Friday, 30 May 2014

Confessions of a Cheater

I've got a bit of a confession to make. 

I've been cheating.  I've been having a dirty, sordid affair.  You want all the juicy details now don't you?

I've been cheating on my blog with another website.  A shinier, younger, more dynamic website and poor Miscriant just didn't stand a chance. 

You see, I've been working on this site.  It's the new website for the Canterbury Players.  I had the shell handed over to me a couple of weeks ago and since that time all the time I would normally be spending on Miscriant has been devoted to developing the new Players website.  I've been uploading show photos, photographing old programmes and rummaging through our archives to try and track as much of our history as possible.  It's been incredibly interesting and I have loved every minute of it.

However, that affair is now nearly over; the little hussy has diverted the last of my attention (for the time being anyway) and now I think I owe Miscriant a big apology and possibly a lobster and champagne dinner.

She's easy to comfort.

The new site does look pretty though.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Warning:  There be spoilers ahead.  If you don't know the story, and don't want to know the story, don't read.  Also, much as I would love to claim the credit for the photographs, I can't and where known credit has been given.  I am officially in awe of Helen Maybanks photographic skills.
©Helen Maybanks
I was sat at my desk on fairly non-nondescript day last week at lunchtime when my mobile rang.  It was Ellie, which is odd for the day time as she is a primary school teacher and normally they don't have two seconds to gulp down a cup of tea and 2 biscuits, let alone make a phone call.  Turns out she wasn't on playground duty for a change, and when checking her emails, noticed one from the Marlowe.  She then called me.


"I'm sorry, what?"

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is on this week at the Marlowe and there are two tickets left, do you want to go?"
©Helen Maybanks
Context.  Steve had originally asked me in December if I wanted to go and see Swan Lake.  I did, but at the time we were rather broke due to Christmas so we didn't get tickets.  It then sold out the entire run.  Ellie was now offering me the chance to go and see it.  The catch was that there were only two tickets left due to some people cancelling, so Steve wouldn't be able to come with me, something I felt incredibly guilty about. Especially when I left him sat at home.
©Helen Maybanks
Problem was, I had wanted to see this production for a very, very long time and I just couldn't bring myself to say no. Ellie got the tickets and we were there the next night.  Like most people, I had originally thought it was an all-male cast.  It's not, there are quite a few women in the production who are extremely talented dancers.
©Helen Maybanks
It's the corps de ballet that is all male with the traditional roles of Odette and Odile, the White and Black Swan's being portrayed by a man.
©Helen Maybanks
Bourne has said in the past that "The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me, the strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to me the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu." You have to admit, when the core of dancers come out with their aggressive struts and powerful jumps they are more reminiscent of swans than any gracefully twirling ballerina that I have ever seen.  We used to have swans and geese in the grounds at my school and in the summertime we would eat our packed lunches out on the meadow.  If the birds showed up, you threw your sandwich at them and ran.  You then went hungry for most of the afternoon.  They were strong, threatening and extremely dangerous birds and it is this sense of peril that Bourne manages so eloquently to capture.
Bourne has been criticised in the past for introducing the concept of homosexual love into a very traditional ballet and I can see how the production can be interpreted this way; however to me there is so much more to the story than that. On a purely male objectifying note though the glistening torso's of the flock was very welcome and I'm sure I was not the only audience member who appreciated it!
©Helen Maybanks
To me, Bourne's production is about far more than sexual love.  It is about a young man who is starved for affection, desperate for his mother's approval, trapped in an endless cycle of duty and responsibility, with no escape and no future that appeals.  He tries to break free by dating a woman of whom mother most certainly does not approve and when that fails after a disastrous (for him) trip to the ballet and an altercation in a nightclub he stumbles upon the Lake in despair.
©Helen Maybanks
It is there, close to suicide,  that he is entranced by the freedom and beauty of the swans.  These creatures, to him, represent a life that he has only dreamt of in the past and his dance with them is completely unfettered and unrestricted.
© Bill Cooper

