Medea: The Almeida Theatre

Medea is the third and final play in The Almeida’s acclaimed Greeks series and, although both other plays in the series were also excellent, it is probably the most memorable.

As the production opens, lights come up on what resembles a chic minimalist modern home, the type common in The Almeida’s Islington neighbourhood. An upper mezzanine floor divides the stage horizontally.

Standing at a collapsing kitchen sink and counter cruelly cleaved in two, Amanda Boxer’s nagging Nurse, proper almost to the point of stereotype, talks harshly, her voice grating as she bemoans Medea’s current situation. Andy de la Tour’s Tutor chimes in occasionally with his crudely male perspective while Kate Fleetwood’s Medea stands centre stage between.

This literally and figuratively sets the scene for the next 90 minutes because at it’s heart this is a play about duality: male and female; mother and father; woman and wife; love and hate; forgiveness and vengeance. The cut collapsing kitchen the perfect metaphor for Medea’s broken home.

Director Rupert Goold’s brilliant modern dress production makes full use of Ian MacNeil’s clever stark set where everything appears too perfect. Only both Neil Austin’s evocative lighting and Adam Cork’s sombre sound indicate scene shifts. All combine to leave the audience feeling something is very wrong almost immediately.

Although the entire cast is superb, Fleetwood’s Medea is a revelation. Torn in two by her love for her sons and the knowledge of how her behaviour hurts them, you can see Medea’s internal struggle.

Obsessed by husband Jason, a swaggering selfish Justin Salinger, and his love for another younger woman, she wrongly believes she can still win him back. Medea is a powerful intelligent woman. Using every resource available: reason, anger, threats, deceit, sex and even the children themselves, she cannot accept the only person she really controls is herself.

Jason and Medea fight dirty and as their slanging matches become more personal, she becomes increasingly desperate. Blind with rage she refuses to heed Michele Austin’s Cleaner’s harrowing stories as the warnings they are, seeing them instead as ideas for new weapons to use against her husband.

Her fury builds as Creon, Jason’s lover’s father and the Chorus of women she is ostracised from criticise her behaviour. Goading her on to the unthinkable, she spits venom at the audience before the play moves towards its inevitable heart-breaking climax.

This is an exhausting but unmissable night of brilliant theatre.

Berlin’s best showcased in Shoreditch pop-up.

Berlin Pop-Up Interior (Courtesy: be Berlin)

Berlin Pop-Up Interior (Courtesy: be Berlin)

While Boris was busy in Manchester this week the Germans invaded London. This time, however, there was no tank or football fan in sight. Instead a pop-up store, opened in Shoreditch on Monday for be Berlin, the marketing campaign for Berlin Partner for Business and Technology, the German capital’s official promotional arm.
Arriving fresh from a similar sortie to Stockholm last week, London’s the second of five European capitals the Germans are trying to capture, opening for a week each in similarly hip inner-city areas of Amsterdam, Vienna and Paris immediately after.
Berlin Partner for Business and Technology, showcases innovative Berlin brands and start-ups in design, fashion, furniture, food and technology. Something of a Berlinophile myself, I went along to investigate.

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Kids’ online safety – cracking the code

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

How to protect kids online? The Government is clueless!

The Department for Education plans to launch an online guide for parents and teachers, helping them decipher acronyms and other codes children use on social media.

The ParentInfo website is essentially a text-speak dictionary parents can access to decipher what kids are really saying online to protect them from pornography, paedophilia and “sexting”.  Abbreviations include: GNOC (get naked on camera); LMIRL (let’s meet in real life); DOC (drug of choice) plus warnings like PAW (parents are watching) and P999 (parent alert).

A marvellous idea in theory but I immediately recalled my own childhood that, despite being entirely Internet free nonetheless contained large amounts of pornography, albeit mostly in magazines, but also several videos. Some of this was largely purloined, interestingly, from a few of my parents’ more bohemian friends.

My friends and I also ran rings around adults in other ways with our own slang and teen-speak. Kids, as they say, will be kids.

I am not at all advocating giving children complete free-reign or access to pornography – boundaries must be set. I also agree parents and teachers need assistance. Technological developments now move so fast many must be left almost clueless. Once parents crack one code children, however, will almost certainly create another equally baffling. Again: kids will be kids.

