REVIEW: AJAX

POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW.

If you’re at Exeter University, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of the annual Classics play, which takes place in the M&D room. Last year’s comedy, Lysistrata, had us all in floods of laughter and bombarded with men wearing far too much make up. This year however, I am pleased to say that Classics Society’s attempt at Greek Tragedy has been quite a success in a totally different way.

It is not enough to say that I enjoyed it. Entering into the theatre, I was hit with a chilly blast of air – and greeted with a thick smog surrounding the stage. Before us stood Ajax, in all his manic bloody breathlessness; staring down the audience as if we were his next lambs for the slaughter.

A credit to Classics Society.’ – audience member

Without going into too much detail of the plot for those of you seeing the final performance – I thoroughly enjoyed the hour-long show. Of particular pedigree was Jessica Ramsey as Agamemnon, who could single-handedly bring down Troy with the icy glares she shot our way. Also of note was Jonny Wood as a chorus member – whose stoic manner dissolved into very believable tears at one point. Many of the cast delivered speeches as if they were still fighting the war –  their tired, sweaty, heated arguments were captivating.

Chilling and mesmerizing.’ – Treasurer

The crew must have worked meticulously to produce such a good adaptation. I felt it was of a reasonable length, and the style of production was markedly effective. The redesign into a modern warfare type setting was a favourable move, and of interest to me as an army cadet. This was especially engaging since the row that we sat on happened to be at level with the stage, so we really felt part of this fateful piece.

Better luck next year.’ – nameless person (who may or may not be Social Secretary)

We were entreated to the heartfelt hopeless rage during Ajax’s death monologue, traumatically delivered by Aldert White who, in hindsight, I could not have imagined a better role for. His fervently firm interaction with his wife, Tecmessa, was a powerful nod to the play’s ancient Thespian constitution.

I have relished getting into the disparaging nature of Ajax, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with such a great cast and director – they really made the performance exceptional.’ – Aldert White, on his experience as Ajax

For an amateur production, I am very impressed; especially since many of my friends took to the stage – performing in front of friends is probably more terrifying than the Trojan War itself. Simply, I hope it will be as good next year as it was tonight, but hopefully there will be less golden-syrup flavoured blood.

A noble man must either live in honour or else have died in honour. That is all.’ – Sophocles, Ajax

(Sophocles’ Ajax was performed by members of The University of Exeter’s Classics Society, Whose webpage is viewable here)

Towers Of Bolderaja

I feel compelled to write this because of my sheer disbelief that anyone could be so forthcoming and honest with me. After having travelled home for a long weekend, mum and I decided to have a day out in Canterbury, which is a delightful little city. Enchanting really. We were lucky enough to visit all the sites, one of which happened to be the Open Library and Public Museum. We dove in quickly to refuge from the biting chill of the crisp, sunny February day.
In the front room, I met a lovely man called Bob; significantly older than myself, who proceeded to indulge me in regaling his tale of how his magnificent little art installation came to be.
It’s as if I had stepped through into a beach-comber’s paradise. Scratch that; I had stepped into a beach-comber’s paradise. The walls were choc-a-block full of trinkets and dolls and shells and rocks, feathers, stones, etc, all of which told a quaint melancholy kind of story.
But it was the man’s description of one particular piece; ‘The Towers of Bolderaja’ that he had built. I was fascinated by this little grid of epitaphs and plinths with modelled dedications of all the little things he enjoyed. Some crafted from clay, others precious stones, metals and plastics; brought together to form a conglomeration of everyday gods and totems which meant both nothing and everything to him. There were not little stories for these; more an overarching dialogue for the lilliput-like land he had created. Crouching down to view these wooden columns from below, I saw it both though a child’s eyes and his, as he described to me his world on maps and graphs and drawings.
Suddenly I realised that my inherent distaste for some types of contemporary art dissipated quickly when I saw this sweet man tear up with pride and sorrow that it couldn’t ever be more than what it was; a local art piece sitting on a coffee table.

The Towers from below, they are meant to be viewed from this angle to reflect how individuals feel about deification

The Towers from below, they are meant to be viewed from this angle to reflect how individuals feel about deification

Children walked past it to look at the pretty colours and trinkets, adults seemed to glaze over in distaste. True, at first glance the piece was uninthralling and crass, but upon close inspection it was obvious that this man had crafted these totems which unintentionally resembled so much art and architecture and culture throughout history. Small parts, like Bernini’s Columns, a little ceramic Shabti from ancient Egypt, fools gold from america, a carved stone from the beach at dunkirk, all sorts of things.
Though I wouldn’t be particularly happy to install a piece such as his in my house; it did renew my faith in certain types of artisic expression, and how the role and importance of adding personal history when constructing art is nowadays intrinsically linked with our culture. It’s true that I can look at Tracy Emin’s unmade bed (or a piece of similar nature in the Centre Pompidou, say) and grimace at it in respect to the old masters; but next time my face goes wry and pale at a bunch of ceramic seeds, or an upside-down shopping cart in a gallery some place pretentious, I’ll think back to how that sweet-natured man made me feel about his art – and possibly understand a little bit more why such things are in the Gugenheim.

