Sunday 31 January 2016

The Danish Girl (2016) - Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl (2016) - Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl is pure, unadulterated Oscar bait.

Oscar winning director? Check. Oscar winning actor? Check. Oscar winning composer? Check. Oscar nominated cinematographer? Check. Topical subject? Check.

It's certainly a beautiful looking film. Each shot is framed to perfection and artfully, delicately edited. But then you'd expect nothing less for a film about the relationship between two artists. And Copenhagen isn't difficult to make look pretty, even if it was actually filmed in a number of European cities.

It's all too perfect though. Everything is positioned with mathematical precision - every camera angle, every smile, every hand movement. As a film about living as transgender, The Danish Girl is polite and tasteful, but fails to truly get under the skin of its protagonist.

That would be Eddie Redmayne in typically transformative fashion as Einar Wegener, a popular artist who becomes the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery in 1920s Denmark to become Lili Elbe. There's a real tenderness between him and his artist wife Gerda, with sketches becoming a sort of erotic display between the two.

The actual transformation, though, just feels forced. Einar's desire to become a woman seems to stem from a fixation on dresses; frequent close-ups serve to over-emphasise the difference in the characters' gender; phallic vegetables are chopped; and there's lots of reflective moments in mirrors. Witnessing Redmayne literally tucking himself is a blatant step too far.

Equally, the camera shies away from showing too much emotion, too much rawness. There are moments of brutality - violence, an attempted cure, dangerous surgery - but for a long film, the narrative brushes over these moments too swiftly. Just as Einar's masculinity is muted, the inherent trauma of the situation is softened. Redmayne's twitching mouth does as much acting as the rest of him, but it's undeniably a sensitive performance despite some ineffective material.

Alicia Vikander offers the more nuanced performance as Gerda - a woman torn between love for her husband and love for her art. With Lili, the two intertwine as Gerda dresses up her husband as her new muse. Is Lili just an art project gone too far? Is she capitalising on his situation? Is it her fault? Vikander encapsulates both Gerda's strengths and weaknesses - for all Redmayne's rouge-lipped beauty, it's impossible to take your eyes of Vikander.

The presentation is so gentle and safe it doesn't do this empowering story justice. Commendably, the film attempts to explore the mindset, rather than the genitalia, of a transgender woman. It just doesn't dig deep enough.


Watch: The Danish Girl is out now.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Rihanna - Anti

Rihanna - Anti

Good news: if you’re a fan of just-released lazy mid-tempo jam Work then you’ll enjoy what ‘Anti’ has to offer.

Bad news: ‘Anti’ is a collection of lazy mid-tempo jams like Work.

Really, Rihanna has shot herself in the foot. With a dire and lengthy album campaign, hype has been built to catastrophic levels. And considering she’s always been more of a singles artist than an album artist, many expected ‘Anti’ to be a collection of chart destroying bangers. It’s not. Those days are over. Gone. And that’s undoubtedly a disappointment.

Get over what ‘Anti’ isn’t, though, and we can move on to appreciate what it is: the best Rihanna album since ‘Rated R’. That is, in terms of its consistency of style and tone – it certainly doesn’t have the exceptional singles we’ve come to expect from her oeuvre, but it feels more complete by comparison to, say, ‘Loud’ and ‘Talk That Talk’ that are basically singles hastily thrown together masquerading as an album. ‘Rated R’ remains her most conceptual album, an aggressive middle finger to Chris Brown full of hard-edged hip-hop vibes and a wildly angry tone.

‘Anti’ is…well it’s difficult to tell what it’s all about. In many ways it’s not what you’d expect from a Rihanna album, which perhaps explains the title. With no obvious singles, it’s an album of experimental mid-tempo jams, warmly textured atmosphere, and a more subtle sense of sexuality. It’s an off-kilter approach that takes Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 album as a template in an effort to redefine her career as a serious artist. It’s just not all that successful.

As the album’s first single, Work is exemplary of its musical style. It’s an edgy, underground fusing of R&B, reggae and hip-hop that informs the sensibility of the album at large. Opener Consideration has an almost brittle beat with additional vocals from SZA, which leads into the Stevie Wonder-esque neo-soul of interlude James Joint that really deserves to be fleshed out (“we’re too busy kissing…here come the police”). Finally with Kiss It Better ‘Anti’ gets going, with its whirring synths and electric guitars lurching us into futuristic territory; later there’s the hypnotic mood of Desperado and the minimalist clicks and melismatic hooks of Needed Me that continue the general sense of sombreness meets intoxicating sensuality.

That also continues with Rihanna’s vocal. Frequently, she relies on an almost cooing whisper, curls of weed smoke seductively caressing her lips as she lilts in soft Patois. Outbursts of higher notes reveal a crackling rasp – Rihanna’s hardly known for a technically strong voice, but on much of ‘Anti’ she’s discovered a new, understated character.

Halfway through the album we have Woo. Even though it’s produced and co-written by The Weeknd amongst others, it’s a jarring, abrasive track with production that overwhelms Rihanna’s newfound subtlety. It’s 100% skippable. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Same Ol’ Mistakes that, in typical Rihanna fashion, samples Tame Impala’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes. It sums up the dreamy approach of ‘Anti’ and is one of the album’s best songs, largely because it’s basically a Tame Impala song with seemingly little input from Rihanna herself.

From here, much like the long-winded an ultimately disappointing album campaign, ‘Anti’ takes a turn for the wispy with a series of half-baked empty ballads. Close To You at least ends things with a touching moment of genuine intimacy, but for the most part ‘Anti’ just doesn’t have the depth, the nagging hooks, nor the aggressive punch of her best work. In trying to find a more intelligent, musical and subtle sound, she’s ultimately ended up with something that lacks impact and doesn’t warrant its endless gestation. Instead it’s a musical accompaniment to laidback, mellow, quietly enchanting smoking sessions – and it appears to have gone to her head.

