Friday, 15 April 2016

Boy: A Review

Leo Butler’s Boy is a work that speaks candidly of issues surrounding the contemporary urban condition, through the eyes of 17 year old drop-out Liam; an anxious adolescent, Liam struggles to communicate with figures of authority and is fundamentally isolated. Performed on a perpetually moving figure-of-eight conveyor belt at Islington’s Almeida, the play seamlessly moves between gravity-defying commuters, doctor’s offices, street corners, bus shelters and job centres.

This is a jarringly honest portrayal of London consumerism and its effect on social divisions. Whilst undeniably humorous in parts, a sad stagnation is reflected in Liam’s walking against the movement of the conveyor belt. Liam’s destructive inclinations and vain attempts to mark his name with his finger on the glass of a bus shelter seem to pronounce his own struggle of finding a place in a city of conflicts. The anti-climactic odyssey to Sports Direct to track down former school mates results in further aimless wandering and police encounters. Crucially phone-less in an environment wholly driven by technology, Liam is pushed further into the fringes of society. 

Homelessness is present throughout the play and juxtaposes the stark social divides synopsised in the absurd pantomime of the Underground. Raising issues of rising youth unemployment, the social implications of the ‘fit to work’ bill, nationwide library closures, zero hour contracts, binge drinking and immigration it is a deeply political piece which Butler first drafted in 2011 and chimes with the times. It speaks of a city in internal conflict. Stand-out performances include Frankie Fox in his stage debut as Liam, as well as another debut from Bayleigh Gray as Liam’s sister, Mysha.

A powerful comment on city-living and social inequality, Boy places the spotlight on the seclusion of individuals in an urban environment.

Leo Butler’s Boy is currently at the Almeida theatre running from the 5th April to 28th May.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Hitchhiking and Heart Breaking

A billboard, walking down from Hallgrímskirkja.

That summer, I worked every waking morning selling cookware and carry-on luggage to pensioners in a shabby retail outlet on the cusp of rural nowhere. I saved where I could- advertising babysitting in the village post-office that filled my evenings with unruly piss-soaked toddlers and flea-ridden spaniels. I booked the flights on ASDA WiFi, London to Reykjavík.
Waiting at Heathrow I was a reluctant victim of conversation with an older man over a lukewarm chai latte, the equivalent of half an hour’s knife selling. Over the course of that year I had come to realise that I had the sort of face older people felt comfortable starting conversations with; exiting cinemas, on the bus, sitting patiently in Doctors’ surgeries. A few weeks earlier I’d been approached by a man on the 17:43 train from Barnstaple to Exeter who told me he’d recognised me from an afternoon I’d spent in Barnstaple library and I’d looked after his bag whilst he went to the toilet. North Devon was horribly small, even more so when you have a complexion that seemingly sucks in senior citizens. Formulating an excuse to escape, I boarded the plane and felt the pressure of home lifting softly over the crown of my head like a damp jumper. The airhostess chimed some safety-spiel and I drifted to sleep, waking for the descent. Gazing out over the vast expanse of land, the surface of the earth looked synthetic.  Harsh shores lapping against a concrete coast, peppered with volcanic pimples. 

I spent the first day in Reykjavík chasing colourful houses and slipping between record-cum-coffee shops. This was a strange sort of Icelandic hybrid, inviting you in to an artificial living room and plying you with complementary coffee and after-dinner mints whilst you peruse stock. This suspicious hospitality was miles away from the formalities of my retail world. I felt begrudgingly obliged to purchase a CD, opting for a new release by Flugvél og Geimskip, an ethereal protégé of Björk and this month’s cover-star for the Reykjavík Grapevine as Ciaran had boasted. Later, after I returned to England I would listen to the album and the words would wash over my head in an incomprehensible lexicon of “electronic horror music” and Icelandic. Walking without aim I found myself drawn towards the dramatically expressionist Hallgrímskirkja church, where I sat in the sunshine and wrote messages to my Grandparents on postcards embellished with puffins.

