Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

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A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

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Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

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Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

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Journal: A Kiwi in London, looking back on ’15

A few months ago, I wrote a blog on London weather. In it I complained that it had proved to be nowhere near as cold as I was told it would be. I had predicted eating my words, that it would get cold, and I had expected this by mid-December. It’s now at the end of December and about to pass into a new year, and yet I’m still not freezing. We had one Saturday that felt especially cold in the middle of November, but largely, the winter months have been underwhelming.

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Perhaps global warming is therefore doing it’s thing. I’ll try not spend the whole of my last blog of 2015 discussing the weather, but perhaps my interest in doing so shows just how the British have rubbed off on me. I’ve been in London six months now, and I feel I’m pretty used to the place now. The gimmick of being in the biggest Great Britain city has now worn off, and what was once unique is now commonplace. I no longer find the underground an interesting experience, instead it is a bore. I still find the European architecture, the mix of Georgian, Victorian and Industrial influences inspiring, although I much less frequently find new interesting places in London to explore. I frequently find myself at Oxford Circus, surrounded by shuffling tourists blocking my path and slowing my down – basically I’m finding complaining a standard part of my day to day behavior. That could only mean the London mind-set has rubbed off on me.

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I’m still happy I’ve moved to London, even though I do find myself missing things back on the other side of the world. I made some good friends living in Auckland, as well as many old friends back in Dunedin, of whom I miss equally, as well as my old job and lifestyle. I tend to get caught up in nostalgia and not appreciate what I’m doing in the present, but at the same time I think it’s good to remember where you’ve came from. I don’t plan to get lost permanently on this side of the world, but at least I can think fondly on having conquered the fear of moving out of my home country. When I move back, which I will inevitably do, I can look back on this experience with a sense of accomplishment.

I can look back on my 2015 adventures with pride. One year ago I was irritating my friends and family, quizzing them as to whether they thought I should move overseas. I had a Glastonbury ticket, but as late as March I was still dithering as to whether or not I would really leave.  For some reason I was able to pull the trigger and I don’t regret it. There’s a lot I’ve had to leave behind, but a lot I’ve gained as well. Experiencing Glastonbury, seeing Greece, Holland, France and Italy are just a few of the unexpected surprises that this year held. Not to mention experiencing being part of the UK workforce, working for major international companies, and making new friends on this side of the world. Back in June I started a series of blogs called, A Season Of Firsts – this tracked my progress making it from New Zealand to United Kingdom in more detail.

It was already an action packed year, even before this whole UK experience. Back in February, I managed to reunite with my high school band, Incarnate. This was also not something I’d ever counted on, given that I moved to a different city as them, and the rest of the members moved onto new projects (although I played with several of the members briefly after Incarnate as Ignite The Helix, a project which is still active). It was great to literally get the band back together, and the strong turnout we received at Dunedin (NZ) venue, Chicks Hotel was gratifying. We filmed this gig from a few angles, and I’m proud of the final result. Incarnate was a particularly memorably part of my music career, and I hope it won’t be the last time we play together (if it is, this gig was a good way to end the short life of our passionate young metal band).

I attended a lot of concerts through-out the year as well. Laneway kicked things off in January with memorable sets from Ariel Pink, Future Islands and Flying Lotus, later I was to see Drake at Vector Arena – and perhaps the most suprisingly entertaining musical event of the first half of the year was Auckland’s second Westfest. This mini-Soundwave for New Zealand featured such metal and rock big names as Soundgarden, Faith No More, Judas Priest and Lamb Of God. The organizers may have sold slightly less tickets than expected (there’s a rumour that losses ran into the millions) but those that attended received a great day of entertainment. Norwegian band Mayhem headlined a smaller stage during Faith No More, and as I had a high school fascination with this band, I was grateful to have the opportunity to see them live. At the after party I ran into Necrobutcher, original bassist of the band, who turned out to be a really cool guy. It’s not often you get to share Vodka with a member of an infamous band and discuss some pretty serious stuff. I wrote a blog on this as well, and I hope the band won’t object to me sharing some of my thoughts on their career. The music continued through-out the year, I wrote about Glastonbury here, and most recently Peaches, who played a great sold at show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom.

