COLD COMFORT: CANARY WHARF WINTER LIGHTS

EXHIBITION 

The environment was on the mind of many of the artists in this fifth iteration of lights displays around the Canary Wharf estate, given the inclusion of recycled materials and sustainability manifestos in several of the works (participants used plastics to construct futurist cityscapes, tubular tree snakes, and psychedelic lily pads adorning a water feature within Jubilee Gardens). Yet the most impressive (and memorable) pieces sailed straight past any messaging into the properties of pure, unaldulterated sensation: Squidsoup’s monumental Submergence invited viewers inside a forest of suspended lights (24,000 individual bulbs) that in convergence with an ethereal soundtrack grows steadily from teasing trickles of light play into a final movement of frenzied, shifting waves of coloured illumination, a maelstrom of kinetic kick that sends a viewer off into a giddy spin; the spectral Ghost Whale, in conjunction with an eerie, evocative soundscape, suggests the contours of a phantom, a shape materialising in and out of vision-a sharp rebuke to the indifference to the passing of great mammals (also echoed simply in the march to extinction of a series of silhouetted animals in Alexander Reichstein’s Last Parade, moving haltingly-and defeated-along a concrete wall until fading altogether from sight); Flow (Squidsoup’s second entry) suggests, in its constant spill of grounded light, the phenomena of  ley lines, a carpet of connection across landscape and time; Stuart Langley’s Two Hearts beat in relaxed, unhurried tandem from the windows of the still-under-construction residential tower Newfoundland Place, a harbinger of the warmth and life soon to inhabit the empty space; Heofon Light transports the spectator into a tight labyrinth of light fluctuations, creating the feeling of an infinity chamber; Colour Moves, along the length of the covered Adams Plaza Bridge, is a woozy, trippy interaction with shifting, swirling shapes and patterns, walls alive with sudden movement, set off by the complex interrelationship of pigment and wavelength of light-it will cause a disarming state of vertigo; the fountains in Cabot Square are set to a colourful choreography in beat with various pop songs (Daft Punk, the Jackson Five), a “fireworks”-like display of explosive and elegantly designed jet sprays; Adam Decolight’s Sasha Trees is an hysteria of neon-lit “fir” trees, hallucinatory in their brightness and clarity, the inducement of a fevered mind. Admirably, almost all of this year’s pieces were situated outside, as is proper-in the last few years, there has been a disheartening development towards locating many works inside unused corridors and spaces, which seemed to defeat the intended purpose of staging a “winter”festival. Winter Lights 2019 ended on 26 January-for video footage of this year’s works (which is really the more appropriate media through which to experience the pieces, an image being too static), please visit this site’s Instagram account 

https://canarywharf.com/arts-events/events/winter-lights-2019/?instance_id= 

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PARTICLE THEORY: KOMPROMAT @ VAULT FESTIVAL

Theatre 

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Does art owe anything to real life? Must it be entirely responsible in its representation of events and individuals? These questions disquietingly preyed upon my mind as I watched this hour-long speculative one -act play written by David Thame that takes as its source material the still-unsolved 2010 murder of MI6 employee Gareth Williams in his Pimlico apartment, found naked and foetally stuffed inside a sports bag (BBC2 used, very loosely, aspects of the story in their 2015 mini-series London Spy).

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Intention is very sober and serious, and Thame soon spins off his contemplation from the fundamental plot into more expansive realms of relationship theory and destiny, but would the lack of exploitation be enough to salve the distress, say, of a long-grieving family member or friend who may have to withstand the existence of this work (or indeed experience it). Thame posits one potential possibility of the forces which came into play to create the specific conditions and conclusions of this case, studying the central relationship through the prism of quantum mechanics, an apt reference given Williams’s position as data technician/mathematician for the GCHQ.

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Zac, a rent-boy fast approaching his sell-by date (a furiously focussed and darkly charismatic verbal performance from Max Rinehart, increasingly tortured and conflicted with his mission as he comes to know his victim), is tasked by his Hungarian handler to blackmail poor mark Tom through a charade of desire (socially awkward, tremulously high-strung, Tom is tenderly portrayed by Guy William-Thomas with arrestingly fluid sexuality ) into using his influence to acquire passports for use by Russian “operatives” interested in expanding their business opportunities.

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That Zac is seen as a disposable asset (or pawn) by a powerful criminal concerned with keeping himself distant from any possible consequence exposes the tenuous and fragile underpinnings of Zac’s supposed enviable life (really a mere gilded cage, lived overseas and across a series of stunning villas and cities), linking him closer to Tom than he is comfortably willing to acknowledge. The quantum theory as applicable to any human relation is fascinating in display, as Tom’s final monologue damns him and Zac to forever be connected in the final brutal act, both of their probabilities altered in an uneasy, inextricable intimacy.

