Another reason to despise the Mail (as if I needed one)

When I realised I hadn’t blogged for a while, lo and behold the Daily Mail gave me the perfect subject, as it so often does.

Reading the Mail is like reading a foreign language, since it bears no resemblance to anything in my paper of choice (the Indie, if you would like to know).  A journo friend always reads it, because she says she needs to know what the enemy is saying and she is right.  This is what the enemy says today:

“A murderer, a drug smuggler and a child molester were allowed to star in a West End-style show inside a high-security women’s prison.

Twenty inmates featured in the £180,000 production of Sister Act, the Musical at HMP Bronzefield in Surrey last month, the Mail can reveal.  The show was put on as part of a’rehabilitation’ project designed to turn inmates away from crime.”

I know all about this show, as I auditioned for it last year and was extremely sad not to have got the job.  The organisation behind it is the extremely well-regarded charity, Pimlico Opera, and several of my friends have taken part in their shows in other prisons.

This is what they say about what they do:  “The public debate about the purpose of prison and whether it can reduce re offending is rarely out of the news. A New Philanthropy Capital survey shows re-offending costs the taxpayer approximately £13.5 billion a year and that engaging prisoners actively in arts projects could as much as halve expected re-offending rates.  A truly excellent piece of music theatre before a paying public with a cast largely made up of prisoners is the heart of the project.  Prisoners are rehearsed for six weeks full-time and they reassess their abilities and begin to think differently about themselves and their future… Prisoners see working towards a larger common good is uplifting and that hard work and discipline bring about great rewards.  Confidence, energy, teamwork, positive thinking all contribute to rehabilitation and social integration.  The project is a springboard for dialogue between prisoners and the public who are astonished by the talent they see…”

There you go.  They are ‘allowed to star in a West End-style show’.  Or are they working towards a larger common good?  At a time when prison libraries are under threat, and the idea of rehabilitation is laughable in the eyes of the Mail, isn’t it vital to find some way of stopping re-offending in as creative and positive a way as possible?
Yeah, get me the do-gooding trendy middle class arty leftie.  Soft options, pretty costumes for drug-smugglers and murderers.  To the low-life Mail reporters and their bosses, artists are food for insults and photos of actresses wearing a dress that might not suit them.  Or who might have had some work done.  Or who dare to speak up on topics that are not about the arts, or that are about the arts.  Either way, we are privileged whiners – a bit like how the Mail and Gove see teachers.
Rehearsing a show is bloody hard work.  No, it’s not as hard as being a nurse, or a paramedic – or a teacher – but it’s bloody hard work, even for those of us who do it for a living.  Imagine what it might be like if you don’t.  If you’re a prisoner, suddenly faced with the energy and discipline required of an artist wanting to put on the best show they possibly can.  And the choice of Sister Act in a women’s prison is pretty inspired; a feel-good (much as I hate that phrase) show, with some great songs and things to say about living in a community.  Delores, the lead character, is the girlfriend of a gangster and has to hide out in a convent to stay alive.  She’s not a saint, she’s not Maria from the Sound of Music.  She’s made questionable choices and probably turned a blind eye to quite a lot before she enters the witness protection programme.  People (including Mail readers and journos) lapped up Sister Act, and why not?  There’s nuns in it, so a bit religious, there’s gospel singing and comedy and morality.  Putting that show in a prison… like I said, pretty inspired.  Pimlico have also done West Side Story and Some Like it Hot.  The RSC is renowned for taking Shakespeare into Broadmoor.  In what world are these initiatives a waste of time and money (not taxpayers’ money, by the way)?
Oh, and just so you know, Daily Mail,  Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attended a Pimlico show in 2012.  She stayed behind to talk to each of the prisoners afterwards, a group photo was taken and all the prisoners received copies.
If the Mail disapproves of Pimlico Opera, what must it think of multi-award winning arts charity Streetwise Opera, which works in the homeless sector?  This is what Streetwise says:

“Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help homeless people make positive changes in their lives. We do this through a weekly music programme in 10 homeless centres across England and Wales and by staging critically-acclaimed opera productions starring our homeless performers.

Our productions, (‘Awe-inspiring’, 5 stars The Times) platform the skills of our performers in a professional arena, showing them that whatever life throws at you, you can achieve great things; underpinning these productions, our workshops are a dependable source of creative activity in lives where everything else can be changing.”

I have been privileged to be a workshop leader for Streetwise Opera since 2004.  Challenging, humbling, surprising – working for Streetwise has fundamentally changed the way I work in other areas of the arts.  Saying that I work for Streetwise Opera has opened doors to a number of other organisations who recognise it for the inspirational model it provides.  I have seen the change in the people we work with.  Streetwise has helped to reconnect people with their families, end their substance and alcohol abuse and restore self-esteem and confidence to one of the most marginalised sectors of our community.  As one Streetwise participant says: “Being homeless means that for many people I don’t exist.  With Streetwise Opera, I do more than exist.  I live.”

Daily Mail-bashing is like an Olympic sport for many of us.  But every time a blinkered, ill-researched, sensationalist piece of shit like this article is published, it diminishes not only those who work to make a difference, but everyone who reads it.


