Friday, 11 November 2011

Baking a Difference to British Life: An Interview with The Great British Bake Off's Holly Bell

UNLESS you’ve been hiding out on an anonymous planet for the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed that there’s been something of a baking revolution afoot in British kitchens. Cupcakes, sponges, pies, bread- we’re all at it. So much so that the final of the BBC television programme “The Great British Bake Off”, which has just finished its second series, notched up a massive 5 million viewers. It’s cute, it’s quaint, and it seems to be just what this country needs right now. Lifestyle caught up with the runner-up of this year’s show, Holly Bell, to see what all the fuss is about.

If one well-known newspaper columnist is to be believed, this is ‘Puddies for Hoodies’ at its finest. So does the baking phenomenon have anything to do with reuniting ‘Broken Britain’? “The summer of unrest that the UK experienced meant that people were kind of ripe for a bit of wholesome fun,” says Holly. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s just a really nice programme, a nice programme with lots of really normal, nice people. I enjoy watching MasterChef, but I enjoy watching it for the drama, as well as the foodie element. The Bake Off is pleasurable and not super-competitive. It’s quite gentle in its approach and I think that after the summer that the UK had it was actually perfect.”

Evidently, the London Riots act as a pertinent point of comparison for critics of the show. There’s no crystal clear solution to the problems that arose in August; this isn’t a race to ready, set, bake the recipe for social success and Cameron’s conundrum won’t be solved with sugar, butter, eggs, flour, a drop of vanilla essence. However, there’s no doubt that the GBBO has captured the imaginations of millions of Britons, some of whom would otherwise be watching Young, Dumb and Living off Mum.

The popularity of baking is also practical: “Part of it as well is that people don’t have as much money any more,”Holly continues. The viewing figures certainly point to a show which got people inspired to get back in the kitchen: “It grew a bit organically because it was the second series, but it’s been a storming success. The viewing figures are nuts. You don’t expect 3.9 million viewers for a first episode on BBC 2- I don’t think anyone expected it really. Everyone knew it would be successful as the production team are so slick and the way it’s run is just amazing but it does make you slightly quiver. You think “Really? That many people?!” When I go out people do come up to me, my first response is “How do they know who I am?” and then I realise, and I’m like “Oh, of course!”

The show is filmed in a marquee at Valentines Mansion and Gardens in Ilford, Essex. “It took six weeks to film, and we filmed eight episodes in six weeks. For the most part it was weekends, two days of filming and then you go home and practise for the next week. It was hard work, I’d never lie about that, but it was really enjoyable as well.”

Talking animatedly about the Great British Bake Off, mother-of-two Holly recalls learning plenty of baking lessons from both the judges, royal baker Paul Hollywood and the doyenne of home baking, Mary Berry, and the other contestants. “There was such a wealth of knowledge there. It was fantastic to have all these people that were so passionate about baking. I made some really good friends there as well. Jo, who won, I speak to almost every day. We get on really, really well, she’s lovely. Urvashi and Ian went out in the third week, but I really got on with them. Ian is hilarious; he used to have everyone in stitches. I’ve been out for lunch with Rob too. Everybody got on very well but obviously some people are more friendly that others.”

Perhaps the reason why people love baking is because they can improve on their mistakes and keep practising, but I imagine it must have been hard being judged on something that you love doing: “I don’t find criticism easy to take, I don’t think many people do, if they’re honest. It is hard, but you do have to take it on the chin. They are the experts, and even if I didn’t always agree, I would think “Well, you are an expert.”

“I read English at Liverpool University and I’d write an essay which I thought was fantastic and then I’d get the marks back and actually it wasn’t as fantastic as I thought. You look at it and go “Hang on a minute, you’re right, of course you’re right, you’re the expert! I think doing your best is a good way to look at it, but to do your best you also have to push yourself a little bit.” I ask about Jason, the 19-year-old contestant who was also a student and a member of his university’s Baking Society, and it appears that the show gave him the impetus he needed to kick-start his career. “He’s dropped out of university and is retraining as a chef. The show made him think “You know what, I want to follow my dreams,” she says. “I’m really impressed by him doing that. I think his age was a really positive thing because he hadn’t had years of “Oh you only do it this way, or you only do it that way” and I think that’s actually really refreshing.”

Anyone who watched the show will remember Holly’s perfectionism, turning out great bakes every week with very few mistakes. It might surprise a few to know that pie week was her favourite. “ I’m actually more of a savoury person than a sweet person,” she says. “I love anything with blue cheese and caramelised onions and I made a pie which was a Stilton, onion and potato pie and that is my kind of food. I also really enjoyed making pork pies, as that’s something I’d never, ever do at home.

I could talk about the Great British Bake Off forever, but the point of our chat was to work out what it is about the present moment that’s got people so into home baking. Is it nostalgia, I wonder? When our lives are flooded with technology, does baking bring us home and remind us of what we need in order to retain a sense of normality? “I’ve been really surprised by how many young people follow me on Twitter and by how many people in their early twenties are getting really into baking. In your teenage years you forget and then you come back to these things and there’s a sense of nostalgia. It’s heart-warming when you can do something that reminds you of home.

“University can be really tough. I really missed the familiarity of my hometown and my parents’ house, so I started to cook. I used to do big roast dinners on a Sunday for people in halls and I look back now and think about why I did it and I think “God, it’s so obvious”- I did it to recreate some kind of homely atmosphere, because halls can feel quite sterile.”

It begins to strike me that people bake at home because they desire to strike a balance between old and new. “People want their iPhones and iPads and they want to bake. It’s like there’s a sense of security from baking your own cakes at home and then being able to tweet about it afterwards! I hope that people continue to do the homely things that keep them grounded because it’s so easy to become wrapped up in technology.”