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In this matter, data collection and risk assessment is defeated by simple aching human want and enforced servitude, two disparate, marked particles entangled in a fateful, propulsive pas de deux. The script may spin one too many times around the principal concept, but the actors’ nervy, sweaty energy and the sheer lingual momentum guarantee the excitement never ceases to abate. And yet  somewhere in the back of my conscience a tiny, sympathetic voice spoke on behalf of a family wounded in perpetuity.  Kompromat, originally scheduled to run through 27 January as part of the terrific excess of the Vault Festival, offering over 400 works over its eight-week residency, has been extended to 3 February due to popular demand

https://vaultfestival.com/

 

SCARRED: THE UNRETURNING @ STRATFORD EAST

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

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Three soldiers representing three time periods and conflicts each speak with great sensual detail about returning to hearth and home, their dominant motivation a desperately soulful and tactile need to commune with the myth and reassurance of the land and people. Of course, the reality is anything but simple-the men arrive to bewilderment, impatience, indifference, hostility, communities and loved ones ill-equipped to comprehend or assist with the damage (psychological as well as physical) borne within them.

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The stories play out amongst and upon a constantly revolving shipping container which visually supports the restlessness and destabilisation of the men and narratively underscores the transitory and impermanent state of mind they each suffer, all debris adrift. Cultural temperaments and behaviours may adjust slightly over time, but essential human yearnings and desire will remain constant-the tripartite structure poignantly addresses this point.

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The first soldier, barely a man, returns to his sweetheart from the Western Front, trying his best to slip back into the easy comforts, but continually capsizes on the jagged shards of nightmarish wartime experiences; the second, staggering with blemished machismo, arrives from Afghanistan with dishonour, the disgraced star of a YouTube video in which he brutalises and kills a civilian in testosterone frenzy, the end result of being bred as a killing machine; rather bizarrely, the third figure is on a fraught journey home from some obscure future crisis in 2026, returning to a Britain despoiled by checkpoints, closed borders and civil unrest, the result of some catastrophic ravage from Brexit, perhaps-this speculative section, although confirming that the cycle of war will continue to spin, is the weakest link, its political grasp incongruous to the more emotionally personal resonance of the other tales.

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Jared Garfield brings a bruised and wounded tenderness to 1918 skittish Joe, and Joe Layton sympathetically reveals the confusion and pain behind the bravado of  2013 officer Frank (he also, in a fluid, poised gender switch -without any guile-portrays Joe’s baffled homefront wife).

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The central container set piece is utilised with tremendous, manifold imaginative verve, the four performers in kinetic concert with it, with slides and turns effortlessly suggesting shifting eras and locations (offices, corridors, homes, processing centres, and, when the actors scale its heights, a ship), aided momentously by the lighting and production design. Lives merge and diverge in intimate mosaics. War is hell in any time frame, and its participants casualties, the legacy in every which way life-long and shadowy, a condition this slick and showy, if sometimes overly busy production, illustrates skilfully. The Unreturning runs through 2 February 

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http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/the-unreturning

 

GO WEST: ELEPHANT WEST GALLERY WHITE CITY

EXHIBITION SPACE 

Lauded quarterly print and digital art journal Elephant has ambitiously ventured into the bricks and mortar trade, opening their own gallery space this past November in the rapidly developing area around the Westfield shopping complex in White City . The latest sweeping aspect to the neighbourhood’s £8 billion 10-year regeneration plan (following the refurbishment of the erstwhile BBC Television Centre into a court of luxury homes and public retail plaza, and the establishment of the Imperial College I-Hub collective, as well as a new media square that resonates with the area’s broadcast history), architects Liddicoat and Goldhill built around an existing petrol station, in the last few years used for a series of public art pop-ups, expanding the space to accommodate not only a mid-size gallery, but a workstation, cafe/bar and a few food stalls, purpose built for exhibitions as well as talks, music events and social networking. A new annual art prize, the Elephant x Griffin (this year with eleven shortlisted artists, all recent graduate students), has been established, the collected works now on display in the gallery’s second show. Creative director Robert Shore, espousing Elephant’s mission statement of “Life Through Art”, states his interest in curating work that gazes outward to the concerns of the wider world rather than introspectively (or onanistically) to the narrow concerns of the “art world”. Highlights of the current show include Catherine Howell’s unsettling alternative maps, bleeding resin onto the floor, borders obscured, referencing uncertain but determined migrations, traumas both physical and intellectual writ upon the canvas; Ramona Zoladek teases miraculous life out of hard plaster tubes and plastic bags, leaves and tendrils bursting out of ungenerously scaled and apportioned spaces, defying conditions, fragile but resourceful; Mariane Thoermer’s groovetastic wool rug creation is a psychedelicly crafted pair of eyes weeping lush tears, a tangled throw of thread gathered at its base;

