. I posted a picture of my exhibition photograph on to my Facebook profile, and explained I was featured in the exhibition because I was living with HIV. I sat back and watched the comments come in. I was overwhelmed by the very positive reaction to my post. Sharing my news in that way was very empowering because I was able to raise awareness of HIV amongst my circle of friends.

Surprisingly one of the most negative reactions I can think of was from a seemingly well-meaning healthcare professional involved with my treatment and care. When I was diagnosed with HIV, I was still fairly well known in Taunton from having worked there as a presenter and a reporter on a local TV station a few years before.

The healthcare professional said he was surprised about my diagnosis because I was “not the sort of person who would get HIV”. I was shocked by his statement at the time and, with hindsight, I know I should have challenged it. It was upsetting to hear this from a healthcare professional involved in my care – he so should have known better. Sadly, I know from having spoken to other positive people that some health and social-care workers can have very outdated and stigmatizing attitudes towards HIV.

Are you now “out” about your HIV positive status in all aspects of your life?

The last place for me to “come out” about my HIV-positive status was at work. There has been an exhibition of photos of celebrities put together by the art faculty at the university. The photos are being auctioned tonight (World AIDS Day 2015) with the proceeds going to Terrence Higgins Trust. At the private view of the exhibition last month, I spoke about my volunteer and trustee work with the Terrence Higgins Trust, and why I am so passionate about the work of the charity. This was the first time some of my work colleagues had learnt about my HIV status. I got a very positive reaction, and a few people came up to me afterwards to say how proud they were to see me being open about my HIV status and speaking out on such an important issue.

What is daily life like for you living with HIV?

Living with HIV means I am on antiretroviral medication which I have to take every day. I take the medication to stay healthy and to keep the virus in check. The meds help to keep my viral load undetectable. In other words, the amount of virus in my blood is so low that it cannot be counted, and it means it is pretty much impossible for me to pass the virus on. Some people do not like taking the daily pills as it reminds them they are HIV positive but, for me, it has just become part of my daily routine. I have never had any side effects to speak of from my HIV treatment.

Becoming a HIV activist, and speaking out against stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, has forced me to overcome my natural shyness, and emboldened me to be much more self-confident. In the last couple of years, I have attended events at the House of Lords, and spoken at the European Parliament and on national radio and TV about living with HIV. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I would have done those things!

How and why did you get involved with the Terrence Higgins Trust?

I first became involved with Terrence Higgins Trust when I accessed a newly diagnosed group. I found sharing experiences about being HIV positive very empowering, and I made a lot of good friends through that group.

My next step was to become a volunteer. I was one of the founder members and volunteers on myHIV, the online community forum, providing advice, support and help for people living with HIV. It has been really rewarding to see the membership of myHIV grow and watch the forums thrive. My motivation for getting involved with online peer support was a way to give back to the community and charity that had helped me so much in my hour of need.

I now volunteer for the Terrence Higgins Trust in a variety of ways – I am an outreach volunteer with the Soho scene team; I have worked in our pop-up Soho Boutique store; I get involved in numerous fundraising events; and I am currently a mentor on the Work Positive programme, which aims to help people with HIV who are long-term unemployed to get back into work.



But volunteering is not a one-way street – I get as much out of volunteering as I put in. I have made lots of new friends, and built and developed a very supportive network, which has proved invaluable to me in my HIV journey.

Why did you become a Terrence Higgins Trust trustee and what does this involve?

I became a Terrence Higgins Trust trustee just over two years ago. I see the role of a trustee as that of a critical friend – I want the charity to be the best it can be, and help and support as many people as possible. That involves asking the right questions, and challenging the executive team if needed, to ensure we are making progress and staying on track.

Today is World AIDS Day and EQView are running this interview as a World AIDS Day feature. What message would you like to convey to our readers?

The Terrence Higgins Trust’s campaign for this World AIDS Day is to ‘Wear it’ – to wear your red ribbon with pride, to show solidarity and support for people living with HIV, and to challenge the stigma and discrimination that HIV positive people still encounter on a daily basis.



For me personally, World AIDS Day is a time of commemoration: to remember the amazing people we have lost to HIV and AIDS. But it is also a day of celebration: to recognise the progress made in the treatment of HIV, and to show support and solidarity for people living with HIV.

On World AIDS Day 2015, I am filled with hope. People living with HIV still face many challenges, but we have come a long way. Today, we can live healthy and happy lives. With help and support, we can break the stigma around HIV.

This World AIDS Day, 1 December, the Terrence Higgins Trust is asking people to “Wear It” – encouraging people to wear their Red Ribbon with pride to show support and solidarity for people living with HIV, for a world where HIV stigma is a thing of the past.

Take a photo of yourself wearing your Red Ribbon and post it online with the hashtag #StopStigma.

You can find out more about the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust here:
http://www.tht.org.uk/

Follow the link to find out more about World AIDS Day here:
http://www.tht.org.uk/get-involved/Fundraise/World-AIDS-Day
Tags: , , ,

Encounter, Above the Stag - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of Encounter‬ at Above The Stag Theatre, a new play which takes the world of the legendary 1945 film Brief Encounter and uses it as a setting for a gay love story.

Encounter is a refreshing new take on a much loved classic film, featuring strong writing, an excellent ensemble cast, and a set design that transports you back to the 1940s. An enjoyable and memorable night out at the theatre, enabling you to see Brief Encounter through new eyes. Highly recommended.

My EQView review of Encounter at Above the Stag Theatre is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/11/09/encounter-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

ENCOUNTER - REVIEW

Encounter is a new play, written and directed by Phil Willmott, inspired by the legendary 1945 film Brief Encounter.

Noel Coward wrote Brief Encounter in the early 1940s and it depicts an affair between a man and a woman, who cannot be together and whose love will never be accepted, because they are both already married. Noel Coward was gay and many commentators have suggested Brief Encounter was his way of depicting a gay love story at a time when homosexuality was illegal, making it impossible to represent a gay romance on stage or screen.

