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Young Critics Arts Reviews 2002

Wednesday 16th October 2002 at 1pm 0 Comments

Young Critic: STEPHEN BLEAKLY

Category: Popular Music

Event: Mogwai

Venue: Mandela Hall, QUB

Date: 6 November 2001

Mogwai: 6 November 2001, Mandela Hall

 

Mogwai: 6 November 2001, Mandela Hall

Less than a week ago, Mogwai’s John Cummings was in town for a tantalisingly lo-fi gig with Glasgow indie super-group The Reindeer Section. Although the concert was extremely will received, fans know that tonight they’re in for something a bit more special, and lot more satisfying. Cheekily, the warm-up DJ decides to play a looped version of the introduction to ‘Song 2’, trying to wind up the band who have been known (in the past) to sport T-shirts proclaiming their utter hatred for all things Albarn (slogans such as ‘Blur: Are Sh**e’ and ‘Gorillaz: Even Worse’ were devised by frontman Stuart Braithwait, who once referred to Damon as being "musical AIDS").

The band awkwardly skulk across to their instruments and start into some mellow folk; sounding like a slower, simpler Nick Drake. Ten minutes later, the song has built into a gargantuan, booming mammoth, otherwise known as ‘Mowgwai Fear Satan’. Six minutes after that, only echoes and a flute solo remain. The classic Mogwai dynamic of going from mild, uneasy refrains to searing feedback doom and back is used often tonight, but the sound, refresing as ever, is lapped up by the fanatics and unfamiliar alike. Aside from this, the set is mainly comprised of material from their most recent and more accessible ‘Rock Action’ album (which makes for a lot easier listening that the experimental jams on the bands myriad of effects pedals). This also introduces plenty of string and wind instruments into the mix, giving us more of Radio 2 friendly sound.

The best song of the night however, proves to be reworked hymn My Father My King which has an extra fifteen minutes of feedback tacked neatly on at the end, resulting in the destruction of no less that six guitar string (on three different guitars), through excessive, err…rock action. The sound of its is akin to a vast tower of mindless, crushing, white noise and guitar death-rattles, the closest the band have ever come to being ‘metal’. Afterwards, a stealthy fan nips in and claims a discarded guitar string for himself, squeaking with delight. Everyone else, security staff included is too sonically shell-shocked to notice.

Category: Popular Music

Event: Godspeed You Black Emperor

Venue: Empire Music Hall, Belfast

Date: 23 March 2001

The last time these eight politically charged Canucks played the Empire, Radio 1’s local evening session honoured them by playing the first two minutes of ‘Moya’, which at eleven minutes, stands as the shortest song they have ever released. After an, at first, barely audible two minutes of cinematic strings and lulling guitar patters, it was cut off and the DJ promised to ‘keep us updated’ later in the show.

Tonight, Godspeed, named after a Japanese motorcycle gang, wander onto the stage and begin to set up the tune their gear, to no reaction at all from the audience, who think they are road crew. It is only with the familiar gentle, descending guitars of the intro to 22-minute opus, ‘Storm’, that anyone questions these people’s identities. Such is the mysterious, faceless nature of the band that even their own fans don’t recognise them. They refuse even to display their name on their album covers, to avoid commercialism, capitalism and other such evils. Although, perhaps artistically pompous, Godspeed are not your average arrogant, political rock personalities. They say absolutely nothing at their gigs and project Warhol-esque films of buildings, people and speeding trains above them. When ‘Storm’ draws to a close, fans acquainted with the song cheer, leaving the rest to suddenly realise that their mouths have been open for ten minutes. In a corner, I overhear a nerdish music fan turn around to his happily flabbergasted friends and scream "See! Don’t I know how to pick em?

Godspeed goes on to play a two-hour set of only five more songs. The ecstatic crowd is treated to an epic, genre-bending cacophony of martial snares, vast slabs of screeching feedback and gorgeous filmic cells, violins and glockenspiels. The styles of music appearing throughout the night could be compared to anything from a gushing Danny Elfman theme (‘Storm’) to the funk-fuelled angst of Rage Against the Machine (‘World Police And Friendly Fire’). Godspeed leave as humbly as they entered and are promptly praised as deities.

