Tuesday, 14 July 2015
Directed by Howard Davies
Written by Steve Waters
Starring Sir Simon Russell Beale, Anna Calder-Marshall, Paul Higgins
Theatre Donmar Warehouse
The Donmar Warehouse seems to be on real political kick as of late, with the NSA/Snowden piece Privacy last year, the election day telecast The Vote, and now Temple.
This time the attention is turned towards the Occupy protests of 2011 and 2012, anti-capitalist protests directed broadly at the financial industry and London Stock Exchange, before being kettled by the police onto the non-jurisdictional property of St. Paul's Cathedral. Temple follows the Dean of St. Pauls as he attempts to navigate the tricky legal and moral waters of how to handle these protesters on the Church's door.
There is no doubt that Temple was solidly enjoyable play. It's classic London theatre, an intellectual drama laced generously with helpings of humour. For the most part the writing is sharp and on point, with plenty of wit to cut the treacle and some fine performances.
Chief among the performers of course is Sir Simon Russell Beale, one of the finest stage actors alive today. He is typically on excellent form with a masterclass in how to take an initially unlikable character and crumble him into something more tragic and sympathetic. The other performances are impressive in their own right; Malcolm Sinclair briefly steals the scene as the Bishop of London, while Paul Higgins' Canon chancellor provides an able modern foil to Beale's old fashioned Dean.
But the main scrutiny on a play such as this which focuses on such recent history will always be on its portrayal of historical events. No real people are named here, but it's easy for anyone familiar with current events to tell who the real life counterparts are supposed to be. It is therefore somewhat grating at the few moments of script weakness where the author's obvious ideological biases show through. There are a few too many speeches on the merits and righteousness of the Occupy ideology (if they can even be said to have had a single clear one) and the author's clear belief that the Church should have been siding with the protesters from the get go.
Indeed there is a reasonable argument that can be (and is repeatedly) made that the Church's teachings are more in line with opening up to the protesters than siding with the authorities, but it is nevertheless far too easy to recoil in the face of someone who obviously wants to try and propagandise the narrative of current events as he wishes, regardless of accuracy or merit.
Then there is the other main problem with this production. The story really isn't a particularly important or noteworthy one. The script tries to frame the events of this day as holding the balance of the fate of the Church, or as some confrontation between brutal autocracy evicting peaceful protesters who simply wish to exercise their human rights. The trouble is this was far less dramatic in real life, the Church is doing just fine now and they never even had to evict the protesters, they just left. What drama there is is certainly effectively conveyed, but a lot of people will likely spend the first half of the play just trying to figure out what is the big dilemma.
Saturday, 6 June 2015
Welcome to another end of year retrospective on a great season of Premier League football. Here at The Ephemeric we like to take this moment to take stock of the season gone by and bestow our carefully considered accolades. "But Mr. Ephemeric", I hear you ask, "How can you just talk about the football season at a time like this after everything that's going on with FIFA?". First of all that's 'The Reverend Dr. Mr. Ephemeric Sir', secondly yeah we'll probably write something about that soon, just wait for the dust to settle a bit.
Unlike last year there was really only ever one team in this competition. Chelsea led from the very beginning, setting a new record for the longest uninterrupted stretch at the top of the table, and were duly crowned champions. Jose Mourinho doesn't seem to have lost his touch from his first spell at the club, still a relentless winner. Key to the club's success has been two new signings; Diego Costa banished the spectre of Fernando Torres to become one of the league's top scorers, and the player with the best goals/games ratio, while Cesc Fabregas was a creative powerhouse in his return to English football, with a stunning 18 assists, just two away from an all time record. Meanwhile Eden Hazard is beginning to stake his claim as one of the world's very best, and contributed more goals (either scoring or assisting) than any other player in the country.
Pre-season favourites Manchester City ended up disappointing fans with a very poor run towards the end of the season saw them drop out of contention and very nearly even out of second place. Manuel Pellegrini may have won the title just a year ago, but now he finds himself walking a tightrope. Many expected City to show him the door this summer, but with that not happening one can only assume he has little room for error next year.
Elsewhere Arsenal's incredible 4th-place-champions streak came to an end, but in a good way, clinching a top 3 place and automatic Champions League qualification for the first time in years. Right behind them Manchester United have had something of a minor renaissance under Louis Van Gaal, so much so that many now tip them for a genuine title challenge next season. With the shadow of Alex Ferguson still looming over Old Trafford Van Gaal will have precious little time to deliver.
Fair mention must also go to the impressive feats of Swansea, particularly with new manager Garry Monk having something of a breakout season. Ronald Koeman has done an impressive job stepping into Pochettino's shoes and continuing Southampton's fine form even after selling off half their squad last season. Then there's Alan Pardew who bounced back from Newcastle ignominy to take Crystal Palace to their highest ever league position. A very positive season for new hires.
At the bottom it was a familiar story for perennial catastrophe-ridden QPR, who were joined in the drop by Hull and Burnley.
Now without further ado it is time to move on to the Ephemeric end of season awards, followed by our carefully selected Premier League team of the year.
The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2014:
Winners: Chelsea - A near flawless season from a domestic standpoint, dominant in the league, and a cup to boot. A strong year for a still young squad, it will be interesting to see how they develop from here, especially with the new financially responsible, youth-driven approach the club is moving towards.
Relegated: Hull, Burnley, QPR - Burnley never looked like staying up, while QPR are always a disaster, but one has to feel for Hull who at times showed real Premier League quality this season, just not consistently enough.
Player of the Year: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) - Hard to argue against. Bags of assists and goals, but the real joy of watching Hazard play is in his unpredictability, that creative spark that all the game's most legendary entertainers have. Hazard has it.
U-21 Player of the Year: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - The new big thing in the British press, and massively overhyped, but one can't deny he's had a damn fine season with the goals he's scored, both for club and country, and the way in which he has coped with the spotlight.
Best Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United) - The best part of the Man U team this season has been de Gea, and it will be interesting to see how they cope if indeed he does head to Madrid in the summer.
Manager of the Year: Alan Pardew (Crystal Palace) - At the start of the season no one would have predicted this award, with Pardew unpopular and much maligned at Newcastle. But the fact is the man too the Toon from relegation fodder to the upper reaches of the Premier League, and after he parted company with them, he did the same for Crystal Palace, a team which looked rudderless and relegation-bound after Pulis left, but ended the season in their highest ever league position.
Top Scorer: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) (26) - Another top season, all the more impressive when you consider his injury issues and inconsistent playing time.
Most Assists: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) (18) - A revelation on his return to the Premier League, damn near beat the record.