©Helen Maybanks
©Helen Maybanks
All of the dancers in Bourne's production are incredibly talented and utterly mesmerising in their movements, but the dancer who plays both the White and the Black Swan (Jonathan Ollivier) was just stupendous.  His White Swan was graceful and powerful yet still trusting and you could feel the connection and burgeoning friendship between the Swan and the Prince, whilst his Black Swan was full of menace and sexuality, a predator who delighted in tormenting every individual at the Ball.
There were particular stand out performances and dance numbers.  I loved the dances in the proto-facist Ballroom which start off staid and formal but quickly disintegrate into a debauched party orchestrated by the Black Swan.  The pas de deux between the Prince and his mother which demonstrates the start of the Prince's mental unraveling at being rebuffed by his mother is incredibly powerful (Ellie and I both commented in the interval that we wanted to scream at the Queen "just give him a cuddle!").  The Swank Bar with costumes and dance styles from various key chapters in the last 50 years was a departure from the rest of the ballet in terms of style but packed full of colour and light with so much to see that you will inevitably miss something. The Dance of the Cygnets was wonderful and packed full of humour.  In fact, the amount of humour throughout really surprised me about this ballet, with a particularly outstanding comedic performance by The Girlfriend.
The costumes and production values are lavish.  Bourne has modernised Swan Lake and it is partly inspired by our very own Royal family.  As such costumes are modern but also still timeless enough to not date the production, impressive for a ballet that is now nearly 20 years old.  The swan trousers which stream and move with the dancers combined with the black forehead strips are one of the most iconic and identifiable features of Swan Lake; even if you haven't seen a version yet, you probably have seen the final scene in Billy Elliot where he is getting ready to perform as the White Swan.  The masks in the insane asylum where the Prince has been confined for suspected insanity make all the dancers look like the Queen.  These are terrifyingly creepy and eerie and gave me genuine shivers, emphasised by the hulking shadows cast by the dancers that dwarf the Prince.  The homage to the first scene here where the Prince gets ready for the day, making it clear how far he has fallen, is full of pathos.
It is the Prince's descent into madness that for me was another standout performance in the ballet.  Danced beautifully by Simon Williams, you felt the Prince's despair at being unloved, unwanted and unable to break free from the prisons of both his duties and his own mind.  You watch his mind snap at the Ball, unable to cope with the presence of this stranger who looks so much like his own White Swan and yet who also rejects him.
The final scene in the Prince's bedroom is emotionally draining.  He dreams that swans are dancing around him, appearing over and above his bed, climbing into the room in two's and three's as he thrashes in his nightmare.  He wakes only to find the White Swan appearing from inside the bed itself, closely followed by the rest of the flock.  The swans are no longer friendly or inviting.  You can feel the danger and the threat they pose to the Prince and the White Swan after the White Swan makes it clear to them that his relationship with the Prince is more important than his relationship to the rest of the flock.  With sheer force of numbers they swarm and separate the White Swan from the Prince.  Both of them are attacked and fatally injured by the pecking beaks and strong wings of the flock, and as the White Swan dies on the bed with the Prince reaching out in to him I found the tears streaming down my cheeks.  When dawn comes and the Prince's mother finds her son's dead body sprawled on his bed and screams her anguish as she clutches him to her, it is clear that a lot of other audience members are also crying.  
©Helen Maybanks
This was a fabulous production and one I highly recommend you see if you can.  If you don't like ballet, this is like no other ballet out there (apart from possibly other Bourne productions).  If you do like ballet, this is like no other ballet out there.  It is powerful and visually stunning, mesmerising and emotional and it is full of darkness and menace.  I'm taking Steve to see it when I can and I'm fully planning on seeing as many other Bourne productions as possible.  Lord of the Flies is coming this autumn; I'll be booking in advance this time.

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my facebook group or twitter!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Yorkshire Pudding Roast Beef Sandwich

A few weeks ago I was perusing Angela's blog and came across something that stopped me in my tracks.  It was a twist on a classic roast dinner, a roast dinner sandwich if you will.   However this was no normal looking sandwich.  On closer inspection something was rather different about this particular option.  There was no bread....or bap...or roll....or bun...or indeed any other type of breaded product that you would normally associate with a sandwich (did anyone else just have the toaster sequence from Red Dwarf flash though their heads or am I on my own with that one?)

What you had instead was thick cut slices of beautifully rare roast beef layered with peppery rocket and sweet caramelised onions.  In between humungous slices of Yorkshire pudding.  This looked like heaven and I had to try it.
Steve happened to agree with me as I discovered when I got a text message from him asking for it for dinner soon after seeing it on my twitter feed.  It's quite rare for Steve to request something in particular so when he does, I know he is keen!
This was a double whammy recipe for me as well as the leftovers gave me an excuse to try out something I have only ever drooled over the idea of on the television before, but more of that later.
This would work with a hot or cold roasted meat joint but you want to start cooking the Yorkshire pudding and the caramelised red onions about 10 minutes before the beef is ready to come out of the oven and 30 minutes before you want to eat.
Once you have your timings worked out and your beef is merrily cooking as you want it to, you can get cracking on the Yorkshire pudding.  I've tweaked Angela's measurements slightly to work for the type of pan I wanted to use.

170g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 eggs
230ml semi-skimmed milk
Enough vegetable oil to cover the base of your baking tray to a depth of about half a centimeter.  Anymore than this and you won't just get a soggy bottom on your Yorkshire, you will get one that is full of oil which is rather unpleasant to eat!

