My London Your London

A cultural guide

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Children’s Theatre Review: Peppa Pig Live: Peppa Pig’s Treasure Hunt at the Hackney Empire (touring)

by Sarah Cope

Peppa Pig is a hugely popular Channel 5 cartoon, and the character is so marketable that she now
has a whole world dedicated to her in Hampshire. My four-year-old daughter entered a competition to win tickets to this pig-themed world though fortunately she didn’t win. However, instead we thought we’d catch the infamous pig’s stage show instead, which handily didn’t involve leaving London.

Although enchanting to children, it is hard to see what exactly is the appeal of Peppa Pig. The stories are largely uneventful, and Peppa Pig and her family have a uniquely annoying habit of chuckling,very regularly, for absolutely no reason. Watch an episode of the programme and you’ll see what I mean… or perhaps simply take my word for it.

The cartoon, however, transfers well on to the stage, with puppeteers in black clothing working small but adequately visible puppets of all the main characters. The plot revolves around a hunt for hidden treasure and includes a handy map-reading lesson along the way. Plenty of catchy songs and audience participation meant that most of the children present remained engaged, although the interval did disrupt concentration and I noticed it took some of the kids a while to re-focus when the second half commenced.

One very positive element of Peppa Pig is that, unlike many kids’ TV programme, it does go some way to challenge gender stereotypes. Step in the workaholic Miss Rabbit, who not only drives the bus, but also drives a train, flies a hot air balloon and sails a boat. When Peppa marvels at this character’s immense versatility, Miss Rabbit merely states, “I do have more than one job you know, Peppa!”
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Film Review: Sleeping Beauty, directed by Julia Leigh

by Sarah Cope

What can you expect from a film that, when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, was met with both booing and clapping? Though perhaps that mixed reaction is to be expected, because this film deals with the issue of sex work, which is an issue sure to polarise opinion like no other.

Lucy (Emily Browning) is depicted taking on all kinds of work in order to pay for her degree, to the extent that it is difficult to see when she would find the time to actually study. Although this is an Australian film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the plight of students in the UK these days, who must find themselves in a similar situation due to spiralling tuition fees.

The first work we see Lucy doing is when she takes part in medical research in return for cash. This involves swallowing a tube down her throat, which looks painful and disgusting, causing her to gag non-stop. This of course raises the question: is this work not more exploitative and dangerous than the sex work we later see her engage in? Other work she is depicted carrying out include mind-numbing waitressing and an office job doing endless photocopying, where the female boss enjoys treating her badly.

Already engaging in seemingly ad-hoc sex work, she answers an advert which leads to a job doing next to naked waitressing at private parties, which earns her two hundred and fifty an hour. This in turn leads to more sex work (‘promotion’) but of a very unusual kind. She consents to be drugged, and then, unconscious, letting elderly men have access to her body on the stipulation that there is to be no penetration.
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Film Review: Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier

by Sarah Cope

Melancholia has been hugely overshadowed by the comments of its director, Lars von Trier, at the
Cannes film festival earlier this year. Von Trier said he felt “sympathy” with Hitler, and in so doing caused a furore that meant his film wasn’t given the attention it deserved. This is a shame,because here is a film that deserves to be seen, and is at its best on the big screen.

When reviewing a film, the first thing to bear in mind is not to give away the ending. However, von Trier opens the film with the ending, so discussing it won’t be giving too much away. It is quite literally an ending: the end of the world, which is depicted simply, devastatingly and with a sweeping Wagner soundtrack. Viewers might be reminded slightly of Space Odyssey 2001 at this point. It is certainly one of the most arresting opening scenes of any film I have ever seen.

The film is then split into two sections, ‘Justine’ and ‘Claire’, named after the two sisters around whom the story revolves. Played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg respectively, the actresses give their best performances to date, although we never learn why the former has an American accent, the latter an English one.

The first section takes place on the night of Justine’s wedding. Claire has organised the event meticulously on her sister’s behalf, and takes great offence that her sister is unable to enter into the spirit of things due to her depression. “But I smile and I smile and I smile!” laments Justine, to which Claire rather unkindly comments “You’re lying to us all.” Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) only adds to Justine’s woes when, commenting on the fact that he has paid for the event, states “You better be goddamn happy. Do you have any idea how much this party cost me?”
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Theatre Review: The Days of the Commune by Bertolt Brecht at the White Bear, Kennington

by Natalie Bennett
First published on Blogcritics.

If you don’t know much about the Paris Commune of 1871, there’s a simple solution: got to see Bertolt Brecht’s last original play, showing at the White Bear Theatre.

The Days of the Commune is a detailed, practically blow-by-blow depiction of the events of what’s often considered the textbook proletarian revolution, from the fall of the Government of National Defence to the fall of the Commune. Indeed, in the staging here, we get on a chalkboard a record of each scene’s date and location.

That makes it sound a bit like a dry documentary, but it’s far from that.

