Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Theatre Jukebox.

Theatre On tour and currently stopping off at Birmingham Library is the Theatre Jukebox, an experiment in lo-fi audio visual non-linear narrative storytelling. As the creators, Stand + Stare Collective explain on their website, "Theatre Jukebox is an arcade-style cabinet that tells stories in a unique way. Take a seat, slip on some headphones, and watch as each photograph comes to life." As you can see from the photographs and the video below, you sit in a wooden contraption (constructed by artist Jo Lathwood), select a postcard from those provided and then listen to a snatch of story through some headphones. The version in Birmingham takes its inspiration from the The Wingate Bett Transport Ticket Collection, which "houses over one million tickets used on railways, buses, ships, airlines, ski-lifts and trams worldwide, dating from 1840 to 1977" weaving a story about a lovelorn lady visiting far flung places across three decades.  In theory, the viewer/listener is supposed to choose the cards at random, but because they are travel tickets, they're date stamped and this is the order I listened and found a story with a beginning, middle and rather poignant end (though I think the final card is missing).  If you do visit, I'd advise you not to read the accompanying information board too closely and simply dive in, allowing the visuals as they sweep across the table and the voice of actress Zara Ramm (whose best known for playing Mum in Grandpa in my Pocket) carry you away to far off places and times.  Superb.

Theatre Jukebox from Stand + Stare on Vimeo.

Theatre Jukebox presents A World Elsewhere from Stand + Stare on Vimeo.

Theatre Jukebox prototype from Stand + Stare on Vimeo.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Mutya/Keisha/Siobhan's Flatline.

Music One of the greatest disappointments of the year wasn't Flatline itself, which is a tremendous single, but the fumble over its marketing. Initially announced on the 4th June, a one minute preview was posted on Soundcloud on the 13th June with the whole song posted on the 4th July to much rejoicing, because it is a tremendous single. Then nothing. The girls continued giving interviews including a Google+ hang-out, tentative performances but no word on when the single would be released. A very good lyric video was posted to YouTube within a few weeks and a month later a pretty terrible video that worked against the sound and message of the single and was actually worse than said lyric video. In the meantime, online music emporiums (iTunes, Amazon and Spotify) were flooded with inferior copies or "tributes" and karaoke versions. Presumably because of the lack of sense of anyone knowing what they were doing, despite a few broadcasts, the single wasn't playlisted in any kind of meaningful way.  Eventually announced for release on the 1st September, Flatline was then delayed again to 15th September, then brought forward to the 6th September, a Friday and a non-traditional release day because of its proximity to chart day and only on iTunes.  It inevitably tanked, peaking at 50 in the UK.  To make matters worse, it's sort of happening again.  The girls are out there, touring, playing old and new songs but the release of the album, essentially the album which under normal circumstances would be the point of touring, hasn't been mentioned.  Perhaps it'll be released next year.  Maybe.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: This American Life's The Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About.

Radio After last year hick-up with the retraction of Mike Daisey's story about the manufacture of Apple products, This American Life has quickly bounced back with another series of compulsive episodes with a two parter about Chicago's Harper High School, the scene of a mass shooting, an investigation into the federal disability payments system and of course its five hundredth episode. There's also been a noticeable shift back towards a higher proportion of less newsier, more whimsical episodes of which this recent episode is an example. As the synopsis describes, "producer Sarah Koenig's mother lives by a set of rules about conversation. She has an actual list of off-limits topics, including how you slept, your period, your health, your diet and more. You don't talk about these things, she says, "because nobody cares", and the programme sets about finding interesting stories which disprove the items on the list.  As ever, it's the thing of This American Life which makes this entertaining, the deference of the producers to Sarah's mother calling her Mrs. Matthiessen and Mrs. Metthiessen herself who sounds like a stereotypical upper middle-class parent from a Disney film.  Incidentally, I pretty much agree with everything she says.  I hate small talk, mostly because never very good at it.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Charlie Brooker: Videogames Changed The World

TV Videogames Changed The World is an intelligent, chronological attempt to describe the history of computer and video gaming from the early seventies through to now, selecting twenty-five of the most significant texts beginning with Pong, utilising a mix of Wipean presentation and knowledgable and well chosen talking heads in a way which seemed designed to demonstrate that it is possible to do this sort of thing without employing the likes of Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk. While you could argue that ignoring the much earlier Spacewar! is a strange choice, Brooker has in mind a through line about human interaction and games as an example of inclusivity, and it was indeed Pong-clones which first appeared in people's living room's hooked up to a television, or as was the case in our house a beige Hanimax wired into the spare black and white portable in the spare room, which was the front lounge. Our council house had two downstairs lounges which we used depending on the season.  In Speke.  As well as reminding me of how I was somehow born at just the right time to experience all of this innovation, it was also reminder of how little of this innovation I did experience first hand, standing in WH Smith enviously watching the games chart on a  ceiling mounted portable television, listening to Pat Sharp or whoever the narrator was extolling the virtues of The Eidolon while I was still playing Snapper on the Acorn Electron my Mum and Dad were still paying off on hire-purchase from Bits & Bytes or wherever.  Gaming always seemed like a pursuit for the relatively well off.  Still does to some extent.  Yet visiting the relatively well off I was still able to try an Amstrad CPC or play Gauntlet both of which were omitted from the documentary.  But what is here is still neverless somewhat definitive and a demonstration that outside of BBC's Click, gaming rarely gets the in-depth television coverage it probably deserves.