So, mix all your ingredients together and whisk until really smooth and full of air (about 3 minutes).  Stick the mixture in the fridge to chill.

In the meantime put the baking pan with oil into the oven to heat up.  Turn the oven up to 230C (this is why you need to take the beef out now).  Wrap your beef up tight in tin foil and clean tea towels like a toddler and leave it somewhere to catch its breath and rest.  After 10 minutes the oil should be scalding hot.

Work very, very carefully here.  Take the baking dish out of the oven, pour the chilled batter into the dish (it may spit) and put it back in the oven for 20 minutes to cook.  Do not open the oven door during this process.

You will end up with a monster Yorkshire pudding.
 While the Yorkshire pudding is cooking and the beef is resting, get to work on the caramalised onions.

1 red onion, peeled and sliced finely
1 glass red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 glass water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4-5 springs of fresh thyme
Knob of butter

In a large shallow pan, fry the onions in the butter until soft, then add the glass of red wine and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar, water and thyme and turn the heat up to high to bring it to a furious boil and let the onions reduce until you have a sticky, syrupy mixture.
Once everything is cooked, you are ready to assemble!
Carve your Yorkshire pudding into large squares (quarters makes sense) and then layer the beef and caramalised onions with fresh rocket.  Carefully fold the Yorkshire pudding in half and voila, a sandwich is born! 
I had quite a lot of Yorkshire pudding left over and so I tried out something I have only ever seen Nigella do on television.  I heated up some leftover pudding when I was peckish and poured cream and golden syrup over it.  I then stuffed my face.

Oh my.

This discovery will be dangerous.

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my facebook group or twitter!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Led Bib: Sounds New Festival

If there is something I don't usually associate with Canterbury it is Jazz.  Jazz music played in dimly lit rooms filled with soulful sounds and chilled grooves seems more suited to backstreet Parisian dens overflowing with cigarette smoke or spilling out into the New Orleans night air as dancers twirl up the street.  I certainly didn't expect to find it in the converted hall of Canterbury Christ Church University and yet this is exactly where I found myself on Sunday night, awaiting the arrival of progressive jazz band Led Bib.  
The Anselm studio was transformed.  Heavy black drapes blocked out all sign of the starlit night sky outside.  Round tables were lit by tea lights giving the room a soft glow, picking up on the cool blue vibes of the stage lights.  Groups of people were softly talking around the room in counterpoint to the chilled out jazz music playing through the speakers as we awaited the arrival of the band and I felt an overwhelming need to go and find a honey hued whiskey.
Led Bib enter silently and take up their positions centre stage.  There is no ceremony, no introduction or long-winded speech.  They simply pick up their instruments and we are catapulted into the voice of new age jazz, electronic sounds ghosting through the centre of the two saxophones whilst the keyboard player is furiously tinkling the ivories.
The sound is heart pounding and electrifying.  The keyboard player undulates to the music, head and back moving in perfect synchronicity.  The band have their eyes closed, lost in their own sound.  The music is frantic and furious, a hedonistic frenzy that makes you want to dance wildly around a bonfire.
Jazz music is about the soul and this is pure soul, pure raw energy and pure heart.  It just screams out at you, unbelievably powerful and almost uncontrolled.  
This is jazz with a punk aesthetic.  The lighting cast shadows and then flashes into brightness as the tempo quickens then is taking right down again as the drummer's sticks scrape over the edge of the cymbals and a heartbeat thuds out of the keyboard, matching the thumping in my own chest.
Led Bib's sound is unforgettable, fresh and new and yet so familiar to the ears.  It is jazz music grown up, moved out and throwing a coming of age party.  The energy is infectious - people around the room have no choice but to ride the wave with them and the appreciation is evident.  At the end of the gig the energy is still high and people are excitedly milling around the group or purchasing their latest album.  I must admit - I was one of them and walked away with my own copy of The People In Your Neighbourhood.
This gig marked the end of the Sounds New Festival for me.  There were so many events to go to, and so many experiences to try out that I feel incredibly lucky to live in a city which celebrates such musical diversity, which exposes people to new emotions and feelings and most of all broadens their minds.

Sounds New will be back again so make sure you get the opportunity to try out something a little new for yourself.

