June 29, 2016

Ralph Fiennes Next in Line as Richard III and No One Can Take His Crown

Ralph Fiennes takes on the psychopathology of Shakespeare's most notorious villain, Richard III, photo courtesy of Miles Aldridge
             Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Almeida Theatre, under the masterful vision of Artistic Director Rupert Goold, is the hottest ticket in town at the moment. If you can get your hands on one, that is. The Almeida, with its capacity to seat 325 people, makes this reworking of Shakespeare a particular rarity in its intimate access to stars of such high caliber. It's been 16 years since Ralph Fiennes stepped foot on the Almeida's stage. He's back and better than ever to take on Shakespeare’s most notorious villain and lead antagonist, who will do whatever it takes, and kill whomever it takes, in his pursuit of the British throne. With Vanessa Redgrave making her Almeida debut playing Queen Margaret, it’s a match made in theatre royalty.

 Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             The play begins on an excavation site, where a curved spine is unearthed – a reference to the 2012 discovery of Richard III’s bones in a Leicester car park. The spine soon is reanimated and reattached to its rightful owner, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Fiennes is given a protruding “S”-shaped spine, which pokes through his clothes and even his armor. He has also adopted a limp and a disfigured, unusable, right hand. These new adjustments haven’t come without taking their toll on the actor, who confessed to Radio 4’s Front Row, “I’ve got a lot of tension in my left side. I’m monitoring it day by day, because it’s three hours where you’re putting your spine out of true…I’m not in pain, but I’m aware.”

Ralph Fiennes tries his new spine on for size, photo courtesy of Miles Aldridge
             Hildegard Bechtler’s set design illuminates the driving force of the play, the king’s crown, at the back of the stage, where it sits cloaked in a distinct sense of foreboding. From the same wall, skulls emerge one by one as physical trophies of the lives lost to Richard’s hit list. With even the tiniest of touches, the chainmail curtain clinks and sways, rising and falling to reveal silhouettes in a shadowy kingdom where no one is safe.    

             What Fiennes delivers with razor-sharp precision throughout his performance is the ability to turn on the audience at a moment’s notice. Fiennes brings charm and humor to the role, so much so that we almost forget about Richard’s murderous intent. Well, until he snaps. He has us laughing one minute and recoiling in horror the next. One of the most chilling moments occurs when he fixates his frosty gaze on the audience and his insincere smile morphs into a scowl. Holding a rosary in his hand, Richard raises a clenched fist, the cross dangling helplessly in his crushing grip.

 Richard is triumphant in gaining the crown, but the skulls symbolize at what cost, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             In his Radio 4 interview, Fiennes warned, “I don’t want the audience to escape into a relaxation of humor.” With Fiennes’ calculated portrayal of Richard, and because we can read his every micro expression and often meet his steely stare, he needn’t worry. He is terrifying enough to make me shrink in my seat when he passes by in the aisle. I’m reminded of scary films, where most people’s coping mechanism is to laugh, especially when viewing them in the public setting of a movie theatre. Why then, are their hands clammy or their faces pale?

             It is this same unease, this false sense of security, that Fiennes lulls us into when he addresses the audience, cajoling us to laugh, but then condemning us for doing so. Richard’s threats are not empty; they are in fact so bold that they are delivered to his rivals’ faces. He licks William, Lord Hastings’ (James Garnon) blood from the chopping block. His lascivious advances on Lady Anne (Joanna Vanderham) and his rape of Queen Elizabeth (Aislín McGuckin) are nothing short of uncomfortable. No, this is certainly not a man in whose company we can relax, even with humor. It’s Fiennes doing what he does best: playing a good baddie.

The cast of Richard III mostly wore modern dress, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             I spoke with Thomas Weaver, Associate Artistic Director of Gamut Theatre Group in Pennsylvania in the United States, who was visiting London for the very first time. He waited from 4pm at the Almeida Theatre to get a ticket for the 7pm showing. As someone who often puts on Shakespeare plays and has seen his fair share of them, including various productions of Richard III, I asked him what he thought about Fiennes taking on the role: “He wasn’t playing a villain; he just was a villain. There was an honesty to it. It just felt natural. He was saying, 'You may be watching me seduce this woman, but don’t forget who I am.’”

