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How Theresa May has disgraced British women.

 

The Trump visit, and every disastrous press statement since, have been beyond upsetting for most of us. The daily bombardment of bad news from across the Atlantic has been as depressing as it has been enraging. There are big issues to deal with. For us watching from our newsfeeds and TV screens, we find it hard to understand our position in world politics and what we can do to help. The mixture of the extreme with the absurd is discombobulating, but we shouldn’t allow the little things to be buried just because the shit on top is really heavy.

So let’s take a minute to talk about the Trump/May handholding. This bizarre act was a custard pie in the face of the women of Britain, but felt more like a kick in the vagina.

Perhaps I’ve had false hope of a feminist surge breaking through to the mainstream as I am bounced around within my particular social media echo-chamber. But I know there are women in the public eye who have the interests of other women high on their agenda. How can Theresa May take the title of only the second ever female Prime Minister without also standing up for women, first and foremost. Why didn’t she get the memo? Would Michelle Obama have allowed Trump to take her hand? Not a chance.

The basics; there were two parties involved, two hands, two humans, two nations, two genders. We know that Donald Trump assumes a dominant role where he can, he craves and seizes control, asserts his presence and seeks to overpower his peers, with sometimes devastating consequences for the recipients of his sinister attention. This hand hold wasn’t a sexual advance, but the act preyed on all the same expectations of gender stereotypes that Trump is clearly used to, and he made it happen.

But Theresa May played her part in this too. It might have taken May by surprise, it might have seemed like a small, even caring gesture, she might have been too polite to make a fuss while she processed the situation, and then it was over. Male American dominance successfully exerted, female British weakness confirmed.

Many of us have experienced situations like this before. Many of us have our coping mechanisms; we may have trained ourselves over the years to minimise and downplay intimidating behaviour in order to reduce the risk of escalation or danger. That’s just life as a woman, our society has made that type of response necessary. As a female politician in Westminster, I have no doubt that Theresa May too has had to deal with her fair share of inappropriate and chauvinistic behaviour before. I do not agree with shaming victims, but make no mistake about it, May is no victim here. In the role of Prime Minister May has a duty to represent us all. She is briefed and advised to within an inch of her life about protocol, expectations and image and she is not that naive. She would have been on high alert at all times to do whatever it takes to achieve a ‘successful’ meeting. Given these circumstances, I simply don’t accept that she didn’t allow this gesture in full consciousness. If May had merely moved her hand away in this instance it would have spoken volumes for British women. Instead May’s self-consciousness entwined with her political vulnerability took precedence over her and our reputation as Brits and as women. She considered the fragility of her political agenda and with an almost exuberant lapdog-like hope for approval, chose to just let this gesture go. Theresa May has the platform and the opportunity to do so much for women, and instead she chose go beyond diminutive to fully submissive in this ‘special relationship’ she seems so keen to foster. Theresa May fails to represent my political views, but putting that aside, here she also fails to represent my humanity, dignity and our equality.

The unity shown by women across the world these last couple of weeks is not just the ‘hippy left’. Women and men are protesting against the patriarchal behaviour in which May is now complicit. We need a beacon of feminism to head our country, and to see a woman in this role betraying and undermining women in this way feels like we’ve regressed 20 years.   This episode is testament to the fact that we are still so far from gender equality, further behind that even I had thought. To the same effect, the fact that there were any female Trump voters is difficult to understand. So what can we do now? Call our marches and petitions inconsequential, tell us to ‘calm down dear, you’re overreacting’, but we have to continue to call out every act of misogyny with our loudest voices. We need to talk to our neighbours, our family and friends about how we are affected by this behaviour because any movement towards equality has to come from within the homes of the people of our communities and filter up, it ain’t coming from the top down, that’s for sure.

The Twits at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

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Roald Dahl’s magical story following the pranks and schemes of a stinky, horrid couple, The Twits, is playing at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week.

The familiar children’s book is full of mischief, naughtiness and wonderful trickery, where you love to hate the good-old-fashioned-baddies. The goodies (cheeky monkeys and glorious birds), use their wit, intelligence and intrinsic goodness to give these terrible dimwits the comeuppance they deserve.

Sadly the characterisation of the lead couple, and therefore the whole play is, I feel, misjudged. They are put very much in the real world and are presented as real people, drawing on tangible references, behaviours and character traits that, if our children have ever seen before, they have been swiftly shielded from.  But here we see upsetting scenes of abuse and moral depravity, set dramatically to music, in full sight of our wide eyed kids. Perhaps this is an intentional comment on society’s hidden pockets of awfulness, but the choice to portray The Twits this way put my children on edge. This is an edge that doesn’t need to be in this children’s production, and it manages to remove any element of magic or safety that you expect to find woven into Roald Dahl’s stories.

