The Easter Bunny Reads My Blog

Easter Delights.

Clearly my fiancé, er, I mean The Easter Bunny has read my recent shopping post, as this delectable creation was waved excitedly in front of my bleary eyes when I opened them this morning.

Apparently there are more treats hidden inside it, which is VERY exciting. They won’t last long though…


A bit with a dog. That’s what they want.

A review of Above Me the Wide Blue Sky at The Young Vic.

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Most of the students I teach were born and raised in the city and, aside from holidays to exotic locations, have never left. They’ve never watched wild animals trotting, scurrying or flitting through woods and across fields, never smelt damp earth after spring rain, never run curious finger-tips over spongy beds of moss. Never gathered wild mushrooms, or been stung by nettles or scratched by briars as they hunt for the biggest, sweetest blackberries. Never peered into badger setts, warily perched on huge spoil mounds, or anxiously watched over a robin’s nest filled with perfect little blue eggs. They know literally nothing about the countryside.


This dearth of knowledge and experience seems so alien and puzzling to me, that I see it as a disability. I am kind. I hide my astonishment. Most city children will never experience these things, and it feels as if they are missing out on something I can never teach them. Something deep, and important – their lives and souls will never be illuminated by an affinity with the land. This sadness, lacking or losing connections to nature and the countryside, is what Above Me The Wide Blue Sky explores.


(A lamentation of swans)

The play is only forty five minutes long, with no interval, and stars one actress (who doesn’t really act) and one dog (who sleeps). It is more abstract, unconventional, art installation than play, however. It is performed in the round, on a grid of ice-like paving stones, planted with lights at different heights that occasionally plunge the entire room into darkness, or flash like memories flaring into sight. Large panels surround the audience, placing us in a room of scudding clouds. There is no narrative or plot. Instead the actress (Laura Cubitt) articulates a series of other people’s memories – pulling them from the ether above our heads, or drawing them from faces as if by telepathy.

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I loved the set, and although we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to spend time in the space before the performance began, I appreciated that this would have been enjoyable. Watching the clouds is an experience I don’t seem to have time for anymore, but many of mine and Tom’s most treasured childhood-memories involve this. Hypnotic and thought-provoking, they send you into your own mind whilst simultaneously allowing you to spread it across the world.

The lights also captivated me. Tubes of frosted-glass crown tall metal poles, lightbulbs glowing from within like the golden hearts of flowers. I loved the idea that they glowed brighter and then faded like a memory swirling to the forefront of your mind, and the comparison between the short-lived beauty of flowers and memories that lose distinction with time.

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Another aspect I enjoyed was the soundscape. It was derived from field-recordings and instruments, but their origins were then distorted though electronic transformations. Several times I found myself frowning in concentration, trying to distinguish and identify the origin of specific sounds, but my failure to do so only added to the sense of being lost in a dream or memory. The sound designers were inspired by a line from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, “A sound is heard in the distance, as if from the sky – the sound of a breaking string, dying away, sad”. The abstract sound they have created in response can be felt as much as heard, like the energy you perceive in the sky before a storm breaks; the heaviness of the air before the rain falls.

The purpose of Leuca the whippet’s presence was a question we all puzzled over, and everyone had a different response. Tom thought the dog’s calm, resting state was intended to induce a similar state in the audience; a visual cue making us more receptive to the experience. Katya felt it made us more receptive to the actress speaking as we more easily identified her as a character, as someone we might meet and converse with, so grounding and locating the abstract descriptions. Kaysea that the actress’ character wanted to retain a connection to nature and the animal-rearing that was implied in her memories, or to evoke an idea of the natural transforming into the unnatural, as humans rear greyhounds to race in psudeo-country urban racetracks, chasing fake rabbits. I wondered if we were not being encouraged to consider the memories recounted as belonging to Leuca (most of my friends thought this was mad though).

(Katy, Charles and I deep in discussion afterwards about serious, important things.  Probably.)