             Redgrave forces you to sit up and listen when she makes her infrequent but powerful appearances as Queen Margaret. She seems to stealthily creep up out of nowhere, issuing her curses, before she shrinks away again into the darkness. The self-proclaimed “prophetess” clutches and coos at a baby doll and wears a boiler suit, giving the impression of someone who’s not “all there.” When Richard deflates the doll’s head in his hand in an attempt to stop her truthful warnings, Queen Margaret might be the sanest person in the room.

Richard loses his temper with Queen Margaret (Vanessa Redgrave), photo courtesy of Alastair Muir
             Richard III is set in a time period of which we are not certain. It seemingly unfolds in a contemporary age, with the cast in modern dress. The sharp suits make them look like members of the mafia – stylishly nefarious. Richard’s henchmen (Daniel Cerqueira as Catesby and Mark Hadfield as Ratcliffe), with their blood red gloves, have distinctly East End London accents. Richard pops a Berocca into a glass, which effervesces into a familiar fit of orange. Phones are cleverly used as a means to communicate and distribute information, much as we would show a friend photos from last night on ours. Then, the final scene introduces armor and swords, and we are transported to a far more distant time.

When the gloves come out, you know Catesby (Daniel Cerqueira) and Ratcliffe (Mark Hadfield) are up to no good, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             As Richard dies and plunges back into the grave where he came from, the excavation team returns. There he will lie, until he is rediscovered (with the same amount of enthusiasm) time and time again by audiences the world over.

We end where we began: Richard's final resting place, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             Richard III is playing at the Almeida Theatre until August 6th, but due to high demand, you might have to get a little creative and be a little tenacious when it comes to securing a ticket. Find out what your options are here.

             The company will be taking the production to Crotia for the Kazaliste Ulysses Festival from August 11th – 13th. Almeida Theatre Live is being launched in partnership with Picturehouse Entertainment. Cinemas around the world will have the opportunity to see Richard III broadcast on July 21st. For your nearest screening and to book tickets, visit the website here.

This gives me goosebumps...

June 28, 2016

My London Collections Men: Spring/Summer 2017 Recap

My fashion week staple: This Urban Outfitters Panama hat, photo courtesy of Stuart Tingini
             London Collections Men (LCM) is a celebration of British menswear that takes place in January and June, spanning from June 10th to 13th this year. However, some designers also choose to send womenswear down the runway. I was delighted to work with WJ Londona London lifestyle website, as fashion week press for the Spring/Summer 2017 season. I provided coverage for presentations and fashion shows across three of the four days, and what an exciting and busy three days they were! As well as including links to my reviews, here’s a breakdown of my very first foray into the world of men’s fashion, reporting from the frontline (or front row in this case).

             180 The Strand, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Temple tube station, became my home base during LCM. The official British Fashion Council (BFC) Show Space was located on the ground floor and the first floor accommodated the BFC Presentation Space and the Designer Showrooms. I did venture to other venues, such as The Waldorf Hilton and the Lancaster Rooms at Somerset House, but the beauty was that they were all within walking distance of one another.

Saturday June 11th

             My first ever London Collections Men (LCM) presentation and what a one it was too. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be broken in than with QASIMI’s Spring/Summer 2017 showcase, ‘Videogame Wars,’ hosted in Somerset House’s Lancaster Rooms. The brand is the brainchild of Emirati designer Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi, or Khalid Qasimi to lessen the mouthful. He was born in Sharjah and raised in the United Kingdom, having graduated from Central Saint Martins. Launching his womenswear label in 2008, Qasimi made his foray into menswear in 2010.

