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Exclusion by design

8 Nov

barbican head pic

Was looking at the future programming of the Barbican Art Gallery this morning and was amazed to find out that their Box Office has gone cashless on the 1st of November. I find it extraordinary for a major venue subsidised both by the Arts Council and The City of London to instigate this measure under the guise of speed of transactions and/or safety. Surely in the middle class bubble the management of the Barbican operates in, nobody is without a bank account…but looking further afield and it was reported in 2017 by charity Toynbee Hall that 1.7 million people don’t have a bank account and crucially:

  • 94% of people without a bank account have a personal income of below £17,500 per annum, and 91% live in households where the total income is £17,500 per annum.
  • 55% are in council housing, while 24% are in the private rental sector
  • 31% are between the ages of 20-29 and 26% between the ages of 40-49.
  • 70% are recorded as having nothing in savings, while 20.5% have between £1-100.
  • 73% primarily use another financial product, such as a Post Office Current Account or credit union, while 27% are cash-only.
  • 5% are recorded as saying they get to the end of every month without any money while 35.5% are recorded as doing so fairly regularly.
  • 42% currently use, or have previously used, debt advice services.
  • 53% are either “very confident” or “fairly confident” using email and social media websites, and leaving feedback on shopping websites.
  • 44% use a smartphone

It’s clear the demographic the Barbican is excluding is near the poverty line and their life must be hard enough to not be allowed to use any pocket money they have to buy a cinema ticket, theatre or concert ticket at the Barbican. Why this form of social apartheid is allowed to go on unquestioned is stunning to me. If the small cushion of public funding is meant to encourage venues to be as open as possible to all, that surely means people without a bank account should have a way to access their services too.

Please consider writing to the Barbican to voice your opposition to this blatantly exclusionary policy. Their contact address is and ask them to forward your message to Sandeep Dwesar their Chief Operating & Financial Officer.

cashless barbican

The notice on the Barbican website explaining the change of policy

Shadwell Opera on a TV box near you

17 Jan

Shadwell Opera

You can add this to the ongoing attempts by smaller companies to get publicity and to add a new slant to their operatic offerings.

Shadwell Opera is next up with two short films to show up on Channel 4’s Random Acts series, following up a long tradition of artist’s films shown in their graveyard slots. Remember all too well as an art student looking out for those short film slots to watch innovative/quirky work by visual artists. Glad to see that they still give the oxygen of publicity to creators of non mainstream content.  Their engagement with the world of artistic creation in the periphery of popular culture, has been one of their main points of differentiation from the other commercial channels.

For instance they showed a Wolfgang Tillmans film of boiling peas, so mundane but yet so close to his main photographic practise.  

Shadwell Opera have teamed up with Tigerlily Films and Multi-Story Orchestra to create two opera shorts. The first of these, Serenade, will be shown at midnight on 22nd January 2014

Featuring, baritone Ashley Riches, currently a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, conducted by Chris Stark, produced by Nikki Parrott and directed by Jack Furness, it is a witty operatic vignette that stumbles upon Don Giovanni’s famous serenade in a Hackney housing estate.

‘I’ve always experimented with putting opera into different contexts and seeing what comes out. It’s a natural operatic thing to mash as many art forms together as possible, and this was a great opportunity to present some opera in a format that lots of people will recognize.

Everyone is very literate when it comes to television and images generally, and I wanted to capitalise on that knowledge base and smuggle opera, guerrilla style, into the living rooms of the nation. Now we’re planning how to break this out into longer forms.’ Jack Furness

So if you are up at the crack of midnight, tune in and see how the Don fares in Hackney.