And there remain unanswered questions. Why did it take so long? Was she forced to just release whatever she had by this point? Though the album apparently leaked when first put on Tidal, why was it then released for free? Perhaps due to Tidal’s lack of consumer base? And most importantly, what happened to the previous three songs originally thought to be part of ‘Anti’? Above all of this, American Oxygen remains the best song she’s released in recent memory.

So, ‘Anti’ isn’t quite the smart, slick album she’s spent so long slaving over. But it definitely marks a new, introverted era for the singer, one that will likely lose as many followers as she may gain.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Kiss It Better
* Work
* Needed Me

Listen: ‘Anti’ is available now (on Tidal).

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Rihanna - Work

Rihanna - Work

Has Rih been smoking too much pot?

Either way, her singing voice isn’t doing much work on this new single, the latest to be taken from her highly anticipated new album ‘Anti’. What begins as slurring soon just devolves into gibberish, “work work work work work” becoming “wor wer waa wahhhhh wa”. Repeated listening is genuinely hilarious.

Trying to decipher exactly what the song is about, then, is a futile effort. But if Max Martin has taught us anything, it’s that great pop music doesn’t have to have great lyrics – often a melodic hook is enough. And after only one listen, that nagging “wor wer waa wahhhhh wa” hook is thoroughly cemented in the mind. And that beat! This isn’t great pop by any stretch, but with its infectious rhythms, dance-pop vibes and token Drake verse, it’s easy to imagine us all slut-dropping away for the foreseeable future. The lazy vocal delivery almost doesn’t matter.

The problem is that after so much Anti…cipation, Work was never going to live up to everyone’s expectations. Perhaps she’s trolling us and the next single will be the smash we all want and deserve. Or perhaps Work will make more sense in the context of the rest of the album – we’ve only got days to find out.

So no, this Rih-Drake collaboration is no Take Care or What's My Name. And it's nowhere near Kelly Rowland's Work. It isn’t a banger, but it’s definitely a bop. That’ll do for now.


Listen: Work is available to stream on Tidal (LOLZ) or you can download on iTunes. 

Monday 25 January 2016

Chairlift - Moth

After Chairlift’s previous album ‘Something’ with its heavy 80s synth-pop influences – the spiky Sidewalk Safari and dreamy I Belong In Your Arms especially – it’s surprising that the most striking track on new album ‘Moth’ is a ballad. And a really beautiful, delicate one at that. “Sorry I’m crying in public” sings Caroline Polachek in an apologetic, wispy falsetto, “I’m falling for you”. It’s a song about the helplessness of love and feeling, where falling for someone causes a “scene on the train”. These aren’t tears of joy, and it’s all underpinned by gently shuffling percussion and softly slapped bass in Patrick Wimberly's production. For anyone who’s ever had an emotional train journey, this is for you.

Elsewhere, ‘Moth’ delivers wonderfully off-kilter pop. The staccato beats of Romeo build towards a dreamily irresistible chorus as Polachek, inspired by Greek mythology, mellifluously sings of a lover, whilst Ch-Ching pairs brass stabs with R&B rhythms that’s exemplary of Chairlift’s willingness to experiment with genres. That extends to the jazz influence of Polymorphing, the oriental colours of Ottawa to Osaka, and the pure dance-pop banger brilliance of Moth to the Flame on which she laments the inescapable pull of a lover ("he's that kind of man mama"). Having worked with Beyoncé on her last album, it seems that her pop influence has rubbed off on the duo just as much as their quirky charm aided her return.

All this fluttering between genres, though, makes Chairlift quite difficult to pin down. Operating in a middle ground between pop and alternative, they more often than not hit the jackpot. But there are misses here: No Such Thing as Illusion, at six and a half minutes long, is about six and a half minutes too long, and for much of the album you wish the hooks were just a little bit stronger and a little further removed from their previous work.

Yet ‘Moth’ still shimmers with slick polish, the sound of an underground act flying closer to the light of stardom, Polachek’s soft vocals singing catchy hooks that hover over Wimberly's beguiling production. And for all their idiosyncratic peculiarities, they sure know how to deliver a tearjerking ballad – bring some tissues.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Romeo
* Crying in Public
* Moth to the Flame

Listen: ‘Moth’ is available now.

Thursday 21 January 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Trafalgar Studios

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray is one of those timeless pieces of literature that remains incredibly relevant: not least for its homoeroticism and hedonism in gay culture, but also its themes of moral duplicity, public image, and the adoration of youth. Yet with so many adaptations of the story (theatrical and cinematic), it’s difficult to bring something novel and original.

This particular production is adapted by Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandson, in which he has restored many of the revisions that Wilde’s original text was subject to under censorship. As a result, Holland has attempted to stay true to Wilde’s original vision. Yet what’s so intriguing about the published version is its homoerotic subtlety, the novel taking on a life of its own as the writer hides his feelings behind his words. Here, though, that subtlety is lost, becoming a far more overtly homosexual narrative.

The first scene feels particularly seedy, with the elder Lord Henry Wotton (John Gorick) and Basil Hallward (Ruper Mason) blatantly fawning over the young Dorian (Guy Warren-Thomas). It’s as if the men openly show their sexual interest rather than a quiet, intriguing fascination. The actors certainly revel in Wilde’s language and philosophy, but the performances lack restraint.

