Monday, 27 June 2011

Out With The Old | Theatre | The Olympics are only The Beginning

(Just don't expect to experience it at the new RSC theatre)

New is an odd concept. The more I think about it, from a book to a pair of trousers to an idea, new is simply about ownership. I have this for the first time, therefore it is new, to me. When you move into theatre, the concept of new becomes slightly perverse. How exactly do you do a new version of Henry V, or Hobson’s Choice or The Seagull.  The coveted descriptions; ‘world premier’, ‘new writing’, ‘recently discovered’ sell tickets and put bums on seats. We live in an era of fast over-consumerism and so the USP that we need in all our dealings is this one of ‘newness’, of ‘first-time-ness’, ergo, of ‘I am privileged’. The problem is, of course, that not a thing in theatre is ever truly ‘new’. Stories, words, paint-frames get used time and time again, albeit they might look different, but there are only so many versions of the same tale said in different ways with another shade of paint on the set. The way theatre and performance counteracts this stalemate is the key to its success, and that is its ‘live-ness’, its ‘happening-now-ness’. It may not be ‘new’ but it is ephemeral and that’s worth a bag of gold.

At a recent professional market-place for street arts (this is, as it sounds, when companies pitch their shows to potential bookers, backers and festivals) at the Greenwich and Docklands Festival, Chenine Bhathena (London 2012 Creative Programmer) delivered her speech outlining the ‘new’ ideas for cultural programming that 2012 was recognising and supporting. Among these were: multiculturalism, large-scale outdoor performance, and circus arts. For the people in the room, who have been making this kind of performance for years, it didn’t sound very new. But I suppose what Bhathena was talking about was a movement away from The Theatre, The Building, and back into the streets; creating a culture of pop-up performance, far away from (and one might say an advance on) the old bastions of theatre. You only have to stand on London’s South Bank where, in one direction you see the (reconstructed) Elizabethan Globe Playhouse, and the 1970’s monolith that is the National Theatre in the other direction, or stand at the doors of the Old Vic and look across the road to the Young Vic to realise this is a tried and tested method. When it comes to crunch time (be that a recession or an Olympic year, or both) then forget the baby, chuck it out with the bathwater. Hell, chuck the bath out while you’re at it.

But new buildings don’t mean new ways of thinking about art as proven by the dismal ‘new’ RSC theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, unveiled earlier this year. What the RSC had the opportunity to do was create an exciting, versatile performance space. Instead they’ve created a Front of House that misdirects you like every good shopping centre should, and they’ve built a playing space that recreates precisely The Swan, and the Other Place. It’s a great space, it’s just an unnecessary one. And it seems too that the golden boy of theatre, Rupert Goold has become stuck his ways, with his new production of Merchant of Venice speaking to every misogynistic, sexist, crass trope of performances at the RSC in the mid 90’s. Here then is the new kid on the block who needs to be ousted, for an even newer model.

So what would be new? Performance has been underground, it’s been underwater, it’s been all-night, it’s been still and static and immersive and terrifying. We don’t really want to get rid of the old, the stuff that works, the stuff that keeps performance ‘live’. But what we do need to do is create a new system of valuing performance, of paying for it, and of recognising it in terms of cultural significance. There’s no money to be made (or to be found) right now in the business of performance, but if we can lay-down some solid groundwork for culture, then this ‘new-ness’ might be a proper revolution.

At the end of her speech Bhathena, who is hugely positive about the possibilities for 2012 (but, like all the politicians of the Olympics, fails ever to mention 2013), was able to introduce the Artistic Directors for the Para-Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director of GRAEAE (Britain’s most celebrated disabled theatre company), herself profoundly deaf, will take on the closing ceremony and direct the celebrations. Ten years ago this news would barely have elicited a reaction. Last week in a hall in Greenwich this announcement was met with a standing ovation, and a feeling that here was an opportunity to make something “new”, to put Great Britain on the cultural and sporting map for being the first Olympics to truly support, promote, engage with and recognise the achievements and talents of artists and sportspersons in the disabled community. For some it is too little too late, or feels like political spin and box-ticking. But I was in that room, and a revolution happened in the space of a minute. This is not about ‘new-ness’ so much as ‘live-ness’, and about taking the lessons of the past and putting them into practice. By being inclusive as opposed to exclusive, we have created a culture of performance that is constantly changing and reshaping, challenging and regenerating. As far as I’m concerned the mesmerising Danny Boyle (and it will be mesmerising) Opening Ceremony of the Olympics can take a hike, it’s old hat, it’s glorified fireworks – I’m looking to the future of performance and culture and identity- a future that will challenge as much as entertain, and it starts in September, at a very significant closing ceremony to mark the beginning of the next chapter. I’ll see you there. 

