Stathfest2017

BRING ON THE STATH!

Jet boats ripped up the Clyde, motorcycles burned up Kilmarnock Road and one keen paraglider got stuck atop the Battlefield monument.  Langside was just vibrating with the sound of helicopters cutting up the usually soft Southside air.  Yes, it does sound like an action movie set but it was ‘just another day’, or rather ‘The Opening night gala’ of Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF)[1], which officially opened on 12 March 2017 to celebrate the work of action hero/film star Jason Statham.

Audience feedback confirmed the hype that was happening outside the cinema complex.  One film festival goer FB’d:  “I will of course be arriving by helicopter.”  One intrepid attendee planned on making their entrance via the time-honoured air duct route, while another intended gaining access by disguising themselves as a room service waitress.  One person emailed: “I had thought we would arrive by parachute but realise that this will affect your abode.  For mystery and intrigue we will either enter in disguise and forward a secret code word in advance or we will simply scale the outside using suction cups and suddenly appear on your couch…. you’ll discover which one on Sunday!”

Then ZFF received a rather glamorous international text from one of our regular attendees:   “Stathfest is kicking off between Melbourne and Auckland with Mechanic: Resurrection.  The film will start in approximately one hour, a large audience all very excited looking.  Meanwhile I am paying tribute to the great man with a freshly shaven head and 2-day stubble.”  We were delighted.  We never thought we’d achieve a reach that stretched to the southern hemisphere or that Stathfest2017 would be MOBILE!

And we were excited all over again when one film goer FB’d:  “Off to Glasgow’s most exclusive film festival.  This year Susannah Radford is celebrating the oeuvre of Britain’s answer to Bruce Willis.  Famous for such manly characters as Arthur Bishop (husband to Emily), so viral he puts the cocc in Staphylococcus, some say it’s a miracle he can even talk… Yes Stathfest2017, here we come.”

Zan’s parents even rang up to wish her well on opening night and one fan simply text:

“We are ready for the Statham we are about to receive.”

And so we were.

And when it became clear that helicopter entrances are reserved for action heroes, like our own Jason Statham, for a reason and the opening paragraph of this blog post was found to be just the stuff of dreams, we all entered the cinema like normal people, though some of us were wearing all black.

 

In conjunction with the second Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF2017), we are delighted to present the

Stathfest2017 Programme

(12 – 19 March 2017)

It’s happening, yes, the now biennial ZFF has returned to bring you what we hope is the FIRST ever film festival to celebrate the work of action hero Jason “the Stath” Statham[2](though sometimes we might call him Jase.  Mind you, not to his face).  So, full throttle ahead, pedal to the metal, DON’T FORGET TO BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS, cause we’re driving headlong into action hero territory.[3] Which movies to choose?  Well ZFF have not been working around the clock to read plot synopses so we have chosen the films we were recommended and could get on Amazon cheaply and easily.  We are very proud to present the following heavily curated programme.[4]

Ewa and Edward attended the Stathfest2017 opening night gala and enjoyed it.

OPENING NIGHT GALA – BOOKED OUT

Lounge 1 | Sunday 12 March 2017 (20.00)

Mechanic:  Resurrection

If Helen was the face that launched a thousand ships, it was the poster for this film which probably gave birth to Stathfest 2017.  Say what?  Well Zan had a sense that 2017 was a ZFF year but didn’t know what to programme.  Should she return to the leftover films on her shelf?  Should she choose a specific director’s oeuvre? Or a notable actor’s body of work?  In the end she decided to give the people what they didn’t know they really wanted[5]And Edward and Ewa might have mentioned this film poster in passing last September and really that’s all Zan needed to chart Jason Statham’s journey from Jason Statham to “the Stath” and Stathfest2017 was born.  In the end Edward and Ewa didn’t see this film at the Longridge cinema complex and they said they would travel ALL the way from Preston to see it on our big (ahem) screen so their tickets are “for free.”

(Actually, all tickets are for free.  Cause that’s just the way we roll).

However, what we’re really watching this film for is to find out whether Arthur Bishop has changed careers and taken up window cleaning.

Mechanic:  Resurrection | Directed by Dennis Gansel | Written by Philip Shelby and Tony Mosher| 2016 | 95 mins

Post festival note:  As they were there, ZFF audience members were asked to answer a few questions.  They included:

Q.  Did the Stath’s character have to drive in this movie?  Yes  No  (please circle one)

Q.  If yes, how would you rate his driving out of ten?              /10

A.  In Mechanic: Resurrection, the Stath did have to drive (incl. motorcycle, helicopter, paraglider, boat, jet boat plus he dived for good measure. He even jumped from a cable car onto a passing paraglider below!)  Stathfest audiences gave him a very positive driving rating, though a couple noted he failed to indicate at one intersection.

We also asked the audience to record their favourite line from the film they saw.  Favourite lines from Mechanic: Resurrection included:

“…Shark infested waters”
The grunt at 1:12:38
“I’ve spent my whole life setting people up to die, I’ll set you up to live”
“I was an orphan too”

Ewa and Edward travelled the farthest to attend Stathfest2017.
(In acknowledgement for their efforts, they got to keep their Jason Statham masks).
(Though we’re not sure whether they took them or not as we’ve got quite a few masks left).

A PRE-BREXIT CONTINENTAL ADVENTURE (WELL SORT OF) – BOOKED OUT

The Italian Job [2003]

Lounge 1 | Monday 13 March 2017 (20.00)

2003 means it’s not the original.  We’re not sure if that means it’s better or worse but we don’t care, we’re here to see Handsome Rob.

