Arts Reviews

Film, theatre and general arts reviews plus cultural commentary by Anna Chen

SATURDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2014
The Day of the Locust review: this is us. Now!

The Day of the Locust is a superbly intelligent movie about the madness of crowds and the nightmarisation of the American Dream, which increasingly resembles a documentary about today’s collective id. Director John Schlesinger’s film adaptation manages to be faithful (if over-literal) to Nathanael West’s coruscating book, set in early Hollywood’s Sodom and Gommorah. Tod Hackett (William Atherton) is an artist employed by one of the major studios in 1930s Hollywood. While he’s working on the lavish epic, Waterloo, he meets and hangs out with (“befriends” is too strong a word for such an alienated world) the local characters, mostly deluded and in the gutter but jealously looking up at the stars. …
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SATURDAY 12 OCTOBER 2013
The Fu Manchu Complex: a boisterous romp through the yellow peril canon

I’d already expressed my delight in seeing Daniel York’s lively satire, The Fu Manchu Complex, at the Oval House Theatre last week, but a rash of resentful mainstream reviews prompts me to expand on my response. In particular, the Guardian’s theatre reviewer Maddy Costa seemed completely out of her depth, writing a stunningly superficial piece that simply did not geddit.

To be fair, York has a fine line in jolly-japes one-liners and crude national insults: the Scottish woman dismissed as a “moronic haggistani”, the Irish man ridiculed as a “potato-nosher clover-face”. But having a character acknowledge that events on stage are “dashedly dramatic” does not postmodern irony make: without it, the play feels weirdly anachronistic.

This is, at best, mischievous. Daniel York has deftly demolished a slew of stereotypes, setting them up and bowling them down like skittles in a boisterous romp through the yellow peril canon. He dredges up every unpleasant racist colonialist epithet and then, when you think he must have exhausted his supply, he goes and finds some more. As Artie in The Larry Sanders Show once said, he hits rock bottom and then breaks through to a whole new bottom no-one ever knew existed — much how racist ideology burrows into language. …
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Oval House Theatre until 19th October

WEDNESDAY 14 AUGUST 2013
HUGO mini review: a dramatic turkey with brass knobs on.

Steampunk aesthetics and the history of cinema: what could go wrong? I watched Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last night and, although the visuals are stunning (I’d have loved to have seen this in 3D) the script was one of the worst things ever. Snobby middle-class preciousness (the cute kids with Rank starlet accents nearly gave me diabetes) and dramatic ineptitude killed for me the story of one of the fathers of cinema, George Melies (Ben Kingsley). Sir Ben’s muted appearance in the same film as Ray Winstone who played Hugo’s evil drunken uncle had me longing for the last time I saw them paired up in Sexy Beast and wishing Melies would blurt Don’s immortal line, “I’m sweating like a cunt”. This would have given the lagubrious script a much-needed cheering up.
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MONDAY 8 JULY 2013
Extraordinary opium exhibition deserves a visit: my South China Morning Post column
My latest City Scope column for the South China Morning Post: Mayfair exhibition hits a high note
Nestled in deepest Mayfair, where the recession has never struck, is the unlikeliest of venues for the most surprising of exhibitions. Ensconced on Berkeley Square – where, according to the song, a nightingale once sang – and neighbouring the exclusive Annabel’s and Clermont clubs, antique book dealership Maggs is currently displaying the most comprehensive collection of opium paraphernalia I’ve come across. Here in the city that was the command post for Britain’s opium wars with China, such seductive decadence is considerably more attractive than the needles and stained spoons of your common or garden druggie.
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FRIDAY 7 JUNE 2013
My Morning Star interview with David Henry Hwang, whose play Yellow Face launched London’s new Park Theatre last month.
‘We’re pretty good on race sometimes but terrible on class’ 
East Asian playwright DAVID HENRY HWANG talks to Anna Chen about issues of cultural assimilation and equality of opportunity 
ONLY six months before I finally meet David Henry Hwang, the Western world’s most famous playwright of east Asian heritage, the British East Asian Artists (BEAA) led an international protest when the Royal Shakespeare Company gave a miserly three — minor — roles out of 17 to east Asian actors in their first Chinese play, The Orphan of Zhao. Now we’re enjoying the British premiere of Hwang’s play Yellow Face which launches London’s brand-new Park Theatre, a mere quarter of a century after its Tony Award-winning author first had a play performed here, the Broadway and West End mega-hit hit M Butterfly. … Hwang isn’t just the first ethnically Asian playwright to succeed in the West. He’s got 20 plays, 10 musicals, plus film credits and writing galore on his CV and is recognised as one of the leading US playwrights and as a Grand Master of the theatre there.
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TUESDAY 28 MAY 2013
Yellow Face at the Park Theatre, London N4

