By Josephine McDonagh University life has changed dramatically over the twenty odd years during which I’ve been teaching. But I still believe that it is an enormous privilege to be an academic. In what other profession could I read and think about extraordinary books, and talk about them with extraordinary people, as part of my working day? Take this week, for example: my reading will include Middlemarch, and some new criticism about it; some essays about digital texts and what happens when we read a computer-imaged page; works on speed and slowness, and the idea of ‘monumentality’ in music; on incest in contemporary America; and on the divine in Emily Dickinson. In my research time, I am finding out about the idea of the Indian village which fascinated writers and thinkers in Britain in the late nineteenth century. People in the Arts and Crafts movement (like William Morris) thought that the craft workers of Indian villages embodied an ideal form of labour. In turn, important Indian political figures, like the nationalist Gandhi, were influenced by writers of the same movement and their esteem for traditional village labour. A more populist version of the Indian village cropped up in London at this time in Battersea Park. The store Liberty in 1885 hired forty two Indians to come to London perform in an Indian Village staged in Battersea Park to help promote the store’s oriental goods. Unfortunately it took place in November and December – which turned out to be the coldest winter months that Britain had ever experienced. Not a good time to be performing snake charming in a London park – especially not for the snake. The affair was a disaster – snakes died; men died. And when a bedraggled and depleted group of people returned to Bombay, it added momentum to a growing Indian independence movement. The downside of being head of department is that I spend less time teaching than usual. To my mind, teaching is the best part of the job, and particularly rewarding in King’s. I still supervise a lot of dissertations – from BAs to PhDs. This week my reading will include essays and chapters on the post-modern reinvention of Dracula, late nineteenthcentury spiritualist mediums, and on the letters that emigrants to Australia and Canada wrote back home. My favourite teaching is supervising BA dissertations. I love seeing how what begins as a flicker of an idea gradually turns into a broad and persuasive essay. BA students tend to be more adventurous than more advanced researchers
– probably because they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for! The results can be spectacular. I supervised an amazing dissertation on the trope of three sisters – from medieval sagas to contemporary film, and ranging across the world. But close focus can be equally impressive, and sometimes the dissertation that finds a detail and investigates it like an obsessive detective, scrutinising and stalking it as it passes from text to text, can be most revealing. As head of department I am responsible for ensuring that everything organisational happens the way it should do. In a big department like ours, that means having to juggle a lot of different things at the same time. It’s very challenging, but interesting, and rewarding when you get it right. The department is expanding; we are making brilliant new appointments, and this helps to maintain the department’s spirit. But the conditions for universities – students and lecturers alike - are tougher than ever at the moment, and some of the principles that have governed higher education in the past are being radically questioned. One effect of change is that we are endlessly bombarded with targets – employability, satisfaction, research ‘impact’ and so on. In pursuit of meeting them it’s easy to forget why we are all here. That’s why it’s so important to remember that universities, first and foremost, are for the free exploration and exchange of ideas. So please, carry on reading!
Interview with Zoe Robinson By Helena Goodrich Zoe Robinson only graduated in 2010 and has achieved a lot in this past year. ‘Strip Theatre’ Company which she set up with writer/ director Henry David has performed shows at venues across London, and for two consecutive seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She has also worked in production for the BBC, Roar Theatre Company and The Lyric theatre in Hammersmith to name a few. I met Zoe for coffee to find out more about how she got involved: So how did you first become interested theatre production? I studied English and Drama at Manchester University, and I started off as an actor; I was in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in my first year. Then my friend Henry David got funding to direct ‘What the Butler Saw’ and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I assumed he meant acting. When he said he wanted me to produce, I didn’t know what it was, and I’m sure a lot of actors still aren’t exactly sure what goes into it. But anyway I loved it and I don’t think I could go back to acting even if I wanted to, because I’d always be thinking about the technical side of the show. How did ‘Strip Theatre’ Company come into being? It started off at university when Henry wrote a play ‘Self Portrait’ which got funding from university and we put on in Manchester, him directing and me producing. Then Henry wrote a play really quickly afterwards called ‘A Perfect Corpse’ which we performed in London at the Rosemary Branch Theatre and then at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival just after graduating. We just had a blast, and we thought ‘Let’s just do this and let’s keep doing it until it becomes a chore.’ And it hasn’t. Was it difficult to make the transition between student and professional theatre? I think we were quite naïve when we started out and university is such a bubble; you have your student loans, you live in a place around other people who are passionate about theatre, you don’t need to worry about paying your actors. Suddenly you finish and your best actor friends have gone off to drama school and people have moved all over the place. You’ve got to work hard. We realised that at our level it would be very difficult to make money. We can’t pay our actors but then we don’t pay ourselves either. Sometimes not having money forces you to be more creative, especially in set design. How do you fund your productions? Henry and I put our own money into our productions and we also look for funding and sponsorship. We had a huge fundraiser which went amazingly. We organised an art auction and we got up and coming artists to donate pieces so that their names got out there. We then auctioned them off and we invited industry people and also people with
money. We made over £7,000 in a night. Since you don’t pay yourself for ‘Strip Theatre’ how do you earn money? I’ve worked for the bbc which has been great alongside, and I’ve worked for other theatre companies and run workshops. You need something alongside to earn money. What is unique about ’Strip Theatre’ shows and how do you market them in amongst all the other theatre that’s going on in London? The plays are all similar in that they skew moments in history to show people a fresh outlook on it, often in using dark comedy. The plays are basically marketed as a good night out. You’re going to have fun, you’ll laugh, maybe learn something but we won’t ram it down your throat. What are your future plans for the company? We’d like to become a touring company, maybe have six or seven shows that we could play in rep with really moveable sets. We’d also like to get a theatre space that we could use and rent out to other companies because at the moment our main cost is hiring spaces for rehearsals and shows. Which other theatres/ companies do you admire? The Lyric in Hammersmith is a big influence and they’ve had a 13 million pound development project. Also Punch Drunk company who I’ve produced for are great. There’s more of a movement towards ‘experience theatre’ such as ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’ at the moment What is your advice to Students interested in working in theatre production? Take every opportunity, say yes to everything. You’ll find yourself doing essays at 3am to catch up but everyone does. University is a safe environment to try stuff out. Even though I did a lot, I wish I’d done more. Talk to everyone and if you love it, do it, but be realistic. You need a team around you that you really trust to put on a great show. For me, the best way I could learn was by going out and doing it for myself. I worked on Roar theatre’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Owen Lewis earlier this year which was a proper job. Sometimes I would go home and think “Oh God how can I do this” but it was great, I was just expected to get on with it. My biggest mistake was that post-university, when applying for theatre jobs, although on paper I was great and had done a lot of theatre I would go into interviews apologising for what I hadn’t done or saying I’d only done things in a student capacity with a student budget. No you should be confident and say; I have done this with a small budget and if I had more I could make it even more amazing. Work the hardest that you can but also be realistic. It’s hard work, but I’m doing what I love.
Book Reviews The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barberry Review by Annie Hughes
Having recently stumbled across this French book in translation, ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barberry, published in 2008 in English, I do not know how I did not come across this charming novel sooner. ‘LeFigaro’ described Barberry’s novel as ‘the publishing phenomenon of the year’ and, with its profound themes and charming narratives, it is easy to see why. The story centres around the lives of the two female protagonists, Renée Michel, a fifty-four-year-old Concierge in a luxurious Parisian block of flats, and Paloma, an astoundingly intelligent twelveyear-old girl living with her bourgeois family in these flats, who having reached the conclusion that life is meaningless, decides to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. The novel’s narrative is split between these two protagonists, who movingly and gradually reveal their poignant stories to the reader. What is striking about this novel is the way in which Barberry intertwines the lives of these two narrators who at first appear so strikingly different. Paloma and her Japanese neighbour, Karaku Ozu, share a fascination with the secret life of their concierge, Renée, and it is this interest which makes their very different worlds collide while also sparking a profound friendship. It soon emerges that Renée is not the average, dowdyconcierge she portrays herself to be, but a culturally enriched woman, who delights in intellectual endeavours such as Japanese cinema and the work of Tolstoy. While Renée describes herself as ‘a widow, short, ugly, chubby…with the breath of a mammoth’, Paloma unveils her secret life of cultural pursuits, and describes the concierge’s true identity as ‘the same simple refinement as the hedgehog; a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary- and