I’ve also managed to continue film and music projects throughout the year. In June, I filmed two music videos, one for Ignite The Helix (featuring members of Incarnate) and one for my rap project, Posse In Effect. Posse In Effect’s video for We Came Here To Party, off our second EP Lazarus has been completed and is now out of the public to digest (any views would be much appreciated). This is a slapstick comedy short film, and perhaps more disco/rock than rap. Directed by Andy Weston and myself, it was filmed in Melbourne and shot on a variety of DSLR’s (but mostly the Canon M3) so the footage is a little inconsistent, but I feel the humour was well executed. I also managed to include some footage shot in Athens, within a dream sequence. The video for Ignite The Helix’s Throwing Scissors is nearing completion, but still requires a few re-edits. I hope to have this released in the next few months, upon the release of the song (as the band is still putting the finishing touches on their debut EP).

I’m not sure if this blog will have been interesting to anyone but myself, but looking back on 2015 I realize, I’ve achieved a great deal I’m proud of. London’s not all bad, and though I’m glad I came here, I won’t feel negative to return home soon. I look forward to 2016 and whatever it will bring – and I hope for all of us, it will be as easy a year as any could possibly be. Lets hope the war in Syria ends without too high a casualty rate as well, and that the refugee situation does not get any worse, to get political. I also hope the New Zealand flag doesn’t change. More from me later, for now, 2015 is just another year of “auld lang syne” (good tune, Robbie Burns). 

Live Review: Peaches (Electric Ballroom, London, 2015)

Last Sunday night in Camden Town, London, Merrill Nisker brought the Teaches of Peaches and schooled us in how to perfect a solo club show.

On this later tour, Nisker has returned to a minimal approach to Peaches as a live act, similar her Berlin club beginnings, or early festival shows promoting The Teaches Of Peaches and follow up Fatherfucker. Eschewing the band show she had developed to much acclaim during tours for Impeach My Bush and I Feel Cream, the focus of the show was the energy and performance of Peaches herself, backed by a couple of dancers and some very entertaining visual surprises throughout. I had doubted that as a solo show, this would be as excited as the Peaches band set-up I’d seen years earlier. But Nisker had the audacity to pull this off, proving why she is the queen of electroclash – and why she is a true classic live performer.

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No time was wasted as the lights quickly dimmed and Nisker appeared on stage in a ridiculous cartoon-cyberpunk outfit, like something from an anime version of Dune. Opening track and title track off the new album, Rub, seemed nothing too special on recording, but lines such as “can’t talk right now, this chicks dick is in my mouth”, came across with hilarity and set the tone for the rest of the night. The sold out crowd was heaving, jumping, dancing, screaming (and cracking up) as she projected her sexual electro punk classics on to us all. Nisker was the MC and the DJ, as she queued each track up on a set of CD-J’s and a mixer placed on a riser in front of her rock show light rig. Proving charismatic enough to own the stage on her own through-out Fatherfucker favourite Operate, she returned to the new material with Vaginaplasty, bring out her two person dance crew to help out. Dressed in giant vagina outfits, complete with over-sized clitoris’, the dancers helped add visual flair to the proceedings. The male and female dancers I felt had a particularly mainstream look to them, which gave the ridiculous content (and dance ideas) an accessibility. They seemed like regularly people, not flamboyant performers or drag artists (like many that appear in her videos) and I couldn’t help think her choice of backup dancers perhaps spoke to the sexually repressed among her audience. It was as if to say, if this common looking couple can get freaky to the suggestion of Peaches, so can you.

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Nisker kept the energy up, soon walking over the hands of the audience and right to the middle of the venue during I Feel Cream. Talk To Me and Boys Wanna Be Her proved two of the most popular of the set judging by audience reaction, but she wasn’t only playing the hits, drawing deep into her catalouge for standalone single Burst! and Teaches Of Peaches deep-cut Lovertits. The most outrageous prop of the night was to come during Dick In The Air. With a great trap beat, and some of Peaches funniest lyrics off the new album, I had anticipated this song being one of my highlights. Not content with just bringing a blow up penis (which would have illustrated the songs content just fine), the stage crew proceeded to inflate a giant see-through plastic shaft, which spread out across the audience. The tracks deep baseline kicked in, and Peaches delivered the first verse before entering the giant shaft and walking across the audience. I had expected perhaps a dick to be raised to the air during this song in some form, I hadn’t expected a penis shaped shaft to be inflated over the audience with Peaches dancing and rapping within it. I true moment of stage-craft genius if there ever was one.

