Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Review: As You Like It (RSC, Stratford)

by Emily Duff

As You Like It, directed by Maria Aberg, music by Laura Marling

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies. My A2 English class travelled 3 hours to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of it on 20th April. Now, you may not know this, but 23rd April is Shakespeare’s birthday. We hadn’t really anticipated that Stratford, on a sunny weekend two days before, would therefore be absolutely heaving with Shakespeare fans, theatre go-ers and people dressed as Tudors. After eventually finding a parking space at the Park and Ride (a new experience for several of us…“you park…and ride the bus?!”), we made it to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Nicolas Tennant as Touchstone
and Alex Waldmann as Orlando
The performance was fantastic. The play opened with the thrust stage covered in leaf debris, slowly swept about by a moody Orlando. Behind him, a rotation with tall wooden pillars symbolised oppression and the confines of the court run by a drunken and tyrannical Duke Frederick.

 The court characters certainly looked the part; they were dressed in formidable black gowns and suits, but their stylised hand jive failed to impress me. Neither did the rectangular pit full of fragments of rubber that started off as the wrestling pit and then just seemed to cause mess and get in the way for the rest of the first act.

Everything changed however, once the characters reached the legendary Forest of Arden. The wooden pillars on the rotation moved to become trees and the characters were all dressed in bright colours with patterned jumpers, wellies, beanie hats and guitars. The festival theme, including the Duke Senior kitted out as an aging rock star, certainly added to the magical atmosphere, where all rules are suspended, especially when the priest entered as a drugged-up Jamaican with dreadlocks.

Pippa Nixon as Rosalind
Pippa Nixon played Rosalind-turned-Ganymede and she was a very good man, if that can be a compliment. Her funniest moment was when she discovered her love was in the forest and pulled down her trousers asking, “What shall I do with my doublet and hose?”

Oliver Ryan was the melancholy Jaques, brilliant merely because he was so fantastic at being sad when everyone around him was celebrating. Phoebe was played by Natalie Klamar and was hilarious as the shepherdess who falls in love with a woman pretending to be a man.

However, two actors stole the show for me.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk

by Hugh Summers 

Earlier this week, Daft Punk revealed the lead single from their upcoming album, Random Access Memories, which is set to be released this May. The album is said to show the human side of these robots, as we drift more away from humanity and more towards technology.
This could be a very interesting turn for the French house music duo as almost all of their songs are electronic. Yet, after hearing their new song, I must say that I was simply blown away. It’s been eight years since Daft Punk’s last album, Human After All, and many fans are ecstatic to see the duo back in the charts. 
As for the collaboration, Daft Punk first met Nile Rodgers at a listening party in New York for their 2001 album, Discovery, and apparently became friends from that point onwards. The duo eventually invited Rodgers to the Random Access Memories recording sessions at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, which, coincidentally, was the studio where the first Chic (the band for which Nile Rodgers was the guitarist in the late 70s/ early 80s) single had been recorded. Pharrell Williams had first heard from Daft Punk about the project at a Madonna party they were attending, and offered to be part of the collaboration.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Portsmouth Point Poetry: 'A Considerable Speck' by Robert Frost

by Gregory Walton-Green

In Robert Frost's poem, 'A Considerable Speck', the narrator, having written on a piece of paper, sees a ‘mite’ run across the page. He first thinks of stabbing it, then realises it is intelligent, so he lets the scared ‘mite’ rest. Then the narrator tells us he didn’t save the mite because of a general principle of equal kindness, but because it had done him no harm. He ends the poem by saying he is glad to find signs of intelligence in any form on pieces of paper.

A speck that would have been beneath my sight
On any but a paper sheet so white
Set off across what I had written there.
And I had idly poised my pen in air
To stop it with a period of ink
When something strange about it made me think,
This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,
But unmistakably a living mite
With inclinations it could call its own.
It paused as with suspicion of my pen,
And then came racing wildly on again
To where my manuscript was not yet dry;
Then paused again and either drank or smelt--
With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,
Yet must have had a set of them complete
To express how much it didn't want to die.
It ran with terror and with cunning crept.
It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
Then in the middle of the open sheet
Cower down in desperation to accept
Whatever I accorded it of fate.

I have none of the tenderer-than-thou
Collectivistic regimenting love
With which the modern world is being swept.
But this poor microscopic item now!
Since it was nothing I knew evil of
I let it lie there till I hope it slept.

I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.

Different Interpretations
The title itself is somewhat oxymoronic: how can such a small object be of any importance? We are first led to believe it is only noticeable due to its contrasting against the paper; next we are told it is significant because it could think when we expected it to be a thoughtless, lifeless speck of dust. However, perhaps it is considerable only for what it signifies: we know logically that this intelligent mite cannot have existed, therefore, what does Frost wish the miniscule ‘mind’ to be a metaphor for? It may be a reference to the thoughtless process by which humans run around their lives helplessly, achieving nothing. On the other hand, the mite is said to have mind, but is it using it? Is Frost a serious threat to the mite? Many suggest that this poem is Frost’s way of showing his lack of sympathy with the view that kindness should be doled out to everything equally. Could Frost be encouraging us, in the final verses, to think for ourselves and not to follow the crowd, unable to make our own decisions or have any originality?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Photography Club: Blossom

by Grace Goodfellow

Photography Club, run by Mr Stone, meets every Friday lunch time.