Overachievers: Crystal Palace - From looking relegation bound in the opening months of the season to their highest ever position. Truly a remarkable story.
Underachievers: Newcastle United - On the other hand you have Newcastle, who ditched a successful manager and drove themselves back to the foot of the table, back in a serious shout of relegation. When will things go right for them?
Best signing of the season: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) - As above.
Worst signing of the season: Radamel Falcao (Manchester United) - A world renowned star before his mysterious (and most likely dodgy) move to Monaco. Injury problems have also taken their toll. Either way, the money involved in this loan move was absurd, even more so when he was so completely anonymous all year long.
The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2015:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United) - A top season, David de Gea was largely responsible for the Manchester United resurgence, beating off some tough opposition for this place. Now linked with a move to Real Madrid.
Right Back: Branislav Invanovic (Chelsea) - Possibly Ivanovic's best season for Chelsea, and that's saying something. Always under-appreciated, but this season's goals and shrewd mix of attacking play and strong defence was on another level. One of the Champions' star performers.
Centrebacks: John Terry (Chelsea) & Phil Jagielka (Everton) - John Terry was arguably the best player in the league this season, just losing out narrowly on our big prize to Eden Hazard. It's easy to see why. Unbeatable at the back, a leader on the pitch, scored goals and kept vital clean sheets. Most impressively of all, he became only the second player ever to play every minute of football this season. Laughable to believe that just two years ago a younger Terry was being told he couldn't play more than once week. For his partner, we went with Phil Jagielka, another one of these players who so often avoids the spotlight, but is essential for his team. The PFA chose Cahill over Jagielka, a move that is mystifying to the Ephemeric.
Left Back: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton) - The second Chelsea youth product on this team, and really the club must be wondering why they let him go. He has been on fine form for Southampton, and considered by many to be the top performing left back in the league this season, laying on assists and good attacking play down the left, easily stepping into the much hyped shoes of Luke Shaw.
Right Mid: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Another contender for player of the season. Sanchez's drew comparisons to Mesut Ozil for his huge transfer fee, but his first year in England could not have been more different, a stunning success. Goals, steel and assists, Sanchez has been so central to Arsenal's fortunes this season that it's very easy to believe they may not have finished in the top 4 without him.
Centre Mids: Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) & Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) - A Chelsea duo in the centre of midfield. Matic is the hard working defender and a real revelation since returning to Chelsea, while Cesc, as we have mentioned, has had a stonking great first season in blue.
Left Mid: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Has to be on the team, best player in the league and arguably one of the top five players in the world right now.
Forwards: Diego Costa (Chelsea) & Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) – Diego Costa concludes our incredible 6 Chelsea players in the best 11, and deservedly so with his goalscoring successes this season. Sergio Aguero, the league Golden Boot winner, joins him up front.
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!
Monday, 1 June 2015
Genre Alternative Pop
Producers Ariel Rechtshaid, Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers is a peculiar creature as far as rock stars go. An innocent Mormon boy, former bellhop from Sin City itself in Nevada, Flowers somehow found himself launched into super-stardom as the posterchild of the new-wave electro-rock movement of the mid 2000s, unusually by way of the European record labels.
Best known as the leading man of The Killers, Brandon has written some of the most recognizable hits of the past decade. Songs like Mr. Brightside which ten years later still has the unique ability to send an entire room full of people into a frenzy in a way that few songs in a generation do. Such is the musician's prolificacy that when his band goes into hiatus he just has to keep working on solo material. The Desired Effect is now the second such solo album to be released.
There has always been a curious dynamic between Flowers and his Killers bandmates, reigning in Flowers' sprawling, freewheeling ideas with their more grounded, rock and roll style. Still there is no doubting that Brandon Flowers is the core of the band; he is the song-writer, the creative force. There have long been rumours of Flowers wanting to break free, to branch out and become a bona-fide solo superstar in the mold of a Lady Gaga or David Bowie. Yet for all his talent and recognition with The Killers, that breakthrough as a solo artist, the boost needed to make him one of the biggest household names in the world, has always seemed one step too far.
The first album, Flamingo, was met with a lukewarm reception. The conventional wisdom had it that Flowers, without the moderation of his bandmates, was just too far from the mainstream. But there was brilliance in that album, intelligent songwriting with Flowers' trademark flair. The real problem was one of production. Over the top effects, unnecessary vocal layering, music levels all out of whack; Flamingo was a frustrating experiences precisely because there are songs with great ideas and sublime moments in them ruined by messy production and baffling creative choices.
And so The Desired Effect sees a new production team in place. Multi-Grammy Award winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid takes the helm, bringing with him experience of working with some of the biggest stars in the world from Madonna to Beyoncé, to Vampire Weekend and Haim, and the difference is like night and day.
One of the first things that strikes you upon listening to The Desired Effect is how finely honed every track is. There is barely a note put wrong, not a single layer that sounds out of place or jarring, each of the album's 10 slick tracks are radio-ready hits. The quality of the production is such that even the lesser songs, which are inferior to some of those on Flamingo, sound better.
The key tracks are without doubt the four singles released ahead of the album. Can't Deny My Love is a track that sounds very reminiscent of the darker tone of Flamingo, and as a result serves as one of the best examples of the progress that's been made. This is Flowers at his most off-the-wall as far as The Desired Effect goes, big vocal effects, heavy percussion, layered backing vocals, and epic scale. It's exactly the sort of song that on Flamingo would have come out sounding like a mess, but here it's just slick stadium pop, a throwback to David Bowie or Pet Shop Boys in their 1980s pomp.
Still Want You takes things to another level with one of the finer tracks of the year so far. Again Flowers wears his influences on his sleeve, sounding like such a dead ringer for Young American's era David Bowie he could well have been listed a contributor. It's one of those impossibly catchy songs, with a great hook that lends itself well to live concert sing-along sessions with the audience. Top notch.
Which brings us to Lonely Town, which is pretty much a perfect pop song. Pure 1980s glam with the catchiest chorus we've heard in years, belying the darker meaning of the lyrics which are intended as a sort of spiritual successor to Sting's anthem to stalkers, Every Breath You Take.
The final of the first four singles I Can Change returns to the 1980s New Romantic period with quite a breathtaking anthem of desperation. The driving beat besot with piano and Flowers' falsetto make for quite an addictive concoction.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The album has plenty of quality throughout, from the brassy opener Dreams Come True to the delicate Between Me and You, the rockabilly Diggin up the Heart, or the wonderful semi-acoustic number The Way It's Always Been. These are all very fine songs, and even the less inspired tracks sound like superlative pop down to the slick production and undoubted talent of Mr. Flowers.