Rowan Rutter
Theatre Editor

Friday, 24 June 2011

Out With The Old | Music | End of the World Blues, or, “We’re some kind of incredible multiplication more successful than the average person”

So dose me up once is not enough 
I can still see the ground
And from this high rise view looking down on you
I'm not the one wasting my time
This is the end of the world news
This is the end of the world news sponsored by God

So sung Tom McRae on a track from his self-titled debut, and the 14 year old me loved the shit out of it. Here was an artist and a song that combined all the things I wanted to do with my own guitar as a pubescent bairn: a simple, but not pathetically simple minor key guitar structure; a set of lyrics almost entirely constructed out of one-line, self-contained abstractions; a voice flecked with sexy, Counting Crows-ish (remember them? HOHOHO) mannerisms that were just English-sounding enough to slip into one’s own choir-trained vocal approach. And so forth. I dug this song so much I remember picking up an acoustic guitar at, potentially, my first ever house party, again aged 14ish, and playing it to a bunch of girls having introduced it as “a song I’ve been working on for ages.” Yeah, I was a little fuck back then.

Needless to say, a couple years later, I had moved on from poor Tom, and could regularly be found sitting at Sandwich Club (those of us who brought packed lunches to school formed a sandwich club. At Christmas, we organised a Secret Sandwich, as opposed to Santa) mouthing off about McRae’s rubbish one-man impersonation of late REM – the worst REM of all the REMs. “Take ‘End of the World News,’ from his self-titled debut,” I’d begin. “The sixth line: ‘to define you the king of the game.’ I’d actually prefer ‘ahead of the game’ to that kind of half-baked, nonsensical attempt to drag a cliché into the realms of originality, like some kind of very, very, very poor man’s Jens Lekman.” Yeah, I was a little fuck back then.

Needless to say, a couple years further on and I’d forgotten McRae had ever existed, his mewing silenced by the bells and whistles of fresher-friendly popgroups like Crystal Castles and Datarock. A state of affairs that remained in place until just over a month ago, when I was sat in my room watching the Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard talking-head bricolages which accompany last month’s set of Bad Seeds re-releases – the Boatman’s Call film specifically. A thoroughly nice-looking man appeared, wearing a jacket and stubble every bit as pathetic as my own (watch this, from 7.45 onwards). Avoiding making eye contact with the camera, he over-emphasised certain nouns in order to draw attention away from his manifest gaucheness – something I’m fully aware I do in artificial situations. “I am the child of two vicars,” he began. “And for me to have somebody who talks about religion in a funny, clever, challenging way – that was a way for me to antagonise my family as well.”

My God, it’s basically me – I mean, I’m a vicar’s son, as opposed to two vicars’ son, but even so. I thought. Along with: I can’t wait to find out who this nice-looking man is, we should probably hang out or something. (The way these Bad Seeds films work is, they don’t caption the interviewees until the very end, so either you don’t know who you’re seeing talk, and therefore judge what they’re saying objectively, or have the opportunity to congratulate yourself on recognising, I don’t know, the bassist from the Veils, a goddam angel who appears on several of these films.)

Readers, it was Tom McRae! I had/have become what I thought I despised. Or rather, I had/have finally recognised what I’d convinced myself I despised for what it was, namely something not unlike myself. (I hope you don’t think this is about me drawing parallels between myself and a chiselled, mega-selling troubadour, it’s honestly not, try to bear with me.)

What a cliché. But here’s my point which is, I’m pleased to admit, very much a case of dragging a cliché into the realms of originality: admitting to myself that I’m probably more like Tom McRae than I’m not like Tom McRae helped me to come to an important conclusion: growing up culturally, musically, literally, coming to the end of one’s immaturity, isn’t about turning into one’s father/mother, like the lazy stories say: it’s about turning into one’s father’s/mother’s son/daughter. (Which, for the sake of readability, I will henceforth refer to as: becoming one’s father’s son. Because I’m a boy, silly.) Growing up is about acknowledging that the musician you’ve contrived antipathy towards because of his unashamed emotive directness is probably the kind of musician you’d have become if you were any good at music-making, and more handsome. Growing up is about recognising that the things you properly value have much more to do with the things that your parents value than you’ve hitherto been willing to admit.

