Updates!

I’m delighted to announce some autumnal updates!

1) Notes from Other Worlds – Reading at Creative Centre for Collaborative Collaboration

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I’m having a reading to celebrate my first published book, Notes from Other Worlds (you can see my fingers oddly coiled in the polished sheen of the cover) at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in Kings Cross on 29th September, 7:30-9:00pm. It’s free, there’s wine and books. What could be better?

The Link for more info on the book can be found here.

2) Sum РBread and Roses Theatre 

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Sum, a new play of mine, is being staged at the Bread and Roses Theatre from the 27th-29th November and the 4th-6th December – focusing on new societies created from the pilot of a hivemind technology. Odd fact – the image is actually a painting of mine ūüôā

I’m actually whipping up a separate site for this, along with notes and ideas, so you can have a peek if you want!

Tickets are already on sale! Have a look here.

3) Interview with Female Arts

If you’d like to know a little more about both of these projects plus a little more, check out my interview with Female Arts where I discussed them in a little more detail. They are a great initiative that promote female involvement in the arts (they also reviewed Terra Firma for us!).

The link is here.

Thanks!

Gravity – a review

What is this? You may ask (Fortasse requiris – sorry, that structure always reminds me of Catullus). She’s reviewing film!? Yes, yes I am. Because I can and because it’s a set up that would work very well in a theatrical sense.

It would be foolish of me to say that the following sentence contains spoilers Рthe visuals are *stunning*. That goes without saying Рthe amount of work and the size of the team working their technical wizardry has paid off. It basically has to be seen in 3D. Mindboggling. The variety of long shot and close-up to contrast between the sublime and the claustrophobic are really done masterfully here.  I could basically look at that for hours, without any plot. This leads me neatly to my next point.

The set up is rather absurdist. Not absurdist in the “Haha! That’s absurd!” sense, but in the Beckettian notion of shouting into the void (quite apt in the realms of space). Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and their crew are attacked by debris caused by a satellite explosion, which causes a chain reaction of chaos, confusion and a chain of incredibly bad luck as they try to find their way to each other. Ultimately though, it’s about Sandra Bullock’s story of survival and her means to overcome the losses that she has experienced on Earth. There are no aliens, no monsters (except in our own heads), no other civilisations – we are the only ones kicking in this universe. The overriding message is: there’s nothing to see here, folks, so enjoy the view.

There is an extended metaphor of birthing, which isn’t new when it comes to art dealing with the representation of space. Think of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. I also dealt with this Russian Doll effect in Cuckoos and Chrysalids (although it’s about how people will use technology to privatise and conquer both spaces – the womb and space itself). It’s very apparent in one scene whereby Sandra Bullock floats in a fetal position, having escaped near death by another debris shower, enjoying what peace she has (unsurprisingly, it’s short lived). It’s tense, repetitive and ultimately meaningless, but it’s her story that gives it meaning. There is a scene where she shouts to the radio, where the crew replies in Chinese. She sings along with them, enjoying this connection that transcends the language barrier; only to find out that they’re singing to a child and not to her. There is a spiritual essence in the strength of her character in the face of almost certain imminent death and no hope of rescue – her escape will ultimately be a re-birthing, to emerge from the void once more.

And yes, Gravity is sexist, quite strongly so. I do realise that Sandra Bullock is inexperienced in the mechanics of space flight and George Clooney is the veteran, but even when she’s a brilliant medical doctor, he advises her when her oxygen is low, to “breathe slowly. You’re inhaling CO2 now, which will make you feel dizzy”. Patronising much!? Even I could tell that! There even is a segment whereby Bullock mentions on several occasions that she never manages to park correctly on the simulator, and has to rely on the instruction manual. Really? Really, guys?¬†A lot of screen time is also taken up by her being tethered around by Clooney, who flirts with her rather oddly, but hey – it’s George Clooney. And Bechdel Test!? What Bechdel Test?

I’m not going to say much, because I can’t really without giving the ending away (I could tell you the whole plot in a sentence without leaving much out) that in terms of visuals – ¬†it’s an absolutely stunning experience. I saw this film with a friend whose background is in Artificial Intelligences and Physics and he is basically the most intelligent person I know – when he says it’s pretty much accurate apart from a few niggles here and there, I’m inclined to believe him.

Sonic the Texthog

So, in a long history of the franchise – Sonic 1 coming out in 1991, I believe – we have yet another offering to its legacy – Sonic Lost Worlds, which some of you may be trying out today. It’s spawned so much outside of the games as well; we’ve seen plushies, gamebooks, comics (yes, I used to read STC as a kid), TV shows and so on. What I’d like to get at the heart of is what Sonic is truly about.

