The arts are my passion: drama, music, opera, dance, sculpture, painting, art history, architecture, film, literature... old and new... national and international... and after a period living, writing & performing in Australia and Italy this passion has brought me back to London. 'Blog Julie Arts' is a spin-off after success with 'There's Always A Story' at blogjulie.com

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Connect, Converse, Collaborate

I started 2018 in a social bubble, while focusing on rehearsals in London for the opening of my new cabaret show, All The Girls You Are.  Apart from my immense enjoyment of the artistic process and the satisfaction of getting the show up and running (something I couldn’t have done without great collaboration from The Philip Foster Company), it was the visceral connection with the audience in the intimate space of The Pheasantry in Chelsea which has proved most memorable.  There is nowhere to run or hide in a one-woman show.  You have to feel the fear and do it – authentically and honestly for 2 x 45 minute sets of songs and stories.  If you don’t, you lose them immediately; because an audience up-close-and-personal knows if you fake it. 

Since coming out of that theatrical bubble, I have seen three productions in succession which have impressed me so completely I simply have to rave about them.  Each production, in its own way, reaffirms the importance of creating and trusting true connections between people in a world which too easily and flippantly gives us a carbon-copy of the real thing. 

I understand Hugh Jackman wanted to bring the story of P.T. Barnum to the screen for years.  Like me, he probably saw the inimitable Reg Livermore play Barnum in a tour around Australia when he was a boy, and I suspect nursed the project close to his heart until he was old enough to play the role.  Good for him - because the resulting film, The Greatest Showman, is wonderful in so many ways.  I defy critics who say it’s “hokey” or “not historically accurate”.  So?  The film is musically and artistically exquisite – every song, every element of choreography and design, a sheer delight.  The story, however fantastical, is compelling; the moral pure and uplifting.  Running beneath the narrative is a question about what it is to be authentic – to one-self and others - and what it is to be human.  P. T. Barnum was accused of being a fake because he did something others hadn’t done before, and because he mixed with people considered ‘odd’ or ‘outcast’.  (Sound familiar?)  In doing so he proved it is the opposite of fake to include people in society who may not be mainstream, who may be poor, scary, or ‘different’.  Barnum, the impresario, gave voice to people who had never been seen or heard before, and as such his life’s work was brave and honourable.  Audiences don't care about artistic license when the results are brilliant.  And I suspect it is the compassion and humanity (with all its ‘oddities’) within the story which pulls you into The Greatest Showman even if you aren’t a musical theatre aficionado.  Good on ya, Hugh!  Bravo all 15,000 people who worked on the film, acknowledged as they are in the final credit.  This film was definitely a successful collaboration, and a worthwhile message about the dignity of human connection and the importance of community.  Ignore the naysayers (like the critic in the film) and go and enjoy the circus! 

The National Theatre’s production of Beginning which has transferred to the West End is a two-hander by David Eldridge documenting the challenge of finding a lover (soul-mate or partner) to share your life when you are in your late 30s, have been hurt numerous times, may lack courage, are desperately keen to find love and create a family, but for reasons of digital disconnection and alienation are having no luck on dating sites.  This new play is the best piece I’ve seen about romance in the modern age and I highly recommend it.  I have repeatedly said my arts blogs are not traditional ‘reviews’.  They are arts-life ‘crossover stories’ which I only write when I feel inspired.  Yet even if I did think of myself as a critic, I would have nothing negative to say here.  Beginning is superbly written (David Eldridge), sensitively directed (Polly Findlay), honestly and bravely performed (Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton), and well produced by The National’s production team.  I cried and laughed so much I had to regularly cover my mouth with my hand for fear of making a spectacle of myself in the front row; or worse, pulling focus.  Many felt moved in the same way, including a young man two seats along who identified so much with the vulnerable, wounded, awkward and funny character of Danny that with tears in his eyes he said afterwards, “he was so much like a lad from Essex it was hard to remember he was acting”.  There is no better praise, I’m sure. 

As usual, the articles in the National’s programme are valuable.  Two respected writers respond in print to a key question:  “In theory, we have never been more connected.  So why, in practice, are we feeling so lonely?”  Both replies dig into the (potential) hollowness of a life lived on or through social media.  Hadley Freeman says that for many women the paradox is: “how do you date in the modern world, live in a modern life, behave how a modern woman is supposed to, when you are still shackled to antiquated biology?”  She is referring to the “non-negotiable roadblock of female biology”, as one of the dilemmas in the play is the cruel but unavoidable limitation of time.  Tim Burrows picks up the theme of longing, writing “connectivity is one of Silicon Valley’s many mantras, but... there is mounting evidence that social media often diminishes the feeling of communion it purports as its raison d’etre.”  He explores the idea that social media dependence creates a “half-life glowing in the background”... that technology “flattens and reduces” our membership of the world, as we leap from “app to app, echo chamber to echo chamber, buzz to buzz”... ultimately leaving us more isolated – UNLESS we remember the importance of “escaping our digital fortresses” and actively reaffirm that, as humans, we need each other.  Beginning is first and foremost an entertaining and well executed piece of theatre.  Yet it has the integrity to become a classic because it does not shy away from the big questions of life – how vulnerable and honest dare we be when it comes to chasing and holding the love every single one of us wants?  And does technology help or hinder us in the pursuit of real connection and intimacy?   
The third production which has connectivity at its heart is Network, a Lee Hall adaptation of the 1970s Paddy Chayefsky film about the power,and corruption of television.  Thanks to a friend I was one of the lucky recipients of a seat on the stage in the Littleton Theatre, where I was not only in thrilling proximity to the action but where throughout the play I was served a four course meal with wine.  A good meal it was too – served by subtle actor-waiters.  If I wasn’t a theatre addict to begin with I might complain of over-stimulation.  But wow, bring it on!  If I had to choose a single word to describe that night of combined dramatic, intellectual, visual, digital, culinary and sensual stimulation... it would have to be satiated.  Or... Bacchus.  Yes, by the end of the night I felt like Michelangelo’s famously sozzled Bacchus - tottering on my heels from abundant artistic indulgence.  I’d be interested to see the play again from the house, while not eating and drinking, but I’m sure everyone in the audience agrees that from any seat the likes of Bryan Cranston, Douglas Henshall, Michelle Dockery, Tunji Kasim, Robert Gilbert, Michael Elwyn and many more gave us a deeply exciting and memorable evening.  Thank God for the skill and resources of our National Theatre!  There are dozens of first rate performances here (including the sound and design on stage and television screens), and the direction from Ivo van Hove is driven and insightful. 