Noah and his Ikea ark (contains spoilers)

Darren Aronofsky has called Noah ‘the least biblical biblical film ever made’.  Come on Darren!  You got the ark, the animals, the flood and a big rainbow at the end!  Admittedly you also got the Watchers, aka fallen angels aka Transformers with a maglite inside.  And magic.  LOTS of magic.  Magical snakeskin.  Magical pregnancy testing kit.  Magical bits of rock that magically made huge fires…

The first thing I wrote down (thanks to the handy opening In a galaxy far far away subtitles) was that Noah’s family were the descendents of Seth.  Now that’s already great.  Who wouldn’t want to be descendents of Seth? – Seth Lakeman, Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane all excellent Seths.

The next thing I wrote down was that Noah was the first eco-warrior and a vegetarian.  We know this because he gives the first of his motivational speeches about looking after the environment and only eating vegetables.  Good for him.  At this point, he is Young Noah (150?) because his unfeasibly good-looking son is a mere boy.  Later on he becomes Middle-Aged and Judicial Noah (250?  People aged so quickly in the bible days).  By the end of the film, he is very grey and wrinkled so he is obviously Old and Psychologically Scarred Noah (but not as old as his grandfather Methuselah who was 969 when he died.).  Oddly, Mrs Noah didn’t seem to age at all.  As my friend Claire remarked, she must have some wicked hair dye going.  All of the Noah family – apart from Noah, who was Russell Crowe  – were very pretty indeed.  And very white.  One of the many unanswered questions we had was ‘how did black people happen then?’ More magic, perhaps.

As far as religion is concerned – Darren may be an atheist, but he packed in a lot of spiritual/mystical references.  There were Noah’s dream sequences, one of which happened after the Welsh Druid Merlin, sorry Methuselah, had given him some ayahuasca.  And god was referred to as ‘The Creator’.  I guess Darren had to call him something, since ‘Big Bang’ might have given the wrong impression.  Adam and Eve were portrayed as weird glowing people who ate an apple that looked like a beating heart, but Darren gave the atheists a nod by making it clear that the world was created by Darwin.

Much has been made of the film’s CGI, much of which was really crap.  The animals and birds were crap.  The Mad Max-esque/Mordor landscape was quite crap.  The Watchers/Transformers were weird and crap.  The best bit of CGI was the magic forest that sprang up just as everyone in the audience was wondering how Noah was going to  build the ark when the world had been turned to a wasteland because of man’s destruction of natural resources etc etc.  But lo!  A magic Ikea forest grew!  And it was good, and it sent forth a magic river that went all over the world so that the animals and birds could conveniently work out where to come.  And not just any animals.  Biblical animals, which are like fantasy animals.

Once the animals were on the ark, which took about 10 seconds because they all conveniently knew exactly where to go and settled down quite happily, the Noah family got some herbs and put them to sleep so Darren didn’t have to bother about them for the next two hours.  They were on the ark for 9 months, so how come the animals didn’t starve in their enforced hibernation?   Magic.

The best magical thing was the pregnancy testing kit.  In the gospel according to Darren,  just spitting onto a leaf can determine pregnancy.  Who needs Boots?

The other thorny issue was that of incest.  Half-brothers and sisters all re-populating the world – hence  Suffolk, the American Midwest and Afrikaners.

The other other thorny issue was ‘why Ray Winstone’?  Actually, why so many things?  It’s not like the story is that boring to begin with.  Ray plays Tubal-Cain, a sort of biblical Kray twin, a descendent of Cain, who killed Abel.  Ray’s main purpose was to tell us that he was a man, and descended from men.  “We are men.  Men take.  Men eat meat.  I choose who lives and who dies.  You made us in your image,” he says in a conversation with the Creator.  Unfortunately, the Creator is in a bad reception area.  “Nobody has heard from him since he marked Cain,” Ray tells Noah.  Ray has a forked beard.  The snake in Eden had a forked tongue.  Is there some symbolism here?

I think Darren missed a trick with Tubal-Cain, who hitched a lift on the ark in order to eat a lizard and try to persuade Son No. 2 that Man was the dominant species.  “We have dominion over the animals,” he says, before magically engraving the motto on a tea-towel.  No, I made that bit up.

If I were writing Tubal-Cain, I might have made his ‘we have free will’ schtick a bit more convincing.  There are interesting things to say about this, and in between the magic and clunking dialogue, there are also some compelling moments between Noah and his family about right and wrong, and how far justice goes before you end up certifiable.

In the hands of someone less craggy, magisterial and tormented, (Tom Cruise?) Noah’s psychological inner war would have made you want to chuck him over the edge.  Crowe was actually pretty good, but Jennifer Connolly as Mrs Noah and yes, Emma Watson as Shem’s wife Ila were better.

There was one moment, though, where you could hear a million voices screaming ‘nooooo’ and it came when little Ila said to Noah. “Can you sing me a song?”  So there you have it.  Funnier than Les Miserables, and with a lot less singing.