The programme includes a John Berger quote from Opening A Gate which may shed some light on our question: “Dogs, with their running legs, sharp noses and developed memory for sounds, are the natural frontier experts of these interstices. Their eyes, whose message often confuses us for it is urgent and mute, are attuned both to the human order and to other visible orders. Perhaps this is why, on so many occasions and for different reasons, we train dogs as guides”. The beauty of abstract art and theatre is that everyone responds differently, the intertextuality of their own experiences driving their interpretation along similar but separate paths.

(More of that serious conversation. Clearly.)

Above Me The Wide Blue Sky was certainly odd, and I can see why some reviewers labelled it “slightly precious” and “difficult”, but it was an interesting experience, emotive and thought-provoking. I’ll be keeping an eye open for Fevered Sleep productions in the future.

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Gift Boxes – A Present-Buying Guide to Make You a Legend

Who wants one gift, when you can have ten? Or five, or three, or whatever… but more than one is definitely better. Swathed in tissue paper and carefully arranged in a beribboned box, your lucky recipient will not forget your munificence in a hurry.

gift boxes for students

I have a bit of a knack for buying presents (apologies, at this point, to anyone who has received crap presents from me. It must mean I don’t like you). It’s partly an excuse to buy  beautiful, pointless things that I could never justify purchasing for myself. Generosity is the best possible excuse for cupidity.

The best gifts are either unusual or exclusive (or both, of course), and specifically tailored to the individual to show that you’ve actually given them some thought. Ideally include a range of items, from different shops and locations, to show that you’ve put a bit of effort in. Toiletries, something edible, something to read or write on, jewellery, perfume, some sort of ornament or picture frame, theatre or exhibition tickets (I never said this would be easy!) scented candles, art materials if they’re creative, nail varnish or makeup for a girl, a fancy bow tie or other manly things for a boy… Even two or three of these together will impress, but more will incite joy, admiration, and other strong emotions. I’ve given a few examples of my favourites below.


For toiletries I usually go to Crabtree and Evelyn, L’occitane, or Molton Brown.

Crabtree and Evelyn’s Summer Hill products smell of the British summer, and I always use the shower gel from May to August as it reminds me of holidays in Cornwall. The packaging also brings to mind illustrations from 1940s children’s books, which is definitely a valid incentive for spending money on boxes you’re supposed to throw away.

summerhill shower gelcrabtree1

Their ‘black sea mud and seaweed soap’ is black and weird and exciting, and boys always seem to love it for those reasons.


L’occitane’s packaging isn’t as pretty, but their Verbena shower gel is refreshing and lovely, like herbs and sunshine in a bottle (and definitely designed for sharing with boyfriends/ girlfriends).


Molton Brown is expensive but recognisably so, and it does smell gorgeous. I love the pretty, oriental Heavenly Gingerlily, and Tom enthuses over their Bracing Silverbirch Thermal Musclesoak.

moltonbrown heavenly gingerlilybracing silverbirch thermal muscle-soak


Avoid anything that needs refrigerating.  Cold presents just aren’t cool. Anything in jars, tins or wax is usually safe though, especially if it comes from Fortnum and Mason. You can easily spend a good half an hour just looking at the jars of preserves here, with names like Strawberry and Fortnum’s Champagne Preserve, Blackberry Preserve Infused With Lapsang, and Old English Hunt Marmalade. Anything from Fortnum and Mason is a treat, but it helps if you know the tastes of your gift recipient. Do they always have marmalade on their toast? Get them a new, exotic flavour. Do they always have strawberries and champagne on their Birthday? Yes, you guessed it. The biscuit tins are also pretty, last forever, and are great for storing Stuff in after the biscuits mysteriously disappear.

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Cheesebombs are also wonderful. I first discovered these at the Chelsea Flower Show a couple of years ago, where a tasting-table was swarming with cheese-bees and we bought as many as we could carry. They taste delicious, and covering a globe of cheese in wax and calling it a Bomb for some reason makes it even more exciting than usual.

lancashire-bomb 1

Reading and Writing

Never buy someone a book they already have, unless it’s an original edition and signed by the author, and even then don’t bother if it isn’t one of their favourite books of all time. It can be difficult to gauge someone’s taste in fiction unless you know them well, but non-fiction is usually easier. Do you know someone intelligent but captivatingly beautiful? Show them you noticed with Arthur Marwick’s A History of Human Beauty. Perhaps you know someone adventurous, and inclined to travel… Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet cannot fail to grip them. A collection of poems about somewhere they visited and loved would also be appreciated by most people who can read.

