On leaving

It was on the Malaysia-Thailand border that it really hit home, the advantage of that burgundy-covered book that an accident of birth had gifted me. An entire train-load of people had been politely asked to get off and line up for a passport inspection. It was early in the morning, with a hazy idea of exactly where we were and a head full of track-rocked dreams, the jungle not very far from the station. Trying to remember every detail seems almost redundant, your brain drinks it all in and stores it away for later without you really noticing. The train staff, inspectors and regular travellers knew the drill, the backpackers and first timers tried to affect an air of the same and that same patient mood that hovers all over anything bureaucratic in South-East Asia soon lulled the crowd back into half-sleep.

It took about 30 seconds for me and my friend to pass the inspection and get settled back on to the train. That burgundy and gold front page, enclosing the request in the name of the Queen that you get afforded such assistance as may be necessary, really is one of the winning tickets in the lottery of nationality. As people from other countries waited in line and explained why they were going where they were going, or backed it up with other documentation, we were waved through. And I remember remarking that you would think after the antics of our not-that-distant Colonial past doors would be slammed in our faces everywhere, but no, we get welcomed pretty much wherever we set foot.

When I think back further, to the first few weeks in Japan, among all the novel sights and experiences is a blend of work, eat, sleep and paperwork. I couldn’t get a nice mobile phone without a bank account. I couldn’t get a bank account without a residency card. I couldn’t get a residency card because I hadn’t managed to find my local ward office. Eventually I asked the right person and they drew a little map from the private train line station to where I needed to go. There was a lumber shop marked on the way and I remember drawing up to it, gaining confidence that I was going in the right direction. I got my residency paperwork. I opened a bank account, I got a smart phone and I was away. Gave back the temporary constantly-needing-top-ups flip phone to my employer in favour of Twitter on the train to work! Emails! Google Maps so I would never get lost again (ahem). It took about eight weeks for me to become a legal alien.

The year I left the UK, I was among one of the lowest numbers of people emigrating for the past five years. I do recall my paperwork taking a while to come through, but I don’t remember any fear that I wouldn’t be allowed in. My education, my skills, the language and culture I had been steeped in from birth, were considered valuable. When you teach in Japan, the category of visa you usually get is the badass-sounding ‘Specialist in Humanities and International Services.’ I got to arrive by plane, after a journey spent glued to the window, catching my first sight of desert mountain ranges – somewhere over Iraq, I think – and sleeping off the jet-lag in an airport hotel before meeting a company rep who delivered me through the labyrinthine train system to my new front door. Although functionally illiterate in Japanese, I went to work in air-conditioned schools in a suit and earnt a decent amount of money that was paid to me every month without fail, all by dint of having been born at the right set of coordinates.

We can’t have a conversation about immigration to Britain without involving those of us who have left. From the former colonies and Commonwealth members where we have long assumed we will jump any visa queue that exists, to the European sun-spots that guarantee us freedom of movement and excellent NHS-funded healthcare, to the old Eastern staging posts and finance centres where you can still have a maid and a sundowner and a pretence that you rule over anything, is domiciled a statistically significant number of people hiding their ‘immigrant’ status behind the much gentler term ‘expat’. Not one of them, it is safe to wager, has ever had fluency in their host country’s language demanded as a condition of residency, nor been denied access to emergency healthcare. Anec-data exists to show that foreign teachers in Japan who qualified received unemployment benefit when a major employer went to the wall.

It is absolutely vile for us to go about the world expecting to have red carpets rolled out, when what we give back in return is suspicion and hatred. The double standard of sending Royal Navy ships to extract our own citizens from war zones and then trying to wriggle out of accepting even a meagre number of refugees should cause us all to choke on our imported cornflakes. If globalisation is to mean anything more than a licence to plunder weaker countries, it has to involve a partnership between those who live in their country of birth and those who have moved on, for whatever reason. Perhaps it is also time for us to drop the use of ‘expat’, and join with the campaign to celebrate immigrants and their contributions to British society.