Review for the Morning Star: This smart and savvy comedy delivers a knock-out blow to any still-entrenched belief in certain crepuscular crannies of theatre land that east Asians can’t produce culture. Racism no longer has an outlet in blackface performance but yellowface lingers as a method of corralling an ethnic minority into a ghetto, depriving them of jobs and creative participation. That’s the context of the Obie award-winning Yellow Face, an admittedly autobiographical indulgence by David Henry Hwang which tells a funny and fast-paced story of his perennial war against the surreptitious devices used to keep Asians in their place, in particular the 1990s yellow-peril hysteria targeting President Bill Clinton and threatening to engulf American-Chinese people.
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FRIDAY 24 May 2013
Ellen Gallagher, fat ladies and Pan sex with goat: my week of London kulcher

POMPEII, HERCULANEUM AND ICE AGE ART In the cultural whirl that’s been my life this past week, I’ve seen not only the sold-out sexily titled Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition (on until 29 September), I also caught Ice Age Art now in its final weeks: both at the British Museum. Some of the ice-age artefacts go back 31,000 years and, as the curators blast out from the posters, it does indeed mark the arrival of the modern mind.
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FRIDAY 10 MAY 2013
In the Ai of the beholder: THE ARREST OF AI WEIWEI at Hampstead Theatre, London NW3

Review for the Morning Star: If martial arts functions by using your opponents’ weight against them, then artist Ai Weiwei must be the Bruce Lee of annoying the hell out of the Chinese government. He’s transformed dissidence into performance art, rendering him embarrassingly effective in resisting official persecution. Howard Brenton’s play The Arrest of Ai Weiwei adds more art-fu to the mix, dramatising Ai’s account of an 81-day incarceration following his 2011 arrest at Beijing airport. Bored into near-submission by paralysing inactivity punctuated only by shouty interrogations, Ai’s struggle to rebut charges of undefined “crimes” is complicated by his accusers having no idea what they are either.
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HAMPSTEAD THEATRE

SATURDAY 23 MARCH 2013
DAVID BOWIE IS V&A launch party review: music event of the year

Review for the Morning Star: The vast lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum had been turned into the sort of joint where beautiful young men and women press cocktails and bubbly onto you as soon as you walk in. Mini canapés appeared transported on futuristic illuminated platters like something out of the Korova Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange. Yes, here we were at the David Bowie Is launch party, surely the music event of 2013.
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V&A MUSEUM until 11 August 2013

THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2013
WILKO JOHNSON at Camden Koko: review

Review for the Morning Star: Squeezing through the throng at the second of Wilko Johnson’s farewell gigs in London, it’s hard not to imagine those men of a certain age – outnumbering the women six to one – in their youthful glory. Portly blokes who’d shared Johnson’s career from his early days with pub-rock kings Dr Feelgood to his emergence as a bona fide TV star in Game of Thrones crowded into the mosh pit and allowed their inner skinny selves one last pogo with their doomed hero.
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WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2013
MEDEA at ENO review: misogyny, “Other” and “a devilish disturbance in the cosmic balance”

Review for the Morning Star: The dusky woman outcast mistrusted for her talents is an old, old story that’s still around today. It’s curious how many operas feature women who are outcasts in some way. Carmen, Turandot, Violetta in La Traviata and Cho Cho San in Madam Butterfly transgress social norms and have to be punished for it. ENO presents the first British production of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s 17th-century French baroque opera Medea, which has perhaps the ballsiest tragic outcast heroine of them all, bringing intellect and magical powers to the mix.
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SUNDAY 3 MARCH 2013
DREAMS THAT DIE: misadventures in Hollywood by John Wight book review:

In Dreams That Die, lefty journalist John Wight tells a good yarn very well, which is to be expected from a budding screenwriter who had the nerve to take off for Hollywood Mecca with nothing but a script and a few hundred quid to his name. He’s punched out bullies at the Mondrian Skybar; been trapped in an enclosed space with Matt LeBlanc and his methane emissions without so much as a “how d’ya do?”; worked as Ben Affleck’s movie stand-in; and guarded Jimmy Hoffa Junior in the midst of a Teamsters union war. He’s been an extra in Friends, Alias, ER and CSI among a slew of TV series.He also got stuck into the American anti-Iraq war movement after 9/11, helping to organise events, culminating in the huge 70,000 strong San Francisco demonstration in 2003.
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FRIDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2013
East Asian actors show the way forward in Border Crossings CONSUMED

Review published in the Morning Star: A tale of lost love, miscommunication, betrayal and money, Consumed is theatre for grown-ups. It stands light years above the usual rinky-dink ghettoised east Asian offerings seen in British theatre, with layer upon layer of meaning suffusing this devised multi-media play. Director Michael Walling, whose conception this is, brings a delicate Tarkovskyesque pace to the stage; its slow full emptiness is a refreshing palate-cleanser for audiences bored with productions that skitter along the surface. Set in modern-day Shanghai where fortunes are to be made through ruthless enterprise, British businessman John Bartholemew (Serge Soric) strikes up a fancy for Su Chen (Song Ruhui) and pursues his “shanghai dot beauty” on Skype with the connivance of business acquaintance Tong Zheng (Ning Li) acting as interpreter.
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THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2012
The Orphan of Zhao: theatre review

Sometimes it’s useful being the barbarian at the gate. This “outsider” role has been imposed on British east Asians by top-ranking arts institutions for far too long, so don’t blame us when we warm to it. “Normal” roles are denied us unless they’re race-specific with a “Chinese connection”, and sharp white elbows mean we often don’t even get those. The welcome policy shift towards cross-racial casting — intended to give ethnic minorities a fair share of parts, representing British society in all its glorious variety — has led instead to one-way traffic and exciting new opportunities for white actors to scarf up the juiciest Chinese parts. … Aladdin for middle-class grown-ups.
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ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY: SWAN THEATRE

SUNDAY 28 JULY 2012
Well done Danny Boyle: reading the London Olympics opening ceremony 2012

I’m not so sure Danny Boyle’s expected establishment gong is as much of a dead cert as pundits assume now we’ve had a chance to unpack the movie director’s critical state-of-the-nation London Olympics narrative. Last night’s £27m opening extravaganza temporarily won me over from furious cynicism following the games’ hijacking by Locog’s pet corporations and their civil rights clampdown.
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LONDON OLYMPICS 2012

THURSDAY 17 MAY 2012
Smoke and mirrors: The Opium War by Julia Lovell, book review

It’s difficult to relax into the rollicking story that’s fighting to get out as you are constantly poked in the ear with the author’s “they made us do it” mantra. Lovell is much stronger when she tells the story straight and without pro-imperialist spin, but it is largely marred by an unfortunate sneering tone which plays to a gallery of prejudice and jingoism, a Great Wall that will keep out any reader whose bigotry is not being fed. This is a shame because she has done a formidable job by laying out the story in so much riveting detail.
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PUB PICADOR

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2012
Titus Andronicus at the Globe: review

With the scarcity of east Asian faces in British culture, this past week has been a revelation for London’s theatre-goers. An appetite for Chinese performance yielded almost capacity audiences and praise for both the National Theatre of China’s Richard III in Mandarin and the Hong Kong Titus Andronicus in Cantonese at the Globe Theatre’s Shakespeare festival. Director Tang Shuwing’s minimalist physicalised approach eschews the Mandarin production’s Beijing Opera and kung-fu, bringing us a pared-down version closer to Tang’s Parisien theatre training.
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GLOBE THEATRE