On my theme much resonates.  Where are the parallels in our world today if television was considered at its peak to be “a media equivalent to fast food”?  How much do sound-bites, and the drive to keep ratings high, compromise the integrity of ‘real news’?  How much does popularity (or fickle trends) suppress comprehensive thought and debate about important matters?  Or as the programme notes warn: there is a danger in the digital age that “we connect but do not bother to converse”.  The questions central to Network are as relevant as ever because a hashtag or tweet can only reveal a small part of any story, and cannot substitute for complex discussion between human beings that need to understand and respect each other.  The Howard Beale character in Network, played to edgy perfection by Bryan Cranston, identifies the ‘bullshit’ in much of the ‘news’ he’s been peddling, and in a last ditch attempt to find redemption he dares to come out and say so in prime time.  Each time he got the audience (in its role as the American public) to yell out “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” I thought about the lies we were told in the Brexit Referendum and I gave it full voice.  In the play the results for Howard Beale are hilarious and tragic, as are the back-room deals to secure ratings on the back of his meltdown and demise.  Crucially, when the lights finally came up in the auditorium, even an overfed and sumptuously entertained Bacchus walked out into the London night wondering about the double-edged sword of media – in all its forms – and the alertness, and healthy cynicism, we must maintain if we want to ensure humanity and truth are not lost in a digital glare.

It is complete coincidence these artistic experiences coincide with my personal decision to embark on a Facebook Detox in 2018.  I haven’t deleted my FB account (as I learned my professional page would also close if I did).  Yet I feel affirmed my decision to talk to real people face to face for a while – or via other communication channels – is a valid choice for as long as I feel so inclined.  And who knows, it may yet bring unknown surprises? 

#TheGreatestShowman     #ntBeginning   #ntNetwork


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Time Travel

In the middle of July millions of people were glued to their television watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final.  Many other millions were waiting to discover the new Dr Who - and to many people’s delight it turned out to be a woman under that mysterious grey cloak.  Yeah, Jodie Whittaker and the BBC!  It was a fabulous end to a thrilling weekend.
There was more media excitement, and collective emotional investment, in that announcement than there was in the outcome of our Westminster election (the one we didn’t need to have, and now look at our parliament, ugh, back to fantasy, no wonder we need to escape reality!).  I think that tells us something about our love of time travel - our need to imagine the impossible, to dwell within boundaries which, temporarily at least, seem limitless.  I’ve always been a rather occasional consumer of Dr Who, perhaps not quite having the DNA of a true Brit.  I admit I’m the same with Shaun of the Dead.  And yes, I know, it’s a right-of-passage for anyone adopting the UK as home, like Withnail and I, so much so I wonder why it isn’t on the UK passport test!  But this week I had an experience which has brought the notion of time travel into sharp relief.
I was asked to appear in a scene for the 4th webisode of Neighbours vs Time Travel.  It came up out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I said yes because it sounded fun.  Apart from another possible ‘appearance’ a few years ago as a Zombie (ha ha, for better or worse the dates didn’t work), I had never expected to recreate the role of Julie Martin/Robinson.  Because, as fans know, character Julie (shared name a weird coincidence) fell off a tower in drunken hysterics to her death twenty years ago; after doing far too much nagging of her long-suffering husband.  So upon leaving the show, as sorry as I was to part from the regular company of the actors playing my family - especially Philip (Ian Rawlings), Michael (Troy Beckwith), Debbie (Marnie Reece Wilmore) and Hannah (Rebecca Ritters) - there was no option but to bid them a sad farewell.  I had made the decision to follow my heart (aka love of the theatre) to London.  And we all went on with different things in life, in diverse locations, as actors always do.  Chapter closed.
What surprised me last week was the flood of emotions I felt upon unexpectedly re-entering the Neighbours world.  I filmed 10,000 miles away from the familiar sets, with a small OB crew (outside broadcast) in London, and no other actors present.  Yet the minute I printed out the scene at home, and saw a rough cut of Ian doing his half of the scene in Melbourne (a telephone conversation between Julie and Philip), the memory and feel of a hundred things about that part of my life flooded back. Just hearing Ian’s voice, took me there, instantly.  And I time travelled, as suddenly as the You Tube audience were to do a week later. 
On a personal level I could see and feel myself as I was then.  I could see everyone around me.  My friendships from the show were instantly fresh and vivid, the activities I used to get up to (on and around the filming of the series), my apartment in South Yarra, my burgundy-coloured car, the restaurants I’d frequent, runs in the park, my personal trainer, the charity work, the Rainbow Warrior in port, Spring Carnival, cabaret shows at Mietta’s and Prior Engagements: my life of twenty years ago, suddenly present.  
Smack bang in the middle of this flashback was my old friend, Ian Rawlings, the lovely man I worked with so closely and happily for a little over two years; and there, in the scene he’d already filmed, a picture of our kids on the wall.  I have never forgotten how fond of them I was; nor the many positives about my Neighbours experience.  But until I suddenly saw Ian again - kindness and good humour ever present in his voice, on and off the set - I didn’t know how much I had missed him (and our gang)!  In historic interviews, I often said the best thing about my time on Neighbours was the line up of actors in the Robinson/Martin family – including Alan Dale and Anne Haddy (and for a shorter period of overlap, Stefan Dennis) – as we were so happy and comfortable together.  Like the Alessi family, we worked and mixed very well together.  Since, I’ve moved around the globe a lot, so I’m always missing people I love in Australia and New Zealand.  That’s also the nature of showbiz.  But it was precious to be reminded so quickly and warmly of that period of my life – without any effort on my part, without expectation or agenda.  To be dropped into it for a few short days, like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, was simply sweet.  It was not at all like talking about Neighbours, or thinking of it as a gig on my CV, it was a moment of intimate reminiscence and recognition – actually ‘being back there’, at the same time as ‘being where I am now’ in my life – which was the value and charm of it.  No wonder time travel proves fruitful for so many writers.
Professionally, I also think Ric Forster, the producer, has done a terrific job with these webisodes.  Everyone I’ve spoken to or engaged with on social media has commented on the comedy and slickness of the production.  So bravo and thanks to Ric!  And congratulations to the current cast for anchoring these wild leaps of imagination, and the entertaining appearances by all the guest characters.  It was a lot of fun.  It was emotional, in a good way. And it has given fans a real buzz. 

