The Comedy About A Bank Robbery (Sunday Matinee) @ Criterion Theatre, 17/7/16

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Image via HotelDirect

Once again, I have completely and utterly failed at updating at least semi-regularly. I want to be better. So badly. But alas, working two jobs means that free time is rare, and also that when I do have free time I am exhausted and have a bunch of other stuff to do. The only time off I’ve had recently was a few weeks ago when the American was here and even then we were super busy all week. More on that another time, though.

One of the many things we did while he was here was go and see The Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus. With one us being a poor student and the other a poor graduate, we were looking for something entertaining and affordable and the ‘affordable’ qualifier generally means most West End theatre productions were far out of our reach this time around. We booked our tickets on YPlan and it cost us £22 each for pretty decent seats in the stalls. So not a bad start. On the YPlan app, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is described as:

One giant diamond. Eight incompetent crooks. And a security guard asleep on the job. What could possibly go right? Penned by and starring the Mischief Theatre Company, this is another hilarious stage show from the group behind The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong. With the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy already under their belts, this is certain to be another surefire hit. It’d be criminal to miss it. 
It’s worth noting neither of us have seen the Mischief Theatre Company’s other productions, but we were still very excited – especially the American, who really, really loves anything about an elaborate heist.
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The Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus
Right from the moment we walked into the Criterion Theatre (which is absolutely stunning, btw), the attention to detail was apparent. The audio playing in the background was stylised as a 1950s radio station, which fit right in with the period it is set in (and during the interval, it even referred to the events of the first half). And right from the moment the play began, we were crying with laughter.
Bank Robbery uses puns, wordplay, physical comedy and pure genius throughout, and the entire production bursts with colour from start to finish, with dynamic scene transitions, often featuring incredible cover songs from various members of the cast. A highlight was for me was a scene where many of the actors were literally hanging on the wall in order to show a birds-eye view of the room. and the fourth-wall breaking that came along with that.
There were some truly heartbreaking scenes towards the end, however. With multiple shootouts at the end, the change of tone is drastic but believable and heart-wrenching and I loved every minute of it.
Ultimately, I went into this play not sure what to expect. I came out delighted and wanting to see more. With so much negativity in the world, we need more of Bank Robbery‘s and Mischief’s outrageous, bright and inventive brand of theatre. We need more comedy that is both simple and inventive, and this is exactly that. I’d go again in a heartbeat.

Hillsborough

Tuesday morning I woke up to the news that the 96 deaths that occurred at the Hillsborough disaster were declared unlawful killings, and that the deaths were not the fault of Liverpool fans themselves.

I had began to write a post on how the disaster and the campaign had a profound effect on my childhood in Merseyside, but no matter how I tried, it never worked how I wanted to. That night, I saw this post on Twitter that seemed better than anything I could ever write:

For 27 years, the families of the 96 campaigned endlessly to find justice for their lost relatives. On Tuesday, they achieved their goal. Their strength and bravery was inspiring and astounding, and knowing they can begin to heal, even nearly 3 decades on, is comforting.

Two other things also crossed my mind in the aftermath of the verdict: people power works, and how awful it is that those involved in the cover-up could’ve easily gotten away with it without the strength and perseverance of those involved in the campaign.

The lies of The S*n and the Murdoch media as a whole, perpetuated by the likes of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in recent years, put the city of Liverpool and the wider county of Merseyside on trial for nearly three decades, vilifying us and making us out to be the ones who are a danger to wider society.

The continued strength of the Justice Campaign showed the world Liverpool fans were not to blame, that the establishment set them up. Yesterday’s verdict confirms that.

The juxtaposition of this verdict and Britain should not be ignored. This verdict comes at a time were our Prime Minister recently faced questions over his taxation, where our Tory government denied thousand of child migrants safety and freedom from war, where Boris Johnson and his incompetence is still politically influential and Jeremy Hunt is still pushing his ridiculous junior doctor contracts despite opposition from pretty much everyone. A time where the Murdoch media, as well as Johnson and Hunt, ignored the verdict and refused to apologise.

