Saturday, 19 March 2016
With the nomination process for the 2016 Presidential elections now well underway, the time has come for The Ephemeric to turn its attention to the matter at hand, beginning with a look at the Primary for the Democratic Party. So let's get this out of the way: The Ephemeric endorses Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party's nomination for President.
First, let no one deny the unexpected success of opponent Bernie Sanders. An outsider and registered Independent, who proudly describes himself by that most anathema of political terms in America, "socialist", few would have expected Bernie to mount a serious challenge. But the Senator from Vermont has defied all expectation, and in doing so has reframed what would otherwise have been a largely symbolic coronation of Clinton into a genuine debate over the progressive values of the Democratic Party.
And let's be clear, we love Bernie. There is no other politician in America so consistent in principle with the integrity to actually stand by his words. When Mitch McConnell filibusters a bill on the Senate floor he puffs up his chest, and then just goes home two minutes later, then there's Bernie who sticks to his guns and stands on that floor talking nine hours straight for the benefit of his constituents.
Sanders is a gentleman and a committed champion for progress, but most importantly he's drawn attention to one of the crucial issues of our times, the out of control increase of income inequality. The situation is bad, normal people can barely afford to live in major cities, property ownership is a pipe dream unless you were lucky enough to inherit some, and the "bare minimum" for employees is increasingly to work for longer hours for less pay and be grateful for it. The system is broken and without urgent attention will descend further into outright exploitation.
So why have we endorsed Hillary Clinton, only to spend the last three paragraphs singing the praises of her opponent? The fact is that being an advocate for a single issue doesn't negate the other factors in choosing the best person for President of the United States. Case and point, Sanders' longstanding support of gun availability and draconian proposals to tax reform.
Hillary Clinton is very much an Obama Democrat, finding herself aligned with his brand of reasonable, realistic policy backed by empirical data and expert analysis. She recognises the need for economic reform, but at the same time appreciates the inherent risk to growth that comes with regulation and uncertainty. It's a complex issue requiring nuanced action, and that's what Hillary brings to the table. Bernie Sanders is too single-minded, and too black and white in his worldview. He frames the debate in a populist mind, a conspiracy of the "wealthy elites" that can easily be scapegoated as a cause for all our problems. This isn't the real world, it's simplistic and misguided at best, manipulative and disingenuous at worst. I have no doubt that he believes his cause is just, but his puffed up language comes off as a cheap way to garner support.
Then there is the matter of experience. Between her time in the White House as First Lady, her time in Congress as the Senator for New York, and her time on the world stage as the Secretary of State, Hillary enters this campaign as probably the most experienced candidate for President in the history of the Republic, with a broad array of skills and knowledge. It's an easy transition for a woman already familiar with the latest briefings, a distinct advantage going into an election.
The fact is that experience counts. Even Obama, who has generally been a good President (a more full analysis to come closer to the end of his term) proved as much with his naïveté in trying to work across the aisle with Republicans in good faith during his first two years, only to find out the hard way that there is more than just ideology preventing the Republicans from compromising.
Add to this the general importance of this election, with progress in the nation being perennially held back by the politics of partisan obstruction, and 2 or 3 Supreme Court positions likely to be filled by the next President. A good sweep for one side in this election could shape the ideology of the country for decades.
With this being the case, it's all the more important that we select a President who represents the moderate core of the American people, not just the loudest minority of one of its wings. And that really is the crux of my biggest issue in this Primary. Bernie's campaign is targeting the extreme base to rile them up with an "us vs them" narrative, built around a fictional bogeyman, on the cynical notion that the party that wins in November will not be the one that wins independents, but the one that gets their fanatical base to turn out the most. For lack of a better comparison, his campaign is being run like a Republican campaign. He's basically trying to generate the left wing equivalent of the Tea Party, targeting the angry and irrational. It's this classic Republican strategy to smother all available information to give the public the impression that whatever you say is generally accepted consensus. If every single comment and news article you see supports a falsehood, you'll be more likely to believe it regardless of fact. In summary: fake it 'til you make it. It was wrong when Republicans did it, and it's wrong when Sanders' campaign does it.