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Two become one

ten minutes hate is once again backstage at the home of Liverpool fringe, the Lantern Theatre to hear about their latest project. ‘Cremona Corner’ in partnership with ‘Teapot Tantrum’ presents…’TWO’ by Jim Cartwright.

two

 

What happens in your local pub on a Saturday night? You will find out in this dark comedy with true moments of light and shade. A plethora of interesting characters performed by just two actors. We had a pre-show chat with the frabjous local actress, Jennifer Bea to find out more.

10mh: What do you do before going on stage, do you have any particular superstitious rituals, routines or habits?

Everyone is different but I like to take a minute on my own just to get into the right headspace. Then once you’re on the stage, you are who you are, in that moment, there’s no looking back. That and a very odd warm up which lots of actors do just so people can walk in and catch you hanging upside down singing Peter Piper!

10mh: What was your first memory of the theatre?

Going to see Annie with my mum in the Playhouse when I was about eight.

10mh: Who are the playwrights that you admire?

Joe Orton, Peter Whelan, Jim Cartwright, Victoria Wood and, of course – being from Liverpool – Willy Russell. I love to see new writing too. Especially a comedy, I would much rather cry from laughter than sadness.

10mh: What has been your favourite play or project in your career so far?

Wow, that is a hard one! Each project is special for different reasons. Sometimes you have a great team of actors who make you laugh every day, working with friends is always brilliant. Getting to do what you love with the people you love, win-win! But in terms of exploring a play and getting to places so far away from you but finding truth in it, it has got to be a play by Judith Johnson called ‘Somewhere’. It is an amazing play and a role I will never forget.

10mh: If you could gather an ensemble of actors for a stage project, living or dead, who would you like to cast?

Johnny Depp, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Victoria Wood, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly and Michael Crawford. Now…which play? ‘Our Day Out.’

10mh: What makes a good performance?

Truth. If you don’t believe yourself, the audience won’t either.

10mh: What advice would you give to anyone who yearns to act or is starting out in the business of treading the boards?

Don’t do it. Get some sense… be a vet.

Performances on 12th-16th May at the Lantern Theatre,
57 Blundell Street, Liverpool.
Please call 0151 703 0000 for tickets.

 

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Hitler is back – and going viral!

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

look who's back

In a world where absolutely ridiculous media nincompoops like Katie Hopkins can make a career out of being a sensationalist fascist and are lauded with too, too much media attention, it is hard not to imagine that the plot of the novel Look Who’s Back is anything but highly plausible.

When I have to come up with a solution to a particularly cumbersome problem, I often ask myself,

What would David Bowie do?
What would Kate Bush do?
What would Madonna do?

Rarely, do I think what would Adolf Hitler do? Yet this is exactly what Timur Vermes has done. The resulting piece of fiction is darkly humorous, subtly frightening and deeply disturbing.

It is summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. He is recognised of course, but not as the original blueprint of sadism, instead as being a flawless impersonator, a method actor who refuses to break character. Soon Hitler in all his ‘fuhr-ocity’ goes viral on YouTube and the madman is given his own television show. Disturbingly, the more outrageous his sentiments, the more he is given media attention.

I know Shirley Bassey is not a philosopher but she was ever so right when she sang,

It’s just a little piece of history repeated.

The story abruptly commences with the fascist dictator re-awakening in Germany and immediately thrusts the Fuhrer into the modern jungle that is Berlin. He is outraged and disgusted that his beloved Fatherland is now being run by a female of the species.

The German Reich appeared to have given way to what was called a ‘Federal Republic,’ the leadership of which resided with a woman (‘Federal Chancellor’), although men had been entrusted with this position in the past.

The changes to contemporary society and Adolf’s take on them are laugh out loud amusing. Everything from Starbucks coffee to fashion,

He had brought me a clean pair of blue cotton trousers, which he called ‘genes’, and a clean red-checked cotton shirt.