The whole of 'The Towers of Bolderaja'. - biggerthan you might think

The whole of ‘The Towers of Bolderaja’. – biggerthan you might think

Some initial impressions of the collection: melancholy, intricacy, nostalgia, distance – overall perhaps it reflected the overall title of the collection?

You can see this collection by Holder and Lamoon – Artists in residence at The Beaney (Canterbury) ‘The Essence of Memory: A Distillation of Thought’.

Or visit Bob Lamoon’s website at boblamoon.com

 

REVIEW: ‘Ming: 50 Years that changed China’

Being an avid art buff, I regularly visit new exhibitions on in London. This is the first time I’ve decided to review one of them. Recently, I visited the British Museum to see ‘Ming: 50 Years that changed China’, and I have to say, it was a spectacular show. Like any review, I’ll start with the good, and end with the bad.

Set deep within the Museum itself, the Ming exhibit encompasses the Sainsbury exhibition floor. Truly I have never seen an exhibit like it before. First of all, Ming focuses on the treasures of 6 emperors, their roles and impact within Chinese society. For the most part, the conglomeration of exquisite artefacts is awe-inspiring, and credit to the British museum for bringing in so many treasures from other collections all at once. I can imagine they begged for some. There was a huge range, from daintily crafted hairpieces and jewellery, to enamel vases and guilded pots, silk robes, fine expressions of painting style from the period, furniture, statues, religious icons, the lot. I felt as if I had walked into another time. The literary sources and their translations were also engaging, from books of Confucius to jotted ramblings by the emperors themselves. Truly, I couldn’t fault the collection amassed before me. The set was beautifully arranged throughout 6 rooms also, whoever designed the set ensured you wound round the ornaments, twisting through each room so as to not spoil the view of what was to come.

Cloisonné Jar, Ming Dynasty, 1426-1435

Cloisonné Jar, Ming Dynasty, 1426-1435

Moreover, the timed ticket entry meant that no one was fighting to see specific artefacts and there was plenty of room, a refreshing break compared to the pushing and queuing to see other pieces in the museum. Overall, I’d say I was quite impressed. A very solid 7.5 out of 10.

However, despite the fact that I was there to learn about and enjoy these treasures, I hate to say it, but the clincher of this exhibit for me was the gift shop.

WHAT?

The gift shop?! I hear you cry. Yes. The gift shop. It was clear that the British Museum meant business with this exhibit, and it was not aimed at anyone low-rent. Normally, one is used to the cheesy, over-priced tat of museum shops, but not here. Everything was either hand-crafted or painfully clever. I wanted to buy it all, from four thousand dollar lacquer and enamel pens to framed silk print scarves. Truly, these trinkets were as resplendent as the real treasures in the exhibit.

But back to the exhibit itself. Like any good museum, audio guides were available, and judging from the amount of people using them, apparently they were worthwhile. (Unfortunately, I don’t go in for that kind of thing.) Also, there was a well produced guide to the collection full of lots of history as well as pictures, however this was in the form of an overpriced coffee book instead of a handheld copy, which was only available at the end of the exhibit.

But, true to life, every exhibit has it’s downsides.

I found that despite the beauty of the artefacts, they needed to be kept in low light, which meant that the dramatic effect of the exhibit came from the fact that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my own face. The spotlights were very harsh in places and soon my eyes were hurting. Luckily, in places there were benches to sit. The history of the exhibit itself was comprehensive, however too much so. I am a smart girl, and frankly I felt belittled in places at how dumbed-down the prose accompanying the exhibits was. It was very ‘GCSE revision guide’ instead of ‘have a faceful of amazing rememberable facts’. Was the exhibit designed to let the heirlooms speak for themselves? No. The content definitely needs revising.

This is of particular importance as there was very little media used to diversify the exhibition, despite the plethora of it’s contents. There were only one or two screens playing silent, thirty second videos on repeat. It was poor. That being said, the ticket prices are very much over-priced for the amount that one sees. I expected it to be at least half an hour longer, as we finished it in one hour fifteen, even doubling back to repeat some parts. I would have thought that if one was expected to spend exponentially in the gift shop anyway, that the tickets would have been cheaper. This problem was lessened slightly by the fact that there are some concession prices for students and OAPs etc.

So despite the fact that any standard guests’ bank account would be severely crippled by the time that the Ming exhibit is done with you, the nature, value and quality of the treasures themselves is worth seeing, even if you care little for the history of the era (1450’s). This exhibit is designed to blow your socks off. However, in reality, I’d say it gave an underwhelming gust.

A redeeming factor is the brilliant page that is set up on the British Museum’s website. It covers some highlights, gives some other reviews and also has it’s own blog. I recommend thoroughly browsing that before deciding to go.

If by some miracle this review has convinced you to see the treasures for yourself, you’d better hurry as it ends on the 5th of January 2015.