The small cast are talented all-round musicians, singers and acrobats, playing multiple roles throughout the performance. The staging is creative and clever, and I found the lighting and visual impact exciting, if a little stark. The Roly-Poly bird is somehow like Liberace-on-stilts and is very odd, but it does add another dimension of spectacle to the stage. And although there is an element of participation for the audience through the show; Panto- this ain’t.

The production values of this version of The Twits do offer ingenuity and integrity to the theatrical experience, although the lack of warmth and sparkle means it falls short of where your imagination can take you from just reading the book.

Aladdin at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

I lucked into some tickets for Panto this week but had no idea what was in store.  Although I wasn’t quite in the Christmas spirit yet, I thought I’d give it a go, taking along my two sons with their critical eye. I’m always up for some light relief, and so, filling in for my friend with Press tickets, off we went to review Aladdin!  Here it is, and soon you will also be able to read it on Oxfordshire’s Round and About Magazine site.

The Waterside Theatre has a reputation to uphold to produce a spectacular, star studded show and this festive season the Aylesbury audience is being treated to Aladdin…

…and it is nothing short of brilliant.

The checklist of criteria that should make this work is complete: Soap star, reality TV star, local celeb, drag act…tick.  But due to fantastic direction, this production is even more than the sum of its parts.

The love interests Aladdin (Danny Colligan) and Princess Jasmine (Jasmine Walia of Towie fame) are both sung beautifully and performed with sophistication; a particular challenge given the nature of Panto.  They are playing alongside the rambunctious characters of Wishee Washee (Andy Collins, BBC Three Counties Radio), and Widow Twanky (La Voix, Britain’s Got Talent 2014), who between them run the ultimate master-class in ‘how to captivate an audience’.  The spectators are skilfully drawn further and further into this effervescent show until they are more like participants, all due to these stars’ never-ending high jinks and fantastically crafted methods of Panto artistry.

The rest of the cast provided the other shades of character that complete the Panto spectrum; darkness (booooo!!!), gravitas, dynamic dancers and the comfort of familiar themes, and although the top-billing – Eastenders’ Michelle Collins- was outshone by her exceptional co-stars, she still added a bucket load of sparkle to the stage.

As you would expect, some of the childish humour is pretty near to the mark of what your kids should find funny, and some of it is so far over the mark (and, luckily, your children’s heads) it’ll have you wincing in your seat.  But it is guaranteed to have the whole family howling, whooping, standing, and singing along.  My 5 and 8 year old boys and I wanted to be on that stage with the cast by the end, but it kind of felt as if we already were.

If you’re looking for a Panto this Christmas, see this one, it’s just so much fun.

On now until 31st December 2016.

Symphony to a Lost Generation. Review.

I got my fix of the arts this week by watching Adam Donen’s Symphony to a Lost Generation.  The subject matter was World War I; its horrors, its suffering and also highlighting the gruesome nature of lesser publicised atrocities that took place throughout the conflict, such as the Armenian genocide.

It was performed and filmed previously, then along with fantastic post production graphics, vintage film inserts and computer wizardry, was projected as ‘3D’ holographics onto two sheer screens.  This brought back a certain element of depth to the show, making it feel like a cross between cinema and stage.

Formatted as a five movement symphony, the score was played by a full and rich orchestra, supported by powerful opera singers.  The silence from the screen itself brought an eerie quality to the show, no swishes from the ballet shoes on the ground, forceful stamps only reverberating by sight.  Despite being the core of the whole production, somehow sound felt detached and almost incidental to the images, much like a silent movie.  Displaying the images in this format brought both the sense of presence and emptiness in equal measure, which was uncomfortably pertinent to the subject matter.

The visuals showed a number of world renowned performers in ballet, theatre, and music who were clearly masters of their art; Ernesto Tomasini as a grotesque mime and the stunning voice of soprano Yana Ivanilova as highlights.  Their storytelling skills were all used wonderfully to discuss the horror of war in both specific and broader terms.  Although there wasn’t a story as such, the narrative was constant throughout. Everybody was a victim.  Everybody died, if not physically, then certainly mentally, emotionally; they fell out of the world in one way or another due to war.

The use of Butoh dance was a new one to me, and as a dance fan, this was the stand out scene; it’s hard not to be in awe of a dance form said to be born from the ashes of Hiroshima, where the painfully slow, yet jerky, distressed movements of the dancers were formed to convey suffering, disbelief and lack of hope.  That, to me, was the tragedy so triumphantly demonstrated in this piece; that the dance form exists at all.