[I’m still giggling about Alan Fletcher’s rock ‘n roll riff; Jackie Woodburne’s Susan in the back of the limo after her rendezvous with Dr Karl; Gary as the Back to the Future character, Doc, and the waitress adding to the fray with “Great Scott”; and my favourite lines when Paul Robinson gets pulled over by a policeman for speeding in the time machine: “I thought you were a nurse.”  “Shsh I’m undercover.”  Classic.]

Julie Martin’s venture back from the dead is now over, as is our week of Halloween fun.  And it is time to get back to reality.  But as sojourn’s go, it was sweet and unexpected.  Like a school reunion I suppose, when your favourite people turn up.  It just so happened that this ‘blast from the past’ happened for me on camera.  And it didn’t feel at all like work.  It was exactly the fun I’d hoped.  Thankyou Neighbours.

Now I get the whole time travel thing, I’m keen for more Dr Who...



Thursday, 5 October 2017

An American in Paris

I’m coming straight to the point: the London production of An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre is utterly spectacular.  Quite simply, An American in Paris is all your showbiz fantasies come true.  And if you can resist this production’s charm and artistry then you are like the Tin Man before he meets the Wizard.  

It is nearly a fortnight since I saw the show and still I think about it – replaying images and musical moments in my mind, marvelling at the scrumptious designs, and recalling the incredible staging and choreography.  I see a lot of music, drama, opera and theatre (rarely a week passes without attending at least two events), and in a city as rich as London I am often satisfied and rewarded.  But this production is in another league.  It is glorious.  There are no cracks or joins, no evidence of work or striving, this theatrical extravaganza merely descends upon you, immersing you in something so special you will feel electrified with joy.  The level of sophistication, imagination and artistic skill in An American in Paris is so great it will excite and uplift you like nothing before. 

I adore the film.  I love my memories of growing up watching it with my dear Dad, who was a big Gene Kelly and Gershwin fan.  And not for a moment did I think a stage adaptation could live up to the brilliance of the film.  I was wrong.  This production – the creative team, cast and crew - push every boundary of theatrical expression and achievement so far that the sum of its colourful parts is so magnificent you really do feel that you’ve gone to another world.  The collaboration between music and song, dance and choreography, costume and style, design and staging, light and sound, narrative and character could not be more perfect.  Every detail of An American in Paris is infused with class and brilliance.  The audience cheered so loudly after every number it’s a wonder we didn’t lose our voices.  Remember the best rock concert you’ve ever been to, and imagine that kind of energy and shared-warmth in the auditorium and you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

All my theatrical dreams came true in this production of sheer delight – no retakes, nearly everything you get in the film but LIVE on-stage, visceral, new and polished, being recreated moment by moment by the most talented and inspired of performers.  Bravo!  If there was any justice in showbiz this production of An American In Paris would never close... it would out-do the Mousetrap 

You can’t describe real magic in words, any more than you can describe rhythm or love without feeling it.  It is an experience you have to see to believe.  So get off your backside and get to the Dominion Theatre.  Buy an air ticket if you have to, just get there.  Because if you see one classic musical on stage in your life – this should be it! 


Saturday, 13 August 2016


What do you think of when I say acoustic?

Do you think of sound that is produced acoustically?  Music which is unprocessed by digital or electronic means? And instruments with little or no amplification?   