The Italian Job | Directed by F. Gary Gray | Based on original screenplay written by Troy Kennedy-Martin.  Screenplay by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers| 2003 | 106 mins

Post festival note:  You betcha he can drive: he’s the best wheel man in the business! 10/10

Favourite lines included:

“Unlike you I don’t need a guidebook”
“John was like a father to me too”

The Usher
(Jason Statham with glasses)

STATH ON SPEED

Crank

Lounge 1 | Tuesday 14 March 2017 (20.00)

Katy told me about this film.  Brief synopsis which I hope captures the essence of this adrenalin fuelled tale but that doesn’t give the plot away:  Chev Chelios has to race through life or he dies.

So, as my friend Jo said, it’s like the movie Speed but the speed’s inside you.  (Stink, we gave the plot away).

Crank | Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor | Written by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor| 2006 | 1 hr 24 mins

Post festival note:  The less said about this movie the better.  I’m not the target audience and as such did not enjoy this movie.

Another post festival note:  I really don’t know how Jason does it (being an action hero).  By Monday I was already behind on not one but two weekend papers.  By Wednesday morning I was so tired I forgot to brush my teeth and I don’t even do my own stunts.

What we watched.
(Titles do not include Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, as we didn’t have the DVD cover for this).

WE THINK HE WORKS IN THE TRANSPORT SECTOR

The Transporter

Lounge 1 | Wednesday 15 March 2017 (20.00)

A moving and brave documentary about how a young Jason Statham, who’s just passed his driver’s licence (bless), meets the challenges of working for the international courier company DHL.  To be honest we’re impressed with how this documentary shines the spotlight on how the drivers cope with the immense pressures to deliver shipments and packages to tight deadlines.  And truth be told, this bold documentary does not shy away from exploring the myriad obstacles faced on the daily run by these tireless workers.

Transporter | Directed by Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen | Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen| 2002 | 88 mins

Post festival note:  OK, so we got the plot for this movie deliberately wrong.  We were just checking to see whether people were actually reading the programme.  Are you still there?  And while the Stath isn’t Achilles (and no one is more noble than Hector), his anti-hero Frank Martin is very engaging.  And he’s a very good driver, DHL would be lucky to have him.  So while Frank Martin does kill people, it’s not the driving that kills them, it’s Frank Martin throwing them out of the cab.  Three times the baddies think he’s dead and then he paraglides onto a moving lorry.  That’s our Stath.

Favourite lines include “I’m not a tourist” and “that is a very small boat to fight a very big war”

Audience goers waiting to watch The Expendables

YEE-HA IT’S THE ZFF MYSTERY JASON STATHAM MOVIE DRAW – BOOKED OUT

Lucky viewer, you will be watching either Safe OR The Expendables

Lounge 1 | Thursday 16 March 2017 (20.00)

We’re hoping tonight our lovely usher is channelling the Stath (or Kraftwerk) in a black polo neck because he’ll be doing the honours of drawing tonight’s film from a hat.  Or a bag.  Or failing that, a bowl.  (In the end it was a bowl).

That’s right folks, it’s one film or the other, cause that’s the type of tightrope (read: sloppy/ lazy/ can we say daring?) programming we like to walk here at ZFF.  But as it’s a TOTAL surprise (not rigged in any way) you have to come along to find out which one it’s going to be.

*New feature*  ZFF interactive zone:  If you were lucky enough to be at tonight’s mystery movie, please tick the film selected:

□     Safe | Directed by Boaz Yakin | Written by Boaz Yakin| 2012 | 90 mins

☑     The Expendables | Directed by Sylvester Stallone | Written by Dave Callaham and Sylvester Stallone | 2010 | 99 mins

Post festival note:  He didn’t drive a car (just a motorcycle and a plane).

Favourite line:

“Next time I’ll deflate all your balls.”

(Though Stallone who also wrote this movie and who has three daughters must have been being ironic with this:  So, your daughter paints too.  That’s how it starts.”)

Glasgow loves The Stath!

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S JASON STATHAM – BOOKED OUT

Spy

Lounge 1 | Friday 17 March 2017 (20.00)

Yes, we know it’s Melissa McCarthy’s film but Jason Statham is a revelation as he shows off his comedy acting chops and takes the piss out of his action status beautifully, which is why Zan will be watching it for the fourth time.  We at ZFF are hoping for a sequel.  We reckon one amusing scene could see Jase disguised as a mail man and Melissa as a UPS driver but in the meantime, be amused by the original (and it is an original).

Spy | Directed by Paul Feig | Written by Paul Feig| 2015 | 115 mins

A very full house
Glasgow really loves the Stath

Post festival note:  Did the Stath’s character have to drive in this movie?  No!  We’re surprised, as we’re sure Rick Ford would confirm he is an exceptional driver.

Favourite lines from the film – oh so many Mr Feig!:[6]

One audience member encapsulated this when they commented “[Witty remark #14]  remember so much funny, short-term memory store full!”

Others included:

Susan Cooper: “Where did you get the suit?”
Rick Ford: “I ——- made it.”

and

Susan Cooper: “Who puts a roof on a scooter?  What are you? The Pope?”

 

Gnomeo and Juliet
Jason Statham fun for ALL the family (phone photo by Claire House Photography)

THE SATURDAY MATINEE – BOOKED OUT

Gnomeo and Juliet

Lounge 1 | Saturday 18 March 2017 (16.00)

Yip, Jase has voiced a cartoon.  I’m hoping my nephews will like this.  Maybe they’ll love Shakespeare too.  Or maybe just action films.

