Fringe 2017 Reviews: Julius Caesar (With Pirates)

fde992_527ef8796fe0460f800cb789ce6bd666~mv2There’s mutiny afoot on the pirate ship, Rome.  Fresh from his victory over former captain Pompey, Caesar’s tyrannical command causes unrest amongst the crew. A mutiny supported by first mate Brutus might help restore democracy to the ship, if greed and in-fighting don’t get the better of the mutineers’ good intentions.

This is the second production I’ve seen by Some Kind of Theatre. Last year’s Steampunk Tempest was a little rough around the edges, but inventive, funny, and ultimately true to the source material.

I’m surprised they chose Julius Caesar as a follow-up – if I had to guess, I’d have expected them to stick with the comedies, not tackle one of Shakespeare’s heaviest plays. The other productions of Julius Caesar at the fringe this year include an all-female production described as ‘relevant and gritty’ and a production set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

Some Kind of Theatre takes a totally different route, presenting Julius Caesar – with PIRATES! And you know what? I’m all for it. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, and the soothsayer is a talking parrot.

Aesthetically, for the scale of the production it looks great. It’s part of Some Kind of Theatre’s Shakespeare on the Sofa project, portable productions designed to fit into any venue, intended to make Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience.

The storybook backdrop is ingenious, simple but very effective, and the piratical aesthetic is very slick. If you’re smart enough you don’t need a whole lot to make a real impression. It’s a nicely choreographed, visually appealing, concise little production.

The concept of Julius Caesar as a pirate captain is an interesting one – sailing the ship of state, perhaps? Ha. There is some cognitive dissonance from the fact that the characters are now ostensibly outlaws rather than the state government, but given what a light-hearted production it is, I’m willing to let that slide.

I was pleased to see that, silly as the premise is, they didn’t shy away from the play’s darker moments – despite the talking parrot and the swashbuckling swordfights, it’s still a story about politics and murder, and the bloody heart of it comes through.

Julius Caesar has (I gather) a complicated plot and a lot of characters and for the most part they’ve done a good job of condensing it down into an hour and the minimum of players. However, I was a bit uncomfortable the resulting handling of Mark Antony.

In this production, Mark Antony is a woman – and Caesar’s wife, combined with the character of Calpurnia. On one level, the gender flip is a bit of a masterstroke.

When Mark Antony is a woman, you get a story in which Caesar’s murderers don’t expect any retribution because they’d never expect Mark Antony to declare war on them. They let her speak at Caesar’s funeral because they assume they can control her. The line Your voice shall be as strong as any man’s /In the disposing of new dignities takes on a whole new meaning.

But did she really have to be Caesar’s wife? I recognise that someone had to have the portentous dream (that Caesar ignores) but that role could have gone to Antony without their being married.

I’m of the opinion that, as a general rule, you can either have two Shakespearean characters who are, in the original text, close platonic friends be lovers or have one of them be a woman. When you do both, the implications get a little unfortunate.

I’d be more charitable here were it not for the fact that last year’s Steampunk Tempest also contained some… strange cross-gender casting (I’ve never seen a woman play Caliban before, and frankly it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat). I’d suggest that they think through the possible implications in future!

Otherwise, though, I had a good time! It’s not the smoothest Shakespearean production you’ll see at the Fringe this year – some of the cast do struggle at times with the dialogue, making the plot hard to follow for those of us who haven’t read the play – but it’s certainly one of the cheapest, and the only one with pirates. And a talking parrot (puppet).

Julius Caesar (With Pirates) is on until August 18th 7PM @ Black Market. Entry is free, suggested donation £5. Take your friends, get some culture, enjoy some pirate antics.

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My Week In Writing (13/08/17)

20170811_183900Well, first of all the big news: the book I’m in came out yesterday! Shoreline of Infinity Issue 8 1/2, available now in ePub, PDF, Kindle and print formats. Price starts at £3.50. Go grab a copy! I’ll be sure to shill it again once I’ve read it.

The launch is on Wednesday evening, and I’m very excited.

Otherwise: still settling into my new job, and looking for something more permanent.

I’m working my way through my novel – so far, I’ve only found one pressing issue with this draft, so I’m feeling pretty happy with it. I wish I had more time to devote to it but, work.

I’ve been listening to Doom Coalition 2, which so far I’m enjoying more than the first volume. Also, I only just now realised River Song is in it (spoilers!) – really excited to see what Big Finish does with the character, because I adore Alex Kingston. Otherwise, full review upcoming.