Thatcher’s Britain cared little for its most vulnerable, and neither does Cameron’s. Hopefully the verdict of the Hillsborough inquest  proves the Tories aren’t to be trusted, that the Tories’ opinions of the working class have barely in the last 30 years. Cameron and his cronies, much like Thatcher and her government, will always have Murdoch rags such as The S*n and The Times in their back pockets, helping them get away with murder. However, on the other side of the coin – this verdict shows that the Establishment can be fought against, even defeated. Hopefully next time the people take on the power, it won’t take 27 years.

Why we still need Agent Carter

NOT SPOILER FREE

This month saw season two of ABC/Marvel’s Agent Carter come to an end, and despite critical acclaim and a fanbase that cares deeply for the show and its characters, its dwindling ratings have once again left its future in doubt. The show follows SSR Agent Peggy Carter (portaryed by the excellent Hayley Atwell) and what she gets up to in post-WW2, post-Captain America: The First Avenger New York City, and in the second season, Los Angeles. It’s a fun show that adds depth to the ever-expanding MCU, and as we all know Peg ends up founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and living to the ripe old age of 90-something, so why not explore Peggy’s life as society continued to change and evolve so quickly? There are so many compelling reasons for ABC to keep Agent Carter on the air, but here are just a few:

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via Hulu

1) Women, women everywhere!

A potential issue with superhero shows, or shows within a superhero universe, is that even women-fronted titles can still be somewhat of a sausage-fest. This is not the case in Agent Carter. The show consistently passes the Bechdel test, with all of the women coming from all walks of life, with varying strengths and weaknesses. The show depicts strong female bonds in the form of Peggy and Angie (and just all the girls of The Griffith in season one) and Peggy and Ana Jarvis. Two of the shows main villains, Dottie Underwood (the original Black Widow, portrayed by Bridget Regan) and Whitney Frost (AKA Madame Masque, who didn’t even wear a mask in the end, portrayed by Wynn Everett), are two of the most compelling and complex villains I’ve ever seen on television. In a society where women are seen (and often depicted) as one-dimensional and either perfect angels or devilish succubi, it’s amazing to see women, regardless of their moral compass, have particular strengths and weaknesses, and to be able to interact in a plethora of different settings all under one title. And it’s still something television in 2016 is lacking.

2) The writing is incredible.

Agent Carter is one of the best-written shows on television today. I already mentioned the women, but the men in the show are written just as well! Season two’s arc with Jarvis and Ana after she got shot was emotional, Jason Wilkes struggles with the zero matter and makes some difficult choices throughout, and even Jack Thompson seemed to grow, just a little bit. The wonderful character-building and development aside, the show’s plot throughout each season is made up of varying storylines and arcs that all come together nicely – its engaging and allows for a whole spectrum of emotion.

3) Imagine Peggy in the 1960s. Or 70s.

Peggy’s long life means there’s so much potential to see her kicking ass throughout different decades of the 1900s. Peggy was a fighter and would have definitely been a part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and would have obviously been at the forefront of the feminist movement throughout the 1970s. Agent Carter  in other decades of the 20th century would be a stellar opportunity for exploring social issues and making social commentary – something the show has already done in the forms of Peggy and Jason – the show has proved it is willing to provide such commentary, why not take it one step further?

4) The queer potential!

Cartinelli, AKA Peggy Carter and Angie Martinelli, were, and still are, one of the shows most popular ships, with both Hayley Atwell and Lyndsy Fonseca showing their support for it – the two have a lot of chemistry, and while I adore them as friends, it would also be great to have them get together in order to explore homosexuality and/or bisexuality in 1940s America. Even Dottie, who wore Peggy’s lipsick and chloroform kissed her, has so much potential as a queer character, with some elements of subtext once her sleeper agent identity is revealed. It seems Peggy Carter has chemistry with just about anyone, regardless of gender, and I think it would be a great addition to a show which already represents complex women so excellently.

agent carter i know my value
via Yahoo!

