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Memory, identity and theatre

In the past 7 days I’ve had 2 great experiences at Newcastle’s Live Theatre.

The first, on Saturday, was Nick Payne’s Incognito and it was brilliant. The script interweaves 3 stories, spanning 50-odd years and thousands of miles. 21 characters1 are played by just 4 actors and I’m sure there were nearly 21 different accents to help us distinguish who was who.

Two of the stories are based on real events: the theft (?) and study of Einstein’s brain after his death in 1955, and the pioneering surgery performed to relieve a man of his epileptic seizures that left him unable to form new memories. The third story focuses on a clinical neuropsychologist, her work helping patients with memory loss and her struggle to find her own identity.

This play demands your full attention (or at least it did mine). At the beginning there are quick, clean cuts between each scene as we jump from story to story. As each story developed I was trying to make connections to, and comparisons with, the other strands. I was aware that if my concentration lapsed at any point (although I was so gripped, I don’t think there was any danger of this) then I’d lose my grasp on what was going on.

As we get closer to the end and the 3 stories begin to merge together, so do the transitions between the scenes. I think this is where the use of multiple accents really came into its own as it was easy to identify when a character from another story entered before the previous scene ended.

After nearly a week I’m still getting goosebumps thinking about this play and it’s gone straight into my top 3 theatre experiences of all time2.

 

Last night I went back to Live to see a rehearsed reading of Richard Stockwell’s new play, Continuum. We enter the story during the aftermath of a road accident in which the central character, Ben, has suffered frontal lobe damage. Ben is struggling to piece together his memories of the accident as we, the audience, are trying to piece together why it happened and what the consequences are. This all plays out through a series of conversations held between Ben, his girlfriend (Jenny) and his doctor (Sarah). We cut quickly between the conversations and these fast changes really help amp up the intensity of the play.

The reading was followed by a short discussion and we were asked to give feedback on whether we understood what was happening and if the story felt complete. For me, the answer to both questions was yes. It’s not an overly complex story, but I could see how the fast changes might present a problem for the audience’s ability to follow. I actually found the sometimes frenetic changes between scenes helped with my appreciation of what Ben was himself experiencing.

I really enjoyed this opportunity to see a play in development and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for similar events in the future.

1 I counted these from memory, so it’s entirely possible there were more… or fewer.
2 The other experiences in my top 3 are Pip Utton’s Adolf and The 3 Little Pigs, created for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Quiff Comp 2014

Friends, it’s nearly time for my favourite event of the year, Quiff Comp. This year’s competition will take place in the week beginning 31 March.

What’s Quiff Comp, you ask? It’s an annual quiff competition I started with some friends on Twitter a couple of years ago. To get an idea of how it works here’s a Storify of the tweets from last year.

Definition of a quiff
Hair brushed upward and backward from the forehead

How to take part
It’s as simple as taking a photo of your quiff and tweeting that picture with the tag #quiffcomp14 plus one of the following category tags:

  • #kidsquiff – for anyone under the age of 18
  • #1timequiff – for anyone sporting a quiff for the sole purpose of taking part in the competition
  • #everydayquiff – for anyone who considers a quiff part of their everyday style

Entries will be taken between 9am on 31 March and 9am on 3 April. All photos must have been taken during this period.

As an example, here’s one of my favourite entries from last year:

Silly faces are optional! And don’t think that you need to have short hair, we’ve seen all sorts in the one time only category.

Judging

Judging will take place from midday on 3 April and will remain open for 24 hours. The three categories are voted on by the general public via a series of online polls. This means there can be no accusations of biased judges and that I get to take part too. What I’ve learnt over the past few years running this competition is that campaigning is the key to success.

And that’s it.

Getting ready for Quiff Comp 2013

This morning when I did my hair I wished I’d chosen today for Quiff Comp 2013. I hope I can recreate this look next week when it counts.

I also thought it would be useful for prospective entrants to see what we’re looking for in a photo. Alongside my picture below is the photo and quiff that won Quiff Comp 2012. Who could beat someone that cute? Well, that’s why this year we’re having a category specifically for the kids!

Winner of Quiff Comp 2012
Winner of Quiff Comp 2012
Quiff Comp 2013 test run
Quiff Comp 2013 test run

Quiff Comp 2013

Quiff Comp 2013 will take place during the week beginning 20 May.