This new play, Encounter, takes the world of Brief Encounter as a setting for a reimagining of the kind of gay romance Noel Coward and his contemporaries were forbidden to write.



Dr Lawrence Marsh (played by Adam Lilley) and Arthur Hollis (played by Alexander Huetson) first meet as Doctor and patient at the local hospital, where Arthur is being treated for respiratory problems. They exchange some friendly banter and their paths cross again at Vauxhall railway station – Arthur is the Station Master there and Lawrence is waiting for his train home. They feel a spark, and an attraction, and arrange to meet again the following week.

Encounter follows the story arc and the plotline of Brief Encounter very faithfully, and all the key scenes in the film are reflected in the play. The stolen Thursday afternoons, the cinema trips, the desire to take things further, finding a discreet venue but being unexpectedly interrupted, the ensuing shame, the decision to end the affair and move abroad, and an unwanted interruption denying the lovers their final farewell. As a fan of Brief Encounter I found all these echoes of the film very rewarding.

There is an added ingredient in Encounter and that is Class. Arthur was a miner during the war and is now a Station Master – solidly working class; whilst Lawrence is a well educated medical doctor – upper/middle class. But their relationship transcends the class divide. Arthur meets Lawrence, and begins to think about reading The Times rather than the Daily Mirror and, as their relationship develops, Lawrence introduces Arthur to classical music, educating him to heighten his appreciation of this art form.

In Brief Encounter the couple are from the same class, but in Encounter, there is this added transgression away from societal norms – Lawrence and Arthur are both married men, they are embarking on a same-sex relationship, and they are from different social classes. This serves to highlight how many societal norms their relationship is breaking and how transgressive their relationship is.

The developing relationship between Lawrence and Arthur genuinely pulled at your heartstrings because you sensed the attraction and the love they felt for one another, and yet you were aware of the utter hopelessness of their situation. Arthur had more invested in the relationship because any love he felt for his wife died when their daughter passed away. Trapped in a loveless marriage, there was a vacuum in his heart, crying out to be filled. By contrast, Lawrence appeared to have a happy and loving relationship with his wife. Lawrence has more to lose and, ultimately, sacrifices his love for Arthur for the sake of his reputation, his family and his career.

The supporting characters were strong and had depth. Mavis Madden, played by Penelope Day, the newsstand vendor, was lively and talkative, with a fine line in getting words slightly wrong and ruining the whole sense of the sentence. Day also played Sarah Marsh, Lawrence’s eminently sensible, loyal and trusting wife.

The Rev Richard Craven, played by Christopher Hines, was an intriguing character to add to the mix; outwardly upholding family values and yet harbouring dark secrets of his own. The addition of his character allowed the play to explore the effects and impact of leading a closeted life, and also to highlight the destructive nature and power of jealousy.



The sense of time and place was conveyed very strongly through the writing and the set design of the piece. The railway signs, the newspaper stand, the newspapers, the magazines, the film posters, and the adverts, gave you a strong sense of the period. As an audience member, you were transported back to post-war Britain, at a time when people were recovering from the immediate aftermath of war, rationing was still in place, and money was very tight. The way people behaved then was very different, as were societal norms and expectations.

Encounter relocated the action to Vauxhall railway station, which was a clever move, given Vauxhall is now the beating heart of the gay community in South London. The Above the Stag theatre was the perfect setting for this play. The theatre is within a stone’s throw of Vauxhall railway station, it is located directly underneath the railway arches, and you can hear and feel the trains rushing by overhead when you are seated in the theatre.

There is a very strong ensemble cast and all the actors played their parts to perfection. Special mention has to go to Alexander Huetson, playing Arthur Hollis, as he conveyed a real sense of vulnerability combined with an inner core of steel – Arthur was brave enough to open up his heart to the love that dare not speak its name, at a time when to pursue such a course of action was unthinkable.

The opening and closing scenes are set in the present day, in a Vauxhall coffee shop. The manager, himself a gay man, finds a discarded journal and reads, within its pages, about Dr Lawrence Marsh and Arthur Hollis’s love affair. He is struck by the difference between then and now. In the 1940s it was impossible for one man to openly love another, or to have any sort of same-sex relationship; whereas now gay men can have a civil partnership or get married. When his partner arrives to pick him up from work, they resolve to walk home holding hands, to acknowledge the progress made on same-sex relationships, and the freedoms they now have to love one another openly. This was an uplifting way to end the play, to highlight the gains won and the recent progress made on same-sex relationships.

Encounter is a refreshing new take on a much loved classic film, featuring strong writing, an excellent ensemble cast, and a set design that transports you back to the 1940s. An enjoyable and memorable night out at the theatre, enabling you to see Brief Encounter through new eyes. Highly recommended.

Encounter plays at Above The Stag Theatre (Vauxhall, London) until Sunday 15 November.

Above The Stag Theatre is the UK’s only full-time professional LGBT theatre.


Follow the link to the Above the Stag Theatre website:
http://www.abovethestag.com/

Do I Sound Gay? - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of Do I Sound Gay?, a documentary film where David Thorpe examines what it means to “sound gay” and whether there is such a thing as a “gay voice”. The film documents his journey of self-examination, exploration and discovery. Highly recommended.

My EQView review of Do I Sound Gay? is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/11/02/do-i-sound-gay-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

DO I SOUND GAY? - REVIEW

Do I Sound Gay? is a documentary about finding your true voice. David Thorpe, the Director, takes you on his personal odyssey, examining his own voice, and those of his friends, to see if they “sound gay” and if there is such a thing as a “gay voice”.

The journey of self-examination starts when David breaks up with his long-term partner. David is nervous and feels insecure. He focuses on the one aspect he most dislikes about himself – his voice. He worries he sounds too gay.