I’m still reading The Thirteen Guests, which is taking longer to get through than I expected – it should be quicker now, though, because the murders have started and I’m itching to find out where it’s going.

And I went to see a PBH Free Fringe production of Julius Caesar – now with pirates! I intend to review it when I have the time (preferably before the run finishes) so watch this space.

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Review: Doom Coalition 1

doomDoom Coalition is the second in Big Finish’s run of Eight Doctor boxset series, a sort of series of mini-series. The first, Dark Eyes, was something of an experimental piece – the first volume was actually intended as a standalone. Doom Coalition was apparently planned as four boxsets from the outset.

And I’m not going to lie, it does feel like a little bit of a cashgrab. Dark Eyes was experimental and a big risky and it paid off, so naturally they have to do another one, equally ominously-titled.

But I can hardly complain. After all, I did buy all four volumes, and it’s not as if I didn’t have great fun listening to the first four stories:

The Eleven by Matt Fitton

The Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey to deal with a dangerous escaped criminal: the Eleven, a Time Lord who, for reasons unknown, has retained the consciousnesses of all his previous incarnations.

The Eleven is mostly an action-packed thriller, a solid hour of the heroes trying (and failing) to keep the Eleven from escaping Gallifrey, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Classic Who’s handful of stories set on Gallifrey are, in my opinion, generally a bit weak. They generally lack both the budget and the creativity to properly realise the seat of the Time Lords. The Eleven is a rare gem, playing up both the familiar (graduate students) and the alien (mind probes) elements of Gallifreyan society.

The Red Lady by John Dorney

The Doctor and his companion Liv travel to London circa 1963, where they meet new companion Helen Sinclair and find a deadly menace lurking in a collection of antiquities.

This is some seriously creepy stuff. I think the only word for it is Moffat-esque; eerie, psychological, and mysterious. It follows in the footsteps of Blink and The Impossible Astronaut, but still manages to feel fresh and original.

The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt

The Doctor, Liv and Helen travel to Renaissance-era Florence in search of the Doctor’s old friend Galileo, only to find the city beset by a mysterious plague, terrifying monsters – and that Galileo wants them as far away from him as possible.

I remember that I enjoyed listening to The Galileo Trap, but a week or so on it’s some of difficult to remember the plot. There’s just so much going on, the script juggling setting up the boxset finale with a complicated plot involving Galileo, outer space bounty hunters, and cyborg police officers. The result is a bit of a jumble, but a fun one.

The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier

Straight into the next adventure, the Doctor decides to spring the trap and goes straight to the Eleven’s new stronghold – a planet-sized factory floating between Mercury and the Sun.

The Satanic Mill is seriously atmospheric, with a setting that’s viscerally disturbing. Left on their own, Liv and Helen really get a chance to shine, rallying the factory workers into a revolution.

In retrospect, though, the main focus of the narrative is really just the Doctor figuring out what’s going on in the factory. Once that mystery is solved, the remainder of the story is mostly just him escaping the Eleven’s trap with relative ease, a lot of running about and shouting, and a whole lot of unanswered questions as the Eleven refuses to explain his grand plan.

That said, the concept behind The Satanic Mill is so twisted and so brilliant that it’s hard to complain.

Overall, as I said, I had a really good time listening to Doom Coalition 1. It’s four hours of good, solid Doctor Who.

The standout story is definitely The Red Lady, which is a little disappointing as it’s the only standalone story in the boxset – it’s a pity it outshines the main drama.

Helen Sinclair has the potential to be a great addition to the TARDIS team – I like Liv Chenka in theory, but in practice she’s such a grim, jaded character that she can get a bit wearing. She’s definitely at her best when she has a brighter, less cynical companion to balance her out.

After her first story Helen didn’t have as much to do as I might have liked – she spends a lot of The Galileo Trap being bewildered at what’s going on and The Satanic Mill is focused heavily on the Doctor and the Eleven. However, there’s still three more boxsets (twelve more episodes) to come so room to grow!

I have mixed feelings about the Eleven. The idea of a Time Lord with multiple consciousnesses in the same body is a logical and interesting extrapolation from existing canon, but it’s saddening that the writers felt that such a character naturally had to be a villain, given how stigmatised DID and other similar disorders are in real life.

Even leaving that aside, in the stories I’ve listened to he’s come across as ‘the Master, but he does funny voices sometimes’, which is a disappointingly common trap for Doctor Who writers to fall into, when writing Time Lords villains!

I’d give it a solid 7/10, and I’m looking forward to volume 2.

