There But For A Lack Of Ambition Go I

Punchdrunk are brilliant. I went to see their last London show a couple of times and was blown away (in different ways) each time. I’ve even compared their style of immersive theatre to what some videogames are getting up to.

Their latest show, which I haven’t been lucky enough to get tickets for, is on at the mo. In pairs people are led on a tour across London with a story and myth unfolding around them. It’s an alternate London, a psychogeographical twist. Apparently it takes in a major London landmark, and other lesser known spots. A handful of actors move things along, but half the game is not knowing who is an actor and who isn’t. In one review the critic spent a merry few minutes chasing after a random stranger and listening in in people’s conversations hoping for clues.

For halloween two years ago Lyd did something along these lines for me. We started in Highgate cemetery and went on a sort of choose-your-own-adventure across London. Instead of actors we used our imagination – at times purely imagining ghost figures in front of us, at other times picking members of the public to follow. We both agreed it was a fun idea and, given the number of actors we know (I trained and worked as an actor for a few years, Lyd started acting training but realised it wasn’t for her, and also worked in a drama school) discussed the idea of taking it a step further. Get a few mates involved, bring a few other friends along as punters and see how it goes, maybe then get some actual paying customers to come along.

But we didn’t do anything about it. Last halloween there were quite a few events on that, for once, we spotted in time to book for them. So although the idea crossed our minds again we didn’t do anything about it. 

This year it was my turn to lead Lyd on a trip through an alternate London. I recruited a couple of friends to handwrite some notes for Lyd to find, but that’s as far as the extrapolation has gone. It was just the two of us, dashing between events and landmarks that I had tied together in an occult conspiracy. We started at a mummy unwrapping at the National Archives, looked for clues at tombs in Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls, chased a suspect actoss St James’ Park and ended up eating Elizabeth I’s mummified flesh in Kensal Green cemetery at the climax of a concert.

And I can’t help but think about the lack of ambition that means it’s still just the two of us taking part. Neither of us has much in the way of entrepreneurial drive – we’re both ideas people, and although we often follow those ideas to their immediate conclusions, that’s where we leave them. Scattered novels, workshopped play scripts, immersive tours, cabaret sets… 

A little splash of ambition and who knows. Oh well. One day. So many hurdles leapt, and so many more to go.

Still, I realised that NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and using that as a bit of inspiration got back to a novel I’ve been wrestling with (without writing anything) for a year or so. Managed a 587 word lunch break, which is ok by me.

So.

Here we go again.

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Treat Yourself to Crimson Peak This Year

Halloween Ideas

It’s not a trick, honest.

If you’re heading to the cinema this weekend there’s only one film I’d recommend for the perfect Halloween: Crimson Peak. Yeah, the title gave that away didn’t it?

This isn’t really a review of the film per se, but as I’ve read a few articles about its disappointing performance at the box office I feel duty bound to give it a plug.

Why’s it perfect for Halloween? It’s gothic. All of the Gothic. If it was a person it’d be wearing a black frilly shirt, have kohl-smeared eyes and be listening to Sisters of Mercy on repeat on its iPod (I know they claimed not to be goth, but their audience begged to differ) while doing the change-the-lightbulb two-step.

I wrote a while ago about the Gothic exhibition at The British Library. Now I’ve had time to mull it over I think it’s probably the best exhibition I’ve been to. But for the purposes of this post there’s one thing which stands out. There were various attempts to define the genre, the best of which was from Neil Gaiman. I’m paraphrasing, but here goes:

If the cover could be a picture of a young lady in a nightdress, holding a candle, running away from a castle which has one lit window high up, and in that lit window is the silhouette of someone watching, then it’s gothic.

And that could definitely be the poster for Crimson Peak. In fact it sort of is one of them. See above!

It revels in gothic. It’s gleeful about it, but never falls into camp. Starting with a well-executed Nosferatu homage (so often done poorly) the film bathes, Elizabeth Bathory-like in the blood of its genre-kin.

My personal favourite moment is when Mia Wasikowska’s protagonist (and how about that cast – Wasikowska, Tom Hiddlestone and Jessica Chastain) arrives at the ruined mansion (standard) to find blood red clay literally oozing up out of the floorboards with every step she takes. This is a film that knows how to have fun with foreshadowing.

There are a few jump-scares, but the film doesn’t rely on them. Guillermo Del Toro understands the genre so knows that’s not all horror is. And there’s gore too, which certainly surprised most people in the screening I went to. But look back at his most lauded film, Pan’s Labyrinth, and it’s clear Del Toro is fond of viscera.

Crimson Peak is a visual feast and designer’s dream. My wife is something of an amateur costume historian and in museums can always date an outfit to the right year (for fashion from 1700 – 1950 at any rate). She raved about the accuracy of the costumes – some of them self consciously behind the times, others bang on trend for the year.

Heck, even the sex scene (of course there’s sex, that’s what gothic is all about) lets us ogle more of Tom Hiddlestone than Mia Wasikowska – how grown up!

It’s a film that clearly loves its genre. That loves horror and, most importantly,  respects it. If it’s still showing near you go and see it.

If it’s a night in you’re after, but still fancy something gothic I’d recommend Stoker (which also starred Mia Wasikowska) for a slice of modern-set but no less genre literate cinema.

Those are my picks for a night out or in this halloween. What are yours?