Young Critic: CLARA DAWSON

Category: Drama

Event: ‘Stones in His Pockets’ by Marie Jones

Venue: Grand Opera House, Belfast

Date: Monday 25th March to Saturday 26th April 2002

Marie Jones, the prolific Northern Irish writer, recent play ‘Stones in His Pockets’ has received great critical acclaim in Broadway and the West End and has received numerous awards and in this, its farewell run in the Opera House it is not difficult to see why. Marie Jones’ reputation preceded her as there was hardly an empty seat, even in the matinee and the audience was certainly not disappointed as the uproarious laughter and standing ovation proved.

The play opens with a cinema screen filled with swirling clouds again sat a dark backdrop. A voiceover gives us a trailer for a film and an amusing set of advertisements, which immediately start the audience laughing, setting the pattern for the rest of the play. The set was minimalist but this was hardly noticed. The story is set in a small town in Co. Kerry where Jake Quinn and Charlie Conlon are extras on a Hollywood film set. The first act is the scene of much hilarity including Jake’s brief liaison with Caroline Giovanni, the starring actress who has swiftly become a committed hibernophile. Humour is made from the Americans typical reaction to all things Irish, one especially funny remark being a complaint from the director that the cows in the background ‘aren’t Irish enough’. Act One ends with the suicide of a local instigating a more serious tone for Act Two, where the wake and funeral of Shaun leads to conflict between the Irish locals who are playing extras and the American film crew and cause Jake and Charlie to consider their own directionless and empty lives.

Although there are many very different and contrasting characters in the play, the cast surprisingly comprises only two actors, Conleth Hill and Sean Campion. But with their excellent acting and Marie Jones’ clever writing this was very successful. Hill and Campion played a wide range of characters, most notable being the women!. There was no change of costume but with a twist, jump or step the two men changed roles with an ease that was astounding. They switched to a different stance and accent for each character which eliminated any confusion and their top quality acting created characters that were believable and individual in their own right and much humour resulted from this. Conleth Hill is superb as Caroline Giovanni, convincing us that this short, balding man really is the sexy flirtatious and false Hollywood actress and leaving us in stitches. The audience was enraptured with this fantastically funny play and it was an outstanding performance, which was very enjoyable, and it would be recommended to anyone with a sense of humour.

Young Critic: CLARA DAWSON

Category: Drama

Event: ‘Conversations on a Homecoming’ by Tom Murphy

Venue: Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Date: 8th to 13th April 2002

It has been said, "if Brian Friel speaks to the heart of Ireland, Tom Murphy speaks to our souls. Or more accurately to the trouble in our souls" and his play ‘Conversations on a Homecoming’ demonstrates this gift. The plot revolves around the return of Michael, played by Conleth Hill, who has returned from America apparently only back for a short stay but actually because of necessity, as the American dream has not lived up to reality. Michael has met up with the fellow inhabitants of his small hometown in Western Ireland, in a pub that they built years ago in their idealistic youth. A man called J.J. whom we never meet in the flesh encouraged this as a place where the arts would be fostered but now there is much controversy of JJ as some believe him to be a slob who inflated and abused people but others regard him as a genuine inspiration.

The play has not internal because there cannot be a break in this long running conversation in which Murphy effectively conveys the frustration and aimless drifting of the Irish in the seventies through dialogue and character. I particularly admired Adrian Dunbar’s performance as Tom, the bitter schoolteacher, who cannot get out of the rut he is stuck in and is jealous of the opportunity Michael has had and wasted.

Dunbar depicts a brooding character, seamlessly moving between temperate small talk to impassioned fits of rage, bursting through his composure, revealing his chaotic emotions. Frankie McCafferty’s performance as Junior, the slightly dense young Irishman, was also enjoyable as he becomes more and more frustrated at the slow-moving old bartender, Missus.