By the time the second act comes around, the pace has quickened considerably, with shorter scenes, actors jumping between roles with little introduction or development, and awkward scene changes. This, in addition to a plain set and amateurish staging, make for a far from handsome picture: it’s clumsy, lacks depth, and the additions are underwhelming. The only personality comes from the comical portrayal of the various peripheral characters. Some of this is purposeful if unnecessary, such as male actors in drag to cover female roles with the finesse of a pantomime dame. At other times it’s unintentional: the darker, mystical elements of the plot are undermined by amusing costumes, spooky music and clichéd voiceover.

The only actor not to change character is Warren-Thomas as Dorian. His angular features are certainly striking but he plays the role with a calm gentility that’s all too polite. Like the production as a whole, it’s overly safe and lacks a distinctive edge – unlike Wilde himself, the cast and crew are too fearful to take a risk.


Watch: The Picture of Dorian Gray runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 13th February.

The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Trafalgar Studios

The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Trafalgar Studios
Photos: Emily Hyland

Wednesday 20 January 2016

The Rolling Stone @ The Orange Tree Theatre

In Chris Urch’s ambitious second play, he dives headfirst into the crisis of homosexuality in Uganda. Its title, The Rolling Stone, relates to a newspaper circulating in the capital city of Kampala in 2010 in which suspected homosexuals had their faces printed. During this time, homosexuality was still a crime, with gay people facing the death penalty – that is, if they weren’t murdered by fellow members of the community. Western countries may still be striving for equality, but this urgent piece of writing shows how far the rest of the world still has to go.

At the centre of the story is the growing romance between Ugandan native Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Irish-Ugandan immigrant Sam (Julian Moore-Cook). It’s a touching and believable relationship, balancing the frank intimacy of intercourse with an overbearing sense of fear, the two men forever watching their backs. And where so much gay theatre settles into tired ‘coming out’ stories, The Rolling Stone puts a twist on things. Here, Dembe isn’t struggling to come to terms with his sexuality; instead he’s confident in his feelings, but simply unable to express them due to the oppressive society he lives in.

What’s most refreshing though is that the real focus of the play is the impact of Dembe’s sexuality on his family. You see, not only did gay people face the death penalty, but their family could also face imprisonment. And with Dembe’s family devoted to evangelical Christianity, it’s a toxic environment – though crucially it’s fanaticism, not faith, that’s the enemy.

The Rolling Stone, then, is a moving and powerful family drama that sensitively handles a deeply troubling subject. Urch’s script is full of credible dialogue – remarkable when he’s yet to visit the country himself – and the simple staging highlights the intimate moments and the confident performances that play out with such conviction. As the mute Naome, Faith Alabi does more with one single scream than others can do with a whole monologue, whilst Sule Rimi’s Joe delivers a frankly terrifying anti-homosexual sermon. Faith Omole’s Wummie, though, is perhaps the most interesting character of all: torn between love for her brother and duty to God, she (like the audience) is complicit in Dembe’s relationship, but tragically helpless to assist.


Watch: The Rolling Stone runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 20th February.

The Rolling Stone @ The Orange Tree Theatre

The Rolling Stone @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Photos: Manuel Harlan

Monday 18 January 2016

Daughter - Not To Disappear

Daughter - Not To Disappear

Anyone familiar with Daughter’s previous work will know it really should come with a warning: if you’re in even the slightest emotional distress, you’ll be needing far more than just a few tissues.

‘Not To Disappear’, the band’s second album, is no different. Just as before, lead singer and songwriter Elena Tonra deals heavily in heartbreak, with almost matter of fact lyrics that are loaded with feeling, as if she’s pulling a trigger and aiming straight at the heart. Where debut album ‘If You Leave’ was often wrought from delicate elegiac poetry, here thoughts and feelings are candid, brutally honest and bittersweet.

Alone/With You, with its mirrored structure, is a keen example. “I hate walking alone, I should get a dog or something” Tonra sings with despondency, as if something so trivial could somehow solve all her problems. Trying to pick out specific lines is a futile task when across the album the songs are littered with frequently painful examples, but the crescendo towards the repeated “I hate feeling alone” at the end of this particular track, the vocals almost drowned out by surging guitars and throbbing synths, is one of the most visceral emotional releases the album offers.

Loneliness doesn’t just stem from heartbreak, though. On this album, the spectrum has been widened. Doing The Right Thing, for instance, explores the impact of dementia: “then I’ll lose my children, then I’ll lose my love”, the image of life draining away rife in every syllable before the song climaxes with “I’ll call out in the night for my mother, but she isn’t coming back for me ‘cause she’s already gone”. The sombre Mothers focuses on the burden of motherhood: “I’ll stay here, the provider of that constant sting they call love”; whilst on No Care, things take an aggressive turn as Tonra repeatedly spits out “no care, no care in the world”, as if the preceding songs’ emotions have finally become too much to bear.

None of this would matter without Tonra’s vocal delivery: hushed, whispered, delicate, yet tough and threatening when it needs to be. And where the band’s debut was characterised by liquid bowed guitars and evocative atmospherics, the unflinching lyrical content of ‘Not To Disappear’ demands a rougher, heavier sound that sits around the Radiohead, Alt-J, shoegaze end of the spectrum. It’s in the crying guitar lines of New Ways, the bending of riffs on How, the erupting patter of drums on No Care, and the urgency of Fossa as it builds towards its final admittance (“I feel alone”) and another instrumental release.

