BRYONY KIMMINGS: I’M A PHOENIX, BITCH | London, Battersea Arts Centre

Recommended

Bryony Kimmings is renowned for her outlandish “social experiments”, with previous works seeing her retrace an STI to its source, spending seven days in a controlled environment in a constant state of intoxication, and becoming a pop star invented by a nine-year-old girl. Her most recent work, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, was commissioned by Complicite and presented at the National Theatre.

In 2016 Kimmings nearly drowned: dealing with postnatal breakdowns, an imploding relationship and a very sick child. In 2018, Battersea Arts Centre invited her to create her first solo work in nearly a decade for the previously burnt down Grand Hall.  I’m a Phoenix, Bitch combines personal stories with epic film, soundscapes and ethereal music to create a powerful, dark and joyful work about motherhood, heartbreak and finding inner strength.

“My shows are usually born out of me going: ‘We don’t talk about this enough,'” Kimmings explains. “My hope with this show is to give a voice to the almost unspeakable traumas associated with postnatal depression and an ill child.  I want to create a show that cuts to the heart of these things, but does it in a way that people can relate to.”

Every performance of I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is relaxed, which means guests who can benefit from a more relaxed environment are welcome – there is a relaxed attitude to noise and movement and a designated ‘chill-out space’ is provided. The 19th October performance is captioned and BSL interpreted.

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch runs at the Battersea Arts Centre 3 – 20 October 2018.

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THE WIDER EARTH | London, Natural History Museum

Recommended

In an exciting collaboration, the National History Museum will be hosting The Wider Earth, an award-winning drama about 22-year old Charles Darwin’s voyage across the globe. Fronted by six young actors bubbling with enthusiasm, the show will bring originality, energy and fun to the story of Darwin’s five-year expedition on HMS Beagle.

The production will be fast-paced and colorful, combining an original score (Lior and Tony Buchen) with live drawings (Justin Harrison) projected on a concave backdrop. The centrepiece is a revolving set (David Morton, Aaron Barton) that offers a deconstructed version of rich wood-paneled HMS Beagle, offering unexpected vistas and angles.

The production, set in the beautiful Jerwood Gallery, will be framed with stone arches and a vaulted ceiling. Seating 357 people, this sparse and elegant space will provide a uniquely immersive experience for the audience. They’ll also pass by the Darwin Centre on their way to the show, to get them in the mood.

The play’s most charming attraction may well be its thirty puppets of iguanas, armadillos and other creatures, conceived by the Dead Puppets Society. These wooden cutouts move just like real animals; the actors operate them as feral extensions of their own bodies. Seeing it all come to life was magical, and enough to warrant this reviewer buying a ticket for opening night. Don’t miss it.

The Wider Earth runs from 2 October to 30 December 2018.

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FESTIVAL: GREEN MAN 2018

Festivals

“Are we old?”

I immediately check for protruding nostril hairs but, finding none, decide that the girlfriend is probably referring to our sitting in a field in the Brecon Beacons nattering idly about how pretty the sky over there looks and how great it is to go to bed before midnight.

I reply that this conversation will probably form the focal point of my post-festival write-up, and from there launch into a diatribe about gonzo journalism. She looks at me, blinks, then answers her own question “Yes, I suppose we are”.

While we might be getting old, our approach to Green Man 2018 is for us radically new. In the ultimate act of quarter-life rebellion against the Man (not the Green one, obviously) we shun the proscriptive dogma of the festival timetable and march blindly into the arena, following our noses wherever the wind may take us. This adventurous approach offers many advantages to the newly grown-up millennial, chief among them spontaneity and a sensibly middle-aged avoidance of the £8 programme price tag.

We’ve picked the festival deliberately as seemingly the best counterpoint to our frenetic, borderline illegally-polluted London existence; everything about it from the achingly pretty hilltop setting, the on-site yoga, to the accessible Indie/Folk line-up doesn’t so much scream as reassuringly intone relaxation.