And there we have it: baking offers salvation from our crazy, mixed-up modern world, riots and all. But what does the future hold for Holly? “I’m writing a book at the moment and I am also in the process of setting up a cupcake baking and decorating school, which is exciting” she says. “I blog, and I tweet away and try and keep up with all of that. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, in a really good way though. I’m not complaining at all.”

Read Holly’s blog at and follow her on Twitter: @HollyBellMummy

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Wandering with the Mind

This piece was published in the Autumn 2011 issue of Razz My Berries magazine.

In an ideal, altruistic, utopian world, there would be no harm in letting your imagination explore the deepest recesses of daydream. But in today’s pressured social landscape, escaping into your thoughts, even just for a second, is a sign of weakness. The act of daydreaming implies that you’re somewhere other than where you’re meant to be; you’ve lost focus; you’ve fallen out of sync.

Ergo- I’m going to use this space to escape, and really imagine the kind of world that allows people to lose themselves in thought. Just for these brief words will I think about a society which values the benefits of the daydream to the individual.

Far from being a failure of mental discipline, daydreaming is a healthy way to explore long-term plans, dreams and goals that a pragmatist would never consider. Those in the know classify daydreaming as a lapse into ‘task-unrelated thoughts’, which sounds like a strangely paradoxical way of categorising the uncategorisable.

A recent article in the New York Times had a lot to say on this topic. It made the very interesting point that we live by the mantra: ‘I think, therefore I am’; we should know what is going on in our own minds. But when you think about it, hell, you might even daydream about it, then you’d have to admit that daydreams are evidence that we cannot control the seemingly meaningless meanderings of our brains. Daydreams are our mind’s way of telling us that we don’t know everything; we need a little subconscious to point us in the right direction.

So why is daydreaming so fundamental, particularly in our modern, busy lives? Well, believe it or not, I would say that it helps us to put things in perspective. When we daydream, our minds never drift off into the sensational Hollywood dramas that seem to come alive at night. What they do is give us a space within which we can consider the potential consequences of potential actions. It’s a healthy space, a ‘trial run’, if you like.

In many facets of life, we are told that we should only entertain the tangible and the pragmatic, we don’t trust what we cannot see for ourselves. Daydreaming contradicts this. A recent study found that above a certain point, money, ambition and status cannot provide happiness, so we must ask: what can? Is the answer to that which is one of life’s great conundrums actually calm, vision and hope? Is daydreaming the portal through which we gain a sense of who we are and what we could become?

Perhaps- at least, given the perpetually increasing stress levels of the population, we should probably give it a go. As much as daydreaming is a subject of derision for many, it could be, even if only symptomatically, what our individual bodies and social body are craving. When we consider it at the most basic level, not allowing your mind the opportunity to slip into daydream is a sign of over-activity. Time is a precious commodity, but what doesn’t seem immediately obvious to many is that time is precious whether it’s being filled or not.

I am a victim, as I’m sure are many, of the feeling that empty time is time wasted. In fact, I still struggle with the concept of doing ‘nothing’. But nothing is never nothing; nothing is the space which your mind needs in order to sit back and, ironically, to capitalise on who you are. After all, each and every one of us is more than an employee. The daydream allows the story of our lives to unfurl in ways which don’t tend to happen when we’re consciously thinking about what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing.

So next time you’re feeling half-baked and frazzled from work and sleep deprivation, don’t be afraid to take time out to think. Chances are your mind will wander, daydreams will form, and light will be shed on the problems that seem unfathomable in the conscious bubble of daily life.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Review: Tartuffe at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Roger McGough’s adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe

Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, Tuesday 11th- Saturday 15th October 2011

IT takes a lot to make a 300-strong audience roar with laughter at virtually every line, but that was the feat accomplished by the English Touring Theatre’s production of Tartuffe, which has been adapted by Roger McGough and shows this week at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. The premise of Molière’s play is wonderfully simple: An imposter, Tartuffe, worms his way into an aristocratic French family, beguiling the grandmother and her son. The others, however, are not fooled, and the ensuing action encompasses their calamitous struggle to expose Tartuffe’s trickery.

The performance, in a word, is hilarious. One only wishes that the review could rhyme too. The English Touring Theatre’s actors clearly revel in their roles. McGough’s adaptation of Molière’s classic is composed entirely in rhyming couplets, apart from Tartuffe’s lines, which imbue the play with a drama that is at once flamboyant and fluid. The raucous rhyming script pushes the action along at an energetic pace, with the cast teasing every nuance from McGough’s lines. Annabelle Dowler, who plays interfering housekeeper Dorine, puts in what can only be described as a stonking effort, behaving as a go-between and mediator between the rival sides of the family.

But that’s not to say that the play’s 17th century origins are lost. Just when the characters seem in period, in swoops a quip that brings it bang up to date: as Elmir tricks Tartuffe into ravishing her in a bid to prove his deceit, she begs “I’m lying on my back/ like an open sandwich, a savory snack.” Moments like these are frequent and side-splitting, a roaring audience doing justice to McGough’s flair for encapsulating the sardonic. Cleante, another Dorine-like character with a penchant for delivering pitch-perfect comic wisdom, played by Simon Coates, times his lines beautifully: “What is it about this interloper/ That goads you into faux pas after faux pas?”

Much of the performance’s humour comes from Moliere’s cynicism of religious institutions, a viciously funny current which landed the writer in more than a little hot water during his career. Despite being a favourite of Louis XIV, Molière was often critical of authority, weaving his skepticism through the words of his work. Tartuffe justifies his abhorrent actions with lines such as “I do it purely for heaven and the good of my neighbour”, ironically juxtaposed against his adulterous pursuit of the voluptuous Elmir.