On YouTube.
On the 4od website.


With Digital Spy: "Why are there no computer game TV shows?"

With The Guardian: "... why video game television is so hard to make."

Obligatory photography with satirical buffering circle:

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The trailers for Gravity.

Film Though there's still nearly a month left, I think I'll be right in pronouncing Gravity my favourite film of the year, the best film of the year and the most important film of this decade so far. Even without the extra dimensions, Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi epic is entirely involving and I spent most of its duration an emotion wreck either sobbing at astronaut Ryan Stone's plight, Sandra Bullock offering a potentially a career best performance, or clutching myself, my body experiencing the sensation of spinning in space with her.  The pre-publicity for the film, which had otherwise been kept relatively secret in terms of its story did much of the work in driving audience in with their astonishing visuals and economical use of editing. The initial teaser went viral immediately with its moments of calm before a concentration of chaos, and Warner Bros then followed these up with jaw-dropping slivers of the film that revealed what was being achieved in single shots before offering a more standard trailer that combined the four. As Forbes notices they're a clever example of how it's entirely possible to sell a blockbuster without giving away its secrets and allow the audience to have a shared experience. Variety has interview with Warners marketing guru Sue Kroll about her plan.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Shakespeare's Globe's Henry VI battlefield performances.

Theatre After spending all of last year watching and listening to Shakespeare, after completing a run through of what was, then, the complete canon, I imposed a self-inflicted embargo on his plays which ended in October when I viewed the recordings of The Globe's battlefield presentation of Henry VI at Monken Hadley Common in Barnet which were within days of being pulled along with the rest of The Space, the arts experiment run by the Arts Council and the BBC (which has now indeed gone).  Recorded in August at the height of Summer, it nonetheless rained all day, but as is The Globe's way, all of the actors fought through the conditions, their faces sodden, costumes drenched, to offer a superb rendering of these underrated plays in one afternoon and evening in the very place where one of the key battles is set.  If it was an endurance test for the viewers at the home, it's inescapable in viewing just how difficult conditions must have been for those performing, and the audience, an anonymous mass of macs and umbrellas.  The proceedings were compared brilliantly by actor Jamie Parker, who having played Henry V on tour and at the Globe the previous year now had to see the existentially complex spectacle of seeing his character's coffin being brought on stage for the opening act.

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Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Palle Nielsen's The Model.

Art At Tate Liverpool until 2 February 2014 and running concurrently with the Art Turning Left exhibition is this ground floor display commemorating Palle Nielson's 1968 experiment in which the Moderna Museet in Stockholm was transformed into an adventure playground with children playing, largely unsupervised, with jungle gyms, climbing ropes, water chute, foam rubber ‘diving pool’, theatrical costumes, carnival masks, LPs, turntables and swings. The aim was to observe how the children interacted and how their behaviour reflected on social structures, a kind of live action Lord of the Flies without quite the same amount of isolation. Or murder. Although the Tate did investigate recreating the experiment, modern health and safety implications, logistics and insurance led them to focusing on the presentation of archive materials which includes a reconstruction of "the model" based on slides and the artist's memory, a slide show of images, advertising and magazine articles, tv coverage, the actual LPs whose sound is available to listen to digitally and a mass of archive material from Nielson's own collection.  At the press view, curator Stephanie Straine explained to me that most of the injuries sustained were the likes of sprained ankles.  Watching young children playing with real saws or swinging across unsupported frames, there's a clear sense of what's been lost as fear has led society to isolate youngster from minor danger or from this kind of activity at all.  Doesn't it look like it was tremendous fun?



Child’s Play: Toying with the White Cube. Frieze Magazine. Issue 51. March-April 2000.

Lars Bang Larsen "The Mass Utopia of art activism" from the publication "Palle Nielsen. The model. A model for a qualitative society" (.pdf)

A model for a qualitative society Text written by Palle Nielsen for the catalogue Modellen. En modell för ett kvalitativt samhälle, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1968.



The International Shakuhachi Society: Musical Anthology of the Orient, Unesco Collection Vol 4