"Wrenching Ballads of Disintegrating Love": George Jones

George Jones (centre) with Roy Acuff, 1950s
"His recordings that will endure are about
the permutations of sorrow"
George Jones, seen by many as the greatest male country singer since Hank Williams, died on April 26, 2013, aged 81.

 "George Jones was twenty-four, had been singing in gutbucket bars in Texas for years and was already a twice-married former housepainter, shoe-shiner and soda-truck driver when the up-tempo "Why Baby Why" became his first top-five country hit, in 1955.

However, it is the slow songs, wrenching ballads of disintegrating love, like "A Good Year for the Roses" and "She Thinks I Still Care" that serve him best. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a camp dirge to unrequited love that, in Jones' hands, becomes the song that many consider country music's greatest (see below). It's the way he lingers on a word, kneading it for a sadness you didn't know was there, which transforms ordinary, even trite lyrics into something intensely moving. Couple such phrasing with the sprawling registers and pellucid sound of a voice that lost none of its nasal timbre as it deepened with age, and you have a formidable instrument for expressing despair.

 . . . The same morose impulses that imbued his music with lush, sorrowful feeling, could plunge Jones into real despondency that he found difficult to shake. His description of what it was like for him to sing a Hank Williams song applies to most of his repertoire: "It makes you sad because you're singin' all those sad words, about how a man can hurt a woman and a woman can hurt a man, until you're just like the people in the song, and you're living it and and their problems become your problems, until you're lost in the songs and it just takes everything out of you." 

Perfect Storm

by Mark Richardson

It's downloads now. Sure, sometimes CDs, but mostly it's iTunes, or Amazon, or streaming via YouTube or Spotify. All that lovely music, often just a click away. What's not to like? Good question. But with change can also come unexpected consequences, and the change that I am thinking about here is to do with artwork: the cover. First it was the CD: tiny, so the artwork had to be tiny, and was rarely inspected in any case by the listener. Now, the over may appear on a screen while the music is playing, but is rarely looked at. And why should anyone? It's just a smudge, a vague blob that might appear somewhere but with no real value or interest.

But, of course, it wasn't always like that: vinyl LPs had two (or more) sheets of 12 square inches of card to protect them, and, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, designers were allowed immense freedoms to capture the attention of a potential record buyer. Amongst those designers, Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, the company he co-founded, stood out from the rest. Thorgerson died last week, and his passing was worthy of BBC TV evening news, and for a moment his most famous creation, the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon blazoned out from screens across the country.

Of Norwegian parents but born near London, Thorgerson found himself at school with some of the founding members of Pink Floyd, and his interest in art and design soon led him to become a designer of their albums. From there, he and his company became involved in an extraordinary number of designs for a wide range of records, including  ones by Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, 10CC, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath and The Scorpions. They were usually marked by a determination to produce images that were a mixture of reality and the absurd, catching the eye but also drawing attention to the content too.

As he said, "I like photography because it is a reality medium, unlike drawing which is unreal. I like to mess with reality...to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question of is it real or not?" Which is oddly different from his most famous creation, which is a prism refracting light. True, it doesn't quite refract light like that in reality, but it doesn't really fit his description. But there are others that certainly do, some of them playing on our perceptions, such as a 10CC cover where the cover itself is being pulled into the photograph of the band on the cover.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Film Review: Argo

by Will Hine

(source: fact.co.uk)
Set in the dusty capital of 1980’s Iran, Ben Affleck’s Argo is a gripping account of the extraction of US diplomats from an extremely hostile part of the world. With a deep historical context, Argo sets the scene with an introduction briefing the audience on the history of the nation. A time and part of the world ravaged with an overturned throne, an aggravated, politically disillusioned populous with a great hatred of the United States Argo sets the hostility of the scene using technique to place the audience with the 6 diplomats, smothered by the crowds of the grand bazaar, for instance. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is an ex-fil agent working for the CIA, and upon the storming of the US embassy in Iran by an enraged mob, he must devise a plan to extract the US citizens from the Middle East without getting caught; with failure being an embarrassing international incident for the United States, as well as the deaths of Mendez and the stranded diplomats. Perhaps the more gripping angle of the story is that it is based on a real-life case, declassified by Bill Clinton in 1997.

Affleck’s attention to detail is paramount in Argo, and benefits the quality of the picture tremendously. From the vintage Warner Bros. logo in the opening title, to Mendez’s eureka moment coming from watching grainy footage of Battle for the Planet of the Apes with his son on a bulky television set, it does a tremendous job to immerse the audience into 1979/80. The footage of the classic sci-fi flick is not the only testament to 70’s film. The clutter of sci-fi memorabilia in his son’s room perhaps nods to an audience member with fond childhood memories of a similar scene. It can be noted that Argo sits so well into 70’s Americana that it could quite easily fit into the period of film itself. Everything from music to questionable facial hair is accounted for in Argo.

(source: Daily Telegraph)
During scenes in Tehran, the Iranian capital, the gripping narrative is coupled with some memorable set pieces, including a nervy, hair-raising scene in the Grand Bazaar as well as the interrogation by a paranoid Iranian militia officer at the international airport. It’s real edge-of-the-seat cinema; a gradual build up is countered by the blind panic and rush of the final third of the film leading to an explosive conclusion.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Photography Club: Spring

Today's warm, sunny weather made it seem as if Spring had finally arrived after the bleak and extended winter of 2012-13. Elicia Seebold celebrates the joy of Spring.