David visits a voice coach, who is used to working with actors. She analyses his voice and his voice patterns, and they begin to work together to change his voice. David wants to find a voice he will be more comfortable with.

David cannot remember what he sounded like as a child and a teenager growing up, so he talks to family members, and school and college friends. They agree David’s voice changed whilst he was at college, when he came out and started to develop and embrace a gay identity. That was when he developed his gay voice.

David has two close gay friends and, when they are all together, they have a particular way of speaking. This often happens in close friendship groups – people use particular words, speak in a particular way, and begin to sound the same. It is also a form of coding, so when you speak, you are signaling to people you are gay. One of David’s friends talks about how he tones down his voice at work, in order to blend in with his work colleagues. Their collective/shared way of speaking comes to the fore when David and his friends are together, or within the gay community.

As David interviewed his friends, it became apparent that how you sounded had a lot to do with the people you grew up around, as you took your vocal cues from them. David highlighted this by looking at two of his friends – one straight, one gay. His straight friend, who could be said to have a stereotypical gay voice, had grown up surrounded by female family members – his mum, his aunts, and his sisters. By contrast, David’s gay friend, who had one of the most masculine voices imaginable, had spent his formative years almost exclusively around his father and his four brothers. Your sexuality does not determine your voice.

Interestingly David’s friends, and the celebrities he interviewed, who were in settled long-term relationships, were happy with the way they sounded. They were loved by their partners as they were, for who they were. They were therefore comfortable with the way they sounded and happy with their gay voices.

David has voice classes, uses audiotapes, and does a lot of vocal exercises to see if he can change his voice. He wants to sound less gay, as he thinks he will then be happier with the way he sounds and more confident meeting new people. His voice changes at the margins, but it very stubbornly remains the same at its core.

Younger men featured in the film spoke candidly about how having a gay voice meant they were bullied at school and, in extreme cases, violently attacked. A gay voice can be a means of self-expression and a marker of gay identity, but if it results in being bullied, ostracized and attacked, then it can lead to self-loathing and internalized homophobia. Instead of being proud of the way you sound, you could grow to hate the gay voice, both in yourself and in others. This could explain why, within some sections of the gay community, being feminine is looked down upon, whilst hyper-masculinity is celebrated.

The film looks at gay men who were famous TV icons in the 1970s and 1980s. The Director is American and highlights US icons like Liberace. But the same was true in the UK, with John Inman and Larry Grayson becoming household names. Public attitudes towards them were similar on both sides of the Atlantic – everyone knew they were gay men, but it was never talked about. These popular entertainers were household names, but no young man would aspire to be them – quite the opposite.

The documentary traces a long line of Disney villains who could be identified as gay, based on the way they spoke. They included Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective, Jafar in Aladdin, Scar in The Lion King, and King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph. Being a huge Disney fan, I found this section fascinating, and it made me look at these films and characters in a new light.

In summary, Do I Sound Gay? follows David Thorpe on a personal journey of self-examination, exploration and discovery, looking at his own gay voice, examining why he sounds gay and why he is dissatisfied. Your voice is a form of self-expression and identity and, if you are comfortable in your own skin and happy with who you are, you will like the way you sound. The message I took away from the film is the importance of being happy with who you are and how you sound. Highly recommended.

Do I Sound Gay? is playing in selected cinemas across the UK.

Follow the link to the Do I Sound Gay? official film website:
http://www.doisoundgay.com/
Tags: , ,

Women of Sherlock Panel, Radio Times Festival
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


Last month, I attended the Radio Times Festival and this is my write-up of The Women of Sherlock Panel, featuring Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson), Louise Brealey (Molly Hooper), and Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan).

My EQView write-up of The Women of Sherlock Panel at the Radio Times Festival is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/10/26/women-of-sherlock/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

WOMEN OF SHERLOCK PANEL - RADIO TIMES FESTIVAL

The first ever Radio Times Festival ran from 24 to 27 September 2015 at The Green at Hampton Court Palace. The Festival was a celebration of TV, radio and books, featuring a range of panel discussions, talks, workshops, exhibits and shops.

As part of the Festival, there was a panel on "The Women of Sherlock", featuring Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson), Louise Brealey (Molly Hooper), and Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan). Sherlock creators and writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and producer, Sue Vertue, joined the panel.

The focus of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, was the close male friendship between Holmes and Watson, and the cases they worked on together. Women in the Canon were a product of their time, and tended to play supporting roles, often appearing as clients, calling on Holmes to seek his help.

Re-imagining Holmes and Watson for the 21st Century means it is important for women to have meatier roles, not just appear as clients. Mrs Hudson, Molly and Mary are all key roles in Sherlock and they are all series regulars.



In the Canon stories, Mary Morstan is a strong presence in The Sign of the Four but, once she marries Dr Watson, she disappears from view. In Sherlock, Mary is a very interesting character in her own right, a trained assassin with a dark past, and she maintains a strong presence throughout Series 3.

The same is true of Mrs Hudson. In the Canon stories, she is Holmes and Watson's landlady and plays a very minor part - she shows in visitors, serves the tea, and makes the breakfast. In Sherlock, Mrs Hudson has a dangerous past of her own - she owes Sherlock a favour because he helped ensure her husband's execution! Mrs Hudson puts up with Sherlock, and thrives on the ensuing excitement and adventure, because she is used to leading an eventful life. She may appear ditzy and vulnerable, but in reality she is a tough cookie used to dealing with hardened criminals. Mrs Hudson is like a mother to Sherlock and John - fussing over them, taking care of them, and nagging them - and so she is integral to Sherlock.

Molly does not exist in Canon, and she is a new character, created specifically for Sherlock. She is Sherlock's intelligent, loyal and trustworthy laboratory assistant and friend. She has proved popular with viewers, who have taken her into their hearts, and she is a role model for young girls, who are pursuing a career in science having been inspired by her. Molly is so much part and parcel of Sherlock you sometimes forget she does not appear in the original stories!

