“Dermot O’Leary does the South Bank Show.”

I’ve been meaning to do a cultural round-up for about a fortnight now, but The Great Tiredness got in the way, and now it’s hanging over my head like a piece of overdue coursework. (18 years since I graduated, and I still get nightmares about unfinished essays, missed lectures, and stern memos flooding out my pigeon-hole.)

So, let’s get the backlog cleared with a lightening quick catch-up session typically long-winded piece, which has been hanging around in draft form for the past few days.

1. Dracula – adaptation by Liz Lochhead – Derby Playhouse.

draculalrgIt might be stuck in the middle of a grim shopping centre, but Derby Playhouse has been punching way above its weight for the last few years, showing up its larger Nottingham equivalent something rotten by comparison. A superb, imaginatively staged production which stuck closely to Bram Stoker’s original story, freed from all its cheesy Hammer Horror baggage. Like the Gary Oldman/Keanu Reeves movie version from about 10 years ago, only with a decent script and proper acting.

Derby’s current production is Joe Orton’s Loot, directed by Cal McCrystal, which has been picking up favourable mentions in the press. We have to go. We’ve been. Keep reading.

2. Mariza – Birmingham Symphony Hall.

mariza1116The fado goddess had K in tears right from the very first song, and all the way through the rest of the concert; afterwards, he needed wringing out like a soggy dishcloth. Indeed, K was so emotionally tuned into Mariza’s performance that he was even moved to clap along during the happy songs. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

His reaction was entirely justified, though; for rarely have I seen such pure emotion – powerful yet always controlled – so effectively transmitted from the stage. Mariza’s largely melodramatic laments for lost love connected with the whole audience, vaulting straight over any language barrier; you didn’t need any knowledge of Portuguese to understand the nature of the feelings she was channelling. Particularly effective were the mid-song pauses, where she would silence her musicians with a raised hand, then visibly search with her fingers for the next emotion, before bursting forth again with a shuddering wail. She looked stunning, as well: a platinum blonde Amazonian force majeure and diva incarnate.

3. The Cost Of Living – DV8 Physical Dance Theatre – Paris Theatre de la Ville.

dv8costBeautiful creatures in their underwear mingled with an inanely grinning and waving podgy bloke (“I only got this part because I’m fat! I’m worried that if I lose any weight, I’ll be out of work!”) and a powerfully built, startlingly athletic dancer with no legs, in a series of wonderfully inventive and superbly executed vignettes which nevertheless failed to form a suitably cohesive thematic whole. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t love it whole-heartedly – particularly the ludicrously gimpy dancing to Cher’s Believe. Nice to see my own chosen idiom of dance (perfected after many years of practice) represented so accurately on the stage. The show plays in Madrid from November 20-22, and in Leeds from November 27th 29th, and comes highly recommended.

4. Adrian Piper retrospective – Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

piperbgThe permanent collection didn’t float my boat one little bit – too dry, rarified, up its own arse – but the building itself turned out to be the real stunner, the breathtaking drama of its cavernous stark white spaces easily outstripping its contents. I didn’t like the Piper exhibition one little bit – by turns wilfully obscure and annoyingly preachy – except for one two-part installation piece, which left me reeling.

A plain white cubic structure stood in the middle of the floor, with an open doorway leading to a darkened interior within. On the right hand wall as I entered, a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.” Turning left, I found a darkened booth, with a single chair facing a smallish screen on the wall opposite. On one side of the chair, a box of tissues; on the other side, a waste paper basket. On the wall above the back of the chair: an image of a smiling George Bush senior, shaking hands with three or four police officers. As I sat down, feeling like I was entering a pr0n booth (what else could the tissues be for?), I turned my gaze towards the film which was silently playing on the screen in front of me; it was the famous video footage of Rodney King’s beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1990s. The video was looped, giving the impression that the beating never stopped. I had never watched this footage in full before, and sat there open-mouthed, mesmerised by the brutality. Perhaps the tissues were there to dry my bleeding heart liberal tears; or maybe their presence suggested that on some level, I was secretly getting off on my self-righteous outrage. Three or four loop repetitions in, I got up and left King to his fate.

