Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Glass Menagerie at Theatr Clwyd Mold

This week saw my second outing to Mold to see another play by Tennessee Williams.

We are automatically told at the start of the play that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, it is the memories that the narrator Tom Wingfield has had over a period of time, and this is his story that he is telling, from his point of view.

The family is on stage, in the dark, as the audience find their seats. They are being watched by Tom, and at first you think it's just a mannequin, before you see him occasionally move. This adds to the drama of the piece; because the set is very simple, we concentrate on the characters rather than the props. Tom starts the play by informing the audience that he is the opposite of a stage magician. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

Rhys Meredith performed the role of Tom with great compassion. The story centres on four lost souls, but the play is not overly sentimental. The characters are frustrated in their own ways about their own things, but they do care for each other. It is this normality that makes us want to care for them too and the two hours that the plays runs for feels like minutes as we venture on a rollercoaster of emotions with the various family members..

Tom wants to be a poet, however, because his father left home, leaving Tom with a mother and sister to look after, he has had to take a job in the local shoe warehouse. His mother, Amanda, constantly tells her grown up children tales from her youth, when she was a young girl, and so pretty that all of the men near her wanted to court her! Tom makes it clear he has heard this tale many times before, but his mother continues, back to the time when she was happy. Rosamund Shelley in the role of Amanda manages to play the role so that we feel sorry for her as she reflects upon her past, but then as she becomes increasingly over domineering, the audience begins to dislike her almost as much as her children do.

Amanda is a matriarch disappointed with her children. She is unhappy that her daughter, Laura, has had to wear a leg brace, and is too shy to attract men and that her son finds comfort in films and drink, his mother can not understand or condone his behaviour and therefore constantly berates him. Amanda is disappointed to learn that due to Laura's chronic shyness, she has dropped out of college, preferring to wander around the park and museums all day than come home and face her mother's wrath. Amanda decides the only way her daughter can secure her future is if she is married. Her mother therefore starts selling magazine subscriptions in order to earn more money to encourage male suitors to visit. Amanda also discusses her fears for Laura with Tom and asks him if there is anyone suitable where he works.

A memorable play with moving performances

Tom brings home a friend from his work, and it turns out it is someone Laura had had a crush on when she was at school. Again her shyness forces her away from this friend, Jim O'Connor. Jim however is a patient young man, who earns Laura's trust, and he manages to draw out some self-confidence from Laura as they discuss the past, and the fact he used to nickname her Blue Roses at school (because he misheard her when she said she'd been off sick with Pleurosis).

Laura played by Eiry Thomas, has a collection of glass animal  figurines (the glass menagerie) and in one of the frequent fights between Tom and Amanda some of the animals are broken. We are transfixed by this isolated character, and as Laura and Jim become friendlier we are hopeful that she will have a happy ending and that love will blossom. Laura shows her prized unicorn figuerine to Jim, but as they are dancing Jim accidentally breaks it. Swept up in the moment he kisses Laura, then immediately pulls away and confirms he has a serious girlfriend. Resigned Laura give him the broken unicorn as a momento. Amanda is devastated that her plan to marry off Laura has failed, and shouts at Tom, telling him he must have known about Jim's engagement. Tom leaves and tells the audience he has been caught at work writing poetry and been fired. As he no longer has a job he leaves Amanda and Laura behind to start his own life, although it is obvious that he feels guilty at leaving his sister and doesn't forget her.


The Glass Menagerie is based on many events in Williams' own life. His father drank heavily and the family had to keep on the move. It was recorded that they moved sixteen times in ten years. Tennessee (born Thomas Williams) and his sister Rose were close, and both were ostracised at school. He took solace by going to the cinema and writing, and he gained a place at university reading journalism. His father however forced him to leave school and work at the same shoe factory that he worked at. Rose suffered from mental illness and led to her having a lobotomy. The lobotomy was a disaster and she ended up being in care for the rest of her life. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first really successful play, followed up by A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He had many bouts of depression and slipped into alcohol and drug dependence and was found dead at the age of 71 at the Elysee Hotel in New York.

The Magus - John Fowles

I've read my "Classic Challenge" book for February, but having found out Tom Burke has recorded The Magus for BBC Radio 4 with Charles Dance, I decided I had to read it! I really should tip my hat to Tom, he's encouraged me to read far more diverse literature than my university professors ever did (and what's more he doesn't even know it!)