You can view many of the previous Random Acts films on the rather snazzy Channel 4 website:

For more information on the project and to see both films:

Or watch it right here…

Kath Jenkins from Neath to OBE glory, a true story

30 Dec

Kath Jenkins OBEIt seems the PR people of Katherine Jenkins have been quick to tell the Daily Mail that she has been awarded an OBE in the queen’s new year’s honours ‘for her work breaking down barriers to propagate classical music, charity fundraising and the support she shows for Britain’s Armed Forces’ if propagating classical music is singing the same four arias in a career lasting a decade that doesn’t appear to be a very intensive schedule for the Welsh star. The playlist that she garbled through at the music festival of Raymond Blanc’s Les Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in 2012 is a good indication the kind of trash counts as dissemination of classical music to bankers and others that would pay £450 for gourmet food and amateur screeching.

As you know I don’t really care for any “honours” given out by an unelected head of state of an empire that has long since died out. Those awards are usually a pat on the back for all of those that suck up to the political establishment.

But what makes me uncomfortable is that a manufactured nobody that can barely stay in tune and sing straight to a microphone, again is called an opera singer by the Daily Mail and fêted with a spread in The Daily Express (I presume they had a page left spare from their latest reporting on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales).

For a large part of the population…especially the middle Englanders that the DM targets, an OBE offers a legitimacy to someone of such limited accomplishment and study in her chosen field like Katherine Jenkins. It makes a mockery of many hard working artists that sing their heart out and are equated to a classical crooner of no real distinction. All she represents is the get rich quick culture that hooks on distasteful sentimentality, the wilful shit peddling of the record companies and taking advantage of an ignorant public.

Over on Twitter we have been making up suitable takes on what OBE should stand for when it refers to our dear Katherine, here’s a selection so far:

Odious Barbie Entertainer
Ordinary Blonde Entertainer
Oddly Bland Entertainer
Overtly Brazen Entertainer
Off-key Banality Enumerator
Over-Booked ‘eadache

Mrs Carter and her dearest friends / Beyoncé at the O2 Arena, London – 3 May 2013

5 May

Any long-term readers will not quite expect a piece on Beyoncé by me…but somehow managed to see her newest, shiniest world tour on Friday night and thought it worth documenting here.

We tend to think of the tribes of people who attend classical and opera evenings, a largely middle class, middle-aged crowd that veers on the reverential and the more reserved side of human nature. If going out to see the London Symphony Orchestra is a visit to the nearest font of greatness for many of us, seeing Beyoncé is the equivalent of breathing the same air as a yogi. Her audience was a uniform mix of 20something girls that seemed to conform to about four types of pre-packaged ideal form. Most of it found in celebrity magazines, with bright fake tans, rampant hair extensions and fashion out of the third aisle left of Primark. As we sat down drinking some wine we looked on as hordes of fans arrived, resembling a self-replicating mass dedicated to having fun and waving their arms in the air to the tune of Single Ladies repeating in their heads for the next three hours. We may want to make assumptions on the looks and submission to the power of marketing and the desperate need to belong to a tribe. But mainly what was in evidence in spades was the undeniable magnetism and brilliant shine of popular culture at its most fundamental.

You will see the opening sequence in my embedded video, a failsafe mix of bright lights, abundant decibels, LED screens giving us an 18th century out of rococo paintings most of this audience never seen in the flesh, dancers and of course the appearance on a stage lift of the poster girl and the centre of attention. It is catchy, it is exciting and it was lapped up with genuine, moving  abandon. Interestingly the fans even found enough benevolence to not boo the turgid Pepsi advert that prefaces the opening of the show in an act of solidarity to the starring lady. Beyoncé like any pop act at the top of their game has the unbeatable mix of inoffensive blandness and a cunning ability to validate their existence in the zeitgeist by infuriating select audiences that would never see her live or download her music anyway.

Her brand of female empowerment may be full of contradictions and moves writers to want to write an open letter to Michelle Obama. But her nearly 80% female audience and all female stage band are serving a menu of inclusive entertainment. Between segments and costume changes we are served a diet of platitudes that would happily rest in the pages of a self-help book on how to attract men without looking desperate, we are told memorably that seduction is intelligent. Not miles away from the last Madonna show I experienced which featured prominently  a video mash-up of dictators intercut with images of genocide and George W Bush.
The pronouncements may be very different but the claim to gravitas in the context of all the hip thrusting and the hair flicking is the same. The appearance of a piano signifies a surface for our heroine to lie on in a fabulous midnight blue sparkly playsuit. What pop chanteuse doesn’t fall for the allure of adding a classical element into the presentation as a coded message for the fans to take away?  She also had a ballerina sequence at a transitional point in the middle of the show, making the point of how the inverted snobbery against ballet when used in a popular context. Carrying its sense of cultural elevation for her show with a subtle hint of high art that contrasts sharply with the immaculate renditions of radio wave fillers.

