Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review of A Clockwork Orange (performed by The Actor's Wheel) at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, June 10th, 2017

The moment the lights went up on this show last night, I said to my friend Mark 'I will not be able to write a review for this; I simply will not do it justice'. To prove myself wrong, here is the review I said I could not do. It was simply a genius piece of acting from all involved that I felt could not go unmentioned.


I may not know how to start a review in a way which does justice to its subject, but when deciding how to open this adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, director Kevin Johnson has hit the nail squarely on the head.
From out of the darkness comes a chorus of the versatile and pervasive question ‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ which returns countless times throughout to remind a viewer of the power of every choice the main character, Alex, makes. This opening is haunting, not just audibly through its canonical repetition, but through the use of light – another device which is used to spectacular effect throughout – which mimics Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. At first, I feared this performance may be too heavily reliant on song, turning Burgess’s masterpiece into a modern-day Sweeney Todd, but as the initial dance sequence wanes, the old recognisable moloko bar comes into focus, and our ‘humble narrator’ steps forward to begin his tale. What follows is an inventively choreographed amalgam of ballet, street dance, traditional theatre, and a mind-blowing utilisation of the stage.

Much like at Stratford-upon-Avon’s RSC Theatre, moveable boxes are employed to mimic walls, beds, and benches, but The Actor’s Wheel take this technique to another level. These boxes become cars, with the addition of ‘street-lights’ and ‘bridges’ (handheld torches and boxes) being passed overhead; they become plinths on which items stand to signify different locations, from the minimalist home of Professor Alexander and his wife, to the rich glamour of the Cat Lady’s abode. But most remarkably of all, they are climbed over and through and around, carried and slept in by Alex as he is stripped and examined and subjected to the processes of life in prison and the correctional facility. And where boxes will not suffice, the cast become props themselves, moving Alex through the space with often complex manoeuvres. Picture frames also play a significant role, illustrating the media presence, as scenes are often visibly ‘framed’ to be reported or printed for mass consumption, or the authorial presence, as Alex is ‘framed’ for his crime, the picture frame transformed into a set of handcuffs.

Yet, none of this would’ve been quite as affecting, firstly, without the contrasting medley of classical music and ‘grime’ (to quote Kevin Johnson) which gives each scene its character and provides the soundtrack to Alex’s life. Certain actions and scenes indeed benefit from and work with the music to give them added power, so that every punch, kick, and sexual thrust becomes a violent work of art, occasionally dealt in slow motion in homage to Stanley Kubrik’s film adaptation. This marriage of sound and vision all leads to the final scene of the first half. Already frightening as a tableau of illuminated cables raying out from a restrained Alex, screaming and gagging with his eyes held wide open, this scene strikes the nerves still further thanks to the strength of the orchestral music used in his torturous conditioning.

Central to this, of course, is Ashton Corbin, who has fully immersed himself in the character of Alex. The necessary depiction of his suffering affected me deeply due to its sustained realism, the mob violence, perpetual gagging, and quiet sobbing evincing sympathy for a character who is indeed a victim of social conditioning and the lack of free will in the societal system. Corbin balances this with a rough boyish swagger expressed in such a realistic fashion, and the ‘nadsat’ mentality and lingo which trips from his tongue like a native language so that, by the end of the night, I was blurry-eyed with reluctance to see his contented upturned face disappear as the lights went down.


A viewer may struggle to keep up with who is who as the demands of a large cast assign actors several roles, but the same personality is rarely seen in the same actor twice. Their unique chemistry with Alex helps differentiate the various roles, particularly in the case of Millicent Flavin whose fragile mentality as Alex’s mother never once trespasses into the quietly professional Dr Branom. Plus, the incorporation of sexual and political humour into several interactions, and the casual manner of Alex’s interspersed narration, prevents this from becoming an entirely serious, on-edge performance. For the virgin viewer of anything related to A Clockwork Orange, this rendition by The Actor’s Wheel most assuredly stays true to its source material, giving the occasional wink to Kubrik in the process, and thus provides the comprehensible best of both worlds. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Review of 'Beans and Other Poems' by Mark Jones

I was given this quirky little collection of poetry to read by my friend and fellow Plymouth poet, Mark Jones, to whom I promised I would write a review. I hope I can do it justice.