The Magus is a strange novel and certainly not everyone's cup of tea. I think it is one of those love or hate novels, and I loved it. It was a bit like Lord of the Flies meets the TV programme Lost, where events create moral and emotional reactions, and most of the time you don't have any idea what is really going on! The novel takes us through the journey of Nicholas Urfe (a play on the word Earth) through the labyrinth of his soul.  He is bored with his life, and he goes on a thrilling, erotic journey of suspense and confusion. In places it is like reading a ghost or horror story, sending shivers down your spine as you recoil at what is happening to Urfe, but in other places it leaves you dazed, confused, and wrestling with your mind as to who or what is real and what is fake.

Trust nothing, trust nobody...not even yourself!

Urfe initially takes us back to his childhood. He explains how he felt that his parents dying in a plane crash opened up the possibilities of his life; he had felt so trapped whilst they were alive. He feels a token gratitude to them, but he never really liked them because they didn't understand the world he belonged to; but as we follow Urfe's story, it's obvious that he doesn't really understand the world he belongs to either.

He meets Alice, an Australian, who has her own difficulties in life, but she submits herself to him. She falls in love with Urfe, however, he doesn't see the depth of feeling, and certainly doesn't reciprocate it. He sees her as someone he has had sex with it, and now he is leaving England to take on a job in Greece. He doesn't care what Alice does with her life...but they will stay in touch.

Part of the human psyche deludes us into believing that if we run away from our problems our lives will magically get better, our problems will go away...but this isn't true, our problems follow us, and they follow Urfe in a way that is so unimaginable. But Urfe takes a job on a remote island in Greece and leaves Alice and his old lifestyle behind. When you travel on your own and you get off the plane in a new land there is a myriad of emotions. There is excitement about what lies ahead, tinged with some loneliness because you don't know anybody. You feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, expectantly disorientated, but hoping that the people you meet will put you on the right path to happiness.

Urfe meets Maurice Conchis (conscious?!) a wealthy Greek billionaire, who befriends him. From the beginning of the meeting, it is obvious that this is not going to be the simple story of Nicholas Urfe finding himself. Instead the book shows that by clever manipulation, certain designed incidents can deceive all of the human senses. From the first time we enter Conchis's house we are introduced to blatant sexual references and erotica at the "waiting room." There is a clock of a naked cupid where the second hand represented his penis, and Satyrs, the phallic male companions of the Greek God Dionysus are seen, both as statues and "real" life forms. As the novel progresses, it is little wonder a God attached to ritual madness and theatre was introduced so early on.

Conchis becomes an amazing conjurer of mind-games. He stretches credulity throughout the novel, so much so that you don't know who to trust, who speaks the truth. The scary thing about this is that it is not so far fetched from the real world. We are often open to suggestion, we like to think that we won't be taken in by someone, we are not naive, but can we really tell fact from fiction? If you have a social media friend for example, they can tell you anything about themselves, good or bad, and you are likely to believe it; especially if they are capable of keeping their deception ongoing. This might seem unlikely, but it happens, and unless you meet the person for yourself, who can tell what is real, and what is a fantasy?

"Hitler did not betray himself...He did not. But millions of Germans did betray themselves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good."

The book has many thought provoking comments. There is a nihilistic approach to human life throughout, the human race is somewhat unimportant therefore does it really matter how we treat one another? The human condition can mean that we find it easier to lie than to tell the truth for fear of hurting someone..."those grey, searching, always candid eyes, by their begging me not to lie, made me lie.  'I like you. Really very much'."But that same condition can also give us the desire to hurt someone in order to save our own feelings, "I lost my temper. I dragged up everything I could remember that might hurt her." We are a weak race who find it easier to communicate via a letter than to actually talk face to face with someone "Read it." I don't want to live anymore. I spend most of my life not wanting to live...I can't remember having been happy for two or three years...All I can remember is forcing myself sometimes to look happy...I might kid myself for a moment that I am happy. The human nature is a strange beast we prefer to hurt than to be honest. "If anything might hurt her, silence would; and I wanted to hurt her."

It is interesting to note, that one of the first things to lure Urfe towards Conchis was a few lines from T S Eliot's poem, Little Gidding. This poem discusses time, perspective, humanity and salvation. A ghost delivers a sermon to the poet, advising what a burdon wisdom can be, being ashamed of past deeds, the awareness of being foolish, and a perception of what real beauty is. In the book, the world suddenly becomes one theatrical stage. Urfe is compelled to stay on the island, to keep questioning what is going on, and why, and he can't leave, because of the power that Conchis has over him. Throughout the entire novel, Conchis designs these staged events to discipline and punish Urfe, and without knowing it, Urfe is also facing the confliction of venality versus venery. The island almost becomes a prison, Urfe can not do anything without being seen, every letter written, every intimate act, is all seen be Conchis, the ultimate in panopticism.

