Tag: Nottingham

Desolation Row: Lowry’s exploration of modern anxiety at Djanogly Art Gallery

L. S. Lowry said that the Great Depression passed him by. It might seem like an unusual statement given that, like George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployed and the over-worked in the north of England. But unlike Orwell, he was not politically or ideologically motivated. Instead, his figures become part of the industrial wastelands alongside the derelict buildings, abandoned boats and thick, black smog.

Earlier this month, a wonderfully curated exhibition of Lowry’s work opened at Nottingham’s Djanogly Art Gallery. Here his Lancashire mill scenes sit alongside some of his lesser known rural landscapes which became increasingly stark and devoid of detail.

Although his images are steeped in the everyday there is also something unsettling about them. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland and James Joyce in Ulysses, Lowry does not subscribe to a straightforward social realism but instead explores the existential anxiety of modern life. Personal identity is lost in the crushing machine of industrialisation; people are forced to work long hours and they become disconnected from their families and themselves, as shown in the family scene of Discord (1943).

Lowry painted a number of startling portraits, including Head of a Man (1938), Boy in a Yellow Jacket (1935) and The Manchester Man (1935-6). The red, staring eyes, hollow expressions and skin ravaged by harsh weather, factory chemicals and poor diet reveal the soul-sapping nature of the industrial age and force us to confront the human cost of modernity head on. Contrast these pictures with the pencil sketches A Meeting (1923) and Speculators (1924) which depict middle class professionals sitting in their comfortable offices smoking, drinking coffee and using their minds rather than being physically exhausted by the drudgery of hard labour.

He also produced a number of desolate landscapes, both urban and rural. Some, such as Wasteland (1935), show the spoils of industrialisation at a time when Lancashire’s cotton industry was in decline and these too echo Eliot’s poem. Many resemble a battlefield from the First World War, perhaps anticipating that another war was not far off. The figures of his earlier paintings are notably absent and the once-thriving mills are abandoned although thick, putrid smoke continues to belch out of the chimneys in the distance indicating a legacy of destruction.

Even more stark are Lowry’s paintings of the lakes, seashores and rural landscapes of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District which are largely free of human activity and the antithesis of the pastoral idyll. As in the city, there is nothing comforting here; the land is oddly life-less, almost lunar and detached from any real sense of location, hinting at perplexing metaphysical questions about time.

The exhibition continues at Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre (University of Nottingham campus) until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Relive your memories of Hyson Green flats at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard

The Hyson Green flats did not last long but during their brief lifetime, they become something of an urban landmark in the city and home to a thriving community. Built in 1965, the complex included 593 individual flats and maisonettes and its distinctive modernist design meant that it stood out in an area that is largely made up of Victorian terraces.

The flats were demolished in 1988 to make way for Asda but many former residents look back on their time there with great fondness.

There will be an opportunity to discover more about life in the Hyson Green flats at a new exhibition which opens at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard on Saturday.

On the Flats is a local history project run by the Partnership Council, a charity working in Hyson Green. More than 40 volunteers have spoken to ex-residents to find out more about their memories of the flats and the exhibition also includes a film with interviews and archive footage such as old television news clips of events surrounding the flats.

Residents have contributed a host of items to the exhibition, for example a slab of concrete and a street sign which were salvaged when the flats were demolished. The exhibition also details the role the flats played in the Nottingham riots in 1981, as well as the impromptu blues parties that were held.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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Sound it Out is a funny and moving portrayal of men and their records

There is no major plotline in Jeanie Finlay’s new film, Sound it Out. The documentary, which opened at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on Thursday night, profiles the lives of staff and customers at a well-loved independent record shop called Sound it Out Records in the north-east town of Stockton-on-Tees.

The fact that there is no neat storyline in this film is one of its strong points. Hollywood and ‘reality’ TV would have us believe that people and places can fit easily into stereotypes but this is a portrait of real people with all their complexities; it is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at other times heart-achingly sad. There is no dramatic ending – as Jeanie tells the audience at the end of the film, the shop did not close and everything carries on as before.

In the film, we meet music fanatic Tom, who owns Sound it Out Records and at times says he feels more like a social worker. Regular customers give us an intensely personal insight into their own record collections and their lives. They are all incredibly open and frank about what their collections mean to them. For many of them, music is utter escapism from a humdrum life in a town where there are very few job opportunities. In some cases, music has proved life saving – one of the young men said that it stopped him taking his own life while for another, it has kept him out of trouble.

These lives are set against the backdrop of a former industrial town, where Jeanie herself grew up. The high street – which is incidentally the widest in England – is populated by empty shops, bargain basement stores and run-down charity shops. Sound it Out Records is a refuge for many people; the town may feel like a cultural desert and the recession might have further damaged the already fragile economy but the shop is hugely important to the area. It’s a place where you can pay for your records on tab, watch an artist perform live or just pop in for a coffee and a chat – and it’s something you just don’t get with iTunes.

Sound it Out is currently on a UK tour. If you want another screening at Broadway, email the team there.
For further details visit  the Sound it Out website or follow on Twitter @sounditoutdoc or visit Facebook.

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Calling all vinyl junkies: Sound it Out opens at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema

When I first moved to Nottingham almost a decade ago, there were a respectable number of independent record shops. Like independent book shops, they are not just places where you buy a physical product: they are a place to meet like-minded people, find out what is going on in the city or stumble upon something you have never heard before.

But over those 10 years something changed. Pete Townsend this week blamed Apple and the rise of digital downloads; or you could point the finger at supermarkets where causal music fans can now pick up the latest releases. Or if you are a real musical connoisseur, you could say that online record shops offer much more choice than a shop ever could. Whatever the cause, record shops, like independent book shops, are now as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s easy to get nostalgic about something that has become the victim of market forces (think Woolworth’s) – but for many people, going to record shops and discovering music is something bound wit their youth and who they now are.

This idea is the subject of a new documentary portrait by independent Nottingham film maker Jeanie Finlay called Sound it Out, which will premiere at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema tomorrow. It is a film about Teesside’s last surviving vinyl record shop, Sound it Out Records and the huge role music plays in the lives of everyone connected to it.

Jeanie grew up three miles away from Sound It Out Records and it helped to shape her love of music as well as a life-long minor obsession with vinyl. Now she recognises that Sound it Out Records is an endangered species; over the past five years, more than 500 independent record shops have closed down so Jeanie and her filmmaking team wanted to capture what makes the shop so important to its loyal customers.

She says: “Sound it Out is an intimate film about a small shop on a small street in a small town where I grew up. Sound It Out Records helped to shape my love of music and when I decided to sell my record collection to help fund my wedding, Tom who owns the shop was horrified. I decided at that point there was a real story to tell about Tom’s shop and it’s a story that’s about so much more than vinyl.”

Sound it Out opens tomorrow (Thursday) at Nottingham’s Broadway before going on a national cinema tour. The event includes a Q&A with Jeanie Finlay along with performances from bands that feature in the film, guest DJs and other events. For details visit the Sound it Out website, follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sounditoutdoc or Twitter @sounditoutdoc.

Photo by Jeanie Finlay

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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: A lesson from history at Nottingham Playhouse

My German teacher at school used to say that Bertolt Brecht did not want you to sit back at the theatre and eat a packet of Malteser’s while immersing yourself in the play.

Being a passive member of the audience is not an option with Brecht. He pioneered a theatrical technique called Verfremdungseffekt (alienation) which reminds us that we are watching a dramatic production so we must make moral and intellectual judgements rather than be swept away by sentimentality.

This is certainly the case with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which opened at Nottingham Playhouse this week. Characters, who had white painted faces, step outside the narrative; a cigarette is lit up in front of the fire safety curtain and the central character Arturo Ui enters from a door at the back of the theatre.

Despite these dramatic techniques, this is one of Brecht’s more accessible plays. It is set in during the Great Depression in 1930s Chicago when mobsters and corrupt businessmen ruled the city.

But beneath its Hollywood veneer, this is a dark satire on Hitler’s rise to power. It is the tale of Arturo Ui, who starts out as a lowly criminal and ends up holding a cast iron grip over the city’s vegetable trade with his protection rackets.

Brecht, who wrote the play while exiled in Finland in 1941, leaves us in no doubt of his intentions. Each character correlates to a person from the Nazi era and every event is one that has actually taken place, for example the warehouse fire trial is the Reichstag fire trial. We are also told via electronic signs about the historical event before the fictional one is played out, once again leaving us in no doubt that these events really happened.

The script, which is a new translation by Stephen Sharkey, was brought to life brilliantly by the cast members, including Giri (played by Mike Goodenough), who depicts a thug-like Goering with remarkable skill and the stately but corrupt Dogsborough who was played by Eliot Giuralarocca and represented President Hindenburg.

Meanwhile, Ian Bartholomew was captivating as Arturo Ui. He was at once powerful and pathetic, comic and unnerving. He body language was spot on and he really came into his own when he delivered his final speech. In this scene, a Nazi film reel forms the backdrop while Ui, elevated high on a lectern and surrounded by terrified looking people, addresses the audience. It is a chilling reminder us that we have all been complicit in his rise to power. As with Hitler, it is not that the people supported him; rather it was the fact that we were passive enough to allow it to happen.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is on until 12th November. For tickets click here. Follow on Twitter #arturouri.

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Calling all budding directors: Free workshop at Nottingham Playhouse

Aspiring directors will be able to pick up a host of helpful hints at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday at a free workshop.
The Direct Access workshop, organised by the JMK Trust, will give you an opportunity to explore the craft of theatre making in this practical introduction and takes place between 11am and 5.30pm.
The JMK Trust was set up in memory of promising director James Menzies-Kitchin, who staged his first production at the age of 26. He died suddenly in 1996 at the age of 28.
To book a place visit www.jmktrust.org/workshops-and-events or email jo@jmktrust.org.

 

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Vivid depiction of D. H. Lawrence in Phoenix Rising at Nottingham Playhouse

When Paul Slack finished his one-man show Phoenix Rising at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday evening, there was just one person on the stage. I am stating the obvious here – but such was his stage presence and command of his characters that at times, it felt like there was more than one performer.

The play, written by Campbell Kay, chronicles Lawrence’s early life in the  Nottinghamshire mining town of Eastwood. Set in a sparsely furnished room on Ile de Port-Cros, France, we see Lawrence two years before his death as he looks back on his childhood – his friendships, family, school life and early career, all of which shaped his literary career.

For those of us who know Nottinghamshire well, the play evoked the landscape perfectly. We see how Sherwood Forest and the legend of Robin Hood fired the imagination of the young Bertie (as he was known as a boy) and that he believed the collieries were a blight on the landscape. Lawrence’s childhood was not without its problems; his father was a drunk, he lost his beloved brother to pneumonia and he was an outsider who preferred to read and play with the lasses while the other boys in his class could not wait to finish school and go down’t pit.

Despite this, his childhood memories are infused with a warmth and gentle humour and perhaps what strikes you most of all is how ordinary Lawrence is. Of course, he went on to become of the most celebrated figures in the Modernist movement – but at this point, he is taking his first nervous steps into the literary world and is somewhat bemused by American poet Ezra Pound. At an event organised by writer and editor Ford Madox Ford, he recites one of his poems in a Nottinghamshire dialect with his back turned to the audience which I found both comical and endearing.

The success of this production comes both from Kay’s beautifully written text and Slack’s engaging performance. He moved seamlessly between different voices and really engaged us in the narrative.

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Tributes to Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary

As a teenager, the rebellious Jean Genet was one of my favourite writers. The son of a prostitute, he grew up in poverty and ended up in jail for petty crimes. He turned to writing while in prison – and later became the darling of the French art world and the toast of well-known figures such as Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre.

But it is Genet’s association with social and political activism in the 1950s and 1960s that was the dominant theme at Nottingham Contemporary‘s new exhibition Act One & Two which opened on Friday. The break down of the exhibition into two acts was extremely effective. Act One is a solo exhibition by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (featuring five other artists) – and here we see an exploration of the personal realm. There are rooms strewn with personal objects and naked bodies which stand vulnerable yet defiant.

Act Two examines the political life of Genet, particularly his association with the Black Panther movement in America and his campaigns against colonialism. The pairing of the personal and the political is an apt reflection of Genet’s life. He was punished for something personal (his sexuality) – but the struggles he faced and the norms that he subverted in his literature came to represent the struggles faced by many other groups during this era and came at a time when the civil rights and the feminist movements were taking off.

This exhibition was launched alongside the Contemporary’s Summer Party which was a great night of music, dancing and drinks on the terrace.

This Thursday, I am also looking forward to a talk by art historian Sarah Wilson entitled Genet: From the Existential to the Post Colonial. For tickets, click here.

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Tyranny in Europe: Belarus Free Theatre put on a powerful show at Nottingham Playhouse

Belarus is a country that borders those in the EU – and yet it has been described as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’. Many people in western Europe know little about the former Soviet state nestled between Poland and Russia but it is a place where government agents threaten, kidnap, torture and murder citizens for daring to oppose it.

The Belarus Free Theatre is one of the cultural groups banned by the government and their performance of Discover Love at Nottingham Playhouse last night was a bold statement against this repressive regime. The cast members should have performed as part of the last month’s NEAT11, but had their passports and visas revoked.

On one level, this is a simple true-life love story. A young girl Irina (played by Maryna Yurevich) describes her almost idyllic childhood and she appears to unfazed by the fact that she is living under the Soviet regime. She eventually falls in love with a teacher, Anatoly (played by Oleg Sidorchik) and the tale is infused with a warm humour, with the iron grip of Moscow seemingly a world away from this small village in Belarus. Their relationship matures over the years and they build careers and have children after moving to the capital Minsk. Their story is incredibly human – they struggle financially and their relationship goes through some difficult patches, but they remain united.

Half way through the play, Anatoly utters five words which resonate like a death knell: “And then they killed me”. It sounds strange to hear him say it in the first person and it makes the audience gasp – these ordinary lives that we had been following are suddenly cut short by the disappearance of one and the grief of the other.  Anatoly is tortured and killed by the government and his story is mirrored by countless others who have faced human rights abuses in Belarus. In some ways, it reminded me of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, except these events are not fictional nor do they hark back to a bygone age.

There was a real sense of physicality in this production. The actors drove the narrative forward not just with their powerful words, but also with the way in which they used their bodies on stage, particularly in the scene where Anatoly is tortured. The lights are dimmed and he throws himself around, depicting the terrible beatings inflicted upon him.

Overall, this was an incredibly moving show – my only minor criticism would be that not all of the music fitted the action on stage. And as powerful as music is, sometimes silence – or nothingness – can evoke the mood more effectively.

For details on up coming shows, visit the Playhouse website.

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Lakeside Arts Centre: Sinister fairy tales in Into the Woods

The characters in this production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which opened at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre this evening, say that ‘the woods are just trees and the trees are just wood’ – which sounds harmless enough. But fairy tales, despite their happy endings, are known for being dark – and these woods are certainly sinister.

Based on the stories of the Brothers Grimm, the well-known narratives of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood are woven together as they all enter the woods which are full of danger and opportunity. In the woods, there are mythical dangers – the giant and the wolf – but there are also real traumas such as marital strife and a parent’s sense of loss when their child leaves home.

And while these themes simmer just below the surface, they do not detract from the humour of the musical, which was executed well by the characters. The cast used the space at Lakeside really well – there was no curtain separating them from the audience and characters were often lurking in different parts of the theatre. The overall effect was of a folk play which reflected both the sense of tradition and timeless nature of the themes.

Stand out performances came from the cast members, who all had strong singing voices and did not waver during the long show. A special mention should go to youngster Mahesh Parmar who played the narrator and tackled some difficult songs. The orchestra too was flawless – and perhaps the only thing that let the performance down was a problem with the sound which meant we couldn’t hear some of it clearly enough.

Into the Woods runs until Saturday. For tickets visit the website.

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