Sonic from the beginning

Like most franchises, there is an illustrious, ambiguous and most often many contradictory accounts to the characters’ conception (just have a look at Hyrule Historia – nuts!). Sonic is no exception. I’m going to be a little technical [read: not] about Sonic’s history as it’s the particular one I read as a child.

Robotnik/Eggman/whatever was initially written as a peaceful character; with the rather original name Kintobor (yes, it is Robotnik backwards). His affinity for using animals as tools is shown right off the bat; with an underground laboratory in Mobius, he tends to “upgrade” animals for his own bidding; but in this way, for good. His main aim is to neutralise “evil” on the planet Mobius (if it came in a physical form, who knew?) using the gold rings scattered around Mobius (so that’s why he’s collecting rings, right!?) to transfer this “commodity” into receptacles he coins as the Chaos Emeralds in the ROCC machine (Retro-Orbital Chaos Compressor). I only studied Chemistry to GCSE, but I know the carbon structures of diamonds are understandably tight, given the pressure needed for this transformation.¬†Not so sure about emeralds, but that’s by the bye.

Where does Sonic come in, you ask? He tumbles into the laboratory, without his trademark blue colour and his red and white sneakers (I have to be American here) by chance and a relationship grows between him and the doctor. Using this highly specialised treadmill, he hits the speed limit, somehow altering his outward appearance, changing him cobalt blue. The sneakers, you’ll find, were given to him by the doctor so he could attain these insane speeds with minimum discomfort (look, this is fantasy, alright!?)

This is all in aid for the final emerald to be found (which, we later discover, is in the possession of Knuckles the Echidna on Floating Island) – the Grey Emerald. There are 7 altogether (lucky for some) and this is the elusive prize that Kintobor requests Sonic to procure.

Now, I’m not going to debate over whether he spilt soda or typed something wrong or tripped over ¬†or he was preoccupied with a rotten egg (If only I were joking at this point), but let’s say the ROCC was unstable without this final piece to the puzzle and misfires, transforming Dr Kintobor into the abomination (in many ways) that Robotnik becomes. The chaos emeralds are scattered, Sonic is attacked by his newly birthed rival, and the rest is history.

As we know, Robotnik now enslaves animals to do his bidding, but in a different sense; they are now encased in robot suits to take down their fellow creature, Sonic. They also help him in Industrialising the level too; we see animals encased in moles with drills digging out cliff faces and mountains, installing all sorts of armaments. We see the skies ravaged by savage turtles (these always fascinated me, the robot offspring is the product of an encased animal, riding on its mechanised parent. Bizarre much?) and oceans of oil are protected by animals operating seahorses. What is interesting is why Robotnik created this hyperreal animal – a copy of a copy, but the true animal resides inside. This has chopped and changed due to the series, but the overriding design is that of an animal, like a deranged Kinder Surprise Egg. It’s surprising that he now has completely robotic cohorts to aid him, yet the animals are still used as a commodity or tool by him. I guess animal labour is cheaper, given of course the abundance of animals and the less cost-effective method of building the robots. I wonder if the animal actually has agency in the machines or that their brains are overriden. How much of themselves are compromised? It reminds me a little of the Secret Invasion storyline of Iron Man.

What we must realise is that Sonic as we know him is ultimately created by Robotnik. He has created his solution and ultimately, his own problem. In fact, I remember in Mario Galaxy, that Bowser actually mentions to Mario that he’s glad to have found a rival who has equalled him. Is that what this is all about? Does Robotnik ever wonder, if this little band that has escaped being imprisoned mechanically (one that is ever increasing – where do they come from) became mechanised or destroyed, that he would have nothing to do? He ultimately has Mobius under his control if not for this spiked crusader, but that clearly isn’t enough for him.

Obviously that has changed now, once he has for some reason enlisted this nasty team of what I can only describe as demons, to do his bidding. We know his skills-as-Iago, having convinced Knuckles the Echidna that Sonic was the enemy to be destroyed – his karmic punishment afterwards is to be the perpetually poked figure of fun; seen as both dim and relentless. Poor chap. However, the power may change hands in Lost Worlds, as Robotnik has often succumbed to; watching Sonic and Knuckles – (whom he had physically and mentally changed) get their revenge. The Frankenstein argument is frequently referenced in the Sonic series – Shadow is created to be, as he believes, the Ultimate Life form (in the shape of a hedgehog no less) by Robotnik’s grandfather, Prof Gerald Robotnik (yes, I realise this makes no sense if we’re to believe Robotnik started out as Kintobor, but I didn’t write it, mmkay?)but this is implied to not be the case – he is merely a a step below the prototype of the Biolizard in Sonic Adventure 2. Shadow is often plagued with insecurity as to his destiny and purpose, and is of course not thrilled to believe he is in second place to this reptilian rival. Strangely enough, when the beast is awoken, the Dark and Hero sides team up to vanquish the foe.

