Review – Pastoral at the Soho Theatre

ImageEcological change and subsequent disaster is ubiquitous – from the shoutouts to reduce our carbon footprint to the extra charge of acquiring plastic bags – and it’s often reflected in art. However, Thomas Eccleshare’s vision is a bleakly humorous one – a quite unique angle. With dystopian theatre, there is an inherent fear that our suspension-of-disbelief faculties will be overworked and leave us exhausted and unhappy, but that’s not the case here. Dialogue is used convincingly in forms of reportage of the riots outside – nature juxtaposed with household names “weeds growing in Nandos, rabbits in the yoghurt aisle at Aldi”, with the set used to its full potential as it slowly degrades before us like a crumpled plastic bag. The floor snaps and bends throughout, a tree slowly grows through the heart of the inside of the house as nature slowly takes its hold. Flowers are shot through to the ground and it all feels scarily believable.

The characters do this justice too. The old and young bond in a crisis – Moll (Calder-Marshall) and Arthur (Polly Frame) find each other by chance and an unlikely alliance forms between the pair, with some amusing anecdotes and musing on past and future. The theme of King Arthur and the romanticised notion of Pastoral is explored between the two, which of course has now been completely rewritten. The boys looking after them have to go through the ordeal of nature’s way of exposing under the surface – dealing with hunting and gutting with some funny but ultimately bleak moments. In particular, the plight of the Ocado worker can make you laugh, wince and cry. There are other great moments in the play, but I won’t spoil it – just see it!

All in all, when we see how detached we are from the processes of our lives – and the obsession with the end result and surface – it’s like nature revolting. Their products must be respected, which obviously has not been the case. They mention that they cement the grass to block them out, but now the grasses have become resilient. With all this in mind, it doesn’t feel like a lesson in the classroom.

It’s black comedy of high quality. As Moll says “What’s the difference between a hen night and a zoo? One is where hairy animals are prodded in cages by men in uniforms, the other’s a gift shop.” Hear hear!

Pastoral won the Soho Verity Bargate Award in 2011. There are strong Sci-Fi elements running through the play as nature fights technology as well as the “solution” to the problem. It’s rather reassuring for me and I’m sure many others that this element of science fiction theatre is being recognised and rewarded.

New term is here!

Just a little update into how things are going! First of all, I can’t believe how fast the terms are going – and that Spring is almost upon us! I think first and foremost is to get the rewrites done from the plays I’ve had performed last year – as I’ve picked up some valuable truffles (nuggets are so last year, and this one suggests that I’m like a pig or a dog, which is a little different) of information during rehearsals thanks to great directors/actors.

I’ve finished a short story (that means a lot, considering what I write recently) and well, I’d like to see it get somewhere. Also, I’d like to write some poetry – my bus journeys are loooong and I always get ideas on them and just before I go to sleep, most of which I don’t remember, so maybe I should get some writing done then. Since I am giving a paper soon, it’ll be nice to do some spoken word again. I wonder if my style will have changed.

More details on everything soon! Mind you, I heard from a little bird (who looks like me, weirdly) that Enigma Magazine is open for business again. Oh, who are they, you ask? http://www.enigmacw.co.uk is where they live. If you want to submit writing of your own, I’d love to read it, yes siree!

Oh and reviews. I want to do some more reviews. From the First Men in the Moon to The Islanders, I will give you something meatier to read than little snippets here and there. I hope!

Review of Hyperion

Now when I first heard this title mentioned, I thought “Hmmmm, very familiar”, and for those who’ve studied Romantic poetry before, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, this reference to Keats is but in a long weft of literature references that have been beautifully woven into the narrative fabric, but seeing as the Keats character is an artificial reincarnation who does get some action, I can assume that he is the victor by far.

As Science Fiction writers, like say Asimov, often focus more on the atmosphere and plot rather than character, we see a U-turn. The different angles and characters of this the frame narrative, which most famously features in the Canterbury Tales, depict the different back stories of a motley bunch on their “pilgrimage” to the Time Tombs and the mysterious killing machines of the Shrike, whose fuzzy at best image will come into focus throughout the Cantos. Who said that a Science Fiction novel can’t contain character? Dan Simmons occupies the mind and soul of a drunken poet, a detective, a soldier, a priest, a scholar and detective to fill us in on the background as they travel in a very slow moving starship. In fact, the mix of personalities and characters united in their quest is somewhat redolent of the Final Fantasy series or Chrono Trigger – Square with amazing substance that just blows you away. Simmons’ style is so poetic yet so laidback and comfortable a read that you often find yourself re-reading to make sure you haven’t missed a trick. You may associate poetic with the art of restraint and holding back, but the sensual and violent images portrayed by Simmons just crackle and spit with raw energy. No matter where you are when reading it, it’s hard to come back into reality for quite a while.

