Monday, 5 November 2018

Theatre Review: The Wild Duck at The Almeida Theatre for

Nested in Islington’s prestigious Almeida, esteemed Director/ Producer/ General Golden-Child Robert Icke’s grizzly adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play Wild Duck is nothing short of astonishing

CW: Graphic violence
-Words by Elinor Potts
The character of Gregory Woods (Kevin Harvey) greets us at the start of the play, a tortured sage who misanthropically lectures on the play’s central preoccupations, promising that “This is a true story”. After meeting his old school friend, James Ekdal (Edward Hogg), we quickly discover that the Woods and the Ekdals are tethered through a catalogue of complex relations which bind the two families. Furthermore, the memory of prison-time spent by James’ father due to Charles Woods’ financial scheming, still stings.
We return home with James to his pokey studio apartment where Icke paints a quaint portrait of familial love. James’ wife, Gina (Lyndsey Marshal) and their cherished child, Hedwig (Clara Read) are warm and chirpily optimistic despite living on the breadline with James’ father, Francis Ekdal (Nicholas Day). To escape the banality of his old age, Francis retires to the attic where he indulges in hunting sessions in a makeshift forest of old Christmas trees. Here lives the eponymous wild duck, and Francis recounts its remarkable backstory to his granddaughter, coaching Hedwig in the importance of survival in the face of adversity. Gregory Woods listens on, and we soon learn of his mental illness as his deliriously prosaic speeches become increasingly absorbed in self-hatred. He babbles, “I have something I need to do here, which is to open their eyes”.
The expositional first act feels tender and Icke’s renovated dialogue from 18th century Norwegian-Danish is perfectly matched with an excellent cast who deliver rousing and thoroughly real performancesA microphone is strategically used throughout the play to deliver glacial asides, as well as marking ‘END SCENE’; a seemingly innocent creative decision used to fiendish effect in the play’s final scene.
The second half mercilessly lifts the veil of domestic cosiness and revels in the anarchy. The security of love is erased brick by brick and as reality dissolves, so does linguistic and semiotic certainty. As Gina finally admits, “I don’t know if I love you, I don’t know what other people mean when they say those words”. Before the final bloody blow of the denouement, Gina and James embrace and slow dance to a gentle ballad. As the ceiling of the Ekdal’s home recedes from view, we are given a momentary glimpse into the utopian realm of the wild duck’s home, a fantastical vision of Roald Dahl-esque childhood escape with callous calm. Icke’s incredible production of Wild Duck warns us of the power that ill-intended fiction can wield over reality. Like walking away from a car crash, you will leave the auditorium with your ears ringing.
The Wild Duck runs at The Almeida Theatre until December 1st. Tickets are available here.

Review, Stories at the National for

Writer Nina Raine attempts to tackle a delicate subject with Stories, but fails to find a way to contribute anything new to the discussion around single parenthood