Gnomeo and Juliet | Directed by Kelly Asbury | Written by Rob Sprackling and John R. Smith| 2011 | 81 mins

We are delighted to announce that this film will be preceded by:

The World Premiere of The Antonine Wall | Written by Jasper and Conrad House | 2017 | 2 mins

Without having seen any movies by our celebrated action hero, I’m told this short film sports surprisingly clear influences from the Jason Statham oeuvre and that it’s so good we’ll have to watch it twice – which we will, despite the scary rating.  (It’s rated PG4:  includes blood and sadness).

Post festival note:  We watched it twice and applauded the actors and production team heartily.

Favourite line:

“Such a big hat for such a small gnome”

Jason Stathams in yer face! (Phone photo by Claire House photography)

CLASSIC STATH –  BOOKED OUT

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – The Director’s Cut

Lounge 1 | Saturday 18 March 2017 (20.00)

Pre-Christmas it was doubtful that Stathfest2017 would go ahead due to a pre-festival lack of potential audience engagement but then Claire Radford won her family’s stocking present of the year.  And Stathfest2017 was SO ON that it was NOT OFF and going ahead NO MATTER WHAT.[7]

Stocking present?  What stocking present?  You can see it on the window sill.  No, really look.  Can’t you see him staring at you?  Yes, you.  He’s like the Mona Lisa.  Our usher is also a bit ambivalent about it and quite keen he is only displayed for the duration of the festival.

But back to classic Stath, we seriously want to see Jase in his breakout role.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels | Directed by Guy Ritchie | Written by Guy Ritchie| 1998 | It’s as long as Guy Ritchie wants it to be (i.e. we don’t know)

Post festival note:  Apart from an ever-present threat that the DVD player on the TV would stop working and we would have to contend with rather large technical hitch, the greatest challenge ZFF faced this year was losing[8] said Stocking Present of the year.  ZFF had to go on the internet to find a replacement Jason photo.  As Claire said, they’re not cheap.  But as the Stath watched us from on high (just above the TV (ahem, Screen 1), we thought the £5.98 we paid for the replacement Jason photo was well worth it.

Said “Replacement Jason” photo

The Stath did not have to drive in this movie but a couple of great lines from this awesome film were:

“I asked for a refreshing drink I wasn’t expecting a ——- rainforest”
“Are you a ——horticulturist?”

We were all very sad that Stathfest2017 was ending

CLOSING NIGHT GALA MATINEE:  WHAT?!  STATHFEST2017 IS OVER – HIT ME ONE MORE TIME BUT ONLY IN THE AFTERNOON CAUSE IT’S A SCHOOL NIGHT – BOOKED OUT

Mechanic (The Original)

Lounge 1 | Sunday 19 March 2017 (14.00)

Did you know that the Mechanic is a remake too?  It is.  Those film buffs among you will notice that Charles Bronson is not in this one.  Hey, that’s a great fact but I just noticed that the first Mechanic film has been programmed for the end of the run.  In fact, this programme has not been curated in any order whatsoever.  What type of festival is this?  Who do I complain to?[9]

The Mechanic | Directed by Simon West | Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino| 2011 | 88 mins

Post festival note:  Did the Stath’s character have to drive in this movie? Yes, he did.  No one provided a rating, but he’s a good driver.

Favourite line:

“Save the fuel.  I’m coming for you”

Stathfest2017 essential viewing

Audience members were also asked to select their favourite Jason Statham action hero name from the Stathfest festival films:

(And remember, this is for posterity so be honest).

Arthur Bishop (from the Mechanic and Mechanic: Resurrection)

□ Handsome Rob (from the Italian Job)

□ Chev Chelios (from Crank)

□ Frank Martin (from The Transporter)

□ Luke Wright (from Safe)

□ Lee Christmas (from the Expendables)

□ Rick Ford (from Spy)

with help from Shakespeare Tybalt (from Gnomeo and Juliet)

□ Bacon (from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels)

So the best Jason Statham character name is Arthur Bishop from the Mechanic.  What can I say, the people have spoken (well some of them, not many people voted in the end, so some of them may have spoken twice) (and we counted that).

If you’re still reading this very long blog post I’ve got some “interesting” facts from the festival for you (really, you’ll be glad you’re still here or on slow-moving public transport):

  • Now that we have two sofas and can seat five people (more if we use chairs), our audience numbers have increased exponentially (or a bit).  Attendance totalled 34 people!  34.  That’s up on ZFF2015 and no doubt will look good for our stats.  But moreover, our audience base really expanded.  People came from Glasgow to see the films.  And Edinburgh.   AND near Preston.  They love Jason near Preston.
  • Fun Jason Statham Facts were provided by Hibbert’s Party Games Inc.  These will be published as Film Festival aids in a later blog post so anyone thinking of running their own Jason Statham Film Festival can consider using them, but really all can enjoy right now (or when they’re published).  One question asked of the live film festival audience was:  What is Jason Statham a model of?  Consistency, was one reply.  (Another interesting fact for you:  Jason also modelled for French Connection).
  • Zan had not expected that she would spend an afternoon not watching Ireland beat France at rugby because she was cutting along the strong jaw line of 20 Jason Statham masks.  But.  As.  You.  Do.
  • Tickets included lunch/dinner.  We “carbed up” with Jason, enjoying baked potatoes, macaroni cheese, pasta, lasagne and quiche (with potatoes).  There was lots of cheese.  And salads too.  We weren’t sure if Jason eatsa lot of salads but we do.  So we did.
  • The usher made about 30p in tips.  He is considering investing it but is not sure as this  is a “tricky” sum to manage wisely.
  • WARNING:  Jason Statham films can be violent.  I had forgotten this so spent quite a bit of time with my eyes and ears shut.  Ah well.

But finally, apart from the violence (and Crank, and to some extent The Expendables), I LOVE The Stath and his films and couldn’t think of a more random choice to schedule a film festival around.

Thanks for the memories Jason Statham!