For a play that caused uproar when it was first published, the union of Molière and McGough in Tartuffe now seems wonderfully relevant. There isn’t a review in the world that could do justice to this sparkling play- perhaps a mark of only the very best productions.

This review was published in Exeposé on Monday 24th October 2011.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A foodie favourite: Mini Magoo's Granola

For many, of whom I am one, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We feel lost without it, bereft of our deserved morning bowlful. To this end, when I discover a new item of breakfast paraphernalia, it yields my full attention.

It was on a Saturday at Borough Market that I discovered the latest wonder-food which warrants a mention. It is granola, yes, but not as you know it.

Former make-up artist Maria Luigi set up her very own cottage industry a few years ago. Mini Magoo’s (named after an ex-boyfriend’s pet name, no less!) makes muesli, granola and porridge, but it’s the granola that I’ve really fallen for. It comes in four flavours; ginger, orange, cherries and blueberries, and all are crunchy, tasty and full of wholesome, scrumptiously satiating goodness.

All of Mini Magoo’s products are 100% organic and handmade, and Maria has kept the business relatively small to avoid losing the integrity that she presently has with her small selection of buyers. The granola flavours are pitch-perfect, and incredibly versatile without being encumbered by the blandness that sometimes leaves supermarket granolas bereft. Mini Magoo’s Ginger granola with a dollop of yoghurt has to be one of the best ways to start a day, whilst the orange flavour keeps me in concentration mode between meals.

At £5.50 for a 400g bag, it’s not the cheapest of breakfast items, but if you can’t give yourself a lift in the morning, when can you? Something tells me that Mini Magoo’s granola won’t stay my breakfasting and snacking secret for long.

Mini Magoo’s, available from Borough Market on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Granola, all flavours, £5.50 for 400g.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Review: Richard III at the Old Vic

I never thought I’d see Kevin Spacey in the flesh, let alone with a cushion up the back of his shirt and a party blower in his mouth. But then I also wouldn’t have said that I’d be watching him perform the final London showing of Richard III at the Old Vic on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Last Sunday, both of those assumptions were blown from the proverbial water.

It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a spectacular, stellar production. Directed by Sam Mendes, Spacey and the rest of the cast keep the audience in thralls throughout. Richard is gnarled, bitter and angry, with a warped sense of humour. His psychopathic, relentless murdering spree is interpreted, in my mind, to absolute perfection; the Duke’s asides are vicious quips, and Richard’s madness is amplified by a sustained and disconcerting bent. If there was any doubt about the calibre of this production, then they were assuredly allayed during Richard’s early scene with Lady Anne, played by Annabel Scholey, which takes place around her husband’s dead body. Spacey is disgustingly brilliant, and grotesque in the extreme. Richard can be anything to anyone, and it would take an actor of Spacey’s versatility to fulfill the role to the dizzying standard it deserves.

Kevin Spacey as Richard III

The modern costumes, as in many contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, contribute something refreshing and put the actors at ease. There’s a aura of cool- ironic really, given the inevitable sense of foreboding. The clothes don’t wear the characters, but they definitely contribute to our understanding of them. Richard’s mechanical leg brace is rigid- a bold step and a sign that this is a production that is intent on getting the tone just right.

The staging really is second to none, and particularly resonates when Richard’s victims return in his dreams the night before the Battle of Bosworth. The Last Supper-esque staging sees Richard and Henry, Earl of Richmond, at each end of a table, with Richard’s victims, including Rivers and Buckingham, sat along one side. Each gives their animated, impassioned speech, building to a crescendo of wild torment for Richard as his eventual assailant sleeps peacefully at the other end of the table. Such vivid, clear arrangements as these punctuate the performance, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the proceedings. This is an accessible play, made all the more so by the unrivalled direction of Mendes and the sheer durability of Spacey’s character.

In an interview with Mendes and Spacey entitled “Exploring the dark side”, Spacey comments that “Richard is an incredible character because he does all the things he sets out to do and says he will, and is so delighted with the outcome that he constantly ups the ante”. To play such a character requires the actor to “go to places you generally don’t want to go, examine all the things in your own life that you regret [and] unearth all the shit”. Indeed, Richard speaks directly to his audience for the duration of the play, creating a co-conspiratory dynamic whereby the viewer feels a part of his actions. Richard is the Shakespearian opposite of Hamlet, the meek prevaricator, who never can quite do the deed.

But for such a dark and challenging character, Richard sure provides a whole lot of laughs. I can’t think of a villain who excites as much sympathy and as many smiles. His dark, deep humour presents a satire is so unbelievable, that we begin to believe it. The Duke’s twisted sentiments are so tyrannical that they defy the audience to follow along, and yet we do. And, I suspect, this has much to do with the astonishingly brilliant brutality of Spacey’s performance than anything else.

As the play came to its end, glittering in rapturous applause, Kevin Spacey addressed his audience as himself. There was a minute’s silence for those lost in the tragedies that occurred on 9/11, and a unified audience were reminded that coming together as a community, theatrical or otherwise, is the only way that we’re going to “beat those fuckers”.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Know your place, Realise your worth: Playing the Internship Game

Internships aren't about being paid, they're about ascertaining the point at which you are adding value.

I'm a student, and in my spare time and university holidays I do paid work, and I do unpaid work. In my paid work, I work as a freelance copywriter, completing projects for national clients which involve thorough research and writing copy on commission. I obtained this work because I was approached by a written communications firm. They believed I was an asset to their team, so they pay me to keep me writing for them.

My unpaid work is entirely different, and I do so much of it because it is of benefit to me. Anyone who has trawled through a weekend of writing internship covering letters will tell you that the reason they are doing it is because it's the only way to get into the industry, and to learn about that industry- ie. they're doing it for themselves. Companies won't approach you if they don't need you- in fact, the opposite is true- you approach them because you need them.