Or do you think about the physical fact of sound, the waves and vibrations in and around gases, liquids and solids, wrapping sound around all those lucky enough to have a sense of hearing?    

I guess it depends on the context; or your preference for art over science, imagination over mechanics.  Either way, ‘acoustic’ is a word brimming with feeling and resonance. And I don’t think I’d quite identified why until I was at a gig in Liverpool last weekend.

Acoustic, to me, means something raw, a musical or theatrical experience which comes to me unfiltered and unedited... directly from the heart and soul of the artist creating in that moment.  Acoustic events are exposed and real (like the wood of a violin), rich with humanity and vulnerability, an opportunity for artistic communication like few other mediums.  Acoustic music is the equivalent, in drama, of a new play performed in a black box, with little set and few technical effects.  It matters less whether it is improvised or scripted, what counts is that it is fresh, truthful (to the voice of the artist), accessible and intimate.  Acoustic encounters pull down the walls between us, drawing an audience close to the performer, heightening our sense that everyone present is sharing something very much in the here and now, tasting and feeling something that can only happen once.  Acoustic performances are often a journey of discovery for artist and audience, allowing maximum use of spontaneity and imagination, and they operate on the heart, mind and spirit as much as on the ears.  And when the artists performing are of a high calibre, such as they were in Liverpool last weekend, it is a real privilege to be a part of it.

I’ve gone to hundreds of acoustic events over the years.  I was even General Manager of an arts centre in Sydney which hosted in our Sound Lounge on a Thursday evening a popular Singer-Songwriter series, geared toward the launch of avant-garde, new CDs. But somehow I’d forgotten the power and sincerity of a small or medium-sized room filled only by lightly amplified, naked sounds. I guess London is so big that I’m often going to ‘big stuff’... big concerts, shows, productions, gigs... even grand opera where the sound is acoustic but where I’m so far away at the back of the stalls (in the cheap seats) that I’m divorced somewhat from the birth and discovery of those sounds.
So it was immensely gratifying to stumble upon The Leaf in Bold Street on Friday night, 5th August, where Graham Holland from Liverpool Acoustic and a warm and intensely interesting artist by the name of Roxanne de Bastion were hosting a celebration of ‘50 Years of Revolver’, the iconic Beatles release.  Sadly I missed the first half, where a line-up of talented local artists were invited by Roxanne to interpret and present a personal rendition of the fourteen tracks from the much-loved studio album.  However the friends I joined in Liverpool (for another birthday celebration) waxed lyrical about the eclectic success of it.  Then I was present for the second half, to enjoy each artist doing their own material.  Singer-songwriter after singer-songwriter returned to the stage to do their thing (the thing they were born to do) in the best possible way - authentically, organically, committed to the idiosyncratic style and narrative that is theirs, that is possible only for them and which is therefore all the more special and engaging.  I was delighted to discover this bubbling hive of musical expression and, typical of Liverpudlians, we were made to feel wonderfully welcome. 

After a joyous evening – during which I felt a primal drive  to prolong the musical discovery, the celebration, the intimacy – I wondered if I had paid more attention to the words, the nuance of movement and rhythm, because I was physically close to the stage?  Or if I was tuned in on all senses simply because the performer’s naked courage and artistry demanded note by note, chord by chord, that I respect their vulnerability as much as their strength. I can only tell you the audience was eating out of their hands. “You had me at hello” comes to mind. And with such a dynamic, such particularly strong vibrations of sound and passion, it was destined to be a great night. 

So I’ve come back to London and I’m booking more acoustic gigs.  Tonight I’m off to the Green Note in Camden to see an Aussie singer-songwriter, Anne McCue.  In the coming week, Wednesday 17th August, I’ve got a group of friends lined up to see one of the artists from Liverpool, in a gig at The Workshop on Old Street, London.  Thom Morecroft is a small guy with a massive talent, a cheeky wit and a big future.  Do yourself a favour and get along.  With a bit of luck he’ll perform Daisy from his EP Hand Me Down.

I’m calling my weekend up north ‘a Liverpool Tune-Up’, because in more ways than one it honed my focus and left me satisfied.  It’s not the first or last time I’ll tell you the down-to-earth warmth and openness of northerners is compelling. 

So thankyou Liverpool Acoustic, Roxanne de Bastion (you are amazing), Richard de Bastion (who made me cry, in a good way), Thom Morecroft (who made me laugh), FABIA (just wow), Eleanor Nelly, Alan O’Hare, She Drew The Gun, The Southbound Attic Band with Derek King, and Joe Symes and The Loving Kind. 

I could go on and on.  But, in essence, your brand of acoustic really rocks!







Saturday, 25 June 2016


I went to a play a few days ago at the Hampstead Theatre.  The title and the content seem fitting after what’s happened with the #EUReferendum.  The play is called WILD. 

WILD is a rather wonderful and expressive word.  I’ve used it myself in the title of an (as yet) unpublished manuscript because it boxes above its weight to conjure much.  Sit with it for just a moment: WILD.  Consider it in the wake of the mammoth decision made yesterday by the British people: WILD.  And if you are a ‘remain’ voter like me you’ll recognise in it how the future of Europe suddenly feels. 

WILD can be a freeing and positive idea, a brave and boundless concept, but sadly it is the negative, unshackled and ruthless qualities which come to mind in the Europe which has suddenly changed.   