Thursday 3 MAY 2012
Richard III from China at the Globe: theatre review

Their stunning costumes may have been languishing in a container ship just off Felixtowe, but even if the cast had been wearing sackcloth, rather than a wardrobe hastily assembled from the bowels of the Globe Theatre, it wouldn’t have diminished the fire of Wang Xiaoying’s exhilarating production of Richard III. The National Theatre of China makes Beijing-Opera-meets-Shakespeare every bit as exciting as you could imagine this history refracted through Chinese sensibilities and performed in Mandarin.
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GLOBE THEATRE

Friday 27 April 2012
Ai Weiwei’s cactus and crab packs political punch

Ai Weiwei has another work on show in London: a living sculpture, “The Box”, consisting of a crab and a cactus in the small confined space of a white box (the artist has been incarcerated for months at a time in China) is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery from today. As with the box, the significance of the prickly cactus is fairly easy to work out but what some Western commentators may me missing is what the crab may mean, especially if it turns out to be a river crab.
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PIPPY HOULDSWORTH GALLERY

Thursday 19 April 2012
Black T-Shirt Collection: National Theatre Cottesloe

In Inua Ellam’s 75-minute monologue about how to be successful whilst keeping your soul unsullied, Matthew and Muhammed, two Nigerian foster-brothers from across the Muslim-Christian divide, set up their eponymous Black T-shirt Collection, a hip clothing venture which begins with a kick in the chest and ends with something far nastier. Their upwardly-mobile journey takes them from the streets of Nigeria, (via the swanky scotch-and-Ribena set) to Egypt, consumerist Europe and sweatshop China.
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NATIONAL THEATRE COTTESLOE

Friday 23 March 2012
Reading art: Li Tianbing exhibition

I quite fancy going to see the exhibition of Li Tianbing’s paitings being shown at the Stephen Friedman Gallery. … What struck me is what he’s saying in the picture. Where are the official pamphlets being held? Think of the Three Wise Monkeys and see how the paper is held, left to right, over the mouth, the ears, almost over the eyes which are almost obscured, and then, adding a new figure, the boy who is standing holds his pamphlet over his head: think no evil. Or just: don’t think.
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STEPHEN FRIEDMAN GALLERY

Saturday 25 June 2011
Takeaway: Theatre Royal Stratford East

The cast were fab, the energy level of the production was sky-high, but why was all that talent wasted on a heartless non-story about such an unsympathetic character? Takeaway, a musical touted by some as a long-awaited breakthrough for UK Chinese, is a delight in so many ways that it’s sad to report that where it failed, it bombed big time. … Lee has cast his net across the culture and trawled a haul of lurid clichés which he plonks almost wholly unmediated on the stage. As I’ve said before, restating stereotypes is not the same as subverting them, and the show shoves one long tidal-wave of negative depictions at us, albeit dressed up cute. It’s not the size of the stereotypes, hun, it’s what you do with them.
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THEATRE ROYAL STRATFORD EAST

Thursday 10th March 2011
Working for the clampdown: Niall Feguson’s testosterone theory of history

‘Dominate, dominate, dominate.’ No, not an S&M dalek, but Niall Ferguson on the telly. I lost count of how many times this word, or variations thereof, came up in the first five minutes of Episode One of Ferguson’s Channel 4 series, Civilisation: Is the West History? … READ MORE
CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION

Thursday 27 January 2011
Militarised Hamlet at the National Theatre

A fighter plane roars overhead. Lights come up on a bleak black-and-white Elsinore Castle. Soldiers in camouflage strike the familiar high-shouldered automatic rifle-toting power-pose so beloved of army recruitment ads, sorry, TV & movies. Who needs a bare bodkin when a Bullpup SA80 can do the job? …
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NATIONAL THEATRE

Wednesday 17 November 2010
Hungry Ghosts theatre review: China from the outside

Director/playwright Tim Luscombe sets out his agenda in the programme for Hungry Ghosts, his new play about human rights in China. Whatever you may think of the Chinese government, not even the hardest-hearted of cold warriors considers the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest a serious threat to the continuing power of the ruling Communist party. …
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ORANGE TREE THEATRE, RICHMOND

Monday 25 October 2010
Gauguin at the Tate review: Derek & Clive go to the pictures