Before even passing the cover, any reader can take a guess at what they're in for: a bizarre blend of poems which refuses to take mundane topics seriously, and having been labelled 'surrealist', it's little wonder why. Perusing through this pick 'n' mix of poetry, you are greeted with something different with every turn of the page, from the comically blunt and witty to the absurdly self-expository. It is, admittedly, a bit hit-and-miss as to whether you get Jones's obscure concepts - 'Love in the form of croquet balls' may be something we'll never quite understand - but his word choices are often some of the most fitting you'll ever encounter. 'Terror at 10:27pm' provides you with 'nasal ambulance calls', while the titular 'Beans' recreates the humble can of beans as erupting with 'volcano juice'. 
He deals with things we, as humble humans, encounter on an almost everyday basis - aside from sultana siblings and robot tomatoes, maybe. Food, if you couldn't already guess by the title, is a notably dominant theme in this volume, presented in often spasmodically rhymed stanzas. This does let down a few of the poems by interrupting the apparently uniform rhyme scheme, while other times a cheeky forced rhyme pushes things back into recognisable form, evident in poems like 'Seagull' and the unexpectedly witty 'Power Danger' ('Ranger Danger' maybe?) 
One thing a reader will soon become aware of, however, is that Mark Jones has instated himself as the King of the deprecatingly terse sentence, reducing the versatile burger to an 'Artery clogging/Weight gainer' and the loathsome seagull to a 'High flying shitter'. He's certainly not messing around. With wit-laced gems like 'Save the Eggs for Later' and 'Spoonsmith', this man's unexpected humour is one to look out for. A little awkward, but full of confidence – and certainly better received than the flatulence one might expect from consuming this volume’s namesake.

To anyone wishing to check out more from Mark Jones, you can follow this link to his Facebook page, Jonesthepoet.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Caffeinated Vision presents The Bohemian Busker

People-watching certainly has its benefits when you find yourself in the vicinity of a busker. Such happy people, they really teach me a lesson about life. I gave this guy some money after and copied out a few pieces of this poem for him.

Midday heat melts candy to concrete,
to gum up the beak of the limping winged urban omnivore,
almost glues gammy leg to impede flight
in fear of tiny human terror unleashed
on the family wallet during half term.
My slightly accelerated heartbeat seems to pound in time
to the jolly busker on his ukelele,
his hair like a Rastafarian Rapunzel,
his skin laughing at the sun through his open shirt.
These little terrors cannot understand
the troubles her masks beneath his rough Bohemian grin
and balloon pants.
He is music to them; they are a lost life to him.
The caffeine buzzes deeper.
Nothing goes unnoticed.
The million fag ends and fallen straws,
a beetle scurries to his own soundtrack,
the street heaves with the silent jingle of spending.
The busker has chosen his spot well.
To the soles of his busted-up boots,
he is the most alive,
the happiest soul like a solar-powered sunflower
come alive in the midday heat.
His voice sings in my caffeinated blood,
sustaining this heightened perception
long after the cup has run dry.
He opens our selfish eyes 
to a simple joy that money cannot buy.
I thought I'd bought this caffeine trip cheaply,
I thought children lived the purest and happiest lives,
but now I know the truest professor of happiness
is the one who gives his joy for free
when he hasn't a penny of his own.

A Timid Tongue in Budapest

Came back from a trip with the University's History department to Budapest on May 27th and wrote this 3 days later in response. The lemonades were possibly the best I'd ever had, the currency is in those ridiculously huge notations, and I am still surprised so many places speak English.