On the second day we ate hot dogs and I walked to the harbour, boarding a ferry to the neighbouring island of Viðey. I was Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom, trudging through thick grasses in weighty boots and intermittently snacking on salt liquorice. Fields of lupin smacked purple against grey stone, bracketed by distant mountains and colder waters. Yoko Ono’s “Imagine Peace tower” was positioned here in eerie isolation and I sat on a bank alongside it looking outwards.

On the third day, we ventured to the Northern fjords, sights set on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We hired sleeping bags and a tent. In my naivety I purchased some bin bags to fend off any potential snow-storms, more salt liquorice and a bag of peanuts. A lecturer from Reykjavík University picked us up outside Ciaran’s apartment. I sat sheepishly in the back with his two subdued Icelandic children; a girl with a tightly bound headscarf whose brother was thoroughly engrossed in a Nintendo DS. In keeping with his profession, our driver lectured us on the land, sketching each passing lake and river into a rich tapestry of Icelandic history. He drove us for two hours, during which time I attempted napping but kept knocking my head rhythmically against the window. My green synthetic wool jumper flared an angry rash as I slowly perspired under the weight of clothes I’d been wearing to minimise my luggage. He dropped us at a junction where the road split in two, heading west for reasons undisclosed.

Our next ride came in the form of a farmer's truck. We cast holdall and rucksack alongside his weekly groceries. He told us proudly about his work, his modest farm, his horses, his acres of land. He left us by a brook, where mottled grey tarmac spliced through barren land and pools of deep blue collected on each side. I perched myself on a metal railing that followed the single track, anticipating the arrival of passing cars to thumb. A second farmer pulled up. He sneered, decrepit cigarette hanging shrewdly from the pinch of his lips. Before we had a chance to speak he croaked in thick English 'I want the woman in the front' and we scuttled back to the side of the road.
Eventually we found ourselves in the back of a hire-car under the guardianship of two Estonian women. We spent two days with them, eating blueberry pancakes and whale watching, swimming naked in thermal springs, sharing a picnic of cold meats, rye bread and peanuts.  On our last day with them we hiked to a waterfall tucked inside the gaping cavity of a hill. The path to the waterfall was dotted with stones laid in size ascending order, “Viking navigation” said Ciaran.
We pitched our tent in the shadow of a mountain, having parted ways with the Estonians in the fishing town of Rif. We spent the afternoon swimming and eating crayfish before realising it was already 11PM. The sun barely faltered, dipping only momentarily. In the land of the midnight sun, dreaming can be scarce.

The next day we hiked along the ring-road in the direction of Snæfellsnes. We met a father and daughter from New England, Christian and Willow. Christian was a whimsical former hippy who recounted his early life travelling the world on his parent's sailboat. I thought of my red boat from Viðey and scanned the uncanny lava fields of Gjástykki, a dramatic montage of bulbous stony growths and brittle charcoal smattered with lurid green moss. In Snæfellsnes we spotted an orange light-house perched on the ledge of a hill that overlooked the town. We climbed to the top for a panoramic outlook of land, sea and harbour. I captured this on my camera and it still lingers in my mind's eye, supplemented by the taste of fish, raw cheeks, cold coffee and unforgiving gusts of wind.

After a lengthy display haplessly trying to flag down a ride, we tore nine pages from my journal, fashioning a makeshift sign to Reykjavík. We hitched back with a well-to-do couple; a former Oxbridge Guardian journalist with an impeccable fringe and her artfully dishevelled boyfriend who wrote for Vice. Calling myself a writer, I felt a monumental fraud.

We celebrated our return to the city with a night of Nordic hip-hop in a bar where drunkards swung the light fixtures like pendulums, skimming heads. Like our evening under the mountain, the night seamlessly interlocked with day.
I lumbered onwards to Gdańsk and ate the weight of my former lover in pierogi.