One big exception to the easy-listening vibes is Friday’s headliner, the high-octane King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard. I first came across this psychedelic Australian septet at Glastonbury last year and I thought there was something refreshingly if unnervingly different about them. A year on and seeing them headline an opening night blew me away. They are masters of their craft, and their craft is to stand at the meeting point between order and musical chaos, trusting in each other’s ability, Stu Mackenzie’s occasional marshalling and the awesome eternal power of the trippy backing video to guide them and their audience to alt-rock nirvana. Five minutes in the girlfriend told me she didn’t like them that much; three days later and I just overheard her humming Rattlesnake.

In between headliners we bumble around the various stages spurred by our radical carefree attitude to being anywhere in particular. We stumble on all sorts of hidden gems: Annie McGrath giving an expletive-strewn stand-up set that’s as incongruous with her public school accent as it is unsuitable for eight year olds; the Monster Ceilidh Band brewing up an electro-folky storm in Chai Wallahs; and Rob Deering proving that loop pedals aren’t just for Ed Sheeran and can also be used for entertainment.

I should talk about Fleet Foxes, but given that I listened to their set from the comfort of a cosily furnished street food café round the corner from the main stage I’ll talk about the food instead. The emergent grumpy old man in me wants to rail about the price, but that’s just him not going to many festivals (although as a Londoner the dearth of places accepting card was somewhat unsettling). For Green Man’s size, the array and quality of the food on offer is excellent, and in trendy rejuvenating style vegetarian and vegan eaters are more than adequately catered for (Pie Minister, one of the less healthy outlets, sold out of their three vegetarian and vegan pies before any of their meat options). Particular highlights were the Dosa stand opposite the main stage that drew a shout out from Grizzly Bear and created the world’s first ever onion bhaji too big for me to eat it all, and a ‘Bit of Everything’ from Flavours of Africa.

Grizzly Bear, finishing their European tour promoting their new album, kicked off Sunday evening nicely before handing over to the War on Drugs. The headliners first performed at Green Man ten years ago and Adam Granduciel seems endearingly excited to be back, botching the intro to Strangest Thing after enthusiastically hoofing an inflatable ball back into the crowd. Having seen WoD a few times and as a devoted fan of their recorded work, I’m yet to see a live rendition of Baby Missiles that works for me. Whether it’s unavoidable or deliberate there always seems to be a layer missing, meaning the punchy upbeat riff gets lost in a sea of indistinct chords. In my view, however, this is a vanishingly small price to pay for the power and depth of sound they’re able to pack into their big numbers. Under The Pressure, leading into In Reverse against an exquisite backdrop of rolling Welsh hillside, draws a worthy musical curtain across a thoroughly charming festival.

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MAKLENA | London, Camden People’s Theatre

Theatre - Recommended

Following rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, Night Train Theatre Company’s production of Maklena marks the English-language premiere of this Ukrainian play by Mykola Kulish, which was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1933, and lost to the world to decades.

The play might be nearly a hundred years old, but director Maria Montague’s brand-new translation is fresh as a daisy. The themes of unbearable poverty and revolution, seen through the eyes of a young girl trying to make sense of the world, remain charged and provocative.

In addition to the remarkable text itself, Night Train use puppetry and physical theatre to brilliant effect. The text veers unpredictably between moments of guttural, suicidal misery and light, madcap joy. The cast of six guide us through in a strange, sepia world, as Maklena retreats further into her fantasies, pushing her understanding of communist and capitalist ideologies to the extreme.

The music by Oliver Vibrans is rich and evocative in a way few theatre scores ever manage, and help us connect even further with Maklena’s harrowing world.

The rediscovery of such an important play, in such a perfect production, is a remarkable theatre event. A must see.

For five performances only at the Camden People’s Theatre, 17 – 21 July 2018.

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FESTIVAL: MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL 2018

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One needn’t seek a special excuse to visit the idyllic shores of Lake Geneva: the natural beauty and tranquility of the region are reason enough. However, if you are looking for a bullet-proof justification for a trip, the musical delights of the Montreux Jazz Festival are just the ticket.

The festival has been growing in diversity, confidence and reputation for over half a century and the result is what Quincy Jones describes as ‘the Rolls Royce of all festivals and the absolute best place for musicians to share their gifts with the rest of the world’. The 52nd festival encompasses a dazzling array of ticketed concerts as well as more than 250 concerts, DJ sets, and workshops on six stages — a generous offering by anyone’s standards.