Unless we therefore devote a branch of MI5 to this dilemma I fail to see how it can possibly succeed.

Another service ParentInfo offers is advice for parents on engaging with their children about the Internet and how to use it safely. Surely this is common sense and should now be as much a part of good parenting as explaining where babies come from.

I therefore fail to see the point of this whole endeavour.

Far more useful would be following the example of Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens, who recently featured in Channel 4’s fascinating documentary Sex in Class, predictably slammed by the right-wing media.

Trialled in one school, Ms Liekens offered a ground-breaking approach to how teenagers should be taught about sex. Sex Education became as important to the curriculum as Maths or English.

Homework was even set. Girls were encouraged to explore their own bodies with a mirror. After voting on which photograph of vaginas in different states of hairlessness they preferred, boys were given a taste of their preference for the hairless and asked to shave their own pubic hair. Taught in co-educational classes, with an exam at the end, among other benefits the difference in girls’ assertiveness once the course was completed regarding what was acceptable behaviour from boys was inspiring.

If the Government put as much time and money into this worthy and tested scheme as it did another quick-fix solution designed to generate headlines, they might finally start helping the children they claim to want to protect.

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack

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Can the long-termist Greens win a general election sprint?

Rupert Murdoch’s electoral edict to The Sun’s editorial staff: keep Miliband out of Downing Street or risk their jobs was unsurprising. Far more interesting was the lack of effect this, or anything in mainstream media, had on polls. The old: “It Was The Sun Wot Won It” days are over.

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Yes, cyclists matter – but so does everyone else

Photo: Creative Commons courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Photo: Creative Commons courtesy en.wikipedia.org

You don’t need to go far to see their staggering selfishness, especially in London. Pedestrians and motorists both suffer, watching in anger while these two-wheeled terrors casually weave in and out of traffic, ignoring signs, signals, riding over pedestrian bridges and jumping the kerb. Roads and footpaths belong to them – nobody else.

Disregarding everyone’s safety, including their own, they wear neither helmets nor high-visibility jackets. Lacking lights for dark days and evenings, often in dark clothing as if trying to deliberately remain unseen, the only reason they have reflectors is because these came attached.

The poor woman probably scarred for life recently, after a callous cyclist hit and run on a Bermondsey footpath may be extreme.

But when newspaper headlines shout about another tragic cycling death, sadly few readers admit much sympathy. With little detail, no blame is directed toward the fatally injured cyclist. Readers, although wishing nobody harm, often recall nothing except the recent recklessness they saw or experienced. These images come to mind, not the poor cyclist tragically killed. Subsequently many readers rarely bother continuing past the headlines.

Yes, millions of responsible cyclists do follow road rules, are considerate to those they share streets with and wear correct cycling clothing.

Millions of drivers show similar respect for road safety laws. Most people no more condemn every motorist as irresponsible and dangerous for the few reckless drivers who blight the roads, than they do all cyclists.

One important difference remains though.

Motorists undergo lengthy theoretical and practical training before being allowed behind a car wheel and penalties, should they flout laws, are far more severe.

Cyclists comparatively, can jump on a bike immediately, whether it’s been years since they last cycled or never ridden at all.

The expression: “It’s just like riding a bike,” describes any activity you never forget or can pick up easily after a lengthy break. The irony is this should not apply to cycling, especially through London’s crowded streets.

Cyclists should not be permitted on roads until completion of practical and written road safety tests. If successful, a point-based licence, similar to motorists’ should be issued. Although these tests would be far simpler, cyclists breaking road law should also be penalised by losing points, with fines and, in extreme cases, imprisonment. Laws must include mandatory use of lights and appropriate clothing and a footpath cycling ban. Helmets and jackets should come included with any hire-bike.

This can only prevent, or at least reduce, those tragic cycling fatalities – the cycling campaign groups goal.

There cannot be one rule for motorists and another for cyclists. Yes, there should indeed be more cyclists on our roads, but not at any expense.

Rick Stein’s Down Under discoveries are deliciously different.

