Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2015

The most noticeable differences for this year’s Summer Exhibition are:

1. Vibrant colours
Multi-coloured stairs lead to the turquoise Wohl Central Hall. Gallery III is pink, and the Lecture Room blue – a bold move from the usual all-white backdrops, serving to create a bright, summery feel when stepping inside the light, cool RAA on a hot day

2. Sipsmith gin bar
Iced gin drinks are available in Gallery III – a nice touch, adding to this traditional London summer experience – @ £9.00 for a top quality Sipsmith gin and Fever Tree tonic

3. Social media + browse exhibits online
For the first time, you can browse all exhibits online and add your favourites to a ‘My Gallery‘. You can photograph most exhibits (only a few have a ‘no photography’ sign) and are encouraged to engage in social media – share your pictures and thoughts via facebook, twitter and instagram. Free publicity, yes, but also a pleasing indication that this institution can blend tradition (it’s the RA’s 247th Summer Exhibition) with what’s relevant today.

 

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RAA summer exhibition 2015 – my select highlights

 

Because there’s a ton of multi-media info out there already about this exhibition, I’m simply going to share a few of my favourites.

 

i. Secretly looks like home?
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#174 At the gas rig, Clementina Road by R.W.M. Hunt – my fave

 

That someone was inspired to create this colourful painting from a scene as mundane as a gasworks and a street lamp really draws me to it. There’s nothing of great beauty in the scene and yet there’s something touchingly simple and optimistic – it’s just ‘real life’ – reflected in the painting. The green character is appealingly simple too (East London’s answer to Berlin’s Ampelmann?). I really love it and I can’t stop looking at it.

Bottom line: It’s not just obvious beauty but also the mundane, the everyday life – even the dreary, that can inspire (provoke?) creativity.

And ironically – now I’ve looked up where Clementina Road is (E10) – it turns out that the first flat I tried to buy in London was near here (by the River Lea in the Lee Valley Park).

Perhaps it secretly looks like home?

 


 

ii. Hairy corset
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#542 Cilice with my own hair by Clancey Gebler Davies

 

This appeals to me not least because I love corsets/basques but also because I could realistically imagine creating this from my own excess hair and hair balls (I’m constantly moulting).

I wonder how long it took to make?

 


 

iii. Looking up through a canopy of trees?
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#500 Rainfall by Ermioni Avramidou

 

I love this because – when I first looked at it – it felt like looking up through a canopy of trees in a wood towards the sky, with daylight filtering through between the leaves. Beautiful.

At first look, K felt something underwater about it – looking up to the water’s surface.

 


 

iv. Cranes and construction in white
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#530 From Vauxhall Bridge by Andy Finlay

 

Vauxhall Bridge is just up the road from my previous home of 7 years. I guess I like the white minimalism and that you have to work at it, to focus, and see the image details emerge.

 


 

v. Cute
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#790 Rabbit by Tracey Emin

 

Because I’m a sucker for Emin’s animal sketches (even if it’s not as cute as ‘Space Monkey – we have lift off’, from summer exhibition 2009).

 


 

vi. Humument
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#1111 Humument by Tom Phillips – pen, ink + collage on bookpages.

 

Tom Phillips’ work in progress since 1966 (continuously revised since 1973) – he bought a second hand book called A Human Document and altered every page using pen, ink and collage techniques to create a completely new version, A Humument (more info here).

 


 

vii. Etching featuring King Kebab + Tesco Express
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#596 After Escher by Martin Langford

 

What’s not to like about an Escher style etching featuring a ‘King Kebab’ shop, Tesco Express, and a billboard’s accident insurance ad approved by The Society of Ambulance Chasers?

 


 

viii. Border illusion?
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#142 Trance Map by Trevor Sutton

 

Are the blocks different ‘shades’ of white, or do the pencil borders create that illusion?

 


 

ix. Someone’s got a steady hand!
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#2 Zobop by Jim Lambie – coloured vinyl tape

 

A colourfully striking welcome on entering the Royal Academy of Arts.

 


 

x. Old bin bags?
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#1100 Erebus (man on fire version II) sculpture by Tim Shaw RA

 

In mixed media (painted foam, polythene and steel). In the blue Lecture Room.