To mobile phone ringtones,

Which sounded like a drunken clown playing the xylophone.

And of course there is the pint-sized psychopath’s musings on modern technology,

The time, the stock prices of the American dollar, the temperature of the remotest corners of the earth-oblivious to all this; the announcer carried on broadcasting news of world events. It was as if the information were being retrieved from a lunatic asylum. And as if these nonsensical antics were not enough, interruptions for advertisements, as frequent as they were abrupt, declared where the cheapest holiday could be obtained, a claim, a large number of shops made in the same way. No sane person would be capable of remembering the names of these outlets, but they all belonged to a group called www.

Lest we forget, in the past people used to smoke at work, they could puff away at their desks (I thank re-runs of Colombo for this history lesson) and also drink whisky in meetings. With this in mind, it is understandable why such modern civic practices like picking up domestic pets faeces (or doggy caramel as I call it), would look positively absurd;

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a madwoman on the edge of the park who was gathering up what her dog had just deposited.

I think what is clever about this book is it has an almost fearless approach to a taboo subject. It is controversial, and quite timely, in that it really underlines the problems and vulgarity of fame. A society that sees plastic celebrity worshipped above all else. Who cares if you have a talent unless you look younger than you did when you were in the womb? A little bit (or a lot) of a fascist? That’s okay as long as you get the ratings, conquer the Twitter stream and grapple with the Facebook likes.

This piece of literature was first published in Germany, ‘Er ist wider da‘ and is now parading the shelves of book stores in the rest of Europe. A tale that will have the Fuhrer’s ghost haunting you long after you have read it.

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Reading with kids (3 to 8 years)

One of the advantages of being an uncle is that every time I purchase books for my nephew and niece, I get the pleasure of reading them first and then re-reading over and over when babysitting. You soon start to recognise the marks of a good quality piece of kids’ literature.

A positive moral or message, an imaginative narrative and a healthy dosage of kookiness, that’s the recipe for a successful kids’ book. Over the last few months I have begun to compile a list of favourites and the chosen titles are as follows:

5. DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates (3-6 years), Publisher: Cape.

dog loves books

A comical little tale about a dog who runs a book shop and finds that books are the key to other worlds.

4. CROC AND BIRD by Alexis Deacon (3-7 years), Publisher: Hutchinson.

croc and bird

Two eggs hatch side by side, a crocodile and a parrot. The creatures believe they must be brothers, a funny mismatch that celebrates diversity.

3. MR TIGER GOES WILD by Peter Brown (4-7 years), Publisher: Macmillan.

Mr tiger goes wild

A dapper tiger complete with a top hat and Edwardian dress embraces his inner feral animal and starts an alternatively natural trend.

2. ZERAFFA GIRAFFA by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Janne Ray (4-8 years), Publisher: Frances Lincoln.

ZERAFFA GIRAFFA

A beautifully illustrated true story about a giraffe sent from Egypt to a French King in the 1820s.

1. A CHILDREN’S TREASURY OF MILLIGAN by Spike Milligan (8-108 years), Publisher: Ebury

A Children's Treasury of Milligan

My four year-old nephew has a tendency to cantillate the Milligan poems at random. Limericks like:

There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in.
The holes are small, so rain is thin.

Or my particular favourite:

the pig
A very rash young lady pig
(They say she was a smasher)
Suddenly ran
Under a van-
Now she’s a gammon rasher.

Milligan’s’ scribblings are absolutely barking mad. Sentences of insanity highlighting an imaginative perspective of the world and all who sail in her.

I highly recommend these philosophical pieces of writing. They are guaranteed, I can assure you, to make any sadness in the heart rapidly dissipate.

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No Second Bite

Award-winning actress Lynne Fitzgerald stars in the new comedy play ‘No Second Bite’ by Belvedere Pashun (writer of Norma Jeane The Musical and WAG! The Musical). Fitzgerald plays Bella, a bored, single, forty-something entrepreneur who has a life-changing encounter when she buys an apologetic cup of coffee for a complete stranger, Chris (played by Jaiden Micheal).