The play, WILD, written by Mike Bartlett and directed by James MacDonald explores what happens when someone takes an action that leads to them being suddenly dislocated, isolated, confused and unsure who or what to trust. It explores the boundaries of truth and identity, justice and transparency, power and the misuse of it.  And though the play asks more questions than it answers (intellectually at least) it is a production which rings with emotional and human truth.  I loved it. It has lived with me since.  And the theatrical experience was all the greater because we didn’t know precisely what was going on, who the people really were, what was good or bad, virtuous or threatening – but rather all muddled together in an imperfect world, frighteningly on fast-forward because of the far-reaching impacts of social media, commercial and political surveillance. When the set did something amazing (won’t spoil it for you, but the clever designer is Miriam Buether) it was a perfect metaphor for the journey we’d just witnessed.  And since the terrible result of the referendum the image of that moving set is what now keeps coming to me – because I too feel like the character of Andrew thrust into an unknown future where the world no longer makes sense... like Alice through the Looking Glass... I feel completely unsure of my identity, and the identity and values of the country I have chosen to live in.

Until yesterday I was European.  Until yesterday I thought the majority of Britains believed in a connected world where we cared about our allies and neighbours, where we respected (and prioritised) the open and generous sharing of knowledge, art, travel, goods and services.  Until yesterday I felt deeply sure it was those values which kept Great Britain, great... a world leader, morally, culturally and financially. Until yesterday I thought Brits were tolerant, a people who cared about giving a helping hand to those in need, a nation who accepted a multi-cultural population was the only way to create peace and prosperity. Until yesterday I thought the British took pride in leading by example, in thinking not just of their own selfish fears or desires but in the principles of good citizenship and community.  Until yesterday I trusted in the dignity of Great Britain, in her vision, her courage, her inseparable bond with Europe – because that is what has brought us peace since WW11 as well as countless benefits from the price and quality of food on our plate, the goods we trade, to the medical and academic research we reply upon to improve the world and the artistic freedoms we need to make life worth living.  In all this I thought Britain was great.  And overnight that has gone.  Only days after smiling with pride at the Trooping of the Colour, the Union Jack has faded to a feeble shadow of itself. There is no United Kingdom.  The Great has gone from Britain.  And our identity is in tatters.

I will resist the urge to list the many reasons as to why the vote has come out as it has – and that actually it’s not a majority if not everyone votes, doh! - but I will say it is appalling how little conscience some of the ‘leave’ voters have about what they’ve actually done and what their vote represents as a statement of values (or lack of).  Who is more to blame, the leaders who fed the public misinformation for self-serving purposes... or the mindset of those who believed it?  But I make no apology for being appalled and distressed and I will not ‘get over it’ as some have suggested I should – even in the immediate twenty-four hours after the shocking result.  That only proves how shallow some reflection has been, how narrow some people's view, how poor their understanding of the possible ramifications of this decision.  (Not least the domino effect on other nations, especially Scotland and Ireland.)  And if you sense me getting mad as well as sad, you’re right – because it makes my blood boil to hear them massaging their own guilt with hollow platitudes about ‘unity’ and ‘moving forward together’.  What utter bullshit after acting to divide us.

I was born in London but I returned to live in Britain from a beautiful island with wonderful weather and immaculate beaches. But that island is greatly separated from most of the world and I chose to live in Europe specifically because I wanted to be a part of something bigger – with greater opportunities, a wider ranging vision, closer neighbours, diversity, and a vibrant social, political and artistic landscape.  So the conscious de-construction of Great Britain as decided yesterday in the EU Referendum has a direct impact on the way I feel about that choice and about what I do next. Those issues are emotional as well practical, because I won’t be able to move as freely between countries as I have been doing.  I will be forced to choose, to ‘settle’ before I am ready.  And my pound won’t be worth as much while I’m doing it.

But that isn’t really why I wanted to cry all day yesterday.  My grief is greatest because of the impact this decision will gradually have on all people, all our neighbouring countries, and on future generations.  My sadness and confusion is that I identified myself with values and institutions which will no longer exist.  I can’t feel confident about the leadership of Britain, I can’t feel self-esteem or pride in being a part of it – because I loathe the isolationist, right-wing message which the voters sent out to the world yesterday.  I can’t feel at home in a country which rejects migrants and refugees, and is so stupid to have fallen for the propaganda about “Brussels stealing our sovereignty”... and, I say this with shame, who have revealed themselves to be a people where racism brims beneath the surface, where ‘us’ and ‘them’ is intrinsic to their identity.  I cannot trust a government who demonises Europeans when actually what they should be doing – like all of us in any institution or system – is making a proper effort to reform from within.  And in the wake of whom the ‘leave voters’ have declared themselves to be... I don’t know who I am... my compass, my sense of identity and faith in my future in this country has been shattered. 

I only know I am not - will not – be one of those people who live their life blaming others for some mysterious perfect world that would exist if we “didn’t have to pay for European membership”.   I will not frame my life with ‘us’ and ‘them’,  or ‘me’ and ‘other’.  I will not adopt an isolationist, selfish attitude and ignore the needs or suffering of others – or, and here’s a bigger point,  take for granted the many gifts and benefits our partnership with Europe provides me every day I stand on this soil or cross a border and find myself welcomed.   If the values of Britain have really changed so much then it is time for a complete rethink. 