Ultimately this places The Desired Effect undoubtedly right up there with the best albums of the year, and possibly a major breakthrough moment for Brandon Flowers' solo career. The rest of The Killers must surely hear this and fear for their jobs, Brandon is on superb form without them, and has created an album which by merit of it's expert studio work is worth far more than the sum of its parts.
Must Listen :
Still Want You
Can't Deny My Love
I Can Change
Sunday, 24 May 2015
Developed by Squad
Published by Squad
Genre Space flight simulator
Platform OS X, PC, Linux
We can cut to the chase here, as Kerbal Space Program is a game that we have discussed at length previously on this blog. Making our Hot List for two years running, KSP has become the poster boy for the new wave of indie, crowdfunded games. Originating as the passion project for one lone coder, it has ballooned into one of the most talked about projects in gaming, attracting news coverage and publicity from the likes of NASA and Elon Musk. It's been a long time coming, but now 1.0, the final release, is ready.
In our view, KSP has been best described by the developers themselves in a recent Reddit IAMA as "Lego rockets with realistic physics crewed by fearless, hyperenthusiastic green people. Explosions everywhere and we'll sneakily teach you orbital mechanics to boot."
This one-liner really gets to the core of the game. You build spaceships, everything from classic golden age Apollo style rockets to sleek Space Shuttles and massive interplanetary craft. You build it using ingenious and intuitive modular design tools out of a huge variety of smaller components, which allows for massive customization and unique designs. Then you fly these spacecraft, first on Earth, then into orbit, then to the moon and distant planets and beyond. Once you're out there you will find a huge range of activities, spacewalks, landing on planets, building rovers, taking samples and scientific readings, even mining asteroids.
Beyond this you can simply be creative, landing and docking multiple spaceships on planets to form colonies, space stations. As cheesy as it is to say, the tools are so versatile and detailed that the gameplay really is only limited by the player's own imagination.
The main aim in career mode is simple, you conduct missions to accumulate science, which you spend to unlock more parts and build better rockets. To do all this you need money, which you can earn through contract missions.
But really this career mode is just window dressing, something to make this game into an actual game rather than what it really is, one of the best physics sandboxes ever developed. You quickly learn that flying to another planet is not as simple as point in the direction and fire rockets, in order to navigate in this game you will have to learn some basic orbital mechanics. It seems daunting at first, but the game does a surprisingly able job of making it seem fairly intuitive, displaying your trajectory and giving you simple guidelines for how to manipulate it in order to transfer to the orbit of your target object.
It's remarkable just how fun mastering these techniques can be, and it's especially amazing considering how much variety and freedom the player has in designing his spacecraft that the physics works so well. For those who played the early alpha and beta iterations it's remarkable to see how tight the gameplay has become.
The difficulty curve has also been impressively fine tuned. It's still complex enough that every milestone feels like a real accomplishment, but not so much that it ever becomes frustrating or overwhelming.
And then there is the style of the game. It would be easy for a spaceship building game with realistic physics to be a bit dry, a bit technical, and a bit niche. The developer has quite impressively combined these elements with a decidedly cartoonish, lighter tone.
Your astronauts are adorably enthusiastic Kerbals, and they come with two attributes: bravery and stupidity. There's something very endearing about the way your Kerbals can smash a rocket into a mountain, then jump out and gleefully plant a flag looking pleased as punch with himself. The humor is light enough to prevent the game becoming too cold and calculating, without going too far.
Kerbal Space Program is a fantastic achievement, a wonderful physics sandbox wrapped up in a competent business management shell. It's a triumph for such a small development team to produce such a tight and enjoyable product, and the greatest vindication we have yet seen that the crowdfunding early-access model can really work.
Sunday, 3 May 2015
The Ephemeric is having a highly political week as it turns out. Fresh from our very early preview of the 2016 US Presidential elections, now we turn our attentions to a eleventh hour final preview of next week's UK General election. In one week we will have a new Government. 650 seats, 326 to hold a majority, who will it be?
The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition swept into power 5 years ago on the back of a hugely anti-incumbent political climate in post-recession Britain. Far from a common occurrence, this was the first coalition Government since the second World War, and yet here are, going into another election where a coalition seems certainty. What is going on?
The PartiesOnce upon a time, the UK had a political system that looked a lot like America's. Basically a two-party system, the left-wing Labour and right wing Conservative parties dominating the vote between them, as much as 90% shared between the two. As we have seen in America, this is not always a good thing.
Massive political parties voting in unison, the opposition often with no recourse but to simply obstruct everything. Politics like this becomes less about personal representation and almost entirely about competition. Pick the party you're closest to and then hope they come up with some laws you like. When one party tries to appeal to everyone, it often ends up appealing to no one.
Thus the UK gradually became a multi-party system. Parties to cater all along the left-right spectrum, parties to cater to specific policy focuses, or specific regions. It's a system that has its good side and its bad side, allowing more personal representation and forcing parties to work together, but arguably undermining the stability of a good strong majority.
However you feel about it, the multi-party system also makes the results of an election far less certain in the days and weeks leading up to it. The make up of the next Government, and even the Prime Minister, is much harder to predict than in an American election.
Here are the main contenders:
Conservative PartyLeader: David CameronThe Conservatives are, surprisingly enough, the main conservative ideology party in the UK. But don't make the mistake of equating UK conservatives to those in America, these Conservatives have a lot more in common with Barack Obama's left-wing Democrats than with the Republican party. You'll see nary a mention of evolution or religion in the party manifesto, and green energy/global warming has become one of the party's main campaign pillars. The focus is strongly on economic issues; spending cuts, tax policy, and libertarian policy. Think Mitt Romney, not Rick Santorum.
For the past 5 years the Conservatives have been the major party of the current coalition Government, having been in the wilderness before that since the early 1990s. During that time the economy has recovered, with unemployment low. The Prime Minister also gets high marks for his leadership on foreign issues, and in pushing climate change negotiations. On the whole there is much for the current Government to be proud of, so an easy re-election surely? Absolutely not. While many of the causes of 2010's political angst have been remedied, there still remains a strong anti-incumbent sentiment.
The Conservatives have something of an image problem. They are painted as the cold, unfeeling, wealthy elites, who are more concerned with bolstering their balance sheets than getting children off the streets. This is (somewhat unfairly) made worse by the presence of many public school "old boys" within the ranks of party leadership. Opponents like to use this to paint a picture of de facto hereditary rule of the elites, when really it is only logical that those with the best education are more likely to rise to positions of power. Never mind the fact that left-wing parties are also stocked full of wealthy public school boys.