See Spring by Nick Graham. See Spring and All by William Carlos Williams, with a commentary by George Laver.

The Sky is the Limit

by Callum Cross

Sky boss Dave Brailsford
(wiki commons)
This term, "the Sky is the limit", in cycling has now been coined in reference to anything that Team Sky want they get. They “want” the Tour de France, so they go out and get the best riders and give them lots of money to ride very hard on the front.

Now, this is a well proven tactic in stage races, more so this year that 2012. Ritchie Porte was given more responsibility early on this season, the team kept the same old method of riding hard to prevent attacks. Lately, however, this method has shown great weaknesses in the “one-day classics” races. These races cover more than 200kms in one day and tend to be very competitive. It is said that anyone who starts can win. However, Team Sky have tried their hardest to put a lid on that and use the same old methods. This has failed rather dramatically, most recently in Leige-Bastonge-Leige. The team were trying to control a 240km race from the beginning and their whole team ran out of energy and missed the key breaks on key climbs. So how about the rest of Team Sky’s Classics season?
Well in the early cobbled classics, great things were expected of them, with top riders like Great Britain’s Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas; however, with Thomas crashing out of 2/3 races and failing to make the lead group in the other cobbled race, very little came from the early classics. This left the Ardennes Triple, the three toughest one-day races in the world, with climbs hitting gradients of 33% and covering over 230kms, each spread over 10 days. Sky sent their best climbers and punchers; however, they were made to look like a dysfunctional wreck. With one podium and one top 10 in the 3 races (both by young Columbian Sergio Henao) this was a very disappointing classics season again (after a dismal 2012 as well).
This begs the question: why does Sky spend all of its money on one type of rider?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sur le Pont d'Avignon

by Sally Filho

An expectant audience awaits Portsmouth Grammar School's
forthcoming production of The Exonerated at Festival d'Avignon 2013

The often mispronounced lyrics of this simple XVth century French song belong to Everyman’s knowledge of Gallic musical culture, together with two lines of Piaf’s ‘Non, rien de rien’ and half a line of ‘La Marseillaise’.  A group of students from The Portsmouth Grammar School will propulse  inter-cultural exchange between GB and France to a significantly higher plane this summer by taking a play performed in English to the world-famous Avignon Festival in July: exciting, daring and daunting it is, fun it should be, mundane it won’t be.
The Avignon Festival is a huge affair with an estimated one million spectators and participants involved over three weeks.  In the OFF Festival alone (the equivalent to Edinburgh’s ‘Fringe’), 1,000 companies take part and 1,600 plays and theatrical events are produced. The overall budget for this exhilarating Festival bursting with ideas and buzzing with invention is 13 million Euros. There are 3,500 performing arts professionals who also organize meetings, lectures and debates, thus creating a unique and splendidly creative event in European cultural life.  The Festival boasts itself to be “The Biggest Theatre in the World” and it probably is! There will be over 500 journalists present and, if they have any sense, some will wish to write about us.
We are playing ‘The Exonerated’, by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, which tells the true story of six wrongfully convicted survivors of death row.  This is verbatim theatre as the text is entirely taken from actual interviews, court summaries, testimonies, police records and, principally, statements from the six ‘exonerated’.  The play is thoughtful, funny at times but mostly intensely absorbing.  Moving from monologues and scenes set in courtrooms and prison cells, the six interwoven stories engage the spectators on a memorable emotional journey as well as evoke a depressing picture of a deeply dysfunctional criminal justice system.  We believe that the very knowledgeable Avignon Festival theatre-goers will enjoy its impact.  It will be, I believe, a French première after notable successes in the States and Great Britain. 

Show Your Parents You Love Them --- By Not Buying Them Gifts.

by Katherine Tobin

Traditionally, in our family, we don’t buy gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day. This is obviously not because I feel any less thankful for them, or love them any less, but just because the sentiment of a card is enough to show thanks to one another. However, for many people, Father’s and Mother’s Days are days to spoil and treat their parents to chocolates, toys and multiple gifts. I am not saying this is wrong, but it is a subject that interests me.
 For, in this day and age, it seems to me that days such as these have been exposed to over-commercialisation, leading to what can only be seen as a pressure to conform to these modern standards. It is, of course, not wrong to show appreciation towards someone, but I get the feeling every year that many people feel obliged, rather than eager, to buy people gifts to celebrate. We seem to feel the need to do the accepted thing and celebrate just one day a year, rather than the whole year round, as we know we should. A certain weight hangs over your head because you realise its Mother’s or Father’s Day tomorrow, and you haven’t bought them a month’s supply of chocolate or an inconsiderately sized teddy bear, when they’d probably rather receive a hug and a home cooked meal every now and then instead.