I am ashamed I was busy in recent weeks and presumed the Stronger In Campaign would win on its own merits.  It seems membership of the human race is not an automatic membership.  Nor is membership of a United Kingdom.  Birth rights and residence is not enough.  After a painful day of mourning (and many more to come) I am acutely conscious of how closely my identity and my presence in Europe aligns with certain values that can no longer be taken for granted.  And I should have done more to fight this de-construction. 

I need to say too that not all people who voted ‘out’ are unthinking or uncaring; of course not.  Not all ‘out’ voters are xenophobic or uninformed, some have genuine concerns about the size of the European Union and the problems for its administration.  But still the Leave Campaign’s sound-bites have driven a lot of people who are ill-informed and less thoughtful to make a decision which is going to have many negative effects in the future and limit the horizons (and possibly the humanity) of younger generations.  And God help us, in or out of the Union, we must stop the push to the extreme right in this country.

Going back to WILD, the play starts with an Edward Snowden character and an imagined depiction of what his first days might have been like after he made his (I believe) brave decision.  I have often thought about that young man and the sacrifice he made, and whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of sharing protected information (ironically, secret because it was information stored on all of us that the US government wasn’t supposed to have!) I have no doubt his motives were noble.  He made a conscious choice to try to change the world.  Or at least change how we think about it. What were people thinking when they went to the polling booths in Britain two days ago?  What were the leaders thinking who did their utmost to drive our electorate to the ideological right?  Do they care to see beyond their own little lives or ambitions?  Do they see how closely this mirrors the rise of all fascist nation-states?

It’s that realisation that is WILD.  Wild, sad and scary.

Thank you to the talented Jack Farthing (Andrew), Caoilfhionn Dunne (woman), John Mackay (man), as well as the wonderful Mike, James, Miriam and all the crew for something this week which makes sense and rewards us all for choosing to live in London, the cultural capital of theatre.  Please God the artistic sharing and openness artists need and value will not be destroyed by the outcome of this referendum.  Such a great city now at risk...

As we struggle to reform our identify, within Britain and across Europe, I have a sense we’re going to need the arts more than ever.





For the record, in countries such as Australia this referendum would never have passed:

1) Voting is not compulsory in the UK so a ¼ of Britain’s adult population (younger and older) didn’t make use of their ‘democratic’ right (aka responsibility). 
2) Because of 1) the result is arguably not a majority.
3) In many countries there needs to be a resounding majority for a referendum to change the constitution. For example, if you went by Australia’s rule of equal power to the states (in the UK read countries) then Scotland and Northern Ireland would have kept England and Wales decidedly IN the EU: To pass a referendum, the bill must ordinarily achieve a double majority: a majority of those voting nationwide, as well as separate majorities in a majority of states (i.e., 4 out of 6 states). In circumstances where a state is affected by a referendum then a majority of voters in that state must also agree to the change. This is often referred to as a "triple majority".  

That doesn’t stop anyone feeling awful about this result to LEAVE, but it does show how inevitably divisive and distressing this huge change is.  Indeed, at bottom, it should challenge Britain to reassess what is and isn’t ‘democratic’.



Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Versions of Us

Laura Barnett has written a wonderful debut novel, The Versions of Us.  I recommend it unreservedly. 

The Versions of Us is enjoyable, sensitively and finely crafted, and everything about it makes you think – makes you think about the versions of you and your life which you leave behind... of the ones you haven’t yet achieved... and the versions for which you silently, often subconsciously,  grieve or long.  Her narrative explores "the road less traveled" as well as the nuances of the path we do ultimately take, for all its triumphs and pitfalls.  With her characters, as in real life, no route is perfect.  No love is beyond pain.  But the search, the relative search, for the best life her characters can live within the constraints in which they find themselves, with different amounts of bravery and integrity, is so vivid, so heart-rending, that you are addicted in a few pages.  This is a work of which this new novelist can be immensely proud.  On so many levels her book, her imagining and observations, leave the world a better place.

Inevitably The Versions of Us got me thinking: if we all stand at the crossroads and make choices in our lives from which we can’t return – the phenomenon the poet Robert Frost famously describes as “The Road Not Taken” – how do we maximise our choices... maximise the opportunities we have to become ‘the best version of ourselves’... so that when we get to our rocking chair (if we are so lucky) we can look back and feel happy and peaceful about our principal choices.  Not 100% happy, of course, that simply isn’t compatible with a life that must contain mistakes and failures, detours, recovery, adjustment, improvisation and forgiveness; for life and people were never designed to be flawless.  I mean largely happy, largely peaceful, that we gave this one life we are given one hell of a good shot.

After all, it isn’t a dress rehearsal! 

So I’m wondering, what do you do to be, to find, the best version of yourself?    

Take days off to escape the city and breathe in the beauty of nature?  Take weeks off to lie by the beach and remember what it is to feel unstressed and sanguine?  Take months (or years) away from your regular job to climb a mountain, learn a language, sink into another culture, rent a cottage in a foreign land and write a book, put on your headphones and escape into the power and rhythm of great music,  dance until you can hardly stand, squash into a moshpit and absorb the energy of the crowd, get together with your best friend/s and laugh until your side aches, spend time in a monastery, learn a new sport or hobby, make love until you are so tired you have to sleep for a day to recover, sit on a park bench and simply watch the world go by? 

We all need renewal.  And we all need moments to pause. Each and every moment to pause, to sit and take stock of where we are and where we’d like to be, is very precious in the cut and thrust of a busy life. 