The set is another medium through which Murphy communicates his message. The bare walls and plain décor in the pub reflect the uneventful and tedious lives of the people in this small western village; the absence of the art and pictures for which the pub was built symbolise how the optimism of the sixties has disappeared into the recession of bitterness and tension of the seventies.

As is the general reaction to black comedy, the audience barely knew when to laugh or cry but everyone left with at least part of the message which Murphy wanted to give us, which is perhaps best summed up his words "I can’t feel anything about anything anymore"

Young Critic: ORLAITH GRAHAM WOOD

Category: Literature

Book Title: ‘There’s a boy in the girl’s Bathroom’

Author: Louis Sacker

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s not often you read a book that can be interpreted in more than one way. It’s even rarer that a book with a simple, modern-day storyline can do this. That’s exactly what Louis Sachar does in his latest novel to be released in the UK, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom.

The story is about a young boy called Bradley Chalkers, who has problems facing up to his responsibilities. He has no friends, never does his homework and finds comfort in his plastic animal toys. That is until he meets Carla.

Carla is the new councillor at Bradley’s school. She’s fun, pretty and she understands children. Through an intense journey of self-discovery, Bradley starts to make friends and to make an effort in school.

I’d say that anyone between the ages of eight and 13 will enjoy this book, but even adults will like it too. Dwelling on the psychology of young boy, Louis Sachar has captured every detail of his life and made it into a heart-warming and vivid story.

In Sachar’s last book, Holes, he used such a simple gripping language. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to do it again, but he has. The way he writes is so unique, it could turn any old story around.

There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom is the kind of book you can read and enjoy at bedtime, between classes, up a tree…wherever! It’s strong, emotional, funny and very real to life. I’m definitely going to look out for more of Louis’ books in the future. And if you want to find out what the boy was doing in the girl’s bathroom, well you’ll just have to read it and see!

Young Critic: ORLAITH GRAHAM WOOD

Category: Literature

Book Title: ‘The Princess Diaries’

Author: Meg Cabot

Publisher: Harpercollins Juvenile Books

The Princess Diaries has been a huge box office success grossing more than $100 million in the US alone. I got an exclusive interview with Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries.

You never really know what persona of Meg Cabot’s you are talking to.

The versatile Indian born author not only writes children’s novels but has carved herself a successful niche in the adult market as well.

But Meg Cabot, is best known for The Princess Diaries series which comprises three novels. The first book, on which the film is based centres around 14 year old New Yorker, Mia.

Just when Mia thinks life cannot get any worse, she discovers she is a real-life Princess.

Phenomenally successful in the United States, the books seem most popular with young female readers.

Was Cabot trying to corner that edge of the market?

"I write all my books for myself. If you try to write something to please one market or another you will end up driving yourself insane. Though I must say, I don’t hear from a lot of male fans. The ones I have heard I admire tremendously for having the courage to carry a pink book around" she replies.

Cabot’s strength according to critics and fans alike is her ability to write from a young persons point of view.

"Almost everything in my book has happened to me at one time or another," she explained, "I was never a Princess, but when I was in high school I had a crush on an older boy – lots of them actually – who didn’t seem to know I was alive."

"I had a bossy best friend and I flunked algebra, several times, and my mum was dating and is now living with one of my teachers. It was and still is excruciating!" she said.

The author lives in Greenwich Village, New York but she is still proud of her connections to Northern Ireland.

"My great-great-grandfather lived in Keady, Armagh. He immigrated to America in 1849. He was a weaver and I feel as if I have carried on the family tradition…only instead of linen, I weave stories" Cabot said.

Will blockbuster Harry Potter eclipse Princess Diaries?

"Harry Potter is popular with boys and girls. So I predict it will get at least twice the audiences as Princess Diaries – and probably a whole lot more", she said.

Although it doesn’t have any magic wands or broomsticks, Cabot thinks the Princess Diaries will appeal to anyone with a good sense of humour.

"Wizards will rock but don’t ever underestimate the power of a Princess".

Meg Cabot’s new book, All American Girl, will be on the shelves in September.

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