My emotions didn’t engage fully while watching; I maintained dry eyes throughout.  But I think this was a good thing.  I was, however, engaged politically, it gave me space, and I had a lot to say about both war and art on my journey home.

As an artistic concept,  Donen’s Symphony to a Lost Generation was entirely complete.  His personal journey of piecing together this installation was full, ambitious and lavish; drawing themes from Wagner and technology, being bold enough to enlist hundreds of the world’s best performers and brazenly punctuating scenes for the eyes and ears with iconic references and imagery.  From conception to performance, editing and delivery, tiny details and the vast scale of what was accomplished is remarkable, and something that could only have been done with Donen and his team’s driving ambition and dogged perseverance.  The coming together and unity just to make the show hangs heavily as an overtone to the piece, again pushing the art to the fore, which I feel is no bad thing.

This is no west end show.  It is an important breakthrough in art.  Each movement deserves a space in every modern art gallery across the world with an accompanying plaque next to the images and with surround sound music to make the experience more immersive.  This is how we should be remembering war.  Not as one person’s story, as a relentless repeating act of violence indiscriminate of who or how many suffer.  Go and see it, then bring your teenage kids to see it.

Why we shouldn’t celebrate ‘mum-fails’.

I made my children cry today.  Actually, it was two days ago, but I still have an aching gut from the guilt of what I did.

I’ve apologised profusely to all three children, age 7 1/2, nearly 5 and 2.  I explained why I was in a terrible mood; ‘when Daddy’s away it’s sometimes a lot for mummy to cope with’, ‘I was cranky from having Baby’s toes digging in my ribs for most of the night – I clung to the edge of the bed like a rubbish mountain goat’, ‘no-none was doing anything I asked this morning…at all!’.  Their relief at my change of stance was palpable. Their forgiving faces and tea saucer wide eyes were drinking in and accepting my reasoning, but we all knew these were not valid excuses; I wouldn’t have accepted it from them.  I teach them that there are no valid excuses for losing patience, for raising our voices, for being dismissive or unkind.  And that if we do those things, then we are entirely accountable for our actions.  Being kind is all that matters.  And in that moment I was a hypocrite.  And in that moment, they knew it.

The issue was ‘resolved’ and we’re back to our normal cheery selves.  Moving on, we’ve since shared the best loving cuddles, belly laughs and sweet exchanges.   The metaphorical chalkboard tally of ‘Days mummy hasn’t shouted for’ has been restarted at ‘0’ (now at 2), it’s amazing what a deep breath and a clean slate can do to boost my mummy motivation.

Yesterday I was researching some other blogs and parenting websites for another project when, still guilt ridden, I was drawn to a number of articles and posts and authors whose appeal was built upon the notion that we’re all actually a bit crap at motherhood.  And we are at times.  Accepting this may be self effacing and heavily tongue in cheek, which is great, no-one likes an ego.  But article after article and blog after blog, whether it be a subtle undertone or not so subtle overtone, I felt overwhelmingly that, as a whole, there is a strong narrative of celebrating ‘epic fails’ in the mum blogosphere.  This is echoed in mum circles of our generation, who are so used to ‘sharing’ as a concept, and have found so much validation for bad parenting both close at hand with friends as well as at arms’ length through internet forums.

While we find comfort knowing we’re not alone in our shortcomings and faults, just because everyone else is doing it too, doesn’t make it right.

Our adult level of emotional intelligence is able to see the bigger picture as we try to sweep things under the carpet after a fall out with our kids.  But what we have to remember is how things are so much more black and white for them.  Children live so vitally in the moment that when we lose it with them, they question our love for them.  Simple.  However overdramatic it seems to us, it feels very real to them.

We communicate these episodes in our well accustomed sing-song chatty way, often laughing at ourselves; confessing, admitting we’re ‘terrible’, making it about us while we rest assured ‘they’ll be alright, kids are resilient’.  But when we do this, what becomes apparent is that we are forgetting about our priority, which is the welfare of our children and the bond we have with them.

We should bring back a little gravity with our remorse, while fighting their corner at all costs. We must not be disrespectful to their sensibilities, which are so raw and honest and needing of our support.  We do inevitably leave emotional scars on our children, which chip at their sense of security, we just need to be grown up enough to acknowledge it so that we don’t break them.  Kids are smart, they don’t forget.  Also, behaviour is learnt, so do we want them to become emotionally detached when feelings run high? Of course not.

We may not be perfect, but the least we can do is be constant by loving our children, respecting them at all times and perhaps not making light of our indiscretions.  I think it’s right I feel such awful guilt after shouting at my children.  It’s heartbreaking, and it ought to be.

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