-Words by Elinor Potts
On face value, Stories at the National Theatre is a play which deconstructs the myths around single motherhood and archetypal notions of family. It is a sad reality that Stories achieves none of this and is propelled by convention and the tiresome thesis that Mother + Father = Good, Single Mother = Bad, Gay Parents= Fickle and Absent.
The play follows the story of hapless late-thirty-something singleton Anna (Claudie Blakley), who, after a string of unsuccessful relationships in her twenties, settles down to have a child with her boyfriend who gets cold feet shortly before going through with IVF. She is an upstanding actress with a strong sense of family, Christian values, and a divine plan which has her firmly placed at the centre of the universe. God’s presence in the play lends to the idea that Anna’s fate is predestined and is overtly referenced as Anna’s brother muses, ‘If God does exist, I don’t think he’s the plot- I think he’s the lighting’, whilst the characters are lit from a single stage light.
There is a cyclical narrative where we first meet the prospective sperm donor, a bumbling artist in baggy clothes, who anxiously offers Anna a bunch of inappropriately symbolic chrysanthemums. Soon, we are confronted with the boorish conservatism of Anna’s father (Stephen Boxer), a shouty, self-involved old man who is particularly fond of cheap racial stereotypes and sperm jokes (‘West Ghanaian… Israeli… sounds like a sheepdog!’). Anna is also disheartened by the bank’s inability to appease her racial preferences and asks, ‘Who’s going to stop me going into a barbershop in New Cross and having a one night stand with a Nigerian?’
The outmoded humour quickly becomes tedious, albeit, with an excellent, multifaceted performance from Sam Troughton as the various romantic interests including a drug-dealing DJ, a misanthropic Northern Irish actor, and a tea-brewing Tory, who, despite not wanting to become a father, romanticises the notion as he pontificates, ‘I was actually reading Knausgaard… the passage where he describes the birth of his child… I was in tears.’ Anna’s father champions a narrow-minded perception of parenthood which discredits any female experience and bemoans Anna’s biological ‘enslavement’, in, “I find it frustrating that women have this biological urge to sign themselves up to what is essentially slavery.”
What is truly frustrating about Stories is that it had the potential to be so much more than it is. Rather than opening up a conversation around unconventional family constructions, it is a moralistic fable which upholds the presence of mother and father above all else. A throw-away secondary narrative flashes back to the character of Natasha, Anna’s landlady (Margot Leicester) during Anna’s footloose and sex-filled twenties.
It’s crushingly cliched, as Natasha confesses the ‘regret’ of her miscarried children whilst on her deathbed. Later, a singular account of an unhappy sperm-donor child in the third act acts as the play’s master narrative which condemns the conception of Anna’s child through sperm donation as ‘wrong’, due to an inevitable ‘identity crisis’. Ultimately, she returns to the avenue of ‘natural’ conception with a man she hasn’t met on the internet and the story concludes as we see Anna smiling knowingly to herself, thumbing a plastic container of spunk.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Cool Brother Zine: live review: fat white family at citadel

Written for publication in Cool Brother magazine:

Toiling against Acton's unrelenting midsummer heat, we found South London’s naughtiest musical collective, Fat White Family. Frontman Lias Kaci Saoudi took to the main stage set at London’s Citadel festival decked in cargo shorts and a white tee, fated for a mid-set decoration with splashes of beer, cigarette ash and sweat. 

In their earlier days, the band showed a predilection for flagrant nudity and on-stage masturbation, with the New York Post claiming that the Peckham bevy once performed covered in faeces. Thankfully, they seem to have scrubbed up on basic hygiene and socially acceptable presentation as Saoudi enacted a pre-gig freshen-up, moodily airing his pits before 'Auto Neutron' kicked off the afternoon’s jaunt through the six-piece’s lip-curling repertoire, heavy wafts of post-punk mingling with the plumes of a punter’s cigar smoke (it was that kind of clientele). A deliriously full sound, Saoudi characteristically thrashed to the sound of a rogue tenor saxophone. After the afternoon’s anti-climax of indie darlings The Horrors [they turned up twenty minutes late, then proceeded to stubbornly perform only three songs for their main stage slot], it was heartening to be reintroduced to FWF's reinvigorated punk presence as they deservingly graced the main stage.

It's easy to spot the band's influences (The Violent Femmes, The Fall,) but they're keen to distance themselves from contemporaries such as Slaves or The Arctic Monkeys. 'Tinfoil Deathstar' follows, succeeded by 'I Am Mark E. Smith' and 'Heaven on Earth.' 'Cream of the Young' riles the onlookers into a sticky, brawling agglomeration of moshing bodies, the chorus nicely substituting as a chant since 'Football's coming home' was soured by Columbia's fancy footwork.

"We'd like to dedicate this song to the boys in the band!" Saoudi purrs, before launching into a fired-up rendition of 'Special Ape,' flexing the Cockney syllables as he asks nonsensically, satirically, "Why do you look at me up in lying on my bed on my right?", still bopping with a tinnie in-hand. ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ of Trainspotting T2 fame is next, incrementally punkier but undoubtedly pared back in light of their naked scandals and the regulations of being booked for a mid-afternoon main stage set on the Sabbath day in West London. The afternoon’s orderly anarchism comes to an end with ‘Touch the Leather,’ the final jewel in the sweaty, sticky crown. 

Theatre Review for UnderPinned freelancing magazine: Wise Children at the Old Vic

Written for publication at

CW: On-stage suggestions of sexual abuse, miscarriage, and incest.