The inevitable mass crowd-singalong to Fuck The Pain Away occurred, before Peaches left the stage, taking a suitcase with her to the tune of The Warriors theme. I wasn’t sure if she would be one to return and encore, but she soon did, this time topless (although tastefully so – skin coloured nipple covers and a new costume). She chose perhaps the best song off the new album to open this encore, Dumb Fuck, with her backup dancers returning also for one last routine, this time creatively involving hair dryers. AA XXX gave us all one last time to shout along with her brilliant punk poetry, before she exited the stage once again. It was not over yet however, as she graced this Camden stage one more time for Light In Places. A hexagon shaped swing was unfurled from the lighting rig, and if you’ve seen the video, I think you can guess what came next. We were basically treated to a cirque-du-solei show, as Peaches was joined by aerial performance Empress Stah, who took to the swing to demonstrate some amazing acrobatic abilities. All with a lighting device placed just about on her butt. I’d never been so happy to have an ass shine over me. It was quite the performance, and not one I’ll forget any time – especially impressive if that was a butt-plug creating those lights.

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After two encores and a show full of high energy set pieces and a large setlist of new and old songs, I doubt there was an unsatisfied fan in the room. Nisker took the time to sign records and meet the fans straight after the show, showing her humble nature. I took the opportunity to talk to her again, having met her briefly as a wide-eyed 17 year old at the Big Day Out 2007. It is somewhat comforting to know that in that time since, Nisker has been able to maintain her career, stay relevant, and arguably become an even better live performer. What she gave us at the Electric Ballroom was one part insane party and another part punk political statement, and with her career of fearlessness and confrontation – to gender norms and repressed sexuality – it must be a vindication of her continued efforts to see the frenzied fun she inspires within a club setting such as this.

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Live Review: Chvrches (Alexander Palace, London, 2015)

 

I was slightly cynical before attending Chvrches largest London headline show to date, having previously seen them play Laneway in Auckland in 2014, where they had been promoted to headliner after Lorde dropped out. At the time they didn’t quite seem headline material, even for an indie festival such as Laneway, and a minimal stage set up and technical issues in my eyes confirmed this to be the case. With their latest album, Every Open Eye being a strong follow up to The Bones Of What You Believe, and their fan-base only growing in size and dedication, it seemed there were enough reasons in the lead up to the Alexander Palace show to believe that Chvrches now have what it takes.

Alexander Palace, with it’s standing capacity of 7,300 is not a small venue. Chvrches has sold this out, which is perhaps an indication of their rising popularity. The audience was eclectic, not being dominated by teenagers or indie kids, but with a suitable proportion it seemed of over 40 year olds and casual concert goers, of both genders. Gangs of lads could be spotted as could many couples, choosing this band for the soundtrack to their courtship. It seems Chvrches are a band that crosses demographics.

The opening acts were equally eclectic, with Australian indie-EDM cross-over act Mansionair opening proceedings. There drummer was particularly notable, backing up layers of melodic synths and reverb heavy chords with jazzy rhythms and the expected drum machine sample. It was a fairly chilled beginning, before Four Tet took the stage with his intoxicating progressive house vibes, encouraging some welcome movement throughout the steadily growing crowd. It is perhaps notable to mention that the show ran like clock-work, with Chvrches taking to the stage exactly on their 9pm listed time.

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The house lights went down and the Glasgow band emerged, with singer Lauren Mayberry’s presence causing the expected shrieks of excitement from their especially female fan-base. Wasting no time, Mayberry danced about the stage, leaping up on the fold-back’s and seemed a much more confident front-woman than at Laneway two years earlier. Opening track Never Ending Circles has some of the best hooks off the new album and provided an energetic opener. Her two bandmates, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, were largely stuck on their podiums of synthesizers and samples, although 41 year old Cook occasionally left his podium to add live bass. Doherty gets turn front of stage later for a lead vocal cameo, with Mayberry showing her percussions skills, her drumming cameos being somewhat of a highlight.