I finally saw the Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) exhibition at the Tate Modern yesterday and, yep, it had more breasts than a Bernard Matthews turkey farm. It’s an interesting look at a former impressionist who predates Matisse in his use of colour and the surface plane of the canvas. Murkier than the great colourist or even Van Gogh en masse, the subject matter was also a bit more, er, limited? A tiny tad “one note’, shall we say? All T & A, or, for variety, T or A. As my lovely companion observed, the arses follow you around the room. …
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ART, TATE MODERN

Sunday 1 August 2010
Sherlock and wily orientals: The Blind Banker, Episode 2

I did wonder why a modern young Chinese Miss would be wearing a chipao frock in present-day London, but Loved One sniffed that she needed it for her job entrancing the tourists and demanded to know why didn’t I do tranquility and ancient wisdom like writer Stephen Thompson’s creation? After yelling that I am frikkin’ peaceful when not being wound up, I admiringly noted her noble struggle with the accent … A sort of error of the tongues. …
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BBC1 TELEVISION

Saturday 31 July 2010
Call Mr Robeson review: a Black star in Britain

British-Nigerian actor/writer/singer Tayo [Aluko] tells the story of the black hero to perfection. Excelling at whatever he touched, this son of a former slave went from sports luminary to law graduate before achieving recording success as a singer in the 1920s and graduating to major roles in movies including Show Boat, Sanders Of The River and Emperor Jones. There’s not one ounce of fat in this well-paced tale of the first black American singing superstar, scholar, socialist and internationalist. …
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RICH MIX THEATRE

Sunday 4 July 2010
Undercover Boss and Gok Wan’s Fashion Fix TV

Watching Alan Sugar and Donald Trump treating their employees like bad pets as they compete for the right to serve their masters like the most loyal hounds ever is pretty sickening, but at least it’s honest. Now the Masters Of The Universe are slipping in beneath our defences as they try to win over the hearts and minds of any remaining doubters. … the programme presents the Boss as someone on our side, whatever their real priorities as revealed in the blurb. …
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CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION

Friday, 18 June 2010
Karate Kid does kung fu: 2010 remake courts China

Jaden looks cute as a button and brought a lump to my throat (no, not used food!) as this little underpuppy, out of his own safe US home environment, has to vanquish the Chinese bullies who are making his life such a misery. Whacks on, whacks off. …
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FILM

Monday, 26 April 2010
What A Carve Up! review: ‘a point where greed and madness can no longer be told apart’

It’s this lunacy that drives the plot engine of Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up!, and about which he is so viscerally angry. In his 1994 novel, Coe compresses the criminal class running the country — and the world — into one sociopathic, homicidal, fratricidal family: the Winshaws. …
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LITERATURE

Tuesday, 30 March 2010
1000 Ways To Die review: lurid, shocking, gruesome TV

Has anyone else stumbled across the Bravo cable TV show, 1,000 Ways To Die? It’s a sweet little offering from the US, re-enacting the weirdest ways people have met their end — usually prime contenders for the Darwin Awards.
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BRAVO CHANNEL, CABLE TELEVISION

Friday, 26 March 2010
Alice In Wonderland review: Disney and the Opium Wars

Laid on with a shovel, Alice’s anachronistic feminist feistiness may have been irritating as an unconvincing attitude which was not so much seeing the age refracted through modern eyes, as completely rewriting history. But, in a great Tim Burton sleight-of-hand, there was something else going on which seems to have bypassed the studio execs. …
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FILM

Saturday 6 March 2010
Spirit Warriors review: Chinese talent alert

“Since the creation of Yin and Yang there has been the Spirit World filled with magic and myth, protected by five warriors,” so quoth the dragon laying out the show’s franchise in its opening moments. Their quest is to collect twelve jade McGuffins and save the universe along with the girls’ mother, who has sent them into the other world in Episode 1. …
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CBBC TELEVISION

Friday, 19 February 2010
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Writers: Tom Stoppard, André Previn (music)
Dir: Felix Barrett and Tom Morris
This may have been cold-war commie-bashing but it was superior cold-war commie-bashing. … [Stoppard} can flip from axioms of Euclid to some wonderfully bad puns about harps being “plucky” and throwing a trombone to the dog, and all within an informed argument on the brutality of the Soviet state towards dissenters. …
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NATIONAL THEATRE

Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Wilko Johnson gig and Oil City Confidential premiere at Koko’s, Camden