Reworking Angela Carter’s 1991 novel Wise Children, Emma Rice’s theatrical imagining of the text is an explosive ode to the carnivalesque and a sensuous, bohemian feast of a pantomime. It’s a haunted fairytale which explores the shades between good and evil with darker moments offset by nostalgic musical numbers. The scene is a Brixton car-park in 1989 and our protagonists are twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance, accompanied by a gaggle of pastel-coloured mime artists and leggy thespians. A live band play a bewitching score in an alcove behind the centre-stage caravan and beneath the bulb-lit lettering of ‘Wise Children’, keeping guard of the pair. We meet the sisters on the day of their 75th birthday when they are unexpectedly delivered with an invitation to a birthday party from their estranged father, the actor Melchior Hazard. ‘There may be trouble ahead!’ the company croons, and the narrative sketches their complex and adulterous lineage, through which we meet a diverse host of eccentric and extraordinary members.

The importance of Shakespeare to the text is an intriguing thread which certainly feels appropriate given the timings of Rice’s departure from the Globe theatre. There’s a disdain for convention and a playful approach to gender and role-swapping with Ankur Bahl playing both the young Melkior and, later, the bratty female RADA student with whom Melchior has an affair. Katy Owen’s portrayal of the bawdy Grandma Chance is particularly worthy of praise and nothing short of comic brilliance. She has a stubborn disposition and as the parental guardian of the young girls, she spends her days drinking stout and delivering life lessons to the girls, most of which are conducted whilst Owens dons a plump (nude) fat suit with tastefully bejewelled areola and pubic region. The play’s set and costume design, overseen by Vicki Mortimer, is a visual pleasure, wonderfully camp and charmingly mismatched; wigs poorly fixed with sagging lace-fronts; ungodly high-waisted trousers and lashings of gender-bending and breaking. The musical number at the beginning of the second act confirms this as they sing, “Girls will be boys when they want their own way . . . there’s a sudden realization at the end of the play, that we’re all a bit distracted by the choice of passageway!”. This is Rice at her absolute finest.

Theatre Review for UnderPinned freelancing magazine; Mrs Dalloway at the Arcola

Written for publication at :

This adaptation of Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Dalloway isn’t for everyone. For some, it is a chaotic and claustrophobic clamour of self-indulgent Modernism. For others, it is a chaotic and claustrophobic clamour of self-indulgent Modernism. Attending to Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown’, Hal Coase deduces that the text’s primary occupation is that of character formation, with an eye to Woolf’s distrust of “theatrical moments which might deliver the ‘final’ truths of life”. Drawing upon the rich catalogue of writings on and by Woolf, her eccentric creations are tastefully draped in muted beige linens with a background of white drapes. It’s minimalist to the extent that it habitually relies on narrative descriptions to project the image of London. Coase’s refusal to wholly visualise the setting is an abstract and painterly decision which is in keeping with the expressively experimental sentiment of the text but is also, albeit, a little lazy.
Before we meet Clarissa (Clare Perkins), the rest of the cast sketch her character by listing her traits until they grow restless at the redundancy of language and limits of knowledge. “There is never enough of someone to make a judgement”, they surmise. The four cast members disperse like birds into the four corners of the room, playing metropolitan ‘found-sound’ on cassette players in a contemporary flourish. Thus, the character of Clarissa Dalloway is born, clutching (fake) flowers, which she bought herself, against an Yves-Klein-blue canvas; one of few temporal markers. Later, a cloudier canvas is brought out to indicate the fading light.
There are several instances of wrongly executed and misspoken lines and the shaky synchronisation feels indicative of insufficient rehearsal. Despite this, there is a supremely accomplished and nuanced performance from Moody who brings surprisingly humorous tones to the characters of Miss Killman and Mrs William Bradshaw. D’Arcy’s monologue as Rezia is also worthy of note, her musical Italian timbre summoning audience tears as she pleads for her shell-shocked husband’s sanity. In its denouement, the play pulls together its aphoristic threads in the aftermath of Septimus’ death. “To love makes one solitary”, is one, “the people we are most fond of are no good for us when we are ill”. In this, the cynicism of Woolf’s earlier mentioned distrust for theatrically delivered truths is lost, operating more as moral lessons than sardonic phrases.
Whilst it might not be as beautiful as Woolf’s prose, Coases’ theatrical imagining of Mrs Dalloway must be credited for its ambition in adapting such a well-loved canonical Modernist text. The adaptation might not be a meticulous reiteration of the original, it’s every bit as cluttered and befuddled as urban life has always been.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

BA Studies in Literature and Film: William Burroughs' Naked Lunch / David Cronenberg (Portfolio Essay Submission)

I submitted this essay as part of a portfolio for the module 'Studies in Literature and Film'. This essay was self-led and students were encouraged to choose any piece of literature and write about an adaptation of this onscreen. For this essay, I received a first (71).