I’d imagine it is a bit of a disappointment to be a parent and to be praised for one day every year, rather than every day. For me, it is this problem that puts a downer on the whole event – the lack of spontaneity. It is as if, every year, the day is forced upon the general public, and in return you are forced to conform. The shelves of shops begin to fill and the thought looms in the back of your head, until the night before when you (out of sheer desperation) give in and buy one of the over-priced, over-sold gifts that the nearest corner store has to offer. But why? Is it social pressure, or do we feel the need to tell our parents we love them only once a year?
Another of these situations arises on the 14th February (Valentine’s Day, of course). This day is widely known for its commercialisation, the build-up in stocks beginning soon after the New Year is over and done. And, of course, it’s a great way to tell someone important to you that you love them. But it seems almost tacky nowadays to say ‘I love you’ on Valentine's purely for this reason. Why is it so important that it is this day, despite there being another 364 days out there, that we take our partner, spouse etc out for a meal or shower them with compliments and gifts? It seems almost that people nowadays feel the need to be forced down that road, rather than it being a spontaneous, enjoyable experience. Again, the weight of a judging society bears down on the shoulders of many, and, ultimately, the whole message is taken out of the day.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review: Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios, London)

by Fay Davies

James McAvoy and Claire Foy in 'Macbeth' at Trafalgar Studios
Sitting in the theatre, before the performance had even started, I was worried. I was worried because I thought no one would ever stop talking. Consisting primarily of groups of students like us, the audience was emitting a constant excited chatter that I didn’t believe could ever cease. Occasionally there would be a sudden panicked hush – a false alarm – but it would be followed by an inexorable resurgence of noise. In the end I needn’t have worried, as we were successfully silenced in exactly the way Shakespeare intended: ‘thunder and lightning’. Without any warning, there was an outrageously loud thunderclap. The room darkened and three ‘witches’ appeared out of trap doors. They delivered the famous opening lines. They were wearing gas masks.
The gas masks are an important point. This production of Macbeth plays out in a post-apocalyptic Scotland, after some kind of war. It is modernised, but it worked well: the dress and setting were suitably dull, worn and battered, so as not to look jarringly contemporary. It created a background of destitution and desperation, against which the measures of Macbeth and his wife seemed more credible. The change did not violate Shakespeare’s original; it merely gave some subtle added relevance to a current audience.
The abrupt beginning was not the only shocking moment of the play. It was a visceral production throughout - from the occasional overenthusiastic spit, to Macbeth’s graphic and audible on-stage vomit, to the drawn out strangulation of Lady Macduff (in which I began to feel concerned for the actress’s wellbeing). Of course, it wouldn’t be Macbeth without obscene amounts of blood. There was blood splashed onto hands, splattered onto faces and smeared onto clothing. At the moment of Macbeth’s death it rained down from above, gradually flooding the floor and staining the stage red.
The peak of this was, undoubtedly, at the end of the play. The body of Macbeth had just slumped (very realistically) down a trap door, followed by a victorious Macduff. Seconds later, Macduff emerged from a second trap door brandishing an alarmingly lifelike reproduction of James McAvoy’s head. He continued to wave this head around for the remainder of the play, directing attention away from the last few bits of speech. A large proportion of the audience probably have no idea how the play actually ended.

Formula One 2013: Bahrain Grand Prix and the Season So Far

by Tim Bustin

Paul di Resta
(Wiki Commons)
Turning on the news this Saturday was a repeat of what was seen a year ago: controversy over the Bahrain Grand Prix going ahead despite riots and protests over democracy and the view that the Grand Prix is being used to cover rights abuse by the government. In response to these views, Bernie Ecclestone said "I don't think it's for us to decide the politics, good or bad. It's a good circuit, a good race, and we think everybody's happy so we're here."

And what a race it turned out to be. Friday’s practice showed surprisingly good pace from the Force India drivers, but on Saturday’s qualifying it was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg who took his second ever pole position, with triple and current world champion Sebastian Vettel and the two Ferrari cars right behind him, as Lewis Hamilton was forced to take a 5 place grid penalty from fourth to ninth after his gearbox needed changing and Mark Webber (Vettel’s teammate at Red Bull) taking a 2 place penalty.

Scottish driver Paul Di Resta of Force India and his teammate moved up to fifth and sixth on the grid after these unfortunate penalties but it was great news for them. The two McLarens have had a poor start to this year’s season and nothing changed in qualifying, with British driver Jenson Button barely making it into the final qualifying session and only getting tenth, whilst his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez only managed twelfth, meaning Hamilton’s replacement at McLaren has had the worst debut for the team in years. All this made for a tense start at the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Lights out and Rosberg got off poorly at the start, defending hard against Vettel at the first corner. Vettel’s attack allowed double world champion Fernando Alonso to sneak past him as Rosberg desperately tried to pull away from the 21 cars trailing him. Vettel quickly regained the place on Alonso but as all this was all going on, drama was happening behind. Paul Di Resta had somehow managed to gain a place on the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, whilst Hamilton’s start hadn’t helped him in the slightest. The driving was incredibly close on the first lap throughout the grid but at the front more than most. Rosberg had to continually defend hard against Vettel but once DRS was allowed (allows the cars to have less drag and so increase their speed on certain sections of the track if they’re within one second of the car in front), Rosberg was “a sitting duck”.

Vettel stormed past, quickly followed by Alonso. The same thing happened time and time again to Rosberg throughout the entire race. Vettel however, similar to his performances in 2011, dominated the rest of the race, with no bother from any of the other drivers. Alonso somehow developed a problem with his DRS and quickly pitted to get it fixed (the system is simply a flap on the rear wing, which in his case had jammed). After getting back out, the same thing happened again and another unwanted pit stop combined with the loss of DRS meant Alonso could only achieve eighth in the race.