Perhaps your tonic is simply to sit on the sofa and hug your children (if you’ve been blessed with them).  Perhaps it’s to go to church, to pray, to do yoga, to jog along the river, to join a community with people of common interests.  Perhaps it’s a date-night with your partner.  Perhaps a dinner party where you plan something special for your friends.  Perhaps all you need to lift your morale and and focus your inner-self is to sink into the dark before the curtain goes up at the theatre... or curl up with a good book, a book like The Versions of Us.

The recipe, the route, to the best version of yourself – a challenge which is never achieved to be filed in a final or complete manner... but which is ongoing at regular intervals... which is in fact a life pursuit – is the truth upon which every religion, every serious spiritual and artistic practice is based.  And though fitness and health definitely helps, it is universally understood to be about our interior life, our attitude, our courage, kindness (to self and others), honesty and sensitive assessment of where we are and where we’d like to be – short, medium and long term.  And the moments, hours or sessions we take to go to that gentle but revealing place of reflection is infinitely precious. 

If we go there, if we consider the ‘versions of us’ and find in that examination that, actually, not so much is left wanting, that we are in fact on the track which is the best of the available options, we feel empowered, relieved or grateful.  If we are off track, not really in harmony with our own heart and idiosyncratic hungers and desires, then it’s time to do something about it.  And whatever advice we receive, only we can know the intentions and subtleties of our own heart.

Sometimes that something we need to ‘do’ is to let go.  To give something up and to wait and see what flows in to replace it.  I’ve had that experience recently. Other times it’s to take action, to ‘gird our loins’ and face our fears or reticence.  I’ve had that too.  This change of direction can be scary.  It can be exposing, and make you feel vulnerable.  But to be vulnerable is to be truly alive.  There is no virtue or joy in living like a robot, in living someone else’s life – however cool or appropriate it may be on the surface.  To consider the versions of yourself, and to review your focus and priorities as you go through life, is the road to fulfilment – ultimately the only road to fulfilment, however you perceive God, Mother Nature, Destiny or the Universe. 

So before the summer ends, the best of times to lie quietly and lap up the beauty of the world around us, create a little space for yourself... alone or with a good book or CD... and snuggle into that space.  The long weekend coming up is perfect for it.   

The Versions of Us: this is a manuscript you can keep reading and writing as long as you have the breath and energy for change and reflection. 

Thanks Laura Barnett.  What a great first novel you’ve put out into the world.  Like all great works of fiction, it speaks to the non-fiction in all of us.  Brava!


Monday, 13 July 2015

The Bubble Bursts

I have been in a bubble of sorts in recent months while focusing everything on the launch of my new book TO KISS OR NOT TO KISS. 

It is a light read, I hope humorous, and neither overtly feminist nor anti-feminist. If anything, it highlights the importance of being true to yourself, as well as trusting - and, where necessary, defending - your instincts and values.

I have emerged from this bubble hungry now for new intellectual, social and artistic stimulation... only to find in the public realm recently some incredibly disappointing events and attitudes.


Sarah Jessica Parker has come out in a magazine to say she “isn’t a feminist”. What the ****?

Please Ms Parker, let this be a mistake, a misquote.  

Surely you know, SJP, that the people who believe in gender equality received a positive boost recently when Mark Ruffalo made some helpful and sensible public comments about feminism.  Also positive, and needed, is the HeForShe campaign fronted by the wonderfully centered Emma Watson from Harry Potter fame. SJP, couldn’t you have just left the topic alone if you couldn’t be supportive?  Apart from the fact that you are privileged and therefore more able to defend your rights, to say “I’m a humanist” is a lame excuse for not acknowledging the truth that despite other injustices in the world women continue to suffer from discrimination and a lack of equal rights and power.  So much for Sex and the City’s version of girl power.  Very disappointing.  

If you want to read more from me on this topic go to:

From Mark Ruffalo:

From the HeForShe campaign:

       Or get a good book out of the library.



The immensely valuable BBC has an hour dedicated to women’s issues on Radio 4, called Woman’s Hour.  It is presented by Jenni Murray and she’s good value in so many ways.  In an interview recently in The Mail on Sunday I could have hugged her for saying:”I’d make it a hanging offence for anyone not to pay a woman the same as a man”.  Bravo Jenni! We know she doesn’t mean it literally but is making an important point. 

Then she totally spoiled it – no doubt unwittingly – by telling the journalist that the last film she saw and enjoyed was Kingsman.  “I laughed my socks off” she apparently added. Please tell me, Jenni, that you also went on to criticize the film’s sexist ending and that the sub-editor cut out your other comments?  Please don’t be passive or naive to the link between the unacceptable, discriminatory ending of this film and the question of equal respect for women, and equal pay for equal work! 

Again I am disappointed and can’t believe we still have to fight, win, fight and re-win the same ground over and over again for gender equality without making more firm progress.

What century have I emerged into from my literary bubble?

For opinions on that film you can google pretty much anywhere... and for my thoughts see:



Then I went to the Royal Opera House, where I go probably a dozen times a year, to see Guillaume (aka William) Tell. I went along having learned the day before that there’d been criticism of the opera about a new scene which had been added, a rape scene.  I didn’t want to disappoint the friend who’d paid a lot of money for the tickets, and felt I should probably see the production for myself before coming to any conclusions. 

Oh dear, what a mistake.  I was miserable company, the production was so poor I still can’t believe anyone thinks it’s up to scratch, and it left me deeply concerned a company receiving this much public funding – an organisation filled with artists who regularly feel for and defend against other forms of discrimination and exploitation – could be so blind as to the standard beneath which they have fallen on this occasion.   