In this lively and dynamic staging by the new Gunpowder Theatre, crisply directed by Genieve Girling, there’s plenty of action, and if we never really get close to any individual character, we do get an emotional attachment to the whole community of the Rue Pigalle, around which the action is centred – although we do hop off to Berlin to see quisling Adolphe Thiers (nicely done by Theo Devaney, who also plays the conniving Bank of France governor) cringing as he sells out his country.

The play, happily, makes much of the feminist aspects of the Commune, centring particularly around the teacher Genevieve Guericault – her travails in trying to gain access to the resources of the ministry of education is one of the few really comedic scenes in the play.

It’s ambitious to stage a revolution in the tiny space of the White Bear’s stage, yet here the whole event is carried off with panache. Effective use is made of a nicely done backdrop panorama and a heavy cannon that almost becomes a character in its own right.

If there are scenes that are less successful it’s the debates in the Commune, which do sometimes drag on rather (no doubt just like the real thing), and sometimes see the actors shouting over each other a little too realistically.

The cast of nine have many characters to portray. Mostly they carry it off, although sometimes it is a little distracting until you work out which hat the actor is wearing this scene.

But, as so often at the White Bear, this is a production whose ambition is to be applauded, and enjoyed.

The production continues until 30 October, with online booking. Tickets £13/£10.

Film Review: Tomboy (France, director Celine Sciamma)

by Sarah Cope

Tomboy has been described by some reviewers as being about a “gender confused kid”, though in Zoe Heran’s magnificent portrayal of 10-year-old Laure/Mikael, I saw a child who was quite at home with her identity; it was instead society that was confused by her.

It is the summer holidays, and Laure has just moved to a new neighbourhood and decides to introduce herself to the local children as “Mikael”, and pretend to be a boy. This doesn’t take much of a pretence as she is more at home in this identity than the one she has to assume at home. There she is Laure, playing happily with her younger, tutu-wearing sister Jeanne (Malonn Levana).

Both the performances of the two child actresses are outstanding, leading me to wonder how much was improvised, so naturalistic were the scenes between the two girls.

The tension throughout the film is never overstated but always menacingly there in the background. When Laure models a Play Doh penis to wear in her improvised swimming trunks, we wince as we imagine it becoming dislodged and revealing the extent of her façade to the baffled children.

When the boys with whom she plays football urinate in public, she doubles over in agony as she is desperate to do the same but obviously cannot without revealing her sex.

But things really become complicated when Lisa, one of the other children in the neighbourhood, falls for Mikael, and is quite forward in her advances to him, having no idea he is in fact female.

The film’s subtle nature comes into its own here; is Laure attracted to girls? Does she in fact like boys?

Or, at the age of ten, is she simply undecided or uninterested? We never quite know, and the film is all the better for not spelling this out.

Laure’s awkwardness, brought on to a large extent by her double life and her constant fear of discovery, is in marked contrast to the ease and confidence of the other children, for whom life seems so much more simple.

When Lisa puts make-up on Laure and declares “you look great as a girl!”, Laure’s unease is palpable.

To reveal the denouement would be to spoil the viewing experience entirely, but suffice to say that the conclusion matches up to the rest of this short, original and ultimately moving film.

Tomboy is on general release.

Children’s Theatre Review: In The Night Garden Live at Brent Cross Showdome

by Sarah Cope

The BBC’s In The Night Garden has enjoyed huge success in recent years, taking over where Teletubbies left off as the programme of choice for pre-schoolers. With its gentle music and simple plots, and colourful and sometimes bizarre visuals, it was easy to see the appeal. It was also obvious that a live show would be a money-spinner, and with tickets priced starting at £14, rising to over £25 for premium seating, it has turned out to be just that.

The Brent Cross Showdome, as it turns out, is a huge inflatable venue, which was rather like being inside the intestines of the Michelin Man, if you’d care to imagine that. It was hard not to resent the extremely aggressive marketing of toys, sweets and fizzy drinks when ticket prices were already so steep (ushers bring trays of them into the auditorium so there’s no escape), and my advice to parents would be to take along healthy snacks and a toy or two to distract your rampant little consumer and hopefully save you some money!

When the show began, I was interested to see whether the two four-year-olds I had brought along would be entranced or whether they would be far too sophisticated for the show, the television version of which my daughter has recently started to call “too babyish for me.”

Things didn’t get off to a good start when the scenery – a big book structure – began to fall apart in the first minute and had to be hastily held together by stagehands. Again, with tickets costing so much I’d have hoped such hiccups could have been avoided.

There’s not much to keep parents occupied here, unlike with some kid’s shows which cleverly try – and sometimes even succeed – in appealing to everyone in the audience. There’s lots of visual stimuli, but the plot is thin – kind of like Mad Men, then, but with a lot less smoking.

However, the character Iggle Piggle’s uncanny resemblance to David Cameron led me to view the show as a clever political allegory.
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