 


That’s just ten exhibits that stand out to me. It’s an eclectic display with more than 1,100 works of diverse styles and mediums, created by both established and unknown artists (the Summer Exhibition is the world’s oldest open-submission exhibition – with over 12,000 entries this year), comprising paintings, prints, sculptures, architectural models and creations, and photography – a vibrant summer of colour.

 

More:
~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – select photo highlights
~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – all of my photos
~ Summer Exhibition 2009 – LardButty blogpost, Aug 2009

Alice Underground – immersive theatre

Alice’s Adventures Underground, an immersive theatre experience performed by Les Enfants Terribles in the vaults under Waterloo, is simply bonkers, gloriously entertaining and not to be missed. Tickets from about £35.00, runs until 30 August 2015.

Eat me or drink me? That’s the decision we’re faced with as we step on to a dark, asymmetric stage that really does shrink narrower and lower the further back we go – we’re getting bigger! There’s a door to the left for those choosing drink me and another to the right for eat me.

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Being introduced to edible cocktails in the vaults bar 

Few in our group are choosing eat me (novelty edible cocktails made by Smith & Sinclair) and, as L and I already tried some edible gin + tonic cocktails (very perfumed) in the vaults bar earlier, we choose drink me – a vial of gin cocktail.

This low ceiling stage area is the fourth room – or  space – we’ve been in so far on this Alice Underground experience in the cavernous vaults underneath Waterloo.

Photography isn’t permitted. See some images here.

Our group – of about 60 people – was first led into a study or library filled with gravity-defying, leaning bookshelves and dusty old curiosities – letters, ornaments, pictures – where Alice appeared and spoke to us as a projection from behind a tall looking glass. Here, we met the March Hare narrator with his creepy over-sized rabbit head and massive pointy ears. On a table in the centre of the library, Alice’s image appeared on photographic paper ‘developing’ in dark room trays. Nothing was as it seemed. A curious adventure was unfolding.

When the dim lights went out, our only option was to leave through a door that took us along a narrow, bendy corridor completely wallpapered in open books with their central pages spanning and fanning in all sorts of shapes; spines stuck to the ceiling and walls (I want corridors like this – fire hazard or not – in my house when I grow up). Walls coated in literature, inches deep in stories. Spellbinding. And spine-binding.

From this corridor we’d entered a circular, rotating musical box room where spinning lights gave the feel of a merry go round (spinning or falling lower underground) before playing our part on the stage. Here, our large group (or mobile audience) divided.

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Following the drink me story-line, L and I go along a dark trench (we hold on to one another as – for a short way – we can’t really see where we’re going) into a small, enclosed woodland space where we meet the barking mad Cheshire Cat, whose enormous head leaves its body and floats up high (excellent puppetry). Three puppeteers form the cat’s voice, saying the same lines together but slightly out of sync to create a singular but distorted, spooky voice.

Each room we enter represents a different element of Alice’s story (this year is the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground by Charles Dodgson, pseudonym Lewis Carrol – the original manuscript can be seen at The British Library). The set designs and interactions with characters are brilliantly done, making for a fabulous and utterly bonkers experience.

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Temporary permit to Wonderland
At this point, we each select a card and further divide according to suit. L and I are separated and I follow the the story-line for clubs. I hear someone moan about this, saying that they had chosen to come and do this with their friends and didn’t appreciate having to go on their own for a while. Whereas I think it heightens the suspense and excitement somehow. It is only for a short while (about five rooms) and is critical in advancing the story (which becomes apparent later).

Our small group (with club cards) is subjected to the loud, mad queen and the untalented cook at loggerheads in the kitchen; then watch two over-sized babies (Tweedledum and Tweedledee?) doing circus-like gymnastics – harnessed from the roof – in a nursery, before meeting the Knave of Hearts in the pantry. He  talks us through the provisions on the well stacked shelves, from mock turtle soup to a variety of jams (there’s something of David Walliams in his comedy) and confides in us about his jam addiction. All of a sudden, he’s stuffed a jam tart in his mouth and is freaking out that the queen will find out and there’ll be trouble. The only option is for us *all* to eat up the rest of the tarts between us, and hide the evidence that they ever existed! And so we do.