The main problem is that while the economy is strong, real wages are only just starting to pick up. This has been exacerbated by the Government's deep cuts, which have really hit some of the most vulnerable people in the country. So the recession may be over, but an awful lot of people have yet to feel it. The problem with too much trickle-down policy is that there is a lot more down than up, and while those at the top have been drenched in recent years the masses haven't felt so much as a drop.
So what is the prognosis? The Conservatives will feel the brunt of voters' frustrations, and lose a lot of seats. It seems almost certain that they will win more seats than any other party, but not enough to form a majority Government. At the same time, the Liberal Democrats show no interesting in continuing their partnership, leaving the question open: who could the Conservatives partner with to form a Government?
The bad news for Conservatives is that it is hard to think of anyone; the biggest parties this year look to be left-leaning. The other right-wing parties UKIP and DUP won't have anywhere near enough seats to form a coalition. This could be the end of the line for Cameron.
Labour PartyLeader: Ed MilibandThe UK's left-wing party. But again, don't try to compare them to their American counterparts the Democrats, who arguably have more in common with the Conservatives than Labour. Shut your ears American conservatives, because the Labour party is an actual socialist party.
The word "socialist" is tricky because it has practically no meaning in common use anymore. Fox News and the like have managed to turn it into such a dirty word that it really signifies nothing other than a pejorative. Meanwhile in the real world it's a fairly common political ideology, which in very basic terms stands for the spreading of ownership from the wealthy to the community as a whole. In practical terms this means a reassignment of assets from those who have much to those who have little. As you can imagine, their power base lies with the working class, and the unions.
As gentrification of the UK continues apace, personal wealth on average increases, and public opinion turns increasingly negative against the unions. This has led to the Labour party moving increasingly to the centre over the past 15 years, but still this image has stuck. Given the main themes of this election that we have discussed, it is hardly surprising to see voters flocking back to such a party.
But this image is a burden as much as anything, with plenty of otherwise left-wing voters put off by the socialist aspects of the party. In 2010 a large reason behind the Labour defeat was voters jumping to the more moderate Liberal Democrats.
Another big issue for Labour is leader Ed Miliband, who is generally unpopular and seen as a very poor leader. A lot of this is due to his demeanour and lack of charisma, but honestly he brings it on himself when he does things like this. He's a bit of an idiot. Many will tell you that the scariest part of a Labour Government is Ed as Prime Minister.
Ultimately the question is, can they bring back the liberal voters into the fold? Certainly not enough for a majority, probably not enough for a plurality, but possibly enough to form a coalition. The Liberal Democrats probably wouldn't mind staying in power, while the Scottish National Party seem like obvious partners.
Liberal DemocratsLeader: Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are like a Hollywood cautionary tale, they had it all and then they lost it all. 2010 was the perfect storm of anti-incumbent fervor, particularly among left-wing voters, and emergence of charismatic leader Nick Clegg. Their ideological centrism played well, surging to an impressive 20% of the vote, which promptly earned them a place in the Government, and Clegg a spot as Deputy Prime Minister.
Forming a Government with the Conservatives has turned out to be a very very bad move for the party. The Liberal Democrats may have found themselves in power temporarily, but with a relatively small number of seats were unable to press much of their own will on policy, whilst remaining saddled with the burden of negative opinion held against the Government. In particular, partnering with the Conservative party will have driven many left-wing voters away.
Now from these highs, the Lib Dems are looking at a big wipe out, and could lose as many as half of their seats. Leader Nick Clegg, once the darling of British politics and now one of the most disliked politicians in the country, may even lose his seat.
The one silver lining for the Lib Dems is that they may still play a big role in who forms the eventual Government. Down, but not out.
UK Independence PartyLeader: Nigel Farage
Meanwhile on the other side of the Conservative party we have UKIP, and their leader Nigel Farage. This is the far right party. To call them Euro-skeptic doesn't begin to cover it, they want out of the EU, and they want a total end to immigration. More pertinent is the party's association with racism, homophobia and other highly socially conservative stances. UKIP are one of the most hated of the mainstream parties.
And yet, UKIP won the 2014 EU Parliament elections. It seems incredible to think that this party who look set to win no more than a couple of seats could have actually won an election just a year ago. The first nationwide election in 100 years not to be won by other Labour or Conservative parties.
So what's happening this year? Well it's mostly the whole racism thing. UKIP opinion has eroded massively in 12 months thanks to a stream of very bad publicity. Probably an irrelevance in this election.
Green PartyLeader: Natalie Bennett
The Green party is always interesting to watch. Surprisingly popular among young people, the Greens often look set to break out, but then never do. It's true, young people don't vote, but more than that is that the Green policy is really quite extreme.
People think Green and they inevitably think about environment, which is fairly popular. What people don't think about is a party that is obsessively anti-business, that wants to ban animal testing and bring medical research to a halt, that takes anti-sexism into bizarre, reverse-sexism places.
Their manifesto is ill thought-out, un-nuanced rhetoric intended simply to appeal to naive left-wing kids.
Scottish National PartyLeader: Nicola Sturgeon
It is fast becoming clear that no matter who wins or loses in this election, SNP will win. Following last year's independence referendum, Scottish Nationalism is at an all time high (or since the days of William Wallace anyway), and SNP look set to capitalise on that big time.
Some strong performances in the debates, a electorate pleasing liberal platform, and of course Scottish nationalism. SNP look set to sweep the entirety of Scotland and replace the Lib Dems as the third biggest party in the UK.
So what does this mean in practice? Clearly SNP will never win a majority. For one thing they don't run for elections outside of Scotland. What they can do is grab the third largest number of seats, which makes them the key bargaining chip in the formation of a new Government. Whatever coalition forms, there's a good chance that SNP will be in it.
Plaid CymruLeader: Leanne Wood
A bit like SNP, except where it says "Scotland", read "Wales". And when it says "will win", read "won't win".
Plaid Cymru are the Welsh party, they're popular in Wales. They do Welsh stuff. They'll win seats there, but nowhere else. Probably end up with 3 or 4 seats.
Sinn FeinLeader: Gerry Adams
One side of the Irish political coin. Sinn Fein are a Republican party, that is they support Irish independence. Famously associated with the IRA terrorist organisation, they are nevertheless fairly popular in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Yet they never hold many seats, and fewer than their unionist Irish opposition.
Democratic Unionist PartyLeader: Peter Robinson
The other side. DUP are Unionist, and they don't much like Sinn Fein. They're less popular than Sinn Fein, although they do hold more seats than them.