The panel discussion showed how Doyle's Canon women were ahead of their time, more independent and emancipated, yet were incidental to the main narrative. In Sherlock, Mrs Hudson, Mary and Molly, are all tough, strong and independent women, with colourful pasts and interesting lives, integral to the main plotlines. We should celebrate the contribution of these leading ladies as Sherlock would be a much weaker franchise without them.

Follow the link for more details about the Radio Times Festival:
http://www.radiotimesfestival.com/

BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week was a review of the BFI London Film Festival, featuring my top two films - Land of Mine and Suffragette.

My EQView review of the BFI London Film Festival is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/10/26/bfi-london-film-festival-2015-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 - REVIEW

As someone who loves films truly, madly, deeply, the BFI London Film Festival is one of the highlights of my year and I have been attending for a number of years.

The London Film Festival is a film festival designed for, and aimed at, the general public. It gives audiences a chance to see films that would not otherwise appear in British cinemas or get a UK release. As a lover of film, what I value about the London Film Festival is that it gives me the opportunity to see a wide range of films I would not normally get the chance to see. This includes smaller independent UK and US films, European and World cinema, documentary features, and classics.

The full list of films I saw at the London Film Festival is as follows: Suffragette, Trumbo, Land of Mine, Departure, The Invitation, Bone Tomahawk, Room, Flocking, Gold Coast, The Witch, Chemsex, The Hard Stop, King Jack, and The End of the Tour.

I saw 14 films in total at the London Film Festival this year and I am highlighting my top two films because they both stood out from the crowd for me – one is a small scale foreign language film which may have a limited release, and the other is an English language star-studded blockbuster currently screening across the UK.

LAND OF MINE



What I can genuinely say about this film, hand on heart, is that it is one of the most impressive films I have seen in a long time.

Land of Mine is set just after the Second World War, and we follow a small group of very young German prisoners of war (POWs) as they are given the deadly task of clearing thousands of landmines off the Danish coast. They have to complete this task before they will be freed and allowed to return to their homeland, Germany. This is a very difficult film to watch but I was drawn into the story right from the start.

The German POWs are trained in defusing and clearing landmines and then they are set to work. You get to know the German POWs as individuals, and the films lets you into their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future. Whilst doing the work, some of them focus on what their lives will be like when they return home to Germany, whereas the more realistic amongst them realize they may never leave Denmark alive. But, as they work together as a unit, the bonds between them grow, and they start to look out for eachother and care about eachother.

A solitary Danish Officer supervises the German POWs and we follow his personal journey too. At the start of the film, directly after the War, he is filled with hate for all Germans, but as he spends more time with his young charges, he gets to know them as individuals, develops a special bond with one in particular, and starts to feel responsible for them and protective towards them.

The film is very effective at conveying the heightened tension and the real sense of fear and foreboding the German POWs must have felt as they did their work. As an audience member, you are on tenterhooks the whole time, and you rarely drop your guard.

Time goes on, the days are long, the work is intense and difficult, and appears never-ending. Clearing landmines is dangerous work, and it is inevitable the work will take its toll. These are the hardest scenes to watch, especially as the German POWs are so young, most of them only in their late teens.

This is less a War film, and more a film about human beings, relationships, and the close bonds formed in extreme situations. We witness the tough Danish officer softening over time, and the German POWs bonding as a team. The film also has some reprieve at the end because, against all the odds, a few of the German POWs survive the experience and return back home.

Land of Mine affected me deeply and I cannot recommend it highly enough – it is truly exceptional. Powerful, moving, beautiful, heart-breaking and uplifting. Go see!

SUFFRAGETTE



Suffragette traces the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement as they fight for their right to vote. The film took me by surprise because it was much better and far stronger than I had expected.

Carey Mulligan plays Maud, an ordinary working class woman, who has been working at the local laundry ever since she was a small girl. Having an everywoman as the lead character, right at the heart of the story, worked very well and made for a very strong film.

We follow Maud’s journey and her path towards becoming a fully-fledged Suffragette. Maud’s story is integrated with the more famous Suffragettes, people like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, because she first encounters, and then works alongside, these famous women as she begins to devote more and more of her time and energy to the cause.

Maud’s story brought home to me the huge personal sacrifices these women made for the cause, often losing their jobs, their homes, their husbands, their children, and, in extreme cases, their lives.

The film highlights the stories of ordinary working women, whose contribution often goes unrecognized, and it was good the film used their stories and showcased their achievements.

I was not taught this history at school, so I was not aware of the violent and radical actions women had taken, the surveillance they were put under, their arrest and imprisonment, or the hunger strikes they staged. This was all new information to me but it should be taught in schools and colleges as an essential part of history.

The film is stuffed to the brim with star actors, including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw and Meryl Streep, and they all play their parts to perfection and with real heart and passion.

Suffragette portrayed a very important part of Britain’s history in a very powerful and moving way, by highlighting the outstanding contribution of ordinary working women to the fight for women’s right to vote. I was truly humbled to see the huge personal sacrifices these women made in pursuit of their right to vote, a right which today is far too often taken for granted.

I hope my Preview and Review of the London Film Festival has whetted your appetite and, if it has, I will see you there next year!

The BFI London Film Festival is the UK’s largest public film event and ran at venues across London from Wednesday 7 October to Sunday 18 October 2015.

Follow the link for more information on the London Film Festival:
http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff

McQueen, Theatre Royal Haymarket - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a review of McQueen at the Theatre Royal Haymarket,
a new play inspired by the life of Alexander McQueen, Artist, Genius, Icon, Legend, the fashion visionary who broke the rules.

My EQView review of McQueen is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/10/15/mcqueen-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

MCQUEEN - REVIEW

McQueen, a play inspired by the life of Alexander McQueen, is currently playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Alexander McQueen was the fashion visionary who broke the rules: an Artist, a Genius, a British Icon, and a Fashion Legend.