Photography collections are difficult to get wrong – landscapes, cityscapes, graffiti, animals… I’ve always been fascinated by Steve McCurry’s work, as his images evoke excitingly beautiful and alien cultures, and he somehow seems to capture the souls of the people he meets. Perfect for any would-be traveller.

Liberty’s notepads are luxurious, and feel like carrying a little piece of London around with you. The art deco designs evoke a bygone era of glamorous cocktails and dancing, the leather binding is soft and supple, and their appearance only improves with the battering of time. These notepads will lend substance and validation to anyone’s dreams, memories and to-do-lists.

liberty notepad 1


Chanel epitomises elegance, and somehow feels rebellious whilst also being perfectly feminine. The nail-varnishes come in every colour you could desire, and lend your newly-elegant hand gestures a sophisticated finish. We use our hands constantly, but wearing one of these nail-varnishes will make you pleasantly aware of how graceful daily activities can be.  Two of my favourites below.

Chanel 2Chanel 1

Bow Ties

Something special now for the boys. Jermyn Street is renowned for  gentlemen’s tailoring, and Turnbull and Asser is one shop that Beau Brummell would have appreciated. Fancy pyjamas, evening wear, and luxurious scarves are all very well, but if you’re putting together a collection of gifts you want something smaller, more special, and I have the perfect thing. Turnbull and Asser do a line of luxury bow ties, and will package them in little patterned boxes corseted with silver ribbon if you ask. This is the male version of Chanel nail-varnish – you can wear any old bow tie, but knowing where these are from will make their wearer feel that bit more polished.

Turnbull and Asser 1

bow tie TA bow tie

Candles and Perfume

I always go to Diptyque for candles, as they last for ever and will perfume a whole room within minutes. The packaging is simple but beautiful, and the ingredients and fragrance formulae are intriguing and evocative. Their Freesia candles encapsulate spring, and Pomander winter. They also do mini candles for half the price of the larger versions, which are perfect for gift boxes. Diptyque are also very generous about handing out perfume samples with purchases, which make  nice additions (or substitutions if you’re on a budget).

Diptyque - Freesia   Diptyque - Pomander


Finally, something they can wear. Markets are a great place to find unusual and unique jewellery and accessories, both vintage and handmade. I favour Spitalfields market, especially on Sunday when it expands, and you can head down towards Brick Lane for vintage shops, food stalls and more market fun.

These tiny purses are inexpensive and very pretty, and not something you’ll find on the high-street:

I also happened across Comeuppance  at Spitalfields Market the other day, and found the most beautiful paper flower clips and headbands. They make the perfect gifts for little girls (and for me, of course), and I often buy purses and hair-grips like this for my students for birthdays/ Christmas/ treats.


The Finished Gift Box

Ta Da! I’ve added a few handmade greetings cards, for a personal touch, and before handing it over I’d also make sure everything was wrapped in tissue paper, and the box itself was decorated.

Does anyone have any other ideas for gift box additions?

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Pondichery Cornelius Monkey Tray

Landmark: The Fields of Photography, and Sunday brunch at Somerset House

Landmark - The Fields of Photography main

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Given the recent inclement weather, Somerset House’s  Landmark: The Fields of Photography  exhibition seemed like the perfect way to ogle the countryside (living in London has clearly turned me soft, I agree).

The building is beautiful, and a perfect spot for lunch or drinks in summer, as there is a terrace overlooking the Thames. The drizzle kept us inside this time, but the café is a lot more pleasant than those of most London galleries (it also serves breakfast all day, which is definitely a plus for lazy Sundays).

Tom’s accidentally flattering photo of me. He took others, but I looked like a malevolent hamster in a wig (you know it’s a bad photo when your boyfriend offers to try again), so I’ve saved you from them.

