james debate
james debate

Friday, 14 February 2020

That most magical period of the four year cycle is upon us, the start of President election season in earnest. The Democratic Primary is well underway, and as we move ever closer to deciding who will face off against Donald Trump in November the time has come for this blog to make a decision. The Ephemeric endorses Pete Buttigieg for President.

2020 election democratic primaries endorse mayor pete buttigieg trump democrat republican iowa nevada new hampshire election

If you had told me a year ago that I would be endorsing a little known 37 year old former mayor of small town Indiana for the Presidency I would not have believed you. But such has been the astonishing rise of Mayor Pete over the past 12 months that not only does he have a plausible path to the White House, he might even be one of the current frontrunners.

During this time I have flirted with the idea of throwing my support behind a few candidates, Senators, Congressmen, Vice Presidents, and I will admit to being highly sceptical when I first heard that this political unknown was throwing his hat into an already overcrowded ring. But I distinctly remember the first time I saw him speak, and was taken aback by his eloquence, his wit and poise. I remember thinking at the time that it was a shame this man would never gain any traction in the primary (or indeed in dark red Indiana for the foreseeable future), because it was clear that this guy had the makings of a future political superstar.

What stands out most about Pete is the way in which, when you ask him a question, he directly answers it rather than dancing around the topic with some carefully crafted political spin. This is an impression that has been voiced by some of the industry's most renowned interviewers and pundits. When Pete speaks to you, he really speaks to you and not at you. He comes off as a genuine, passionate, and above all ordinary guy, who just so happens to be pretty darn bright.

That he answers questions so frankly and directly is all the more notable considering how many ostensible liabilities Pete has as a candidate. His youth, his relatively low level of political experience, his homosexuality... these are all things that call into question his electability for President, and yet they are things that he is happy to address head on, and does so in a way that is surprisingly convincing and sensible.

As a mayor of a town, he actually does have more executive experience than most of the candidates running (many of whom hail from Congress). As a former army Lieutenant, he has more military experience than everyone else running for President combined. He is a Harvard educated Rhodes Scholar who speaks eight languages fluently. He may be young, but he would be the first to point out that the two most successful Presidents of his lifetime (Clinton and Obama) were also considered young for the office. As for his homosexuality: in a race full of multiple divorcees and fifty-somethings who struggle with commitment, Pete's stable and happy relationship with primary school teacher husband Chasten and two dogs Buddy and Truman by contrast paints an idyllic picture of a wholesome and well-adjusted American family. Anyone who has a problem with that in this day and age really needs to reconsider their priorities in life.

Yes, much has been made of Pete's intellect and charisma. He rarely seems perturbed even under pressure, and responds to difficult questions with a convincing and reassuring calm and directness. I have long been of the opinion that the single most important criteria for selecting a leader is intelligence, and this unflappable quality he possesses undoubtedly makes him a great fit for the demands of the office, not to mention a formidable challenger to take on Trump in a debate. But of course, these personal qualities are not the only reason to make someone President. Pete also has  strength in his policy platform.

A lot has (strangely) been made about how Pete is one of the "moderates" in the race, but the reality is that his platform would represent the most progressive of a Democratic Presidential nominee in decades. His proposals include a $15 minimum wage, quadrupling the earned income tax credit, universal childcare and Pre-K up to age 5, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are willing to work for their status.

Pete promises enfranchisement for the millions living in Washington DC and Puerto Rico who are American citizens and yet, astonishingly, do not have the right to vote in supposedly the world's greatest democracy. He has proposed bold political reforms to gerrymandering and the electoral college, which have been disgracefully abused in recent years to allow consistent minority rule over the majority. His proposal to curb the increasing partisanship of the Supreme Court (by making half the court non-political appointments) is easily the most workable proposal anyone has put forward.

The most important (and yet strangely under-addressed) issue in this election is always going to be the climate. To this end, Pete's proposal contrasts those of his primary competitors by focusing on pragmatism and efficacy, rather than simply throwing the largest dollar amount at the problem.

But the centrepiece of Pete's platform is Medicare for all who want it, a commonsense solution to American healthcare that builds on the near-universal coverage achieved by Obama's Affordable Care Act by offering what essentially amounts to the public option originally proposed for that reform package before being gutted by Republicans. It is hard to see any downsides to this approach; provide a minimum level of care for all Americans, while allowing those who want to pay extra for the quicker or more comfortable private plan to do so. It just makes good sense.

Simply put, Pete's platform is an array of sensible, well thought out policy proposals backed by evidence. It contrasts the proposals of just about any other candidate in that there is barely a whiff of an agenda or partisan red meat, just good ideas intended to solve real problems.