For the rest of the race, excitement lay at every turn.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Celebrating Earth Day 2013

(source: NASA)

Andrew Jones argues that we only have five years left to save the world. Isabel Stark suggests climate change is leading to a nightmare from which we will never awake;
Freya Derby celebrates the epic Voyager journey that revealed Earth's fragility; we celebrate the beautiful photograph 'Blue Marble' forty years after it was taken (see above); Daniel Rollins asks whether there is life on Mars and Tony Hicks presents a fascinating photograph of the face of the moon.

Sampad Sengupta asks whether the universe comes from nothing; Ed Harding asks why there is something rather than nothing; Jeremy Thomas investigates the past, present and future of space exploration.

2 hours, 37 minutes: Running the London Marathon

by Lewis Chalk


I am proud to say I completed the London Marathon yesterday. I took the gamble this year in attempting to run 2 hours 30 and, based on previous races, I felt in great shape to achieve this.

However, the heat and the early pace I set really affected me! I completed the race in 2 hours 37, finishing in a lot of pain. I suffered dehydration, visited St Johns (twice) and my feet were so painful from the tenth mile onwards – the sensation was like I had razor blades in my shoes which contributed to my slowing pace from miles 20 – 26.
And yes, it was definitely worth it! I came 109th out of 36,000 runners and, best of all, we raised over £2,000 for SUDEP! Of course, it is not too late to sponsor.

Just click here26 Miles 4 Rebecca

The Legacy of Stephen Lawrence's Murder: Twenty Years On

Stephen Lawrence

Twenty years ago, while waiting for a bus in London, 19-year-old Stephen Lawrence was attacked and murdered by a gang of white youths chanting racist slogans.

His death led to the arrest of five suspects, but they were not convicted. A subsequent public enquiry, led by Sir William Macpherson, concluded that the Metropolitan Police’s investigation had been fundamentally flawed and that the Metropolitan Police Service itself was “institutionally racist” (defined as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic corruption”) The publication of the Macpherson Report in 1999 has been described as “one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain”, leading to extensive policing reforms.

On 3rd January, 2012, nearly 19 years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder, two of his attackers, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were found guilty and given life sentences.

See Lottie Kent's article, Racism: With Privilege Comes Responsibility: "Once we start to notice, however, this unspoken privilege from which we unjustifiably profit, we become accountable for a sin of omission: we are allowing our own privilege to continue and not speaking out for the people of colour that suffer because of our systemic negligence. We begin to notice how our society discreetly perpetuates racial stereotypes, how it allows the dichotomy of superior/inferior between white and minority races to continue, how unjust this culture is. As in law, so in ethics, ignorance is no defence. This initial realisation of culpability usually manifests itself in outward denial."

See also:
How Stephen Lawrence's Murder Changed the Legal Landscape
Interview with Stephen Lawrence's family, twenty years on


Sunday, 21 April 2013

'La Bayadere': Just Another Ineffable Experience At The Ballet

by Isabel Stark

A tale of love, hatred, betrayal and murder, it was just another ineffable experience at the ballet. 

Gamzatti (Lauren Cuthbertson) and Nikiya (Roberta Marquez)
I was graced to see the exotic La Bayadère. It was not just any performance, I was to see Roberta Marquez and Steven Mcrae dance with each other, it was a dream, I had fallen in love after watching Sir Fredrick Ashton’s delightful La Fille Mal Gardee set in the “leafy pastoral of eternal spring in Suffolk.”  Within the 3 hours I found my self being entangled in the emotion and swept along by the current of Ludwig Minkus and John Lanchberry’s music. The opulence of the costumes and set were a masterpiece within their own right. Set in an ancient India Natalia Makarova’s production was a feast.

Nikiya, is a beautiful enslaved temple dancer; the petite and charming Roberta Marquez effortlessly portrayed the timid and romantic bayadère. From the first step onto the stage in a glistening white dress and veil the audience were bewitched by her fragility. Marquez has a natural aura, an enrapturing beauty that captures the hearts of anyone who sees her artistry. Solor the dashing warrior, Steven Mcrae, and Nikiya swear their forbidden and eternal love to each other in the scared fire- an enchanting sight. But he is dazzled by the stunning Maharajahs daughter Gamzatti and forgets his vows to Nikiya, Yuhui Choe replaced an injured Laura Morera to the disappointment of a few but I couldn’t help but feel secretly smug.  Morera is a talent but in the Nutcracker I failed to enjoy her Waltz of the Flowers however after seeing Swan Lake and Choe’s delicate and light Pas de Trois I wanted to watch her dance again, it was a well timed and high beneficial coincidence. Gamezetti’s entrance (much like Nikiya) established the icy stunning character dressed in gold as an untouchable object of desire that will do anything to gain Solor.
Nikiya (Roberta Marquez)
Nikiya would prefer to accept the fate bestowed by the ruthless princess on her than live without the love of Solor so succumbs to a bite from a well-concealed poisonous snake in a basket of flowers.  Solor confused and hurt smokes opium, the music crescendos and Mcrae’s chaîné turns lead us dizzily in to the transcendent beauty of the Kingdom of Shades; the slow continuous entrance of the corps de ballet is haunting. Solor is in a euphoric state when he sees visions of Nikiya and they reconcile with a moving Pas de Deux. Much our disappointment, Solor wakes though not before he performs one of the hardest variations for any male dancer -it is filled with large jumps mainly cabrioles and an amazing manege. At the Temple during the wedding ceremony Solor continues to see visions of Nikiya and struggles to complete his vows, the Gods are angered by the arrangement dramatically bring Temple down crushing everyone inside in. Then the curtain rises, and reunited in eternal love are the shades of Nikiya and Solor.