How anyone could expect a company to pay for an intern they don't need is beyond me. You may find yourself doing an array of both menial and meaningful tasks. Meaningful to you, that is. Rest assured, there will be an existing, paid employee inside the company who could do the task more effectively and efficiently. But if you want to have a bash for free, then go for it. It's how you learn. But don't expect to be paid. They'll pay you when you contribute what others can't.

The reason that unpaid internships are so oft-criticised is because they favour those who can easily afford to work for free. They favour the middle class young people whose parents can pay their rent and whose relatives are in high places. This is true. It is also a battle not worth fighting, as parents will always do their best to boost their child's chances, legal obstruction or no legal obstruction. What we can do is see this apparent barrier as a benefit to the privileged and not a blockade to the masses. If you really want it, then you'll find the money. At the moment, I'm living in the room of a friend who has a student flat in the area, although if I didn't have her generosity, I would have the income from my paid work to supplement my living costs. Is it easy when things aren't handed to you on a plate? No. Will you ever usurp the reigning classes from the pungent draw of nepotism? No. Is it impossible to better your prospects when your parents aren't bailing you out? No.

All of the interns I have come across this summer are in a position they fought for, and most work weekends and evenings to get by. It's that age old mantra: where's there's a will, there's a way.

The intrinsic blessing of the unpaid internship is that it puts you in an ideal position to add value, to show your worth, to make yourself essential. If the work that you do is of value you will become indispensable, and that's when you'll deserve to be paid, which is why I live by the saying "Know your place, but realise your worth". Internships wouldn't exist if they weren't of benefit to the person doing them. If you're looking for someone to blame, then blame the person trying to better their chances of finding work. Chances are they'll tell you where to go.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Review: 'Glamour of the Gods' at the National Portrait Gallery

Marilyn Monroe

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford

An usually sunny evening last week saw me visit the National Portrait Gallery to see their current ‘Glamour of the Gods’ exhibition. On Thursday and Friday evenings, the gallery is open until 9pm as part of their ‘Late Shift’ concept. After arriving early, we had the chance to look round the BP portrait prize show, which contained work by some seriously talented artists and portraits which were slightly less engrossing. Nevertheless, a great start to a perusal of the main event, for me at least.

‘Glamour of the Gods’ is a surprisingly small exhibition, but one that does its job perfectly. The portraits present a beautiful and lingering impression of some of Hollywood’s most illuminating stars from the 1920s to the 1960s. The women and men in the predominantly black and white showcase have become icons not just of the screen but in the worlds of fashion, beauty and art.

We are the privileged viewers of a portrait of Mary Pickford which was later published in US Vogue in 1920. Clark Gable and Joan Crawford’s chemistry dazzles, bouncing around the eggshell blue walls of the exhibition room. Vivien Leigh oozes the poise which is decidedly un-Blanche. It’s all here, and both lovers of cinema and filmic amateurs will appreciate what the pictures represent.

The blurbs that sit beside the images offer a more rounded, telling story. They convey the youth of the actors and actresses and the pressures that they faced in the roles that defined them.

What shone through to me though was the pointed synthesis between sex and vulnerability- the fear and the longing in the eyes of the female actresses. My only criticism of this exhibition is in its title. This isn’t about glamour, but about sex. And no portrait demonstrates that better than Ernest Bachrach’s image of Marilyn Monroe. Captured whilst filming Clash by Night in 1952, Monroe couldn’t appear less glamourous or more coquettish.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Haider Ackermann

This blog is a topical concoction of sorts. Sporadically written during university holidays when I'm working for free and more regularly kept up when I'm in my studying routine, I can only say that this post is one of those "now that I've thought it, and thought about it, I have to say it right now" type of pieces. So here goes...

Haider Ackermann. AW11. Wow... great shapes, fluid drapery, luxe fabrics and daring, daring cut-outs all meant that this collection made one of the big, if not the biggest, impacts of the season. I think the pictures probably say it all, but I just wanted to post this to remind myself and others that it's not only the household-name designers that get it spectacularly right. Independent Belgian brands have a lot to say as well, and I for one will be listening forthwith.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Snippets from my many musings on the "Phone-Hacking Scandal"

THE salient facts are these: On Monday 4th July, the Guardian revealed that, in 2002, the journalists at the New of the World, under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks, hacked into the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. At the time of the hacking, Milly Dowler was missing, and in the then-paper’s quest to produce revelatory stories, they began listening to and subsequently deleting messages so that more messages would filter through, thus producing more stories. As if this act wasn’t disgusting in itself, the missing messages understandably gave Milly’s family hope that she was still alive.

Over the next week, it came to light that Milly’s voicemails were just the tip of the iceberg. In jailed private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook, a further 4000 names were found, predicted to be potential victims of hacking. These included the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, murdered in 2001, along with the families of soldiers killed at war and victims of the 7/7 bombings in London.

As a result of these abhorrent claims, advertisers began to pull out from the News of the World; an unforgivably tarnished brand now associated with criminality, immorality and disturbing insensitivity. The newspaper, part of News International, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, was quickly axed, and in a matter of minutes, 200 innocent journalists found themselves unemployed because of the repercussions of despicable acts committed years before: they were guilty by association.

But what made it possible for Murdoch to see this situation as being resolvable by the culling of an entire newspaper? How is it conceivable that law-abiding journalists should pay the price for the erstwhile work of a newsdesk from a different generation?

Something had to give, and publicly so. The obvious target for culpability was Mrs Brooks, the ex-editor who currently occupies the role of Chief Executive at News International. It appeared that she, the remnant of the criminal regime which once permeated the News of the World, was responsible for authorising the hackers to do their dirty work. However, Brooks remained in her position whilst the current staff of the newspaper were told to pack their bags.