piper2Further down the same gallery, an identically proportioned cube, this time in plain black. In the entrance, the same Solzhenitsyn quote, this time in white lettering on a black background. Round the corner to the left, the same little booth, chair, tissues and waste paper bin, its black walls leaving the area in almost total darkness. No film was playing this time, although I thought I could vaguely make out the image of a black face on the wall in front of me. I sat down; immediately I had done so, a bright light flashed on in front of me, illuminating the booth and revealing the screen opposite to be…a mirror. Rooted to the spot in shock, I found myself staring into my own eyes, my expression frozen. Behind me, and also visible in the mirror: the same image of Bush congratulating the cops. I had joined the group. A few seconds later, the light flicked off and the screen lit up, replacing my reflection with an illuminated monochrome photo of a badly beaten black man. Maybe it was Rodney King himself; I didn’t know. A voiceover started up, relaying a message of mournful defiance – I have completely forgotten what it said. As the tape finished, the light flicked back on again, leaving me staring at my own reflection once more, my fixed expression registering even more stunned shock than before. The message seemed to be: you are complicit in this, whether you like it or not. Take a good look at your reaction.

As I stumbled out of the black cube, feeling like I had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer, I caught sight of one of Piper’s large photo-montages on the wall opposite. A photograph of the hanging victim of a lynch mob was (as far as I recall) juxtaposed with a photograph of Martin Luther King speaking at a rally. Superimposed on these images was some text, which said something like: This may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.

A pity, then, that the power of these pieces was so badly undercut by the knee-jerk, white-liberal-baiting, self-righteous, one-dimensional, overly literal preachiness of much of the rest of the exhibition.

5. Urban Interiors exhibition – London Commonwealth Institute.

Poncey furniture ahoy! K and I took the day off work to surround ourselves with three floors of Ligne Roset sofas, Seventies retro bedroom storage solutions, innovative glassware, simply sumptuous sideboards, and various sundry gorgeous little bits and pieces for the home, spread out over maybe a couple of hundred exhibition stands. In an adjacent lecture theatre, Kevin McCloud from Channel 4’s “Grand Designs” programme, accompanied by the show’s executive producer, talked for nearly an hour about the making of the show. By the end of the talk, we wanted to be his friend even more badly than before (as, I think, did the majority of the largely thirty- and forty-something female audience around us). With his relaxed, smiling, twinkly-eyed charm, off-the-cuff wit (he had us rolling in the aisles), razor-sharp mental agility (the entire talk was improvised on the spot) and his infectiously self-evident enthusiasm and passion for the subjects of his programme (both the building projects themselves, and the people behind them), we were completely won over by the man, and left the lecture wanting to be his friend even more badly than before.

Incidentally: if you remember the recent programme featuring the increasingly red-faced and hopelessly accident-prone guy with the house that stubbornly refused to be built (the one with the huge butterfly-wing roof that got ruined in the rain), then you’ll be pleased to know that a sequel programme will be airing next year. All that Kevin McCloud would reveal is that in the second programme, the building graduates from stubborn refusal to an active aggression against being built. We can’t wait.

6. Turner Prize finalists – London Tate Modern.

We’ve been visiting the Turner prize show almost every year for the past decade, and left in no doubt that, after an extended ropey patch, this is the strongest collection of finalists for years. While Willie Doherty’s video installation (“Re-Run”) admittedly felt a little bit under par, we would be perfectly happy for any of the other three finalists to win the prize next month. If we’re considering the cumulative impact of all their work to date, then in many ways the prize should rightfully go to Jake & Dinos Chapman – particularly on the strength of last year’s “Chapman Family Collection” White Cube show. However, purely based on the work on display, our favourite (and, judging by the hundreds of pieces of paper stuck to the walls of the concluding “comments room”, the clear favourite of a good 75% of the viewing public) had to be Grayson Perry, the transvestite potter from Essex. What particularly came across this year was the high level of skilled craftsmanship involved in most of the exhibits; definitely one in the eye for the “my five year old could have done that” brigade.