Pairing a piece of fiction and its film adaptation, analyse and compare their handling of character psychology; and/or plot; and/or narration.            

William S. Burroughs’ 1959 work Naked Lunch evades a chronological narrative and employs the “cut-up method” to fragment psychological states. Burroughs’s radical treatment of character and narrative contributes to an abstracted reality which lends to the work’s satirical underpinnings. Narrative bricolage articulates the textual themes of psychological disunity and repression which are explored by Cronenberg in his adaptation. Writing in a letter to Irvin Rosenthal in 1960, Burroughs wrote “THIS IS NOT A NOVEL. And should not appear like one […] the book should flow from beginning to end without spatial interruption.”[1] This demonstrates an aversion to narrative convention, as well as underscoring Burroughs’ fluid treatment of time and space. Burroughs’ non-linear narrative complicates the practise of cinematic adaptation, undertaken by David Cronenberg in 1991. Writing on the process of adaptation, Boris Eikhenbaum states, “to translate a literary work into the language of film means to find in film language analogues for the stylistic principles of that literary work.”[2] In an interview following the release of the film, Cronenberg confessed that “It is impossible to make a movie out of Naked Lunch. A literal translation just wouldn’t work.”[3]. Cronenberg’s translation to the “language of film” draws on the text’s “analogues” of narrative vignettes and the thematic attention to psychological disunity and repression. Ultimately this adaptation necessitates an application of plot to the written work to effectively make this transition. Whilst this may not be an exact reproduction, Cronenberg fulfils what J. Dudley Andrews cites as the “the task of adaptation”, being “the reproduction in cinema of something essential about an original text”[4].

Character psychology within Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is explored through an unstable narrative which demonstrates psychological disunity. The stylistic use of repeated words and images alludes to the paranoid state of the protagonist, William Lee. Burroughs further explores psychological disunity through the narrative execution of editorial parentheses which intersect the stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as in the opening passage. This indicates a retrospective revision, perhaps from an altered state of perception. This creates a sense of narrative disunity, where the editorial parentheses relay a stern, declarative tone which offsets the fluid ramblings of Lee. Ultimately, these narrative effects underpin the psychological instability of the text’s protagonist. The use of heavy repetition and the ‘cut-up’ method, disrupts the reader’s ability to rationalise the text’s meaning, producing an effect similar to the disorientation of narcotics.
These repeated phrases therefore hold symbolic weighting and reveals paranoid preoccupations. Repetition of ‘vultures’ across “vultures pecking through the mud streets”[5],” vultures over the swamp and Cyprus stumps”[6] “vultures; little wheeling specks”[7] spans three consecutive pages and elucidates Bill’s feelings of entrapment and enclosing enemies. A paranoid narrative style pervades the discourse of medicine, as Burroughs writes “the finance company is repossessing your wife’s artificial kidney… they are evicting your grandmother from her iron lung”[8]. This satirical hyperbole emphasises the collective loss of empathy which late capitalism can be held accountable for. As Robin Lyndenberg writes, “[the text] disrupts structures of binary opposition and hierarchy; exposes the “parasitic economy” of discourse; “extend and dissolves” the boundaries of the body and uses the concrete metonymy of the “bodily functions of digestion and procreation” to dissolve metaphoric abstractions”[9].
Narrative repetition visualises the protagonists’ attempts to conceal sexual desire, which conversely erupts through obsessive repetition. ‘Baboons’ are repeated throughout the text as we read, “purple-assed baboons”[10],“baboonsasshole”[11], “my baboon assistant”[12] and “baboons always attack the weakest party”[13].  This operates as a crude metaphor for sexual over-indulgence and sodomy. This thematic focus on the anus and/or red bottoms is perhaps indicative of Freud’s concept of ‘anally-expulsive’ behaviour. This is defined by Freud as a character who is “generally messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant”[14]. An anal-expulsive individual draws pleasure from disarray and anal-expulsions. Lyndenberg also argues that “the aesthetic mode pursues the “pleasures of the text”[15] and in this way, we can deduce that the text’s protagonist gains pleasure from the radical unpacking of the narrative form.  References to “The Man” allude to paranoia, oppression and distrust as we read, “The Man is never on time”[16] “there is The Man on a cane seat throwing bread to the swans”[17] “waiting on The Man”[18]. This differentiates between the common, lower-case man as well as communicating a sense of systematic oppression, surveillance and entrapment as ‘The Man’ is synonymous with authoritative forces. Conversely, whilst one can consider these repeated phrases or images to hold symbolic value, Robin Lyndenberg argues that the narrative disruption and heavy repetition triggers the eruption of textual materiality, “reducing language to isolated phrases and signifiers”[19]. Furthermore, when asked whether the passages of repetition in the text were intentional, “Burroughs replied they were all by mistake, caused by the rush to get the text to Girodias”[20]. Nevertheless, the stylistic narrative devices still stands as it recreates the disturbed psychology of an individual on narcotic drugs.