Whilst the Murdochs must ultimately take responsibility for the News of the World’s closure, it must be accepted that the Guardian’s approach to publishing these exclusives allowed the paper’s brand, and not the guilty individuals, to face the chop. By pursuing the newspaper, the small number of executives and journalists to blame for the scandalous hackings were allowed to walk free, whilst the public face of the press crisis, as constructed by the Guardian, took the hit.

This was a week ago, when I began to write this piece. Now, I sit typing wondering whether what I write will be outdated tomorrow, as this extraordinary story continues to unfold at pace. Five minutes ago, Rebekah Brooks was arrested and now questions are being asked as to whether or not the News of the World need ever have left our newsstands at all. Possibly not, now that the true faces of the whole debacle are in custody. It would appear that Rupert Murdoch thought that sacrificing the paper would save Brooks, his protégée and priority. Not so. It now remains to be seen how long Murdoch and his son and employee, James, evade the clutches of justice.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The following piece was written whilst I was on a work placement with Express & Echo, Exeter's local daily paper. It was published by the Echo in June 2011.

FILM FANS are in for a treat this summer, with a new version of Macbeth due to preview at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Exeter on the 30th June.

Devon-based Producer Mike Berenger’s film adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth, one of William Shakespeare’s most notorious and bloody tragedies, has been shot entirely in the Austrian Alps. It is described as “a chilling tale of glamorous celebrity and consuming passion, of shared courage and reckless ambition.

“It is the story of two young lovers seduced by their own wild desires, intoxicated by fame, fortune and the irresistible allure of false promises.”

Starring Marek Ovarec and Hannah Taylor Gordon as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the film promises to show the drama and suspense of Macbeth in all its glory.

Mr Berenger, who founded his own production company, Shakespeare Films, said “We wanted the first screening to be in Exeter because that’s where it all began.

“I was working locally with Greg Browning, the film’s Co-Producer, and we made quite a few films together. The idea for Macbeth was born from visits to the European Shakespeare Days in Murau, Austria. The energy was so great, I wanted to get involved.”

After a year’s organisation, Mr Berenger and his team, including Director Daniel Coll, shot The Tragedy of Macbeth in just 15 days in the winter of 2009.

Despite lengthy planning, filming did not run entirely smoothly. Mr Berenger added “We were shooting in sub-zero temperatures which often reached -15 degrees and the schedule was very tight. Our team of 48 people from all over Europe made sure we got everything done.”

Mr Berenger, who is now living in Whimple, near Ottery St. Mary, finished post-production on The Tragedy of Macbeth in January. At its Phoenix debut, the film aims to attract audiences from across the Exeter area with its fresh take on a classic play.

“The film was born in the area and offers a new way of looking at Shakespeare” said Mr Berenger. “It’s twilight-esque and captures the essence of love being all-consuming.”

“This is an completely new way of enjoying Shakespeare’s work and we hope that viewers of all ages find it entertaining. It is also designed to engage children and definitely has an educational value. By holding on to the original language and the structure of the story, but retaining the gripping drama of the play, we hope that youngsters find it accessible.”

The film’s soundtrack is composed by Simon Lloyd and Sam Clark, two musicians in their early twenties, which gives some indication of the vibrancy and innovation which can be expected from this adaptation.

Tickets for the Preview Screening of The Tragedy of Macbeth, including a Q&A with the producers, can be purchased by going to and cost £5.50 (£4.50).

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Big Brother's Big Mouth: In the wake of the SuperInjunction scandal

THE relationship shared by celebrities and journalists has always been a tempestuous one but 2011 has seen more than enough tension between the two camps. Hot on the heels of Wikileaks and the phone-hacking scandal comes a new set of dramas surrounding the now ubiquitous super-injunction.

Within the last few weeks, we’ve seen the courts severely tested by the morals involved in approving these pieces of legislation that deny the press from reporting an individual’s private affairs. We’ve seen our freedom of speech restricted and national press manipulated. And for what? For the sake of protecting the identity of a high-profile public figure.

It should be asked why, and even how, certain people are permitted certain privileges above others. These injunctions are a valuable coup for the figures that obtain them and enable the retention of lucrative sponsorship deals, not to mention the prevention of public humiliation for themselves and their families. It would seem that super-injunctions are yet another tool that, whilst they do have their alternative functions, are designed to protect the fortunes and reputations of philandering males for whom one partner is not quite enough. The saga which has now unfolded around Ryan Giggs, Imogen Thomas and John Hemming, the MP who used parliamentary privilege to name the married footballer in the House of Commons, is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Ryan Giggs

Imogen Thomas

But are these injunctions defensible? The furore that has emerged since the outing of Giggs would suggest that these are debatable issues. Predictably, more and more polygamous men are coming out of the woodwork to defend celebrities’ rights to legal privacy. None other than Hugh Grant entered the row arguing that private matters should remain private matters regardless of the individual’s public status. He appeared to forget that it was the publication of Ryan Giggs’s private matters that gave him the image of being a likeable family man in the first place, something that has made Giggs millions in sponsorship deals in addition to his footballer’s salary. Would Giggs have sought an injunction giving him complete privacy, making both positive and negative press illegal? Of course not. This is a gross abuse of public trust which leaves the press subject to enforced bias, as demonstrated with aplomb by the Daily Mail, who published a family-friendly story on Giggs the day before he was confirmed as the adulterous footballer in question.