After bumping full force into Chris on a bustling high street, they arrange to meet up in Bella’s apartment later that evening. Bella has the place all to herself, or so she thought. Her flatmate Angie (Charlie Griffiths) arrives home early carrying a large bottle of cherry Lambrini. She needs consoling after being stood up by the latest loser in her long list of tosspot boyfriends. Bella uses every tactic to get Angie to leave her home alone before Chris calls around to deliver more than just a pizza…

This fast-paced comedy has been referred to as ‘The Liver Birds on acid’.

No Second Bite

ten minutes hate put Fitzgerald in the spotlight, ahead of the play’s run at the Lantern Liverpool, to talk rituals, Ava Gardner and how graft does indeed equal craft.

Lynne Fitzgerald

10mh: What do you do before going on stage, do you have any particular superstitious rituals, routines or habits?

What a great question, absolutely. I became a single mum at 18 to my only child, Frankie. I couldn’t get a day job, so as you do I decided I would become a stand-up comic, the innocence of youth. On my first gig, which was quite terrifying for a teenage girl, I carried a photograph of my boy with me and as I stood at the side of the stage I kissed it and said ‘I’m doing this for you’, then stuffed it inside my bra and on I went. I was booked six times that night and have never performed in any show without that picture and repeating the same ritual, kiss, words, bra and action. He is now 27!

10mh: What was your first memory of the theatre?

Ah, don’t put your daughter on the stage, Miss Worthington! I was four years old when I was put on the stage performing a poem called ‘I blew myself a bubble that was bigger than myself’ at the Southport Art Festival. I forgot every word and the adjudicator made me stay on the stage and repeat it parrot fashion after him, the tears tripping me, but I can honestly say after that experience I was – and still am – always fully prepared and off-script before any performance.

10mh: Who are the playwrights that you admire?

Jim Cartwright is one of my favourite playwrights. Louis Emerick and I have performed in his incredible two handed play TWO in many venues covering Manchester, Merseyside and Scotland over the past five years. He is such an incredible writer with his talent for light and shade, an actor’s dream.

I was also lucky enough to have Jimmy McGovern as my English teacher at my secondary school. I credit him for my ability to write my own plays, he was so inspiring as a teacher.

10mh: What has been your favourite play or project in your career so far?

There have been so many fantastic plays I have performed in. Two, as mentioned, being a favourite. Also a one-woman show, Bunty the Bouncer, which was written for me by playwright Mark Gee (Al’s Lads) over 20 years ago. We had a sell-out run at The Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh during the festival and returned to be nominated for a Liverpool Echo award, being pipped at the post by Johnny Vegas. That was a highlight.

I will be returning as Bunty at the Epstein Theatre in June this year for one night only after it first being performed there over 20 years ago, and of course I have now had five of my own plays produced around Merseyside. That is always a great feeling: seeing your own work come to life. A pilot of my last play Hey Girl Show Us Ye Tips has recently been filmed and is currently in production renamed Life down the Pitts.

10mh: If you could gather an ensemble of actors to put together for a stage project, living or dead, who would you like to cast

Living: I work with great actors all the time: Louis Emerick, Mickey Finn, Crissy Rock – I could go on. I would love to work with Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. One of my all-time favourite actresses is Bette Midler.

The past: It would be some of the Hollywood greats, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Phil Silvers and Ava Gardner, the list is endless. I’m an old soul at heart!

10mh: What makes a good performance?

Hard work, hard work, hard work, preparation, preparation, preparation, and also a true understanding of the character and their emotions. Hug the words, make them your own, and did I mention hard work and preparation?

10mh: What advice would you give to anyone who yearns to act or is starting out in the business of treading the boards?