Burroughs parallels the disintegrating body and psychology of the addict with the thriving state of late capitalism which benefits from exploitation. As the addict and their psychological state deteriorates, so do perceptions of reality along with conventional form, chronology and narration. This underscores the absurdity of modernity and Burroughs further satirises the farce of Western democracy and tradition through “the President is required by custom to crawl across the garbage on his stomach”[21]. Whilst the text is presented as a series of vignettes with equal narrative weighting, the order of the text as it was conceived was crucially important for Burroughs, writing “the form can not be altered without loss of life”[22]. This illustrates the extended metaphor of the text’s form as holding “life”, mirroring the body of the addict. The opening sequence ‘and start west’ foregrounds the abject consequences of addiction and plunges the reader into a community of users, all victims of their settings. The contextual scares of the 1950s lose their significance in the face of junk, as Burroughs writes “but what does she care for the atom bomb, the bedbugs, the cancer rent, Friendly Finance waiting to repossess her delinquent flesh”[23]. One must not take Burroughs’ writing literally, and the satirical tone of Burroughs’ style alludes to his distrust of aggressive capitalism which conditions “the presiding powers of our world- the media conglomerates, the vast political and commercial bureaucracies, and profit-driven medical science”[24].

Cronenberg draws on the literary “cut-up” method through his cinematic style of piecing together fragments of the book and meshing them with biographical aspects of Burroughs’s own life. In this way, one can consider that both author and director have a similar creative process through their use of bricolage. Tom Graham writes on Cronenberg’s adaptation and he claims that, “rather than attempting to adapt the book in a literal sense, Cronenberg treats Burroughs’ schizoid prose as a secondary source. He gave it structure”[25]. Whilst Cronenberg engages with Burroughs’s narrative fragmentation, the film relies on structure not found in the text. Cronenberg’s engagement with the cut-up method is not exclusive to Burroughs’s text, and Cronenberg refers to widely known figures of the cinematic canon through stylising Bill Lee with a striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)[26]. Bill’s hat, tie and trench coat are coordinated through a colour palate of muted browns. This draws on the organic colour palate of the novel’s tapestry, drawing on blues, greens, and primarily the colour grey. The visual echo of Bogart alludes to a righteous, hyper-masculine protagonist as well as one who “gets the girl”. Conversely, the champion of Naked Lunch is an anti-hero who is addicted to narcotics and delusional sexual fantasies.

Cronenberg foregrounds the text’s themes of psychological repression and homosexuality, warning of the dangers of the creative process which may liberate the ‘true’ self and their organic desires. A liberated creative process is signposted in the opening credits of the film which replicating the novel’s editorial interludes. with the inclusion of a free jazz soundtrack, composed by Ornette Coleman, and the visual abstraction of colours and shapes, rotating and intersecting. It is interesting to consider Freud’s writing on his psychological notion of repression here. In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes, “We shrink back [from the primeval wishes of our childhood] with the whole force of the repression by which those wishes have since that time held down within us”[27]. Looking to the opening scene of Cronenberg’s film at the exchange between Bill, Hank and Martin; Martin suggests “Why don’t you try your hand at writing pornography?”[28]. To this, Bill responds “I gave up writing when I was ten”. This conversation illustrates Bill’s learned control of repressed desires in his adult life which is moderated by his unwillingness to engage with creative processes. Bill’s response to whether rewriting is an act of censorship is simply “Exterminate all rational thought, that is the conclusion I have come to”. Cronenberg’s Bill at this early stage in the film is therefore psychologically repressed as a character.