7. Mark Amerika – Bonington Lecture Theatre, Nottingham.

Positioning yourself as an Internet writer and artist, and going on to build a successful academic career from it, is all very well – but, as my similarly underwhelmed friend pointed out at the end of this interminably tedious lecture, it does generally help if you have at least some vague semblance of a literary background. In its absence, all we were left with was a clunking, shallow pseudo-profundity (“nomadic gurus of the electrosphere”, indeed!) wrapped up in layers of supposedly “innovative” and “experimental” technique, which wouldn’t even have made the grade on a late night Channel 4 show from ten years ago (back in those happy far-off days when Channel 4 still showed experimental artsy-fartsy videos instead of feral tit-and-bum-fests). This supposedly cutting-edge wow-iness was also badly undercut by the way that Mark Amerika displayed his various websites to us, opening each one in a titchy little window and then having to scroll left/right/up/down to show us all the content. (It was all I could do not to stand up and shout “Maximise! And press F11! For all our sakes!”)

Nevertheless, Mark Amerika’s talk did inspire me on one level: if he can get away with calling himself an “online writer”, then I most certainly can too. “Oh yes, I’m an online writer. Working with words and images, I deploy a variety of multi-disciplinary techniques to distribute my work in a broadly reverse-chronological format, in a medium which seeks to build overlapping networks of disparate yet interlinked online quasi-communities, whilst simultaneously encouraging active participation from community members in which the boundaries of “provider” and “consumer” are gradually broken down by means of an iterative process of… Well, you get the picture.

8. Chicks On Speed – Nottingham Rescue Rooms.

With most of Nottingham’s indie-gig-going demographic packing out Rock City for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this poorly publicised gig (i.e. I only found about it two days earlier) attracted barely seventy punters (I counted). Undaunted, the Chicks ploughed gamely on, but the gig steadfastly failed to ignite, either for them or for us. Disappointing? Oh, you don’t know the half of it.

Back in late 1999/early 2000, Chicks On Speed were my Official Favourite Band, and I became quite the completist: import vinyl singles, limited edition mail-order releases, the lot. For the past four years, I had therefore been longing to see them live, convinced that any Chicks gig would be an Event to remember – on a par with Le Tigre at The Social last year, or The Scissor Sisters at The Cock Live this year. Almost jumping for joy when I spotted them in the gig listings, I was even prepared to give up my first free night in Nottingham for a week – and my last free night in Nottingham for another week – to make the pilgrimage, despite not having anyone to go with, and despite feeling considerably less than 100% health-wise. Still, the packing for Paris could wait till morning, where there’s a will there’s a way, etc etc.

I did my best, I really did. I drank (alone), I danced (alone), I whooped and cheered (alone), and I almost succeeded in having a good time – but not quite. Still, it was nice to hear Eurotrash Girl, Mind Your Own Business, Kaltes Klares Wasser and We Don’t Play Guitars performed live (even if we didn’t get Glamour Girl, or any of their fantastic B-52s/Tom Tom Club covers), and the home-made frocks looked good (lots of netting), and the make-up was cool (lots of day-glo), and Alex, Kiki & Melissa are still Fabulousness Incarnate In Every Way, despite everything, even the empty room and the atrocious sound mix (way too much echo, vocals sounding like they were coming from backstage somewhere) and the fact that I shelled out 10 quid on a “limited edition” CD that turned out to be a radio interview from 2000 which lasted less than five minutes. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

By the way: a big Troubled Diva Hello to Dave with the red hair (he said I had to mention the red hair), a previously unknown reader who came up and introduced himself after the gig. (“Excuse me, are you Troubled Diva? I read your blog regularly!”) The brief feeling of mild celebrity that this conferred upon me almost made up for the entire evening. Hello Dave – and Haaaaaa-ppy Reading!