terribly elegant’. My favourite elements of the novel, however, are the journal entries narrated by the precocious Paloma, who the reader soon learns has a penchant for the French philosophy of absurdism. With an interest myself for French thought and philosophy, in particular the theories of ‘Absurdism’ by French thinkers such as Albert Camus, I found these moments of Paloma’s narration both intellectually and philosophically stimulating. But do not be put off; they are delivered in an accessible, creative way. The Guardian called Barberry’s novel ‘a crash course in philosophy’ and while the reader can certainly learn a great deal about this area of French Thought, the novel is still nevertheless a work of fiction, and what is interesting is how the twelve-year old girl dictates her life through these rather dark philosophical theories about the futility of human life on earth. To summarise, Barberry’s novel has the perfect mixture of intellectual content and emotionally moving passages which depict deep friendships, personal conflict and class restraints. Underneath its chocolate-box setting amongst Paris’ wealth and luxury, it has intellectual and emotional
The Diamond Chariot, Boris Akunin Review by Jacqueline Gunn
In the overcrowded genre of mystery fiction, which seems to be forever monopolised by the ghosts of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, it feels refreshing to see a foreigner entering the scene. Although perhaps ‘entering’ is a wrong word for Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin mystery series, as the first instalment was published in his native Russia in 1998 and has since sold over eighteen million copies there. The Diamond Chariot is the tenth novel in the series that follows its protagonist Erast Fandorin’s ventures in tsarist Russia and abroad at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel is divided into two books: the shorter Book One set in Russia in 1905, in which Fandorin is pulled back from retirement at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, and the longer Book Two that travels back to 1878, telling the story of Fandorin’s first adventure as a young diplomat posted in the port city of Yokohama, Japan. Book One, entitled ‘Dragonfly-Catcher’, is a fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase between Fandorin and a spy planning sabotage on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In contrast, Book Two, entitled ‘Between the Lines’, unfolds more slowly as the young Fandorin gets involved with an investigation on the assassination of a Japanese minister. Unlike Book One, which reads like a political thriller, Book Two is heavily laced with Fandorin’s love affair with a Japanese courtesan and chronicles
his development from a naïve, idealistic officer to a pragmatic, Sherlockian consultant. One point of criticism is that the novel is less of a crime fiction and more of a fantasy novel. An ardent Japanophile, Akunin inevitablyindulges in fantastic plots involving the ninja and their ninjustu, the preternatural art of stealth and camouflage. Whilst the presence of ninja may add a touch of exoticism to the novel, it also weakens the plot as it invariably becomes an explanation for every seemingly mysterious occurrence. Thus, a murder of an investigator is brushed aside as the work of a ninja, leaving the reader bewildered as to whether there be anything the ninja cannot do. But perhaps the author intended just that, to shift our attention from the ‘how’ to the ‘why’; at least he can avoid the disappointment that follows unrealistic solutions that ruined many a Christie novel. Leaving the ninja obsession aside, the novel is still a pleasure to read. A number of beautifully crafted passages buried in the book make you pause and think without being overly philosophical, and the concluding haiku at the end of each chapter in Book Two are a fun addition. Whilst Book Two may drag on for a little, stretching to nearly four hundred pages, the final chapter makes the journey worthwhile as the loose threads come together in a plot-twisting revelation. The novel is devoid of the silliness of Poirot or the deductive exercises of Holmes, and focuses instead on the internal struggles of the characters that transcend the mystery, thereby making it a thrilling yet satisfying read.
Theatre Reviews Kitchen Sink
Review by Jess Broadbent
A kitchen bizarrely like my own Preston-based Grandma’s and a family as northern as can be to go with it – The Bush Theatre’s rendition of Wells’ ‘The Kitchen Sink’ captures the north of England with all the grit of real life that drama can contain. The kitchen sink’s style takes on an interestingly direct manifestation on the stage in this play, the kitchen literally created by a fully functional kitchen unit. Used for the copious ‘brews’ made, the preparation of meals, eating of biscuits, - and even as an emotion-cooling fountain: the kitchen and its blocked sink are truly at the heart of the drama. Realism does not replace artistic subtleties here, as our fly-on-the-wall audience status lurches the audience right into the domesticity of family life in a place where old societal systems are fading, and the trustworthy milkmen of the old days such as Martin are becoming a memorial of the past. The south, London, art and ‘boys from Eton in pashmina’s’ are ostracised from the rural town only alluded to from within the kitchen walls. Withernsea is stuck in the customs of the past whilst the characters with their individual eccentricities attempt to escape. Slight claustrophobia ensues from the staging