The book is dotted throughout with references to Greek mythology, ritual initiations, Tarot cards and above the Illuminati, the all seeing eye who knows every move that Urfe makes. This Illuminati we discover are men and women of science, not just tricksters. Everything that happens to Urfe is designed for a specific purpose, so once he has arrived in their circle, he can not escape, they have conjured precise events to get him to the island in the first instance, and they will continue to dominate his life until they agree to let him go from their psychological game.

There is no right reaction to the book, although I believe that the book is worth reading. It's a personal reaction to the surreal events in which Urfe finds himself; you may find them ridiculous or you may find some resonance with what is happening. I also love the fact that there is no right or wrong is left open and up to the reader to decide what type of "happy" ending you want it to have. In most books I read I want to know the ending, but I think in this particular book it is right to leave things open. The author has written a book of the unexpected. You don't know what the turn of the next page will bring, and therefore it is only right that he leaves the last word to his reader.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Reasons to be Happy - Neil LaBute Hampstead Theatre London March/April 2016

I really enjoyed reading the play Reasons to be Pretty (RTBP), and I was so disappointed that I hadn't been able to see it on stage...I'm sure I would have loved it!

Reasons to be Happy continues the story of Greg, Carly, Steph and Kent three years own from when we left them. I have my tickets already, and I am thrilled that I will be able to see how their stories develop on both paper and on stage!

When I read the play the first thing that I noticed is the beautiful symmetry in which both plays start. Three years down the line, Steph has married Tim, and she's still arguing (well screaming) at poor Greg, and Greg, as usual doesn't think he's done anything wrong! He's just taking it in his stride, despite the murder of his ice-cream sandwiches!

I can't say that I like Steph very much in the first play, and my attitude has not changed too much, although I may have mellowed a little bit towards her. Sometimes I find that she is unnecessarily mean. She has anger issues, and is very much like Kent. She lashes out at Greg, but Greg really loves Steph despite how dreadful she is to him. She is two faced and almost psychotic in the way she publicly humiliates him by screaming at him. In RTBP he didn't want her to leave, it was her choice. In RTBH he really seems to want her back, but only after he has sorted himself out and his problems; he stands up for her and won't let Kent say anything against her.

Greg wants to be liked, he doesn't like confrontation, yet he has an innate ability to push the right button to create hostility. He often doesn't think before speaking and this leads him to become embroiled in finding out how the female mind works! He is not honest with people, and often not with himself either. He seems to want to please others rather than himself, and worries more about their feelings rather than his, so he is often evasive with people. He is so mixed up emotionally that he thinks starting a relationship with his ex-girlfriends best friend, who is also his former best friends wife, wouldn't lead to any problems...although the fact that he didn't want to tell them suggests he knew all would not go well! Essentially both Greg and Carly are just two lonely souls hoping for the best and this play makes them look at themselves and what they really want and need from life.

Kent is egotistical, obsessed with looks (his comments about Carly needing to go to the gym straight after giving birth in RTBP showed that he had no depth to his soul.) He is very hot headed, lashing out with his fists rather than thinking things thorough, yet surprisingly he is the one person perceptive enough to tell Greg what is wrong, that he needs to lift his head from the pages of his books and do something constructive with his life, (like Kent does with the kids football team.)

I think the scariest thing about reading this play is the similarities I have with Greg, in his final "speech" it was like someone has been following me around and written about me. "I wanna fix me and be happy...but I don't even know what that word means anymore!... I can't keep reading books and, and listening to my old mix tapes and hoping for the best, figuring life will sort itself out if I just give it enough time."

Twenty years in a corporate rat race has made me completely forget who I am, what actually makes me happy, but one thing is for sure, these lines made me laugh...

Kent: "Another week or two and I'll expect to hear you're on Twitter... 
Greg: "Ha! No chance, man...I'm gonna have to draw the line somewhere!"  

Yes, I can't give up the reading, or the music of the 80's, but maybe a little less time on Twitter, and a bit more time being productive is certainly a lesson that I can learn from Greg and Kent!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Theatr Clwyd

It is the 40th anniversary of my local theatre, Theatr Clwyd in Mold, and they are celebrating in style, starting with a wonderful adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

As far as staging goes, it is very simplistic, as all of the action takes place in the bedroom of the two main characters Maggie and Brick. What is more complex about the play is the interaction of these two characters and the rest of the family who are in crisis.

The play is set in the deep south of America in the 1950's, and tells the story of one family as they gather to celebrate Big Daddies 65th birthday, and to find out if he has cancer or not.

The play opens with Maggie getting changed in her bedroom because a child has spilt something down her beautiful lace dress. She delivers a long soliloquy in a Southern drawl about her sister-in-law and her awful "no-necked monsters." She speaks incessantly, never pausing for breath as she gets everything off her chest; by contrast her husband says very little, he prefers to spend time drinking away his problems rather than talking about them.