Theatre Review: Quartermaine’s Terms

by Laura Burden

'Quartermaine's Terms' by Simon Gray; directed by Richard Eyre and produced by Michael Codron; performed at Wyndham's Theatre.

Rowan Atkinson and Conleth Hill
in Quartermaine's Terms
(image: Independent)

Looking at the list of West End productions this Easter break, the dominant feeling was one of being spoilt for choice. Simon Stephen’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a must-see (at some point) and Peter and Alice and The Audience sound compelling. The Book of Mormon would at least be a talking point. Many of the plays currently onstage hearken back to the past – recent political history, the classics of children’s fiction or the comparatively innocent days of the ‘cacophonous’ gramophones and eccentric maids  in Lindsay Posner’s new version of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy.
The play I eventually settled on, despite having been written in 1981, also recalls a previous era and in fact is very reminiscent of Rattigan’s plays with the discrete group of characters and the setting of a single, comfortable middle-class room.  Like another of Rattigan’s works (The Browning Version), Quartermaine’s Terms focuses on a spectacularly unsuccessful schoolmaster. Rowan Atkinson plays St John Quartermaine, teaching English in a school for foreign pupils in Cambridge. We soon find, through the interactions between other teachers on the rare occasions when St John is not relaxing in his usual armchair, that his lessons mostly involve telling his pupils stories and reminiscing about his university life. Later in the play he fails even to arrive at his lessons, falling asleep in his chair after lunch and awakening only when his colleagues re-enter the staffroom when the bell has gone for the end of the day.
It would not be difficult for St John’s colleagues to be more professional despite their own eccentricities and personal failings. Anita (Louise Ford) is desperately unhappy in her marriage to an unfaithful husband; Henry (Conleth Hill) struggles with a highly strung and precocious teenage daughter; Derek (Will Keen) is dedicated to his students but his earnestness is continually undermined by his own clumsiness – on the first day of term he arrives with the seat of his trousers ripped open from his cycle ride in. Another colleague, Melanie (Felicity Montagu) is the consummate frustrated sixties spinster, giving her life to nursing her ageing mother and turning to evangelism. Most interesting on author Simon Gray’s part is the fact that the school has two headmasters and we only meet one of them. Eddie, in a way that is redolent of Dickens’ characters Spenlow and Jorkins, refers to how busy and distressed the unseen Thomas is when trying to control his recalcitrant colleagues: he speaks of Thomas being “besieged by Germans” when St John sleeps through a lesson. The audience soon infer, however, that within the context of the time Eddie’s colleagues are tacitly supportive of him: he and Thomas live together and are clearly in a relationship, and the play is set before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

PGS German Exchange: Easter 2013

by James Harper

Guten Tag!

At the end of the Easter holidays, thirteen PGS students flew to Düsseldorf, Germany, for a holiday that none of us will ever forget. From here, we travelled to Halver, where we were warmly welcomed by our German exchanges.

On Monday, we spent the morning in the Anne-Frank-Gymnasium; we experienced what sort of lessons they did at school and what they liked, and then, finished at half-past one- a little earlier than our school!

The next day, we went to the big and popular city of Cologne- here, we visited a Roman-history museum, one of the world’s biggest cathedrals and last but definitely not least, a ‘Lindt’ chocolate factory. It was a perfect day, until we all got stomach aches from all of the chocolate.

Wednesday was a day trip to Bonn, another huge German city. We visited a ‘Geschictehaus’ in which we learned about the development of Germany after the Second World War, and also how and why Germany is how it is today. We also learned about the musical life of Ludwig Van Beethoven, a famous Classical composer, and then had a few hours of free time to explore the beautiful city of Bonn.
In my opinion, Thursday was the best and most exciting day- we went to a vast swimming complex, with a huge variety of slides, diving boards, saunas and swimming pools for four hours! Even though it was extremely tiring, it was worth it!

Friday was our last activities day- we visited the ‘Phänomenta’ museum, which was a building complex with a hands-on theme of strange yet wonderful science. We also had a barbeque in the school in which we had typical German sausages, and then ice-cream (which I will admit is better than English ice-cream.)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Racism: With Privilege Comes Responsibility

by Lottie Kent

          Recently, I have come into contact with and collated various forms of media that, cumulatively, have formed the impetus for this article. I was provoked to write it after coming across a multitude of YouTube videos, newspaper articles, blog posts, quotes and art forms – all focusing on the subject I have chosen to dissect: racism – or more precisely, the issue of white privilege.

          Racism – and rightly so – is not necessarily a neglected issue in today’s society and white people are mostly taught (again, rightly so) that racism is something that puts others at a disadvantage. However, what we are not taught about is the concomitant problem of white privilege – the aspect of a racist society that gives white people, like myself, an unearned advantage over people of colour. White people are taught that racism exists purely in the conscious acts of prejudiced individuals – something that is implemented through active malicious behaviours, such as verbal or physical abuse. This teaching makes us see racism as a discriminatory force achievable by any person of any race. By capitalising on this idea that a person can only be racist if they act racist, we are ignoring the fact that racism is actually a system of power and privilege. Individuals belonging to a dominant racial group (in this case, White people) cannot and should not be separated from the system of advantage based on race that they benefit from every day, whether this benefit is unbeknown to them or not. 