Stathfest2017 was great.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Zan’s film festival is not to be confused with Zürich Film Festival (also ZFF).  But as we don’t have a website, only blog every two years about it and we’re in Glasgow, it’s unlikely anyone is going to get confused.

P.S.  Thanks for reading the footnotes, as you might notice I’m particularly fond of them.  However, now that you’re stuck in the footnotes section I’m hoping if you click on the footnote number again it will take you back to the top.  Here’s hoping.

[2] We haven’t actually checked but we’re just going to say we’re the first and the only.

[3] We know we’re being metaphorical here but Health and Safety have advised us to add the following:

“Action heroes excluded (cause they’re fictional), (no really they are), please note that ZFF advises everyone else should drive safely”

[4] ZFF apologises in advance for any inaccurate plot synopsis which may have been missed during proofreading.

[5] You’re welcome.

[6] My favourite monologue from Spy is:

Rick Ford:  You really think you’re ready for the field? I once used defibrillators on myself. I put shards of glass in my ——‘ eye. I’ve jumped from a high-rise building using only a raincoat as a parachute and broke both legs upon landing; I still had to pretend I was in a ——- Cirque du Soleil show! I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer. This arm has been ripped off completely and re-attached with *this* ——‘ arm.
Susan Cooper:  I don’t know that that’s possible… I mean medically…
Rick Ford:  During the threat of an assassination attempt, I appeared convincingly in front of congress as Barack Obama.
Susan Cooper:  In black-face? That’s not appropriate.
Rick Ford:  I watched the woman I love get tossed from a plane and hit by another plane mid-air. I drove a car off a freeway on top of a train while it was on fire. Not the car, *I* was on fire.
Susan Cooper:  Jesus, you’re intense.

[7] That’s. How. Tough. We. Are.

[8] How can you lose the Stocking Present of the Year 2016, Radford???

[9] Please pass all complaints to the usher.  He may or may not pass them on to ZFF Staff.  Sorry but as it’s the end of the festival we may or may not do something about them.

 

Yup, you’ve reached the end of this blog post.  Congratulations.

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The Man’s Got Soul

As entrances go it was pretty casual, but Irish singer-songwriter and modern-day Celtic troubadour Damien Dempsey does not need a dramatic entrance to fire up an audience; his political and personal songs are all he needs.  On fine voice and giving voice to those whose own song and stories are not heard, Dempsey is an engaging mixture of strength and vulnerability and Wednesday night’s gig saw him not only entertain but deliver an incredibly personal and self-directed show.

It was a very self-contained performance, which made for riveting viewing.  Like Camille O’Sullivan, who really lives through the narratives she sings about, Dempsey too inhabited his songs in a way I hadn’t seen before.  His first call to the Maasai was electric; he was a spiritual warrior facing his destiny.  The emotion in Chris and Stevie was palpable but his focus never wavered.  Every song was met with great energy as he pressed the last sound out of his lungs to produce an intensely focussed and soulful performance.  Supported by a great band, it was unforgettable.

Damien Dempsey, Celtic Connections, O2 ABC, Glasgow, 01 Feb 2017.

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A theatrical punch to the gut – A Streetcar Named Desire review

maxine-peake-as-blanche-dubois-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-photo-manuel-harlan-8

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois (Photo: Manuel Harlan).

Having played Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in 2014, Maxine Peake must know a thing or two about challenging acting roles and being fearless.  Blanche DuBois, from Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, is another huge role.  Like Hamlet, Blanche is onstage most of the time, but moreover she dominates the landscape.  Peake’s Blanche is a tour de force; it’s a richly layered performance in an excellent production of this modern tragedy.

First performed in 1947, A Streetcar Named Desire sees Blanche DuBois move in with her newly married sister Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski.  Fleeing from a past which is threatening to catch up with her, she is seeking sanctuary with family.  But this slice of New Orleans is no Belle Reve and alpha male Stanley is not as forgiving as her sister.

maxine-peake-as-blanche-dubois-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-photo-manuel-harlan-5

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois (Photo: Manuel Harlan).

Williams’ genius is that he created such rich, real characters.  This tragedy has a heroine and antagonist, but they’re not clear-cut; all the characters are flawed, as in life.  Blanche is the southern belle schooled in manners who still trades on her desirability.  She is both dangerous and fragile and when cruel she is ugly.  Peake is mercurial as Blanche and captures all these nuances beautifully.   She is well supported by Ben Batt as Stanley, Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Stella and Youssef Kerkour as Mitch.

With such strongly drawn characters it’s no surprise that Streetcar is a character driven play. As Blanche and Stanley collide again and again there is a strong sense of foreboding; their interactions feel like a car crash waiting to happen.

maxine-peake-as-blanche-dubois-ben-batt-as-stanley-kowalski-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-photo-manuel-harlan

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois and Ben Batt as Stanley Kowalski (Photo: Manuel Harlan).

While some aspects of the story aren’t as shocking as they would have been in 1947, the play still horrifies; the violent ending is brutal and it remains a powerful drama.

The play emphasises the metaphor of light and Blanche is a moth who got caught in it and is destroyed.  Streetcar sees a power struggle being played out between the triangle of Blanche, Stanley and Stella.  While the old order is struggling with the new world, at its heart it is a battle for Stella.  Blanche may be a light but Stella is the star and both Blanche and Stanley need her to reflect the version of themselves they want to see.

sharon-duncan-brewster-as-stella-kowalski-maxine-peake-as-blanche-dubois-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-photo-manuel-harlan

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Stella and Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois (Photo: Manuel Harlan).

Underpinning this is the very real impact of mental illness and addiction.  The latter is superbly externalised and adds further depth to this production.