The two massive screen’s either side of the band focused on Mayberry, making her a seem larger than life presence, in spite of her relatively slight real life stature.  These screens also provided a glimpse into what was taking place behind Doherty and Cook’s podiums, giving evidence that they were in fact playing their synthesizers live – not just queuing backing tracks as could easily be assumed. The stage design has gone up a notch as well, though remaining understated, with three screens of colourful animations and an arena-sized lighting rig providing a visual accompaniment to the music. These production values are expected for a band of this size, but in my eyes greatly improved the shows sense of spectacle compared to that minimal Laneway performance. They are now suited to a venue the size of Alexander Palace, without completely giving themselves over to the excesses of mainstream pop live productions.

Although Chvrches are fast rising the ranks of indie fame, they continue to approach their pop career with modesty. This determination to stay down to earth shows itself particularly in Mayberry’s on stage persona, herself admitting during between song banter that she could never be a Motley Crue-type, crowd pleasing front-woman. Although asking the crowd later if they were having a great time, referencing the earlier self-deprecating banter, the crowd in turn responded with cheers, showing that if Mayberry was every to fully embrace the role of a rock performer, she would well have the capability. But perhaps Chvrches reluctance to embrace the fake side of rock and pop is what draws their fanbase towards them. At other points in the concert, Mayberry talked of her fear of becoming another headline, in light of recent onstage events becoming tabloid fodder. Regardless of what the journalists chose to write, the bands authenticity in songwriting and performance remains endearing  and I think it is a large part of their appeal.

Most importantly, Chvrches have the hits, blitzing through big singalong moments such as Gun and We Sink off the first album, with new singles Empty Threat, Leave A Trace and Clearest Blue already being some of the biggest moments. Vocals are always impressive and the performance quality near identical to what is heard on the album (a good or bad thing depending on your appreciation of improvisation). Ending with the tender Afterglow, before signature anthem The Mother We Share, Chvrches prove they more than have the songwriting skills to be major headlining act. Compared to recent concerts I’ve attended of this genre which seemed slightly underwhelming, Purity Ring being one example, Chvrches are staking their claim as a major electronic pop live draw-card, and they have the evidence to prove it.

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Observations on London: The Weather

British people love to talk about the weather. This is no secret. Living in London, the locals constantly complain about the cold days, the overcast days, the wet days, and if a hot day comes along, they’ll complain that it’s too hot. Although it is true that London weather isn’t the best in the world, the time I’ve spent here so far I’ve been a little underwhelmed. London weather is quite manageable, if not calm and pleasant the majority of the time. Far from the completely miserable conditions Londoners act like they live in most of the time. Auckland seemed wetter. Dunedin seemed just as cold. Admittedly I’ve only been here four months, and just in time for one of the better summers in recent British history, so I may have just got lucky. It does make me wonder why British people are so much more obsessed with the weather than other nations of a similar climate (New Zealand being one of these).

Another horrible London day in Hampstead Heath

Probably it’s just that English people like a good moan, or so my co-worker has suggested as a reason for the London obsession about discussing the weather. It is the most obvious and consistent topic one can moan about, so I guess the theory makes some sense. But I would be a hypocrite if I claimed it was only the British over here complaining about the weather, because as this blog proves, the immigrants, over-stayers and ex-pats are doing it too. I guess I’m only going to raise more questions than give answers here, but is England weather so bad that it deserves all this attention?

When I first arrived, I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Not exactly the image of England I had been expecting based on the images of this country I had seen broadcast on TV back home. Coronation Street always seemed grey and grim, the same with most crime dramas and the news reporting never delved much into British weather. I was warned before I arrived about how bad British weather is, so much so that one of the large reasons for me delaying my UK arrival was due to fear of weather. To my surprise, almost all of the first three months I’ve spent here have been in pleasant conditions. A British heat wave was reported on New Zealand televisions back in 2012, but the way it was reported seemed only a few days exception to the depressing norm. It barely rained the whole of June to September, which is more than can be said for my first summer in Auckland where I was constantly caught in torrential downpours. Forward to the present time in London, and although late October is seeing the climate getting colder, it’s bearable and not even as cold as my home town Dunedin would have been in early Winter.