Continuing our journey through a space elaborately decorated with frilly, brightly coloured umbrellas suspended from above, we head up some stairs into a big circular bedouin tent where we sit on cushions and meet the Hookah-Smoking-Caterpillar (more beautiful puppetry) before being subjected to revolutionary rantings in a bunker where each member of our clandestine group is given a badge of a raven and collectively we make a nonsensical pact.

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Raven badges for our clandestine, revolutionary group …of Clubs
From here, we meet up with the rest of our audience/group again in a vast banqueting hall, where a long wooden table is set out for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Water jets spray sporadically along the table top, an old character is contorted into a tiny tin bath tub amid the crockery and every few minutes, we – the tea party goers – move one space along the table on improvised seats (beer barrels and props). Just when you think it can’t get any more insane, this is Bedlam.

For our final experience – equally mad – we are led into the courtroom, where those of us with club cards are questioned about eating the queen’s tarts. Of course, we deny it and are found NOT GUILTY.

The whole experience of Alice’s Adventures Underground lasts about 90 minutes (with performances starting at 15 or 30 minute intervals every day from April to August 2015). It’s a daring, innovative and thoroughly entertaining experience but was slightly too long for me – I was totally saturated with bonkersness after an hour. That said, it’s well worth seeing.

There’s also a family version (Adventures in Wonderland) that’s suitable for kids, which – I suspect – is shorter, and may be all the better for it.

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Entertainment in Wonderland
Want to know more?
~ BBC News clip: Report about Alice Underground
~ Website: Alice Underground
~ My photos on flickr: limited photos
~ Related blogposts: British culture + arts

Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty – spectacular

It’s Easter Saturday, April 4th (strangely quiet in London) and we’ve got tickets for the exhibition Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty at the Victoria + Albert Museum.

“The first and largest retrospective of the late designer’s work to be presented
in Europe, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty showcases McQueen’s visionary body of work. Spanning his 1992 MA graduate collection to his unfinished A/W 2010 collection, McQueen’s designs are presented with the dramatic staging and sense of spectacle synonymous with his runway shows” – source: V+A.

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Savage Beauty exhibition sponsored by Swarovski – photo of promotional booklet
 


 

It’s extremely well organised, with a restricted number of people being able to enter the exhibition at 30 minute intervals to prevent over-crowding. It’s very well produced, spectacular, an emotional experience, mind-blowing. Immense.

From the moment we step into the darkness of a small entrance room (an interim space that serves to eradicate, or neutralise me from the more traditional V+A museum space I’ve just left behind) I’m intrigued by the loud music and film I can hear emanating from the first display room I’m about to enter. Suspense – heightened.

Turning the corner into the exhibition, my attention is actively sought by video footage playing on a giant screen on the back wall, music pounding, and Alexander McQueen’s 1992 MA graduate collection before me. Where to look first? It’s a feast for the senses.

 
Photography and sketching are not permitted in the exhibition.
See the V+A’s photos Inside The Exhibition
.
 

While the display items are from 1992, the story starts in 1985 (the written texts are – in part – hard to read, poorly lit, and sometimes don’t accurately depict the garment they refer to; it’s the weakness of the exhibition but even so – it doesn’t detract from the overall, powerful and mesmerising experience) when McQueen began a Savile Row apprenticeship, developing the tailoring and cutting craftsmanship that would serve him well in later years.

Already I’m transported back to 1985 – a time when I was studying dress and design at school and would bunk off classes I didn’t like, to put in extra time in the sewing room (my *lovely* sewing teacher, Mrs T, covered for me when I got found out and would otherwise have got in trouble. By the by). A time of outlandish New Romantic/futurist fashions when, as a teenager, I loved making my own, unique clothes (think zips, big clasps, double breasted shirts, pencil skirts, balloon pants, adapted men’s clothes) from what seemed like an endless supply of beautiful cloths that came my way from my granddad who worked in a Huddersfield wool mill (truly bringing out the Taylor in me).

But back to 1992, to McQueen’s St Martin’s College graduation collection Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims inspired by McQueen’s East End London upbringing, and with hair locks sewn into each garment.

