Wicked: A Good Green Witch’s Story

My sisters and I recently went to see Wicked: The Musical at Apollo Victoria recently to treat ourselves, and enjoyed it thoroughly – each of us had been wanting to see this for a while and it was amazing fun to see all the singing, acting, costumes and sets sliding around on stage and creating a funny and emotional story.

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As is the case with most plays, we weren’t allowed to take photographs during the play’s duration (not that I haven’t tried before, but the accidental flash in the past has taught me a lesson if I don’t want to be removed from the theatre!) We did manage to get a quick shot of the stage before the play started (although these are courtesy of my sister who took these ones below) and which shoes a huge map of Oz as well as a dragon on top of the stage which moved every now and then during the play.

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Wicked is a great play – and it’s even more interesting to see if you’ve read the books originally written by Gregory Maguire, who re-imagined the story of The Wizard of Oz to give it more depth, and to tell the story of the misunderstood Elphaba, more widely known as the Wicked Witch of Oz. Having said that (and I was one of the ones who had read the books years ago), it does spoil it a little if you know what’s coming – although in this case, the way the story was translated onto the stage was brilliantly done and a lot more lively than I expected.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, daughter of the Governor of Oz who suspects that she is not really his daughter, and resents her green skin – just as she is arriving at University. Meeting the self-absorbed Glinda, trying to protect her wheelchair-bound sister Nessa-Rose and dealing with the isolation from her peers, Elphaba finds love, magic and most importantly, a passion for Animal rights, which leads to her eventual fate as the “most hated woman in Oz”.

The main difference I noticed between the play and the book is the politics and rebellion, which deals with the treatment of talking Animals as they are discriminated against by the laws of the mysterious Wizard of Oz; and Elphaba’s struggles with her professors, her peers and the friends she ends up making. The play does deal with this – but also attempts to wind together a lot of complex issues by focussing the story on Elphaba as a character and what she tries to do – whereas the book has a wider range of characters who all deal with their own struggles and situations that merge under the canopy of the the Animal rights issue.

I won’t talk too much about the novel, since it’s a very different style to the theatre, and translates to a more exuberant show that works. The play itself is brilliantly created – the main characters of Elphaba and Glinda (or Gah-linda, as she pronounces it) are well acted, and easy to love. The songs are, of course, what make the show, catchy, passionate and beautifully sung, with funny dances, subtle expressions and lots of one-liners that catch you laughing.

My favourite scene is one in which the glamorous, conceited and sparkly Glinda tries to teach the socially-awkward and shy Elphaba to be beautiful, to flirt and laugh – it reminded me of so many girls that I know (I won’t name names!) that it made me laugh – what probably made the scene most memorable was the fed up look on Elphaba’s face, as she stands on a stage that she looks like she wants to run away from!

I’m looking forward to seeing more shows – I’ve seen a few in the past with my friends and my husband, and have a long list of more to see! Have you seen this play? What did you think of it?

Queens, Knights and Dodos – Martin Brown’s Fantasy Art

I’ve stumbled across the wonderful Martin Brown‘s beautifully detailed paintings (not to be confused with Martin Brown the illustrator!), which look amazingly colourful, and have some seriously beautiful characters who look both  magical and eerie. I love how these appeal to the fantasy genre, adding leprechauns, elves and dragons among ordinary mice and dogs; and grands Queens and Knights in Elizabethan style dress and fairy-tale-esque glamour.

I’ve been trying to find more images by this artist, but haven’t had much luck, but the ones I have see are just amazing – definitely an inspiring artist.

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Conviction’s Every Coin at Soho Theatre

Every Coin at Soho Theatre
Written by Carlon Campbell Robinson
Directed by Esther Baker

“I don’t do politics. I’m just serving my sentence.”

Thus sums up the tone set in postmodern play Every Coin by protagonist Mark (played by the very talented Clifford Samuel), who is serving a prison sentence, amidst the chaos and politics of rising numbers of Muslims gangs within British all-male prisons. Depicting the fraught relationships between a diverse background mix of prisoners, Mark attempts to come to terms with his own identity and frustrations amidst the growing threat of terrorism and violence that serves as currency in his surroundings. With his old friend Raymond becoming a Muslim convert to protect himself (“I didn’t think they even did white Muslims”), and the increasing pressures of leader Ikrimah and his cronies, Mark’s situation seeming to spiral downwards, and his relationships with his friends, wife and daughter becoming increasingly strained. We see how Mark is forced to make decisions to turn his life around, while ultimately having to decide to “Choose Islam or choose to die.”

Using stylised rap to open up the play, the author builds an eclectic dialect made up of London city slang, gangster lingo, Islamic Arabic phrases and contemporary cultural references. From the beginning, the author successfully depicts the cold reality of gang culture, as well as the manipulation of Islam to justify a means to an end. Throughout the play, both the author and the director successfully project thought-provoking, emotional scenes, with a powerful message about the justice system and the futility of violence.