But above all the President is the face of this nation, and his message of positivity and inclusion is what this country needs right now more than anything. Pete's brand of oratory and optimistic tone have earned comparisons to Barack Obama, as has his preference to remain above some of the uglier infighting we have seen on the primary trail to-date from the likes of Bernie/Warren, Biden/Castro, etc.

We are going to need someone who can inspire the nation to come together and rebuild. Pete recognises that people won't turn out to the polls just because of Trump's issues, but because they see someone else running that they believe represents their interests and will make the country better. The next decade is going to require a gargantuan effort to restore America's reputation and place in the world, and in my view there is no one better suited to that task than Pete Buttigieg.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

oscars 86th academy awards 2014

Welcome back to The Ephemeric. Today we will take a break from our annual Hot List in order to bring you some last minute Oscar predictions (don't blame me, not my fault the Oscars are two weeks earlier this year)!

I'm busy, you're busy, I won't waste your time. Please find below predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through Hollywood; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.

Best Picture


  • Ford v Ferrari 
  • The Irishman 
  • Jojo Rabbit 
  • Joker 
  • Little Women 
  • Marriage Story 
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 
  • Parasite 
And the winner: 1917
Who should really win: 1917

Best Director

  • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
  • Todd Phillips – Joker
  • Sam Mendes – 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
And the winner: Sam Mendes – 1917
Who should really win: Sam Mendes – 1917

Best Actor

  • Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory as Salvador Mallo
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Rick Dalton
  • Adam Driver – Marriage Story as Charlie Barber
  • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker
  • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
And the winner: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker
Who should really win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker

Best Actress

  • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet as Harriet Tubman
  • Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story as Nicole Barber
  • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women as Josephine "Jo" March
  • Charlize Theron – Bombshell as Megyn Kelly
  • Renée Zellweger – Judy as Judy Garland
And the winner: Renée Zellweger – Judy as Judy Garland
Who should really win: Charlize Theron – Bombshell as Megyn Kelly

Best Supporting Actor

  • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as Fred Rogers
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes as Pope Benedict XVI
  • Al Pacino – The Irishman as Jimmy Hoffa
  • Joe Pesci – The Irishman as Russell Bufalino
  • Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Cliff Booth
And the winnerBrad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Cliff Booth
Who should really win: Joe Pesci – The Irishman as Russell Bufalino

Best Supporting Actress

  • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell as Barbara "Bobi" Jewell
  • Laura Dern – Marriage Story as Nora Fanshaw
  • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit as Rosie Betzler
  • Florence Pugh – Little Women as Amy March
  • Margot Robbie – Bombshell as Kayla Pospisil
And the winnerLaura Dern – Marriage Story as Nora Fanshaw
Who should really win: Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit as Rosie Betzler

Best Original Screenplay

  • Knives Out – Rian Johnson
  • Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach
  • 1917 – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
  • Parasite – Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
And the winnerParasite – Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
Who should really win: 1917 – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Irishman – Steven Zaillian based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
  • Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
  • Joker – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver based on characters created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson
  • Little Women – Greta Gerwig based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Two Popes – Anthony McCarten based on his play The Pope
And the winner: Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
Who should really win: Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! Coming up next week, I stop procrastinating and finish the Hot List!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2020 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.

best anticipated new theatre theatrical production 2020 hot list
The London stage in 2019 inevitably seemed a reflection of the times in which we live, a funny old mix of nostalgia and ennui at the plight of the working man. No play better embodied the mood than the Donmar's award winning Sweat, although Roger Allam receives great credit for gamely bringing the excellent Rutherford and Sons to the National. London remains the world capital of theatre, and 2020 promises another dazzling array of productions featuring some of the biggest names of the stage and beyond.

Here's our list of the top 15 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2020, starting with number 15:

15. "Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer" by Tom Morton-Smith, at the Hampstead Theatre

london best theatre 2020 hampstead ravens spassky fischer chess cold war Let's start things off with the Hampstead Theatre's telling of a cold war classic. Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer is a retelling of the events surrounding the 1972 chess match between then world champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer.

Seen globally as a form of proxy war between the two cold war powers, Ravens delves more into the personalities behind the propaganda: two ambitious and hungry men more concerned with personal excellence than politics.

Robert Emms is electric as Fischer in this Annabelle Comyn production. A timely story at a time when everything seems to get filtered through the lens of politics. Ravens is running now.