9. Loot – Joe Orton – Derby Playhouse.

lootlrgDerby Playhouse does it again, with a sprightly, irreverent production (by Cal McCrystal) which had us bellowing hysterically on the back row, particularly in the liberty-taking second half. (Top tip: the middle of the back row at Derby Playhouse gives an excellent view, plus you get to be first to the bar in the interval, and you get to beat the car park queues at the end of the night). As with Dracula before it, there’s some great staging and cute little coups de theatre along the way, and the acting couldn’t be faulted. Wonderful to realise that there’s still plenty of creative life and fresh thinking in regional theatre – even ones that have been hidden away in shopping centres.

Guest Month – it’s a wrap.

There’s a curious irony regarding Guest Month. (Four solid weeks of top quality guest postings from no less than 18 guest bloggers; what, you missed it?) You see, I’ve never personally suscribed to what I call the “NME indie band” ethos of blogging: “We just do what we do, and if anyone else happens to like it then that’s a bonus.” (Fact: sooner or later – but mainly sooner – all indie bands say this to the NME.) Don’t get me wrong here: I have nothing but admiration and respect for bloggers who operate to this principle, but it just isn’t me. The whole point of Troubled Diva is that it has an audience. Without you, as they say, I am nothing.

So, where’s the irony? The irony is this: my main motivation for hosting Guest Month was that wanted to read it. I wanted my blog to entertain me, while I was too busy to post my own content. In this respect, Guest Month is actually one of the most self-indulgent exercises I’ve ever engaged in.

But, oh! What a glorious self-indulgence it was! You guys stunned me, you really did. I took a major leap of faith in inviting every single applicant to participate, and – almost without exception (but hey, he’s only young) – you all rose to the challenge quite magnificently. If I had somehow been able to review your contributions in advance, then I would still have been delighted to have had all of you as guests. I find this quite remarkable.

I only hope that the sheer volume of postings didn’t overwhelm you all – because sometimes, it did rather feel as if Troubled Diva had become a real-time text streaming service. However, as I said to all my guests in their briefing instructions at the start of each week: here at Troubled Diva, we have always maintained a healthily maximalist, more-is-more attitude.

If you didn’t manage to keep up with the full four weeks, then let me conclude Guest Month by offering you…

The Best Of Guest Month.

I’ve loved Guest Month. Hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have – and once again, thanks and respect to all who participated.

As for me: the European travel continues unabated (it’s Barcelona tonight), so postings will be spasmodic at best for the next couple of months or so. Which is frustrating, but something’s gotta give. Or perhaps I should hand over the reins to Danny full time? Yes, I dare say some of you might like that…just a little bit too much. Heh.

While we’re on the subject, just one final word about Danny. OK, two final words. Armistead Maupin. Something for the cryptic crossword fans amongst you there.

And on that teaser…see you on Thursday.

Say goodnight, Gracie

(posted by asta)

Time to pack up and go, but not before thanking Mike for his generosity.

Lyle, mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating. It takes a particularly brave soul to hand over the keys to his carefully and artfully arranged digs for such an extended period of time– especially to someone like me — one of the blogless. He had no idea what I’d do to the place and welcomed me anyway. Lovely man. I tried not to make too much of a mess of it.

I took Mike up on his offer mainly because I felt that after being entertained by him for more than a year as a reader, it was the least I could do.( I should have realised there would be plenty of first-class applicants, and that he had no real need of my services, but no matter) More importantly, I now have a much greater knowledge and appreciation of all the work and effort that goes into building such a fine home. I’m also going to make an effort to be a better reader, which means offering comment more often, even when I think it isn’t required. There are some blogs I read regularly where I’m sure I haven’t left a word. I now see the important part feedback plays in the energy of the enterprise.

