Friday, May 18, 2007

The Poems of Philip Ridley, "Still That Boy"

Last night, the sweatbox studio space in the Soho Theatre hosted a reprise of Philip Ridley's 20-year-old poem cycle 'Love Songs for Extinct Creatures'. Ridley is a hotly corporeal presence, a subaqueus undulation of smooth pink life, if you will, emerging at once in camp flourishes and then in violent convulsions. One of the most repeated images in his 'Love Songs' was the cocoon, and the cycle itself revealed a Russian doll of cocoons, repeatedly pushing forward a renewed Ridley in the playful guise of another one of his creatures, none of them really extinct, but each pulsating with perversion and sensuality.

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Mr Philip Ridley

Love, for Ridley twenty years ago as much as today (he announced in the final poem he is 'still that same boy') is brutal and beautiful, callous and hopeless, multicoloured and meaningless. The 'singer' of the songs doesn't want his beloved to leave him anything in rememberance of their affair, only 'a bottle of smoke' so he may 'choke' on it. Almost every aspect of a relationship is re-imagined as a chain of animalistic and fetishistic images. The foolishness of love and trying to encapsulate love is screamed from the rooftops in Ridley's coltish rhymes and fast metres, hammered home with his no-bullshit humour.

This performance, first devised while he was a student at Saint Martin's College of Art, must have been the calling card that launched Ridley's polymath talents into the world, and it now serves him and the Soho Theatre very nicely as a supporting piece and advertisement for his new play. His storebank of images is as surprising and delightful as his 'proper poet' contempories Carol Ann Duffy and Selima Hill, but Ridley is unconfined to the page and to the rules of the page: at times his wordplay skims the register of the angst-ridden adolescent or hopeless romantic. His cheekiness belies a true artist at work, sweating humanity; like the anxious speaker of one of his poems, whose love has him sewed up at every orifice, I hope Philip Ridley never comes apart at the seams.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Marie Lloyd and The Art of Suggestion

I watched a TV film about Marie Lloyd the other night(see BBC web page). There were many elements to Lloyd's performance: costume, character, having a knees-up; but it was the lyrics that she had to defend, at risk of being banned or regarded as lewd.

In defending her act, she revealed the power of performance in conveying language. Singing the songs from her routine with an entirely 'innocent' delivery let her off the hook with the Vigilance Committee by proving there was nothing vulgar about the phrases themselves. The story goes that she then performed the supposedly charming and respectable drawing room ballad 'Come into the Garden Maude' 'with such a wealth of gesture that it became quite obscene' (see website about 'The English Music Hall').

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Marie Lloyd

I loved watching Jessie Wallace as Marie singing 'My Old Man'; I found it genuinely amusing, the 'old cock linnet' and all...

'We had to move away, 'cos the rent we couldn't pay,
The moving van came round just after dark;
There was me and my old man, shoving things inside the van,
Which we'd often done before, let me remark.
We packed all that could be packed in the van and that's a fact;
And we got inside all we could get inside,
Then we packed all we could pack on the tailboard at the back,
Till there wasn't any room for me to ride.

My old man said, "Follow the van, don't dilly dally on the way!"
Off went the cart with the home packed in it,
I walked behind with me old cock linnet.
But I dillied and dallied, dallied and dillied,
Lost the van and don't know where to roam.
I stopped on the way to have the old half-quartern,
And I can't find my way home.'

Friday, May 4, 2007

From Taylor Mac to Ruth Padel, and The Last Day of Smoking

Last night we danced around the maypole with TAYLOR MAC, a vision in green glittery lips, rags, raffia and rubber bunting. On his website he describes himself as 'a theater artist working in the genre of pastiche', and his Gil Scot Heron re-working 'The Revolution Will Not be Masculinised' shows exactly what kind of pastiche this is: sweetly political, post-trans-everything and out of this world. Sometimes he seems like Guthrie or Ginsberg, when he whips out his ukelele it's like flying monkeys have whisked an NYC cabaret George Formby through the Emerald city, his falsetto is part beautiful, part venemous cat, and he hits all the right notes of grotesque sex humour for the Royal Vauxhall crowd. John Cameron Mitchell has posted a video on his website here; Taylor Mac deserves to be bigger than Hedwig.

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Taylor Mac

On Monday I presented LAST DAY OF SMOKING, in the Curzon Soho cinema. I get the impression that it was a succesful performance. I would sum it up like this: Zillakiller prowls behind the bar in whiteface on the cinema's last day of smoking, repeating in a cod-american accent various rhythmic phrases: 'Gedda loada me', 'You gat the piano ready?', 'Of all the bars in all the bars...' and, most relentlessly, 'I wanna cigarette'. Thommy Balloon, near-dead, is a human ashtray, and other people burst his balloons with their cigarettes. Frustration levels rise, people are more interested in trying to meet their barman's request for a cigarette than buying drinks from his mute assistant, until Zillakiller carries Thommy Balloon off, accompanied by the last bars of a jazz piano number.

RUTH PADEL needs no such spectacle. We saw her in the Poetry Cafe the other day, performing in front of a wobbly microphone, coming on after several wobbly open-mic slots (including one bloke who excrutiatingly claimed that with his painful witterings he had invented a 'new poetical form'). After our compere launched her with an explosion of accolades, Padel started weaving her latest lenghty, unfinished poem, possibly called 'In Christendom'. Using words like jewels, and foreign dialect as a way of compressing images with glittering novelty, Padel seemed able to negotiate botany, astronomy, politics and religion with the lightest, most musical of poetic phrasing. These were big, serious poems though, and every time she insisted the next one would be light-hearted, we were sent on another head-spin.