Now again to be clear, Bernie Sanders is a good man, but his campaign staff and most vocal supporters are too often being shitty and dishonest, and you only need to venture online to Reddit or other message boards to see the fervent, ignorant propaganda storm that is being generated in his name. It should also be a red flag to all progressives to see his campaign forming a bizarre alliance with the extreme right wing media like Breitbart, Newsmax and The Washington Times to flood the internet with anti-Hillary material. Rest assured, if those Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell boosting gutter trash are the ones working for him, he's not the candidate for you.
But this decision is ultimately about Hillary. Targeting the extreme fringe of the party will only serve to drive the parties even further apart. Hillary's campaign is focused on what is real, what is true, her policy is sound and it appeals to the regular, mostly centrist American citizen. It continues eight years of successful and relatively popular policy of the current President and puts our country in the hands of an extremely capable leader going forward during challenging times. As far as this Primary is concerned, there's only one woman for the job.
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2016 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.
2015's blockbuster event was Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet, one of the most hyped productions in years, with a marketing blitz rarely seen in theatre. It didn't disappoint either, with strong reviews and a legacy that sits comfortably alongside some of the classic Hamlet productions over the years. Other news included a return to form for the recently maligned Royal Court Theatre, whose 2015 saw a much needed string of critically well received productions. Meanwhile in New York, Nick Payne's stunning Constellations made the jump across the pond from the West End, to great acclaim.
2016 looks like it's going to be even better. In fact there are so many upcoming productions exciting us here at The Ephemeric that we are expanding our Hot List to 10 entries this year, and even that required some careful consideration. So here's our list of the top 10 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2016, starting with number 10:
10. "wonder.land" by Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini, at the National Theatre
We begin with one of the wackier entries on the list, this musical based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, simply titled wonder.land.
The creation of none other than Damon Albarn, one of Britain's most celebrated pop stars, wonder.land transposes the themes of the original text into the internet age, journeying down the virtual rabbit hole.
Originally starting life at the Manchester International Festival, wonder.land now transfers to the National Theatre in London. It promises to be one of the most interesting new musicals of the year, with one of the best songwriters in the business behind it.
9. "No Man's Land" by Harold Pinter, at the Duke of York Theatre
Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart, two of the all time greats, and a veritable dream team of stage actors.
Fresh from a successful Broadway run of this adaptation of No Man's Land, the classic Harold Pinter play, a London transfer has long been mooted, and now it is fact, with the Duke of York Theatre landing the gig in the Autumn of 2016.
The two celebrated thespians have between them a wide array of notable credits and awards, and stage chemistry boosted by a real life friendship that has lasted years. This has all the makings of a classic.
8. "Groundhog Day" by Tim Minchin, at the Old Vic
2016 marks the inaugural season for The Old Vic's new artistic director Matthew Warchus, and that guy is really pulling out all the stops with a fantastic lineup.
First on our list from the Old Vic is Groundhog Day, the adaptation of the beloved classic movie starring Bill Murray. This new interpretation stars Andy Karl, and believe it or not it is a full-blown musical.
Seem like a strange idea? It is, but it has some serious talent behind it, including the screenwriter of the original movie Danny Rubin. Most excitingly though is Tim Minchin, fresh off his widely acclaimed and expectation defying Matilda musical on the London stage. If nothing else, people will be queuing around the block to see what he does next.
7. "American Psycho: The Musical" by Duncan Sheik, at TBA
Speaking of musicals that sounded like a weird idea at first but turned out to be a perfect fit for its source material: American Psycho: The Musical.
Originally starting out as a kickstarter created by Duncan Sheik, this production isn't strictly new, having debuted at the Almeida two years ago, and since moved to Broadway in New York.
A switch to the London West End has long been suggested, and the rumour is that we will see this happen at some point late in 2016. This is a perfect opportunity for anyone who missed the initial run to see what all the fuss is about.