As the play continues, we meet more of the family, and the characters delve into the past family secrets, and the future schemes that they have to ensure that Big Daddy gives his wealth to the right sibling!

(Photos by Daily Post show Catrin Stewart as Maggie and Desmond Barrit and Gareth David-Lloyd as Big Daddy and Brick)

Desmond Barrit played the role of Big Daddy, a wealthy cotton plantation owner. He has come back from the Ochsner Clinic with a clean bill of health, and he and Big Mama are in celebratory mood for his 65th birthday. The rest of the family know that he actually has cancer, and that the news has been kept from the elderly couple so that they carry on with the celebrations.

Maggie, played brilliantly by Catrin Stewart, is the plays titular Cat, she was brought up in a life of poverty and married into wealth but her life is not a happy one. The family know her husband won't sleep with her, and she has no children, so she is concerned that Big Daddy will not leave his fortune to them. Brick, her husband played by Gareth David-Lloyd, was a football hero, but now lives each day by drinking himself into oblivion. His mood is not helped by the suicide of his friend Skipper. Then there is his brother Gooper and his wife, who scheme to ensure that they will receive Big Daddies fortune.

Tennesse Williams showed that he had a great understanding of people and the complexities of the human heart in his writing. His characters are often rather tragic, and you can't help but get sucked into their stories, and you feel an empathy towards them. The interesting thing is that whilst the story was set in the 1950's in the deep South of America, the story still has a resonance with modern audiences. Families still battle and scheme, and they seek their way through life either through the bottom of a bottle, or by denial that anything is wrong hoping that all will become right. But despite the rather tragic circumstances of the individuals, and the strong themes, there were heart warming moments and it is actually rather funny and an enjoyable play to watch!

We can read a lot into the human condition by watching the characters on stage deceive themselves, and each other, so that they can survive from one day to the next. If they were honest with themselves they might feel that the future was rather bleak, but you can only deceive yourself for so long until reality kicks in and you have to face the truth. That is an important and reoccurring theme throughout the play, lies and facing death. Similar ideas surrounding the futility and nihilism of life can be found in Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night", a poem he wrote to his dying father and which Tennesse Williams added as an epigraph to his play in 1974.

This was an enjoyable play to watch, and a great start to the season.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Missing in Action - Catch up Post!

I've not been on here for a little while! I've been immersed in watching War and Peace, reading Barchester Towers, and I was commissioned to do a get well card for Howard Charles who plays Porthos in the TV drama The Musketeers, who it appears has been in a rather nasty traffic accident.

I must admit to rushing out and buy the War and Peace DVD, and I have to be honest, I'm sort of feeling guilty about my previous posts about the show. Having watched it all in one go, I'm wishing my earlier comments had been a little more accepting of the drama for what it outstanding and exquisite piece of TV entertainment. I think a lot of the actors grew into their roles as the series progressed, whilst some seemed immediately comfortable with their roles! I still think it's a shame that Andrew Davies made the decision to cut so many scenes. I think 8 or 10 episodes would have been much better. Maybe I'm just greedy, but when you have a lavish drama such as this, and a wonderful text to work with, you can afford ten episodes, it's not as if you are trying to think of material to fill the time with! On the DVD their is a cut scene showing the full scenario of Nikolai losing at cards, and it was such a shame it wasn't showed him win the very final hand, and just how cunning and devious Dolkhov had been though out their entire game!

Speaking of Dolokhov, I'm glad that there was a quick view of him at Ilya's funeral. I had a bone to pick with Tolstoy; he appeared to forget to give both Dolokhov and Denisov an ending. Poor Dolokhov was last seen in the book flicking his whip and being rude to the French. At least the TV show made us aware he survived to the bitter end (as you've probably gathered I had a soft spot for Dolokhov in both the book and the TV series!) Maybe we should have a spin off series, what Dolokhov and Denisov did next!

I'm not a professional artist, so it was a thrill to be entrusted with what I considered an important job. There is a Musketeer Fan Club on Facebook, apparently I'm a member, I just didn't know it! (Someone must have added me to the group rather than me requesting an invite, I'm sure I'd remember doing that!) Anyway I digress, it seems Howard Charles (Porthos) had been involved in an accident, they wanted to send him a Get Well Soon hamper and they needed someone to do his card. One of my fellow Burketeers kindly put me up for the job. It's not something I would have put myself forward to do, I am so rubbish at self promotion, always have been! Even when I worked I never volunteered for stuff because I thought I'd be rubbish...then people would volunteer me and I'd do an amazing job (I know because that's what people said!)