Interesting with the DUP is that they look set to become the fifth biggest party in the UK by seats, which makes them a potential participant in a coalition party, and one of the few potential partners for the Conservative party. This would be a somewhat controversial move with DUP known for being an intensely conservative party, thought of as a homophobic, anti-minority, anti-women party, but a desperate enough Conservative party may have little choice.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Genre Indie Pop
Label Columbia Records
Producers Chris Zane, Michael Angelakos, Benny Blanco, Alex Aldi
With Passion Pit it has always been the case that the story behind the band is as interesting as the music. The romantic origin story goes that sole band member Michael Angelakos wrote his first EP, Chunk of Change, on his laptop in a college dorm room. Originally intended as a gift for his then girlfriend, it quickly went viral all over the world, in particular his first smash hit Sleepyhead. A record deal soon followed, and Angelakos assembled a back up band with whom to go touring. But then there's the dark side to Passion Pit; the psychological issues that have plagued Angelakos, extreme bi-polar disorder which culminated in his attempted suicide.
It's these extremes that most characterise Passion Pit's unique sound; over-the-top, manic joy contrasted with darkness and introspection. Songs like Sleepyhead and The Reeling which can't decide if they want to throw their hands in the air and dance or tear their hair out in angst. Bittersweet longing in Seaweed Song, tracks like Make Light which sound deliriously happy but peppered with insecurity and deep-rooted sadness. There's nothing else in the world that sounds quite like it.
Angelakos describes Passion Pit's debut album Manners as the expression of his confusion, and it shows in its cryptic, evocative lyrics and its surreal, bi-polar music. Sophomore album Gossamer is more intensely focused, with songs that very clearly discuss everything from political concerns to bi-polar disorder and even Angelakos' attempted suicide.
This new album, Kindred, is something a bit different. Angelakos is in the best shape he has ever been, happy, well adjusted, well groomed, in a happy, stable marriage. Kindred is an album of happiness, relief.
This is best reflected in the breathtaking lead single Lifted Up (1985), an ode to Angelakos' wife (born in 1985) whom Angelakos credits as playing a big part in his recovery. It's a fitting subject for the most powerful song on the album. The video, meanwhile, depicts a rosy, practically glowing scene of a young child at what appears to be a family holiday dinner. The saccharine follow up single Where the Sky Hangs is a simple, laid back love story, with a video showing two young companions lying on the grass watching the sky, smiling and laughing.
The new direction is clear. These songs are celebrations, packed full of nostalgia, joy, intended to elicit all the good things in the World. Stark contrast to Passion Pit's earlier work.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Ephemeric is a fairly happy individual, who likes artistic works that celebrate life's warm spots. If Angelakos wants this new album to be a roof raising party then fantastic. Indeed Lifted Up is a phenomenal song, a perfect embodiment of the new Passion Pit that sounds just as out of this world as anything the band has done previously. Unfortunately the rest of the album does not follow suit.
That's not to say that Kindred is a bad album, it's not. But compared to Passion Pit's earlier work it sounds surprisingly languid, pedestrian, dare we say it, uninspired?
For the most part Kindred strikes a decidedly slower pace than past albums. But there are plenty of solid songs here, like Where the Sky Hangs, Until We Can't (Let's Go), and All I Want. Fine songs, yet strangely all sound so predictable, lacking in the Passion Pit edge, like a de-clawed cat.
Until We Can't (Let's Go) is catchy as hell, but it sounds like someone imitating Passion Pit. It's the mania of Passion Pit but without the deliciously seedy undertones. All I Want is pleasant enough, but it sounds like it could have been written by any other band in the world. Then there are songs like My Brother Taught Me How to Swim, again a good pop song, but one which sounds like it could have been constructed out of clips taken from other, better Passion Pit songs.
There are still moments of the trademark brilliance we've come to expect in tracks like Five Foot Ten and its counterpoint which closes the album, a duo which serve as a showcase for Passion Pit's general transition. Meanwhile Whole Life Story is a wonderful little pop song and a moment of genuinely distinctive songwriting. Sadly in so short an album these infrequent sparks ultimately provide little to satiate listeners.
Ultimately what we have is a far too short album which is just a little too insistently sugary, and yet lacking in the fire that made previous albums so unforgettable. A solid collection of pop songs, but one which stacks up poorly against the impossibly high standard of the work by which it is preceded.
Must Listen :
Lifted Up (1985)
Five Foot Ten
Whole Life Story
Where the Sky Hangs
Monday, 27 April 2015
It's been a busy month in US politics as things finally start to get underway for the 2016 Presidential election. The big announcement, of course, was the widely anticipated launch of Hillary Clinton's campaign, but recent weeks have also seen the official confirmation of both the Rand Paul and Marco Rubio campaigns, both of whom are expected to be major contenders in the Republican nomination. The race for the White House is well and truly on.
So at this early stage we decided to take an overview: what are the dynamics taking shape at the root of this contest and who are the big players going to be? Lets start with the voters.
The VotersThe voters simply can not make up their mind. A Democratic wave election in 2008 was followed by a Republican wave in 2010, which was followed by a Democratic wave in 2012, and another Republican wave in 2014. The United States electorate has seemingly been swinging wildly from left to right from one election to the next. The ostensible reason for this is the changing demographic make up of the voters between Presidential and midterm elections, and it's arguably the number one factor to who will prevail next time around.
So who will be voting in 2016? America has a notoriously low voter turnout for a developed democracy, exacerbated by a number of factors such as holding election day during the week, the fact that a number of cynical politicians see an advantage in disenfranchising certain demographics, and of course good old fashioned voter apathy.
Effectively this means that elections typically disproportionately represent the kind of demographics who have free time on a week day, who are more prone to fanaticism, and who can't be disenfranchised. In other words, the elderly, the religious, and white males respectively.
As you may have realized, the above demographics tend to vote heavily in favour of the conservative Republican Party, which sheds some light as to why elections are usually so close despite the fact that Americans as a whole somewhat consistently seem to favour the left-leaning Democratic Party. The numbers imply that if everyone in America voted, the Democrats would win most elections, even in states typically considered "red".
This goes a long way towards explaining the violent swings between recent elections. Those demographics turn out consistently for all elections, the total vote numbers for Republicans in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 are notably consistent. Meanwhile the opposite groups, young people, academics, and minorities/women, voted in record numbers in 2008 and 2012, but were almost totally absent in 2010 and 2014.
The generally accepted wisdom holds that Americans by and large care very little about Congress, and thus these groups only turn up in Presidential election years. But then again it may simply be the effect of Obama only being on the ballot in those years, with his famously efficient get out the vote operation.