In terms of musical expectations, Q himself is an excellent reference point as Montreux is a meeting point of all sorts of genres. This year, Deep Purple rub shoulders with Mils Frahm. Massive Attack follows Young Fathers. Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin , Christian Scott and Derrick Hodge do the jazz thang on one stage while Queens of the Stone Age rock out on another.

Light on the ‘jazz’, heavy on the ‘festival’: you know where the party’s at in Switzerland, 29 June – 14 July this summer. Explore the full programme here and the free listings here.

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WHISKY: THE GLENLIVET CAPTAIN’S RESERVE

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The relationship between Scotland and France – the Auld Alliance, as it’s fondly known north of the border – is one of history’s greatest bromances. It was forged around a mutual distrust of England. Legend has it that William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even went to France to fight the English there, a sort of medieval hooligan’s holiday. Two centuries later, Mary Queen of Scots grew up in France, then illuminated Scotland with Gallic glamour before the English rather unkindly cut off her head.

But now we live in more civilised times, and relations with the Auld Enemy are somewhat less murderous. Franco-Scottish relations need a newer, nicer sense of purpose.

Glenlivet, one of Scotland’s most storied distilleries, may provide an answer with their new Captain’s Reserve. It is a marriage of classic Scottish single malt with Cognac, a spirit so quintessentially French that Napoleon took barrels of the stuff into exile.

The process for making Captain’s Reserve is much like any Glenlivet at first, using American Oak and sherry casks. The twist comes with final months of maturation in Cognac-steeped barrels, imparting a richer, complex finish. Although this technique is common with bourbon and sherry casks – and similar examples involve port, rum, madeira, and even IPA – Glenlivet are the first major single malt distillery to offer a Cognac finish.

The Prickle can report that the experiment is a success.

We first tasted it with a few drops of water. The nose exudes honey, vanilla, dried apricot and raisins, giving way to a taste of rich jam, cinnamon pastry, even a faint hint of aniseed. Finally, the finish lingers, nutty and deep – unmistakably elevated by the Cognac. It’s good stuff – certainly a cut above Founder’s Reserve, Glenlivet’s (perfectly respectable) entry level Speyside – tasting more luxurious than its lack of age statement might suggest.

Ignoring purist tuts, Glenlivet encourage the use of their single malts in cocktails. To prove the point, they treated the Prickle to a dazzling concoction from Bobby Hiddleston, mixologist-patron of Swift Bar, mixing Captain’s Reserve, plum sake, Poire Williams and even a delicate spray of homemade lemongrass spritz. For those of us with simpler tastes – or less exotic drinks cupboards – the Captain’s Reserve could also form the basis of a cracking Old Fashioned. But you can’t go wrong the even more old-fashioned way – whisky with just a little cold water.

Captain’s Reserve is named after Captain Bill Grant Smith, a grizzled Highlander who fought in France in WW1 – the French link that inspired Glenlivet to use Cognac casks -before directing the distillery from commercial wilderness to global success. This oaky-sweet marriage of whisky and Cognac would surely have pleased the Captain. And even Mary Queen of Scots herself. But at £45-48 RRP you won’t need a royal budget.

The Auld Alliance seems alive and well – and now we have a drink with which to toast it.

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PHOTO GALLERY: ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO | Jazz Cafe, London

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A full house, came saw and above all listened to The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 75-minute set at the Jazz Cafe on Monday. What first stays in the mind is the opening. All seven musicians stood stock-still and silent and faced in the same direction. The way they instantly brought a sense of shamanistic ritual, of respect, of dignity into a chatty club had more than a touch of magic. And they held that mood. Starting with a deep thrum – pulseless long notes from the deep from the basses… and then the cello of Tomeka Reid started to skitter over them.

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Then there were the moments of surprise: like Hugh Ragin’s trumpet intoning a simple melody with the classically purest of timbres.

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Or Don Moye (later to be introduced to the audience as “philospher”) on congas and then at the drum kit laying the basis for the deepest of all known grooves

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Or Roscoe Mitchell’s circular breathed-multiphonics on soprano sax and on Ab sopranino sax giving way to clarity – a passionately intoned melody on alto.