Once Bill enters Interzone he is encouraged to write and can reconnect with his repressed homosexual impulses. The metaphor of the creative process as purging unconscious desires is also visualised through the animated typewriter which encourages Bill to consciously embrace his homosexuality as a ‘cover’, as he advises; “Homosexuality is the best all around cover an agent ever had […] These are words to live by Bill”[29]. In Burroughs’s text there is an overt discussion of homosexuality within society in the exchange “”A functioning police state needs no police. Homosexuality does not occur to anyone as conceivable behaviour.””[30]. This metaphor alludes to the power of heteronormativity which does not require people to enforce it due to it being conditioned as the normative sexuality. The character of Yves Cloquet introduced by Cronenberg into the text’s narrative is visually depicted as Bill’s antithesis. Cloquet is softly spoken with an English accent, dressed in a white suit, a white shirt and a white tie with an angelic face, juxtaposing Bill’s bleakly coloured hat and hung head. “I’ve seen you around but I’d no idea you were Queer”[31] positively frames Bill’s homosexuality within the context of their breakfast table discussion. Lee’s articulation of his Queerness is hyperbolically pessimistic (“Queer. A curse, it’s been in our family for generations […] I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands when the baneful words seared my reeling brain- I was a homosexual.”[32]) Due to Cronenberg’s directorial tradition of body horror films, the metaphor of repressed sexuality is crudely and brutally executed. This culminates in the scene where we see a man mutilated by a large insect whilst simultaneously having sex with it, blurring the distinctions of pleasure and pain[33]. This physical torture illustrates the psychological torture of repressed homosexual desires. Bill finally acknowledges his true self as a writer where he announces “I write reports. I’m a writer, I tend to write reports on life”[34]. When the officials ask for confirmation of this, Cronenberg recreates a scene from Burroughs’s own life in which he allegedly accidentally shot his wife whilst enacting a ‘William Tell’ act. Burroughs has been often cited as saying that this incident was the “genesis of his becoming a writer”[35] and so we may consider that the film charts Bill’s own journey in liberating his true self and becoming a writer. Cronenberg’s use of narrative bricolage here contributes towards the film’s resolution and illustrates a character arc which is not present within the original text.
Cronenberg’s film draws on the text’s narrative confusion and themes of deception and distrust of authority through opening the film with a quote by Hassan I Sabbah. This reads; “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”[36]. The inclusion of this quote by the Nizari missionary highlights theological and spiritual ideas, as well as casting doubt on perceptions of reality and governance. Furthermore, the second quote used in the film’s introduction is taken from Burroughs’s text and emphasises notions of deception and concealed identities. This quote reads, “Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark inside…”[37]. The ‘Mark’ is typically the victim of a con job and thus, Burroughs’s notion of the “the Mark inside” would be the act of lying to oneself. Deception and illusion are explored through discussions of conscious and unconscious actions and telekinesis in the film.[38] The film’s climax is centred around the deceptive presentation of the character of Doctor Benway, who reveals himself to have been disguised as the female servant Fadela in 1:40:30. This name is aurally and etymologically similar to the Latin ‘fidelis’, meaning truthful and loyal, which is ironic given the use of this character as a disguise. Benway’s dramatic removal of Fadela’s prosthetic exterior in this scene is sexually charged and Benway primarily exposes his artificial breasts to Bill before tearing the costume apart. This is ironic given Bill’s lack of sexual attraction to female bodies and Bill actively substitues the female body for male bodies whilst indulging in sexual fantasies. The pervading deception of Cronenberg’s film indulges in fulfilling the protagonist’s most paranoid fears. This is further explored through his casting of the police officers as the border control officers; bracketing the film’s distrust of authority figures.  We are reminded once more of the opening quote “Nothing is as it seems, everything is permitted.”