Video and review
Last night’s premiere of Julien Temple’s Dr Feelgood documentary, Oil City Confidential, was stunning, a combination of movie screening and Wilko Johnson gig simultaneously beamed from a packed Koko’s in Camden to 40 plus venues across the UK. …
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KOKO’S CAMDEN, MUSIC, FILM

Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Apocalypse Wow! 2012 film review

Caught the blockbuster disaster movie 2012 last night having been attracted by the wall-size cut-outs of California tipping into the sea on display at my local Odeon. Hollywood does the date-sensitive apocalypse predicted by various sects and dishes up a full meat feast for the eyes. …
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FILM

Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The Noisettes review: “Atticus” and Shingai’s death-defying balcony scene at Shepherds Bush Empire

Video and review
The band opened with Don’t Upset the Rhythm and singer Shingai Shoniwa cavorting on top of a silver-draped platform in an explosive blaze of light under a giant scarlet love-heart. A wild leap onto the stage began Wild Young Hearts, then Don’t Give Up, the first track off their first album. …
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SHEPHERDS BUSH EMPIRE, MUSIC

Friday, 9 October 2009
Chinese serial killer tamed: Turandot first night review

Puccini gives us the other half of his Orientalist pairing in the opera Turandot, first performed in 1926. Having sweetened up audiences with Madama Butterfly’s selfless lotus blossom character, he shocks the bourgeoisie with a tale of a wicked serial-killer Princess who kills her innocent male suitors when they fail to answer her three riddles. …
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ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA, LONDON COLOSSEUM

Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Mott The Hoople Hammersmith Apollo review: Madam Miaow ligs backstage

But what got me bopping along was when they reached the poppier favourites — All the Way From Memphis, Roll Away The Stone, and that glorious hit written by Bowie, All The Young Dudes. Note that Ian (a lively 70) has Billy rapping “about his suicide, how he’d kick it in the head when was ninety-five,” and not twenty-five any more. Tee, hee! …
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HAMMERSMITH APOLLO, MUSIC

Wednesday 2 September 2009
The Shock Doctrine and Enron: nightmare TV review

Last night I watched The Shock Doctrine followed by Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room on More 4 in a truly wrist-slitting binge of disaster telly from which I am only now recovering with a mug of Earl Grey. …
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CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION

Thursday 6 August 2009
All’s Well That Ends Well

There follows a comedy of mistaken identity and subterfuge wherein men are revealed to be treacherous snakes in the grass, cowardly liars and deeply closeted. It leaves you wondering why any fabulous woman would spend so much time and suffering in order to lock themselves into a lifelong relationship with them. …
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NATIONAL THEATRE

Sunday 5 July 2009
Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall last night with David Gilmour

This being the sedate Kensington Gore and the audience being mostly over fifty, the volume does not go up to eleven but is loud enough to give maximum pleasure, Jeff being the ribbed condom of the rock world, without shredding your eardrums. …
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ROYAL ALBERT HALL, MUSIC

Wednesday, 24 June 2009
The King & I review: go you Orientals!

Royal Albert Hall.
Starring Daniel Dae Kim and David Yip
Here’s one show you can’t accuse of yellowface. Last night’s Rodgers & Hammerstein 1951 musical The King & I, revived at the Royal Albert Hall, had so many Asian actors they must have emptied out every Chinatown in Britain. About thirteen kids and 20 or so women swamped the handful of white actors on the stage in something out of Margaret Thatcher’s worst nightmare. …
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ROYAL ALBERT HALL, THEATRE

Friday, 22 May 2009
Yellowface back from the grave: the state of UK theatre – More Light

Yellowface is alive and thriving in deepest Dalston with More Light at the Arcola Theatre, written by Bryony Lavery and directed by Catrina Lear. Imagine, if you will, a return to ye olden days of the almost complete absence of actors of colour from TV, when white entertainers blacked up and sang songs about their dear old mammy and grinning piccaninnies chowed down on watermelon. …
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ARCOLA THEATRE

Sunday 19 April 2009
Dr Who’s Army Recruitment role in Planet of the Dead

Trust me. I’m a Doctor! Maybe I’m being a sensitive flower, but just as our armed forces ratchet up horror after horror in illegal wars, and our police are revealed to relish stormtrooper tactics in matters of democratic protest, it seems our media are ushering us into an era where we are militarised drones. We are all Morlocks and Eloi now. …
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BBC1 TELEVISION