 
“London’s where I was brought up.
It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration”

– Alexander McQueen, January 2000
 

Savage Beauty is all about (L.) Alexander McQueen the designer, not Lee McQueen the person (personal relationships remain unexplained; it’s objective, you don’t get a subjective narrative of his complicated relationship with Isabella Blow who bought his graduation collection in 1992 and effectively launched his career). And if you ask me, that’s a good thing.

Each room conveys a different – perfectly staged – sense of theatre for each very different collection (which surprises and pleases). Yet, simultaneously, some common themes run throughout his designs (such as nature and Romanticism).

Collections from the 90s include the controversial Highland Rape of 1995-96 (despite saying he wanted to empower women, the disturbing torn clothes and bloodied flesh in this collection were seen as misogynist at the time though McQueen claimed the story here is embedded in the history of the Scottish Clearances by the English, rather than the rape of women, and pays tribute to his Scottish ancestry) also featuring bumster designs that draw attention to the lower back (acknowledging the lower spinal area as “the most exciting part of any person’s body, whether male or female”. I like that) and outlandish but meticulously tailored Dante of 1996-97 (his fame grew in the Britpop and Cool Britannia era).  

 
“I want to empower women.
I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”

– Alexander McQueen
 


Dress no.13, spring/summer 1999

 
So what do I like best? What really grabs me?
This is where I wish I’d been able to snap some photos:
 
1. an ostentatiously big, black, fitted/shaped dress – all rips and buckles, erotica-stylie (from the graduation collection I think, certainly the 90s) – as with many of the dresses, I *really want* to try it on

2. black cashmere wool trousers (beautifully cut, with red piping on shin-high roll-ups and a vertical trio of buttons under each hip, from late 90s – either Dante or Joan)
no image available

3. that he always cut his clothes to suit the wearer sideways-on (sideways-on being where all the lumps and bumps are)

4. that there *is* a coherent and thoughtful story to his designs when individually, they often seemed crazy and way OTT

5. the sheer scale of talent and success (massive!) by someone who achieved so much and died so young; it’s mind-blowing to see it all in one space

6. the huge central room packed with exhibits (dresses, accessories, screens playing video) floor to ceiling on all four walls and – in particular – the robot-spray-painted white cotton muslin dress centre-stage (ie. dress no.13, spring/summer 1999)

7. animal shapes incorporated into designs (eg. Thomson Gazelles in It’s a Jungle Out There, autumn/winter 1997–98)

8. the blend of east and west (in both the VOSS, spring/summer 2001 collection and It’s Only A Game, spring/summer 2005 (eg. Japanese kimonos morphing with the padding of American football strips)

 
“There’s blood beneath every layer of skin”
– Alexander McQueen
 

9. those armadillo shoes

10. the abundance of corsets (sigh)

11. the swash-buckling ‘kings of the wild frontier’ tailored jackets in the Dante collection autumn/winter 1996–97

 
“I spent a long time learning how to construct clothes, which is important to do before you can deconstruct them”
– Alexander McQueen
 

K too is hooked: he sees the influence of an early Final Fantasy costume in a particular McQueen design from the noughties. But then again, I can’t see how anyone couldn’t be hooked by this exhibition – there’s something for everyone. The experience is an hour of pure sensation.

 

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Reasonably priced tickets @ £16.00 each

 
Further reading + viewing
 


V&A on Savage Beauty
 


Vogue’s Inside Savage Beauty

 
 
BBC documentary

 
Intrigued? Want to know more? Check out these links
~ Met Museum NYC: Savage Beauty USA – select items
~ V+A: Museum of Savage Beauty
~ V+A: Inside The Exhibition
~ The Guardian: Savage Beauty review – superficially magnificent
~ Collections (images): on Culture Whisper website
~ Collections (images): The Widows of Culloden
~ Collections, including: Graduation collection images
~ Savage Beauty photos: exhibition collages
~ New York Times: Timeline of McQueen
~ Bio: See Alexander McQueen’s timeline
~ Vogue: Alexander the Great
~ Michelle Olley: Box naked and all those moths

 

Streb – one odd day

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Surprises Streb: Human Eye grand finale

Today is One Extraordinary Day. It’s not just extraordinary, it’s really quite bizarre.