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The view outside my work window – The Westway

For example, we are nearing the start of November and on this particular day at 4.30, it’s not terribly cold and sky has plenty of colour to it. The grey British sky that I was expecting to see constantly seems to be partly a stereotype. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick, and London weather was always calm. Or could it be evidence of climate change, global warming or whatever name you like to use, that things are getting calmer around these parts. I can’t claim to be an expert of the weather of this country though – I’m yet to experience Wales or Scotland, which I’m sure is where all the really turbulent weather is found.

There is much to suggest that I am currently merely inexperienced and the bad weather has not yet hit. I am start to have to wear coats, and the sun is setting much earlier. I must admit that some nights after work, sitting outside having a pint with the work mates, it’s been pretty damn cold. But I’m adjusting. My friends and co-workers say that the worst is yet to come, so I’m bracing myself. Will it turn out that like other things in London, the worst weather will be a little bit over-hyped? (on a side note, other over-hyped things include – Hyde Park, the coolness of Hackney/Shoreditch, the quality of the local bands & the general social scene). Although I’m betting on a harmless winter, I will update you all in another few months time with word of whether things have gotten any worse. It won’t be long I’m sure that I’ll be eating my words.

Basically, if I can say anything constructive on the topic of British weather, it would be: don’t let it put you off coming over here. There’s plenty of other reasons to be turned off moving or visiting England, but the weather I don’t think should be the dominant reason. Unless you’re from California or Hawaii and you’ve never had grey skies and some cold ever in your life. But if you’re from a normal place like Auckland, Toronto or even Melbourne – London is probably on par with whatever weather conditions you’ve already faced. The winters are kind of cold, but not horrifically miserable and the summers are actually quite pleasant. Or at least so my fairly naive experience has led me to believe.

People reluctantly leaving their London houses

 

 

An Update On Life in London

I hate to think of this blog being dead, so for the first time in over a month I’m focusing and finishing a post. I had a good run there for a while – several posts a week for a few months. I guess it was the extra free time from being unemployed for the first time in several years combined with the excitement of being a new city. But then suddenly – inspiration caved away. To be completed honest I seem to have been in a post-travel rut for the last month. The first few months in London were hugely exciting, full of ups and downs – and although I found myself missing home I had enough anticipation and hope about what was to come in London that I remained optimistic. But during this last month, I guess the reality of living in this city dawned on me. It’s an expensive place, it takes a very long time to get anywhere and much of the time – it’s pretty boring. Just like anywhere. I’ve traveled half way across the world and relocated to a major international city only to find that life is much the same here as it was back home.

Not a huge revelation I suppose – I’m the same person here as I was 3 months ago in Auckland. You take your problems and personality traits with you. Life doesn’t automatically change just because you’ve moved to some foreign place with a lot of history between it’s walls and within it’s streets. The grass is just as similar a colour as what the saying suggests it will be.

So no great revelations, but I have learned a great deal. About myself, about friendships – about how people half way across the world from each other are not all that different at all. London is still a fantastic place and I’m having a lot of good times, and new experiences. Obviously I’m not leaving yet – I’m getting enough out of living here to stay for the time being.

There’s a lot I’ve been wanting to write, review and talk about – but have been lacking in concentration and motivation. I could be concerned about views a little too much. Rather than just writing what I want, I end up writing posts in order to get my view counts to rise. Sometimes it seems a waste of energy to write long blog pieces only to get a dozen or more eyes scanning the page. I don’t know how many people actually read these, probably very few. I’m not making any money from whatever views I do get on this blog, wordpress takes whatever cents I could be making. I’m therefore far from a successful blog writer, but considering this is only one of the many hobbyist activities I’m pursuing – it’s not a huge deal. I should probably keep writing for myself, little diary entries such as this, and then it might be much easier to keep up the posting regularly.