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my Facebook group or twitter!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Icebreaker and BJ Cole 'Apollo For All Mankind'

On Saturday night my foray into the Sounds New Festival continued in the Colyer-Fergusson music hall at the University of Kent.
Icebreaker and BJ Cole were performing Apollo: For All Mankind.
I had no idea what that meant but I was really intrigued to find out!
I took my seat in the centre of the concert hall and watched as the place filled up, recognising a couple of work colleagues in the audience.  In front of me was a huge orchestra filled with an array of instruments, including pan pipes and an intriguing pedal steel guitar.
The first item on the programme was Ed Bennet's Suspect Device.  It was discordant and built and built around you.  It sounded like the Jaws Theme, Slasher Horror and Punk all rolled into one.  In fact it recycles material from the original song of the same name by Northern Irish Punk band Stiff Little Fingers who were mainly active during the height of the Northern Irish 'troubles' in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  The band provided optimistic and energetic anthems for the disaffected Northern Irish Youth culture who wanted nothing to do with the violence and politics of the time.  Bennet's music has elements of War of the Worlds ringing through it, a screech of high flutes and the pounding bass of the piano and you feel your imagination racing down dark streets.  At the end you hear a sound reminiscent of a Spitfire plummeting to the ground.  Bennet's work has been described as 'anarchic' (Irish Times), 'manic' (Classical Music) and 'beautiful' (Gramophone), an 'unclassifiable, raw-nerve music of huge energy and imagination' (The Guardian) and it is all of these things.
The second piece was Roy Carrol's Towards / Against.  This involved a much smaller ensemble and relied extensively on the considerable skills of the percussionist.  All manner of items were used, including whiskey cartons filled with rice whose tonal notes were then picked up by the wind instruments.  The piece had the feeling of a rattlesnakes tail tale in the Texan desert and footsteps in a deserted mansion.  Carroll's music has this quality about it, he explores the physicality of music through creating kinetic interactions between apparently discarded materials such as denuded loudspeakers, textured materials and feedback loops.  He views instability as a creative prerogative.
The final piece before the interval is Julia Wolfe's 'Big, Beautiful, Dark and Scary'.  Described as this is how life feels right now, the overall effect is not scary, it is terrifying.  Occasionally the instruments scream their protest at being used thus and the floor vibrates up through our seats.  The noise is deafening.  This is raw power in musical form, natures rage unleashed.  It crescendo's and then is suddenly cut off.  There is a dazed silence before rapturous applause from the audience. 
After the interval we were treated to the main event.  For All Mankind is a 1989 documentary film showcasing the Apollo missions of NASA and provides 80 minutes of real NASA footage taken on the Apollo missions of the 1960's and 1970's.  The focus is on the human views of the space flights and the beauty of earth as seen from space.  The film's soundtrack was written by Brian Eno.  Eno's reputation has been built over a number of years - he is one of the most successful record producers of all times, creating the sounds of seminal albums by Talking Head, U2 and Coldplay and was also heavily involved with the early 1970's Roxy Music .

He has also been credited with the creation of an entire genre of music - ambient.  Although this is debatable, Eno is the person who is most clearly identified with the genre and who has made it his own.
The soundtrack to Apollo takes it's cue from the fact that many of the astronauts took tapes of country and western music with them on the Apollo missions.  Eno used this idea to create a subtle blend of country and western with ambient.  

The music is highly atmospheric.  The lights go down, a stark contrast from the 1st half and the orchestra are lit only by the glow from their sheet lights.  The projector starts to play the film and the music makes you feel like you are floating away.  All around the auditorium people are hugging loved ones close to them or have their eyes closed in reflective contemplation.  The music drifts and floats with the astronauts.

Then the atmosphere switches as the panpipes come in mingled with the thud of the kettle drum.  The landing is approaching and there is a sense of anticipation.  The music becomes almost menacing; this is alien territory, somewhere humans are not meant to tread and we have defied nature to get here.
2009 was the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, and to celebrate this Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History at The Science Museum in London suggested the idea of producing a live version of the work to play alongside Al Reinhart's film For All Mankind.  Woojun Lee was personally selected by Eno to make the transcription and the live version was performed by Icebreaker on the 19th July 2009.

After the landing the mood becomes joyful and soothing, much more uplifting.  The flutes and the pedal steel are employed and then the electric guitar comes in.  Somehow this sound turns the moon from an alien entity into a human playground - somewhere inviting, safe and familiar, almost homely.  The country music influence can be heard most clearly here. 
The entire of the second half took just over an hour for one single track of music.  They say music can take you on a journey, and this piece certainly achieves that.  I'm quite surprised at how I reacted to it - I have an unwarranted fear of space, the great unknown and the sense of all that unexplored, uncharted mass out there makes my head ache and makes me feel very, very small.  It's a feeling I try to avoid for the most part, but I left this concert with an underlying sense of peace.  I'm not the only one either.  As people trickled out and into the night air, I saw many of them turn their faces to sky to gaze at the moon which was glowing particularly bright that night and think on the experience they had just had.

The Sounds New Festival is running until the 9th May - you can check out the programme of events here, see them on Facebook here and also follow them on twitter here.  Don't forget to use the #SoundsNew2014 to join in the online chat!

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my Facebook group or twitter!