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Louisa Stylianidi’s piping network of uncomfortably realistic ears tease the viewer near, whispering barely audible soundscapes, a tumble and jumble of incomprehension, truth and fact just out of reach; one of Kyung Hwa Shon’s pieces breaks free of the gallery parameters altogether, affixing riotously colourful jagged shards upon the facade of a building down the road, like intermittent rifts and warps into alternate realities-or playful incursions on staid urban environments. For those lacking the consumerist gene, for whom the idea of wandering around the mania of a shopping mall-no matter how aesthetically modernist or impressive-is anathema, here is now a civilised reason to alight at White City Tube Station, an oasis just a few steps to the right outside the door. Elephant x Griffin closed on 13 January

https://elephant.art/west/ 

 

EMPTY SPACE: INTRONAUTS @ JACKSONS LANE

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

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At the risk of sounding wantonly churlish, this production from Green Ginger as part of London Mime Festival is such a catalog of careening, unfortunate conceptual and narrative errors that it very nearly exhausts any sense of goodwill towards its good intentions that an audience member may harbor. In the near future, people (privileged, perhaps, although the class structures underpinning the process are never made implicit) are able to purchase and have bodily inserted a miniaturised human worker, the intronaut of the title, to carry out essential maintenance tasks. The poor, exploited, overworked title character is cursed to spend her days mired in the dirty work, sent cavalierly to the distressed regions of the host, suffering the biological hostilities of the gullet, gut and anal passage (in the blunt opening sequence).

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The piece continually flirts with the intriguing premise that host and worker share similar profiles of isolation, frustration, boredom, a certain sadness just on the edge of crushing despondency, but this interesting idea is never properly developed (the host’s insomniac state, his inability to concentrate, prevents his worker from finding much rest between punishing chores). Fatally, the creators decide to embody the intronaut, who, in the performance by one of the company members, comes off as a stroppy, insufferable teenager, indulging in a protracted series of cringingly juvenile behaviour, in great and regrettable contrast to the powerfully poetic use of the puppet elsewhere, who with visual ease and elegance suggests the vulnerability, terror and fragility of the intronaut’s existence.

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The sophisticated visual production is leagues ahead of all other aspects (there is a great use of projections upon a scrim screen and a beautiful sequence of the brain materialised as a rounded cabinet, the drawers of which each hold an emotional memory or trigger) and you wish the creators had trusted this to carry the show and jettison the dialogue and the awkward performances (neither member is a gifted enough actor to lend proper nuance and depth to the central relationship). Perhaps the hush of gesture and behaviour, a mute communication, playing to the physical strengths of the artists, may have better emotionally defined the tender, unwieldy contours of the relationship.

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The brief textual transmissions between the two, the host hesitant, the intronaut speaking in a robotic childlike voice trying greatly to comprehend the increasingly desperate demands, provide some of the most effective and poignant moments, all the better for brevity. When the host requests a visit to his brain (a no-go zone for the intronaut for the dangers inherent) to research and “solve” his melancholy, the ethical dilemma is swiftly dispensed in favour of a great adventure, born of a stew of resentment, ennui and sudden empowerment, not exactly in the host’s best interest. In the end, the intronaut just wants to party, losing herself in a cerebral cavity, leaving her host (as in a clip from a Laurel and Hardy sketch he glumly watches at one point) in a perpetual lugubrious slapstick gestural loop. Intronauts ran from 11 Jan-13 Jan