There’s a wide range of images in the exhibition, and the pastoral  certainly doesn’t take precedence (to my disappointment, I admit). A large proportion of the collected works consist of industrial landscapes, and there is also a range of subject matter from glaciers to the galaxy. Rooms are labelled Sublime, Pastoral, Witness, Landmark, Scar, Control, Datum, Delusion, Hallucination, and Reverie, which may give you an idea of what you’ll find. I’ve picked out my six favourite images, and briefly proffered my thoughts on each.

The first photo that grabbed my attention was Ilulissat Icefjord #7, from Olaf Otto Becker’s ‘Broken Line’ series.  I find glaciers and ice-worlds fascinating, so this drew me instantly. There is an incredible sense of stillness and grandeur in this image, more suggestive of a palace than mere frozen water. It reminds me of Turner’s more abstract seascapes, as there are few clues for the mind to tie interpretation to, and I couldn’t help but search for caves and passages burrowed into the ice in the expectation of the fantastical that this photo inspires.

Olaf Otto Becker - Ilulissat Icefjord 7

The next photo is by Daniel Beltra, and is (illuminatingly) titled Brazil #3. It depicts a finger of lush vegetation reaching out into an apparent delta of water. Logic alone reveals that it is water and not the sky that surrounds this peninsula, as the perfectly-still reflection of the clouds above lends a sense of surrealism. It brought to mind an oasis for the survivors of a flood, and suggests issues of climate change and sustainability. Tom’s first thought, however, was that it must be absolutely full of monkeys, quickly followed by a desire to introduce a giant hand to shake it, disgorging a cloud of birds and whooping primates into the stillness. You can lead the horse to the art gallery, but you can’t make it… Well, you know.

Daniel Beltra - Brazil #3

I then came across Simon Roberts’ South Downs Way, West Sussex, from his series We English. This struck me because it is a sight I often saw myself as a child, when we lived briefly in West Sussex near Ditchling. My father has an appreciation for all things flight-related, and used to drag me across the Downs so he could fly his model aeroplanes and I could read or stare at the view (otherwise known as ‘spending quality time together’). The view from these chalky heights is indeed beautiful. I remember hunting down thick gorse bushes or shallow depressions in the ground to shelter me from the constant wind, watching butterflies flutter between wild flowers, and the feel of coarse grass underfoot. The fields spread beneath you like a jigsaw puzzle, and paragliders such as those captured by Roberts utilise the updrafts and thermals that form around the Downs. The golden quality to the light and the shadows that are beginning to creep across the patchwork of fields suggest it is late afternoon, and a flurry of bright colours against rain-threatening clouds mark the presence of the gliders. It is interesting and unusual to be able to locate man in the sky in a landscape photo, as people are typically used to give a sense of scale and provide interest in such subject matter. Their fragility is illustrated here, as they resemble the butterflies that are often torn through the air by gusts of wind.

Simon Roberts - South Downs Way, West Sussex

Mitch Dobrowner’s Trees-Clouds then caught my eye. I chose to take and develop my own landscape photos (with a traditional 35mm camera) for one unit of my Fine Art A Level, so appreciate how damned difficult it can be to create an effective black and white landscape. Dobrowner’s work is stunning, and technically very successful. The deep contrast between light and shade and the composition of this photo is simply very good, and worthy of study for all aspiring photographers. The tiny trees in the foreground dwarfed by the broiling storm-clouds above emphasise the sense of threat, and they are further highlighted – despite their diminutive size – by the wave of dark rain being drawn along beneath the clouds.

Mitch Dobrowner - trees-clouds

The penultimate image I have chosen is another Daniel Beltra photo, this one titled Oil Spill #4. After a series of brutal scenes of industry, I practically ran across the room towards this photo. It is beautiful from a distance, and this becomes troublesome but no less captivating when you realise that it depicts an oil spill. A turquoise sea with tendrils of black ink swirling through it, highlighted by coppery stains of clean-up fluid. An oil rig sits like a conch-shell on top of it all. The Wellcome Collection’s recent exhibition  Death: A Self Portrait considered “whether it is possible to make aesthetically pleasing work about violent death and the damage that war does to bodies, minds and souls”, and this image does the same for the damage done to the planet.