Just this last week I saw both Morrissey and Martin Phillips live in London. Both were great, although for me Martin Phillipps took the cake – playing a mix of rarities and crowd pleasures. Morrissey was great for sure, but his ego is so far up his own ass – he seems to really believe in the mythology of himself – that too much of the show is all about worshiping the great Morrissey, rather than about good music. Morrissey has a lot of good songs, but he chose instead to play majority songs from his newest albums, mixed in with 90’s deep cuts. The diehard Moz-heads seemed to love it, I guess I’m just not die hard enough. These are concerts I should review in more detail – and hopefully I’ll get around to more of that soon. Off to Greece next month as well – first time in the Mediterranean and could supply inspiration for a post or two. I’ll most likely just eat some awesome Olive drenched food, and stare at some old things.

There is a lot more I want to write about London as well. The city and experiences within it have been well covered within blog posts – but I feel there is still room for another voice on the joys are struggles of this over-crowded British center. Alas, life in London will continue – I will endeavor to tell you more about the stupidly high cost of living and terrible experience that is the London underground. Until then, here is video of a rap set I performed recently at Cafe 1001, in Shoreditch:

Theatre Review: Everyman – National Theatre, London

Sometimes you’re drawn towards a piece of art because of it’s themes. Perhaps the topic of the artwork speaks to something that’s been on your mind at that point. Art, after all, is not just escapism but a way to learn about the world from different perspective. Or it is a medium of conversation, to discuss themes and transmit ideas in a way that would not be possible through everyday conversation. I felt drawn to the National Theatre’s staging of Everyman, not just because stars Chiwrtel Ejiofor of 12 Years a Slave fame – although I admit that was a part – but also because of the literalization of the theme of man’s confrontation with Death. With Everyman being based on a 15th century morality tale, it felt almost like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal brought to the stage, yet subverting religious themes within the original text to become a modern criticism of the vacant materialism of modern lives. The subject of death is a fun one to ruminate on, and although it might sound heady, a contemporary update of a church morality tale is something worth venturing out to see.

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In this version, Death arrives to interrupt the Everyman at the height of his success, just as Death came to the plague-era knight in The Seventh Seal. Chiwrtel Ejiofor’s Everyman character is not so cunning as Max Von Sydon’s Knight however, and is a much more of a jaded, pleasure seeking, ambitious modern man. The figure of Death here is portrayed as a wisecracking working class salesman, a subversion of the expected stereotype. Our narrator likewise is a figure taking the place of God, who here is cast as a cleaning lady with a wise mind. The Everyman, having not had time for his family for years, and surrounding himself with shallow friendships based on wealth and decadence – now finds himself with no one to testify in support of his character, in the face of death. These universal themes are boldly presented by writer Carol Anne Duffy and director Rufus Norris, who have pieced together a strong cast, backed up with original visual and aural cues. Spectacle is there right from the first act – such as Ejiofor descending from the roof on wire, simulating perhaps his suicide. A video wall is then used to enhance settings – and a hurricane, metaphor for man’s uncaring attitude to his earth, is simulated midway through. These tricks are impressive but not distracting. The acting and polish of the script is what shines through, with traditional dialogue sitting side by side with modern colloquialisms. Other notable strong performances include the Everyman’s parents, both of declining health, with a family dynamic many will able to relate to – with one sibling doing most of the caregiving while the other pursues more selfish ambitions. Ejiofor largely steals the show however, with a hugely expressive performance loud enough to reach to the back of the theatre, yet nuanced enough to effectively carry the emotion of the story.

It all builds towards a touching climax, where man comes face to face with his child self. I felt the director, writer and actors hit allusive grace note with the execution of the ending. We all have days where we sit around and ponder what could have been. Or other days where we hear the news and think of the destruction man is causing and whether the world is truely being affected by this. The play takes these emotions and deals with them in a way that is not forced, but instead sublimely executed. As my first time in the National Theatre and my first time seeing a major contemporary theatre piece in a British Theatre, I was perhaps always going to be impressed. Especially a performance which featured a major international actor who only recently was nominated for an Oscar for one of my favourite films of the last few years. But I will say I’ll just say – if in the mood for contemplating mortality, I suggest you head along to the National Theatre before 30th August.

everyman national theatre