What’s Quiff Comp, you ask? It’s an annual quiff competition I started with some friends on Twitter a couple of years ago. To get an idea of how it works here’s a Storify of the tweets from last year.

Are there any rules? Of course!

The first rule of Quiff Comp is: tell everyone about Quiff Comp. The more people we can get to take part the more fun it will be.

The second rule of Quiff Comp is: tell everyone about Quiff Comp. Simple.

Definition of a quiff
Hair brushed upward and backward from the forehead

How to take part 
Entries will be taken between Monday 20 and Wednesday 22 May.

  1. Take a photo of your quiff
  2. Tweet your photo using the tag #quiffcomp13 and one of the following category tags:
    • #child – for anyone under the age of 18
    • #onedayonly – for anyone sporting a quiff for the sole purpose of taking part in the competition
    • #everydayquiff – for anyone who considers a quiff part of their everyday style
    • Anyone taking part in quiff comp for the first time will automatically be placed in the first timers category

Judging
Judging will take place on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 May.

  • The three main categories will be voted on by the general public via a series of online polls
  • The first timers category will be judged by the organiser – me!

    And finally, if you need some inspiration I’ve been building up my quiffs board on Pinterest.

Oxford Beer Festival

Last night we went to the Oxford Beer Festival at the Town Hall. With 160 real ales to try I was in heaven. I went in with a grand plan, I’d identified a number of beers I wanted to try and was going to work my way through them. Through a combination of sell outs and crowds at the bar this didn’t really work. So I adopted a new plan – find a gap at the bar and make a random pick. It worked as I don’t think I had a duff beer all night.

Here are the five I tried in order of my preference:

1. Adders Tongue (Hop Kettle, 5.3%)
Made with New Zealand hops this was a dark beer with a fruity flavour.

2. Copper Beech (Chiltern, 4.4%)
A strong, golden ale, this beer tasted of Autumn.

3. Headmaster (Old School, 4.5%)
Another dark beer with a nutty flavour.

4. Reilly’s Red (Vale, 4.3%)
My third dark beer of the night. Tasty but no distinctive flavours.

5. Boozy Floozy (Loddon, 4.5%)
A lighter beer made from challenger hops. Described as gently spicy but this didn’t really come through.

There were a few beers that I was disappointed to miss out on: Salem Porter (Bateman, 4.7%), Single Hop Chinook (Hop Kettle, 4.1%) and Witch’s Finger (WharfeBank, 4.6%). Perhaps I’ll get a chance to test them at another festival soon.

Discoveries from Cropredy

I spent this past weekend at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and I discovered some great new music. Here are my top three (in the order they played the festival):

1. Ellen and the Escapades
I was really taken with Ellen and the Escapades. Their music has a familiarity that I like – this was the first time I had heard them, yet their songs felt like old favourites. Their album, All the Crooked Scenes, is on my shopping list.

2. Larkin Poe
This band really divided our group. Some of us (including me) loved them, some of us were what can only be described as ambivalent. I’ve been listening to them more this week and thanks to last.fm have now found even more musical delights in this genre, including Frazey Ford and Romi Mayes.

3. Brother and Bones
Before the festival if you had played me Brother and Bones I’m not sure I would have said I liked them. After their performance however I can tell you they are a great live band and if you get the chance to see them I would highly recommend it.

LGBT History Month: Alan Turing

Earlier this week I went to a lecture for LGBT History Month organised by the University of Oxford LGBT Staff Network Steering Group. The topic was Alan Turing, the lecturer Andrew Hodges, Tutorial Fellow in Maths at Wadham College and author of the biography Alan Turing: the enigma.

Following a brief introduction on Turing’s work Hodges introduced the concept of hidden histories. In Turing’s life there were three:

  1. the history of code breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2 and Turing’s leading role in cracking the enigma code
  2. Turing’s involvement in the birth of Computer Science and the creation of the first computer
  3. Turing’s life as a gay man

The main focus of this talk, as you might expect for LGBT History Month, was on the third hidden history. We heard how, although discreet, Turing was by no means completely closeted choosing to live openly as a gay man within the relatively protected environments of the universities of Cambridge and Manchester.

This moving subject was made even more so by the revelation that the speaker was personally involved in revealing elements of each of these hidden histories through his work as a mathematician, biographer and member of the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s.

I was really impressed with what a well attended event this was. Even more so that it was opened by Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, Andrew Hamilton who, rather than leave once his duty had been fulfilled stayed to hear the talk and participate in the event.

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