Therefore, Burroughs and Cronenberg share a similar approach to their creative processes. As Tom Graham writes, “They share a flair for the grotesque met with perfect nonchalance and bone-dry wit.”[39] Cronenberg rejects Burroughs’s pornographic leanings and favours the disquieting exercise of body horror to communicate Bill’s repressed desires, rather than revelling in the pleasures of sex. For Burroughs, there is a pervading anxiety of language and expression of meaning which cannot ever incorporate the psychological essence of existence or a lived narrative. This is encapsulated as he writes, You were not there for the beginning. You will not be there for the end. Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative”[40]. Burroughs strives for a narrative which incorporates the fragmented psychology of an individual under the influence of narcotic drugs and repressed thoughts which textually erupts through the repetition of Freudian slips. Both text and film share a united creative vision in their representations of psychological disunity, repression and abstracted realities, manifesting through literary and cinematic employment of the cut-up method. Whilst Cronenberg’s adaptation has structural and narrative alterations, these alterations are what Eikhenbaum names ‘stylistic principles’ which facilitate the text’s filmic translation and creates a character arc in Cronenberg’s Bill which is necessitated by the filmic medium.


Andrew, James Dudley. Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford: Oxford UP 1984)

Bleu, Christopher. “The Novel Enfleshed: "Naked Lunch" and the Literature of Materiality”, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol 57, No. 2 (Summer 2011) pp.119-223

Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (London: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005)

Cronenberg, David (director). Naked Lunch, Universal Pictures (1991) DVD

Eikhenbaum Boris. in Kamila Elliott, Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003)

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, (London: Courier Dover, 2015)

Ginelle, Leela. “Great Artist Kills His Wife: Not it’s Just a Quirky Footnote in his History”, Bitch Media, 27 Mar 2014. [accessed: 12/02/18]

Lydenberg, Robin. “Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practise in William S. Burroughs’ Fiction”, American Literature, Vol. 60, No. 3 (October 1988) pp.498-500

Pulver,. Andrew “Interzone Revisited: David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991)” The Guardian, 31 July 2004. [accessed: 03/02/18]
Schwartz, David. “A Pinewood Dialogue with David Cronenberg”, History of the Moving Image. January 11 and 12, 1992 [accessed: 02/02/18]

Smith-Jones, Elsie. Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy: An Integrative Approach, (London: Sage, 2014)  

Hawks. Howard (director). The Big Sleep. Warner Bros, 1946. DVD.

[1] William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (London: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005) p.236
[2] Boris Eikhenbaum in, Kamila Elliott, Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003) p.184
[3] Burroughs, p.236
[4] J. Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford: Oxford UP 1984) p.100
[5] Burroughs, p.12
[6] Burroughs, p.13
[7] Burroughs, p.14
[8] Burroughs, p.154
[9] Robin Lyndenberg, “Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practise in William S. Burroughs’ Film”, American Literature, Vol. 60, No.3 (October 1988) p.205
[10] Burroughs, p.37
[11] Ibid., p.34
[12] Ibid., p.27
[13] Ibid., p.26
[14] Sigmund Freud, in Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy: An Integrative Approach, Elsie Smith-Jones. (London: Sage, 20p.324
[15] Lyndenberg, p.205
[16] Burroughs, p.26
[17]Ibid., p.27
[18] Ibid., p.35
[19] Lyndenberg, p.204
[20] Burroughs, p.245
[21] Ibid., p.153
[22] Ibid., p.341
[23] Ibid., p.120
[24] J.G. Ballard, “Introduction”, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (London: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005)
[25] “In praise of Naked Lunch- the weirdest studio film ever made” Little White Lies, Tom Graham, 15 June 2016 [accessed: 28/01/18]
[28] David Cronenberg, Naked Lunch, Universal Pictures (1991) (01:12:34)
[29] Cronenberg, (00:05:15)
[30] Burroughs, p.31
[31] David Cronenberg, Naked Lunch, Universal Pictures (1991) 46:02
[32] Cronenberg, (00:46:40)
[33] Ibid., (01:30:35)
[34] Ibid., (01:44:40)
[35] Leela Ginelle, “Great Artist Kills His Wife: Not it’s Just a Quirky Footnote in his History”, Bitch Media, 27 Mar 2014. [accessed: 12/02/18]
[36] Cronenberg, (00:02:09)
[37] Ibid., (00:02:15)
[38] Ibid., (00:43:30)
[39] Tom Graham, “In praise of Naked Lunch- the weirdest studio film ever made” Little White Lies, 15 June 2016 [accessed: 28/01/18]
[40] Burroughs, p.168