Yet juxtaposed with this sound, it’s the quieter moments that often stand out. The pause in the middle of Doing The Right Thing. The gentle, childlike synths of Mothers. The haunting processed vocals in the chorale break of Made Of Stone. The way the accompaniment mercilessly drops out in Alone/With You at the bitter line “You and I were once friends, now you’re only an acquaintance”. Daughter are simply masterful at delivering tear-stained songs drenched in melancholy, an emotion that relentlessly pervades all of their music. And with its icy melodies and cold sense of loneliness, there’s no better time than a January release.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Doing The Right Thing
* Alone/With You
* Fossa

Listen: ‘Not To Disappear’ is out now.

Sunday 17 January 2016

The Revenant (2016) - Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The Revenant (2016) - Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The Revenant is a film about one man's struggle through adversity, pushed to breaking point, to the very limits of humanity, in order to survive and enact revenge.

No not DiCaprio wrestling a bear; DiCaprio striving for an Oscar.

It's certainly a deserving performance. As Hugh Glass, he loses his family, is mauled by a bear, endures freezing temperatures in a bleak frontier, survives attacks from Native Americans, eats the marrow from a decaying skeletal corpse and raw fish, survives river rapids, sleeps inside the body of a horse after ripping its insides out, and more in what is an intense and brutal piece of cinema. Swathed in animal skin cloaks, his lank hair hanging lifelessly in front of his face, DiCaprio conveys everything he needs to through those piercing blue eyes. Even his spit seems to convey emotion. It is a startling turn.

More than this, though, the film is an exploration of what makes us human. Thrust into the wilderness, Glass becomes as fearful an animal as the bear that attacks him, but he never quite loses his humanity. Through his actions, and those of the other characters, we witness that to be human means to value honour, to help those in need no matter what their ethnicity, to have a moral conscience, to laugh. When Tom Hardy's John Fitzgerald is proven to have none of these qualities, it is deserving that he becomes the hunted.

What's most striking of all is the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki, known for his work on Gravity, Birdman and Children of Men. Here, his subject is the power of nature. Where action sequences and dialogue are shot in long continuous shots (as in Birdman), nature is still, grand, and mostly shot from below to depict its imposing stature. It's the smaller moments that prove most touching: DiCaprio's breath morphing into thick mist; a herd of stampeding buffalo; a snowflake dissolving on the tongue. Using locations in Canada, Argentina and the US to depict this American wilderness, the use of natural lighting and and framing is an artistic triumph, creating a film that is majestic, awe-inspiring and beautiful. That's only aided by music from Alva Noto and Ryûichi Sakamoto: mournful, menacing and used with sparing efficiency.

The Revenant is a long and harrowing watch, but one with a compelling message, a strong central performance and even stronger cinematography. Even at its most gruesome, it remains a gripping and watchable film. It's not hard to see why it's so heavily Oscar nominated.


Watch: The Revenant is out now.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Big Brother Blitzkrieg @ King's Head Theatre

Big Brother Blitzkrieg @ King's Head Theatre

Over the years there have been some pretty nasty, bigoted housemates in both Big Brother and its celebrity version. Yet could any of them really outdo Hitler?

That's the central conceit of Hew Rous Eyre and Max Elton's Big Brother Blitzkrieg - Hitler in the Big Brother house. He awakens after a failed suicide attempt (seventy years later?) to find himself in the primary coloured house, complete with diary room, omniscient voiceover, and some very obnoxious housemates.

From there...well not a lot happens. It's as if the two writers came up with a funny idea, but didn't know what to do with it. It may have been written in response to anti-politics and celebrity culture, but really this is an absurd comedic concept that simply delivers a handful of giggles.

Hitler's five modern day housemates are little more than tired stereotypes - there's camp homosexual Felix (Neil Summerville); dim wannabe rapper M-Cat (Kit Loyd); hippy sound-bite spouting Charlie (Hannah Douglas); bitchy and controlling Lucy (Jenny Johns); and the boring but Jewish (of course) Rachel (Tracey Ann Wood). Are these people really meant to be as equally abhorrent as Hitler? Is being gay, or Jewish, or a bit thick really such a crime? And when the housemates clearly don't want to be part of the reality show, there's little narrative reason for their involvement beyond serving the concept.

What's more, Stephen Chance's camp and eccentric Hitler shows little of the charisma or leadership that we're meant to assume made him a great leader, beyond a bit of easy manipulation. Almost everything is played for laughs, without making a serious point.

Towards the end, Felix states his concerns that they've become boring and have failed to entertain. This is meant to be a comment on his desperate desire for celebrity status, but in reality he - and the rest of the characters - are right to be worried.


Watch: Big Brother Blitzkrieg runs at the King's Head Theatre until 30th January.

Big Brother Blitzkrieg @ King's Head Theatre

Big Brother Blitzkrieg @ King's Head Theatre
Photos: Jack Fisher

The Long Road South @ King's Head Theatre

The Long Road South @ Kings Head Theatre

The inspiration behind Paul Minx's play was as a tribute to a man who worked for his family when he was a child. Known as "the gardener", he became something of a second father to Minx - far more than simply "the help".

Fittingly, The Long Road South begins with a focus on the relationship between a child (Ivy - Lydea Perkins) and her family's very own "help", Andre (Cornelius Macarthy). As Ivy approaches sexual maturity, Andre plays a role in her sexual awakening - he is a pious man, assisting with her bible studies, yet equally represents otherness, desire and danger. Andre, of course, would never touch her, but it's never in doubt whose side her authoritarian father Jake (Michael Brandon) would take.

It makes for a volatile situation, with Andre torn between duty to his employers and duty to his people, as represented by girlfriend Grace (Krissi Bohn) who plans for the two to leave for Alabama the following day to join the civil rights movement.