Be prepared for a lot of hard work and a lot of disappointment. The industry is more competitive than ever but saying that, there is an upside, there are a lot more opportunities with social media if you use it to network – and not just for Candy Crush!

The internet provides a great platform for promoting yourself, even filming your own shorts and getting your work out there. Acting is a real inbuilt passion, if it is in you there will be no stopping you and don’t take rejection personally, all actors have their fair share of rejection you just have to dust yourself down and carry on.

No Second Bite runs from 21st-26th April at Lantern Theatre Liverpool, Blundell Street.

Tickets are £10/8 to book visit the website or call box office 01517030000.

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Tongue like a cactus

A tongue that can be like a cactus, both naturally beautiful and toxic, Gerry Potter is a passionate orator.

cactus

A performance poet, playwright, director, actor, and both creator and destroyer of the infamous gingham diva, Chloe Poems. Liverpool born, Gerry is now also a favourite son of Manchester. He has a reputation for putting his Scouse voice on the line, and is strong on poetry and strong on the causes of poetryism. One of my favourite poems is BINGE DRINKING EVIL GIRLS.

Dark glitter blouse cloud lived under for decades.

There where wild screams are,
wild pack pitch black mascara.
Top it up with powder; drown it with shooters,
bitched into knickers ‘n’ attitude.
It’s gonna be a bumpy rude.

Often when I walk around the streets of Liverpool, particularly at the weekend I can see the origins of this painfully accurate observation and witness first hand all that is described in real time. This poem is in his fifth volume THE CHRONICLES OF FOLLY BUTLER. A collection described as,

domestic fantastic theatre verse. A genre defying opus.

His writing is completely plugged into the here and now. The electricity that fuses through his work is energising, ecstatically passionate and explosive. It demands to be spoken out loud, performed, taking on a life of its own, adding another dimension to it.

face

ten minutes hate had the privilege of a private audience with the legendary Northern poet.

10mh: Do you have a particular piece of work that you like to perform?

I still perform an old Chloe Poems poem called The Effeminate.

It’s a ten minute epic exploring what power is and isn’t to a camp kid from a working class background. It’s hugely autobiographical, ribald, moving and the audience love it. I’m fascinated about where power is and isn’t in our society and about how powerful we actually are at our weakest. The Effeminate pulls no punches in discovering/uncovering those moments.

10mh: Who influences you?

Life influences me, the visceral joy of existing. Struggle is a huge influence too, I’m far more interested in people and things if there’s a genuine story behind it. I’m no stranger to grief so the rip of death informs the work a great deal. Family, friends and dancing, queers dancing through grief is a big writing turn on for me.

10mh: Can you craft a poem in seven words?

We will all fall off the cliff.

10mh: Pick a favourite music album?

Rock Follies and Rock Follies of 77. This programme and The Little Ladies probably made me gay, certainly pointed me in the direction of who I’d become. These albums had me in my mirror being Julie Covington, still one of my happiest Scottie Road memories.

10mh: Any standout moments in your career so far?

I don’t think of my life in terms of career so it’s hard.
Every time I feel me and the audience are on the same planet and page.

10mh: Where would you most like to perform?

I really want to do more stuff in Liverpool. I hardly get to play my home town. I’d like to do The Everyman.

10mh: Who would play you in a film?

Emu.

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Conversations with Spirits by E O Higgins

Conversations with Spirits is one of those cracking reads that leave you sitting up into the small hours promising yourself ‘one more chapter then sleep’. On finishing it, you will want to buy copies for all your good friends, so that you can have long, spoiler-filled discussions of its merits. For they are many.

Trelawney Hart is a former child prodigy who spends his days trying to pickle his brain in cherry brandy in order to remove all traces of his lost wife. He seems an unlikely person for the creator of Sherlock Holmes to engage to investigate a spiritualist demonstration on the sands of Broadstairs in Kent, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does just that. The wrecked condition of Hart’s body makes it touch and go as to whether he will witness the denouement of his own story, as the reader is left to wonder if he will uncover some of what is going on before he coughs up a lung. Or two.