Either way the turnout among these heavily left-leaning voter blocs has been swinging wildly between midterm and Presidential election years. In 2012 60% of those aged under thirty voted Democrat, 80% of minorities voted Democrat. A whopping 70% of academics and scientists vote Democrat. These voting blocs didn't turn up in 2014, but it would seem that who wins in 2016 will depend on whether they do this time. Ultimately the big question that needs to be asked is will these groups turn up just because it is a Presidential election year, or was it specifically Obama and his impressive operation that got these voters to the polls?
The PartiesIn the marvelous mess that is American politics, there are only two parties that matter. The other minority parties are so completely invisible that they can only dream of having the electoral influence of those in a multi-party system like in the UK, and most Americans probably don't even notice they exist.
Democratic PartyThe minority party in both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade, but they still have the all important Presidency thanks to two-term winner Barack Obama who despite whatever else anyone might think of him, has shown himself to be a vote-winning machine.
A Presidential election year will offer better demographics and, in contrast to 2014, most of the Senate races are being held in blue leaning states. The Democrats will therefore realistically be aiming to win the White House and the Senate. The House of representatives, however, is another matter. The lower chamber of Congress has been gerrymandered so insanely beyond recognition that even in a year like 2012 where the Democrats won a strong majority of the vote, they still ended up with a tiny minority of the seats. The House elections have been rigged such that there is no even slim chance of flipping it until the next time districts are redrawn, even if the Democrats won an historically huge majority of the vote. Democracy at work ladies and gentlemen.
Republican PartyFor a party that controls both chambers of Congress, the Republicans have made surprisingly little attempt to do any governing. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it's difficult to deny that the current GOP strategy for the moment appears to be simply to block anything from passing, aside from the odd symbolic vote of dissent against Obama that they have no intention of actually making law.
It's easy to see why. No one pays attention to Congress. If nothing gets done and things go bad, the President will take the blame, and likewise if the Republican Congress passes anything good, the President will get the credit, as Clinton did for balancing the budget through the Republican Congress in the 1990s. It's a very sad state of affairs that politics in America has sunk this low, but that is the nature of the game nowadays. Indeed the Democratic Congress under Bush abused their position in a similar (albeit far less extreme) manner.
When it comes to the Democrats' prospects, there has only ever been one likely candidate, and that is former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
On the surface then it would seem all the stars are aligning, qualified, vetted, ideologically mainstream, and representing a landmark in American politics to boot. It's easy to see why she is the heavy front runner in her party. But she has her share of issues too. She is the ultimate Washington insider, and will be inextricably linked with this Obama administration, so much will depend on how he is perceived in a year's time, and she will be hard pressed to present herself as any different to politics as usual.
At the moment there really isn't anyone else in the party who looks even capable of winning the primary, let alone the general election, and the majority of Americans would probably have difficulty naming more than one or two other potential candidates, if that. But then the same was also true in 2008, and yet she ended up losing to a previous unknown in Barack Obama. Right now she is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but a lot can change in the next year as the other contenders become more well known among the public.
Vice President Biden lost his 2008 Presidential campaign hopelessly. In fact until he was picked as Obama's VP, something of a surprise choice, few people were probably even aware of who he was. Now after eight years as Vice President he will be in a much stronger position should he run, but that still doesn't make him a great candidate.
The progressive darling of the moment, Warren has long been a champion for consumer rights and "the 99%". Serving previously as Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Committee and as special advisor for Obama's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was elected to the Senate in 2012. Also considered to be a foremost legal scholar, Warren brings with her a long list of credentials and experience.
O'Malley is one of those candidates that has been talked about for years as a Presidential candidate, and yet no one is still really sure who he is or why he demands such hype.
On the surface there's certainly no reason he couldn't run. Good looking guy, charismatic enough, former Governor (Presidential elections love Governors), and yet O'Malley at the moment doesn't look anything like a potential spoiler in the Hillary parade.
The speculation is that O'Malley might try to out-liberal Hillary in a play for the party's disillusioned progressives, but will that be enough to win over the super-delegates? O'Malley looks certain to run, but he's surely a no-hoper.
Bernie is a good man, well liked both in his home state of Vermont and nationally (among liberals anyway). As an Independent who merely caucuses with the Democrats, he is one of the few politicians of whom no one can question his commitment to his principles. Even where he lies far from the mainstream he stands up for what he truly believes and it has earned him the respect and support of many.
Bernie's problem is that he makes Warren look moderate. He is a self-described Socialist, and we all know how well that plays in America. Sanders also looks likely to run, but there is simply no way he can win, all he will do is serve to drive the conversation to the left.
Of course it is far too early to seriously speculate who Hillary, or whoever else wins, is going to tap as their running mate, but perhaps we can form some educated guesses based on the notable absentees from the running.
Many expected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to run this year, but following Hillary's announcement that now appears very unlikely, and was quick to throw his support behind her. Cuomo is hugely popular and seen as one of the brightest politicians in the party, and a VP stint will help his own national ambitions. But there's no way the Democrats will throw up an all New York ticket, that would be suicide. The same argument can dismiss fellow New Yorker Kristen Gillibrand, who had also been heavily tipped for a 2016 run.
The ideal pick for a Clinton running mate would be a man, someone younger than her and full of energy who can really blaze the campaign trail. Preferably someone from a red or purple state. The obvious choice is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.
Castro is generally considered to be one of the brightest lights in the Democratic Party, showing Obama-esque oratory brilliance at the 2012 convention keynote speech, to go with his minority and red state appeal. Such is Castro's potential that Obama pulled him out of Texas, a state where he is unlikely to win higher office, to come work in his cabinet, giving him the national level experience that he will need for a future VP, and beyond that a Presidential run. It certainly looks like Castro is being groomed for higher office, could Hillary's ticket be the next step?
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is currently considered the front-runner of the Republican pool, although if 2008 and 2012 have shown us anything that is unlikely to remain the case through the entire nomination process.
Jeb is also, of course, a member of the Bush political dynasty, with both his father and older brother having served as President previously. This has both positives and negatives. For all the talk of democracy, America loves its dynasties, and Jeb's status arguably gives him the widest appeal of all the Republican potential nominees; the party establishment like him, and so do the hardliner conservatives. Crucially he has the infrastructure and experience to rely on, and his time in Florida with a hispanic wife gives him much sought after minority appeal. He is very well set up for a serious Presidential run.