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https://mimelondon.com/

SHAPE OF WATER: WALTHAMSTOW WETLANDS

PLACE OF INTEREST 

For years, Barnes has with unassailable prominence held the mantle of hosting London’s premier wetland centre-now a scrappy, ambitious E17 upstart is gunning for eminence in the city’s popular imagination. After a £10.6 (publicly funded) restoration of existing Victorian reservoirs, Walthamstow may now with great pride assert their claim to housing Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve, a sprawling 500-acre site with a 13-mile network of pathways, a beautifully restored engine house that offers a cafe, children’s centre and gift shop, and a viewing deck at the top of Grade 2-listed Italianate Coppermill Tower that affords a stunning widescreen optic kick of the surrounding grounds and Lea Valley. From its elevated platform, a guest may see a comprehensive cluster of London landmarks in close succession, from City skyscrapers, Canary Wharf, the Olympic Village development, even, most surprisingly, Ally Pally (and, at another vantage, for football fans, a distant-but impressive-view of the new Spurs stadium). The grounds are bisected by the fairly busy Ferry Lane/Forest Road exchange, so the solace and serenity of your visit may be momentarily shattered as you cross between the sections. For avid anglers and birders, opportunities abound, countless berths available from which to practice the passions; small islets provide sanctuary for a variety of birds throughout the year, and the environment is officially recognised as a breeding ground for the grey heron, cormorant, tufted duck and egret. Scattered throughout the space are engineering remnants of its past, including two majestic water gate towers that speak of Victorian solidity and style. In the atrium above the cafe (The Larder, serving hearty fare), the most incongruous element is found: a neon piece from legendary local business God’s Own Junkyard, a blinged-out glitter heart with a written greeting that would not look out of place at Studio 54. The period Ferry Boat Inn (now a pub, formerly a ferry house-there was once a bridge toll to pay), located on the main road, is another option for sating the appetite. Although I very much enjoyed my crisp winter walk amongst the wildlife, I await a return in the  gentler air of spring or summer for a more indulgent, less bracing idyll. The reservoirs are not merely cosmetic-they remain operational, supplying water to 3.5 million Londoners. Officially (and modestly) open since October 2017, this free public space (a parking fee applies should you drive) is a fairly secret gem that needs to be discovered. You needn’t have to travel to Surrey or Kent for a swift commune with the country air.

https://www.walthamstowwetlands.com/

TALK OF THE TOWN: EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE @ APOLLO THEATRE

THEATRE 

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Imagine the surprise, on careers day in class, when 16-year-old Jamie demonstratively, declaratively states his aspirations to become nothing short of the most fabulous drag queen to ever rise from the environs of Sheffield. To the great consternation and concern of his teacher Miss Hedges (at my performance portrayed by a  rather underpowered, uncertain Michelle Visage of Rupaul’s Drag Race) and his classmates, Jamie sets off on his inspiring journey to full expression, defying judgement, hostility and rejection.

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This feel-good  hit musical coasts along on the energy and goodwill of its cast and the skillful sensitivity of its musical score (most devastatingly in the second-act “He’s My Boy”, sung with raw soul by actress Rebecca McKinnis, acknowledging the great complexity of her love for her son, a bewildering mix of protectiveness and fear and anger and wonder and sadness-she emerges as the strongest and most poignant character of the show). The music and lyrics are a collaboration between Dan Gillespie Sells (of pop group The Feeling) and Tom MacRae, also responsible for the production’s script.

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Its intentions, rightly so for a West End show, are towards big celebration and euphoria, but (especially and admirably in the second act) real life is allowed to flower enough for brief engagement with the more sour and dark aspects of Jamie’s story, entrenched behavioural threats to his stability and sense of self for a moment throwing him off course. His relationship with his father, although left commendably unresolved, is the narrative that suffers the greatest from its broad parameters.

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With the assistance of a group of veteran drag queens down at the local club (who take Jamie under their fiercely watchful care) and former drag legend Loco Chanelle tenderly mentoring him in the finery of the profession (and the unequivocal support of his mom and “auntie” Ray), Jamie is given the solid foundation he needs to flourish. The unemphatic diversity on display in Jamie’s school is a laudable aspect to the production, a respectable reflection of the U.K. educational system (Jamie’s best friend, Pritti-a tender performance from Lucie Shorthouse-faces her own struggles against discrimination and prejudice as a young Muslim woman).

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Anyone who thinks Jamie’s intention to attend his prom in a dress and heels will not be realised (and that the school will not come to his defense, even the token school bully and censorious administration) has clearly never seen this type of musical bauble before, an effervescent and buoyant slice of optimism. The audience floats out of the theatre on a high of the best of human conduct.

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The only thing left tantalisingly absent is the scene of Jamie’s initial drag performance as his alter-ego Mimi Me-the first act rather frustratingly concludes just as he is to take the stage, leaving the audience to imagine myriad scenarios of (fabulous or fledgling) triumph. The show is based on a 2011 BBC3 documentary starring the real-life Jamie Campbell.  Everybody’s Talking About Jamie books through 28/2019

https://www.everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk/

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