The Story of Freya and Robin

25 January 2010

Robin’s Hut is on the North bank, on the edge of the woodland amongst fir trees and rocks. Robin built himself a simple wooden structure that he covered in timber shingles on this site surrounded by water that he felt gave it a remote, island-like feel.

Freya is named after the Norse goddess of love, beauty and fertility. The goddess loves spring, music and flowers, is very fond of elves and fairies, and is known – on occasion of great sadness – to cry tears of gold. Freya loved to take long walks collecting flowers and pressing them to decorate everything around her.

Freya fell for Robin and showed her affection by making him the gift of an intricate cabin in the image of the woodlands he so loved. She chose a spot opposite and aligned with Robin’s Hut to give Robin the best chance of seeing the Cabin. She modeled it on her flower press, arranging carefully collected branches to make an enchanted forest. She put Foxgloves at the entrance to invite the fairies in, then pressed everything tight together so the cabin would be strong and crisp and last forever.

When she sees Robin rowing off on an adventure, Freya cried tears of gold and wrapped the cabin in them. Meanwhile, Robin turned his head to look back at the lake he loved and noticed something glinting in the distance. He was so curious that he decided to row back and find out what it was and there, of course, was the golden Cabin and Freya. He was moved by the cabin and invited Freya on his adventure with him.

They didn’t leave very long ago, so they are still away adventuring, but if you can find it, you can see Robin’s wooden hut and the golden cabin that Freya made for him, facing each other across the lake, awaiting their return.

Read the full fairytale here.

Project: Freya’s Cabin, Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland, UK
Client: Kielder Partnership
Designers: Studio Weave
Structural Engineers: Price and Myers
Contractor: Millimetre

Ethical fashion

8 January 2010

Image shamelessly stolen from Le Cool.

Go watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

10 December 2009

The Broadway box-office smash Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the first ever all-black production of Tennessee Williams’s classic play has arrived at London’s Novello Theatre. Having studied the play at college and with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic performances as Brick and Maggie still vivid in my mind, I had high expectations from Debbie Allen’s production.

Much has been made of the casting choice and while the race-reverse concept proved to be commercially canny in the US – grossing in excess of $14m (£8.4m) – on the night you almost completely forget about the counter-intuitive colour of the actors’ skin. Debbie Allen shifts the story to the 1980s for there to be plausibility in a Deep South black millionaire, emphasising that the universal themes of lies, sexuality and mortality transcend race, ethnicity and time.

The colossal James Earl Jones as Big Daddy headlines the fantastic cast. Jones is completely at ease with the complex character of Big Daddy. A rich Mississippi plantation-owner who falsely believes his cancer is in remission and relishes his apparent new lease of life, Jones’s Big Daddy is at once powerful and vulnerable, brutal and understanding. His booming voice brings resonance and power to his words and coupled with his titanic frame Jones has the majestic presence fitting for the patriach of the family.

The core of Williams’s play is the exhilarating second act in which Big Daddy probes the reason for Brick’s alcoholism and its connection with the death of his friend Skipper. Both Big Daddy and Brick show us how we fanatically and destructively strip away the protective illusions of others to get to the truth while clinging relentlessly to our own lies. Adrian Lester’s compelling performance makes it painfully apparent that Brick’s alcoholism, supposedly an escape from the “mendacity” that surrounds him, in fact springs from actively shying away from reality: the truth he cannot face is that his relationship with Skipper transcended friendship. The savage irony of Lester’s cry that “mendacity is a system we live in” is that is applies most of all to himself. Lester’s only fault is his appalling American accent in the first act which, in the heated exchange with Big Daddy in the second act, he discards all-together.

Allen’s production beautifully brings to life Williams’s brutal comedy as well as his emotional pain. Sanaa Lathan’s fast-talking Maggie, the “cat” of the title, carries the first act. Long-banished from her husband’s bed, the sultry Maggie is both sexually frustrated and desperate to lay a claim to Big Daddy’s inheritance by producing an heir. Her frustration at being ignored by her husband and anger at his lack of ambition is deeply empathetic. She cannot compete with the ever-present memory of the dead Skipper and is unable to accept her situation but an unstoppable talker she drives her husband to chase her around the room throwing his crutch at her brilliantly evoking both sympathy and laughter from the audience.

Phylicia Rashad as Big Mama is also worth mentioning: her turn as the long-suffering wife of Big Daddy’s domestic tyrant is by no means the one-dimensional portrayal is could so easily have been. She is a pathetic victim of her husband’s cruelty and comical in her vulgarity but remains a passionate defender of both Big Daddy and Brick.

The show succeeds in never being boring despite the fact that the set never changes and the running time, at nearly three hours, is exactly the time of its action. The set itself was opulent and overpowering enough to convince us of Big Daddy’s wealth and the large four-postered bed in the centre of the set powerfully symbolises the failure of Brick and Maggie’s marriage.