14. "Albion" by Mike Bartlett, at the Almeida

london best theatre 2020 albion bartlett almeida brexit victoria hamilton Mike Bartlett's piercing Brexit parable, Albion was one of our Debbie runners up back during its original run in 2017. Now returning to the Almeida to commemorate the UK's departure from the EU, and it seems more relevant than ever.

This new production brings back Victoria Hamilton after her previous award winning turn in the role, while Rupert Goold will direct once again.

Albion will run throughout February. If you did not have the opportunity to see this excellent piece of theatre the first time around, this is your chance.

13. "The Seven Streams of the River Ota" by Robert Lepage, at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2020 seven streams river ota national The Ex Machina theatre company is bringing their production of The Seven Streams of the River Ota on a world tour, including a limited run this year at The National Theatre.

Robert Lepage's grand opus, originally staged in 1996, traces the story of survivors of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima across five decades, exploring the way one event can change human history.

Ex Machina's tour is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the bombing. It doesn't make for easy watching, but it is an indelible theatre experience. This limited run begins in March.

12. "Life of Pi" by Lolita Chakrabarti and Yann Martel, at Wyndham's Theatre

london best theatre 2020 life of pi wyndham A new adaptation of Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi, which was famously made into the award winning film. It's an ambitious production from director Max Webster that will tell the story of the marooned Pi and his animal companions through elaborate puppetry and special effects that have earned comparisons to War Horse and His Dark Materials.

After this adaptation of Lolita Chakrabarti premiered in Sheffield theatres last summer to rave reviews, it was only a matter of time before it made a switch to the West End.

The Wyndham's new production promises to be quite the visual spectacle. This will run over the summer, starting in June.

11. "Force Majeure" by Tim Price, at the Donmar

london best theatre 2020 force majeure tim price donmar The highlight of new Donmar artistic director Michael Longhurst's upcoming season, Force Majeure is the state adaptation of the acclaimed 2014 film of the same name.

A black comedy set in the alps, Force Majeure follows a family whose carefully constructed world is fractured by the shock of a near-miss, and the tragically hilarious consequences that ensue.

Longhurst will direct this production, which is set to hit the stage in the second half of the year, with the first tickets on sale for August.

10. "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett, at the Old Vic

london best theatre 2020 endgame samuel beckett old vic avengers marvel Who doesn't like a bit of Samuel Beckett? The Old Vic is bringing his existentialist classic Endgame to the stage this spring, and have an all-star cast along for the ride.

Daniel Radcliffe needs no introduction, the former Harry Potter star who, for all his early stardom, has reinvented himself as a stage actor of some notoriety. He is joined by the always excellent Alan Cumming, best known for his recent turn in the Good Wife but will be known to others for his long career in cinema and stage.

The cast is sure to generate hype, but expectations are high for Richard Jones' production which runs throughout the spring.

9. "Manor" by Moira Buffini, at the National Theatre

london 2020 best theatre manor moira buffini national Moira Buffini is a writer developing some reputation with the National Theatre following Greenland and Wonder.land. Her latest is Manor, a story of disparate folks banding together to survive a violent storm in an old manor house. It's a dark comedy with clear nods to the current climate crisis.

Nancy Carroll and Ben Daniels star, two actors with extensive stage pedigree and a number of recognisable TV and film credits to their name. Moira's sister Fiona Buffini will direct, their first collaboration since Dinner.

Manor begins on the Lyttleton stage in April and will run until the summer.

8. "The Haystack" by Al Blyth, at the Hampstead Theatre

best theatre london 2020 haystack hampstead blyth A duo of debuts, as Al Blyth's first full length play and the directing debut of Roxana Silbert as the Hampstead Theatre's artistic director.

The Haystack is billed as an spy thriller for the modern day. Oliver Johnstone and Enyi Okoronkwo star as two twenty-somethings with a taste for Netflix and videogames, who also happen to be computer whizzes at GCHQ. The story that follows is sure to get political and challenge the notion of "nothing to hide nothing to fear" that has been practiced by the nation's espionage apparatus in recent years.

The Haystack runs January through March.

7. "Uncle Vanya" by Conor McPherson and Anton Chekhov, at the Harold Pinter Theatre

london best theatre 2020 uncle vanya harold pinter anton chekhov Another year, another exciting Chekhov adaptation at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Uncle Vanya has all the great Chekhov tropes: faded glory, a big country house, and the death throes of old wealth against the tides of a changing world.

Olivier Award winning writer Conor McPherson collaborates with Ian Rickson, a director with some track record in Chekhov following his successful production of The Seagull. The highlight of the cast is the great Toby Jones, though he is joined by an able cast of Ciaran Hinds, Aimee Lou Wood, and Richard Armitrage.