However, whilst the super-injunctions saga involving numerous actors, TV personalities and footballers has proved to be fantastic fodder for the countries’ gossip columns, people are beginning to understand the wider implications that this case has brought to light. Over the weekend we learnt that a banker named Giggs on Twitter no less than six hours after his injunction was awarded. Following another 75,000 tweets about the footballer, legal and policing authorities are beginning to wonder how on earth they are to go about bringing so many supposed law-breakers to justice. Twitter has been a global community and unofficial news wire for those in the know for a while, but it took a case of this magnitude and with this unprecedented level of public interest to reveal the power of engaged Twitter users. It would seem that Twitter and its collective users have single-handedly undermined the justice system. Are the ordinary public now above the law?

John Hemming MP


In an increasing number of cases, the answer has to be ‘yes’. Twitter has 200 million registered accounts worldwide, and adds 460,000 to that number daily. Critics embroiled in the row over super-injunctions have unashamedly pronounced that it is near impossible to bring individual Twitter users to justice, let alone stop them revealing the guilty information in the first place. In many ways, the courts should be thankful that, despite the sinister and downright outrageous actions that celebrities have sought to cover, the power of Twitter as a subversive threat to the law has been unmasked through such relatively trivial cases. Concerns are now arising for what could come next, and how to prevent it. What is to stop people naming rape victims, publicising information about those under the witness protection system and ultimately prejudicing juries? Can a trial ever be considered ‘fair’?

One can be reasonably sure that whilst Giggs and Thomas were holed up in a hotel enacting one of their many sordid encounters, they didn’t even consider their families, let alone the idea that they were sowing the seeds of one of the biggest debates on global privacy, freedom of speech and justice that we have seen for many years. Of what the future holds, nobody can be certain. It took an issue of such moral outrage to expose just how individuals can and will wield power to correct what they see as the injustices in our modern world. This Pandora’s box of questions must be brought under control, because what the righteous public may choose to do next is anyone’s guess.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Feminism- A Man’s Word?

Are you a feminist? If not, why not? Are you ideologically opposed to gender equality, or are you a woman who has been made to feel ashamed about feminism by a man?

I’m not going to write this piece apologetically- I am a feminist and proud- and you should be too. Men have done a tremendous job of making women feel like feminism is for no-one but shaven-headed, briefcase-brandishing ‘lesbians’, and it’s about time women stood up and put the record straight.

For a start, there’s nothing wrong with being a skinhead, homosexual working woman. But the problem is, men have characterised feminists in such a way that the concept isn’t one that appeals to women any more. Women who endorse feminism feel increasingly belittled by men who like nothing more than stereotyping them for their own benefit. Of course, ladies, men are going to be reductive about feminism, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe it.

Increasingly, working women are realising that they can’t ‘have it all’, and no, they won’t see as much of their children if they devote most daylight hours to their career. But housewives can be feminists too, because feminism is a belief, not a lifestyle choice. Feminists shouldn’t be an endangered species; everyone should be one. It seems like the root of the problem is that men and women have forgotten what feminism is. Modern notions of feminism, conveniently informed by men, involve ‘dykes’ and ‘pitbulls’, and no woman wants to be labelled as something she doesn’t believe she is, so she rejects any notions of feminism, even if she does believe in what it actually stands for. Feminists, as Mary Wollstonecraft would have us believe, support equal rights for women and fair access to education, and yet so many of us dismiss the idea embodying these values.

Dragon’s Den entrepreneur, Deborah Meaden, recently denounced feminism, stating “I'm not a feminist. I consider my position in the business world not as a woman but as a person”. I find it astounding that such high-profile figures, role models even, are embarrassed to call themselves feminists. It is feminism that allows her to enter boardrooms, feminism that supports her status as a person. Her entire notions of self, the basis of how she considers herself are grounded in the work that feminists did for women nearly 200 years ago. If we are ever to close the gender pay gap, if women are ever to be considered and the political, social and economical equals to men, then we must stop listening to the men who tell us that feminists are ‘butch’ and start truly recognising the pioneering intelligence of our female ancestors.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Pill- a woman's world?

Firstly, apologies for my prolonged absence! April was taken up by a busy internship at Vogue, and now I'm in the throng of university exams. This blog will return in all its glory on the 24th May 2011.

Family Planning Clinics are the sexually-active, seventeen-year-old female’s saving grace. They are a sanctuary of safety where, unbeknown to many a male of a similar age, women are given comfort, liberty, and perhaps most importantly, choice.

In the early sixties the combined oral contraceptive pill, simply known as ‘the pill’, was introduced. With what I would hope should be an obvious effect on the concept of ‘creation’, the pill also transformed female culture and the lives of women as it was rolled out across the world.

Of course the pill is widely available beyond the Family Planning Clinics of Britain and to women of all ages. But living during a time where the consumer is king and all manner of contraceptives are available over the counter, it’s easy to understate the difference that the pill made for couples and women in particular. Do women, on their mad morning dash to the nurse’s room, really understand what the consequences of a frenetic one night stand once were? Do we know how lucky we are?

I would argue no. Despite the condom’s induction in the late nineteenth century, the pill gave women autonomous control over their bodies, and the ability to submit to their carnal desires, rubber or no rubber. The liberating effects of the pill were dramatic, as women were able to protect themselves from pregnancy of their own volition.

But men have a right to be anxious. The degree of independence that the pill permitted gave women an unprecedented amount of power to wield. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but condoms are mutual. You know if he’s wearing one, and you’re well within your rights to refuse sex if he isn’t. However, as far as my limited research has informed me, guys just don’t get and often don’t trust the pill.