After mounting anticipation for the *secret date* to be revealed for London 2012’s Streb extreme action performances (The Guardian on daredevil dancers on Friday, The Culture Show on Streb rehearsals on Wednesday) as well as the give-away Sunday Culture Trail (London 2012 ‘explore’ listings) saying to “watch out for amazing surprises en route” on Sunday, I was at least expecting the schedule of events to be revealed – not just the date.

You know – give times and locations so that people can travel to the Thames and incorporate an event or two into their day.

But no.

On waking at 08:30am I check relevant websites and tweets for the latest info. The Surprises Streb (UK) website has now gone live and the first of seven events has been and gone… at 07.30 this morning at Millenium Bridge. Who was up and about in time to get transport into central London by 07:30 on a Sunday morning I wonder. Still, the photos look great from the comfort of my bed.

Locations and times of subsequent events are revealed about 45 minutes in advance, throughout the day, at intervals of 2.5 hours. I can only assume this is to deter people from coming to watch, to deter crowds? Even though we’ve seen significant marketing, really selling these events, including visuals of acrobats sky diving over Tower Bridge. And we’ve been told of the immense training, planning and risks required of Streb dancers. A lot of effort.

We already have plans for this afternoon so a few more performances come and go, until the evening when I’m sitting on a bus to Vauxhall. The ‘grand finale’ is announced: “a performance for daybreak – Human Eye” on the London Eye at 22:30 (daybreak?). I’m in good time to stroll along Albert Embankment. There’s a beautifully dark moody sky and the South Bank isn’t especially busy.

Location + details revealed 45 mins beforehand:
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A troupe of dancers like a swarm of red ants crawl out of the Eye’s innards and spread out on every other spoke. Gliding down, moving, stretching as the Eye spins a full turn every 20 minutes.

The dancers are backlit and projected on to the huge screen that is the Shell Building. And it looks immense.

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Extreme action dancers – gymnastics on the London Eye

More:
~ Streb photos on flickr
~ Surprises Streb (UK)
~ LIFT 2012
~ Streb video-clips on YouTube

I can’t strebbing wait for one extraordinary day

But when will that day be?

If you haven’t heard already, extreme action acrobats are going to perform outdoors across London – jumping off structures, flying through the air, challenging gravity. And it’s all a big secret.

The eclectic space that is London is being put to creative use with street installations, big dance events and pop-up performances, ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games which will – inevitably – create chaos for Londoners and tourists alike trying to manoeuvre around the capital.

One of the pop-up performances is the brain-child of artist, dancer and performer Elizabeth Streb who has deservedly earned a reputation as an ‘extreme action choreographer’ in the States, with her groundbreaking performance at New York’s Whitney Museum in 2011. Other performances by her Brooklyn-based dance company include human fountain and ascension.

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Pop-up performance, Streb: One Extraordinary Day

This is no ordinary dance company though – Streb is to dance what parkour is to running. Her urban troupe are known more as ‘daredevils’ than dancers: “If you want to be an action specialist,” Streb says You have to agree to get hurt!

This imagery is spectacular. You can’t fail to be impressed by the prospect of ‘extreme action’ dancers diving in the sky over Tower Bridge.

If Streb lives up to her Evil Knievel reputation and these events live up to the marketing (and if it stops raining) it’ll be awesome.


More:
~ About Streb: Streb’s bio + achievements
~ Book by Streb: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero
~ Evening Standard article, 21 Jun 2012:
London 2012 Festival – Streb extreme action hero
~ Culture Show: See Streb dancers rehearsing in London
~ Culture Trail – Sun 15 July: Free Culture Trail with AMAZING SURPRISES
~ What is Streb extreme action? Find out about Streb extreme action

Past performances:
~ Whitney Museum Groundbreaking – May 2011
~ Streb – Ascension at Whitney Museum, Human Fountain etc (First 3 mins are the best)
~ Streb Vs Gravity
~ Streb performs Man Walking Down Building or Man Walking – with voiceover
~ Streb – Human Fountain (short)

The feeding of the five hundred (wombles) – Battersea

FiveStars

A top score of five out of five goes to The-Feeding-Of-The-Five-Hundred by the Battersea collective today.

