And they can keep their ‘past is a foreign country’ puns, too…

‘Musicals continue to be the only art form, popular or otherwise, that is publically criticized by illiterates’, wrote Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, by which he meant illiteracy about musical theatre itself. We got to see a little bit of that with the press night of The Go-Between, the most exciting new musical I have seen for years. (In brief: the music is astonishing and has the vocabulary to navigate the psychological nuances of the story, as does a production that plays to every strength of its theatricality, its ensemble cast operating like a beautiful piece of clockwork and accompanied throughout by a single onstage piano which, thanks to the writing and the performance, weaves every colour the score needs whilst retaining an intimacy and intensity that is at the heart of the whole concept. I sat through both acts in what felt like a single breath and it has continued to haunt me since. Go and see it. And take me with you please.)

thegobetween

Not that I was so naïve as to anticipate that response being reflected in the show’s reviews, and even as I staggered out of the theatre trying not to make a fool of myself by weeping too openly on Shaftesbury Avenue I did wonder how far such subtle craftsmanship would go with a critical community more used to seeing (not to mention working in) broad brushstrokes.

Illiterates? Perhaps. It’s hard not to feel empathy with Sondheim when critics of musical theatre have so little belief in the genre: according to The Londonist ‘musical just isn’t the right genre for intense, psychological narrative’, an idea echoed by the opinion in WhatsOnStage that ‘secrets and subtext would be easier if the cast could talk to each other’ – whilst, reducing this to a special kind of stupid, Official Theatre simply has it that this musical contains ‘too much singing’. In The Times we get ‘this is not so much a musical as a play set to music’, which may be the single silliest sentence I have seen in a theatre review, partly because it implies the absence of a librettist and partly because it ignores the development of the function of musical theatre since about 1943.

But perhaps this is not illiteracy so much as inexperience; all of the above demonstrate a profound underestimation of the genre of musical theatre, even resulting in a need to redefine this piece altogether. On BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Matt Wolf went the whole hog and called it a chamber opera, though his erudite stance was scuppered by host John Wilson explaining that there were no stand out songs and the whole thing was ‘pointless’ because ‘if you love the book, and the film was fantastic, why take it to the musical stage?’ On those grounds we should give some serious re-evaluation to the likes of such pointless musicals as Oliver!, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, for which there are also perfectly good literary substitutes, not to mention the recent glut of musicals adapted directly from films which are already fantastic.

‘Ah’, John Wilson might respond, ‘but those musicals do have stand-out songs’. His assumption – not an uncommon one – is that the stand-out songs are the point of musicals. Many commercial producers clearly think along those lines with their increasingly desperate attempts to turn some back catalogue into another Mamma Mia, almost as if musical theatre hasn’t moved on since its formative years as a mere glorified revue. But even if that were the case, The Go-Between had been described moments earlier as a chamber opera, and you don’t hear people complaining that The Turn of the Screw is pointless because it doesn’t have stand-out songs and you can read the book.

(Incidentally, both The Turn of the Screw and The Go-Between do have stand-out songs, they’re just rather less heavy-handedly deployed than in, say, We Will Rock You, not least because the composers place storytelling above the audience’s need to clap every few minutes.)

It’s important to point out that not all critics are illiterates, and there have been brilliant and perceptive responses from the likes of Mark Shenton, Edward Seckerson and Libby Purves (perhaps it’s no coincidence that they are largely positive), not to mention from audiences themselves. When I saw the show the now-obligatory standing ovation was genuinely enthusiastic and the audience members who sat in their seats still sobbing as the house lights went up didn’t seem to have had their experience diminished by the shortage of ‘numbers’. It is reassuring that, in spite of the expectations of some critics, music and storytelling are all that’s needed to get that kind of response from West End audiences.

So for all that it has been labelled ‘gentle’, ‘mild-mannered’ and ‘austere’ (it is none of those things, but some critical pulses are evidently conditioned only to respond to heavy synthesisers), The Go-Between lays down a hefty gauntlet. By demonstrating that musical theatre can be sophisticated, even challenging, and still shift seats, it challenges producers to look for ticket sales in quality, not another back catalogue. That way lies a future for the British musical.