6. "Young Chekhov" Trilogy by Anton Chekhov and David Hare, at the National Theatre
Here's some fun for those looking for a day out at the theatre, a trilogy of plays by Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest playwrights of all time, back to back.
The plays in question are Platonov, Ivanov, and The Seagull. Each can be booked individually, but for the real hardcore theatre goers there is the option to see all of them in a single day, Platonov at 11:45pm, Ivanov at 4pm, and The Seagull at 8pm. Of course, this comes with a selection of dinner and restaurant packages.
This might seem like a lot of work, but with three great plays, being run by one of the best production companies, and a nice dinner thrown in? Sounds like rollicking good fun to us. Indeed these sorts of "theatre days out" seem to be becoming quite fashionable now, as long-time readers will remember the really quite exceptional eight hour long production of Gatz just a few years ago.
5. "X" by Alistair McDowall, at The Royal Court Theatre
You don't see a lot of theatre in the genre of science fiction, for obvious reasons, but then Alistair McDowall is not a writer who has shown himself to be concerned with such practicalities in a body of work that includes Lovecraftian horror set in Manchester, and wild adventures of childhood fantasy.
His newest production for the Royal Court, X, is set in a desolate, remote research base on Pluto, dealing with themes of isolation and introspective existentialism. Beyond this not a whole lot is known, but what we've heard so far sounds tantalising.
McDowall is fast becoming one of our favourite new playwrights, this looks to be another exciting production, definitely worth checking out.
4. "Lazarus" by David Bowie, at TBA
Lazarus is one of the final works of David Bowie, the Starman musical that had long been rumoured but never delivered. The realisation of one of Bowie's last long-standing goals in his career, albeit one that at the moment can only be witnessed in the indie theatre scene of New York.
A sequel to the cult-classic Bowie film The Man Who Fell to Earth, Lazarus follows Newton (the star of said film) as he struggles with his notoriety and lonely, eternal life. More importantly, it features a soundtrack full of classic Bowie tunes, and a cast which features Michael C Hall of Dexter fame.
Following its much hyped New York run, a transfer back to Bowie's true home of London has been officially confirmed to be in the works. Details are thin on the ground at the moment, but stay tuned, it's going to be a big one when it does land.
3. "The Master Builder" by Henrik Ibsen, at the Old Vic
Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece The Master Builder, veteran playwright David Hare, and the legendary award winning film and theatre actor Ralph Fiennes, it's a winning combination.
The tent-pole of the Old Vic's lineup in 2016, The Master Builder is easily one of the most hyped productions of the year anywhere in London.
The story of Ibsen's master architect who falls in love with a young country girl has beguiled audiences for years, hailed as one of the great psychological works of theatre history.
Early buzz has been glowing, and tickets are selling out fast so book now while you can.
2. "Elegy" by Nick Payne, at the Donmar Warehouse
Here's an exciting one. The legendary Donmar is putting on a new play, Elegy, written by Nick Payne, the award winning playwright who brought us Constellations, recently a smash hit of the Royal Court, which moved on to an equally successful run in New York starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
Elegy's bold concept posits a world of incredible medical advances, mastery of the human mind, and radical life extension technologies, specifically with a view to the consequences of such advanced technology, not all of them positive. Arts fans will recognise Zoe Wanamaker, who's been in films such as Harry Potter, My Week with Marilyn, and any number of award winning performances on the stage.
It's one of the hottest shows of the year, so grab tickets while you can.
1. "The Threepenny Opera" by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, at the National Theatre
A darkly comic new translation of the classic Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera. One of the 20th Century's landmark pieces of musical theatre, delving into the nature of philosophy, capitalism, and darker side of human nature.
This new production courtesy of the National Theatre, with Rory Kinnear in the starring role, and the direction of Rufus Norris, fresh off his successful Everyman production in 2015.
There's a lot of buzz about this new interpretation. The result will surely be one of the blockbuster events of the London stage in 2016. Definitely one not to miss.
So there you have it folks: The 2016 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2017!