But at the same time, his brother is still very unpopular, and a plurality of Americans still blame him more for all the bad things in the world than Obama, the guy who has actually been President for the past 8 years. W is widely regarded among the worst Presidents in history, and while Jeb has long been considered the smarter Bush, W's failings are still fresh in the memory, and will seriously drag on Jeb, if not in the primary then in the general election.
The warning signs are there. Despite having great name recognition, Jeb is still fairly unpopular. That's a hard position to come back from when you're already a known quantity. Instead what will serve to Jeb's advantage is his status as the "safe candidate", the one who scares Independents the least. In 2008 and 2012 the Republicans flirted with hardcore right wing conservatives before settling on the "safe candidate" that they thought could win the general election. If they do the same this year then Jeb is probably the safe candidate.
Scott Walker is one of the party's biggest up-and-comers, and possibly Jeb Bush's biggest threat. Walker has shown himself to be both a champion for conservative ideals, and a lightning rod for criticism from the left wing.
Best known for his crackdown on union rights, Walker's stance earned him the ignominy of being the only US Governor to be recalled, a recall election which he nevertheless subsequently won. He tends similarly far to the right on most issues, from abortion to same-sex marriage, immigration and voter ID laws. In spite of this he is still seen among his party as a fairly mainstream candidate, largely because of his success in a generally blue state like Wisconsin.
Unfortunately for Walker, the rest of America doesn't see him that way, and he has among the most polarized favourability numbers of any candidate. His name recognition is still relatively low so that could change, but at the moment even if he wins the Republican nomination he could have a real problem with Independents.
Walker has been polling very well among Republicans in these early days, and right now is the leader in the all important Iowa poll. A few strong results in the early primaries and he could fast find himself becoming the front runner. It would certainly make things interesting.
This year's most prominent representative of the hard right, Rubio has been tipped for a while as the future of the Republican Party, and it's easy to see why. Young, charismatic, wins elections in arguably the most important Swing-State, appeals to Hispanic voters, and crucially identifies with conservative values.
It's no surprise then to see Rubio surging in the polls of late. The base already loves him and the Republican establishment is starting to warm to him as a legitimate candidate. But is he electable in a general election?
For sure, Rubio's Tea Party connections will hurt him in a Presidential election year, but despite this affiliation he was still able to hugely outperform his fellow Republican Senate candidates in 2010, a year where the Tea Party fared poorly in the Senate. This suggests he has broader appeal than your typical conservative Republican, without sacrificing any of the base support. Rubio is well liked, with broad appeal, and that makes him a tantalizing option for a Republican party that seems to be struggling in recent years to find a candidate who is both electable and conservative enough.
Still, as he becomes more well known by the Independent voters he will face scrutiny for his record, which is among the most conservative in Congress. Rubio has a history of taking stances that may endear him to his base, but will not play well with the rest of America. One of his first campaign promises this year has been to reopen Guantanamo Bay if Obama succeeds in closing it, a mystifying early focal point for his campaign that can only really appeal to the most hardcore of W Bush apologists. His continued intransigence on gay rights and immigration, at a time when even the Republicans are generally starting to accept the need to adapt, provides further fuel for his critics.
The implication appears to be either that Rubio hasn't fully comprehended the reality of running in a general election, or he cynically thinks voters are inattentive enough that they'll forget the extreme things he says during primary season. To us this screams of his inexperience on the national stage. Rubio may be a frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but suggests gaping vulnerabilities if he goes into the final round.
One of the first to declare his candidacy for 2016. Rand Paul is, of course, the son of the iconic perennial Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Ever the libertarian ideologue, Ron Paul had never been able to turn his fervent online fanbase and appeal to young voters into a significant electoral advantage, and typically was seen as a party outsider.
Rand Paul has taken a different tactic, embedding himself much more closely into the mainstream of the Republican Party. This has the benefit of potentially making him the real primary contender that his father never was, but at the cost of the hardcore following that Ron Paul had assembled. Even then, can he shake the outsider label?
So it's a case of two steps forward, two steps back for the Paul family as Rand tries to have his cake and eat it too. Rand Paul want's the libertarian fanaticism his father had, plus the mainstream credibility needed to win a national election, he could well end up with neither.
Every election needs one; a Sarah Palin, a Rick Santorum. This year's award for least electable candidate has to go to Ted Cruz, who has a long track record of making dangerously loopy, extremist statements. He is also very unpopular, even among his own party. There are people up and down the country who wrongly state that Ted Cruz is a major contender. He's not, he will lose.
Once upon a time Chris Christie was considered one of the big favourites for the Republican nomination. He was seen as incredibly likable, charismatic, effortlessly able to outwit opponents and make himself look like a leader no matter what the situation. It also helped that he was extremely popular even in a deep blue state, and in particular with independents.
There had always been concerns among the far right that Christie was not conservative enough, exacerbated by the 2012 election where he was accused by his own party of cosying up to Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But still, there it seemed was a politician who could really challenge in a general election, taking the lions share of independents as well as a fair number of Democrats. This is no longer considered to be the case.
Christie has taken on a huge amount of (completely deserved) bad press, from accusations of bullying and misconduct to one of the most astonishingly awful scandals in political history. Christie has so far managed to shield himself personally from the above actions which were so flagrantly illegal, irresponsible (and by the way caused deaths) that they make Watergate look like a good idea. Had a direct connection to Christie been proven he almost certainly would have been ousted from office, but even as it stands he has taken a huge hit in his poll numbers, to the point where he can no longer be considered even vaguely viable for either the nomination or general election.
It's much harder to predict who might be the VP pick when we have no idea who will be top of the ticket, but there are certain logical assumptions we can make which might help narrow things down.
In each of the last two elections, Republicans have opted for moderate, safe candidates, who have then gone on to pick a more conservative candidate to appeal to the base. Assuming a similar tactic in 2016, that would mean we are likely to see someone who is perceived to be somewhat centrist, like Bush, choosing a VP with more conservative credentials. Could we see an all Florida ticket of Bush/Rubio? Could well do, it would play well in that crucial Swing-State.
Alternatively we might see the party push for one of it's more exciting young outsiders to give them national exposure ahead of future elections, someone like a Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner or Mia Love.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
Genre Indie Rock
Label Sub Pop
Producers Jonathan Wilson, Josh Tillman
Despite narrowly missing out on The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List, I Love You, Honeybear is an album on which we have been keeping close tabs. After all, this is the sophomore album for Father John Misty, the alter-ego of Josh Tillman, formerly band member of the great Fleet Foxes.
From David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust to Lizzy Grant's Lana Del Rey, the concept of using a persona to separate the person from the performer is nothing new in music, but with Father John Misty it often becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. It's particularly the case with this self-described "concept" album, which strays into some intensely personal areas for Tillman.