I was a bit scared about doing Howard's card, there are so many talented people out there and not many people on the site know me. I said I would do the card and I did a watercolour of Porthos on the front, and on the inside I did a transparency of the "All for One" handshake with the names of the donor's on. I was then told there was no verse to go inside the I did that too! Hopefully Howard won't be too offended by the fact that I am obviously no poet...he may be so amused it may actually assist his recovery!

Barchester Towers took me nearly two weeks to read, which surprised me because the book didn't seem that long, only 500 or so pages, but it was a bit of hard work as the author tends to ramble a lot...a bit like me really, so I feel I should have enjoyed it more than I did. (I have done a separate review post, as it is part of my challenge in aid of Box Clever Theatre Co)

If that's not Tom Burke on the right, I'll eat his hat! 
So what else has happened since I last checked in? Hmm yes, Hampstead Theatre posted a tweet of the cast of the upcoming show Reasons to be Happy by Neil LaBute. The actors were headless, but from the photo I am 99% certain that Tom Burke is reprising his role of Greg from the prequel Reasons to be Pretty. The way he sits, the fact that his shoes are the same as the ones he wore at a waistcoat fitting, and the pair of glasses and mug of tea near the photographer all scream Tom! So I have bought my tickets to the play and will look a complete fool if my detective skills show that I am no Sherlock Holmes! (And now I've read the play I am adding it to my TB plays he had better be in it!)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Barchester Towers (Box Clever Challenge - February)

My friends were discussing the outstanding performance of the late Alan Rickman in his portrayal of Obadiah Slope in The Barchester Chronicles. I was only 9 years old when it was broadcast, so I don't remember it, although I imagine it was probably a firm favourite with my late mother! Curiosity got the better of me, and as I knew there was a copy of Barchester Towers in my bookcase, I decided it should be my second novel for the 2016 Classics Challenge.

Anthony Trollope published Barchester Towers in 1857; could a novel written nearly 160 years ago still have resonance with its audience today? I must admit I was disappointed when I first started reading the book. I found it tough going if I'm honest, the characters, of which there are many, were introduced at the start, but they were valueless introductions. The start is as if you were at a party and introduced to twenty people and you can't remember who is who or what they do because you haven't had a chance to have a meaningful conversation, therefore the person hasn't registered in your mind. It also didn't help that as you ventured through the novel, each character was known by a myriad of names!

The story is very simple, A new bishop arrives in Barchester with his wife, and a new chaplain. They liven up this quiet town, showing the two sides of ecclesiastical life, the old fashioned view of the church versus new ideas. Essentially this is a book about clerical warfare interspersed with a good old-fashioned love story! Who will have the strength and courage to battle it out with some very strong and fiery characters?

"I like everything old-fashioned...old-fashioned things are so much the honestest."

Trollope's style within the novel is to ramble on. The author of the story narrates his way through the lives of the various inhabitants of Barchester. It feels like you are sitting with a grandparent who is telling you a story of the village he lives in, but he keeps going off on a tangent before coming back to the main story! The book is therefore more character driven than plot based, in fact I'm not sure there really is a plot, so far as to say there are two questions to be answered. Who will win in the warring factions of the clergy, and who will win the hand of the delightful Mrs Bold? There is very little action but it is a peak through the windows of Victorian society. It shows how the society back then was of a nicety culture, you didn't voice your opinions, you would smile and be polite and keep your thoughts to yourself.

The characters however are full of life and obviously very real to the author. He knows their innermost thoughts and desires, and by the end of the novel you also feel like you know them. Whilst their exterior character is of politeness, we get to hear what is really going on in their heads. They are schemers, social observers and there is a great insight into the psychology of the human mind.  Mr Slope is scheming and ambitious, and despite being a member of the clergy, surprisingly hypocritical! It is obvious that the writer does not like Mr Slope. He even states it in black and white "My readers will guess from what I have written that I myself do not like Mr Slope; but I am constrained to admit that he is a man of parts. He knows how to say a soft word in the proper place; he knows how to adapt his flattery to the ears of his hearers; he knows the wiles of the serpent, and he uses them." There seems to be a begrudging respect and admiration of the character he has created. The Stanhopes are unable to be part of this gentile society, they are frowned upon and hated by the clergy, again interesting as the church preaches to love thy fellow man!

There are moments of great humour throughout the book, and it is interesting watching the plots unravel by the clergymen as they try to gain control and power. The great thing about Trollope writing in such detail is you can picture an incident with great clarity. Mrs Proudie's reception is a case in point, the comedy is almost farcical. "The sofa rushed from its moorings, and ran half way into the middle of the room...unfortunately the castor of the sofa, caught itself in her lace train, and carried away there is no saying how much of her garniture." There are also some fantastic names, both of people: Sir Lamda Mewnew, Sir Omicron Pie, Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggan, and rectories: Crabtree Canonicorum and Stogpingum! I also laughed at the idea that to help a child whilst teething, you need to cover its teething ring in carrot juice until it dries, and then give it to the child to chew. Why carrot juice and not another fruit or vegetable I have no idea, but I was amused by the thought.