One main significance that is portrayed is the division within the prisons, mainly divided between the ‘whites’ and the Muslims converts.  It is ironic that many of these converts are reformed men who used to be London ‘gangsters’. Yet there is still very much a strong gang culture alive within the prisons, which forces men to take refuge in safety offered in the violent interpretation of Islam that has been offered to them. This is very much a real concept that is alive in Britain today; that a growing number of men are joining the strong gang culture which promotes violence as righteous action and reaction.

Also depicted here is the idea of ‘reverse racism’, in which the white prisoners are the minority  and are terrorised and intimidated by the larger Muslim population who dominate the prison with their own rules. Although there seems to be a real division set in the prison, which is lightened by the use of humour (“Can’t even have bacon sarnies without having to look over our shoulders”), it can be argued that the case here is not so much the idea of racism and a minority group, but the refusal of either group to co-operate or understand each others’ values. Robinson clearly depicts the similarities in each group, shown in such scenes such as the symmetry of both Christian prayer and Muslims praying at dawn in their own privacy, confirming that “Nothing is as black and white as you think it is.” It is this which also cleverly offers layers of not only colour, but politics and relationships. I would definitely say that Islam itself is not attacked in this play, as this would be too easy and neat a conclusion, but rather we are shown how it is distorted and manipulated to justify violent acts. Ikrimah’s constant brainwashing of other prisoners and his dramatic and quietly violent beliefs further reinforce the idea that violence is used as a way to persuade and force others to fit a certain doctrine, and that it is regarded by many as a suitable way of responding. In this way, the idea that being a Muslim is synonymous with being a terrorist is taken on and exposed, so that we see that the message of peace and love from Islam is exploited and distorted to fit the prisoners’ own means.

Also being examined here is the question of identity, with constant questions of “Who are you?” and “Not what God knows, what do you know?”, forcing Mark to look at his past and also his anger and frustration. With names, attire and even behaviour all being used to represent something, the play successfully uses these tools to show physically how they can all have significance in both religion and identity.Through this the author channels the idea of an individual identity rather than a gang who are dominated and ruled by beliefs that do not always seem to make sense. With charismatic Ikrimah asserting his views that “sometimes the innocent have to be sacrificed” and his followers such as Angel seeking retribution for a past gang killing, the doctrine they have created begins to crack, showing how it does not correspond with the original ideals of Islam.

Like Mark Inspector Cole, who perhaps represents not only the justice system, but also acts as an in-between pivot for both the ‘whites’ groups and Muslim converts, we see a man with his own decisions to make. In him we see an earlier generation, haunted by his own past and experience of combat in the Iraq war. Out of any of the characters, he could be perceived as having the least ‘faith’, choosing to take refuge in logic and the law.

The idea of fatherhood – both being one and having one – also resounds, showing how Mark’s family who have been left behind are not exempt from the impact of him being in jail. While there are emotional scenes, depicting the strain that it is having on his wife and child, the play also chooses to depict their close family bonds, choosing to show Mark as an ordinary father and husband despite his situation:

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary. Martin Luthor King said that.” “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘boyfriend’ out of your vocabulary. I said that!”

All in all, this play is goes from intense scenes to comical ones, yet this does not ruin its flow nor its overall message. Although the scenes are played out on a small stage, having the effect of  making the audience feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable, this helps create an extraordinary atmosphere of intimacy which fits with the idea of looking at the cold, hard truth. There are many powerful, raw scenes, and at times you can see the emotions of the author peep through– it is no coincidence that the author is currently serving a prison sentence and his voice really comes through. The play is full of layering which is wrought with cynicism. When I went to see the play, it was interesting and satisfying to see a multicultural audience, suggesting an open-minded willingness to see what Convictions has to say. With wry humour also thrown in – (“It’s a long story.” “I’m serving a life sentence”), and references to the current David Cameron and Clegg coalition thrown in, such as Cameron’s idea of that multiculturalism no longer exists (leading to uproar amongst the converts who regard this as an attack), Convictions really caputres a cross-section of society today within the prison.

“The old way doesn’t work anymore. It’s dated. Nobody gives a f**k about postcodes. Or about who done what to who before Islam.” It can definitely be agreed that terrorism has shaped the way Islam is perceived. The current postmodern world – and also post-9/11 world  – means we look at things differently, and there is a very real issue of young men being brainwashed by the violence of terrorism, which is being called righteous under the label of Islam. With an increasing number of young men serving prison sentences in the Western world for attacks in the name of Islam, is time that someone has set the record straight. Robinson very perceptively projects the idea of frustration – at the justice system, at gang culture, at the way people treat others and are treated, showing how Islam is used as both a scapegoat and a tool to victimize men. I applaud both the director and the writer of this play; Convictions received a standing ovation when I went to see it and very rightly so.

Convictions Every Coin is no longer showing, but you can still catch Convictions’ other plays such as The Archbishop and the Antichrist at Soho Theatre on Dean Street in London as well as other shows which are available which look promising.