It would be very easy to turn all sneery and to not understand the point and the mechanics of a pop concert. This is shiny, showbiz glitter (and yes this show came complete with a glitter cannon) that bypasses reason and reaches cult levels. The sea of people around us were believing in her as a chief representative of their tribe, Beyoncé as head priestess of contemporary womanhood. She danced herself into a sweat and all the ladies nearby cheered her on and offered their love and approval at every turn. I felt like a heretic in the middle of it all, trying to judge for myself the source of this love and trying to not lose my hearing to the outrageous over-amplification.

One undeniable observation is the sense of total abandon to a hedonistic escapism for the three hours of the show. The relationship of total trust between the performer and the audience, being built on years of exposure via celeb magazines, TV appearances and being the soundtrack of people’s lives. The catchy tunes are just one part of the story, she manages to sell self confidence and a lifestyle by virtually bypassing the critical faculties of the audience and aiming straight for their emotions. I was moved to tears by Véronique Gens’ rendition of Les chemins de l’amour a few weeks back in a way that pop music will never reach deep inside me. My innate cynicism doesn’t allow for the guard to go down and permit myself to be manipulated by the artifice. The simplicity of the set up (one woman a pianist and a piano) is for me the ultimate way to communicate what it means to be human and to have a connection with one’s interior world. Allows for reflection and appreciation of great artistry without the need for spectacle and lights.

But damn me classical and opera audiences need to be taught a lesson on how to not be so buttoned up and to have a sense of occasion when attending, how to give themselves over to the musical experience and have a notch less reverence and a whole load more interaction. Why is it turning round and telling a fellow concert goer that the performance is incredible such a taboo? Why can’t the classical tribe try to be slightly less “respectable and bookish” and let its hair down. We need to celebrate all music as a genuine form of escapism that gives us safe hiding places from our everyday lives but also a source of essential, unadulterated FUN. So big thanks to Mrs Carter and her ladies in the audience for a giggle of a night out.  I wish I could transfer some of the unstuffy enjoyment and all round Joie de vivre…also hoping the next time I go to the Wigmore Hall it will smell a little less of mothballs.

Some Tweets from the evening

Hollywood glamour off the scale

4 Oct

Last Saturday somehow the stars aligned and we managed to go to the London viewing of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels, costumes and art at Christie’s. What can I really say about the most notoriously diamond hungry film star in the history of the world that hasn’t been said already ? This viewing was an once in a lifetime opportunity to see those items in person. And it was surely worth it.

The most prestigious gems were on show with an obvious highlight her 33.19 carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond ring (estimate $2.5m – 3.5m), which is exquisite. Such fire and brilliance but without looking as if it dropped off the sales rack of Claire’s (or any other cheap accessory shop). It’s simply mind boggling that she was wearing pretty much daily in the last 50 years. One’s eye can only imagine her washing the odd dish while wearing this rock.

Another major highlight was her 17 th century pearl that used to belong to Mary Queen of Scots, called La Peregrina (estimate $2m-3m). Which Burton acquired for her at auction against the Spanish Royal family. Taylor had it mounted in a necklace based on a painting of Mary in consultation with Cartier.  Taylor was not just a collector of statement pieces, she was clearly very much in touch with the history of her gems and how they should be worn. Can’t imagine many film stars of today showing such a willingness to learn and such great taste at picking some of the most stunning jewels the world has ever seen.