But whilst Trollope has given us some interesting characters he has this propensity to take these dull perambulations that have nothing to do with the story. He discusses good author practices and queries the differences in a writer and a photographer picturing a person or situation. These tangents are a large problem with the novel, it stops the momentum of the novel, and as a reader you can easily become distracted by what is going on around you, rather than what is happening in the pages you are reading. He even goes so far as to describe towards the end of the book how difficult it is for the writer to create an ending to a story, which rather leaves the reader somewhat perplexed and the ending feeling rushed after the slow pace of the rest of the novel.

What I did find interesting is that Trollope created these strong female characters that knew their own minds, they were not the meek and mild women we often think of in classical literature, where the hero has to sweep her off her feet. "Olivia Proudie, however, was a girl of spirit; she had the blood of two peers in her veins, and, better still, she had another lover on her books; so Mr Slope sighed in vain; and the pair soon found it convenient to establish a mutual band of inveterate hatred." Mr and Mrs Proudie are an interesting couple, he is hen pecked by his strong and determined wife. Mrs Proudie was not a lady to be messed with, she was determined to get her own way, and she made certain that her husband knew it! People in the novel made assumptions about Mrs Bold and Mr Slope, however, Mrs Bold has a resolute determination to hold her head up high, keep strong, and prove everyone wrong along the way.

So does this novel still work for a modern audience? 

Today we require instant gratification, we're used to things that don't take a long time, and this is definitely a slow burn novel! Essentially the novel isn't about anything much! The writer digresses a lot, which makes the story convoluted and at times difficult to follow, especially for the first 200 pages or so. At times I felt the novel was a bit of a chore to read, until about half way through the book when things started to click; suddenly I knew these characters and I wanted to know how their lives progressed. I found the chapters relating to Ullathorne rather long winded, this stopped the flow and enjoyment of the novel, but having read the book and sat back and pondered on it, I did actually enjoy large elements of it and thought it actually quite cleverly written.  The characters are often at cross purposes because everyone assumes, rather than speaking the truth, whether this be by pride or moral indignation. I think modern audiences can relate to this, and they can also relate to the curtain twitching type gossip the novel relies on.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Tom Burke Online Magazine, Issue 2

Well issue one was well received, bar a few niggles, so issue two went into production!

Here are the things that I have written for the entertainment of Tom's fans. The health benefits of white tea, where Luke and Santi have been hanging out whilst filming The Musketeers, the history of Strohov Monastery which forms the King's Palace in The Musketeers and a road trip around Pembrokeshire to see just where the film Third Star was filmed.

Page layout and design by Christine  @christine_ghh   @TBO_magazine




Monday, 1 February 2016

The Stygian Underworld of Social Media (Jon Ronson - So You've Been Publically Shamed)

I joined Facebook by accident in July 2013. I don't know how it happened. Well I do, like everything else I was fiddling with something I knew nothing about. I was looking for a livery yard and the details were on Facebook. I noticed my friends name on the page and I couldn't resist clicking on it. I immediately got a text off her asking if it was really me. In panic mode I said yes, how the hell do I get off here, but she wouldn't tell me, she told me I had to stay because she lived on Facebook. And so my trip to the stygian world of social media began...

I ended up on Twitter next. Again I don't know why I was compelled to give it a go. Apparently my account was created in May 2012, I have no idea how, but it wasn't activated until two years later! I say activated, but my actual first tweet was a month after that! It was a video of two horses playing football (World Cup Soccer - Horses vs Humans!), I tweeted it to @Roger_The _Horse. I don't know why. I had no followers, I didn't know what I was doing or why and I just seemed to be following a few actors on the TV show The Musketeers. (Again I have no idea why, I'd never been that interested in a TV show before, I was just being nosey.) All of a sudden I had one follower, someone I didn't know. It was scary, but also kind of nice that someone wanted to interact with me. It took a long, long time though for me to start Tweeting with more regularity. I like to think that I trust people, however, if I'm honest, I don't really trust anyone until I have met them in person, so I limited myself to Tweeting very bland posts.

Within the first page he has substantiated my disillusionment with the world and that you can't trust people.

