Why was there no Hello Sweet Art blog last week I hear my many readers cry (i.e., just my mum basically)? Well, we were beavering away launching this beautiful shiny project Building Modern Men which I love with all my heart and soul.
Lines, The Yard Theatre
What it is: A sparse and haunting study of the men who go to war and the waiting inbetween
David Cameron would probably rather wear a donkey jacket to the Centotaph than be seen without a poppy this November. But I won't be wearing one. It's not because I don't want to remember the many lives lost in conflict. It's just that it distresses me to see the politicians who generally send working class men to die (whilst their families are trapped in poverty) sporting cardboard flowers on their lapels as if that's any sort of sincere gesture of condolence.
That's why I love Lines. This is not about the politics of war, but the human beings swept up within them. 'Our lads' are evocative - ask the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, or Gareth Malone - but they are so frequently hijacked, romanticized, lost in an ideal. There's no attempt here to fill in rich histories of the four soldiers, and the fact we don't get to know their stories is okay. We know they're scared, and we know they want action. We know when they have a weekend back in civvie life they want to get pissed and shag someone. They're not Matt Damon, they are real.
2015 is the first time in 100 years that Britain hasn't been at war, and Lines asks us what it means for men when they are not in combat. The most intriguing character is Perk - played with a sense of both wide-eyed wonder and pre-emptive loss by Tom Gill - who hooks up the weird intersections between a life of violence and fear and shame and apprehension: "it's hot. It's angry. It feels like pissing yourself," he says.
The denouement, as ever with war, is death, and, it feels pointless. But there's poetry in the pointlessness. "It's about how you want to be remembered," one of them says. And remembered they are - but on whose terms?
Roosevelvis, Royal Court Downstairs
What it is: A road movie on stage, with two women playing two great American heroes
What moments of sadness Roosevelvis contains. Libby King and Kristen Sieh are Elvis Presley and Teddy Roosevelt, but they are also Brenda and Ann, two women who have met online and are meeting up for the first time. There's a sense when they are together of a thread that snags, unraveling rather than holding something together.
What's strange about Roosevelvis is that it's Brenda and Ann's story that compels you to watch; the ebbing away of possibility, the yawning gulf of loneliness that is left behind, and then the timid rising of hope. But it also deadens the pace, and we yearn to see Teddy and Elvis, who often feels like non-sequiturs in this show, strut out and dance around. And I don't know why they don't, because The Team could and would.
But watching women play such masculine titans did have one intriguing effect: I realized I was watching men talk about their feelings in a way that some never would if they were actually men. It didn't seem odd, because I knew they were women. And it shouldn't, mustn't be odd. Men must talk. So must we all. Gender is fucked. Be who you want to be.
First Love is the Revolution, Soho Theatre
What it is: A barmy anthropomorphic take on Romeo and Juliet
I mean at least if you're going to go for a big metaphor in your play, you might as well go hard or go home. First Love is the Revolution expresses some thoughts on the claustrophobia of clans and the value of tolerating those who are different to you, and it does it by having a teenage boy fall in love with a fox. And yes they have full sex. At least I think that's what they were doing.
It's bold and totally mad, and I couldn't get on board with it. Either this metaphor is too ridiculous to withstand what playwright Rita Kalnejais puts it through, or the script is not intelligent enough to use it effectively. By all means take a pinch of Romeo and Juliet to show that falling in love when you are a teenager makes you think you can do anything in the world, but also makes you sort of want to die. But it all gets a bit out of hand when you bring contracting TB into the equation.
I Call Myself a Feminist, published by Virago
What it is: A vibrant collection of essays from 25 women under 30, on why we need feminism
People introduce me as a feminist and I find it ridiculous. Imagine it in any other scenario: "Have you met Simon? Yeah he works in accounts and he's a massive pacifist."
I call myself a feminist because I never understood why being female would ever be an obstacle. Because now that I'm nearly 25, the things that I used to theorize about at uni are really happening to me and I'm scared. And the main reason I call myself a feminist is because I don't understand why my gender is used as an adjective rather than a basic biological fact.
This book details extensively all the reasons we still need feminism, and it's so accessible and readable that you will be able to quote from it at length at anyone who tells you otherwise. I particularly loved Alice Stride's witty take on how men silence women with their language all the time - "stop getting so animated" she was told by her own boyfriend - and Jade Anouka's essay on playing Hotspur in the Donmar's female production Henry IV.
I will leave you with this:
Lines is at The Yard until 21 November
Roosevelvis is at the Royal Court until 14 November
First Love is the Revolution is at Soho Theatre until 21 November
I Call Myself a Feminist is out now and published by Virago