Sunday, 29 March 2009
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert reviews: homophobia bad, racist misogyny invisible

Has anyone noticed the misogyny? Does anyone care that east asians are dissed in a way that would have the blogosphere yelling “homophobia” had it been gays who were the hate figures? Are frocks and Abba the new bread and circuses? Will the producers fuck for spangles? …
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THEATRE

Saturday, 21 March 2009
Priscilla Queen of the Desert review: looks pretty, tastes foul

I saw the original film when it opened at the 1994 Edinburgh Film Festival. … Imagine my surprise to see the all-white troupe of drag queens at the centre of the story looking after their own interests as a minority; cast as heroes, not against their enemies in the real world, but against Cynthia, an evil East Asian woman who is a Filipino import bride with a manic compulsion for firing ping-pong balls from her vagina.
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FILM

Friday, 27 February 2009
Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre review: bum-aching torture but don’t blame Stalin

Unfortunately, the end product looks like the outline before it was fleshed out and turned into a proper script, a disappointment considering this was written by the author of one of the best British TV dramas ever, Our Friends In The North.
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NATIONAL THEATRE

Wednesday 25 February 2009
Battlestar Galactica Ep 6, 4.5 review: Deadlock

(Spoiler alert.) Written by Buffy veteran Jane Espenson, Deadlock, Episode 6 of 10, brings Ellen Tigh back to Galactica’s crippled fleet, now carrying 39,556 surviving humans with no prospect of sanctuary. …
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TELEVISION

Tuesday 3 February 2009
Battlestar Galactica 4.5 Review: Ep 3 The Oath

(Spoler alert.) You’re in a pressure cooker with disaster staring you in the face, your dreams dashed, no future, social meltdown. The foreigners in your midst who were once your friends, partners, workmates are now the enemy and have to be destroyed. It’s us or them. Yup, that’s either us on Planet Earth 2009 or the 39,643 survivors of the human race in the Battlestar Galactica fleet who have started killing each other. …
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TELEVISION

Tuesday 20 January 2009
Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 Review: Frakk to the Future

(Spoiler alert.) Now we know. It’s us in the future. The long-hoped-for return to their origins in ashes — a dead Mother Earth. Irradiated. Nuked two millennia back, its great cities felled. Nothing left to fall back on, just a dream of how it once was and will never be again. A bit like Iggy Pop in the Swiftcover sponsor commercials topping and tailing each segment. …
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TELEVISION

Tuesday, 30 December 2008
The Good Earth review: Anna May Wong and Chinese in Hollywood

I finally got to see The Good Earth, of which I’d been vaguely aware all my life but which surfaced again during my research into my BBC Radio 4 profile of the Hollywood screen-legend, Anna May Wong (broadcast 13th January 2009). This was the black & white MGM spectacular made in 1937, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller by Pearl S Buck about the turbulent fortunes of farmer Wang Lung’s family — a sort of Chinese Grapes of Wrath meets Gone With The Wind. …
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FILM

Sunday, 30 November 2008
The Devil’s Whore review: politics and sex

With a title like The Devil’s Whore, you just knew Channel 4’s latest costume drama set during the English Revolution (yes, we had one of those) was going to be a bodice-ripping bonkathon. So it was a bit of a shock to see popular TV tackling the politics of one of the most exciting periods in English history, one that usually gets wiped from our collective memory just because the democrats bumped off a despotic king. …
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CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION

Friday, 4 April 2008
Torchwood review: Wahey! My cock’s on fire!

So. This was it. The final episode of the second season of Torchwood, execrable spin-off of the hysterical Dr Who, reinvented and revitalised by Russell T Grant, the world’s most desperate Joss Whedon wannabe. …
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TELEVISION

Sunday, 3 February 2008
Movie watch: 55 Days At Peking

55 Days At Peking, directed by Nicholas Ray who should’ve known better and was sacked from the job for his pains. Set in 1900, 55 Days purports to tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion, when indiginous Chinese made a last effort to get the rapacious foreign powers out of their own country. …
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FILM

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