I have just finished reading Jon Ronson's book "So You've Been Publicly Shamed". Within the first page he has substantiated my disillusionment with the world and that you can't trust people. He noticed there was someone on Twitter called @jon_ronson, who had several followers. It wasn't him! Well he knew it wasn't him, but his followers didn't and they lapped up every word he said! He found out students had created a spambot, or infomorph as they called it. Only a couple of days ago the actress Tuppence Middleton posted a Tweet stating that the Instagram account in her name was not her account. She doesn't even have an Instagram account! But the general public don't know this until they are told; they blindly follow someone's photograph and more importantly interact with the person, often thinking they are interacting with their idol. Is this such a bad thing? Well yes it is. You make assumptions about a person based on their comments, you may end up with a completely incorrect view about someone, and this someone does not have to be famous. At the end of the day, you really have no idea who you are communicating with. Who are you putting your trust in?

This is one aspect of the darker side of social media. Until you meet someone you don't know who you are dealing with, and this is where the whole question of trust comes into play. On Facebook, a few friends came out of the woodwork and asked to be my friend. I said yes because I knew these people, I interacted with them regularly so I knew who they were and that they were genuine. Twitter however, was a whole different board game. I started liking people's posts, therefore I started getting followers. Initially it was people who enjoyed The Musketeers, then people who liked animals (because I often "like" animal posts.) Then I started getting requests from what I considered to be the freakier side of society. I quickly found the "block" button! No interaction with these deviants, just block and move on!

But this brings to light another issue with Twitter, and that is the issue that Jon Ronson discusses in his book, that of the power of Twitter. You can make a seemingly innocuous comment, and there will be someone out there ready to pounce. I was chatting to a friend on Twitter a long time ago. We were only talking about shopping, and this stranger from no-where butted into our conversation calling us priviledged bitches. "Block." Now this person did not know me, How dare he make an assumption about me and my background. What did he hope to achieve?  I imagine he wanted a public argument with me. He failed. But what gave him the right to try to publicly humiliate me? Why did he feel he need to try to demonise my personality? I am not a weak person, I can hold my own when required to do so. But this wasn't an important argument, and I didn't know the individual concerned. It wasn't worth my time so I just got rid of him without fuss."Block." I've done this a number of times and I will continue to do so, but if you read Jon Ronson's book, you will see that from a moment of madness, a seemingly daft tweet can cost you more than a little mild irritation.

A moment of madness?

One of the case studies for his book was that of Justine Sacco. She was just a regular person who in a moment of madness sent a jokey tweet that backfired badly. She had Tweeted about going to Africa, and that she'd be OK because she was white, so she wouldn't get AIDs. Now that isn't the cleverest thing to write, and I am not condoning her actions, but what followed next was alarming to say the least. She got on her plane, switched off her 'phone, and when she landed and switched her 'phone back on, all hell had broken loose. She was fired from her job, she received death threats and she had to cut her holiday short for her own safety. People had taken to Twitter in a mass mob riot style calling for her head! As it continued and hysteria grew, people began to revel in her misery. People were making assumptions about her character, that she was racist, and people were intent on bringing about her destruction. Since when did society take such jubilation in the destruction of a person. It is like going to the dark ages when people looked forward to going to watch a public hanging as a form of entertainment. It didn't matter if the poor bugger was guilty or not, just so long as you got a good viewpoint of the noose going around the neck and that trapdoor opening. And we like to think that today we are a more civilised society!

People make comments blindly on Twitter, "it's just a bit of fun", "we're only having a laugh," and no-one seems to care what the long term impact of these comments might make on a person. It seems in some people's minds if the person they are talking about is in the public eye, then they are even more "fair game" for ridicule and hurtful commentary. All this from what one person perceives to be "a bit of fun." It does make me wonder whether people have an ulterior motive for their posts. This harmless fun can have some serious consequences though; and it's not just what is said on Twitter or other forms of social media. A really worrying story that Jon Ronson highlighted was a couple of guys at a conference. They were whispering nerdy computer jokes to each other, however, unbeknownst to them, a lady in front of them had overheard the joke. Not only was the joke a form of flattery in a computer tech way, it was also a form of sexual innuendo! The lady responded by taking a photograph of the men and Tweeting it. Now a better way of handling the matter would have been to say to them that she had heard their comments and found them offensive. They may have told her to bugger off, but she would have relayed her feelings to them and the matter be over. By Tweeting her comments rather than giving these men a right to reply, she instead publicly humiliated them. They lost their jobs. She did not know their circumstances when she decided to send a public Tweet, and at a later date she said she knew perfectly well what she was doing. What she probably did not foresee was that whilst this man did not retaliate, he did make a public apology and stated that he had lost his job because of the Tweet. She was not happy about this and asked for this part of his public statement to be removed, thereafter he started to get some support, to which he did not reply to, but events spiraled out of hand. She started to get trolled, threats of torture, kidnapping, rape and murder were sent to her, all of this was followed up by a virus placed in her employers website. She got sacked! An eye for an eye you might say; but this shows how quickly matters can get out of hand. She thought she lost her job because of him, but you could argue, if she hadn't sent that first Tweet, they would both still have a job!