Yet whilst Minx's play might represent civil rights in microcosm, it ultimately moves in broad strokes and lacks focus, becoming a small-scale domestic drama of soap opera proportions. There is tension and conflict for sure, and the script entertains with dry humour. Yet the play lacks a sense of urgency and drive.

Mostly this is down to some stereotypical characterisation, making the all too familiar narrative difficult to buy into. Macarthy offers a composed performance as Andre, but elsewhere Perkins is a stroppy petulant Ivy; Imogen Stubbs is a pantomime drunk as mother Carol; Brandon has presence as Jake but the character is simply a controlling man losing grip on his family; and Bohn's Grace is underused. It's the overly ambitious script more than the acting that lacks depth, resulting in a play that does entertain, but adds little of value to the racism conversation.


Watch: The Long Road South runs at the Kings Head Theatre until 30th January.

The Long Road South @ Kings Head Theatre
Photos: Truan Munro

Friday 15 January 2016

This Will End Badly @ Southwark Playhouse

This Will End Badly @ Southwark Playhouse

Ben Whybrow stands onstage and describes in detail the sensation of finally taking a shit after chronic constipation, the liquid trickling down his legs, the “clay” sliding down his shorts, the pebble in his shoe. It’s a grim tale, exemplary of writer Rob Hayes’ full throttle, pugnacious approach to imagery that sticks in the mind with excruciating clarity.

This Will End Badly is a play all about release. Whybrow flits between three different stories, each depicting different men affected by mental health issues, three sides of the same prism. There’s a man who revels in his aggressive approach to women. There’s a shy man suffering from OCD who believes he can prevent others from getting ill if he can kill himself. And the aforementioned man suffering from constipation after his girlfriend breaks up with him. With male suicide in particular such a prevalent and pressing issue at the moment, This Will End Badly is a poignant and urgent reminder of the pressures of masculinity in present day. And it takes place on a stage presided over by an almost ominous porcelain throne, Christopher Nairne’s lighting design dominated by stark up-lighting.

If Hayes’ writing style is confrontational yet bleakly amusing, skillfully pushing and pulling the audience’s emotions in all sorts of directions, then Whybrow’s astonishing performance enhances this further. Each story bleeds seamlessly into the next, fragmented, as if that prism of masculinity has been shattered into pieces. Just as we begin to grasp one character, we’re thrown head first into the next. Perfectly paced and nuanced, Whybrow steers us through a minefield at breakneck speed, relentlessly and inevitably racing towards some conclusion, some form of release. He is a ball of pent up rage, fear, sexual frustration and shit just waiting to – quite literally – explode.


Watch: This Will End Badly runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 6th February.

This Will End Badly @ Southwark Playhouse

This Will End Badly @ Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Ben Broomfield

Thursday 14 January 2016

Betty Who - Take Me When You Go

Betty Who - Take Me When You Go

Remember when Betty Who released a smash album last year and everyone bought it and loved it? No, me neither.

It’s almost not a surprise, though, when 2015 also brought us Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Emotion’, a similarly pop heavy album that achieved critical success but comparatively failed commercially. ‘Take Me When You Go’ is the Australian singer’s debut album, released with a whimper and largely forgotten since.

That’s a real shame when the material is so strong. “If you’ve got a broken heart, then you’re just like me”, Who sings on opener Just Like Me. Here is a popstar posing as ‘normal’, singing relatable lyrics to upbeat, fizzing pop melodies. She’s like Robyn meets Katy Perry, which is surely no bad thing.

Broadly, her songs fall into three categories. Most common are the fun, synthy, 80s inspired tracks – High Society, Glory Days, Somebody Loves You, All Of You – that are bright and catchy, with choppy rhythms and boundless energy. Then there are the ballads, where Who genuinely opens up her heart over warm textures and gentle guitars, her voice taking the fore. The simple imagery of, say, Missing You (“You call and all I wanna do, all I wanna do now is be there with you”) is easy to fall for, whilst Silas on the album’s deluxe version is touching and experimental for such a pop-focused artist, not to mention the stark California Rain that closes the album proper.

Best of all is when these two styles merge – sad-pop if you will. Dreaming About You may seem like a loving fantasy at first, but lyrically it takes a darker turn in the chorus, ending with “I just wanna leave us behind”. And whilst Alone Again may be based on funky production, it’s imbued with a sense of longing that may never be fulfilled. The sad-pop dichotomy is neatly summed up in Heartbreak Dream – “In a moment, you were everything to me” begins the chorus, before the song breaks down into repeated “you keep breaking my heart”.

So why didn’t the album succeed? There are a number of possibilities for that.

Perhaps it’s due to a lack of marketing from the label, the album receiving little coverage and not even impacting the UK charts. Perhaps it’s because much of the album has already been heard on Who’s previous EPs and is easily dismissed (*hands up emoji*). Perhaps it’s because the order of tracks is all wrong, weirdly grouping together its upbeat and downbeat songs. Or perhaps it’s because the influences are so clear – let’s face it, the hook of Runaways is a brazen recreation of Pitbull and Ke$ha’s Timber.

Most likely, though, is that there simply isn’t an appetite for this sort of pop as Carly Rae can also attest to, especially in this age of overtly sexualised R&B and hip-hop. Sure, ‘Take Me When You Go’ is frothy and perhaps even shallow, but you’d be hard pressed to find an album with such exuberant joy. Who provides us with escapism to Glory Days of High Society where Somebody Loves You, but where it’s also ok to be Dreaming About You. If you missed this last year, it’s time you gave it a go.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Missing You
* All Of You
* Dreaming About You

Listen: ‘Take Me When You Go’ is available now.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

David Bowie - Blackstar

A confession: I’ve never been a David Bowie fan. That’s not, however, due to dislike, but because I’ve never really given his full oeuvre the time it deserves. In the wake of his death this week, that’s my own personal tragedy (and something that will surely be rectified). Yet even a non-fan can appreciate the impact Bowie had on the industry. Here was a glam-rocker with a punk disregard for boundaries, whose androgynous sexuality seemed as fiery as his flaming hair, whose penchant for artistry, concepts and alter-egos have become the foundation for so many other artists of recent memory.