Towards the end I felt that Blanche has been there way too long and in that way, my experience mirrored that of the characters onstage.  But it’s a tribute to the power of the play and this production directed by Sarah Frankcom that I travel from frustration to despair in a very short space of time.  As the conclusion approaches I am blindsided by the damage done to Blanche.  It is very painful to watch a human breaking.

ben-batt-as-stanley-kowalski-sharon-duncan-brewster-as-stella-kowalski-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-photo-manuel-harlan

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester with Ben Batt as Stanley Kowalski, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Stella and Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois (Photo: Manuel Harlan).

A Streetcar Named Desire is like a punch in the gut from theatre; as I leave the Royal Exchange I am winded and gutted by an overwhelming sense of grief.  It is the most moving piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 8 September – 15 October 2016

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Review: Blackbird by David Harrower

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Paul Higgins as Ray and Camrie Palmer as Una (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Paul Higgins as Ray and Camrie Palmer as Una (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

The revival of Scottish playwright David Harrower’s taut drama Blackbird is another fine production for the Citizens Theatre. Harrower’s writing is so sophisticated in his examination of an illicit relationship that it raises as many new questions as it answers and it draws you in to a place where you have to set aside prejudices and preconceptions.

Una has found Ray again after fifteen years. Looking out from his new life, she recognises the face though not the name when she spots a photo of him in a trade magazine. Tracking him to a filthy work common room, she is now searching for answers. The last time she saw him she was 12 and he was 40.

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird deals with the aftermath. While recalling their past relationship and the trial, the play looks at how people build their lives again after they’ve been destroyed.

Like a boxing match, it packs a punch. The power swings from one player to the other and at some point each character wants to leave the ring. Our empathy too rises and falls as lies are uncovered.

It’s about identity and the right to a new one. Ray has done his time and served his punishment but does he deserve a new life? With respect? Why didn’t Una, who was stigmatised by the publicity from the trial, have the right to a new identity as she was growing up?

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Harrower has crafted fully realised and complex characters that wrestle with language, and each other, in what director Gareth Nicholls calls a ‘psychological thriller’. It’s beautifully acted too by Paul Higgins and Camrie Palmer. As they quietly sit and drink from the same bottle of water after another heated exchange there’s a surprising sense of gentle intimacy. Una’s monologue is riveting.

Sadly, Blackbird remains as relevant today as it did in 2005 when it first premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival, as yet another high-profile male has recently been charged with sexual abuse. While the meeting between Una and Ray is a chance for both to give voice to what couldn’t be said during the trial, the play’s building tension foreshadows a horrifying end.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until 5 March 2016.

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It’s not just my caffeine fix, it’s my morning pick me up

Ahhhh, lovely coffee machine. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Ahhhh, lovely coffee machine. Photo by Katy Hanlon

“Wendy, your flat white is ready.”

Of all the places in the world where I could be, my mother and I are at the Union Bank Plaza Starbucks in Downtown LA and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. There is no tea in the hotel room, an Earl Grey is seemingly out of the question and my mummy wants a flat white. So within a day of our arrival we are skipping through those green gates to seek our caffeine fix.

As I enjoy my daily tea and morning bun, I reflect on this pseudo relationship which has been formed by the server knowing our name and order and I realise I will leave LA with two things:

1) My awesome Starbucks recyclable cup which I purchased on my third day of holiday, and

2) An appreciation for my own barista, who works at the Counter Culture Coffee kiosk on the Hyndland train station platform right here in Glasgow.

This is because William E. Gladstone, the Prime Minister for Great Britain way back in the nineteenth century, got it right when he said: “If you are cold, tea will warm you.  If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”[1]

Is it any surprise then that we struggle without our morning caffeine fix? When a good day can be based on whether we get our morning coffee, the relationship between barista and caffeine addicted customer can be, well rather important, particularly in the way our barista can anticipate our daily caffeine needs. My barista, Counter Culture Coffee Manager Katy Hanlon, knows my order (London Fog) and my name (Susannah) so it’s no surprise to find out she knows everyone’s orders.

Photo by Katy Hanlon

Photo by Katy Hanlon

“We have quite a few regulars,” Katy informs me. “I’d say that I recognise the majority of the customers we get in the morning. I know what our regulars order as well, down to how many sugars, or whether they take milk or not.”

She’s that good that you don’t even need to order. I used to have a system with Katy’s predecessor Stu: a “thumbs up” on approach meant my usual, a “thumbs down” meant I was going for something different.[2] But now I don’t even need to do that. Only last week Katy saw me striding down the platform and had started preparing my drink before I arrived.

And I’m not even her best “spot.” That was when she saw a customer who was walking up the stairs on the other side of the Hyndland tracks. “That is definitely the best creepy spot,” she confirms, “and I’d like to point out that it was me who made that spot. I’ve had a few other good ones, like the time I spotted a regular customer standing at the doors of a train as it slowed down to stop at the station. It’s quite fun to see their faces when I hand them their drink as they have just finished ordering it.”

Fuelling customers since 2008, the Counter Culture Coffee kiosk is situated on the Hyndland platform. No, not platform 9¾, it’s between platforms one and two. While it’s not quite Central Station (or King’s Cross), it’s busy enough for a barista, with a number of trains coming and going every hour, translating to customers arriving in waves.

Katy is definitely not fazed. “I’ve being doing this job for just over seven years now so I’ve had a lot of practice at seeming calm when there’s a rush and I’m slightly panicking inside. I just try to be as quick as I can.”

And what’s the hardest drink to make? “Anything decaf! It isn’t that the decaf is harder to make, it just takes more time which can be annoying if there is rush or you can see from the panic on the customer’s face that their train is coming in. The London Fog probably has the most steps to remember but we only have a few customers that order that and it smells so nice that making it is a pleasure.”