So is there a good side to social media?

This all sounds like scary stuff and you may think I'm saying we should all leave social media behind us, but that is not true. I don't know what I was looking for when I started on social media. Was I looking for anything? I had a dabble in a world I did not know or understand, but I had had fun on the way and I really wanted that to continue. I said at the beginning I had trust issues; I didn't like the fact I didn't know who I was talking to. Well I broke the golden rule of social media. I contacted some of the strangers and visited them. I'm so glad I felt the fear and did it anyway...I've made some amazing friends and encountered some wonderful experiences because of it!

December 2014, I'd been active on Twitter for about 6 months. A group of Musketeer fans who appreciated the work of Tom Burke were organising a trip to London to a charity event because he'd be there. I thought about whether I should go. I didn't know anyone, it would cost a lot of money and in my mind I had to question if a charity event was the best place for screaming fans to meet their idol? Fortunately I was spared making an actual decision. My organisation had decided they were making everyone redundant, all hell had broken loose and I couldn't have the time off work. Phew! Well, until I saw Twitter! The ladies had all been very respectful, the evening had been very enjoyable, Tom had been wonderful and I was very jealous! I don't know why. I couldn't go, but I think I was actually cross that my perceived idea about a bunch of strangers had been so negative. Why had I thought they would be fan girls rather than well behaved individuals? You see, this is one of the problems with social media. You know what you are like, but that doesn't mean to say that everybody else does. You do have to be careful about how you say something, because we can't hear your intonation on a Tweet, we can't see the cheeky glint in your eye when you make that naughty comment. We, perhaps wrongly, think the worst of you because of what you have said, and when you become what is perceived to be aggressively defensive about your comments, we think even less of you. It becomes a losing battle, and it's fought in the public domain.

I signed up to a fan forum page, and a number of individuals I tweeted to were on it too. I noticed one post which suggested a gathering of people from a local area. I spoke to a few friends, was it a good idea to go? It'd be a four hour journey there, and another four hour journey back. I didn't know these people, I doubted they were axe wielding maniacs, but should I go? My friends actually thought it would be a good idea and so I went. I  had one of the best days of my life and met some fantastic people who I hope to be friends with for a very long time. My attitude to Tweeting suddenly changed, I would enter into conversations with these people because I knew them, I also felt I could be cheeky with them because they knew my style of humour...BUT...I was still careful that the Tweets were cheeky with the specific individual and not rude or disrespectful about other people. I'm still acutely aware that one wrong word can lead to jealousy or hatred from people, and that you're only one Tweet away from some troll trying to make your life a living hell.

Social media can sometimes be rather a strange name for an activity that can be something far less than social! Whilst I'm sure the majority of people on social media want just that, to be sociable, to make new friends, to have a light-hearted bit of banter with someone; to share interests, pieces of news, pictures and information we need to be mindful that the school playground exists out there! With all good things, there is a darkness lurking in those shadows. If you keep your head about you social media is a fun and entertaining place to be, but however hard you try, you need to remember one flippant remark can become your downfall. I know that this sounds like a really negative post, and it's not supposed to be, but I think after reading Jon Ronson's book, I realised that there are a lot of people out in cyber world full of vitriol, and the snowball effect can become a frightening thing. I have taken a back seat recently from Twitter. I've never been on the receiving end of negative posts, but I have witnessed other people I've known being bullied. Should I have stepped in, or was I right to just let the people involved handle themselves? I don't know the answer to that. What has stopped me from entering the arena? Well I guess it's because I don't like the size of the public arena that I find myself in. People seem to think that when they make a comment it is only their followers who will see it. They are so wrong. Anyone can find that post at anytime and make a judgement call on what to say to you. People think they are clever making "cryptic" messages up and posting them publicly. What they seem to be utterly unaware of is that anybody can pick them up on their posts and subject them to the humiliation of the internet whenever they feel like it.

So how did it work out for Jon Ronson?

Interestingly enough I saw Jon Ronson being interviewed yesterday on the channel 4 show Sunday Brunch. He said that after his book"So You've Been Publicly Shamed" had been launched, he found himself the subject of Twitter attacks; to the extent he had to leave Twitter for awhile. Whilst a lot of people had enjoyed the book a number of people were essentially up in arms and making their point known on Twitter. I guess by writing this post I've opened myself up to comment too. It's an interesting irony really, we are supposed to have freedom of speech, but in reality, we're gagged from entering the arena for the fear of public humiliation.