It’s also not hard to see the importance and poignancy of ‘Blackstar’, Bowie’s final album released on his 69th birthday just days before his untimely death. It’s a haunting image to imagine the late artist writing this album knowing that death was marching ever nearer, but ‘Blackstar’ is without question a knowing farewell, fuelled by deathly and celestial imagery.

“I know something is very wrong” begins closing track I Can’t Give Everything Away, a beautiful track that seems to sum up the torment of an artist with so much more to give but no time to do it, instilled in the song’s very title. Opener Blackstar, by contrast, takes a darker view seemingly inspired by Islamic State: “on the day of execution, only women kneel and smile”. Yet even this is cause for reflection, as Bowie repeats “I’m a blackstar…not a popstar” like a mantra. More so, the track contemplates what we leave behind, as he sings “something happened on the day he died…somebody else took his place”, perhaps even a passing of the torch to the next generation of artists.

Bowie’s thoughts reach beyond the grave, too. Lazarus is the most potent example of this, it’s opening lines: “Look up here, I’m in heaven…Everybody knows me now”. It’s almost enlightening that Bowie predicted the future so palpably across the album’s seven tracks, though as he finishes on Lazarus, “I’ll be free”. We know that now. Lyrically, ‘Blackstar’ may be as poetically obtuse as ever, but its sentiment is anything but ambiguous, making these final lyrics perhaps the most explicit he ever sang. The video for Lazarus, too, must be mentioned here for its visceral visuals.

And musically, ‘Blackstar’ only fulfills expectations in that it defies them with an album that’s wonderfully creative and unafraid of innovation. The title track, for instance, is inspired by the unlikely figure of Kendrick Lamar through its sense of experimentation, its modern beats and squelchy synth bass contrasting with Bowie’s chant-like vocal. There’s jazz there too in the sense of extended improvisation, with a jazz quartet involved in the album’s recording. From there, the album moves through the jazz-tinged rock of ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore; the mournful saxophone of Lazarus; the urgent guitar riffs of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime); the downbeat menace of Girl Love Me and its eerie calls of “where the fuck did Monday go?”; and the more traditional ballad Dollar Days. I Can’t Give Everything Away, eventually ends the album on a positive note with its warm strings, soprano saxophone calls and Bowie’s delicate, quivering vocal that – in retrospect especially – cuts through to the soul.

Yet whilst Bowie may have sought to distance this album from his past material, it still keenly represents and celebrates his spirit. Listening now, it’s as if Bowie sings from the grave – as profound and powerful in death as he was in life.


Listen: Blackstar is available now.

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Blackstar
* Lazarus
* I Can’t Give Everything Away

Monday 11 January 2016

Vanity Fair @ Middle Temple Hall

The auspicious surroundings of Middle Temple Hall seem like the perfect backdrop to a theatrical adaptation of Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, a story that satirises social climbing, greed, lust and romance. In a way, the building represents what the plot’s vainest characters are striving for.

Yet a bright, neon blue line delineates the traverse stage space down the centre of the hall, indicative of director Hal Chambers’ bold, minimalist staging. Thackeray’s omniscient narration allowed him to create a distance from his characters, to judge them himself. Chambers has taken this notion and instilled each actor with the same power. There is, then, a dual layer to this production, creating an interesting dynamic with the cast performing as both storytellers and characters. Frequently this is played up for comic effect, heavily stylised and wittily cartoonish.

Further, Chambers, alongside movement director Kate Webster, lighting designer Dan Saggars and a collaborative effort from the cast, have devised incredibly creative and streamlined methods of delivering the story. Two sets of step ladders on wheels masquerade as anything from horses to gondolas; candles and flashlights flicker majestically in the dark; dancelike choreographed movement and scene changes keep the energy high with constant flow; and small costumes details over white robes delineate a myriad of characters. Most notably, where Thackeray merely nods to the Battle of Waterloo as a backdrop to his narrative, here the cast have devised a whole nightmarish scene using slow motion, tableau, darkness and simple flashlights. It’s hugely atmospheric and effective. What’s more, the play is accompanied by original music from composer Tom Recknell, whose compositions add English romanticism and musical theatricality to proceedings.

The ensemble cast cope extremely well with constantly changing characters, the complex web of people always lucid. Their energetic and amusing performances provide a constant in what is a slightly fragmented episodic narrative. Despite being overly long – Declan Donnellan’s script would benefit from some editing – this production of Vanity Fair is never less than a thoroughly entertaining romp through early 19th century society, delivered with a striking aesthetic.


Watch: Vanity Fair was performed at Middle Temple Hall from 8th – 10th January.

Sunday 10 January 2016

The Hateful Eight (2016) - Quentin Tarantino

The Hateful Eight (2016) - Quentin Tarantino

Have we finally reached peak Tarantino?

The Hateful Eight is, fittingly, not only the director's eighth film, but indeed his most hateful. I for one have had enough.

His concept for the film is to create a piece of event cinema. Harking back to the Epics and Westerns of the 50s and 60s, he shot the film in Ultra Panavision 70, a long-dormant format that uses a unique lens to create an especially wide aspect ratio. In addition, the film is lengthy, begins with a theatrical overture and even has an intermission (allowing projectionists to change the reel). That the film is only showing in certain capable cinemas has become newsworthy.