This new play, written by James Phillips, is inspired by a love of the talent of the designer Alexander McQueen. It is not a documentary, nor a biography. It is a fairy story, like a McQueen show.



Before seeing this production, I knew only three facts about Alexander McQueen – he was a fashion designer, he was gay, and he committed suicide. I saw this production, and it sparked a real fascination within me to learn more about McQueen – both the Man and the Myth. I watched a couple of documentaries, and learnt more about McQueen, all triggered by me experiencing this production – that is how good it was!

As you enter the theatre, you are greeted by Stephen Wight, playing McQueen, pacing around the stage with a belt in his hand, twisting it around in his fingers. As he paces, McQueen appears very disturbed. Given I knew McQueen committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt, this is a disturbing and shocking image to be confronted with right at the start of the show.

In the opening scene, a young woman called Dahlia breaks into McQueen’s house in search of her dream dress. We are never really sure if Dahlia is real, a figment of McQueen’s imagination, or a hallucination. Dahlia could be real or she could represent McQueen’s alter ego.

Although McQueen is initially very wary of Dahlia, (after all she has just broken into his house!), he soon warms to her. He is lacking inspiration for his new collection and decides to take Dahlia on a whirlwind tour of his life, visiting people and places which mean the most to him and are closest to his heart.

The first stop on the tour is the tailors in Savile Row where McQueen started out as an Apprentice and learnt his trade. We meet Mr Hitchcock, McQueen’s superior when he was an Apprentice. McQueen had told Dahlia that when he was working there, he had been working on Prince Charles’s jacket, and had sewn “I am a cunt” into the lining. Mr Hitchcock tells Dahlia he has heard this story and that, when Prince Charles’s jackets came back for alterations, he checked each and every one. There was nothing there. McQueen smiles and says it is little myths like this that make a brand. To help construct this brand, McQueen had taken Isabella’s advice and used his second name, Alexander, rather than his first name, Lee, for his fashion label – he reinvented himself.

In the tailor’s shop, McQueen has his flash of inspiration and suddenly “sees” Dahlia – who she was, who she is, and who she could be. He designs a dress which is a reflection not of who she is but of who she might become – a dress should be a part of you, and express who you are. There is a real buzz and excitement in the air as McQueen sets to work. In one of the most magical scenes in the production, McQueen creates and makes a dress for Dahlia, right there on stage in front of our eyes, a dress designed specifically for Dahlia, which reflects her personality, and which contains her dreams and aspirations. McQueen works his magic on the stage and this sequence literally took my breath away. The scene shows off McQueen’s imagination, his talent and his genius.

Later on, we see McQueen being interviewed by a journalist and the scene highlights McQueen’s genius and his ability to “see” women. The journalist asks McQueen to describe a woman at a nearby table, which he proceeds to do in the finest detail, deducing everything about her from the way she looks, how she sits, the clothes she wears, and her gestures. This deduction would be worthy of Sherlock Holmes. McQueen says this is a habit for him, a way of looking at people. He does this when he is working, and this enables him to see everything about a person, and glimpse into their souls. This is both a gift and a curse.

McQueen had two key women in his life – his Mum and Isabella. We meet Isabella and witness first hand the incredibly close relationship between McQueen and Isabella. McQueen is angry at Isabella for being weak and taking her own life, but he also carries around with him a burden of guilt wondering if he could or should have done more to help her. They talk about, and share their experiences of, depression, a mental illness which haunted them both. McQueen confides in Isabella that he is “not well”, black clouds are descending, and he is plagued by worry, anxiety and low moods. Isabella, having faced her own demons, is one of the few people who can truly understand.

McQueen takes photographs of Dahlia in her fairytale dress, which are then projected onto large screens on stage. For one shot, Dahlia stretches out her arms and, for the first time, we see the unmistakable marks of self-harm running along her arms. To see this projected onto a large screen is shocking and we slowly realize that Dahlia, like McQueen and Isabella, is prone to the dark depths of depression.

McQueen takes Dahlia to his Mum’s home, which for him is a refuge and a “safe house”. His Mum is upstairs, very sick with cancer. McQueen speaks very passionately and eloquently about how much courage his Mum has in fighting the cancer consuming her body, and how she is brave like a lion.

McQueen shows Dahlia the feathered golden coat he is working on. It is stunning. He makes her wear the golden coat to try and make her better, because clothes have the potential to change you inside, and to allow you to become someone else and something else. They are transformative.

The final stop in the tour is Stratford, London, where McQueen grew up, and he confesses to being a birdwatcher as a young boy, a birder. This is why feathers, birds and flight play such a large part in his collections and his designs. Whilst there, McQueen and Dahlia are lucky enough to see a peregrine falcon, a rare bird of prey. But the feathered golden coat reminded me of Icarus and his wings, and of flying too close to the sun. The fashion world is one where it is all too easy to crash and burn.

Day breaks, McQueen and Dahlia have survived the night, and Dahlia has given McQueen the inspiration and the ideas for his new collection. A new day has dawned, and life goes on, at least for the time being. But even in the excitement of the final scene, where the new collection comes to life, McQueen carries his belt in his hand, prefiguring the demons waiting in the wings and what is to come.

The play took me on a journey, along with McQueen and Dahlia, so I could witness the highs and lows, the heights of pleasure and the depths of pain, the extremes of success and failure – all integral to the rollercoaster ride McQueen was on as part of the fashion world, where you were only as good as your last collection. Something about the production got under my skin and into my blood.

Stephen Wight’s performance in the lead role is truly outstanding, and he perfectly captures McQueen’s humour, likeability, vulnerability, darkness and genius. This is a tricky combination to master but Wight nails it. He is given strong support from an excellent ensemble cast, both actors and dancers.