The hand that makes my London Fog. Photo (and hand) by Katy Hanlon

The hand that makes my London Fog. Photo (and hand) by Katy Hanlon

Ah yes, there’s nothing like that shot of vanilla syrup to kick-start your day. The thing is, it’s more than just my caffeine or sugar fix, it’s my morning pick me up. Not only do I get my London Fog, I also get a bit of chat which sets me up for my working day and this short daily interaction is just as much a perk as the caffeine itself. It’s like walking into the Cheers bar where everyone knows your name; I’m part of the Counter Culture Coffee community.

I’ve observed that the team get on really well, which seems a big part of it. “I genuinely like everyone I work with,” Katy says, “which is probably the best bit of my job. Most of our customers are lovely so that’s another bonus. The only things I dislike are the early starts and having to be in bed by 9pm the night before.” Ahem, that would be her very early morning starts (5am) which ensure we have the privilege of our daily coffee.

Thankfully she likes us “regulars.” She adds, “it’s nice to have a bit of a chat with them in the morning and find out how they’re doing. It probably sounds odd but I always wonder what they do when they leave the station, what their job is and things like that. I think it’s because I see these people five days a week and get a tiny insight into their lives that gets me curious.”

I think because the kiosk staff kept mentioning each other by name I ended up introducing myself, to discover I had a nickname I better continue living up to. “Yeah, you were ‘London Fog Lady’ for a while,” Katy confirms, “then you were ‘Nice London Fog Lady’ and now you’re ‘Susannah’.

“The nicknames,” she continues, “are usually just based on the customer’s drink order, so nothing insulting. ‘Quadruple shot guy’, ‘skinny latte not too hot girl’ and ‘small skinny latte’ are other drink related nicknames we have. Sometimes our nicknames are based on other things, for example, we had a guy who used to countdown the days of the week: “Monday again”, “Wednesday, halfway there”, “Thursday, just one day left” and so on. He rather unoriginally became ‘Countdown guy’.”

Inside the kiosk; postcards from around the world. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Inside the kiosk; postcards from around the world. Photo by Katy Hanlon

The milk may be frothy but the humour is far from flat. I still grin recalling my enquiry into the delicious sounding Pumpkin latte (available at the kiosk over Halloween). After hearing all about it, I of course reverted to my usual London Fog, what Counter Culture Coffee owner Alan Robertson wryly calls my “own adventurous choice.”

I’m not the only creature of habit though as Katy confirms most regulars do the same thing. “If I creepy spot a customer before they’ve ordered then I sometimes start preparing their order. Although, at the back of my mind I’m thinking I hope they don’t decide to order something totally different!

One new thing I did start last year was using that recyclable cup of mine, which is now paying its own way. Katy says “We’ve been getting a lot more people using their own cups. I don’t know whether this is due to our promotion (10p off any coffee when you bring your own cup) but it’s definitely a good thing for the environment.”

My awesome recyclable cup

My awesome recyclable cup

So what does my barista drink when she is not working? Katy reveals: “Usually in the morning I’ll just have a small Americano with a bit of milk which is normally lukewarm by the time I get to drink it. When it’s not busy in the afternoon I’ll sometimes make myself a mint mocha or a pumpkin latte if I feel like a treat.”

She says, “I honestly think our coffee is better than the big chains so I don’t normally order it from other places. However, the black forest hot chocolate that Costa do at Christmas is amazing. Me and my sister would get one at our local branch every Friday after work in December as well as sometimes during the week. The barista definitely recognised us after a few visits!”

So whether you’re “small skinny latte” or “quadruple shot guy”, it’s just nice to have a place where someone remembers exactly what coffee you like to drink. When I hear Alan double check “that will be two sugars” with the customer waiting next to me on the platform, I just smile. I see the customer nod and smile too. Yeah, they know her order too.

***

I discovered the London Fog because my friend Lisa had tried it out at Beanscene. Then I noticed it was on the menu at the kiosk. Katy says she isn’t daring enough to have invented her own drink yet [I’m giving her time!], but she likes to try out different combinations of syrups in the drinks. I can confirm she adds just the right amount of syrup to my London Fog.  Here’s how to make it, as instructed by Manager/Barista Katy Hanlon (though better yet, trot on down to the kiosk at Hyndland Station and get her to make it for you herself!):

Spot the vanilla syrup for the London Fog. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Spot the vanilla syrup for the London Fog.  Photo by Katy Hanlon

How to make a London Fog (as instructed by Barista Katy Hanlon)
A London Fog is one of our more unusual drinks. It consists of Earl Grey tea, vanilla syrup and steamed milk. I put the syrup in first (if you put it in last then it sinks to the bottom rather than dispersing throughout the drink). Next, I add the Earl Grey teabag and top it up with hot water so the cup is about 3/4 of the way full, it needs a good stir so that the Earl Grey flavour really comes through and I’ll usually leave the bag in while I get the milk ready. Finally, I remove the teabag and top the drink with some steamed milk. It sounded like a really strange combination when Stu first explained it to me but somehow it works. I think it took me a bit of time to get all the quantities just right and I’ve learned (from you!) that sugar free syrup does just not cut it with a London Fog.”

 

[1] To be clear, I think this quote is predominantly to do with tea. I don’t think Mr Gladstone was commenting on the virtues of recyclable cups, as they were yet to be invented. Though to be fair, he was a bit of a visionary when it came to tea, so you never know.

[2] But who am I kidding? When I have ever had anything but a London Fog?

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Well played Citizens

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

As a snapshot of the human condition, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame paints a very bleak picture.  In a room that looks like a grubby photo negative leached of all colour, its edges curled with age, four characters play out their last day.