The recurring subject and indeed the title of the album appears focused on Tillman's recent marriage, but delves deep into "all manner of regrettable behaviour". Tillman simultaneously launches into scathing critiques of insufferable people he's met, notably in The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment, and its story of a one night stand with an insufferably vapid person, while Tillman presents himself as the amoral, misguided sinner who needs to be saved by the companionship of a good woman.
But Tillman also finds time in the album's 11 tracks to dig into his most personally held beliefs. Holy Shit is an excoriating attack on the psychological manipulation behind religious institutions, while Bored in the USA casts no uncertain verdict on many of the social issues facing American today. It's here where Tillman most lands his hits wide of the mark. You never like to see musicians getting too political, it's a very fine line to walk between poignant and cliché.
Tillman steps on the wrong side of this line in the latter track, which includes lines such as "Save me President Jesus!" and a climax featuring phrases like "sub-prime loans" and "useless education" followed by a studio laugh-track. It borders on what one might hear described on the internet as a "circlejerk", eliciting complex hot button left-wing issues in the most simplistic of lights. He probably thinks he sounds really deep and meaningful, but he comes off sounding like a beatnik on open mic night.
Nevertheless, the album as a whole is frequently funny, often nasty and ultimately never boring. The songwriting is refreshingly raw, holding nothing back, laced with satire and irony. Still the most ironic thing is probably that for all the attention one might pay the lyrics and message behind the songs, they are largely incidental when the music is as excellent as this.
It's hardly surprising to see a lot of similarities between these songs and Tillman's work with Fleet Foxes. The excellent Chateau Lobby #4 in particular sounds like it could easily have been a Fleet Foxes song, it has that same acoustic brand of gorgeous, layered composition and warm vocals.
What's more intriguing is to see the extent that Tillman expands into other genres and musical styles. True Affection is one of the best tracks on the album, delving into a more electronic-folk style that sounds very reminiscent of Bon Iver mixed with the Temper Trap. Then there are songs like The Ideal Husband which is just straight up rock and roll.
If Father John Misty does share some DNA with Fleet Foxes then the comparisons are only skin deep. I Love You, Honeybear is a much bolder and edgier album, and that fire comes across in the music. These tracks range from the wild and delirious to the soulful and sweet, each are effortlessly excellent in their own way. This music would sound fantastic in its own right, but it's the combination with Tillman's caustic lyrics, the juxtaposition of venomous and tender, that really takes this album to another level.
I Love You, Honeybear is the first great album of 2015.
Must Listen :
Chateau Lobby #4
I Love You, Honeybear
The Ideal Husband
Thursday, 26 February 2015
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.
2014 saw a return to form for the Donmar Warehouse, with Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus taking our Debbie for best production. Elsewhere the astonishing success of the Punchdrunk theatre company's The Drowned Man continued before finally coming to an end over the summer.
The year ahead has a number of very exciting stage events coming up. For obvious reasons, this list will be primarily focused on the London stage, but we do have a few productions elsewhere that are so noteworthy as to warrant inclusion. So here's our list of the top 5 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2015, starting with number 5:
5. "Constellations" by Nick Payne, at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre
Originally debuted three years ago at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Nick Payne's Constellations is one of the very best productions in recent years. It's incredible success now sees it moving to Broadway, the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in New York.
Constellations is effectively a play about relationships, mixed in with a little string-theory and quantum physics. Sound like too much? It's more accessible than it sounds. Constellations takes the base premise, boy-meets-girl, and from that point branches out into a seemingly infinite array of possible outcomes, alternate stories and what-if scenarios. Sometimes the change can be as simple as slightly different wording, but the changes promulgate from there, highlighting the fragility of relationships and the frightening spectre of how much can hinge on such small details.
The Broadway version stars a genuine Hollywood star in Jake Gyllenhaal, who co-stars with Ruth Wilson. This is an absolute must see production if you're in New York.
4. "Oppenheimer" by Tom Morton-Smith, at The Swan
The RSC's latest production hits The Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-avon this month. Oppenheimer, as you may have guessed, is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and how the Atomic Bomb was built, starting in 1939 and taking us right through World War II.
Director Angus Jackson and star John Heffernan have been getting a lot of buzz for this production, but the real star is playwright Tom Morton-Smith, who's script is not afraid to explore the conflicted nature of the man who brought the world it's most terrifying invention.
Light on the science and terminology, Oppenheimer is nevertheless ambitious insight into a pivotal moment of 20th Century history. So far the production has been getting rave reviews. Very recommended.
3. "City of Angels" by Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman and David Zippel, at the Donmar Warehouse
If there's one thing that always makes for compelling theatre, it's stories about stories. The musical City of Angels is not new, having initially hit the West End a good 20 years ago, but it's witty lyrics and vibrant insight into the world of Hollywood is still massively good fun. Glamorous, retro flash, red hair, lavish parties, City of Angels is a production that never fails to entertain.
Notable among the cast is Samantha Barks of Les Miserables fame, both on the stage and in Tom Hooper's film adaption. As always her voice is remarkable and stands out even among a strong cast.
This marks a strong start to the year for the Donmar. Everyone loves a musical, and we've seen few better than this in many years. Here's an opportunity to catch one that isn't just tourist-bait, a top notch production, so do your best to catch it while it's still open.
2. "Man and Superman" by George Bernard Shaw, at the National Theatre
Man and Superman sees the seminal, provocative classic of legendary thinker George Bernard Shaw reinvented for the stage in stunning fashion.
One of the few genuine rom-com epics, if such a genre exists, Man and Superman deals with political radicalism, heaven and hell, and takes you to the furthest extremes of a man's psyche.
The National Theatre's new adaptation stars the always versatile Ralph Fiennes, known for a variety of theatre and film roles, most recently in Wes Anderson's acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great actor, some of the best source material around, being done by one of the best production companies in the theatre business; this is going to be huge.
Man and Superman opens on February 25th in the Lyttleton theatre, and it will sell out, so grab a ticket while you can.
1. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, at the Barbican
In 2015 there is simply no comparison. William Shakespeare's most famous tragedy Hamlet is coming back to the stage, courtesy of the Barbican theatre.
The headline grabbing news is that former theatre stalwart, now Hollywood megastar Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the lead role. Two days ago he was in the Dolby theatre for the Oscars, now he's back in London preparing for the theatrical event of the year.
Hamlet doesn't start until the fall, but these sold out on day 1, so you'll have a devil of a time trying to grab a ticket, but if you do you will surely be the envy of the entire London theatre crowd.
So there you have it folks: The 2015 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2016!