The tale is set in 1917, but the War hovers around like a London fog, influencing the characters without directly touching them. It is true that the massive loss of life did encourage a belief in spiritualists among the bereaved, as well as many ‘backroom shysters’ determined to prey on them for profit. And Trelawney is also haunted, the presence of his wife never far away:

It is far more painful to awake from a beautiful slumber and – in that brief period when the continuity of life is still lost to you – to reach across the bed for a hand that is not there.

So, have the years of drinking sufficiently dulled one of England’s most famous intellects to the point of being unable to unravel the facts? Will he be forced to admit that there are things in the world that logic alone can’t explain? Rest assured that even if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is picking up the (considerable) tab for the adventures, Trelawney won’t be able to resist little digs at his benefactor. The Hound of the Baskervilles one is priceless.

Published by Unbound, which allows readers to pledge to support the work of writers whose ideas resonate with them, the one question on every reviewer’s mind seems to be ‘WHEN DO WE GET TO READ THE SEQUEL?’ And, should Trelawney end his days face down in a pint of brandy – as seems somewhat possible – there are at least two ‘supporting’ characters who deserve spin-off tales of their own: there is surely more going on with den mother Sibella and reluctant sidekick Billy Crouse than has been revealed thus far.

ten minutes hate was lucky enough to be able to ask this and a few other impertinent questions to Mr E O Higgins himself.

conversations with spirits shelf

10mh: Conversations with Spirits is so amazingly good (thank you!) that you must be living the dream of fat advances, literary acclaim and a five star, jet set lifestyle. Was publishing everything you thought it would be?

Well, I don’t live in a massive gold house just yet, sadly – but being involved with Unbound has been lovely. They’re all very funny and charming and encouraging, which is nice.
And the moment I saw my book in Waterstones for the first time is something I will never forget…

10mh: Trelawney Hart is quite a character. Is it difficult to switch off his distinctive voice when your writing is done for the day and do you have a good cherry brandy supplier?

Trelawney is a bit of an arsehole, really – so I try not to get too lost in the part. I also don’t have the servants to put up with my rudeness (see previous answer), so that’s something I need to work on.
I had actually never tasted cherry brandy (Trelawney’s tipple of choice) before my book launch – but now I have, I won’t be imbibing again any time soon. It’s filthy stuff.

10mh: Was it fun taking a bit of a pop at Arthur Conan Doyle or has there been any retribution from Sherlock Holmes fans?

Yes, I get occasional angry reviews because of this.
I am actually a very big Conan Doyle fan myself, so I like to think it’s more of a good-natured ribbing, really.
I recently did a talk at the Edinburgh Literary Festival and the crowd there were surprisingly hostile to both myself and Steven Galloway, the writer I was sharing the platform with.
It turned out to be filled with members of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Society – a spiritualist organisation.
I had earlier referred to the mediums I had met – whilst researching my book – as ‘shysters’. So, it was quite a tough crowd.

10mh: Word reaches us that your research into spiritualism now extends to hosting séances. What would Trelawney say?

He would be appalled, naturally; if he wasn’t too pissed to care.
I don’t ‘do’ séances though – I did a single séance for Unbound, to help publicise the book.
Derek Acorah’s job’s safe – turns out, lying to the bereaved isn’t really my thing.

10mh: And what’s next, for creator and protagonist?

My wife is expecting our first child in a month, so I mainly foresee an instance of extreme panic, following by a period of changing nappies and missing sleep…
But the follow-up to Conversations with Spirits is (slowly) coming together. The plot has moved away from spiritualism and onto black magic, so I expect I’ll be upsetting devil worshippers soon enough.

Congratulations! Excellent and very welcome news.

If you haven’t already, search out a copy of Conversations with Spirits. And you can follow E O Higgins on Twitter for updates on when and where the follow-up will appear.

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