Let’s start with the least of the Royal Opera House’s problems.  This production of Guillaume Tell is extremely dull. If not for the reasons above I would not have remained in my seat beyond Act 1. As a whole the production lacks energy, dramatic impetus and truth. There is miniscule character or narrative development, and much that is far-fetched and unconvincing, such that over 4 acts and 3 long intervals I could have cried with boredom and impatience that so many people could be spread out on a stage (and paid to be there) to so little dramatic effect.

There is some lovely music. I can’t fault the orchestra (under the baton of Antonio Pappano) and the principals each have strong moments. Indeed they struggle to maintain artistic integrity in what cannot be an easy production to deliver.

Here I should add that I suspect this opera would be hard for anyone to present persuasively to a modern audience. The director, Damiano Michieletto, can’t be alone in failing to make it interesting. I don’t know what opera experts believe but, for me, the score of Guillaume Tell is far too long, the composer, Gioachino Rossini, is often indulgent, and the central narrative is weak. There are some quality arias and duets - Gerald Finley as Guillaume Tell, John Osborn as Arnold Melcthal and Malin Byström as Mathilde each show their voices to best advantage in isolated sections.  So isn’t that sufficient you may ask?

Well actually, no. Opera in the modern world is supposed to combine strong musical and dramatic elements; as well as meaningful costume and set design, orchestration, production values etc. (Actually the large tree as a set piece from Act 2 onwards was something of a relief because it made a strong statement. And the lighting was imaginative in places.)

Every artist or institution has the right - the need - to aim high and sometimes fail. That is the nature of art. Yet organizations receiving generous public subsidy are not immune from criticism on such occasions. The ROH is not funded to produce material that would be better heard on a CD at home in one’s armchair. So the sheer dullness of the production is the first criticism. But I happily embrace and accept that risk, if that was all.

The 2nd criticism, and the most important, is that if a large and wealthy company choose to commission and present a new production, and create for that production a ‘new scene’ which explores a (possible) piece of subtext or tangential narrative, then they better make sure they do it in a way which justifies its existence - dramatically and musically - and adds to the overall experience, deepening the audience’s appreciation of the opera. In all these aspects the Royal Opera House utterly fails with the new ‘rape scene’ in Act 3 of Guillaume Tell.

As a comment about women being raped in war, I can appreciate the idea may have come up in the rehearsal room.  In the background it may have warranted a small example of intimidation between soldiers and a peasant girl. BUT it definitely does not warrant the centre stage ‘celebration’ it has been given.  In fact this new scene’s prominence is disgusting.  Here’s why:

·     the invented episode is entirely unrelated to the central characters or the core story;

·     a scene dedicated to the rape of an innocent bystander is a huge embellishment of a possible background element;

·     the threatening abusive behaviour goes on for an extraordinarily long period of time – for no justifiable reason - with increasing violence and torment for the innocent and defenceless female victim;

·     the same point could have been made with a few bars of music and action (without causing offence to anyone);

·     the light-hearted folk music to which her abuse is set in this ‘new scene’ clashes so badly in tone with the reality of what we are seeing that it seems to mock her (and any sympathetic person’s) distress;

·     it is the only time in the production where the director appears to have come up with a powerful idea which, when contrasted against the plodding dullness of the rest, only heightens our discomfort;

·     and meanwhile the main story desperately lacks believable narrative development of its own. 

I am a very experienced and robust theatre-goer and I simply would not have felt so deeply uncomfortable and offended if this scene had been dramatically justified. But the fact is that this scene is grossly distorting of the opera’s plot. It is gratuitous, highly sexist and offensive. 

It is also unacceptable to use a slimly justified bit of subtext about violence against women in war to inject into an otherwise dull and sedate journey a token of dynamism.  What a very poor excuse it is for real creativity or imagination. The Royal Opera House should be ashamed of itself.

Greatly concerning too is that the ROH was insensitive (dare I say arrogant) in the way it initially handled people’s objections to the scene. And their efforts after the opening night fiasco to appear diligent and concerned have been as artificial as the scene itself.    

Yes, the ROH has attempted to make the scene less abhorrent by shortening the nudity. But it’s not the sight of a beautiful naked woman which offends me; that is nothing in the context of a well conceived play. It is the ominous threat and cruelty of this extended and (seemingly glorified) scene which vanquished my spirits as it abused and raped the poor victim – a character who came from nowhere and whose plight was then ignored.

This lack of respect for women is contemptible – shared knowingly or otherwise by everyone around this production who was in a position of power and could have made different choices.

In the 21st Century how could a publicly funded organisation such as the ROH completely fail to notice, let alone avoid, an instance of gross indulgence and offence to women?

Neither the pathetic slip of paper inserted into the programme (if you happened to buy one or pick it up) or the email some received from the General Manager warning of the “possible offence”, is enough to make up for it. 

I am bitterly disappointed in the Royal Opera House.  Imagine if gay or religious rights were treated with such disdain how loud the outcry would be?  

The only things that hit their targets in this production were the brave soprano who complained after a dress rehearsal, only to be ignored until the boo-ing began on opening night.  And the tenor who expertly shoots the apple off his son’s head. Bravo for those good shots.  Bravo. 

But definitely BOO for the rest. BOO and SHAME ON YOU.