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This group demonstrates in a way that perhaps no other can the contrast between asserting the freedom of the individual and the depth of a shared commitment. It is a powerful message. And Monika Jakubowska’s photos portray a lot of that intensity, that concentration – and that joy. \

Check out more of Monika’s photographic work here.

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Too Many Zooz | Ronnie Scott’s, London

Music review

I had two tickets for the rave at Ronnie Scott’s last night. Queues all down Frith Street for the fusion trio beloved by Beyoncé, and a regal appearance from the Zooz themselves some forty minutes after their scheduled slot began. They walked on stage wordlessly, and after a small pause began one of the most relentlessly paced and technically extraordinary shows I’ll probably ever see.

Masters of fresh, fierce, discordant revels, they whipped the crowd into a frenzy of Englishly awkward head-banging and shoulder rolls, with their carnival speed, Leo Pellegrino’s commanding gestures, and the trio’s intense improv. Laconically fronted by the furiously concentrated Matt Doe (trumpet) who never once removed his sunglasses, Leo Pellegrino (baritone sax, mainly) left me open-mouthed as he leapt, thrust, and cavorted over the stage, barely stopping for breath as he produced the sound of six saxophones from one. Operating on a register from squawk to didgeridoo, he was supported and punctuated by Doe, and all this was bound together by David Parks’ uniquely ferocious drumming. It was rebarbative, insouciant New York invention at the top of its game. Looking around, I saw a packed house full of the possessed, with a few bewildered – or frankly incredulous – faces, still ensnared by sheer bedazzlement.

Since they’ve just been signed by the Ministry of Sound (as a thoughtful Parks broke his silence to tell us), I’m curious to see where the stardom that must, surely, be about to overtake them will direct their music. Commercialisation seems the last thing that could happen to this unique trio – especially when they pulled an unexpected card from their sleeve halfway through. A glimmer of romance (with a swing rhythm and insistent drumming, naturally) suddenly shone out when Doe sat down at the piano to take on Pellegrino’s sparkly black alto sax. Wherever they’re going next, long may Too Many Zooz keep surprising us.

Too Many Zooz are touring the UK throughout May: https://www.songkick.com/artists/8221618-too-many-zooz

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JOEY DOSIK | The Jazz Cafe, London

Music review

If we had things our way, there would be a weekly (daily?) residency of Vulpeck at The Jazz Cafe.  Their live shows are a funky wonder to behold and we’ve made no secret of it: ‘the most mind-blowing group on the planet‘.  Instead, visits from the Vulfs are a rarity to be savoured and devoured upon delivery.  For those whose appetite just cannot wait, dinner will be on 16th May served in the form of pianist Joey Dosik.  His golden vocals and irresistible hooks make for a potent recipe.

This is Dosik’s biggest London show to date and it’s certain to be a fun one.

Be sure to grab one of the few remaining tickets.

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THE WORM | Katzpace, London

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Hot on the heels of his New Zealand transfer of COFFIN, Elliott Langsdon brings a short ‘Work-In-Progress’ production of his new dark dramady to Katzpace in a strictly limited run of just five performances, all about “worming” one’s way back into a relationship. COFFIN received a phenomenal reception in London, and one New Zealand critic called it “the funniest play I’ve ever seen”.

“I’ve always been drawn to Machiavellian characters like Iago,” says Langsdon, “and this play is almost a little bit like a modern-day Othello in structure, but crammed with some absolutely mad humour and surreal moments. We’ve been having an absolute ball in rehearsals. I’m really excited for people to see it.”

Meet Stefan (Sam Goodchild) and Mica (Mica Williams): two young millennials just trying to get through their hectic lives whilst maintaining their relationship and paying off their student debt. Meet Sam (Sam Stay) and Faye (Melissa Coleman): Stefan and Mica’s best friends, and closest allies, as things seem to be going south. Meet Ben (Robert Frimston): Mica’s ex, down on his luck. Returned from the past. And ready to “patch things up”.

With adult themes, strong language and nudity, audiences can expect to do plenty of worming and squirming of their own. If COFFIN is anything to go by, Elliott Langsdon is one to watch, so get on down to Katzpace and get ready for THE WORM.

3 – 7 March 2018. Book online for £10 tickets.

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