Finally the ruby set by Cartier (estimate $750.000) that Mike Todd gave her as a gift while on holiday in the south of France was simply extraordinary, a red hot accumulation of rubies accented with the pure white heat of diamonds set in platinum. A fellow (very posh and of a certain age) visitor to the display did exclaim that rubies are very difficult to wear. But seeing them on their last owner, they just highlighted her great beauty and exuberance. The viewing also featured reportedly the only piece Taylor bought for herself, The Windsor Brooch (estimate $400.000-600.000), which Edward VIII had especially made by Cartier as a present for Wallis Simpson, in the shape of the feathery crest of the Prince of Wales. Taylor was allowed to make a copy by Simpson (the two were close friends) but refused the last minute, so when it went on sale she had to have it.

The display itself was elegant and simple, the colour palette dominated by the violet colour she adored. The rooms were furnished with large banners printed with photographs of Taylor accompanied by some of her famous aphorisms. The room of costumes and couture was totally over the top, as befitting the Dame. From early demure Dior ensembles to some show stopping red Valentino, to heavily embroidered Ferre to the cheeky Versace  jacket with swarovski encrusted filmic faces of Elizabeth. All of them showed a woman on top of the glamour stakes that was not afraid to show off and to strut her stuff. No surprise there, she was a film star after all, not a carpenter.

One great surprise was the portion of her art collection that was on view and its selective nature. From some exquisite nudes by Augustus John, to a beautiful set of Vlaminck industrial landscapes. The fact that her parents were both art dealers must have informed some of her choices. The three main crowd pleasers on show were an Arles period Van Gogh that was brimming with sunshine and French provincialism (surely not a steal at the estimated £7m). A fantastic glowing landscape Pissarro (pere) with the rather conservative estimate of £900.000-1.2m. And a Warhol canvas on grey background of “Liz” a truly prime version of his famous series of portraits of Taylor based on a Richard Avedon photograph.

Also an oil on paper Self Portrait by Degas was penetrating and enchanting (yours for £350.00-450.000). A pretty late Renoir of a young woman wearing an oriental costume was nothing exceptional, but clearly carrying that signature made it worth £250.000! It was a shame that Christie’s did not make clear when she acquired each work…and not even the date of each painting was made. I do wonder if the six Augustus John paintings had anything to do with Richard Burton’s Welsh origins and their rather protracted and widely publicised romance that was a pivotal influence in her life. I may invest in the full catalogue when it becomes available just to get more information on their provenance and acquisition times. As this part of the sale is for me totally new and seemed to show Taylor in a totally new light.

For many this may have been a chance to gasp at the unbelievable jewels as some Elizabeth Taylor fetish that had to be seen. For me it was a fascinating journey in her taste in art, jewellery and clothing. A record of an extraordinary life that touched millions of people and yet had nothing everyday or simple about it. A life appropriate for one of the very last great divas of the US studio system. The tour continues till December where all her belongings will be sold at Christies New York, except for her paintings that will be dealt with by the London branch.

More Info

Here’s the Press Release

Here the auction site

Here is the set of photographs I took

Dame Helen as a Greek Queen with 18th century flourishes and some exraordinary language

7 Oct

While browsing one of those wretched lists of “what to book for this autumn” in The Times I realised that Helen Mirren would star in Racine’s Phèdre. That titillated me so much that instantly booked a couple of tickets for the best seats I could get on a Sunday matinee. In my mind’s eye she would make an interesting figure in an 18th century French tragedy.


The months passed and finally the day arrived (23 August 2009). I spend the previous evening reading through all the reviews. Especially the reception they got in Greece, when performing at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus a few weeks previously! Lots of the Greek press where star-struck by Dame Helen, while the usual moaning minority thought it was a minor event not deserving the coverage it got. A couple of excerpts on You Tube show a really loud standing ovation with very little evidence of anyone being displeased by the show! They also adapted the minimalist set to the ancient stage, making it fit to the much shallower stage than the Lyttelton’s, what more can one ask!