Uncle Vanya will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre until May.

6. Untitled Punchdrunk Theatre Production

london 2020 best theatre punchdrunk drowned man sleep no more Immersive theatre is increasingly becoming a modern industry staple, but arguably no one has quite managed to match the high standards in the genre set by the trailblazing Punchdrunk production company, best known for their acclaimed London production of The Drowned Man, as well as the ongoing Sleep No More in New York.

As the company moves into their new production home in Woolwich, there are whispers of a major new London production in the making, expected to debut some time in 2020.

At the time of writing, this production is still shrouded in mystery. Punchdrunk have a record of drawing from a wide array of classics, from Shakespeare to Buchner and Aeschylus. Whatever form it takes, this is one to keep an eye on.

5. "The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage" by Bryony Lavery and Philip Pullman, at the Bridge Theatre

london 2020 best theatre dark materials book of dust belle sauvage golden compass philip pullman bridge theatre Director Nicholas Hytner accomplished something remarkable back in the rosy tinted days of 2003 in successfully adapting the infamously tricky Philip Pullman series His Dark Materials to the stage.

Twenty years later and we have a new novel in the series, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, and Hytner is duly returning to the world of Lyra and Pan to provide an adaptation that features the same top production values and state of the art stage wizardry that made the original such a roaring success. A cast has not yet been announced, but if it is anything like the star-studded lineup of the original (Ben Whishaw, Patricia Hodge, Timothy Dalton and Dominic Cooper starred) it could be quite the curtain call.

Unlike its predecessor, La Belle Sauvage will run at the Bridge Theatre, where Hytner is now artistic director. The His Dark Materials production still shines brightly in the memory, commonly held by many as one of the National's very best productions. This is definitely one to watch.

4. "The House of Shades" by Beth Steel, at the Almeida

best theatre 2020 london house of shades almeida beth steel The House of Shades promises a working class epic, told over five generations of a family struggling through the industrial landscape of 20th Century Britain.

This world premiere at the Almeida comes courtesy of Hampstead Theatre regular Beth Steel, best known for her productions of Wonderland and Labyrinth on that stage. Here, she collaborates with director Blanche McIntyre, a familiar face for patrons of the Almeida following her star studded production of The Writer.

The House of Shades will run over the summer, with previews commencing in May this year.

3. "Leopoldstadt" by Tom Stoppard, at Wyndham's Theatre

london best theatre 2020 wyndham leopoldstadt tom stoppardArguably the hottest ticket of the year so far. Leopoldstadt is the new production of Tom Stoppard, whose name alone has propelled sales (and indeed prices) for the Wyndham's new play into the stratosphere.

Set in the Jewish quarter of Vienna in 1900, this promises to be one of the most personal pieces of work yet from the legendary playwright, much of whose family died at the hands of the Nazis during world war 2. Stoppard collaborates with producer Sonia Friedman, who is responsible for some of the West End's biggest hits of recent years, including Harry Potter and The Ferryman.

Leopoldstadt could be a tricky one to get tickets for, but if you can, you will want to see this.

2. "The Visit" by Tony Kushner and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, at the National Theatre

the visit national kushner durrenmatt friedrich london best theatre 2020 Tony Kushner brings this latest adaptation of the Dürrenmatt play to the National Theatre, directed by Jeremy Herrin, who frequent visitors of the National will remember from the excellent This House, and starring two genuine stars in Lesley Manville and Hugo Weaving.

Kushner adapts the original tale of revenge to a 20th Century setting, post-war in the town of Slurry, New York.

The Visit is set to be the National's first big tentpole of the year, running over the spring on the Olivier stage.

1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Aaron Sorkin and Harper Lee, at the Gielgud Theatre

london best theatre 2020 to kill a mockingbird harper lee aaron sorkin rhys ifans gielgudBut our number 1 play to see in 2020 is the Gielgud's superstar production of the classic Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is a production of the adaptation by legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, previously a mega-hit on Broadway that has earned rave reviews from the critics. The London production will star the great Rhys Ifans, best known to casual audiences for Notting Hill and Pirate Radio.

It is sad that in 2020, the 60th anniversary of the novel's original publication, its themes of racial injustice remain so pertinent, hopefully this production can serve as a timely reminder, and stir some fresh impetus into solving some of the problems that we still face as a society.

So there you have it folks: 2020 in theatre. Tune in soon for our next instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new music coming up in 2020!

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