It’s not linear. My father is a vicar, but I’m not especially keen on hymns (except for bona fide pumpers like this). When I really interrogate, say, my love affair with Nick Cave though, documented extensively on these pages, I realise that it’s the way he integrates a profound respect for liturgical poetry, along with an underlying willingness to be touched by a spiritual sublime, into a model of songwriting that is also violent and decadent and culturally enriching and gorgeous and chaotic and dense and sexy – I realise it’s the presence of what my dad does within that, which makes it so important to me. Nick Cave legitimises my somewhat all-over-the-place views on religion to the point that I’ve made peace with the significance of what my dad does in making sense what I do (on the face of things, utterly different. But actually not that different at all, really. I just use fuckwords more).

Anyway, this is all getting a bit heavy, and self-indulgent, so to close in the traditional Silkworms manner, HERE’S A SILLY LIST TO PROVE MY POINT. Vicar’s offspring ancient and modern who turned into their father’s sons as they reached artistic maturity. But first, a quote from (another’s vicar’s son – whose latest record is a classic vicar’s son’s album, all about friends of his father’s who have died and so forth) Mick Harvey, the original and greatest of all the Bad Seeds, on this very subject – taken from an interview I conducted with him on (of all days) Easter Saturday:

We do tend to excel apparently. They do say that, I’ve read an analysis of it, the sons and daughters of Anglican ministers. And it’s quite extraordinary, what they go on to – I can’t remember what the figures are but we’re some kind of incredible multiplication more successful than the average person. I don’t know why.


Son of: The Reverend Thomas Hobbes, vicar of Charlton and Westport
Early life: Many, many accusations of atheism.
Maturity: “Atheism, impiety, and the like are words of the greatest defamation possible.”

 EXAMPLE THE SECOND, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Son of: The Reverend John Coleridge
Early life: The Lyrical Ballads, washed down with a fuckton of laudanum
Maturity: ‘On the Constitution of the Church and State, according to the idea of each’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Son of: Bill Westwood, Bishop of Peterborough
Early life: “You can’t come to the kingdom and not see the prince.” S. Dogg
Maturity: “Honestly, baby, I get love out there, pure and simple.” T. Westwood


Sons of: Ivan Leon Followhill, a United Pentecostal Preacher
Early life: “You’ll plead, you’ll get down on your knees / For just another taste.”
Maturity: Good one.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Out With The Old | Fiction | Slender Man And Spanking Keira Knightley


Well, it’s out with the old. More specifically, out with David Cronenberg’s upcoming adaptation of A Most Dangerous Method: The Story Of Jung, Freud, & Sabrina Spielrein. I enjoyed Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which had fun with a frosty, unglamorous London and that fight scene, but I thought it was the closest he’d ever come to embracing genre, rather than flirting with it. And, sure, it might just be the canny marketers at work, but the trailer for A Dangerous Method looks very much like an-over familiar period piece. A sort of King’s Speech of psychiatry, in which Jung is inspired towards his theory of individuation by spanking Keira Knightley sexily. Meanwhile, Freud and a curiously French Otto Gross stare reflectively into the air and utter profundities.

What is it with Keira Knightley as the go-to girl for this sort of film? Why did I accept her lanky presence and top-billing with nothing more than a sorrowful groan? Wouldn’t Ruth Wilson be sexier, more twisted, and more believable as a cutting-edge female psycho-analyst? (Actually, I think Michael Fassbender as Jung is a miscast, too – Iain Glen, who played him in an earlier adaptation of the story, seems to me a much better fit, with his current performance in TV’s Game of Thrones proving that he can lend weight and compassion to anything, up to and including the sight of a naked, sooty girl in a blonde wig, clutching a CGI baby dragon to her vagina and Peter Dinklage attempting a really awful English accent).

…and in with the new. Because I was delighted recently to learn of the existence of Slender Man, a faceless, rather skinny chap in a suit who’s apparently been caught on camera in various children’s playgrounds and forests, looking quite exceptionally sinister.

Slender Man is a photoshopped horror creation, made in 2009 by a chap called ‘Victor Surge’ on the comedy website and forum Something Awful as part of a competition to create spooky images. His iconic (not to say dashing) look apparently made him very popular, and he was at once edited into a variety of different pictures, along with an ever-growing backstory, which ranged from the childish – he kills his victims and leaves them in pieces in plastic bags – to the smart – the more you investigate his existence, the more likely he is to appear. And then people began to write.