Of course, there is an overriding theme of Man vs. Nature to further this relationship between the exploiting force and the exploited, how the animals rebel and rescue their captured friends.

There’s a rather tired feeling in his attitude in Lost Worlds which may address this continually – I know he’ll be looking at the Deadly 6 sideways, just waiting for the revolution to happen (as often we see his creations backfire or turn upon him; the slaves having power over their master rather than a means to an end)¬†– but it’s done very humorously. If it’s one thing that this SEGA franchise does best, it’s comedy. I was laughing until I was crying last night watching this. It laughs at the loopholes and carries it all off with aplomb.

Yes, I always wanted to write about Sonic rather than just reviewing it as a game. If I had more time, I’d write a lot more I imagine.

Constellations Review

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Constellations – image courtesy of Official Theatre London

Finally, I get round to reviewing this stellar (sorry) production, originally staged at the Royal Court and now playing at the Duke of York Theatre – I wanted to see it when it was the former, but missed the cut. You know, it’s the classic procrastination period until finally all the tickets have been snapped up. You can buy tickets on the internet and it’s a case of – ah, I’ll do it when I’m not feeling so broke. Usually for me, in the world of cash, I’m perpetually sliding down so it’s usually best to buy early – in this case, maybe not – I got them at a reasonable price in a place where I don’t have to strain my neck so much! Result!

Anyway, onto the actual show.

What strikes me the most is the beautiful yet minimal staging – a flotilla of balloons and the gumball-esque constructs upstage. You might think it’s the beginning of a party, when the balloons will be savagely cut down to allow another frieze frame of a scenario – but it’s recurrent throughout the play. Of course, theatre is adept at creating a particular angle or snapshot of a scenario and parade it for all to see, and this is no exception. However, although the cast is small — a two hander – it inevitably spans a multi-verse of different routes and paths the two characters take in their relationship. It’s often a critique of theatre that it cannot create mega texts in the same way as Science Fiction can in the same way as say film or the novel, but this spans alternate timelines in such a poignant, yet stripped down way (the poignant part will be too spoiler-ish, but it is very touching – and another way theatre can create the idea of disconnect and miscommunication much more directly than most media).

An apiarist (a bee-keeper to you and I) Roland (Rafe Spall) and a cosmologist Marianne (Sally Hawkins) are presented in many different scenarios – where they make it down the aisle to where they don’t even make it past the first conversation. You’d think it would ¬†be hard to communicate this, but Nick Payne’s great, simplistic yet powerful writing drives the message within the first few minutes. It opens with a cheerful icebreaker as ¬†Sally Hawkins attempts to get Rafe Spall to lick his elbow – saying that this will promote immortality – a rather chilling aspect in hindsight. ¬†His reactions differ from him being disinterested, to being otherwise engaged ¬†(him and her), to actually continuing the conversation. The acting in this is superb, and Rafe Spall being known for his role in the dry comedy Jeff vs. Life actually helps I think, in the way that his life is being portrayed as branching off in different directions as a result of different and slight permutations. How the characters stop, start, chop and change from one reality to the next, with the emotional ability to switch chameleon-like to the context was really engaging to watch. I did get very emotional at several points, as even though Nick Payne gets to voice the concept of quantum entanglement and the alternative universes through the cosmologist, there is a strong human quality to it that we can all empathise with. What if I did this differently? What if I wasn’t there to meet him/her? Was I meant to marry them from the beginning and can I change my fate? The idea of alternate realities can absolve us of some responsibility – what we may have done in one branch we may have done differently, or does it increase our sense of having to do things exactly in our minds in order to create the rather ubiquitous term of “utopia”? What is out of our control? It’s an amazing piece, that only an hour long and spanning several realities of just two people, can satisfy mentally and emotionally for a long time after viewing.

I do believe that this is a great example of Science Fiction in theatre – taking a concept and staging it through metaphor, emphasising human reaction and emotional connect like links on a chain. A must see. Nick Payne is one of the great emerging talents in the playwriting scene – I’ve read comparisons to him with Tom Stoppard, but I feel this play in particular is more Churchill-esque, with that simplistic yet raw dialogue – and how he creates potent images with minimalist settings. Michael Longhurst has done a great job in directing this, too.