Daniel Beltra - Oil Spill #4

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The final photo that I wanted to share with you is Leonora Hamill’s Simone/ La Metaphysiques des Tubes, from her series Their Favourite Novels. This brought to mind Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, and the endless sleep of fairy tales. Nature surrounds and protects. Tom, however, saw the entire image as threatening; predators in the bushes, mud-monsters beneath the lilies etc. (I guess you would want him looking out for you on a camping trip, rather than the hippy floating half-naked in a pond).

Leonora Hamill - La Métaphysique des Tubes, from 'Their Favourite Novels'

The range of this exhibition allows something for everyone, and it is easy to cherry-pick your favourite photos to spend time with. It closes April 28th, 2013, so plenty of time to get down there!

Tickets to a Renaissance Circus

The title of this post is a slight misnomer, designed to inveigle the attention of the early modernists I know. Like a deep-sea anglerfish, using the bioluminescence of the  renaissance to ensnare the unsuspecting.  Tickets appeared in my letterbox this morning for an evening of renaissance (music) and (contemporary) circus performers, which is only slightly less enticing than Richard Burbage jumping through hoops of fire on an elephant.

There is something magical and illicit about the circus. It allows you to step into another, fantastical world, designed purely for pleasure and entertainment, that you suspect is neither entirely real nor entirely safe. Both suspicions heighten its power to enthral. I’ve been searching for old black and white photos of circus performers for years, trawling through ephemera fairs and the internet, but these images seem to be highly sought after  and  largely held in private collections.

I did receive these, ostensibly innocuous items this morning, however, and am VERY excited.



I’m going to see acrobats, in a church, at night. Enough said, surely.

I will of course be blogging about this in three months (this feels like a long time to wait. Too long, almost) but there are actually still tickets available, so why not experience it for yourselves if you’re in London this summer. I’ve pasted below what the website says about it, which I suspect fails to really capture the potential  for brilliance this performance has.

“Six acrobats ascend, contort and tumble in an ethereal display of physical daring, accompanied by a live performance of sacred song. Sublime music soars as bodies are pushed to their limits amid the architectural grandeur of a historic London church. 

Circa’s exhilarating brand of contemporary circus meets the exquisite sound of I Fagiolini in a show designed to celebrate the atmosphere of St Bartholomew the Great. Navigate its spaces to follow awe-inspiring feats of strength and movement lifted by the harmonies of choral repertoire drawn from the 11th to 20th centuries.

How Like An Angel is the first collaboration between UK-based vocal ensemble I Fagiolini and Australian company Circa.

‘Graceful mixture of ephemeral angels and earthly acrobatics’ – Daily Telegraph”

I’ve heard I Fagiolini before, at the Spitalfields Church Winter Festival, but has anyone else seen or heard of Circa?


Tray Chic

A very short post today. I discovered these online last night (I really, really cannot think what I was originally searching for), and felt duty-bound to share them.

Ibride embrace the recent resurgence of interest in theriocephaly, and produce the best trays I have ever seen. Prices range between £44 and £126 so they’re not cheap, I agree, and I know trays were originally designed for old people, but  these are far too wonderful to reject on that basis. Beautiful, weird, and (probably) utilitarian, they’re certainly a step-up from William Morris’ damned willow pattern, and an excellent excuse to have breakfast in bed. A few of my favourites below.

Au Grand Theatre Ambrose Hummingbird Tray Au Grand Theatre Pia Tray Bianca Goose and Goslings Tray Pondichery Cornelius Monkey Tray Vladimir Cat Tray Zhao Rabbit Tray

Ibride wall

Liberty are stocking them, but you can of course buy them cheaper from the official retailer.

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gift boxes for students   books

How to Read an Exhibition, and a Review of Death: A Self-Portrait

My cousin Matt (Devon born and bred) visited London a couple of weeks ago, and asked me to recommend an exhibition. I suggested the Wellcome Collection’s Death: A Self-Portrait.  This isn’t as weird as it sounds (really, let me explain). Nor does it necessarily indicate a penchant for the macabre in my family. He’s actually in the penultimate year of doctor training, so it seemed an apt proposal.


Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer based in Chicago, has assembled thousands of ‘death’ objects ranging across all cultures and periods. The Wellcome Trust clearly thought this impressive but a little extravagant, so selected 300 of them to exhibit. Paintings, photos, sculptures and masks etc are split into five rooms, titled Contemplating Death, The Dance of Death, Violent Death, Eros & Thanatos, and Commemoration. It’s difficult to explain (without taking you physically by the hand and dragging you around the whole thing) how well curated this exhibition was. Rather than simply being a room of stuff for you to look at, an art or museum exhibition should be a visual thesis. It has chapters (rooms), and paragraphs (walls). Each sets out different ideas, proffering evidence and examples that encourage you to consider a series of arguments. It is less restrictive than an essay of course, as the arguments are your own, but the way objects are grouped together make these arguments easier to construct. Death: A Self-Portrait does exactly this.

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Being a weekend and a free exhibition, it was obviously packed, but the swarming masses were unusually considerate. I’m not keen on crowds.  Nor do I approve of those who photograph every item in an exhibition instead of using their actual eyes, or who articulate their banal comments in loud, bovine voices. I’m a bit like a cranky old cat prowling around galleries and museums; shuffling bowlegged away from any crowds, hissing at people who push in front of me, and glaring, cross-eyed, at those who speak in my presence. Don’t mind me though. Just pull my tail and shove me on my way.

Sometimes it takes time to get into an exhibition. You’ll wander around, peering at old pictures, wondering if there’s something wrong with you. Some reason why you couldn’t care less about what you’re looking at. If this happens, skip ahead. You don’t have to look at everything, or read every description. Meander. Try the next room. Ignore anything that doesn’t grab your attention, until something does. THAT is why you’re here. Get up close, shuffle backwards so you can observe it from further away, squat down in front of it if it’s below eye-level. Sketch it if you know how to hold a pencil, even if you just choose to capture an irrelevant detail, or scrawl ideas and responses along  your arm (a notepad is better but, you know, desperate times. I have done this before).

Western representations of death like memento mori are quite familiar, so it was those from other cultures that particularly struck me. The playful treatment of death in Kawanabe Kyosi’s Frolicking Skeletons was familiar, but the angular skeletons and their contortions seemed slightly alien; just enough to give a sense of unheimlich.


A variety of objects from Mexico are also included, and all struck me as quite bizarre. There were doll-like articulated puppets for All Saints and All Souls celebrations, colourful sequinned masks, and photos of elaborate alters designed to welcome departed spirits on the Day of the Dead. They reminded me of Disney’s 1929 ‘silly symphony’ short, The Skeleton Dance, or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. 

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The third room, Violent Death, aimed to consider “whether it is possible to make aesthetically pleasing work about violent death and the damage that war does to bodies, minds and souls”. The art here was painfully visceral. The line blurred between decomposing corpses and mutilated soldiers. Some dead seemed to dissolve or be swept away, whereas others dined alongside the living. The stench of death swept into my nostrils as I shuffled around the crowded room, observing each image in turn, almost making my gag before I realised that my imagination had fabricated it.

It was interesting to be reminded how large a part death has always played in our society. The very fact that our lives will one day be terminated so preoccupies us, that it spreads throughout the culture of the living. The ideology and approach to death of other periods and other cultures seems at times alien, and yet we can invariably empathise with the ideas that have driven their expression.

Take a look at if you’re interested, as it has examples from his entire collection (including those I’ve used in this post) as well as interviews, background information etc .

Did anyone else see this? What were your impressions?

London at Dawn, and The Effect at Night

The Effect 1

Tickets were not easy to hunt down. By the time I found out about The Effect the entire run had sold out, and I was forced to resort to the perils of on-the-day tickets. The box office opens at 9.30am, but the desperate have been known to start queuing before 7. Some (me) would also call them The Mad, and it is they that force the rest of us to join them in this dawn farce.