And what a game it is they play: their lives of not so quiet desperation are repetitive and farcical. The very pointlessness of it all a prime example of the work by a group of European playwrights predominantly from the 1950s, which included Beckett and was labelled the Theatre of the Absurd.

In Endgame Hamm can’t stand (and is blind), Clov can’t sit and Nagg and Nell don’t have legs and live in rubbish bins.  As their co-dependent relationships play out there’s a sense of the cyclical to the piece, as if this has been performed over ages.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Chris Gascoyne as Clov, David Neilson as Hamm (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Chris Gascoyne as Clov, David Neilson as Hamm (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

The characters have a theatrical awareness which is very engaging. The dialogue is peppered with talk of auditions, asides, soliloquies and exits. As the events take their course, it’s like the bones of the play are being exposed.

The tyrannical Hamm, forcefully played by David Neilson, is the showman and key storyteller of the piece. Yet despite his dominance, he is as trapped as the rest. He starts the day like every other day before it, but his conviction stutters towards the end, leaving him grasping for words which are then reduced to a series of directions. With the red trimmings on his coat and hat he is a dash of colour in a drab world, but the coat is worn and the hat is reminiscent of performing monkeys.

Despite the gravitas of the situation it’s not all dark.  While Nell comments, “nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” the characters do find dashes of joy in a joyless world. Chris Gascoyne brings a vaudevillian charm to Clov; he moves with deliberate precision, his shuffling movement almost a dance.  Nagg and Nell’s (Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty) sweet compassion towards each other ever so briefly transcends their dire circumstances.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

These moments of sympathy are necessary as it’s not a small amount of commitment asked of the audience.  Endgame is not an easy watch.  For me, the highly choreographed drama distances, rather than moves me. The climax of the play brings no relief.

And yet that is also the point. One of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that life is suffering. In Endgame the gift of life translates to the burden of living and yet the human spirit prevails. Life may be an incurable disease but humans do not give up.

Following on from his excellent 2014 double bill of Krapp’s Last Tape and Footfalls, Director Dominic Hill meets another Beckett production head on. What will he tackle next? I think I’m ready for Godot.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until 20 February 2016, then HOME, Manchester, 25 – 27 February 2016.

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The waiting is over: ZFF2015 best film announced

Nebraska_ticketYes, you can stop holding your breath. ZFF2015 has finished and the results of the best film of the festival will be announced very soon, in fact, check out the end of this blog post.

What a whirl it was. Eight films in seven days, that’s just over one a day (or more accurately one every night except for Saturday where there was two in one day). Two in one day! O The Madness.

Quite a bit of popcorn (both salted and sweet) was consumed, and the mini ice creams from the COOP were a hit. The three-seater sofa was so often full we’ve decided to call this year’s inaugural festival a success. Also a hit were the foreign film nights which showcased the charms of films all-the-way from the Antipodes (one of the films was even purchased and brought all the way back from the New Zealand).

And so we reach the end. The ushers have cleaned up the last remnants of the popcorn from the floor, the dishes have nearly been washed and the organiser is recovering quietly on said three-seater sofa reflecting on some of the things she learnt:

  • It’s quite hard to write blurbs when you haven’t seen the film and you don’t want to read the reviews because you still want the film to be a surprise
  • Everything is ok when there is just an audience of one (obviously not one of the sell out sessions). ZFF technicians experienced some technical difficulties which delayed the screening of The Orator. But as the sole audience member in question decided to make the tomato sauce for the lasagne she was making the following night before the start of the movie, already delaying it, what’s a few technical difficulties?
  • ZFF is actually the acronym for the Zürich Film Festival, which is a shame for us as we really liked ZFF as our acronym. We are now accepting ideas on new hashtag.  How about #ZFilmFest? One idea which sadly uses up a lot of our character allowance but feels quite Prince-like:

#Zan’s Film Festival (or the film festival formerly known as ZFF)

  • And here’s the sum up:

Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF2015)
9 – 15 March 2015

Following hot on the heels (well one week after, that’s pretty quick) of Glasgow’s more well-known cinematic love fest, Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF) is a homely yet boutique celebration of some of the DVDs she’s had on her shelf for some time but not managed to watch. Nothing like giving something a name to ensure that DVD watching will prevail.

To make it easy on her, all films will be screened in her lounge.

OPENING NIGHT GALA – SOLD OUT
The Castle
Lounge 1 | 09 Mar 2015 (19.30)

Strewth, the GFF missed a trick when they didn’t include this movie in their “Films of Oz” season. We’re not bigging our scheduling up as to be perfectly honest it’s only been included because one person said they’d like to see it. (That’s how accommodating we are, but how could it not be included???)

We open ZFF2015 with The Castle, so that Mary Anne can attend both this screening and “Seattle Birthday Week”. This movie makes Zan’s top three films of all time. Like the Princess Bride (sadly not being shown during this festival but incidentally also in Zan’s top three), it’s littered with witticisms that leap screaming into your own personal lexicon.

You’ll either love or hate the humour (though how could you not love Darryl Kerrigan?) but by the end of it you will feel the serenity, know what a pool room is (and moreover what goes in it) and if you’re lucky you’ll also understand the Australian legal system a little bit better than Dennis Denuto.

So sit back, feel the vibe and enjoy this Aussie classic. Oh and bring your own pillow, the sofa seats three and it’s going to be busy.
The Castle| Directed by Rob Sitch| Written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch| 1997

Best in Show
Lounge 1 | 10 Mar 2015 (20.00)

I’m not sure how this film ended up on one of my shelves. It’s a movie about dogs and dog owners and a Crufts-like dog show. I’m wondering whether the owners look like their dogs.
Best in Show| Directed by Christopher Guest | Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy   | 2000

NebraskaSOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 11 Mar 2015 (20.00)

This one’s for the older adult clinical psychologists in your life, of which I have two, and both will be in the audience for this one.