In the end an all-black cast is irrelevant to the universal themes of the play. However it is extremely important for other reasons: the audience on the night was mostly London’s black community. The cast of this play is encouraging for black punters like Bombay Dreams was for the British-Asians. Moreover, it is also interesting for the traditional middle-class white audiences to experience what other ethnicities encounter most of the time – seeing people of another colour wholly owning a theatrical delight and making it their own.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof brings a new creative dynamic to London’s West End and is set to be a thorough success.

Dare to dress differently

3 December 2009

Why do we all fall into “types”? Even when we think we are expressing our “individuality”, don’t we just fall into one category or another?

Sitting on a train on the Northern Line with a Polish punk guy and two Italian punkettes, it was fascinating to see – even though the girls obviously didn’t know the boy and they couldn’t communicate verbally because of the language barrier – all three sharing make-up, trying to out-do one another with their outrageous face-painting while complimenting one another’s looks. While each has clearly invested a lot of time and effort in getting dressed, doing their hair and make-up, don’t the rest of us unkindly just bung them together in the Punk category?

It is interesting that anyone who stands out, anyone who dares to look out of th ordinary gets stared at. I, myself – I am ashamed to say – am guilty of this. Sitting in Crépe Affair in Westfield this weekend, I was fascinated by a young Pakistani or Indian man. Now I can sit here make this stereotype in this particular instance because I’m Pakistani and my mother is Indian but I usually spot the young, urban Pakistani/Indian boys hanging out in baggy jeans, t-shirts, jumpers, maybe a leather jacket or a hoodie. All very same-ish. All a little dull. The faux or even real diamond studs on one ear – or worse both ears – make us all cringe. The complicated spikey over-gelled hair has bored us all. But this boy defied all my stereotypes. This boy had jeans tighter than the trendiest of Hoxton hipsters. He had brown tweed jacket brought bang up-to-date by its sharp modern cut. He had a peculiar haircut that had a mohican, a side fringe and blond streaks all in one. But best of all he had a moustache to make Poirot proud! I must admit I laughed hysterically. But I loved his look. I loved it because he not only swiftly and decidedly throw all my stereotypes out of the window, he ensured that he didn’t fit into any categories of punk, goth, geek-chic, preppie, etc and stamped out my pre-conceptions about entire ethnicities!

Muse

21 November 2009

Is it right to use personal, intimate details of one’s life for Art? Afterall those personal experiences are likely to include others? Is it fair to drag others into the public domain for the sake of one’s Art?

A recent trip to see Sophie Calle’s latest exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery Take Care of Yourself left me asking these questions. The idea behind her collection is intriguing. Upon being dumped by her lover by email, she distributes said email to 107 women of an unbelievable array of walks of life – a diplomat, riflewoman, writer, psychiatrist, judge, student, translator, graphic designer, ballerina and scores of others. All were invited to comment on the email, to throw in their 20-cents, to express their thoughts and views and pass judgment in any way they choose. The contributions of these women along with a photographic portrait of each now take their place in Sophie Calle’s exhibition. The utter mass of creativity on display is overwhelming and awe-inspiring in equal measures. But I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Sophie’s ex-lover. Although Sophie kept his identity secret, her exhibition has been an incredible success both here and in France, the man in question knows he is the protagonist of this show. His family and friends must know. They might have told their friends and cousins and work colleagues. A personal moment has suddenly become so public.

An architect friend says that everyone know Sophie Calle uses her personal experiences as inspiration for her art. So the man concerned knew it too before he got involved with her. In very basic words: he knew what he was letting himself in for. Besides they broke up. They are no longer together. So now she can do whatever she likes. This architect friend went further; she claimed that we all secretly love the idea of being the muse of our artist lovers –it’s sexy – we just don’t know if we will be portrayed well or badly and that is just a risk we take.

A musician friend says that although personal experiences can be a positive source of material, an artist must never make really personal revelations. Privacy of others should always be respected; personal details should never be made public. What then of Tracey Emin’s infamous tent declaring the names of every man she has slept with?

So is the best way somewhere between the two? How far does artistic license extend? Do we all find the idea of being an artist’s muse irresistible? Do artists have any responsibilities?

Writer’s block

1 November 2009

Is it easier to be told what to write than to have utter freedom? Does the potential to write anything make us completely inert? Does this apply to other aspects of our lives too?

An old friend was bemoaning the loss of her creative imagination last week. When we were at school together, all those many years ago, a group of us to pass science lesson made dull by a particularly bad teacher by writing stories. Each person would write a few lines or paragraphs, then pass the paper on to the next person to take the story a step forward, all the while coming up with widly exaggerated dramas. On the bus ride home we would make up crazy stories about other passengers.

Do we lose this capacity to create exciting stories as we grow up? Do responsibilities and work take over or do our imaginations actually dull? Is it something that can be won back or when gone is it lost forever?