             The QASIMI models stood atop a shiny silver mound, like some remnant of a spaceship that had beamed these beautiful alien beings down to us, blessed with out-of-this-world bone structure. They stared out at us mere earthlings from their metallic plinth, in our somewhat ethereal surroundings. Fans played with the fluttering white curtains at the windows, offering some respite from the muggy weather. The soundtrack of Jonjo Jury rang out into the space.

             Read my full review here

Sunday June 12th
Christopher Raeburn 

             3…2…1…we had liftoff at Christopher Raeburn’s fashion show on Sunday, held at the British Fashion Council’s official show space, 180 The Strand. The British designer sent both men and women down the catwalk, with a vision influenced by George Lucas’ first ever film from 1971 – THX 1138. The film charts a terrestrial dystopian future, but if Raeburn’s collection is anything to go by, it’s a future that doesn’t look too entirely bleak as long as we’re dressed for the voyage.
             For Raeburn’s graduate collection at London’s Royal College of Art in 2006, he used upcycled fabrics at a time when the concept was still emerging. The method requires repurposing old products into something entirely new that often surpasses its old counterpart. This sustainable aesthetic has continued to drive Raeburn’s designs ever since he launched his brand in 2008.
             Read my full review here

Chester Barrie

             The Prosecco was flowing, finger sandwiches and mini scones (delicious by the way) were making their rounds, and everybody looked like somebody. There was merriment and entertainment to be had in the form of a live band with jazz singer Collette Cooper, who shimmied in sequins. It sounds like the kind of party Jay Gatsby would throw, and in some ways it was Chester Barrie’s LCM presentation on Sunday, ‘Summer in the City,’ at The Waldorf Hilton was an opulent affair. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character was probably raising a toast in jubilation from beneath the pages of his book.
             Then, of course we can’t forget the clothes, oh the clothes, tailored with divine precision. What else would you expect from a brand with 19 Savile Row as its address? Simon Ackerman founded Chester Barrie in London in 1935. He left England for the United States, but returned to create an English look to take across the pond, and the rest is history. The ultimate in classy dressing, Chester Barrie has been worn by the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra.

             Read my full review here

Monday June 13th
Katie Eary 

             Upon entering
180 The Strand on Monday for the unveiling of Katie Eary's Spring/Summer 2017 collection, my attention was already captured hook, line, and sinker. Fluorescent orange (I’m sensing a burgeoning colour trend from LCM) nets and buoys stretched across the length of the catwalk, intertwined with lobster traps. The setup was indicative of the spectacle to come, just as indicative as the excess of fish emojis Eary used on her Instagram prior to the show, and the barracuda-ridden invitation. That’s right, this season was all about the dark, murky depths of a starry sea, and I do mean dark.
             ‘Begbacuda,’ a mash up of Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie’s name (you know, the psycho one from Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting) and the vicious-looking barracuda, summed up Eary’s inspiration. Welsh’s new book for 2016, The Blade Artist, revisits Begbie who, although not for lack of trying, can’t seem to put his violent past behind him. Although the combination might sound kind of ridiculous, it actually really worked. Eary reveals, ‘All the subjects I’m inspired by are a reminder of reality, even if they originate in classic fiction as the kind of inspirational characters we normally dare not admit relating to.’

             Read my full review here

Tourne de Transmission 

             Tourne de Transmission cryptically urged, ‘CHOOSE YOUR ESCAPE ROUTE ->>>,’ at the first floor presentation space at 180 The Strand on Monday. I was led into a bare, dimly-lit room, all but for a wall lined with black and white photographs. Some of the faces were instantly discernible, such as McFly band member and LCM regular Dougie Poynter, while others were not. The palpable tension began to build and I fervently looked for an escape route, in case I might actually need one.

             Tourne de Transmission translates directly to ‘rotating transmission’ and stems from the desire to marry visuals with the written word. For the SS17 collection, Creative Director Graeme Gaughan liaised with New York City-based contemporary artist Chris Dorland. Although they did not collaborate on this project, an idea manifested, as is often the way after two creatives interact. The result? Sliced and diced billboard imagery from the 90s-00s, a bombardment of visuals, and then the comedown.