 

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My Week In Writing (06/08/17)

20170806_104747

It begins…

My first week at my new job went pretty quickly. I’m working for the city council, so there’s some somewhat confusing rules and regulations as to how much I’m allowed to say online about my work, so I shan’t chance it. Mostly what I’ve been doing is data entry and opening mail.

I also got my data back on Monday, which I’m absolutely thrilled about. I wasted a lot of time going through my writing folder re-reading everything I would have lost, if the recovery had failed.

Best part is, I’ve been able to start working on my novel again, so I’m doing a chapter-by-chapter read through. Main goal at present is to check the flow and look for suitable places to re-insert some key details from scenes I cut. After that I might have to edit it down some. We’ll see.

After that, test reading… and then querying agents.

Speaking of: my short story 3.8 Missions is going to be in Shoreline of Infinity‘s Edinburgh International Book Festival Special edition, which is out in less than a week! I may get royalties, so please grab a copy.

This week, I listened to the first volume of Doom Coalition, which I enjoyed very much, and finished reading A Song of Stone which I enjoyed a lot less.

I’ve started reading Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon. So far it’s mostly been posh people being posh at each other, but it’s a murder mystery so there should be some murder soon. It’s very readable anyway, and I was very interested to discover that the author is the brother of Eleanor Farjeon, who wrote The Silver Curlew. It was a favourite book of mine as a child.

Apparently there was another Farjeon sibling who was also a writer – and the family was descended from Thomas Jefferson. What a fascinating bunch.

I’ve been watching The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, a web sitcom that’s sort of… difficult to describe. It’s a romantic sitcom, very funny, highly recommended.

Next week: we’ll see.

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Adventures in Novelling: Annique

I definitely wasn’t planning on starting another long-form project right after finishing Settlement 359, but, well, I got inspired. Of all things, by an episode of The Adventure Zone – I was intrigued by the concept of our world existing as part of a wider, more fantastical multiverse.

So, I started working on Annique (working title). I’m thoroughly winging it here, to the point that I genuinely don’t know if I’ll be able to make it work – I’m certain there’s some major plotholes already and I’m only 17k in.

It’s not so much a fantasy story as a science fiction story with a lot of sufficiently advanced technology, plus some different universes with different physical laws. Roughly speaking, the premise is that our world is secretly part of a dimension-spanning empire – which is now collapsing.

The two lead characters are the eponymous Annique, an everywoman from 21st century Britain, and ‘Eddie’ (most definitely not her real name), a teenage runaway who’s actually the deposed empress of the universe.

The insurgents who desposed Eddie are now running things, but in the process their wider organisation has splintered, the imperial faction still exists and is very angry, and the fabric of universe is unravelling due to a devastating weapon that was accidentally unleashed. And as of the last scene I wrote, our protagonists are hiding out in a Scottish farmhouse.

I have no idea where I’m going with this.

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My Week In Writing (30/07/17)

20170730_155734Well, the big bit of news this week is: I found a new (temp) job, starting tomorrow! Which means I’ve spent this weekend a) relaxing and b) buying new shoes. I don’t know what the dress code for my new office is so I’m not sure if the new shoes are strictly necessary, but I figured it was about time I had a pair of smart shoes I can walk in.

All in all, operation ‘quit my job’ has been more or less successful – I was unemployed for five weeks, which is longer than I hoped but not as long as I expected, and I have a (hopefully glowing) reference for what I was doing.

In other news, my data recovery was a success – they weren’t able to recover my entire hard drive but I should be getting back all the writing I lost, hopefully tomorrow after New Work.  Very relieved and very much looking forward to sorting my writing projects out!

This week, I’ve been plugging away on the same writing projects, with variable success – between wanting to relax a bit before starting work and knowing I’ll be able to commit better after getting my files back, it’s been difficult to motivate myself these past few days.

I listened to the first three episodes of Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 1, which I have complicated feelings about. I’m enjoying it more than Dark Eyes, though, which I found grim and a bit disappointing.

I watched Captain America: Civil War, which I found acutely disappointing – I don’t know anything much about the comic arc it’s based on, but as a sequel to Age of Ultron it’s not wholely satisfying and as a sequel to Winter Soldier is a full-on disappointment. It did get me hyped for Black Panther, though.

And on a whim, I watched Psycho and enjoyed it more than I expected to – I was a little nervous about watching it on my own because I don’t do well with scary (I’d been informed that it isn’t scary but I’m very easily frightened) but I’m glad I did because there are certain, um, sequences that the people I generally watch films with probably wouldn’t have taken entirely seriously…

Anyway, the first act is definitely the highlight but I was sort of expecting that. If anything I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the rest of the film – I was half expecting to be bored stiff.

So, next week: new job!

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The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 2: Part Two

montage_image_largeContinuing from last week’s post, and with an excess of colons in the title: here are some thoughts on The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor: Volumer 2. Part two.

The Bonfires of the Vanities by Uma McCormack, starring Anneke Wills as Polly Wright:

I was really looking forward to The Bonfires of Vanities – it’s Big Finish’s first Hartnell-era Ben and Polly story and a rare Doctor Who story by a woman. But as it is, it’s been a couple of weeks since I listened to it and it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on me.

Though that said, I had a good time listening to it. Like Fields of Terror it delves into a lesser-known chapter of history, but this time it’s a more light-hearted affair. The Bonfires of Vanities is about the Lewes Bonfire, apparently the most famous bonfire night celebration in the country (I’d never heard of it).

Thinking about it, it’s sort of weird that there’s such a proliferation of creepy stories set during May Day festivities, but almost none that I know of about Guy Fawkes Night – it’s a celebration that literally celebrates burning people at the stakes (yes, Guy Fawkes wasn’t burned but the Lewes Bonfire also commemorates Protestants Martyrs who were burned alive), it takes places at night, in winter… the only thing I can think is that, unlike May Day, it doesn’t have any especially ‘sexy’ associations.

The Bonfires of Vanities has a palpable tension running through it. The initial reveal of the monster of the week – a Guy come to life – is suitably creepy, but the real threat ultimately comes from the townspeople of Lewes. They’re so unpleasant that the Doctor saving them from themselves doesn’t feel fully deserved. But that’s sometimes the case in Doctor Who.

Ultimately, I think the issue is it’s just less focused than the other stories in the boxset. It feels a bit like a four-parter crammed into a Companion Chronicle, which isn’t a good look – CCs are short-form stories and should, ideally, be very tight.

It also has this weirdly sexist tone at times, which I’m willing to give it a pass on because, firstly, it’s by a woman, and secondly it’s obviously trying to faithfully recreate the tone of sixties Who, but I could have done without it.

I do feel like The Bonfires of Vanities (I still don’t get that title) is the weakest story in the boxset, but given how strong the boxset is overall, that’s hardly an insult.

The Plague of Dreams by Guy Adams, starring Anneke Wills as Polly Wright

This was fantastic, in more ways than one.

The whole boxset has an unsubtle but low-key arc running through it: as established in the trailer, a mini-drama in and of itself, someone is messing with the First Doctor’s time line in order to prevent him fighting in the Time War. I didn’t listen to the trailer till afterwards, and honestly I’m glad I skipped it – the Time War stuff was a pleasant surprise, and I think I’d have been very apprehensive about how it’d be intergrated into a Hartnell-era story!

I can say with some certainty that Plague of Dreams is… not what I’d have expected. It has an entirely new twist on the Companion Chronicles format: Polly and an unnamed ‘Player’ are on a stage, performing the events of the story for a mysterious audience.

It’s unsettling, strange, and (as you’ve probably guessed) very meta. The Player, revealed over the course of the story to be a benevolet Time Lord, has been following the Doctor’s exploits and has an idea of how his adventures are usually constructed. In essence, he’s the author, a Doctor Who fan writing a story of his own.

When the true nature of their situation – I won’t spoil it – is revealed, it’s a tiny bit of a disappointment, but I don’t think anything would have lived up to the level of mystery established over the first episode.

My only real complaint isn’t really with Plague of Dreams but with the overall arc: it was written with the express purpose of accomodating more First Doctor, Ben and Polly stories, which I don’t think was necessary.

Strictly speaking, there’s no time in TV continuity for these stories to take place – they’re in three stories together, which are continuous – but who cares? If anything, more adventures with the First Doctor serve to strengthen and deepen Ben and Polly’s character arcs and it’s easy enough to handwave the continuity issue.

(Really, Big Finish? You inserted a whole arc of stories between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani even though it’s heavily implied they take place on the same day with nary a handwave but you wrote this whole arc to explain… actually, never mind. It’s better not to think about it too much.)

Conclusion

I have to say, this is the strongest Companion Chronicle boxset to date. The First Doctor Volumer 1 was a little samey, the Second Doctor Volume 1 was patchy. This one was consistently strong.

The Darkened City and The Plague of Dreams are both, in my opinion, masterpieces, and I’m sure Darkened City is destined to be a classic of the Companion Chronicles range. I’d give the whole boxset a solid 8/10.

 

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