5) “I know my value” – the Peggy Carter effect

In the season one finale, Valediction, Peggy tells Souza “I know my value, anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter” after Jack Thompson takes all the credit for bringing down Leviathan and Fenhoff. This single quote speaks volumes about Peg as a character, and sparked countless fan arts and tattoos as well as a revolution of self-love and self-acceptance among women and girls. Peggy doesn’t need a man’s, or anyone else’s approval. That’s a good message to send to young girls in an age where they’re constantly told image is everything. And any show or film or any other kind of media that promotes the message that the only opinion about you or your life that truly matters is your own, is something that is worth showing.

So there you have it – five reasons why Agent Carter is still very much wanted and needed, and this doesn’t even get into the possibility of tie-ins or other links to the MCU/Marvel universe. Agent Carter is a show that profoundly effects those who are invested, and a fanbase that is dedicated and moved by what is put on screen is one that is willing to support you throughout – provided you execute it right – making it a beneficial asset on both sides. The world needs more Peggy, there is no doubt about it.

“A compromise too far” – Iain Duncan Smith and the realities of being poor in the UK

In the same week as Chancellor George Osborne released his budget that saw further cuts to disability benefits while the most wealthy get tax cuts, the (now former) Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith resigned from his post, citing concerns about the juxtaposition of these unfair cuts to welfare for the most vulnerable alongside tax cuts for the most wealthy.Regardless of whether or not IDS’s resignation was out of genuine concern for the people he once tried to fool with propaganda leaflets with fake testimonials, or less savoury ulterior motives as Europe becomes a bigger issue within the Tory party and the country as a whole, it once again reminds us quite how much this Tory government, which was elected as a majority government last year after five years of a Lib Dem coalition, has waged war on the working classes and the most vulnerable in society.

The Tory myth that those on welfare for long periods of time are doing it to avoid working are generally untrue. Of course, there are people who do that and to deny the existence of such people would be a lie, but this is a tiny minority that appears larger than it actually is thanks to shows like Benefits Street and other media focus. It seems that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne fail to realise quite how competitive job markets are, even for minimum wage positions that don’t require experience – this is something that is exacerbated by some parts of the country just not having jobs available. I was once told that I was “smart” for moving to London for university (and hopefully, after I graduate in the summer, work) because people who “can’t find jobs should move to find them” as if it’s just that easy. FYI: it’s not that easy.

Much of the reality of being poor in 2016 is not what the Conservatives or right-wing rags such as The S*n and Daily Mail want you to think. Being poor is four people living off incapacity benefit plus whatever can be brought home from a small start-up business. It’s not being able to put the central heating on when it’s below freezing because it costs far too much and we need to eat. It’s feeling awful for asking for money for basic things, and it’s having to make deals with local councils and bailiffs so they don’t take everything we own. It’s having to save for a long time to afford an electric wheelchair for my disabled mother, and even then not being able to make the necessary adjustments for her to be able to go out in it without prior help. It’s watching your parents constantly worry about how they’re going to pay the next bill. It’s the internet cutting out for days at a time, it’s the electricity going out randomly and having to rush out at 10pm because we needed the money for something else earlier in the week. And my experience is considered good compared to people who have it so much worse – nobody goes hungry, we’ve never had to rely on food banks, and we still have a roof over our head, and cuts haven’t killed anyone close to us. In recent years, my family and I have struggled a lot, but there are so many who have it worse, all of which is a result of the Conservatives putting ideology and austerity before human lives.