          Once we start to notice, however, this unspoken privilege from which we unjustifiably profit, we become accountable for a sin of omission: we are allowing our own privilege to continue and not speaking out for the people of colour that suffer because of our systemic negligence. We begin to notice how our society discreetly perpetuates racial stereotypes, how it allows the dichotomy of superior/inferior between white and minority races to continue, how unjust this culture is. As in law, so in ethics, ignorance is no defence. This initial realisation of culpability usually manifests itself in outward denial.

           This is how I felt watching ‘The Event: How Racist Are You?’

The program was a Channel 4 documentary that we saw during one of our first Cogito lessons in Year 10. I’m ashamed to say that it was most likely the first time I had properly confronted issues of white supremacy in such a patent way. In the programme, Jane Elliot, who was a white schoolteacher at the time of the Civil Rights movement in America, recreates the same experiment she carried out forty years ago on her nine-year-old pupils to teach them about racism. Thirty adult Britons undergo a simulation akin to Apartheid, experiencing discrimination based on eye-colour in order to show them how it feels to be on the receiving end of arbitrary prejudice. In her exercise, those with brown eyes are always the dominant group and those with blue eyes are made to feel inferior. All of the blue-eyed group are white. I remember watching it and feeling angered that Elliot had precluded the ‘fact’ that some of the white people in the group might not have been at all racist, but was treating them as though they were automatically guilty of this. Though I understood her purpose, I felt it was unnecessary bullying and couldn’t see that the experiment was valuable or relevant.

 I re-watched the video yesterday. I completely agreed that her method was, and is, entirely constructive and significant. Though the effectiveness of the exercise might be measured by the positive impact and the cultural lessons it imparted on the white participants, I personally found it to be an intense and incredibly educational practice. Understanding the effects of discrimination is an experience we should all undergo in order to best empathise with those who must endure it throughout their lives – so we can work for a better society for all.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Jokes: Where is the Line?

by Oli Price

Frankie Boyle
(source: Wiki Commons)
When I realised my blog article was due I was frantically searching for a topic or issue to write upon, then on my internet homepage I saw the breaking news that former Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher had died. Within minutes the web was ablaze with debates about her prowess during her time in Government, also due to the advanced technology of the times in which we live and due to the divisive nature of Baroness Thatcher, there were immediately internet jokes or “memes” popping up about her demise. Usually when there are reports of these jokers saying outlandish comments on a sensitive issue the culprits are usually attention-seeking teenagers who don’t realise the gravity of their words. However, in this instance I saw adults poking fun and criticising Thatcher; even celebrities wanted to voice their opinions, no doubt against the advice of their publicists and managers. Unsurprisingly one man’s name was prominent amongst those “internet trolls”, that man is Frankie Boyle. Don’t get me wrong this article isn’t an attack on the man, I actually find him quite funny; however, I think it will be interesting to look at the question of when the line is crossed and something goes from being funny and tongue-in-cheek to being offensive and crass.
There are a couple of examples of comedians who sail fairly close to the wind, a poignant one being Ricky Gervais’s series Extras. This series was seen as controversial due to famous celebrities playing a distorted parody of themselves for comic effect, for example Keith Chegwin portraying himself as a dim-witted homophobe or Sir Patrick Stewart playing a creepy, lecherous version of himself. During one scene in the third episode of the first series, Gervais’s character jokingly questions whether a character with cerebral palsy is drunk in order to impress a female cast member, only for her to tell Gervais’s character that the girl is her sister. Despite this possibly being seen as offensive, the gag works because the butt of the joke is the ignorance of Gervais’s character, and the excruciatingly awkward pause that comes out of his comments.
In contrast, Boyle’s jokes sometimes go too far and, instead of making the audience laugh through shock factor, Boyle can be too blunt and seem as though he’s just trying to say the most outrageous thing he can think of. An example of this could be his comments towards Katie Price’s disabled son, Harvey; Boyle’s joke was seen as crass and offensive because the subject of his joke was a helpless child, whereas in Gervais’s instance he uses a controversial topic to direct the joke on his own character, thus highlighting his idiocies for comic effect; this I believe is the difference between making a successful joke on a controversial subject or making an offensive comment on a sensitive issue. The emphasis has to be not making the sensitive issue the butt of the joke but instead to steer it in a more self-deprecating form of humour, an example of this could be Reginald D. Hunter’s routine on the topic of Josef Fritzl’s crimes.
Despite comics such as Boyle sometimes attracting negative attention for their comedic material, it must be noted that it is the job of these comedians to point out what normally we would be too inhibited to say. That is the nature of observational comedy and there are different levels to it.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Letter From Birmingham Jail: 50 Years On

Martin Luther King, in Birmingham Jail, April 16th 1963
Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail". He had been arrested for organising a series of sit-ins and marches against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.

The open letter was written in response to a newspaper article by local white religious leaders who criticised King's actions as "ill-timed".

His letter argues that people have a moral responsibility to break laws which are unjust and to take nonviolent action to resist such injustice. In the half century since its publication, it has become one of the most quoted of King's works, most notably his statement "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

 . . . We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." 

 . . . You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all" Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. 

 . . . Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

 . . . There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now.

Monday, 15 April 2013

One Day I Ate An Apple and It Was Never The Same Again

by Louisa Dassow

“One day I ate an apple,
It was really nice.
I ate every single bit
I nearly ate it twice.”