There are now a considerable number of stories involving the Slender Man, of varying quality, using a very inventive format; the blog itself. Their earliest entries tend to be about something else entirely – deliberately banal hobbies or the usual bloggish self-centred ramblings. Then the narrator will begin to notice a strange, thin-looking man loitering around wherever they go, or (more interesting) stumble upon existing accounts of the Slender Man…such as the other stories, in real life, doing exactly the same thing. An inevitable descent into madness and paranoia will ensue; at the same time, narrators from the other blogs will come across and comment, delivering warnings or prophecies. The narrator may then vanish from the blog entirely, only for another narrator to appear, a friend or colleague who will begin to investigate the disappearance of the last narrator, and so on, and so on…

And, of course, as the stories have gone on, they’ve spread further and further. There are now several Youtube series featuring Slender Man, mockumentaries with a cod-Blair Witch feel. These, too, seem to unfailingly work using layers of myth and multiple sources; in one of the most popular, Marble Hornets, the protagonist is a film-maker who’s examining the pretentious student film of an old (yes, disappeared) friend, and begins to film his own actions, as well as documenting his progress via a blog, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

It’s a little like one of those viral marketing campaigns – except that it’s its own entity, without any cynical advertising clinch, and it’s tightly entrenched enough in the unreality of the internet that it can be disguised as a ‘secret’ truth. After reading the stories, I actually realised I’d seen a picture of Slender Man on a (very self-serious) conspiracy theory website months earlier, which makes the joke even funnier. But it’s also very Borgesian; an indirect influence, I think, probably via Mark Danielewski’s horror novel House of Leaves. Multiple authors, writing in real-time, keeping up the conceit over multiple forms of media, referencing and commenting on each other, even letting their protagonists interact, and readers who don’t just read one story, but are directed to click through onto an earlier ‘original’ story, and an earlier one, and an earlier one…it strikes me that this may be a narrative form that’s actually been born out of the Internet, and that can survive in it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Out With the Old | Poetry | Eric Gregory Awards 2011

“that’s one fucker of a fucker, eh?”
“Aye, man, you took the words right out of my mouth.
-Niall Campbell

Last week was an important time in the world of poetry, for we saw the announcement of this year’s Eric Gregory Award winners who were, if you do not already know, Holly Hopkins, Niall Campbell, Tom Chivers, Martin Jackson and Kim Moore.

I had the pleasure of attending the traditional winners’ reading, hosted in the Betsey Trotwood by Roddy Lumsden.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I go to a lot of poetry events of all shapes and sizes, and as a result I feel that I have developed a fairly keen ear for what works and what does not.

I say this as if it is a hard skill to master; it isn’t. If you can let a week pass after seeing a poet for the first time and still remember something impressive about their reading, then what they are doing works. It really is as simple as that for me. Last Wednesday’s reading was that rare thing of a live event where everyone’s set lodged itself in my perforated memory fairly vividly.

I have known Tom Chivers and Holly Hopkins for long enough not to have been surprised by how well they read (Tom’s crowning moment was probably his masterful inclusion of the calculator-friendly word, ‘boobless’ in a poem and Holly infuriatingly read one of the most beautiful nuptial poems I have ever heard at a point in my life when I am desperately trying to write something for a friend’s wedding).

The other three were a pleasant revelation however. Kim Moore’s mixture of youthful energy and dry sense of humour made for an entertaining end to the opening section. In listening to her describe the interior of a Wetherspoons pub whilst evoking Dante’s Inferno, I felt a slight kindred spirit with the many hours I have spent poetically dissecting life in a public house.

She finished with a hilarious piece about what happens to poets when they retire, how they will look at a beautiful night sky and no longer feel obliged to construct metaphors. The piece almost read as if it could be Philip Larkin’s letter declining the post of poet laureate in 1984.

Martin Jackson filled the stage with a very different type of energy. Just as memorable as his poetry were the brief beguiling snapshots of his life given between poems. Jackson appears to evoke everything that we want our writers to be – handsome, busy-minded folk living in houses with wardrobes propped up with discarded early drafts and shelves full of books with the covers ripped off.

The last poet to read was Niall Campbell, a writer introduced with much glee by his fellow Scotsman, Lumsden (they both celebrated Campbell being the first Scot to win a Gregory in 16 years by downing a glass of Scotch on stage before the reading).

Campbell’s poetry was worth the wait however. His voice is that of a small-town boy who can see the big picture and his ability to imbue the minutiae of a remote life with a profound universality puts me in mind of Michael Longley.

In the past, the Eric Gregory awards have proved a fairly sound prophecy of the people who will go on to achieve great things in the world of poetry. If the five people who read last Wednesday are where poetry is heading, then I can sleep easy tonight knowing that we are in safe hands.

It is a real honour to be part of a group that hosts such talented new writers and I look forward to bringing you new work by some of this year’s Gregory Winners in Silkworms' exciting imminent rebirth this year.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

Monday, 20 June 2011

Out With The Old | Introduction | It's time for us 'worms to moth

Regular readers may have noticed things have slowed down here at the Silkworms Ink. And you may be wondering, has the whizz grown bored of the shape of our sails? No. We have been exceedingly busy, but behind the scenes…

Silkworms 2.0. Is. Coming.

Since we launched Silkworms, over a year ago now, things have gone terribly well. The sheer quantity and quality of submissions we receive every week has led us to consider what more we can do, both for our writers and our readers. I won’t delve into the details of those considerations now, as we still have the nooks and crannies of our plans to pack tightly – although I will say, we are going bigger. And better. And soon.

So, until then, when we return to full flow, revamped and glorious, we will leave you with this last week of ‘the old way’ for you to masticate over slowly. I recommend nibbling.

Sayonara for now, and see you all soon. In conclusion, watch this space.

James Harringman

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lunacy | Poetry | Cane Hill

When Elizabeth Bishop wrote of ‘the tragic man that lies in the house of Bedlam’, she imbued such subtle tragedy in her refrain from the compassionate pronoun ‘who’.

I think that my fascination with mental asylums began with the David Bowie song, The Bewlay Brothers. Insanity’s map is in constant flux, as is our treatment of those we deem as ‘insane’.

The context of an act is often the only thing that gives it the requisite weirdness to be seen as the act of a lunatic. The most seemingly innocuous of gestures, statements and thoughts can be seen as clear evidence for lunacy when our perception of the subject is coloured by a preconceived madness.

A sane man may sit on a park bench, mesmerised by a cloud that bares a resemblance to a family member. When a madman does this, it becomes an altogether more sinister piece of behaviour in our perception. Even that most unequivocally sinful act, murder, can flit from being an evil deed to a symptom of a sickness depending on our perception of the agent, and indeed our understanding and sympathy towards psychopathy.

As medicine’s influence has shifted clumsily from the shaman to the scientist, so too have our ideas about mental illness. No longer are the madman’s ravings a hallmark of demonic possession to be subdued through torture – we have moved from Bedlam to the WLMHT, via Craiglockhart. Our exorcisms are now humanely replaced with sedative drugs.

But have we ever known how to show compassion to those whose thoughts stray from the social norm? Can we conflate medication with treatment? In sedating the insane, are we not replacing a concrete cell with a cell that bares the appearance of a human body?

Cane Hill

When I was eighteen, I broke into an abandoned mental asylum in Coulsdon called Cane Hill. When I was younger, this was seen as an adolescent pilgrimage akin to setting foot in a haunted mansion. I do not recommend this dangerous and illegal act to anyone, and see myself as lucky to have not died as a result of the hazardous excursion.

It was however, formative in my education of how the insane have been treated by society. Getting lost in the lamp-lit labyrinth of wards and cells and the mortuary and chapel and discarded detritus was a kinaesthetic experience that no wiki could ever provide.

I wrote a poem about it when I was around twenty. This is it.

Cane Hill

Averos Compono Animos

The ominous sag of the floor at our feet
as though walking on a gloved hand
over a patchwork of spread newspapers stained sepia by the years
dustily detailing developments of what the Russians were up to.

Huddling in the projected safety of our torchlight
casting Venn diagrams in which to step.

Embarrassed to be eighteen and afraid, they coax me
into trying on a jacket left hanging solo in a balsa closet.
Smell of dust and piss as it grips
my shoulders like an angry parent.

Clatter of the rusty can litter when kicked
across derelict corridors once sanitary
and the unseen scuttle of others and bugs
or screams held in stone tape.

We lasted an hour in all
before returning to our torn corner of fence.

A silent ride home, rifling through our loot:
three syringes, a nurse’s coat baring a Latin motto,
a duty rota dated ’82 and a small pile
of clumsy polaroids:

the cold chamber, the smashed window, the pew barnacled with moss
and me in a too-small jacket.

Phil Brown

Poetry Editor