#197 - exhibition review, Secret Rivers 22/05/19

Museum of London Docklands

This is a charming, impressionistic rather than comprehensive look at the Thames tributaries that have been concealed, converted and in some cases reclaimed, told through a smattering of artefacts and art. The Fleet became a sewer, the Westbourne became the Serpentine, the Neckinger bred cholera in the Jacob’s Island rookery, now home to luxury apartments. There are skulls, swords, paintings and mixed-media work, plus documentation on the spoof campaigns to bring the Effra and Tyburn above ground again. There’s a bigger story here – what about the quaggy – but it’s a diverting reminder that London, as curator Kate Sumnall puts it, is as much a blue city as a green one.


#194 - "Righteous rage, not much else" - theatre review, Salt 17/05/19

Royal Court Theatre

In this monologue, Rochelle Rose gradually demolishes a block of salt with a sledgehammer while detailing artist-author Selina Thompson’s attempts to her legacy of slavery to Africa, the Caribbean and (oddly, since she’s from Birmingham) the US. There’s a lot of righteous rage, mostly focused on being asked where she’s ‘really’ from, here, and a potent musing on belonging, but not much else. An early plan to film the trip fails, the personal and the historical never mesh, and the significance of the salt is unclear. Rose powerfully embodies the indignities Thompson suffers but the result is little more than an angry travelogue.

#196 - "Both intimate and distancing!" - theatre review, Anna 21/05/19

National Theatre, Dorfman

Headphones take us inside the head of the threatened East German heroine – played with brilliant brittleness by Phoebe Fox – of Ella Hickson’s frustratingly brief play. Anna throws a party to celebrate her husband’s promotion and their new apartment, but a figure from the past exposes layers of deceit. The technology feels both intimate and distancing – we watch through a screen, partygoers’ voices fading when Anna leaves the stage to vomit or weep - and audio experts Ben and Max Ringham get co-creator credit. It also makes a shrewder comment on the DDR’s paranoid surveillance of its citizens than Hickson’s script which is taut but, at just 65 minutes, far too skimpy


#195 - "The meaning remains elusive" - exhibition review, Manga 21/05/19

British Museum

Just as I find Manga simultaneously attractive in its dynamism and troubling in its imagery (the infantilism, the violence), this show struck me as both rich and thin. There’s plenty here on the evolution of the art form in Japan from hand-scrolls through different fields (boys’ adventure, girls’ romance, sport, literature, politics) to global dominance, backed up with original works. There are sections on comic-cons and cosplay. But the meaning of manga remains elusive: what does it say about Japanese culture and why did it strike a chord outside? And the more disturbing side of manga – hentai, or manga porn, a huge business – doesn’t get a look in.

#193 - "Stereotypes are exploited as much as they are subverted" - theatre review, Royal Court 17/05/19

Royal Court

Tensions erupt among six women running an Asian skincare brand when a racist ad goes viral. Anchuli Felicia King’s feisy, challenging play deals in prejudice directed outside and inside the continent, pitting Chinese against Indian, Thai against Korean, and probing the desire of Asian women to “look white”. At times it feels as if stereotypes, relating to gender as much as ethnicity, are being exploited as much as subverted in Nana Dakin’s sassy production: there is an overall tone of bitchiness. But, as with the film the Favourite, it's refreshing to see defiantly dislikeable female characters with agency, and this certainly passes the Bechdel test. Plus the laugh-out-loud jokes are bold and confrontational.

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