And with good reason. The culture of women abusing the power that the pill allows them exists and is breeding. Sadly, as if sex isn’t enough of a weapon, it’s not unheard of for women to control their fertility through erratic and deceptive use of the pill. Some admit to using men to provide children, saying they’re on the pill when they’re not, others even get pregnant to ensure a permanent connection between themselves and the father of their child. Whilst the pill undoubtedly represents a huge advancement in the fields of medicine, technology and women’s rights (more people have taken it than any other prescribed medicine in the world) one might be hard pushed to establish a basis upon which the pill furthered sexual equality. After all, surely sexual relationships are more equal when both the male and the female have tangible control over their contraceptive choices.

For many men, the pill is just too invisible to trust and condoms are just fine, thank you very much. We should credit the male species with the intelligence to realise that enhanced sexual pleasure perhaps isn’t worth it when an unplanned pregnancy is the alternative option, and if men refuse to wear condoms, then we can refuse intercourse.

It most commonly argued that the pill meant that preventing pregnancy was in a woman's hands; she could take the pill at her discretion, without anyone knowing and without depending on a man. But since when were condoms the sole responsibility of the male sexual partner? Perhaps the real issue was that women did not know how to have their say in the bedroom and the pill gave them that voice.

As for where that leaves the pill, I would be the first person to advocate that the little white tablets have made sex a more enjoyable experience for those in long-term, healthy and trusting relationships. The pill is a tool and a symbol of female emancipation, but it wasn’t invented so that women could sleep around easily and frequently and it certainly wasn’t supposed to keep men in the dark. However, a wider choice of contraceptives that take the pressure off women to have sex without condoms definitely has positive implications. With or without the pill, responsibility should be the first thing on everyone’s minds- there’s no excuse for relying on the Family Planning Clinic any more.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Loss of Innocence

It may sound like I’m stating the blindingly obvious, but in order for one to lose innocence, one has to be sure of even having it within their grasp in the first place. If we consider innocence to only exist within childhood, then we must also ask the question, when do we cease to be children? In short, the objectification of innocence is sensational and misleading. We cannot talk of a loss of innocence because nobody really knows if they were ever innocent in the first place.

For the purposes of many a British newspaper, the loss of innocence seems to hinge on young people ‘growing up’. But isn’t this a rather Christianised, sensationalised way of looking at things? When we talk about ‘losing innocence’ we do so with negative connotations, but surely the media’s perception of what constitutes innocence is reductive to the point that we ignore the progressive realities of entering into new stages of our lives. In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield laments the prospect of growing up and wishes that the innocent ‘world of childhood’ would prevail. Adult life seems complex and deterring. In many ways, we, as university students, are amid the transition that will see us lose the innocence that the media put upon us, and, if the tabloids are to be believed, become an intrinsic part of ‘Broken Britain’. But losing the innocent things that make us children, namely virginity, sobriety and naivety, does not represent the onslaught of degeneration and corruption, although it may be daunting to those on the precipice, like Caulfield.

When something is lost, it is usually always replaced by something new that is gained from the experience of losing. When we grow up, have sex, get drunk, learn new things, we partake in a process of maturity. Whether we like it or not, our innocence, tenuous a term though it is, will gradually deplete. And I see this as no bad thing. The more we know, the more we are able to contribute to our societies, our families and ourselves. We get jobs, educate ourselves, earn money and probably have families of our own. I’d say that this is called the passing of time, as opposed to the ‘loss’ of innocence. Innocence is often synonymous with childhood, but there is no reason to detract from what we’ve learned in order to capture something irretrievable. Nostalgia is a poignant emotion, but not something that we should wish to be a reality.

I often wonder what would happen if we were to retain the innocence that the media condemns us for losing. After all, the loss of innocence is nearly always cited as a ‘bad’ thing. I would agree that lots of teenagers extend the boundaries of what is acceptable, but what they’ve lost isn’t innocence, it’s respect. I’m sure that being ignorant to the realities of life isn’t a state that we should wish upon anybody.

The Internet is often cited as the guilty culprit of our increasingly ‘guilty’ society, but sometimes we are at risk of forgetting how much good has come from it. Whilst it is important to control what can be consumed via the Internet, there is no need to lament the change that this generation of young people have experienced. Children aren’t growing up faster, and entertaining this clichéd impossibility displays ignorance to the fact that they are simply growing up differently. Exposure is important, to a point, and the luddite attitude that is emerging may perhaps prevent young people from experiencing the full extent of the technological change that is currently underway. Although I would never undermine the importance of protecting children, there is no need to use cotton wool in a fallible attempt to prevent the imagined loss of innocence.

Referring to the term ‘innocence’ is sensationalist and outdated in today’s society. It is used to condemn young adults for growing up and partaking in natural, normal experiences and to express a desire to needlessly prolong a young person’s naivety. The popular use of the phrase ‘loss of innocence’ is, by all accounts, redundant, because we have lost any true perspective of what innocence is. In fact, we’re in danger of stepping on Holden’s toes.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Case of Misidentification

This comment piece was published in Exeposé. It outlines the problems that current University of Exeter students are suffering, now that the University is prioritising its status as a business as opposed to an institute of higher education.

I can’t be the only one who was left distinctly underwhelmed by the news that the University of Exeter is the 62nd fastest-growing business in the Europe. Our current investment programme is one that only a small number of companies could ever hope to devise, made all the more unattainable by random injections of cash donated by generous alumni. But does this mean that we occupy a fair place among these rankings?

I would say no. The current level of growth is one that cannot be sustained. We are set to fall drastically from this plinth of economic prestige and we must be aware of the fact that were are an anomalous statistic, set for decline when the cuts make their move and the money runs out. In addition, given our unfortunate stance as the ‘lost generation’ of Exeter students, we can safely say that, during our time here, the university has ingratiated itself as a business far more than it has as an institution for learning. Maybe we’re the unlucky ones, but seeing corporate suits grinning their way to the top of the wrong kind of league table makes me feel like we’ve been sorely mislead in our view of what a university should be, and what, in reality, we’ve been provided with.

