Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Just an everyday Essex transvestite potter

Good to see "Essex tranvestite potter" Grayson Perry trending on Twitter with his BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures. There's an earthy Essex spin to his time at the podium: "Playing to the gallery and not sucking up to an urban elite" and "taking the piss out of Marxist intellectuals." You don't normally get laughs at a Reith Lecture but Perry in a dress makes it all accessible and funny. And not content with that he's opened the only shop in the village in Wrabness last week…

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Brentwood aesthetic

There's a three-page feature on how the Towie-look has taken over the country in the Guardian, entitled "The Only Way is Excess". Paula Cocozza visits Amy Childs in her Brentwood salon in search of the "Brentwood aesthetic". (Though chances are if you asked about aesthetics in Brentwood High Street most people would direct you to Harold Wood Hospital…) Cocozza has some good points about how the look has gone mainstream and is in part a tribute to black fashion, while pointing out that Childs "is beautiful, but damned because the Towie aesthetic is roundly mocked". Those sporting the Towie-look (thick dark eyebrows, false lashes, blusher, natural coloured lips, fake tan, etc) include the Duchess of Cambridge (eyebrows only), Mary Berry ("Essex Nan"), Paris Hilton, Nigella Lawson, Queen Elizaberh 1 (a lot of slap), the original Barbie Doll, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, the Spice Girls and Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Click on the link to read. Brentwood has only gone and started an aesthetic. Shu' up!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Beyond the Point

Ran into Canvey bloggers Joe and Liam from the award-winning Beyond The Point at the Essex Record Office open-day. The local history-lovers started Beyond the Point in 2011 when they were 14 and it’s a fascinating exploration of historical sites in Canvey Island and south-east Essex. The videos posted by Liam and Joe really capture the joy of exploring derelict tunnels and buildings.

Explorations on the site include, the Occidental Oil Refinery on Canvey, Hadleigh Castle, the Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury, a secret nuclear bunker in Benfleet (though it couldn’t have taken a full scale attack), the Devil’s Steps in Thundersley Glen and they’ve recently even ventured over the river to Kent’s coastal forts and the Cliffe Explosives factory. They’ve found Roman pottery and Victorian horse buckles on Canvey and a live bullet under Southend Pier. The site has really useful interactive maps too. Click on the link to read.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Barking in Essex

Finally caught Barking in Essex at the Wyndham’s Theatre last week. There aren’t many plays in the West End where you can hear 80-year-old Sheila Hancock liberally using the ‘c’ word. There’s a guilty delight to it, but this is also part of the play’s problem. A great cast just can’t overcome the weak material. The late Clive Exton’s play feels unfinished and hewn from crude stereotypes. Yes, exiled Barking folk might swear, but not every ****ing sentence.

Bank robber Algie Packer is coming out of jail, only his mum Emmie (Sheila Hancock) and sister-in-law Chrissie (Keeley Hawes) have spent all the dosh, unbeknown to Archie’s dopey brother Darnley (Lee Evans). Then Algie’s lover Allegra (Montserrat Lombard, aka Shazza in Life on Mars) turns up, a hitman gets involved and it all becomes Birds of a Feather meets The Long Good Friday.

The cast certainly give it a go. Star of the show is Karl Johnson who plays decrepit hitman Rocco in the fashion of a forgetful handyman. Keeley Hawes looks great in her Towie gear and has worked hard at her glottal stops, but makes her part rather too aggressive to be properly believable. Lee Evans pulls some epic bemused faces and does a fine comic turn describing his appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Hancock enjoys playing the East End matriarch and the set is impressively naff too, with a framed West Ham shirt, neon juke box and giant pink hand in the living room.

But the problem lies in the writing. In Birds of a Feather you cared about Sharon and Tracey because they were likeable, but here you are just not too concerned about the characters. And even if it is intended as a farce, surely a comedy should never end with murder? Another objection is that the play is simply rather patronising to the good people of Essex. There’s none of the local wit and everyone is incredibly thick. Do all Essex girls shag over the bonnet of a car? And would Darnley really be stupid enough to marry his half-sister?

The earthy dialogue does at times raise some laughs from the audience, but overall it’s a waste of a strong cast. Estuary Essex should be great material for a satire, but this is something of a missed opportunity. 

Click on the link for ticket details.