That's all well and good, but it means nothing when the film itself is so underwhelming. It's as if more effort was put into the presentation than the actual narrative. For starters, what we have here is typical Tarantino fare: an admittedly tightly focused concept of a group of bandits locked up in a confined space, fetishisation of pithy dialogue, and the same old faces turning up as little more than fodder for a series of cartoonish and violent deaths. Aside from an ominous and hypnotic score from the godfather of Western soundtracks, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight adds little to the Tarantino oeuvre that we haven't seen before.

Yet more so, the plot whittles down to little more than an elaborate rescue mission, and the quite frankly abhorrent torture of the film's only lead female. Split in two halves, the first is endless dialogue that you may as well nap through. Far from his usual creative writing, the characters effectively speak nonsense, made to sound dramatic yet actually displaying little depth in characterisation beyond staid stereotypes. It's not helped by terrible sound, with each actor mumbling their lines incoherently. The only exception is Samuel L Jackson who, as ever, remains a charismatic and captivating screen presence.

In the second half the mystery is finally unravelled, bringing with it sickening (literally) violence. It's what we're used to from Tarantino - Kill Bill, for instance, has the most deaths but is particularly cartoonish in its depiction - but here it comes quick and sudden, undermining the sense of gravitas the first half brings. It lacks intensity and the brutality is simply messy rather than cathartic. More so, it's often aimed at the film's sole lead woman, primarily for comic effect. You can practically picture Tarantino giggling to himself from behind the camera like a schoolboy.

And what of the 70mm film? Certainly it allows for some wide and stunning vistas of Colorado landscapes (where the film was shot), but when the majority of the action takes place inside a single claustrophobic room during a blizzard, the retro technology just seems a bit pointless.

That's just like the film - pointless. The characters may speak a lot, but Tarantino appears to have run out of meaningful things to say. Divisive as ever, the result is a film that's self-conscious, self-satisfying and self-indulgent, not to mention highly pretentious and genuinely offensive. Tarantino has stated he'll stop making films after his tenth; if only he'd stop now.


Watch: The Hateful Eight is out now.

Friday 8 January 2016

Grey Gardens @ Southwark Playhouse

Grey Gardens @ Southwark Playhouse

She’s done it again. After huge success with the likes of Grand Hotel, Titanic, Dogfight and Parade, producer Danielle Tarento brings another US export to the Southwark Playhouse. This time it’s Grey Gardens, a Tony-winning musical based on the cult 1975 documentary of the same name focusing on the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Edith (Big Edie) and Edie (Little Edie) Bouvier Beale. Where Kennedy became the First Lady of the United States, the two Bouvier Beale women were left behind to live in squalid conditions alongside their multiple cats, resulting in Albert and David Maysles’ scandalous documentary.

Even with its lack of dramatic impetus, this is a fascinating portrait of two eccentric characters, with a narrative in which past and present collide. Whilst the second act is a detailed replication of the 70s documentary, the first focuses on the Grey Gardens mansion during its wartime heyday in 1941. It means we not only revel in the charming characterisation, but the proceedings are tinged with sadness as we witness the rise and fall of this intriguing household. For all the humour, there is an underlying pensive stillness to the show, as if the characters are held suspended in time. This is only aided by Thom Southerland’s direction that ensures the show haunts as much as it delights.

It’s led by Jenna Russell, who gives a comic tour-de-force performance as both Big Edie in act one and Little Edie in act two. To the former, she brings glamour and overbearing charm; to the latter, she brings all the ticks and quirks that are recognisable from the documentary (her drawling “mother darrrrrling” especially), with characterisation that’s part deluded artistic revolutionary, part stroppy teen. Throughout, her portrayal of both characters is never less than human, never straying into caricature. Her stage partner, Sheila Hancock as the elderly, Miss Havisham-esque, Edith, can’t quite match her energy, though the chemistry between the two is scintillating, with shades of Gypsy in the show’s mother-daughter drama.

If the performances feel larger than life, then Tom Rogers’ set design feels a little cramped, though this only serves to highlight the prison-like quality of this beautiful, decaying home strewn with leaves as dry as the book’s witty one-liners. The thrust staging, though, does mean some moments are missed, and with the band far offstage, Scott Frankel’s enjoyable (if perhaps unnecessary) jazz score feels distant and lacks punch.

Grey Gardens, then, provides an education. For anyone whose knowledge of Little Edie is based purely on Jinkx Monsoon’s hilarious turn on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, this kooky musical comedy is utterly fascinating. And from Jenna Russell, there’s a masterclass in comic performance.


Watch: Grey Gardens runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 6th February.

Grey Gardens @ Southwark Playhouse

Saturday 2 January 2016

BBC Sound Of 2016

With labels gearing the launch of new artists towards this time of year, the BBC Sound Of list is becoming more and more predictable as a marketing tool. Yet the goal of the list has always been to recognise up and coming artists, and that remains as true now as ever. As a new year begins, let's take a look at this year's longlist from worst to best.

15. Rat Boy

What a name. What a racket. Rat Boy's music is like a manic mix of Jamie T and the Arctic Monkeys and he has a serious aversion to seatbelts. None of this is a good thing.

14. Section Boyz

On their debut EP 'Don't Panic', there's a track called Who Needs a Hook? Musically at least, that's exactly what Section Boyz need. The Boyz from Croydon have risen from a thriving grime scene but really they add nothing new to the genre - the EP is as dark and aggressive as you'd expect with a touch of trap, but it's far from memorable. Both Drake and Rita Ora are fans though, so popularity could well be imminent.