We switch between perspectives until the carpet is yanked under your feet so to speak and we arrive back into the group’s perspective  and the characters we have just grown up alongside and our attitudes towards them warp like a kaleidoscope. It has a lovely open-ended way of concluding the first chapter, which is perfect for me as I hate conclusive endings, weirdly enough!

My reading history usually contains 2 piles – one where you chip away at a book’s armour, a war of attrition in which you have to take stock and return, only to find yourself completely lost and the ones where you commit to the long haul, finishing it in one go until your mind becomes so saturated with the world that you can’t think straight. It feels like your mind has been punctured, spilling out entrails of thought on the pavement. Passers by will think you insane or drunk. Yes, this book made me inebriated with ideas. Be careful what you do before or after reading!

Cyborgs burning bras – Donna Harraway and assorted

So, after yet another delay, I have decided to write something not actually related to an event I went to (surprise, surprise!). This is in response to the rest of my family realising that I’m doing a PhD and what I would do it in. Ahah. Now, most of my family own a BSC/MSC so this may be a little difficult to explain – well, the Science Fiction part of it is ok, actually – but dramaturgy and staging technique may fall a little short (which I feel did, but it’s considered to most to be an unusual combination so not surprising!). When asked what it’s about, I’ve usually said something along the lines of “Oh, it’s about androids…”, not about prostitution services and what not. But yes, the androids do have centre stage in my play – which if you know me, is again no surprise. For those who know me reading this, yes, the androids are the prostitutes. Please don’t be scared of me when you see me again!

I recently read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the late Twentieth Century… (New York; Routledge, 1991), and plenty of it rings true to our current “modern condition”. Some of it may read as preachy, but considering the time in which it was written, the strength of the ability to warp and extend these boundaries through hybridisation is understandable when you take the year in which it was published into account.

She starts by defining a cyborg – “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality”, when explaining this to be a collective object of social relations, influenced of course by political, historical (to some extent) and cultural construction. This intercourse between science fiction and social reality (the boundary of which she describes as an optical illusion, which I do very much like) explains what she believes is a reshaping women’s experience, but with the impact it has on gender behaviours and of dominance created by self and other, I’d like to say human. But I get her sentiment.

This is then explained by the boundary breakdowns between human and animal, which makes this analysis feasible. Indeed, she describes this by saying “The last beachheads of uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parks – language tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal.” Of course, this throws into the mix some religious controversy, but SF is seldom found without some reference to divinity or something outside of ourselves of some kind. Think Asimov’s Foundation or Simmons’ Hyperion as just a handful of examples. Also, the idea of little separation between human and animal also reminds me of the herd mentalities used for “psychohistory”, a branch of science coined by Seldon in Foundation, the ideas of different tiers of sentience  of the Xelee in Baxter’s series.

I digress though. What the main crux of her argument is that cyborgs are not just models of science fiction moulded to provide a new guest to the party – that with the rise of technology and our dependence of it has made us “chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs”. If this was the case then, it is painfully clear nowadays. Likewise in short, she lists the “informatics of domination”, laying out the comparisons between the old and what she labels as “informatics of domination”, the new hiarchies. For examples, she places science fiction and postmodernism against bourgeois novel and realism, organism against biotics, organic division of labour and cybernetics of labour, reproduction and replication, sex and genetic engineering, labour and robotics etc. which can show the development and metaphor that science fiction often employs to bring out present ideals. She actually calls them “scary new networks” as control strategies become rewritten as “communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies… [of which these tools] embody and enforce new social relations for women-worldwide.

It’s a great read, especially for the time, and these informatics of domination are something I feel will be constantly drafted and updated, much like these posts on WordPress if I don’t publish them more efficiently it seems. I may do a part 2, featuring her Marxist analysis, as there is so much that can be read from the text. Part of my play deals with these control measures in light of these developments, but further down the conveyor belt, where some of the old hiarchies become guilty pleasures and illegally sold (I’m not going to go in that much detail now). Thanks for reading!