The stagecraft in the show – the music, the costumes, the movement, the choreography, the set, the props, the effects – were all magical, and reminded me of McQueen’s fashion shows. The play felt other worldly and dreamlike, like a fantasy adventure. This was a different type of theatre – blending storytelling, fantasy, and spectacle. Like McQueen, his designs and his shows, this play was unique and special.

In summary, this production is one of the best things I have seen in the West End this year, and it will stay with me for a very long time to come. Very dark, very powerful, very moving, and incredibly beautiful. As such, I have no hesitation in awarding it a maximum 5 shining stars.

McQueen plays at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until Saturday 17 October 2015.

Follow the link for more information:
http://mcqueentheplay.com/

BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a preview of the BFI London Film Festival, and includes the 5 films I am most looking forward to seeing as part of the Festival.

My EQView preview of the BFI London Film Festival is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/10/07/bfi-london-film-festival-preview-2/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 - PREVIEW

As someone who loves films truly, madly, deeply, the BFI London Film Festival is one of the highlights of my yearly calendar, and I have been attending for a number of years.

One of the unique things about the London Film Festival is that it is a film festival designed for, and aimed at, the general public. It aims to give audiences a chance to see films that would not otherwise appear in British cinemas or get a UK release.

As a lover of film, what I value and appreciate about the London Film Festival above all else is that it gives me an opportunity to see a wide range of diverse films which I would not otherwise get the chance to see. That often includes smaller independent UK and US films, European and World cinema, documentary features, and classics.

It is really difficult to pick out a few films from such a wide-ranging and diverse programme but I have decided to highlight the five films I am most looking forward to seeing as part of the London Film Festival (and all of which I am booked to see). My selection will hopefully give readers a flavour of the richness and diversity, the depth and breadth, of the films on offer.

1. DEPARTURE



Departure focuses on a young man, Elliot (Alex Lawther), and his mother, Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson). They are packing up their French country house so they can sell it, and an air of melancholy surrounds them. They are forced to spend time together, with Beatrice insisting on family meals. Elliot takes a break, wanders down to the village, goes into the bar, and meets local boy Clément. Elliot is a dreamer, who writes romantic poetry, and Clément is very practical, working on his motorbike. They strike up an unlikely friendship but will this lead to something more?

2. BONE TOMAHAWK



Bone Tomahawk is an unpredictable and shocking fusion of horror and western. Late one night in the Wild West town of Bright Hope, Arthur O’Dwyer’s life is turned upside down when his wife is kidnapped. A disparate vigilante posse is quickly assembled, headed up by the town’s sheriff, Franklin Hunt, and together they venture off in pursuit of Arthur’s wife and her abductors. Unfortunately for our intrepid heroes, they have no idea just who or, more to the point, what is waiting for them when they reach their fateful destination. The film features an all-star cast, including Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins.

3. FLOCKING



Flocking is a topical drama which explores the trends for public shaming via social media and victim blaming in cases of sexual violence. 14-year-old Jennifer has accused a classmate of rape. Her tough exterior and lack of embarrassment make her a confusing victim and she finds herself under intense scrutiny. Using her more elevated social status, the boy’s mother begins a vicious online campaign of mass hostility to undermine Jennifer and her family. By choosing not to reveal the veracity of the accusations until the very last moment, this film explores the ways information is gathered to judge or victimise people.

4. THE WITCH



The Witch is set in 17th-century New England, where a devout Christian family are banished from their plantation. They relocate to a humble farm situated on the edge of a dense forest to live a life of self-sufficiency. With the elements taking their toll and food growing scarce, the family are thrown into despair when their youngest child inexplicably goes missing. As they hunt desperately for the lost child, tensions and paranoia breeds within the family and the growing belief that a supernatural force is at work slowly leads them to turn on each other. In this climate, hysteria takes hold and madness can descend. The family are torn apart by tension and the suspicion of witchcraft.

5. CHEMSEX



Chemsex is a hard-hitting and often graphic documentary about the chemsex sub-scene in London’s gay community. Chemsex is a shorthand term made popular by gay men in recent years for the use of drugs (specifically crystal meth, GHB and mephedrone) in a sexual context. It has also been seen as a significant contributing factor in the rise of HIV diagnoses in London. Often referring to group sex that can last several days, with one or more of the specified drugs used to free inhibition and enhance libido, the trend is argued to be fuelled by the growing use of online apps as a means of sexual hook ups. This documentary features men whose lives have been affected, from self-confessed “slammers” to sexual health workers, each of whom talk candidly about the pleasures and perils associated with the scene.

If you are based in and around London, and you have never been to the BFI London Film Festival, I would highly recommend you give it a whirl and go and see a film that you would not normally see. I am fairly certain that once you have tried it out, you will become hooked, and will keep returning year after year. That is what happened to me!

The BFI London Film Festival is the UK’s largest public film event and runs at venues across London from Wednesday 7 October to Sunday 18 October 2015.

Follow the link below to find out more about the BFI London Film Festival, to explore the full programme, and to book tickets:
http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff

This is the complete list of films I am booked to see as part of the London Film Festival:
Suffragette, Trumbo, Land of Mine, Departure, The Invitation, Bone Tomahawk, Room, Flocking, Gold Coast, The Witch, Chemsex, The Hard Stop, King Jack, and The End of the Tour.

The Man Who Had All The Luck, King's Head Theatre - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a review of The Man Who Had All The Luck, a thought-provoking revival of an early Arthur Miller play, looking at whether a Man makes his own luck.

My EQView review of The Man Who Had All The Luck is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/09/23/the-man-who-had-all-the-luck-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK - REVIEW

The Man Who Had All The Luck by Arthur Miller has been revived at the King’s Head Theatre. The play examines whether people get what they deserve in this life or whether it is merely down to luck, by focusing on the contrasting fortunes of one family – a father and his two sons, David and Amos.

