Back in April, work gave me three days notice that I was about to be put on furlough - probably for six weeks, maybe more, maybe less, they weren't sure at the time. I considered the possibilities of what I could do with this newly-acquired free time, and felt pretty sure that I could get the long-overdue Edinburgh Diaries Volume Three assembled and ready, and possibly even make a start on the even-longer-overdue LFF Diaries Volume Four and the not-quite-as-long-overdue LFF Diaries Volume Five, depending on how long the furlough actually lasted.
Simian Substitute Site for September 2020: A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves 12
MONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2020 [Adventures in the Real World special]
Art [postponed]: At 5.08pm on Wednesday March 4th, I received an email from the Odeon Leicester Square telling me that I'd successfully booked tickets to see No Time To Die. At 5.38pm the same day, The Guardian reported that the film's release had been delayed by eight months, for reasons which seemed a little overblown at the time. Over the next couple of weeks, every future artistic event I'd arranged in my diary vanished in a puff of Covid. So let's start this roundup of August by celebrating the first of those events to get rescheduled after a hiatus of several months. Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers is an exhibition at London's Design Museum (now running till February 2021) celebrating the history of electronic music from its earliest beginnings. Gratifyingly, the Design Museum have done their safety homework - they've limited the numbers, asked you to bring your own headphones for the audio displays, and have put 2 metre dividers along the exhibition route to help you achieve what they call 'social dist-dancing' (groan). As with most exhibitions, the biggest scrum is in the opening section: a glorious collection of historical noisemaking equipment, which fizzles out when you get to the late 20th century and musicians are just pushing blocks of rearranged bits along a timeline on a computer screen. In mathematical terms, the rest of the exhibition moves from pure to applied, looking at the dance music scenes in various cities around the world and the subcultures they spawned, climaxing in a bold attempt to cram the Chemical Brothers festival experience into a single tiny room. Your main takeaway from Electronic may be a gnawing nostalgia for the days when you could jump up and down to a filthy racket in the company of strangers, but there's much more to it than that.
Comedy [relocated]: Throughout the unpleasantness, comedy is one of the main artforms that's been desperately trying to keep things going, and I wrote about some of my favourite online shows back in May. But audiences and comics both know that, much like with dance music, comedy thrives best in the live communal experience. So hooray for The New Normal, a just-finished festival of performing arts held in the ravishingly spaced-out open courtyard of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth. A quick skim of the programme confirmed your suspicions - it's a festival of acts that would have been at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but aren't. The festival had theatre, music, magic, lots and lots of improvised sketch troupes, and - courtesy of our mates at Good Ship Comedy, who normally operate out of a pub in Camden - two nights of standup, hosted by regular compere Ben van der Velde. The night we caught attended had a ridiculously strong bill of Sara Pascoe, Nathan Caton and Jessica Fostekew, all of whom looked as delighted to be performing in front of a real audience as we were to hear them. (Fostekew described her recent experience of performing at one of those newly-fashionable drive-in shows, where the only way people can express their amusement is by honking their horns, a sound that in every other circumstance we interpret as meaning 'LOOK OUT YOU'RE GOING TO DIE'. Laughter just works better.) Good Ship Comedy are looking to restart actual gigs in an actual room from September 7th, and it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Theatre [new]: Indoor shows are going to be a whole other kettle of worms, though. Lots of people crammed into a very small space with Victorian-era air conditioning, all facing towards some actors on an elevated platform projecting noise, air and spit directly at them: it's no wonder that most of London's theatres are still shut. But in August (and now extended through to September 5th), the Donmar Warehouse got around many of those problems by reducing the audience size to a few dozen, having them all face in different directions, and then getting rid of the elevated platform. And the actors. Blindness, adapted by Simon Stephens (from the previously-filmed novel by José Saramago) and directed by Walter Meierjohann, is a creepily topical story about the chaos caused by a worldwide contagion, in this case one which causes people to lose their sight. It's effectively a radio play narrated over headphones by Juliet Stevenson - if you remember what she was like in Truly Madly Deeply, be warned that she's in full tears 'n' snot mode again - and played back to an audience sitting inside an art installation, which focusses your attention on the audio through its use of light and, inevitably, darkness. It's an intense piece of work that gets some of its power from parallels with current events, sure: and if it feels a little over-apocalyptic in parts, there's a weird catharsis to be found in experiencing what our worst case scenario might feel like. But for me, it's most fascinating as an experiment in alternative ways of producing theatre. That's what interests me now about this cliche of 'the new normal': the new bit.
About a year ago - well, yes, a bit more than a year ago now, ha ha, shut up, I've been busy - anyway, last June The Belated Birthday Girl and I went to Sheffield Doc/Fest for the first time. Over the space of two days we saw six feature-length documentaries, one short film (by accident) and an on-stage interview with Werner Herzog, which you can now watch over on the left there. (See what I meant at the time about Annie Hall cosplay?)
"I suspect it won't be our last," I said at the end of the 2019 festival, having no bloody idea what 2020 would have in store for us. Mind you, let's be honest: the main barrier to future visits to Sheffield Doc/Fest was that it was in Sheffield. And this year, it wasn't. Doc/Fest transitioned to video, making a decent-sized collection of films available online from June 10th to July 10th via their Doc/Fest Selects online platform, together with a bundle of pre-filmed introductions and post-screening interviews. Best of all, the films were competitively priced at £4.50 each. Although if you were some sort of film-obsessed lunatic, you could pay £36 to have the opportunity to get a 30 hour rental of every single film over the space of that month. But who could possibly consider that kind of commitment?
We've known since the beginning of April that this year's Festival wasn't going ahead. It's a particular shame, because after last year's nightmare session of accommodation booking, this year's worked out comparatively painlessly, and I was looking forward to reporting on the slightly non-standard approach we'd taken. Our deposits have been rolled over into 2021, so we'll see if arts festivals and shared accommodation are still both workable concepts by then.
But this year, we're staring at a Festival calendar with an enormous amount of free space on it. Or are we? As I've mentioned several times over the last five months, many artforms have hurriedly made the transition to the digital realm. Couldn't the greatest arts festival in the chuffing world do the same?
Well, it could, but in a ridiculously piecemeal fashion. Which is why I thought a preview post might be in order.
October 11th, 2010. It was close on ten years ago that I wrote the following sentence: "This'll be the last one of these for a little while, I think." In the year or so leading up to that, I'd managed to publish six books via the print-on-demand outfit lulu.com: one collection of travel pieces scraped from the website, two volumes of Edinburgh Festival reviews, and three similar volumes of London Film Festival reviews. I had a couple of vague plans in mind for future books, but I predicted that it'd be a while before I had enough material in hand to create those, so I quickly knocked off some basic ebook editions of the original six in time for Christmas 2010 and left the publishing world for a spell.
In that ten year gap, The Belated Birthday Girl has published nine books: admittedly, to a degree, they're all variations on the same book, but still. Basically, I need to publish three more volumes before her 2021 diary comes out, in order to have any hope of keeping up with her.
I started the process in April. Just finishing it off now.