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Information shared on Twitter by @Riotcleanup means #riotwombles gather with brooms and bin-bags at Clapham Junction, spending a couple of hours in the sunshine first while emergency services finish treating the crime scene

* * * * *

Triangular ham + cheese and tuna sandwiches (with crusts trimmed, no less) provided by Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) are shared among hundreds of united riot Wombles gathered here at Clapham Junction.

Biscuits and BUNS (ok ‘fairy cakes’, there’ll be no arguing today) are washed down with water, juice and tea provided by locals and local shops, while staff from Jamie Oliver’s Recipease hand out bread loaves and Starbucks keeps the coffee and good-will flowing.

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Tea + refreshments and bunting too


BAC picnic boxes to share

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Bread and brooms

Amid cheers of “Broo-oom! Broo-oom!” to Boris Johnson (mistakenly reported by the press as Boo! Boo! and other such heckles), the crowd reciprocates Boris’s entertainment factor with a chanting of “Broom army”.

And before you know it, the picnic and – albeit superficial – clean-up is done. For now.

Last night (and preceding nights and still nights to come) was pants. Rioters have yet to state what it is they really want to achieve.

But for today, the sun shines, there’s an incredible sense of solidarity and even humour amid the despair.

This is a great community.

Further info
~ LoveBattersea.Org
~ Battersea Arts Centre (BAC)
~ Broom Army greets Boris with shouts of Broo-oom! Broo-oom!
~ Riot Cleanup London – Twitter profile
~ riot Wombles – Twitter profile
~ Get Real Rioters – fearless woman in Hackney
~ London Burns – Economist article, 9 Aug

National Theatre Live – Frankenstein

I’m absolutely blown away. I need to remain in my seat to compose myself, after watching the most intense piece of theatre I’ve ever seen. And I’m not even at the theatre.

Frankenstein, the latest National Theatre Live production, has just been broadcast to cinemas – live – around the world. And I’ve watched it from a large, comfy seat here at Clapham Picturehouse.

Beforehand, I wondered if the whole feel of live theatre, the live performance, would be lost if watching on screen from a different venue. It wasn’t. In some ways, you see more as you follow the camera’s eye – zooming in on the actors’ expressions and the action, or pulling out for a fuller landscape, or focusing on parts of the stage set, particularly during scene changes.

This new play, based on Mary Shelley’s classic British novel, is written by Nick Dear and directed by Lancastrian Danny Boyle (of Slumdog Millionaire fame, also directing the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, 27th July 2012).

The play opens with a creature (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) experiencing his first moments of life. Just like a new-born, he is unable to stand, walk or talk. With a perfectly formed body yet hideous appearance (huge scars, stitches and sores cover his skin) the creature has just been created and animated, a scientific experiment of Victor Frankenstein (played by Jonny Lee Miller).

Dark and disturbing, the creature flips and slides around the stage, learning how to move, how to make sound, how to be. Cumberbatch’s performance is chilling, intense and superb.


Watch the trailer for Frankenstein on You Tube

Wanting to be good but abandoned by Frankenstein and rejected by the society he so wishes to be part of, the tormented creature seeks companionship. And revenge.

This adaptation of the story (originally written by an 18 year old Shelley, and published in 1818) is wholly relevant for today’s audience. While focusing on human failing, it is dotted with humour. It is engaging, emotional, and at times – horrifying.

Stage sets are sophisticated and scene changes are speedy: the paths around Lake Geneva disappear up into the roof at the end of one scene, while an entire furnished room winds down underground at the end of another. Music and sound by Underworld (perhaps best known for the Trainspotting soundtrack and major hit Born Slippy) is equally brilliant. And it’s a top cast that includes Naomie Harris, George Harris and Ella Smith, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate playing the parts of the creature and Victor Frankenstein for each performance.

A Channel 4 documentary called Frankenstein – The Making of a Myth goes behind the scenes of this National Theatre production and is due to be broadcast this summer. I can’t wait to see it.

More info:
~ National Theatre website
~ Sunday Telegraph article – June 2010 – Boyle unveils ‘epic and intimate’ 2012 Olympic opening ceremony
~ BBC News article – June 2010 Boyle to direct 2012 Olympics opening ceremony