The Man Who Had All The Luck was Arthur Miller’s first play to be produced but is rarely performed. I love Arthur Miller’s work but this is the first time I have seen this play performed on stage.

David is the older brother and everything always goes his way. He marries his childhood sweetheart (when her father conveniently dies!), he acquires a lot of land through his marriage, and his car repair business is booming and goes from strength to strength. David has the Midas touch and everything he touches turns to gold.

However, this constant stream of good luck does not make David happy, quite the contrary. David contrasts his own good luck to the fortunes of those closest to him – his father, his younger brother Amos, and his friends. He worries he has everything, while everyone else has nothing. David feels life is treating him too kindly, at the expense of others, and he becomes anxious that one day he will be made to pay a heavy price for all his good luck.

Meanwhile Amos, David’s younger brother, has spent his whole life training to be a baseball player, coached by their father. Amos even practices his pitching throughout the Winter down in the basement (a fatal mistake as it turns out). A scout finally comes to watch him play but delivers the devastating news that, due to a mistake his father made in his training, Amos will never be good enough to play in the big leagues. Amos’s lifelong hopes, aspirations and dreams come crashing down. This is a huge burden for David to bear because although everything is working out for him, Amos is left with nothing – no dreams, no hope and no future.

Key themes in the play are how much a man is in control of his own destiny and whether a man makes his own luck. The different characters hold different opinions. Gus, a refugee, believes fate is not in the tea leaves or in the stars, and that man makes his own luck. Shory, by contrast, describes man as a “jellyfish”, who does not swim but is washed in and out, at the mercy of the tide, having no control over his fate. We see that both Gus and Shory’s views on fate are heavily influenced by their respective wartime experiences.

The play makes it clear that, for David, his good luck feels as much of a curse as a blessing. David does not believe he deserves his good fortune, and so he spends a large part of the play waiting for a catastrophe to happen (it never does), and dreading the price he will be called upon to pay for his good fortune some day soon.

This production has a very strong ensemble cast. It would be wrong to single out any one actor as they were all excellent. As a collective, they really made the story “live”. I understood and empathized with all of the characters, I was interested in their lives, and I was keen to see how the plot unfolded and learn what happened next!

I am pleased I have seen this play, and experienced this production, because it is an interesting and thought-provoking night out at the theatre. It made me consider whether man made his own fate and got his just deserts, or whether it was all down to luck, in which case – where was the Justice? These big themes are considered through the prism of one particular family. Highly recommended – especially if you enjoy the work of Arthur Miller but have not yet had the chance to see this particular play.

The Man Who Had All The Luck played at the King’s Head Theatre (Islington, London) until Sunday 27 September 2015.

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a review of Bakkhai, the second play in the Almeida Greeks Season, a dark disturbing tragedy with a stellar cast – Bertie Carvel and Ben Whishaw.

My EQView review of Bakkhai is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/09/21/bakkhai-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

BAKKHAI - REVIEW

Bakkhai by Euripides was the second play in the Almeida Greeks Season, following hot on the heels of Oresteia by Aeschylus. This was a new version of Bakkhai by Anne Carson featuring a stellar cast – Bertie Carvel and Ben Whishaw.

In contrast to Oresteia, which had an epic running time and multiple breaks, Bakkhai had a short running time of 1 hour 50 mins with no interval. The play galloped by, catching you, and holding you firmly in its grip.

The play opens with the young, charismatic and mischievous god, Dionysos, played by Ben Whishaw, coming to Thebes to work his magic and wreck havoc. The women of Thebes (the Chorus), seduced by the allure and charm of Dionysos, abandon their lives and homes, leaving Thebes to head off into the mountains to worship Dionysos. In causing this to happen, Dionysos has thrown down the gauntlet in a direct challenge to the authority of Pentheus, the King of Thebes, played by Bertie Carvel. Pentheus, for his part, has no respect for Dionysos, even questioning his divinity.

The Chorus was a group of women and I loved its diversity – the women making up the Chorus were all shapes and sizes, all ages, and all ethnicities. They expressed themselves through group singing and chanting, and the music sounded primal and supernatural, full of mystery and magic. It had a rhythm, a beat and, crucially, it had soul. Throughout the play, the Chorus moved and acted as one body, as one living organism.

The stage is set for a contest/battle between Dionysos, the God, and Pentheus, the King. Who has the ultimate authority – God or Man? Dionysos, the God of Wine, represents fun and the pursuit of pleasure, and Pentheus represents rationality and law and order. This contrast is highlighted by Dionysos wearing ancient long flowing robes and Pentheus wearing a new tailored pin-stripped suit. It is also a battle of the sexes between Dionysos and his hedonistic women, and Pentheus and his military men.



Pentheus refers to the women and their worship of Dionysos as “Bacchic nonsense” and he is scathing about what he sees as the toxic combination of women and wine. He sneers they are indulging in sexual acts but attempting to pass themselves off as a “prayer group”. And yet, despite his outright condemnation, Pentheus is intrigued and curious, and sees the allure of their revels. Pentheus wants to spy on the women and see for himself what they are getting up to in the mountains (especially because he suspects it involves drinking and sex!). Never has the phrase “Curiosity killed the Cat” been more apt than in this play.

Dionysos tempts Pentheus, saying that he can help him spy on the women. He lays a trap for Pentheus and reels him in. At first Pentheus is adamant that he will not dress as a woman as this would be demeaning. But, secretly, this is something that appeals to Pentheus like forbidden fruit and, as the idea takes hold in his mind, it becomes more and more attractive. He agrees to the disguise, all in the name of research!, and enters into the spirit. Ultimately, Pentheus takes great pride and joy in his cross-dressing, he is keen to know how good he looks, to ensure his hair and make-up are just right, and he revels in exploring his feminine side. Pentheus, dressed as a woman, makes quite an entrance and leaves a big impression.