in the round chosen for the performance, yet rather than an intruder one comes to feel welcome in Martin and Kath’s home. As dimmed lights are all that accompany scene changes, the family members visibly clear the debris of props away as if tidying for visitors- you almost expect someone to reach over and offer you a mug of Yorkshire tea. Their kitchen becomes a place of unity where the working class characters meet, eat, chat, argue and celebrate: a welcoming hub of familial love. Comedic as well as compassionate, the trivialities and absurdities of everyday life are greatly drawn upon in order to create pure laugh-out-loud comedy - ‘dead funny’, one might say. Sampson consistently brings hilarity, from his dancing and yodelling along to Dolly Parton in karaoke duet with his mother, to his expostulation about the necessity of sequins covering the star’s nipples in his portrait of her. Coming from a town where Preston seems exotic, one can understand why the his dreams of London seem outrageously inappropriate to his father, who can barely even come to the terms with his son’s sexuality. Whilst hilarious, Sampson’s characterisation of Billy begs sympathy. Nevertheless, with Rhodri’s portrayal of his stubborn father and our proximity to the intricacies of the family, one is also drawn to feel strongly for a man whose narrowmindedness alongside his own problems only manifests itself into upset and a level of self-loathing. At a time when our own professional futures are uncertain, the poignancy of the father’s ending “There’s life after milk – I hope” sets an optimistic endnote undermined and somewhat unsatisfying in its attempted reassurance. Dashed hopes of urban migration are all the more resonant when watched from a London theatre, the city that shattered Billy’s creative dreams and only holds limited offerings for fledgling professionals in the present day. What a delight it is, therefore, to lose oneself in the frivolities and silliness of daily life through the kitchen of one family. My only complaint is the occasionally soap opera -esque feel to the play, yet this leaves one wanting to come back next week for more. Despite the uncertainties faced in their changing lives it is warming to watch the wonderful reassurance gained through the infrastructure of the family. A performance for anyone needing a pick-me-up and a reminder of the joy in life’s simple things, take your chocolate digestives along and enjoy.
Editor’s Theatre Picks!
The Christmas season always brings some spectacular productions to London, so whether you are looking for the perfect Christmas gift, or simply need a break from essay writing, be sure to check out these fantastic shows! Duckie: Copyright Christ- Jerusalem: Apollo Theatre Jesus II: The White Bear Audience: Soho Theatre Howl’s Moving Castle: mas: Barbican Centre (Until late January) Theatre (13th-23rd De- (Until January 7th) Southwark Playhouse (10th-30th December). This sensational pro- cember) As suggested by the title, (Until January 7th) For those who shun the typi- duction from acclaimed Strip Theatre return to this show is all about the Adapted from the popular cal Christmas pantomime, writer Jez Butterworth London following a high- audience, so expect high animated film of the same this show is for you! Con- features an extraordinary ly successful run at the levels of audience interac- title, Stephen Fry narrates spicuous consumption performance from Mark Edinburgh Festival with tion. Shocking and outra- this beautiful production. thrives in this promenade Rylance. Although it is of- a daring retelling of the geous, this show caused a Combining live performperformance featuring ficially sold out, day tick- nativity story. storm at this year’s Edin- ance, multimedia and saucy shopaholics, su- ets can still be purchased burgh Festival. Soho The- an original score by The permarket sweepers and from the box office. atre until January 7th. Guillemots, this producsweatshop santas. tion promises to be truly magical.
Flash Fiction THE ALTAR
As they did when we were but young. This is the tower we’ve always Worked in with our desk and tie and our part in a dead Broadway show;
It’s funny to think But don’t overdo it All we need is the love Of a good waxwork God, give us the wherewithal to shirk All our duties, manumit us now Place your tongue before the plough And drink of the womb of the Earth Raise the sacrificial stillbirth Upon the masthead, set a course For a long grey night without remorse And prepare your brain for godhood.
A tower we can feel safe in, a tower with a thousand eyes And myriad tongues all spewing one prayer book for the dawn workers Come in from the desert lands. We’ll give them perhaps a helping hand If it can be spared – but we all live on bones up here, and lurkers
By Alister Dodds
Down below turn their envious eyes, their callous brown hands to our Feasting. We can’t let them in to the Tower of Babel; all doors Must you keep closed to those who can’t climb or gain patronage above. All walls must you guard, colleague – friend – and boats must return to their shores.
But surely you, compatriot, appreciate the artistry Of the sterile Babel for which you’ve long given your permission: See how the tower reaches, arcs from ash to ash? From dust to dust? Each brick a pledge left unfulfilled by electron-light, a vision
It’s a mighty tower, as to make our mothers and fathers cry tears of wonder and pride, and despair at what ages have made. It’s weathered the fury of brave souls and bad, and now as scripture Stands: do what thou will, but the tower will be, long after your memory fades.