13. Blossoms

Lancashire has a rich heritage of providing rock bands, so Blossoms have a lot to live up to. Their sound is indie-pop-rock with a twist of 60s psychedelia and 80s post-punk - a retro sound that's interesting but far from forward-looking. Will we still be listening in a few months time? Unlikely.

12. J Hus

Fusing East London rap with reggae beats, J Hus is kind of terrible yet also great. Take lead single Lean & Bop. It's a song in which he fawns over "sexy girls" and how they "twirl in them jeans", before explaining he loves "chocolat-o but I never eat a KitKat". What's wrong with a good KitKat? Equally, it's catchy as hell and likely to inspire its own dance moves. It's a jam, but one you might be embarrassed to like.

11. Frances

Frances is a confusing artist. One minute she's cooing over sexy electronic beats and crystalline synths (Borrowed Time), or duetting with Ritual over subdued production (When It Comes To Us). The next she's singing lumbering piano ballads that lack distinction, like current single Let It Out that's been played considerably on Radio 1. The former Frances is an exciting prospect. The latter, not so much.

10. Billie Marten

Not to be confused with Billie Ray Martin, singer of awesome 90s dance track Your Loving Arms, the closest Billie Marten comes to pop is a subtle cover of La Roux's In For The Kill. Instead, she delivers gentle folk with a delicate vocal and all (Louis Walsh moment) at the age of just sixteen. She is, then, the Birdie of 2016 and likely to follow her success. Maybe even with a John Lewis advert by the end of the year. Ed Sheeran is a fan, so you should probably be too.


You've probably already heard WSTRN's debut single In2 as it gradually rises up the charts. Its chorus hook is irrepressible, the production as a whole displaying a slick level of polish that's missing from their East London hip-hop counterparts (they're from West London, hence the name). There's not much else to go on at the moment, but this is a smooth sound that could well reach huge mainstream appeal.

8. Loyle Carner

It's Loyle Carner, though, who proves to be this year's most exciting London hip-hop act (this time from South London). His laidback style is reminiscent of old school hip-hop, whilst his smooth flow and candid lyrics provide something far more personal and emotive than the usual "bitches in the club" content. Carner is more individual, intelligent and interesting than his peers, combining elements of Kendrick Lamar and Drake with a distinctive UK sound.

7. Izzy Bizu

There's no denying that the UK is in the midst of a soul renaissance, with heavyweights Adele and Sam Smith leading the charge. In fact, Bizu has supported Smith on tour, as well as touring with Rudimental. She's well settled into the scene, then, citing Amy Winehouse as a major influence, having Naughty Boy on production duties, and delivering a contemporary retro-tinged sound. The next Emeli Sandé?

6. Mabel

Mabel. It's a simple name that belies her musical heritage - her parents are Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer Cameron McVey. Like them, her sound is distinctive and progressive, soulful with a modern edge. Plus she studied music in Stockholm, and we all know Scandinavia is a hotbed of talent. Just imagine if she remixed her mother's Buffalo Stance...

5. Alessia Cara

Cara currently has the most streamed track of all the artists on this longlist, with her Portishead-sampling Here. That success is as much to do with her extensive YouTube following as it is the clever sample. The Canadian has blossomed singing covers, in particular The Neighbourhood's Sweater Weather and Taylor Swift's Bad Blood, garnering her plenty of attention. Elsewhere her music is fun, youthful and buoyant R&B-pop that's perfectly geared towards the Internet generation.

4. Mura Masa

He looks like James Blake and his sound was even inspired by the Mercury Prize winning artist, but the electronic music of Mura Masa (real name Alex Crossan) has more of a pop edge. Samples are chopped and twisted, vocals are warped, and the hooks often come with an oriental twist to match his pseudonym. In many ways, he's the new Jai Paul - though let's hope this producer of the moment actually releases some music. His best track? Firefly, which features...

3. NAO

You may recognise NAO from her work with Mura Masa. You'll more likely recognise her as the vocalist on Disclosure's Superego, one of the better tracks from their 2015 album 'Caracal'. Or you may have heard of her through the likes of Annie Mac and Zane Lowe, both of whom have praised her funky, soulful, R&B sound on Bad Blood and Zillionaire that mixes futurism with her unique vocal (she studied vocal jazz at music college). Alternatively, you may not have heard of her at all. You soon will.

2. Jack Garratt

In many ways, Garratt takes the best bits of all of the above artists. A multi-instrumentalist with influences as far reaching as Jack White and Frank Ocean, he sings with a deeply soulful vocal over processed synth production fused with piano and lilting guitar, before launching into heavy guitar solos. His sound, then, is somewhat undefinable, which makes him such a standout artist. The Brits have already chosen him as their Critics Choice winner and he's likely to be the BBC's winner of this list too. With this much talent, that's understandable.

1. Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa has caused quite a stir on the back of only two original tracks. Balancing both a music and a modelling career, she looks and sounds like magic. Her Soundcloud page, which caught the attention of Lana Del Rey's management, includes covers as varied as John Legend's All Of Me, Rihanna's Stay and fellow nominee Alessia Cara's Here. All showcase her sultry, smoky vocal that licks and swirls around pop hooks. Paired with Emile Haynie, producer to Del Rey amongst others, her debut single New Love epitomises her cool, edgy, sophisticated pop sound, whilst Be The One adds rich, crystalline electronics and lyrical vulnerability. Lipa is an off-kilter pop artist who brings something a little bit different to the 2016 table - something that deserves to be recognised.