In his resignation letter, IDS says he is “proud” of what his government have achieved in terms of welfare. While I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the damage these cuts have done as a result of his resignation, he is no better than Mr. Cameron or Mr. Osborne. Why has it taken so long for you to find a conscience, Mr Duncan Smith? How can you in good conscience claim these new cuts are “too far” all the while still being “proud” of the cuts you and your department made that faced a UN inquiry, that have literally killed people? How can you be proud of policies and decisions so God-awful you had to lie in your literature, as if we were mindless followers who wouldn’t think twice? Where was your conscience when you cheered for policies that unfairly affected young people? Credit where credit is due: you are right – it is a compromise too far. It’s been this way for a long time. And the possibility you may be using such injustice for political gain about Europe is deeply sickening and symptomatic of Tory “who cares about poor people?” dogma. If you truly believe the cuts your government is making are unjust and cruel, its up to you to prove it. Be the change you’re telling us you want to see. Don’t let your words be in vain.

It’s time to stop burying our gays

Recently, an episode of The 100 aired where (spoilers), high-profile lesbian character, Commander Lexa, was killed off. Like any popular television show, fans of Lexa, and the Clexa ship, kicked off. While I’ve never actually seen an episode of The 100, it is clear that the death of Lexa, a lesbian character who holds a lot of power in the eyes of her people, holds a lot more weight than the average fictional death. And it’s obvious why.

TV Tropes describes the Bury Your Gays trope as (emphasis mine):

Often, especially in older works (to the extent that they are found in older works, of course), gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple, often the one who was more aggressive in pursuing a relationship, thus “perverting” the other one, has to die at the end. Of course, it can also happen to gay characters who aren’t in relationships, particularly if they’re psycho lesbians or depraved homosexuals.

[…] Also known as Dead Lesbian Syndrome. This trope can also be seen as a head-on collision between Sex Is Evil andAll Gays Are Promiscuous.

So here’s the thing – characters die all the time. That’s normal. However, even in 2016 an overwhelming majority of characters within film and television are straight, while much of the LGBTQ representation that is available is mostly white gay men. While as a society we have (for the most part) moved on from explicitly killing a queer character for being queer, the few queer characters that do appear are killed off at a much more alarming rate than their straight counterparts, suggesting that Western society isn’t as on board with homosexuality – or anything that isn’t heterosexuality – as it likes to think.

“But SO MANY MORE straight characters die so it doesn’t matter!!” Okay, I see your point, and raise you this – there are many straight characters that die – but there are so many more that live, because straight characters are so much more common. However LGBT characters, particularly lesbians, are fewer and farther between. So when of them dies, especially in very dubious circumstances (I’m looking at you, Orphan Black), especially as part of a society that reinforces the idea that straight is the default, the ideal (nothing is made in a vacuum), it reinforces the very much alive and kicking notion that LGBTQ+ people are not worthy of happiness, or are destined to die. Which can have some pretty severe knock-on effects.

It is pretty much common knowledge by now that members of the LGBTQ+ community already face higher rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicide, than our straight counterparts.So much so that Stonewall, one of the leading LGBTQ+ charities in the UK, have a huge portion of their website dedicated to LGBT mental health and wellbeing. Media that markets itself on positive LGBT representation that then allows its queer characters to be the main subject of 80%+ of its angst, maybe even killing them, reinforces the idea that queer people are not meant to live happy lives; that they will die young and that all their efforts are for nothing. It is very easy for straight people who have never experienced such things to say “it’s just a TV show/film/webseries/book/etc., its not real life and it means nothing” but for so many people within the LGBT community, it is our lives. And when there’s so little representation of yourself on screen, its so hard to not put every part of your heart and soul into it. Shows that pride themselves on such positive representation of queer communities, such as The 100 and Orphan Black should know this, and should already be aware of such tropes that surround queer characters that, if shown on screen after talking about how “gay friendly” they are, will have a colossal impact on their audiences.

It is not enough for queer people, especially queer women, to just be seen on screen anymore. Any representation in 2016 that is worth having should be good, positive representation that shows queer characters being happy and not being killed by stray bullets. We need to be shown and portrayed and written with the same respect that straight men and women are, otherwise we will be stuck eternally disappointed, treated badly and adding our favourite queer ladies to an already-long, ever growing list of buried gay women. And that is unacceptable.