Doing things in a more civilised way

So this Labour spat over the decriminalisation (or not) of prostitution: it is tempting, as always, to sigh and say ‘Jeremy Corbyn really doesn’t help himself, does he?’. In this case, though, I’m not sure it’s that way round. After all, he is within his rights to give a personal opinion in response to a question from a member of the public, especially one consistent with his support for Amnesty International’s position on prostitution. (Whether he elaborated on it is unclear, because predictably the press have only reported The Controversial Thing What He Said, but nobody could accuse Amnesty’s stance of being poorly considered.)

As the press gleefully reported, he was immediately attacked by ‘angry female MPs’, every reporter conveniently ignoring all criticism from male MPs to portray this as a straightforward battle of the sexes. Mind you, it wasn’t the media that made it about gender in the first place, was it?

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Enter Jess Phillips, hashtag shedding a tear because Corbyn is a man who ‘says we should decriminalize a known violence against women’. This introduction of gender politics is deeply unhelpful. Even if we accept the genderisation of the discussion itself on the basis that most of the victims of prostitution are women, Corbyn’s gender is irrelevant – it is entirely conceivable that a man (especially this man) can advocate for women’s rights, and in any case the Amnesty view is championed by women and women’s groups alike. To portray Corbyn as a chauvinist with no respect for women’s dignity is pretty low and more than a little disingenuous.

Equally disingenuous, or just plain ignorant, is reacting as though Corbyn doesn’t care about violence against women, portraying him as a champion of the sex trade and confusing decriminalisation with legalisation. The Women’s Equality Party have even put out a statement which insinuates that Corbyn was ‘advocating the sale of bodies for sex’, a hugely reductive leap of non-logic.

The sad thing is that these angry Labour MPs don’t recognise that, on this, they are genuinely all on the same side. Corbyn has aligned himself with a proposal grounded in a desire to protect the vulnerable, and whilst they disagree over the proposed solution, they might at least give Corbyn the credit for raising the discussion and engage in a more sensitive, sophisticated way.

(Oh, and the shadow cabinet member who said Corbyn should ‘go and join the Green party’ can piss right off: this debate is not served by you attaching your political prejudices to it, and since you’re the one taking them anonymously to a right wing newspaper, consider that perhaps you’re the one in the wrong party.)

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Prostitution is an emotive issue, but for that very reason politicians must be wary of letting their emotions cloud their ability to reach objective conclusions, particularly in the absence of a party line. Nobody doubts Harriet Harman’s commitment to women’s rights, but her conflation of abuse with her distaste for prostitution confuses the issue; Corbyn shares her desire to protect women, so her objection to his description of prostitution as ‘an industry’ seems a bit petty when you consider that industry and exploitation are hardly mutually exclusive. Fine, we can stop calling it an industry if you like, but that won’t stop it being one a dictionary definition sense, and it won’t solve any problems.

And whilst it is a legitimate point of view to consider all prostitution exploitative and degrading, however consensual, that is a different discussion. An important discussion, but a more broadly ideological one with opinions (indeed, feminist opinions) on both sides. It would be disastrous to confuse that debate, with all its grey areas, with the clear cut need for legislation that protects the victims of categorical abuse such as coercion, sex trafficking and child prostitution; the so-called Nordic model (decriminalisation of the sellers and criminalisation of the buyer) is an attractive solution to those who are morally opposed to prostitution full stop, but it may not be the solution that best helps the vulnerable (in fact, the Amnesty proposal is supported by 60% of organisations working with sex workers, of which, conversely, only 4% support the Nordic model).

None of which is to say whether Corbyn is right or wrong, it is simply to ask, can you just sit down and talk about this, please? I mean, talk to each other rather than to the Telegraph or the whole of twitter? If you really care about these vulnerable women, men and children, then instead of spoiling for the fight that the media have predictably turned into the main story, acknowledge that you are unified in your beliefs that the current law doesn’t work, that criminalising victims doesn’t help and that you want to do something about it?

You do want to do something about it, right?

You Stupid Boy.

sunfrontpage

‘Um, hey. About this headline.’

‘Brilliant, isn’t it!’

‘Well… is it?’

‘Yeah, ’cos it’s like history repeating itself, us against Europe, like in the Second World War!’

‘Well, no, in the Second World War we were trying to save Europe from Nazi occupation.’