I have done this once before, for The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Winter sunshine, a handsome boy and a chatty couple who had somehow arrived before us made the experience just about bearable. London is beautiful in the morning, before swarms of tourists descend and worker bees pour out of tube stations and off buses. Your footsteps vibrate through the fabric of the city, and you feel connected to it in a way that is rarely so magnetic.

If you are a part of the daily 9-5 grind then this experience is more difficult to appreciate, and for this I apologise. I tried a 9-5 job myself for a year (don’t laugh, I did). I enjoyed the spirit of camaraderie when squeezing into packed tube carriages, suited sardines politely holding each other upright through sheer numbers. Occasionally your feet will be lifted from the floor, and you can float in a sea of free newspapers, nodding along to the tinny bass seeping from someone’s cheap headphones. I felt like I was playing a game, pretending to be a normal person, and the certain transience of my position prevented me from going mad. The experience only lithified my certainty that such work was not for me, however. I do know many wonderful people who are perfectly happy doing 9-5 work, and for them I am grateful, as it means I don’t bloody have to.

The Effect 2

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I awoke to a grey sky threatening rain, and an icy wind that made me feel like the lobsters Fortnum and Mason keep on ice; only the occasionally rotating eyeball or slowly lifted claw indicating life. I arrived at 8am, and found that several shivering squatters had already claimed their place in the queue. About thirty more joined us by the time the doors were opened. The majority looked to be students, though a range of ages turned out. The crowd were also chatty and friendly, all newcomers saying at least a few words to those at either end of the dishevelled caterpillar we formed, but be wary of entering into conversation with those capable of rising this early. We are not in the Early Modern era. it is not normal. I’d also advise befriending the person next to you so that they’ll save your place, and popping round the corner to the cafe, which opens earlier than the rest of the theatre.

Tickets victoriously purchased (twenty available per production, two per person), I sleepily got on with the rest of my day.

For anyone suspicious of theatre, remember that an appreciation of and need for storytelling is deeply embedded in our psyche, and the actors are there for YOU. To make you smile, and cry, and hopefully cheer them on for their labours. Even if you don’t enjoy the performance at least you will have experienced it, and you may even learn something.

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The Effect is a new play by Lucy Prebble of Enron fame, and, amongst other serious actors, stars the beautiful Billie Piper. The promotional material claims it to be “a clinical romance…[which] explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine”. Reviews have posited it as a well-acted and intelligent play. As “impressive”, “complex”, “fascinating” and “perceptive”. I don’t usually read reviews before attending theatre productions (this is not normal, and not good advice), and I’m glad I stuck to my philosophy on this occasion, as I would have been disappointed. I thought it was wonderfully acted, and an interesting premise, but not as clever or thought-provoking as it could have been.

The Effect 4

Piper gave a beautifully emotive performance, expressing her character’s often conflicting traits with sincerity. Plus she got naked (well, almost – underwear remained firmly in place). Which the majority of the audience clearly appreciated. The rest of the cast were similarly proficient, but the two male leads were caricatures, which distanced the audience from the narrative. It just seemed too implausible that either female lead would fall for these men. Connie (Piper) meets Tristan (Jonjo O’Neill), whilst taking part in a paid pharmaceutical trial  testing the effects of anti-depressants. They fall in love and break the rules, until a twist in the second half brings tragedy to their situation. The two doctors are equally important, and their own relationship and arguments further explore questions about mental health.

The Effect 5

By the interval I had my fingers crossed that something controversial and thought-provoking would actually occur, and the second half did bring this. The tone changed,  the characters changed, and it was almost enough to validate the first half. Not enough for Tom, who thought the whole thing laboured and trite, and the philosophy childish. Ouch. He also admitted that it was entertaining, however, and pointed out that this is only his ‘academic twat’ perspective, so take that with a pinch of salt. For me it lacked the wit and character development of  Blue/Orange for example, a Joe Penhall play that deals with mental health and the motives of its institutions and doctors. Prebble raises some interesting and important questions, but I felt that she failed to really explore them.

The Effect 6

I want to recommend The Effect. The acting is poignant, honest, and moving, and for that if nothing else I will say to you ‘yes, it’s worth seeing’. But I left wanting more than that.

Has anyone else seen this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.