Banksy’s Dismaland: all the glum of the fair

It’s like Stalin’s NKVD have been reborn.

‘Don’t smile!’ snapped the young woman at the airport-style entry to paradise complete with cardboard full-body scanner. Of course, you smile, especially having waited hours to get in. I was delirously chuffed. Again, she growled: ‘Don’t smile!’

The tone was set.

Continue reading Banksy’s Dismaland: all the glum of the fair

Dakh Daughters Band, Lviv

dakh Second time around, and it’s still the best show in the world.

Dakh Daughters Band headed to Lviv in Western Ukraine to play two concerts in what is regarded by many as the spiritual capital of the country.

Here Ukrainian is more widely spoken than Russian than in the east, which is regarded as more Russian.

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Tonypandemonium

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The road trip

Up the A4058 from for the latest National Theatre Wales production. Tickets £8. Bargain.  Drive through Ponty along a route through never-ending valley villages, all look the same – where’s the join, why do they have different names? A relentless ribbon of squat miner’s homes, grey pebble-dashed terraces.

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Freaky deaky Dakh

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If this collection of curveball Kyiv kooks and crazies isn’t the best girl band on the planet then my name’s Yuliya Tymoschenko and I demand to be let out of clink.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen such an awe-inspiring show. It was billed as фрiк кабаре – freak-cabaret – and that would seem about right.

In a dark, dank, dilapidated den of a venue seven soulful sisters systematically smashed out a brilliant mix of melancholy gloom and soaring hypnotic vocals and acted out the songs they sang.

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En garde!

No self-respecting blog anywhere should be without a swashbuckling, swaggering swordfight somewhere on its pages.

So here’s one I filmed last June in Kyiv on the day of the England v Italy game. It was part of the folk football festival held in Podil.

It was a bloody cracker!

Diary of a Madman

The fevered delusions of a man in love make for compelling theatre in this one-man show.

Well before Ozzy Osbourne used it as an album title, Russian writer Gogol wrote a short story on a clerk’s descent into abject humiliation.

And it’s quite a plunge we witness. So though it sounds dark and forbidding it’s performed so expertly that you’re never overwhelmed by the character’s despair.

It’s superbly acted by Robert Bowman who manages to draw us in to the life of a self-important St Petersburg bureaucrat whose chief role seems to be the sharpening of pencils for a bigwig.

He falls for the bigwig’s daughter many years younger than him. A man in love is barely rational and one second he’s howling like a dog on heat, then softly speaking of the raptures of love he feels.

It’s a physically and emotionally demanding role for one actor to sustain, but Bowman manages to switch the contrasting tones of his emotions extraordinarily well.

He gabbles madly in the height of his obsession, slows down and then loses control as the madness deepens. It’s a highly skilled, remarkable, 70-minute performance by Bowman who barely stops talking, ranting and fantasising while careering across the set all the way through.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help feeling that Ozzy must have read the book.

Well worth seeing when it goes on a national tour next year.

Folk football, Kyiv

Swordfighting and football don’t mix – right? Well I’m not sure after witnessing the Folk Football festival in Kyiv which coincided with the staging of the quarter-finals.

Good on the Ukrainians for using the tournament to promote their own culture.

And I was certainly not prepared for a battle Royal between two acrobatic swordsmen, duelling spectacularly. In fact it was  a lot more thrilling than the Italy v England game.

Swordfight stand-off at the Folk Football festival
Swordfight stand-off at the Folk Football festival

Sparks were flying off the metal blades as they hammered away at each other in a brilliantly choreographed duel. Errol Flynn eat your heart out. The sparks would have been enough for a council health and safety penpusher to step in and declare the event off back in the UK.

Organiser Georgian playwright Raguli Vlasidze, who looked like he was a rumbustious chunky central midfielder with a kick like a horse back in his youth when no doubt he played in Tiflis, organised it to raise money for good causes. 

Money raised will promote education, culture and sport, develop Ukrainian cinema and theatre and ‘encourage national spirituality’.

Ceremonial maces were on sale, football games in a giant paddling pool were organised (‘Allowed: hand gestures and lots of smiling’, said the programme).

The big ball on Andryivsky Uzviz
The big ball on Andryivsky Uzviz

The big ball on display in the picture is adorned with the designs of the Pysanko – the traditional painted egg of Ukraine.

Interviewing him via an interpreter was difficult as the English version of what he was saying came out in less than perfect sentences. But there was no doubt of an obvious passion for football.

He said: “Football changes our lives so we want to change people, this festival is for this.”

In the programme, it says: “We believe that the time will soon come when football stadiums worldwide will be adorned with national ornamentation, subconsciously elevating the inherent sense of national spirituality.”

In Wales’s case, that could well be a pint glass I reckon.

Previous to its visit to Kyiv’s famous Andryivsky Street, where the famous writer Bulgakov lived, and which is the centrepiece of the city’s historic Podil area, the folk football bandwagon had been to Lviv and to Ivan0-Frankivsk.

So with its giant football pie, I couldn’t get why this particular item featured, it was a suitably surreal and typically Ukrainian weird concoctioN.

Who ate all the pie
Who ate all the pie

And apparently the Football Peace carpet will be blessed by the Pope himself when it reaches Rome.

The festival’s website is at www.bigball.eu 

A Provincial Life

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
National Theatre Wales, best known for Michael Sheen’s The
Passion in Port Talbot last Easter, likes to take imaginative leaps
and  has drawn one of the UK’s top playwrights to his home city.

Bringing director Peter Gill back to Cardiff to
stage his 1960s play pays off refreshingly.

Gill draws on Russian writer Chekhov’s stories of life in a
provincial backwater. Is he also drawing parallels with the
Cardiff of his youth? Surely, he is. And the visible austerity
on view also seems to chime with the age.

Starchy, stiff-backed society is in chaos and polluted by class
hatred. The portrayal of Chekhov’s Russia is uncanny.

Having lived in that neck of the woods, Chekhov’s melancholy
mood of 1890s Russia has in no way changed for the masses.

Corruption is rife, drunkenness, duplicity and despair
are still scourges of society – there’s a sense that there’s a
bottomless void of unending pain. The famous Monty Python ‘We
had it hard when we were young’ sketch could still almost pass
for reality.

It’s all vividly and cannily re-created by an excellent cast
who give us prim, stuffed-shirt ‘pillars’ of society, dreamers
and kooky crackpots in glorious abundance.

If all that sounds a bit heavy, well hey it’s Russia, where
life’s never been a picnic (unless you’re an oligarch). And
it’s oddbod characters formed by that society who capture your
interest.

So while a melancholy mood is created, A Provincial Life casts
a magical, fascinating spell. There’s vroom in the gloom.

Gill concludes that even when life appears to be meaningless,
small, insignificant acts do make a difference.

So, it seems, if you live in Dullsville, whether it’s Russia or
the Rhondda, there’s always hope.