I was also keenly aware of the quality of his readership–many of them top-notch bloggers in their own right. I apologise to all of you. Regular service will resume shortly. (Must you cheer that enthusiastically?)

Will I start my own blog now? I confess I’m tempted. I discovered I had much more to say than I thought I would, and that the experience was more personally rewarding than I ever imagined. But I’m going to step back from the whole idea for some time. I tend to throw myself into new pursuits only to give them short shrift once the novelty wears off. I wouldn’t want a blog, if I couldn’t make it a good one- and that includes the mechanics, about which I know next to nothing. (ask Mike, I’m sure I drove him mad)

So thank you all for your patience, and a special hug to Mike. And Mike, if you don’t see a thank you bottle of Cristal in your fridge, well, I’m not saying anyone nicked it, but….

Last post

(posted by Gordon)

I’m sure Mike mentioned, in his email inviting me to guest here, that he expected a minimum of 5 posts over the 7 days…

So this is my rather late attempt of doing just that. But what to write about? There have been so many good posts here this week that in an effort to try and sum up things I’ve learned, ideas that have been changed etc etc I kind of get lost…

I suppose half of the enjoyment in reading posts here, and on other blogs, is that they are written by real people, with real experiences in the real world. I know that sounds a bit daft, but in an age where kids grow up imagining spending their late twenties in a coffee house in New York, where couples wake in the morning and snog (does ANYONE do that?) and all the other ideas that are thrown at us from TV and film, it is refreshing to hear things as they really are.

It’s also refreshing to have frank discussion about sexuality. Which, let’s face it, still isn’t really the ‘British’ thing. I’ did hear a comment last week (can’t remember where – possibly on Clive Anderson’s Sunday morning show?) that the internet was ‘helping’ inform people about all sorts of sexual activities that they wouldn’t normally be aware of, and the next day my local paper had a front page story on couples arranging, via the internet, to meet for sex.

Are these truly liberating times? Are we now more accepting of our own and each others sexual needs? Who knows. All I can say is that on Friday night, I had the great pleasure of watching my wife enjoying her snog with another woman.

So, it’s has been a pleasure, and education and a bit of a giggle this week, I’ll be adding several sites to my blogroll and I’m off to try and figure out if the well groomed couple, driving a silver peugeot 206 convertible, are gay or not. Can I borrow anyone’s gaydar?


(posted by Danny)

Don’t wanna bore you with the gory details (now there’s a first) but I’ve been proper poorly since Thursday. I was grovelling to Michael on the phone this morning (worse than phoning in sick to your boss, I’m telling you; he can be a stern little madam at times) and he’s agreed to let me carry on guesting for a couple more days. Praise the Lord and pass the Nurofen! More later, with luck…

Tied to the bed, begging for more.

(posted by Martin)

martintagAfter lunch, we go back to the hotel room. We run to the room with indecent haste, undress each other quickly, and make love in the shower. It’s cramped, oppressive. I like the feeling of closeness, his breath on my neck, his chest hair tickling me, the wicked look that plays across his face as he reaches down and feels stubble. He pulls me close, tells me what he wants to do, and I simply say ‘yes’. He isn’t gentle. That’s fine. It’s an intense feeling. Later, as I lie in his arms, I play with his nipple ring while he calls room service. We share a bottle of wine, and I give him a massage that becomes a caress, that becomes something more. And then I fall asleep in his arms.

This is what I have needed all week. It’s not about sex. It’s not about climax. It’s not about Cal chasing Michael through the flat, pinning him against the wall in the bedroom and making him whimper. It’s about intimacy and closeness. It’s about two people who are so close that they almost become one, but it’s about more than that. It’s about companionship, but it’s about more than that too. And this, I think, is where I’ll stop. We’re going out for dinner tonight. Little place we know, just off the Champs Elysées.

Thanks to Mike for the opportunity to do this. It’s been fun. And, sometimes, thought provoking.

Goodnight and take care,