The masterpiece of my six-year-old self. The first to finish writing a poem in the class, I was given the honour of typing it up and printing it out on the computer. I was immensely proud of my poem, despite quizzical looks from Ms. Osborne and ridicule from friends who couldn’t understand the...complexity of my poem. I brought it home and it was hung up on our notice board and left there for seven years.

Almost every person who entered our kitchen asked about the poem and I replied, “It’s my poem,  I wrote it when I was in Year Two” and gradually my feelings about the poem changed. From bursting with pride to saying that the nonsensical twist was just my age and forgetting why it was so important to me.

Is my six-year-old self the same as my fifteen-year-old self? Am I the same person?

Technically yes. I have the same body, the same genes and the same family. I live in the same house, I go to the same school and my family loves me the same. But I think differently, I act differently and I have different opinions. I can never think like my six-year-old self again and, when I’m older, I probably won’t think like my fifteen-year-old self either. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that, although I have the same body, altogether I am a different person.

ποταμοσι τοσιν ατοσιν μϐαίνουσιν, τερα κα τερα δατα πιρρε.
Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE), a Greek philosopher, reached a similar conclusion and, although most of his work has been lost, small fragments have been quoted in other philosophers’ work. Πάντα ῥεῖ, (Panta rhei) – everything flows.

The child that I was no longer exists, I am not the same person that I was yesterday, but my childhood memories contribute to my current self psychologically.  “Everything flows” means simply that everything changes; I can never go back to my old self because it has disappeared, flowed into the ocean of my memories and it is irretrievable. The water around me is always changing, like my experiences and the new water slightly alters my personality.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's Policies Still Affect Us Today

by William Bates

Thatcher and Europe: Margaret Thatcher (left) with
German chancellor Helmut Koh (centre) and
French president Francois Mitterand (right).
(source: Der Spiegel)
Margaret Hilda Thatcher was the only woman Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom and the longest-serving Premier since Lord Liverpool in 1827.

She was born on 13 October 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the daughter of  a grocer, Alfred Roberts and his wife, Beatrice. She was first selected as a candidate in the constituency of Dartford in Kent for the 1950 and 1951 elections. Her failure to win the relatively safe Labour seat did not discourage her and, after marrying her husband Denis Thatcher in 1951, became a barrister, qualifying in 1953. In 1959, she won the seat of Finchley for the Conservative party. Within two years, she was a government minister and by 1964 a member of the shadow Cabinet. When Edward Heath's Conservative government took office, Margaret Thatcher went on to become Education Secretary, managing unprecedented cuts, some of which she disagreed with, for example cutting free school milk, which she saw as of little financial benefit but involving huge political costs. This led to the cry of  'Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher'. She later wrote: "I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit."

However, upon becoming Prime Minister in 1979 (having replaced Heath as Conservative leader in 1975), she often introduced policies which have caused problems to this day. One of her biggest mistakes was joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990, which led to interest rates in excess of twenty percent under her successor John Major. The handover of Hong Kong was authorised by Thatcher in 1984 and took place, as agreed, in 1997. To this day, Hong Kong is used to ship thousands of tonnes of Chinese goods to Britain avoiding import taxes and customs checks. 

This aside, however Margaret Thatcher had huge political triumphs. She crushed the militant NUM (under its socialist leader Arthur Scargill), which had brought the Heath government to its knees in the early 1970s. Another of her greatest achievements was defeating the Argentine junta during the Falkland War, in a situation in which many lesser leaders would have backed down. The Right-to-Buy scheme, which enabled tenants of council houses to purchase their own homes, was revolutionary and allowed people to get free of the oppressive welfare state; however, it was unfortunate that the money was not reinvested into new housing stock.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Pale Blue Dot

by Freya Derby

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.
Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors
so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters
of a fraction of a dot." Carl Sagan (see video below)
 In 1960, a young engineer Gary Flandro was working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and stumbled upon an alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. He realised he could take advantage of their gravitational fields by sending unmanned probes which could investigate planets of the outer solar system in a “Planetary Grand Tour”.
In 1977 NASA launched two (unmanned) probes Voyager 1 and 2 to study the outer solar system and beyond.
Both of the voyager probes carry a gold plated audio-visual disc which is designed to capture the human race and earth as it was when the probes were launched. They will remain long after the earth is gone, potentially to be found by intelligent life, elsewhere in the universe. On it are photos, diagrams and sounds chosen by a committee, which was lead by astrophysicist, Carl Sagan. Among other things, they included diagrams of DNA and the solar system, photos and sounds of nature, music such as  Beethoven and messages spoken in 56 different languages. After everything and everyone we’ve ever seen on this planet is gone, as are our descendants and any evidence of what we might accomplish during our lives is gone, voyagers one and two will still be there- drifting in space, the only remains of our entire civilization.
Gold plated audio-visual disc

The Voyager probes reached Jupiter in 1979, discovering the frozen seas of Europa and the sulphur volcanoes of Io before travelling on to Saturn, with its beautiful rings and unknown moons. Voyager two went on to the outer planets, but Voyager One moved up and away from the plane of the planets, moving towards interstellar space.
On Wednesday 14th February 1990, Voyager One turned around and looked back at the entire solar system.
On one photograph is a pale blue dot, less than a pixel in size, the earth. Carl Sagan, who had helped to design the probes, reflected: