REVIEW: The Commune / Kollektivet

Nordic imports have been the ‘in thing’ for a while. Gosh, there was even a fairly snide anti-Danish design article in The Times supplement last weekend – when an informed backlash with confident reference to ‘hygge’ appears in the national press then a culture has definitely made an impact. I, for one, remain a Scandi-phile, in particular a lover of all things Danish. I may be one of the only people who hasn’t given up on my Duolingo account and I recently progressed to a textbook. It’s a passion, what can I say.

Anyway, as you may expect I spend a lot of time watching Danish drama, and so I had to check out the latest Danish import ‘The Commune’, or to give it the Danish title ‘Kollektivet’. Set in the liberal 70s and taking its theme as the craze of commune-living with all the freedom all that involves, it could be summarised that the film depicts the breakdown of a family as it becomes a victim of liberal thinking. However, it could also be argued that it demonstrates the power of love beyond traditional family ties, and how love can extend beyond the social construct of the family unit. It’s both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and refuses to tie things up cleanly, reflecting the unavoidable chaos of reality whichever way you choose to live it.

For anyone at all acquainted with Danish film or drama there are some familiar faces, and the stand out performance comes from Trine Dyrholm, star of ‘Love is all you need’ (or in Danish ‘Den skaldede frisor’ – ‘The Bald Hairdresser’ – I love the Danes) with Pierce Brosnan (well worth a watch). In ‘The Commune’ she plays the newsreader-wife who encourages her University lecturer husband to create the commune. In an attempt to sex up the mundane confine of her comfortably happy marriage, she loses her husband both emotionally, and then physically, as he finds that lost comfort in the arms of a student, a stereotype exacerbated by the fact she is doppeldanger version 2.0 of his wife. Dyrholm’s descent from an attempted acceptance of the affair to full-on vodka-soaked emotional breakdown culminates in an excrutiating scene where she loses not only her husband but her livelihood. Her realisation that she has lost her previously happy family underlines the reality of ‘liberal living’ and the fact that you can’t have it all. If you ask for excitement, your husband might take you literally.

Admittedly there are some moments in the film which don’t quite work. It is not clear whether Dyrholm’s Anna had expected living in a commune to involve a little infidelity or not. At the beginning she merely repeatedly says that she has always wanted to live with their friend Ole (wink wink), and in one scene grabs his bum. Therefore it is hard to comprehend the true extent of her husband’s betrayal. Another issue (although it could be just me) is how their 14 year old daughter’s first relationship moves with alarming speed to the bedroom (one minute she follows the stranger home, next minute she is in a darkened room being told to undress) and had me convinced that the film was heading for a teen pregnancy. However, despite my little anxieties, overall this is a well-delivered, emotional, yet fairly upbeat ride*.

*Pun intended – this is the 70s after all


REVIEW – ‘10,000 Smarties’ at the Old Fire Station, Oxford

smartiesImmigration. At the epicentre of the political turbulence that has followed the ‘Leave’ vote just over a week ago, and an issue that feeds off fear to create societal confusion and often ill-informed hatred, the subject of Josh Azouz’s play is topical, delving into the realities of refugee life, and demonstrating how for many child refugees a Peter Pan existence would be preferable to what ensues once they have leapt the child-adult divide.

In 70 minutes, a cast of only three acts as an inverted family. Azouz plays with our preconceptions: the child represents the authorities, the mother is helpless and in love with her foster child, the man is what once was the son.

The play begins with Enayat’s birthday. He doesn’t want to turn 18, despite his foster mother’s (and lover’s) excitement that he has the potential to get the grades to go to Imperial College London to study Medicine. Yet, at 18, the fact that Enayat is a refugee from Afghanistan and lacks both passport and birth certificate, means that the education and promise offered to him during this life in the UK are about to be taken away from him.

The authorities take no time to sweep in and Azouz’s decision to cast a child as the various authoritative roles (policeman, social worker) means that their hegemony is initially laughable. Equipped with toy dog, light-up trainers and a tube of smarties, the police seem to pose no real threat to Enayat and Sal’s life together. Yet as Enayat is taken away to a detention centre, Azouz shows (as he does throughout the play) that appearances can be deceptive, and the child’s power becomes dangerous and scary.

There is an obvious attack on the authorities, exposing their decisions on refugees as mere child’s play. The smarties analogy which lends the play its title, simultaneously demonstrates the difficulty that the government face as they try to protect British citizens from the ‘one poisonous smartie’ in amongst the harmless others, yet also undermines the decision-making process that they follow, reducing it to a child’s sweet and a guessing game on Enayat’s true age. Azouz presents a flawed Orwellian system, where the important aspects surrounding Enayat’s status as a refugee, and the reasons why he chose to come to the UK, are ignored.

Azouz does not shy away from the brutal realities of detention centre life, referencing lack of cleanliness and hygiene, and rape. Throughout the play we watch Enayat’s mental state slip from denial, into anger, and then suicidal depression. As Sal’s devotion intensifies, reminiscing over the joys Enayat brought to the mundanity of her existence, Enayat, treated like a criminal in a cage, pushes her away. Their relationship acts as a modern Oedipus, and despite any initial moral quandary you may have, it comes to act as reversed tragedy of the play. The final mirrored scenes of the pair at the denouement of the piece act as a powerful emotional climax. The universe has destined them for each other, bound in love, yet the law, and authorities, deem that they must be kept apart.

Commissioned by Magdalen College School for Oxford’s Festival of the Arts this production by Three Streets packs a bittersweet, emotional punch; it had me in tears.

Has ‘Call me Dave’ called Check Mate?

Over the past few weeks British politics have descended into chaos, not only in the Conservative Party, but right across the political sphere. Even today Labour MPs are resigning left, right and centre (excuse me) in an attempt to see Corbyn off, following what many believe to be a game-changing lacklustre ‘Remain’ campaign performance. Sometimes absence is stronger than presence – something George Osborne has demonstrated that he knows only too well. It’s like a game of Where’s Wally but without the clues.

The most interesting aspect of the post-referendum atmosphere is that the decisive vote has led to more indecision and lack of control. Why? David Cameron has not, as he said he would, immediately invoked article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Having lost the battle, he has left the scene; he has taken the country’s vote as a vote of no confidence and resigned. I can’t blame him, and on Friday his subdued and emotional speech with a visibly uncomfortable wife stood alongside him, Cameron looked a defeated man. Yet, his departure, and decision not to begin the proceedings necessary for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, are beginning to seem a little more astute and reasoned that once thought.

By delaying the process Cameron is giving MPs thinking time. They are lost and leaderless, and the reaction across the board has bordered on comical. Boris’s post-win speech lacked the tone of triumph expected as he realised that if Cameron wasn’t going to do it, it could well be in his name (if he manages to succeed to leadership) that we break away from the EU and, with Nicola Sturgeon calling for  a second vote on Scottish Independence, potentially fracture Britain as we know it. His Conservative ally Michael Gove seemed to immediately back track from his strong position throughout his ‘Leave’ campaigning, referencing ‘informal negotiations’ with the EU; not the kind of rhetoric you would expect in victory.

Cameron has not allowed himself to be the pawn of the ‘Leave’ campaign. In leaving, he has done a final turn for the ‘Remain’ camp and taken a step back. Now we are left with a disintegrating Labour Party who have lost confidence in their leader, and an eerily quiet government where no one seems to know what’s going on, so that many such as Osborne and Teresa May have vanished. It’s a game of wait and see for everyone involved – who will step up?

In a classic ‘The Thick Of It’-esque moment Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, with the Labour Party imploding in London, was stuck at Glastonbury after a night of partying and Silent Disco (with a beautifully timed snapchat at 3.29am). I’m glad someone’s having fun.



Leaving EU?

On Friday the news came that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU with 51.9% of those who voted choosing to end our ties, established in 1975, with the Union. I was open in the fact that I voted ‘Remain’, and am upset by the result. This is the feeling shared by  many others, and a petition asking for a second referendum has reached over 2 million signatures and counting.

However, rather than reacting in anger, or ‘attending’ events on Facebook such as one movement to make London independent, which, ironically, is a reaction as divisive and anger-driven as that experienced at the hands of the ‘Leave’ camp on the night of 23rd, I think we need to assess why the majority voted as they did.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and London (as well as some areas such as Oxford and Cambridge) largely voted ‘Remain’. The ‘Leave’ movement was driven by middle England, Cornwall, and Wales, for various reasons which include farming and fishing regulations, immigration, and perhaps most worryingly a feeling of dissolution with the political parties who no longer seem to represent their concerns.

It seems that many Britons used the EU referendum to react against a political system where they have felt that their voices have been lost. This was seen when the seed of the referendum was sowed, Cameron’s promise at the last election following the cajoling of Nigel Farage’s UKIP, whose party had gained momentum in popularity, scooped up votes where Labour had lost its hold. This doesn’t mean we can blame Corbyn or a weak Labour party for what has happened, but it is concerning when people are so lost that they are willing to follow xenophobic slogans and are duped by claims from Nigel Farage which he immediately reputed on winning the vote i.e. ‘Let’s give the NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’. Furthermore, in some interviews ‘Leave’ voters have expressed a feeling of surprise that their wish had come true, many stating that they didn’t ‘actually think it would happen’. These voters are not used to having their voice heard. That’s scary.

What’s even more scary is the fact that following the referendum the query ‘What is the EU?’ was the second top trend on Google. This begs the question that, following a campaign build-up which drifted into a blue-on-blue Boris-Cameron civil war and was fuelled by speculation as to what would happen if we left, people were still voting in the dark, and allowing other, potentially unrelated, discontent to drive their vote.

Therefore, the questions we have to face following this referendum are not just those concerning our relationship with the EU and our position in the world, but as this vote has shown that we inhabit a nation divided, we need to make sure that the cracks at home are healed before we can ever be a ‘Great’ Britain.




Europe : Breaking free or breaking the peace?

Whether you care or not Brexit chatter is everywhere.

However with heavyweight politicians such as IDS and influential CEOs (sometimes without even realising it) joining the Leave campaign, and our leaders David Cameron and George Osborne on the Remain side, it’s a very confusing space.

As someone who studied French at University, has benefited from freedom of movement, and would often go as far as to describe myself as European rather than British, my gut instinct is for the UK to remain part of the European Union. Yet I have been very willing to be convinced that this instinct is as romantic and whimsical as many of my other beliefs in life. I was ready to allow my pro-EU inclination, based mainly on my desire to work in Europe again, to be crushed.

The scary thing is that people who want to leave often seem to have no idea why, and many seem to think the ‘try anything once’ argument is valid when considering a huge historical, economical, and cultural change for the nation. This isn’t like cutting your hair off, or a night where you did that unspeakable out of character thing that only you and one other person know about, this is changing the UK’s global position, with repercussions that could be a lot harder to forget. To say you want to leave means you need to have clear arguments. Just as my emotional reasons of identity also need back up.

So, should we stay?

  1. MoneyYou have to pay to be a member. This is a bone of contention for many, especially where many public services are desperate for more support. We pay around £13bn a year to fund the EU. However we also receive spending money, so in fact last year we only contributed around £8.5bn. This article on Full Fact talks about this a lot better than I just have, and instead of plagiarising it I link you to it. One key point is that out of all the EU member states we contribute the least as a share of GNI (Gross National Income).Also George Osborne, no matter what you think of him, has declared that Britain would be ‘permanently poorer’ out of the EU. George Osborne may not be Mr Popular but he is pretty close to the country’s finances so maybe we should listen just a tiny bit.

2. Trade

The other hot topic is trade. What would happen if we left the single market? Yes we would have control over our fishing regulations, but without the protection of the EU. The Pro-EU stat du jour is that 50% of our goods and services are currently traded within Europe – a hefty amount.

In the single market no tariffs are imposed on imports and exports. If we want to access the single market outside of the EU, we would have to pay like Switzerland does. Also, just like Switzerland, we may end up largely governed by EU trade laws yet not actually have any say in what they may be. Also what’s stopping the EU lashing out if Britain leaves? Ending relationships, whether personal or political, can be nasty.

The gamble is whether outside of the EU we will manage to support ourselves without the single market security blanket. We would be free to negotiate our own trade agreements, but at what cost?

3. Immigration

I find it hard to remain unbiased on this one. I love immigration. I like living in a multicultural society. I’ve lived abroad, and I plan to again. I understand that many are frustrated with immigrants benefiting from the state, but surely if you decide to make a place your home you are entitled to the same benefits as those also living in that space.

Not all those who abuse the benefits system are immigrants.

That’s all I have for now – I admit I am not a Europe expert and I am probably missing hugely important issues, but I want to give my simple layman’s view as we edge closer to Britain’s referendum on 23rd June.

Be carried away in Denmark

I have always been intrigued by Scandinavia. A watcher of nordic noir, delighted by Danish films such as ‘Klown’ (the self-professed Danish version of ‘The Hangover’), and addicted to basically any Scandinavian import to the UK (usually design or food -based),  I decided to bring the horse to water and visit Copenhagen.

It’s reputation preceded it so I booked what I thought I could afford – a long weekend. Yes that’s right, I went with my best friend for a budget weekend in a notoriously expensive city. I like to dispel myths but after less than 48 hours I was down to my last 50 Krone – just over £5.

Don’t worry though, this slight monetary issue didn’t hold me back. Copenhagen has a lot going for it, much of which will not necessarily bankrupt you. Calm lakes in the centre of the city, historical yet quirky buildings such as the Rundetårn (which has a sloped ascent instead of stairs to a beautiful view of the capital), a healthy nightlife (I only left our club of choice at 7am), and – the caviar on the Danish brod – friendly inhabitants, many of whom were very tall and very attractive. There wasn’t much not to love.

However, the best thing about my trip was Louisiana, an art gallery 40km North of Copenhagen. Yes, I left the capital, and thank goodness I did. Louisiana is one of the best art experiences I have ever had. Located in the sleepy, coastal village of Humlebaek, the gallery surrounds itself with a menagerie of impressive Henry Moore and Alexander Calder sculptures, and as you approach on foot from the train station it feels like you are heading on an art pilgrimage.

Once inside I was presented with their current exhibitions ‘Illumination’ – the result of 3 years of collecting – and ‘Eye Attack’.

‘Illumination’ swept me off my feet. In an attempt to subvert the fast nature of the art world, and reconnect modern art to ancestral masterpieces, it scatters well known pieces among works by lesser known artists, subtly forcing the viewer to reassess their concept of how the modern art should interact. This need to focus is emphasised by the fact that the gallery is so calm, with footfall considerably lower than a gallery of this calibre would reach in London or Paris, so that you can peruse the likes of Tacita Dean, Yoko Ono, Ai Wei Wei, Manal Al Dowayan, and Cindy Sherman at leisure.

Aside from an embarrassing moment where I walked into the water of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Gleaming lights of the souls’ installation (which was beautiful), the gallery experience was relaxing yet engaging, even more so because they actively encourage photographs. This may sound strange – surely this only meant a domination of iPad screens and annoying snapshot sounds as you would find at the Mona Lisa crush in the Louvre, Paris – but I didn’t see one iPad, and those who took photographs, influenced by the calm of the gallery, were discreet. It just felt right that they should be able to recapture the art as the exhibition opened their eyes to another view. It felt organic, and somewhat respectful.

Believe it or not I have to talk about flow – at one point in ‘Illumination’ you are unexpectedly led out onto a viewing deck overlooking the sea. Going up the stairs to be met by an idyllic Scandinavian seascape meant being confronted with the realisation that you were meeting the source of art itself. I almost wished they had presented me with a sketch pad*.

So go to Copenhagen, and hop on the train from Norreport station to Humlebaek to experience art the Danish way, with all its laidback ethereal charm.

See Louisiana information here.

*Colouring book – let’s be realistic

20s = the new teens

I have just turned 24. I hate my job. I am stressed. I have only just had the confidence to put my hand up and say I want to be a journalist. And I am angry that it has taken me this long (a year and a half) to say it out loud. God, I’m not sure I even like London anymore.

Okay, I am being very ungrateful. Many people struggle to get that first ‘unwanted’ job. Many people my age are still living at home. But as I know too well, struggle is relative, and you can’t shout down someone else’s worries with the ‘it could be worse’ argument. You wouldn’t tell a coeliac to eat bread because for someone in abject poverty that gluten-filled slice is the stuff of dreams; that’s just wrong.

The early 20s are glorified as a time for ‘fun’.  Job concerns are swept under the carpet by your parents once the threshold of the first post-probation pay packet has been crossed. Yet, sometimes that’s when the real job concerns begin. My early 20s have made me more stressed than I ever was at University (a high pressure environment in which many crumbled), and I feel as angry as a grounded hormonal teenager.

In some ways I am grounded. Both to my desk for 7.5 hours a day, or my neighbour’s armpit on the 1 hour (each way) commute, or my over-priced flat in which I spend my evenings, too tired to actually do something healthy like, I don’t know, exercise. Actually, much like an inept teenager, the only rebellion I manage to achieve is not to dedicate 30 minutes of my prison-like day to physical activity.

Maybe my lack of teenagerdom the first time round means I had it coming to me. I was the typical goody two shoes, dreaming of being a successful grown up. I had my fun at University and on my year abroad, and so now it’s time to knuckle down. But, I don’t want to, well, not like this.

The silver lining – I am not alone. Several of my friends also hate their job, enough for me to think that this is a trend. One quips (to my single, celibate existence’s delight) that the only worse thing than being in your early 20s, is to be married in your early 20s. She is a great person for saying this.

The second silver lining? I am at least demonstrating that I am self-aware. I know I hate it. Better now than 10 years into a career where I would probably be trapped by responsibilities such as a ‘mortgage’; the thought of which brings on a cold sweat.

The 20s are hard. So if I cry, stomp about a bit, and overdo it on the wine then don’t tell me to grow up, offer to buy me a drink.