‘That’s exactly my point! ’Cos David Cameron, right, is so rubbish at doing it, he’s like in Dad’s Army where they just let the Nazis invade!’

‘I don’t think the Nazis ever did invade, did they? Even in Dad’s Army?’

‘Sure, but they would’ve done if Cameron had been in charge.’

‘Okay. Okay, let’s accept the analogy for the time being. Only… I can’t help noticing you’ve put Cameron’s name where it was originally, er, ‘Hitler’.’

‘Wrong number of syllables, you mean? I was worried about that too. But actually you can make the scansion work, you just have to use semiquavers.’

‘No, no, it’s not that, it’s… in your analogy, I thought Cameron was fighting the Nazis?’

‘Yep. Well, he is, isn’t he?’

‘But Hitler was a Nazi.’

‘Oh. I see your point.’ (pause) ‘I know, let’s put in a picture of David Cameron dressed as Captain Mainwaring, that ought to make it clear!’

Several hours of photoshopping later…

‘Yeah. Yeah, I see your point… he does look a bit like Heinrich Himmler.’ (pause) ‘Never mind, let’s put in a caption explaining who he’s dressed as, that ought to make the whole thing totally clear!’

Christmas is for sharing

Thank goodness Sainsbury’s is around to remind us that the First World War wasn’t all THAT bad. Those frost covered trenches were quite beautiful really, and our humble Tommies, watched by gentle officers, sang in different regional accents in time with the distant strains of German carolling which echoed through the snow each night. A simpler time, but on the whole a happier one.

Oh, and did I mention, there was FOOTBALL! (It was one of our Tommies what instigated it, of course. Jerry started the war but WE DAMN WELL STARTED THE FOOTBALL.) That’s why Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke mostly wrote poems about football, though of course their work has been hijacked by the loony left who just want to focus on the mud and blood and suffering and the fact that Boxing Day was a bit of a downer because instead of footballs it was, well, bullets and grenades, but what would they know, they weren’t there, whereas this Sainsbury’s advert has been METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED you know and clearly demonstrates that the real message we ought to be taking in the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is:

BUY SAINSBURY’S.

Because Christmas is for sharing, you see? And sharing is the thing for which corporate giant Sainsbury’s is best known, ask any British farmer or small trader. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate partner for the Royal British Legion, except perhaps for arms traders Lockheed Martin and BAE who fortunately have both sponsored Royal British Legion events this year, because it’s important that we don’t forget the vital role the arms trade played in ensuring that all sides in the First World War were able to keep it going for four years. Because if the war had just fizzled out then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY FOOTBALL AT CHRISTMAS.

And, lest we forget, that is what war, and Christmas, is all about.

Future projects, trial separation and fucking computers

James and I have been making films, together and apart, for more than ten years now. Off and on. Around other things. You get the idea: James will write a book, or I’ll work for a macho-leftist journalism startup. We’ll both bitch about Doctor Who. Before you know it, time has passed and those ideas for films we were kicking around are still ideas for films. Unmade. They don’t really count.

Which isn’t to say that films haven’t been made. A Cake for Jim Broadbent, for instance, James’ charming tail of crazy stalker fans with copious supplies of bicarbonate of soda recently picked up…well, I’ll let him say how it’s done. But those ideas and, worse, bits and pieces of unfinished films, remain kicking around, making us feel guilty, and clogging up our hard drives.

So various things are happening at Talk To Rex right now. Firstly, we’re in pre-production on a feature, of which more (much more) later. In order to do that, we’re also in pre-production on a short, of which more (slightly less more) later (but slightly sooner later). That’ll be shooting at the end of August, in London. So that’s one.

The second is that we’re trawling through those hard drives, dusting off old bits of films, and finishing what we can. Degrees of Separation, an internet serial we shot pilot footage for back in 2009, will start appearing over the winter. There are some other shorts floating around that need editing, or music, or music and editing, or possibly taking a long, hard look at and saying “nope”. That’s two.

And we didn’t really have to completely change the website, but that seems to have happened as well. Maybe that counts as three.

Easter Whoathon

So we spent Easter Monday watching some Doctor Who. This is what we found…

(You’ll notice we couldn’t fit in all of the Doctors, so this event – sorry, exercise – is likely to be repeated, to continue the Earth chronology. Something to look forward to.)

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