Now back to the Sunday at the National Theatre. Being on the sixth row was absolutely brilliant and the Lyttleton when sold out has a very intimate feel. When the heavy two-part safety curtain opened to an otherworldly ramble we were almost blinded by the bright partially sand covered set. It was indeed like being on a Mediterranean island with the sun shinning. The wait for Phèdre’s arrival on stage was palpable. When she walked in a gorgeous matching deep purple dress and translucent veil we were breathless. It was wonderful how she removed her veil to show her brilliant gold locks and the gleaming gold jewellery that she started removing and throwing it on the floor.

The Spartan appearance of the set created a very harmonious backdrop for the action. It also agreed with Ted Hughes’ fast-moving free verse translation from the French! It gave this historic, heavy tragedy of the age of enlightenment a totally contemporary pace.


The scene where Phèdre describes her feelings of love for Hippolitus to her attendant (Oenone), is a most wonderful evocation of savage emotion expressed in poetic but colloquial English. Mirren grasped her stomach with a mix of disgust and uncontrollable passion she sobbed that Venus had ‘fastened on me like a tiger’. It was one of those great moments when nothing equals a live performance. That magical space that film can never touch. Everyone in the auditorium had forgotten about Mirren and followed the story of Phèdre and her unrequited love for her step son. From the moment she fell on the floor in mourning for (the presumed dead) King Theseus, Mirren owned the stage with a beautiful intensity that played on the ambivalence of the character she portrayed. She was a devoted wife but with feelings for her dead husband’s son, a Queen that was not living up to the expectations of her people and going against her own son blinded by her passion for Hippolitus.


Racine took a slightly different direction than the ancient Greek writers and added a love interest for the step son, alleviating any negative reactions from his 18th century audience. Hippolitus’ love for Aricia makes for an interesting plot device, that makes Phèdre’s approach pre-destined to fail. But at the same time it creates another layer of tension as the viewer is wondering through the scene of her confession of her savage passion for Hippolitus if he will abandon Aricia and give in to temptation! To be slightly petulant, seeing how ravishing Dame Helen looked in costume we should have changed his mind!


It is worth mentioning that the rest of the cast was wonderful, with a slight reservation for Stanley Townsend’s Theseus who was not helped by the mid 20th century costume to not look like a deranged beer-lout. His volume was deafening. It took us aback after Mirren’s subtle naturalistic take on her character. Margaret Tyzack as Oenone was excellent as she was a textbook attendant for the Queen, full of compassion, experience and an ever so slightly dry sense of humour. She had the kind of gravitas you would expect to find on a performance of Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba. But in another way it made Dominic Cooper look far too young to be the object of affection for Phèdre. It has been commented upon as an odd bit of casting and it did not made sense to me at the start. But then I hadn’t watched Mama Mia! (the movie) unlike the rest of the crowd! I had no idea that the movie had propelled him to the sphere of instantly recognisable stardom…which explains all the gasps in the auditorium. But it was really funny at the time as it made me feel that I had lost contact with the rest of the world. As my friend Klarita would say, I have been possibly listening to too many opera recordings from the 1950s.


All in all it was a triumph for the National Theatre and I am really glad they toured it to Greece and the US.


Update on Paris—post prison

2 Jul
Paris’s post prison interview to Larry King on CNN has made it on his podcast
Worth checking out:
It will be interesting to see how long this more restraint Paris will last!
Oh dear I just hope she will not drive to her next red carpet engagement!

MTV Movie Awards 2007…and Paris

5 Jun
Oh dear I did watch the repeat of the MTV Movie Awards last night…and had a great laugh at the abuse thrown at Paris Hilton from the presenter!
One day before she was up to be locked up she chose to go to another red carpet bash. Poor Paris she doesn’t have a life away from the photographers flashes and her own camcorder 😉
Here is a link to the video on you tube:
I just love Jack Nicholson’s reaction! As for Paris’ sulky expression…oh well maybe she should have been more gracious and just smile back. But then she maybe was thinking of ingenious ways to suck on those bars without hurting her teeth!
You’ve got to love pointless celebs like her! They offer us hours of unadulterated escapism and fun
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