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Photo: Creative Commons

Rick Stein (Photo: Thomas Ridley Foodservice via Creative Commons)

BBC2’s A Cook Abroad: Rick Stein’s Australia featured culinary curiosities surprising even this gourmet Aussie expat…

Visiting my Australian home for the first time in five years last Christmas, last night I returned, watching celebrity chef Rick Stein’s episode of BBC2’s: A Cook Abroad: Rick Stein’s Australia.

Viewers were taken on a tasty tour through Aussie cuisine’s past and future, usefully utilising Stein’s 30-year association with the country. Visiting the Sydney digs where his cooking aspirations began, he showed how a nation formerly famous for burnt “snags on the barbie”, now served sophisticated mouth-watering meals, rivalling restaurants worldwide.

Even meat pies, my own school canteen childhood favourite, had grown up. Once soggy pastry cases holding little but gravy, these were now filled with exotic meats like kangaroo.

Considerable time was spent showcasing the country’s fish and seafood but considering this is Stein’s forté and Australia, the world’s largest island, this was understandable.

What lifted the programme, making it so fascinating, was contrast – the continent’s evolution from culinary backwater to producing foods for the future. Interesting ingredients from exotic meats to native herbs, fruit and vegetables, that Aboriginals cooked with for millennia and local chefs proudly proclaimed were the next big foodie fad.

Tasmania, formerly Australia’s Isle of Man, was the new gourmet-go-to. Although its cool climate has produced world-class wine for some time it was, until recently, seen as little more than a hippie-hideaway by mainlanders. On my last visit I’d heard surprising rumours through friends and family of the Island State’s new restaurant reputation.

Jumping from “Tassy” to nearby Bruny Island, Stein met a pig farmer turned wallaby hunter. This metre high mammal resembling a small kangaroo is now in high demand for its tasty flesh. Shy, nowhere near as common, the kangaroo’s cute compact cousin is protected on mainland Oz.

On Bruny Island, off Tasmania’s coast, an estimated 10 million wallabies thrive, decimating crops. Stein accompanied him on a night-hunt to shoot a fresh victim, then watched him prepare fresh “free-range native bush meat” and one killed earlier, left to hang. Due to its high muscle content wallaby meat is tough. It looked delicious and Stein stuffed it down. This was not a show to watch while hungry.

The foods’ diversity plus Stein’s hosting, although his cheeky-chappy routine can often grate, were excellent. Pigs wandered around the hunter’s farm, hinting at the past but this show focused firmly on Australia’s food future. Avoiding the clichés often seen on many Australian-themed programmes, even the music was understated – not a didgeridoo was heard. Featuring fascinating facts, it was tasty television in every sense.

Returning to mainland Tasmania, next stop was a distillery due to its superb single malt: the world’s best. Scottish viewers probably switched off at this point but, Tasmania’s Scottish cool climate, lakes and mountains, helpfully highlighted, it rang true. A single malt, lover myself I hungered to go but 70 per cent proof and, astonishingly, £20 thousand a bottle, this was sadly outside my budget.

Inland fish farms further highlighted Australian food’s ethical environmental emphasis. Who knew Japanese sushi chefs prized Tasmanian salmon more highly than any other?

Stein almost went too far during a corny dash delivering fresh salmon to the renowned Japanese sushi chef resident in a sleepy Tasmanian backwater. But the mouth-watering morsels the sushi chef prepared and his sublime knife wielding skill made up for it, demonstrating why people travel from everywhere to eat there. As Stein said: “Tasmania’s hidden secrets need advertising.”

Watching this I wanted to go and suspect I wasn’t alone.

25 per cent of global abalone, one shellfish I’ve never tasted, is Tasmanian, 75 per cent sent to China. Renowned in Melbourne and Sydney, it’s not familiar across most of the mainland. A slow-growing mushroom-like mollusc, if cooked incorrectly this delicacy tastes like “boot leather.”

A fisherman cooked his in ghee aboard his boat, serving it with one of Tasmania’s famous Chardonnays. Stein devoured it, dubbing it: “The best seafood Australia isn’t eating.”

Delicious TV – this was the BBC at its best. Stirring renewed patriotism within me, I loved the environmental emphasis, especially considering Australia’s current Government, refuses to acknowledge climate change. Timely, tasty, it captured Australian character, and potential, perfectly.

Caroline Lucas: the media’s our problem

The News Hub

The Green MP discusses her party – its policies, popularity and how to be heard above UKIP