Feels like an ordinary city,
a flight that goes for ninety minutes 
lands you on common ground.
In the darkness,
one street to the next is familiar,
a Tesco glaring its beacon of homely light
in what you must keep telling yourself
is a foreign night.
And soon, buildings rise up,
rustic and molded,
unchanging in the morning sun,
so you come to realise you are in fact
'somewhere else'.
Tables spill out onto pavements,
tongues spill out the language of goulash -
but also more fish and chips than you expected.
There is a clear market for your
hard-earned ridiculous currency
in eating with the locals,
from a menu labeling the Hungarian specialties 
which you never manage to try,
sold by a waiter whose tongue is braver than yours.
There is a clear market for your
hard-earned ridiculous currency
in trinkets, resplendent with gem stones,
unpriced to build up attachment to what translates
to a twenty-quid bracelet -
this wrinkled vendor knows 
your girlfriend's expensive taste better than you.
Pretty soon you must abstain or starve.
Away you go, to the open plazas punctuated by
historical full stops on horseback,
and more Gothic facades than a nineteenth century estate agent.
There is no escaping the past here
in a city occupying a perilous position of reluctant modernity,
such that few buildings dwarf you to any great height
and drivers won't stop for a red light.
You wander in amazement,
knowing these walls didn't survive the war,
the aged lost to a gruesome recollection of the Holocaust
in a monochrome TV set.
Their hand touches your shoulder
as you sip fruit-laced artisan lemonades,
wishing they were this good back home -
even wishing this was home.
But your tongue is not brave enough,
even to catch your bilingual waiter's attention
so he can part you with more cash
and set you free into this isolated colourful war-zone.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Alice in Wonderland Quintology - Dr. Caterpillar

Part 5 of 5

Dr. Caterpillar

“Who are you?” I ask her.
Even she doesn’t seem to know,
claiming amnesia, schizophrenia
(and the worst of both by the looks of her).
Getting her to explain herself
is more pain than it’s worth,
this girl is clearly out of her mind,
only concerned with her ‘proper’ size
which shocks me for a girl of her age
(but isn’t that the case with girls these days?)
“Just don’t eat the cakes” is all I say
as I take a long draw on my pipe.
“You’ll get cancer,” she scolds,
“then what butterfly will you be?”
“A better one than you, silly child –
your limbs could snap in a breeze.
You’d sooner pupate as a damselfly.”
Now she grows incensed and cries
such unglued fearful tears
that I sigh and offer her my pipe.
This dishwater doll is ripe for the madhouse.
“Take one as required,” I say,

I can only slow her descent.

Alice in Wonderland Quintology - At the Drop of a Hat

Part 4 of 5

At the Drop of a Hat

I am the cranial bandage
of a failed lobotomy
keeping the storm of volatile mercury
brewing beneath my brim.
I incubate your imagination
spawn delirium hatch psychosis,
cross the wires in your skull
until sparks fly.
You lent me to Alice once –
remember how that went?
Cold turkey didn’t cover it
needed me back
said I was yours but you,
oh no you are mine.
And what a mind to possess
what a brain to crown
to infect undo unravel unscrew.
Scared you may be but not alone,
never no never

for please remember that I am you.

Alice in Wonderland Quintology - Sugar Cubes

Part 3 of 5

Sugar Cubes

Tea and sleep sleep sleep...
everything smells like tea until my dreams are stewed in it.
Too tired to lift my head or lose my head to
mousetraps muchness more tea mistreatment
twinkle twinkle little bat
except for Alice who saved me from my slumber
how I wonder what you’re at
inside the tea-pot with two handles and no spout –
or was it two spouts and no handle?
Alice’s tinkling laugh like sugar cubes into a cup
wakes me up in time for tea,
in time for her to get bigger then smaller –
what a cat-astrophe!
There was a cat in my dreams once, I poured
more tea meow murder.
There’s one grinning at me now and I’m scared
but Alice cared, Alice knows that cats eat mice;
the Hare and Hatter don’t understand
they are not so nice.
Back into the steamy pot – empty or not –
squashed shoved suppressed,
to sleep and dream and dream…

but now the pot’s gone cold.