Wrought in neurons and ink, but oh, cast aside like an old lover Whose days have grown weary and dull and wintersome; whose eyes don’t glow
Waterloo Bridge Catherine Heath
When a plump heart bulges and is beaten under a bored Father, frown:- Discard the white, and the black keys Every word you’ve uttered repeatedly prescribed, and those too sunny pictures Venom and spite of stormy weather. Quirkily advertised. I hurl into that rippling water From the bridge (implacable, True and falsely sweet and sharply snug dichotomy Having seen many things, of radio tunes, in warm and cosy sitting rooms And surely this is no first). Shock belief out of a cornered organ pumping the life that you play. you play. Play on! I’ll pay with my brains, soaked in sandalwood, spice, whatever vogue or vague is hitting the streets. Of incomplete tweets… Just give me my music back. My many-hued, honed and tuned piano. That is all I lack.
London springs out of your bones, And you cannot be made holy, Nor can you be saved. So, only washed away by the grim tide; As all things. I’ll take what you’ve bestowed, Though it be not much More than rot. The rats feast on your delicious entrails Whilst I watch your malice Drown.
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By Jack Barton I stopped talking For reasons that were truths misappropriated When really it was for the blackest truth You told me that I could not face A flippant revelation on a dour drive home Steaming up the car like sweat from a gangrene limb The day sour-white, early September, after Resplendent summer’s back turned, its vapour trail dissipating south, yet before Autumn drops a golden brown salvo of splayed hands And I had to pretend I was fine, not plough into Oncoming traffic, yet the silence was undeniable Coming in like the tide at Woolacombe over Miles of flat sand, fleeing heels kicking up its skin of water, so Cold I felt feverish, wound down the window without a word, Let you out, grappling my verbal torpor to punctuate the Quiet with goodbye, but then I ran to my dad’s, and told him As flippantly as you had told me, to prove I was unmoved Though I heard the plectrum of the lie pluck a quiver Into my secondhand story -
That summer was brighter than I realised Sometimes genuinely aching for you, sometimes Only convincing myself I did, or simply Happy with our platonic friendship Two bitter slow-death winter separate us Now yet this morning I overslept dreaming of You, left the house unshaved and sedated No taxis passed by, the wind was contemplating numbing My hands and cheeks, and I got to work an hour late Coffee beans spilled out of the machine and I recoiled Seeing a swarm of scarab beetles - tonight the restaurant Is deserted and reflected in the window My nose is upturned sneering at the old me, my Face spotty and coarse from the long day I’ve Moved through in a lentor and with four hours left I Lean on the bar drinking ice water from a highball Glass because maybe with it I can swallow my pride and Say: ‘I’m sorry, Jade’.
KCL Enlish Society are excited to announce thier 2012 production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Auditions will take place at the following: Monday 5th - Strand Campus, S2.23 Tuesday 6th - Waterloo Campus, 4.43 (Franklin-Wilkins) Wednesday 7th - Guy’s Campus, Gowland Hopkins Lecture Theatre No previous experience is necessary, just an enthusiasm and willingness to get involved. We are also looking for people interested in set design, stage management, costume and lighting. To find out more visit the KCL English Society’s Facebook page. Below is a brief synopsis of the play to give you a taste. The play begins with Ma Ubu, Pa Ubu’s insidiously manipulative wife persuading Pa Ubu to kill Good King Wenceslas (obviously, the allusions to Macbeth are pretty rife!) Pa Ubu gathers a group of soldiers led by Bordure – a precocious and grotesque character. Along with his band of merry men, Pa Ubu assassinates Wenceslas and usurps the throne. Ubu and his soldiers fight Wenceslas’s army, led by his sons Prince Boleslaus, Ladislaus and Buggerlaus. Ubu and his soldiers win victoriously. The cowering Buggerlaus then escapes to the mountains where the ghosts of his ancestors inform him that he must take revenge. Ubu’s reign begins positively, however he quickly evolves into a tyrannous dictator, murdering aristocrats and charging triple tax. The loyal Bordure eventually shifts his loyalty and joins Buggerlaus and Tsar Alexis of All the Russkies to form an army against Ubu. Simultaneously, Ma Ubu steals the Balonian state treasure and runs away with a soldier. Pa Ubu is eventually defeated in battle. He hides himself away in a cave with Coccyx and Pile. Ma Ubu eventually finds herself in the same cave. Ma Ubu and Pa Ubu make up their differences; they give up their places on the throne and take up a voyage of exile to Engelland.
...his eyes, his pocketknife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished - how strange it was! a few sayings like this about cabbages.
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Editorial team: Thomas Brewer, Coryn Brisbane, helena Goodrich Presented by the English Society Shakti Bhagchandani Thomas Brewer Coryn Brisbane Miztli cadena Helena Goodrich Maia Jenkins Francesca Paul Benjy rabinovich design by Thomas Brewer