However, this is a Greek tragedy and it all ends very badly for Pentheus. He is caught spying, he is set upon by the women, and his own mother, Agave, forms part of the mob who tear his body limb from limb (this action takes place off-stage). The play has a truly shocking and horrifying climax when Agave returns to Thebes to show off the lion she believes she has killed, only to have to face the dawning realization that her prize is not a lion but a human being, and she has killed her own son, born of her own flesh, and it is his head she is parading around in triumph. She is devastated.



All the performances were strong in this production but I have to give a special mention to Bertie Carvel who was exceptional. Over the course of the play he is transformed from Pentheus, the incredibly strait-laced authoritarian, to a Pentheus who lets himself go and enjoys dressing as a woman, to Agave, Pentheus’s mother, a savage warrior queen with a bloodcurdling war cry. Carvel throws himself into the role of Agave and, as a result, is completely believable. The closing scene, where Agave realizes she has murdered her own son, was heart-breaking.

Another very strong production in the Almeida Greeks Season and one I would be happy to recommend. Worth seeing for an insight into how the play would have been staged in Ancient Greece (with three actors supported by a Chorus) and to see Bertie Carvel’s transformation over the course of the play as he plays across the gender divide. Dark, disturbing, and deeply unsettling – all reasons why this is a play worth experiencing.

Bakkhai played at the Almeida Theatre from 23 July until 19 September and was part of the Almeida Greeks Season.

Wasted, Edinburgh Fringe - Review
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel


My EQView feature this week is a review of Wasted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Wasted is a challenging and disturbing piece of drama, based on true events, examining what constitutes sexual consent.

My EQView review of Wasted is here:
http://eqview.com/2015/09/16/wasted-review/

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:

WASTED - REVIEW

Wasted at the Gilded Balloon is a new play by Kat Woods, which examines what constitutes sexual consent, focusing on the dangerous effects and impact of alcohol. It is based on true events.

The play opens very strongly. As the audience enters the performance space, they find themselves in a nightclub, on the dancefloor, with music thumping away in the background. The action then starts to take place around them, and the audience is part and parcel of the opening scene at the nightclub, witnessing what occurs. This makes the audience complicit in the drama and in what happens that night. When the nightclub closes for the night, the audience take their seats.

There are only two actors (Will Merrick and Serena Jennings) and they play all the characters between them. In the opening scene, they play the two central characters (Oli and Emma), their two best friends (Charlie and Kate), and the bouncers at the club. We, the audience, see how Oli and Emma are thrown together at the end of the night. Emma can’t find her keys or remember her address, she is too drunk to get home safely on her own, so Oli does the decent thing and offers to take her back to his. He does this with the best of intentions – he is trying to be a gentleman and to do the right thing. But the excessive consumption of alcohol by all the young people over the course of the night makes them vulnerable, they are no longer fully aware of what they are saying or doing, and their ability to think straight and make the right choices is curtailed.

We then hear a string of voicemail messages left for Oli and Emma throughout the night from their friends, trying to ascertain what has happened to them and where they are. We get a sense of what occurs that night between Oli and Emma (sex) through a series of posed tableaux.

The following morning, Emma cannot fully recall what happened the previous night, is consumed by feelings of shame and regret, and is worried about getting pregnant. When she begins to tell her best friend Kate about her doubts and fears, she wonders whether she consented to sex that night, and whether she was in a state to give consent.

The rest of the play then delves into what really happened that night and its repercussions – was the sex consensual, was Emma in a fit state to give consent, did she give consent, or was she raped? When the play explores these questions, we as the audience are in the dark as to what really happened that night.

The two actors play a myriad of characters, and I was totally in awe of their ability to switch so quickly between characters. Both actors were dressed in black throughout, and there were no costume changes, but you were never in any doubt as to which character they were playing because the voice and the gestures were so distinctive. Both actors played both genders and I particularly enjoyed Will playing Emma’s best friend Kate, and Serena playing Oli’s best friend Charlie.

There were touches of comedy in what was otherwise a very dark and troubling piece. I particularly liked the scene between Oli and his Mum, which provided some much needed light relief. When his Mum questions Oli about what he was doing the previous night, and why she couldn’t get hold of him, all Oli will say is that he was out having drinks and playing pool with friends.

However, overall, this is a very dark, discomforting and troubling piece of drama, because it shows how an innocent and fun night out can turn into a nightmare, and how quickly and easily events can spiral out of control.

The police are called in to investigate the rape allegation, and we hear each character give their version of events that night. We as the audience are asked to consider whether Emma gave her consent or whether she was raped. Oli is portrayed as an ordinary young man, not as a rapist. This makes the scenario both more believable and more complex. Finally, the play shows you what really happened that night, and this section (the “reveal”) hit me like a punch in the gut.

This was a very dark piece of drama, which was unnerving and deeply troubling. Both Will Merrick and Serena Jennings were excellent, and this challenging piece was superbly acted throughout. I was in awe of the myriad characters they portrayed, and their ability to switch characters in the blink of an eye. Both actors played across the gender divide, and they were both particularly effective in their gender swapping roles. There were no costumes (both actors merely wore black clothes), and the staging and the set was very minimal, which meant the writing and the actors had to carry the piece, which they did with power and impact.

The play was hard-hitting and powerful, and challenged the audience to think about the complex issue of sexual consent. It depicted very clearly how a fun night out could go badly wrong, especially when alcohol is added into the mix. Thought-provoking, challenging, and disturbing – just what theatre should be. 5 shining stars.

Wasted (by No Prophet Theatre Company) played at the Gilded Balloon from 5 to 31 August 2015 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery
Raks New Profile Pic Square
rakspatel
I paid my annual visit to the BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday (on the final day of the Exhibition) and this was my favourite portrait:



You can see the full selection of portraits chosen for the Exhibition here:
http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/bp-portrait-award/exhibition/exhibitors.php
Tags:

?

Log in