I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t comment on it but I’m going to ask for the ClinPsycs (who will probably be the only other two in the room) for a character diagnosis.
Nebraska| Directed by Alexander Payne | Written by Bob Nelson | 2013

Thursday is Kiwi Night (it’s also foreign film night)
The Orator
Lounge 1 | 12 Mar 2015 (20.00)

I don’t know anything about this film, except that I bought it from the Warehouse (where everyone gets a bargain) for only $14.99 because my old Drama school classmate Tausili Mose is in it. Actually, I think she got married as the DVD calls her Tausili Pushparaj. Tausili is a really good actress and she can cry on cue which is hard for those who can’t but I think easy for those who can. So I’m wondering whether she gets to show off this talent in the movie. The flick is called The Orator, so it must be about talking. Though it tagline is “The strongest voice comes from the heart” so maybe it’s something to do with your voice.
The Orator | Directed and written by Tusi Tamasese | 2011

This movie was almost brought to you by Maplin because this NZ DVD only plays on zone 4. As I don’t particularly like watching movies on the computer screen the ZFF2015 team investigated being able to play it on the TV via the computer (I know, fancy!) But no, it was going to cost £19.99 to get the video connection and a further £7.99 to connect the sound. The cost savings of not investigating this option further has been extended to you. *

Friday night Flamenco
Carmen
Lounge 1 | 13 Mar 2015 (20.00)

Carmen da da da da da da da da da! Carmen!

Enough said. Hopefully music is by Bizet as well. Flamenco on a Friday night with Lee-anne (who’s actually studying Spanish!), I cannot wait.
Carmen| Directed and Choreographed by Rafeal Aguilar | 2003

Kids of all ages screening
TMNT – SOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 14 March 2015 (16.00)

That’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the rest of you. This film is sponsored by John and Lidl. This screening may make up for the fact I couldn’t find my collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle coins when my nephews asked for them last time they were in New Zealand. This treasure was collected for me each week from New World supermarket (First in Food) by my (long-suffering) mother. I’m really not sure which box they are in. Because yes, I did keep them.   Who wouldn’t? Cowabunga dude!
TMNT | Directed and written by Kevin Munroe | 2014

Pride – SOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 15 Mar 2015 (20.00)

(Not the U2 song). At the time of going to press this film has not been distributed to ZFF operations department yet. Will ZFF2015 suffer the same fate as Toto in Cinema Paradiso (unsurprisingly also in Zan’s top three) when he had to cycle between two towns to get the reel of film for the crowd hungry to see the second half? We’re hoping that the one person definitely booked in to see this movie doth not constitute a baying mob but we have Zan’s ill used bike at the ready in the garage should she need to cycle to Amazon headquarters somewhere in the UK or HMV on Argyle Street to procure this film.

What? It was delivered last week? On time too?   Well then, the only drama you’ll be seeing will be on the big-ish screen. And the film, thanks for asking, it’s about Gays and Lesbians helping the Welsh Miners during the 1984 strike. You’ll love it.
Pride| Directed by Matthew Warchus| Written by Stephen Beresford | 2014

CLOSING NIGHT GALA – SOLD OUT
Sunday Scary Sci-Fi (SSSF)
Under the Skin
Lounge 1 | 15 Mar 2015 (20.00)

This film is on Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw’s “Shoulda been a contender” for a best picture Oscar 2015 so it must be good. The loss of a well deserved Oscar nomination aside, no doubt writer Michael Faber and director Jonathan Glazer will be comforted to know that their baby is being showcased at ZFF2015 as their SSSF movie and closing night film.

On a more personal note, the unread book sits on Zan’s shelf. Will she read it after viewing the film on Sunday? Or will she be too scared to? Who knows? Tune in next week when she turns into a bug, gets shot by a space cowboy and comes back to life as a new alien…
Under the Skin| Directed by Jonathan Glazer| Written by Michael Faber| 2014

***************

ZFF2015 would like to thank Hickford Lodge for the lease of their premises, John for being an usher and Conrad for bringing his popcorn maker to the screening of TMNT – it was most appreciated.

ZFF2015 is also grateful to Rich for spotting the “deliberate” error in the programme. ZFF googled “1884 miners strike” and although there was a strike by Ohio coal miners in 1884, we agree, this was 100 years prior to, and not the subject of the film, Pride.
Congratulations Rich, you get this year’s “spot” prize; there’s a free ticket for next year’s (yet to be branded) film festival winging its way to you now.**

AND NOW, THE MOMENT YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR:
(Trumpets, drumroll, cue folk music…)

Please bear in mind this was not a democratic process; the concept of the best film was only conceived of by the sell out crowd on day six while watching the crowd pleaser Pride.  Not everyone voted or was even aware that there was going to be a vote, but as I was present at every screening (and it’s my film festival), I get to decide who won.

So Zan’s undemocratic film choice for 2016 was:

Under the Skin

Michael and Jonathan will be pleased to know that the best film trophy has not yet been created otherwise it would be a disappointing blight on their mantelpiece but nonetheless, great film guys. (P.S. this blog post is late because after movie I did read the book).

Well, that’s it for 2015.  Thanks for the memories, missing you already.
From Zan’s Film Festival (or the film festival formerly known as ZFF) 2015 team, who are now off to do those dishes.

*             Tickets for this screening were going to be £27.98 but now they’re a steal at the normal price of £15!
**           Subject to there being a ZFF2016

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