Something is definitely amiss when a university is proud of climbing the ‘fastest-growing business’ rankings, whilst quietly hushing up the fact that our employability and staff/student ratio levels are ensuring our decline in the higher education league tables. I don’t wish to purport a luddite-esque stance of ‘change is bad’, but I do bemoan the fact that our time spent here at Exeter has been marred by a severe lack of balance. What these statistics show is that the fine line between investing in the future and protecting the sanctity of learning has not been struck.

Hopefully this trend will experience a dramatic reversal when the Forum Project has finished, for the sake of the university’s future students and the worth of our degrees.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fashion draws on Illustration

Sketching has been and always will be a beautiful and essential part of the design process, something that creative minds take to naturally in order to make their ideas come to life. But illustration and its many mysteries don’t just have a part to play in the evolution of the garment. Once a dress has sashayed down the runway, the fashion illustrators come out to play.

Even in our increasingly technological times, fashion illustration still has a transcendental allure that eludes many a photographer. It’s the art that has undergone numerous reinventions and portrays fashion faithfully by putting pen to paper. And it’s an art that is still very much alive.

Two marvellous exhibitions have recently paid homage to the unsung candescent glory of the history, present and future of fashion illustration. Dior Illustrated at Somerset House and Drawing Fashion at The Design Museum have both captured the timeless qualities of drawing clothes- despite how oxymoronic a term ‘timeless fashion’ may seem.

Dior Illustrated took a detailed look at the illustrator René Gruau’s relationship with the house of Dior. Christian Dior and Gruau met on the fashion desk of the French newspaper Le Figaro in 1936 and thus began one of the most fruitful partnerships in artistic history. John Galliano once that “to be inspired by Dior is to be inspired by René Gruau”, testament to their kindred spirits and Gruau’s talent for capturing that which is elegant and youthful in both men and women. The exhibition predominantly displays Gruau’s illustrations for the Dior parfum advertisements, including Diorissimo, Diorling, Dior-Dior and Miss Dior, to name but a few. The gesture and attitude in Gruau’s illustrations from the 1950s to the 1970s reflects his understanding of the spirit of the age. There is something deliciously, mischievously modern about the liberated poses of the women in his visions.

Gruau's work with Dior Parfum was extensive and dramatic.

The mutual loyalty between René Gruau and Christian Dior translated into a loyalty between the artist and the house of Dior after the designer died in 1957. The 1960s rise of photography solidified the enduring relationship as Dior stayed faithful to Gruau’s work. Gruau’s focus on line and silhouette is highlighted by the exhibition in many drawings for both the Dior clothing and perfume ranges. Each woman (and indeed man) appears engaged and sophisticated; their elongated limbs convey a poise which is simultaneously graceful and assured. When, in 1966, Gruau’s drawing of a pair of hairy, male legs scaled a full page of Le Figaro, it became clear that this was a man who could not only capture essence with startling accuracy, but one who could reinvent and break with tradition whilst still retaining his creative integrity.

Gruau reinvents 'the male'.

Whilst Dior Illustrated chose to concentrate on Gruau’s influence at Dior, Drawing Fashion spans a century of fashion illustration, and casts a provocative glance into the future of the art. Georges Lepape’s ‘Chapeau de Poiret’, drawn in 1912, and his 1920s drawings and covers for Vogue began the exhibition and set a wonderful precedent for a journey through history which fused fashion and art strikingly, beautifully and delicately. The Design Museum’s space was starkly lit, and led its observer around a pathway through time which impressed, if anything, the astounding amount of work that was produced by fashion illustrators in the first half of the twentieth century. One could not help but be taken aback by the sheer craftsmanship and the scale of the achievements of artists such as Romain de Tirtoff (known as Erté), Paul Iribe and Pierre Brissaud, who worked with materials including charcoal, watercolour and ink.

An early twentieth century VOGUE cover.

Moving through the century, past an extensive space devoted to Gruau, you reach the 1970s and 80s, and what can only be described as a shock of colour upon encountering the tribute to Antonio Lopez, or ‘Antonio’, as was his signature. Fashion exercised its greatest influence through magazines, as is still the norm today, but in these cases, that influence was conveyed through drawings. Even now, it is not difficult to see why the drawings of Antonio were a resounding success. His reach, as an illustrator, was prevalent and he captured the excitement of youth and the movement of the clothes through his vast array of work. Many of his pieces are resonant of Andy Warhol, and he was a master at drawing the attitude of the garments.

Antonio's vision of colourful liberation.

So where is fashion illustration now, and what does its future hold? Well, illustrators like Mats Gustafson, Francois Berthoud and Aurore de la Moriniere refuse to be crowded out by technology. The methods have moved on, and artists are now using monotype and collage to bring couture to life. This is a serious art, which, despite its depleted influence and lessened notoriety, is still very much alive. The current fashion illustrations are clean-cut and subtle, with a return to simplicity, perhaps a mark of our austere times. They are popular among Chinese and Japanese fashion magazines, where the are admired for their edgy rawness. There is a sense of mystery that compliments the anonymous nature of ‘the drawing’ as opposed to ‘the photograph’ and to many enhances the continuing allure of this particular art.

The chic austerity of Mats Gustafson.

What these exhibitions capture is our desire for the real, the visceral and the ‘imperfection’ of the past. The more we immerse ourselves in technology and the more our lives become web-based, the greater our yearning for human art becomes. Retrospective glances toward what has seemingly passed make us nostalgic, because you don’t know what you’ve lost until you think it’s gone. Thankfully for us, fashion illustrators and their beautiful depictions aren’t going anywhere.

Read the print version of this article in the current (week 20) edition of Exeposé.