             Read my full review here


            My last show of the season was rounded off with a very exciting one indeed, and I managed to watch it all unfold from the front row! Founded by South Korean designer Zio Song in 1993, 
SONGZIO is a contemporary menswear brand that made its LCM debut on Monday. While this is impressive enough in itself, it was also the first time in 10 years that Song has displayed his work outside of Paris Men’s Fashion Week. The brand is based in Paris, where Song graduated from the acclaimed ESMOD, and Seoul. Proving that SONGZIO is one to watch, this season’s collection, ‘Ocean,’ started just like all of Song’s previous ones – by taking paintbrush to canvas.
             The designer first conceptualises his ideas by using oil paints to create soft brushstrokes. These are then transmuted into printed textiles to produce ‘wearable art.’ There is no denying that fashion is an art form, and indeed, that art can be fashionable. The prints on the catwalk at 180 The Strand were paired with sharply tailored cotton, linen, and vinyl silhouettes.

             Read my full review here

Behind the Scenes
Getting street style snapped, photo courtesy of Getty Images/Kirstin Sinclair
             Various branches of Garfunkel’s restaurant became my second home during LCM. There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of time spent eating (and writing) there in between shows. I also can’t forget all of the tea breaks – a necessity! Since the shows that I attended were relatively spaced out across the day, it didn’t make sense to go home, and the down time allowed me to jot down my thoughts about each show.
Starting LCM off right with a bacon and pancakes breakfast at Garfunkel's
             My first experience of LCM ran all the smoother because I had a friend along for the ride with me! Sunna Naseer also works as fashion week press for WJ London and is a full-time blogger. Find her at Inspired in the City, a lovely space for all things lifestyle and fashion. She gave me lots of helpful tips and tricks, including the advice to take photos during the fashion shows rather than spend time writing notes, as it’s a lot easier to write a piece when you can look back on the visuals. She was right! The phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” could not be truer when it comes to the sartorially inclined. Besides, time spent writing is time spent not actually watching the show.
 With my friend and fellow blogger, Sunna, photo courtesy of Amie Caswell
Prosecco made a great accessory at the Chester Barrie presentation, photo courtesy of Amie Caswell

             Overall, I would say LCM reflected the continuation of the casual movement that has been so on-trend recently. Athleisure, sports luxe, or however you want to label it, looks as though it’s here to stay, and it’s no wonder why. I’m usually a heel devotee, much to the protestation of my poor feet, so I have embraced this new trend enthusiastically, sacrificing the old adage that “one must suffer to be beautiful.” Who says that you can’t have something that’s pretty and practical (without the pain)? I lived in my new Kurt Geiger flatform trainers during LCM. I’m obsessed with them, because they give me height, but they are equally incredibly comfortable – the best of both worlds! They certainly helped when it came to all of the running around that goes with fashion week territory.

All hail the flatform!, photo courtesy of Getty Images/Kirstin Sinclair 
             My highlight of LCM was meeting some of its model (literally) veterans...
Model David Gandy

McFly band member Dougie Poynter

  Model Johannes Huebl (Olivia Palermo's husband)

Made in Chelsea star and founder of clothing brand Serge DeNimes, Oliver Proudlock
             Other notable names in attendance included: television and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary, JLS band member Oritsé Williams, models Toby Huntington-Whiteley, Oliver Cheshire, Diego Barrueco, Hu Bing, and Ombra, television presenter Darren Kennedy, YouTuber Jim Chapman, blogger Joey London, actress Naomie Harris, British GQ’s Editor-in-Chief Dylan Jones, and Associate Style Editor Nick Carvell.

             It’s hard to imagine people like David Gandy existing outside of Marks & Spencer billboards and advertisements, but there he was in the flesh, and he was really friendly and obliging to have his photograph taken with me. In fact, they all were. After the Katie Eary show, which was super slick, I chatted with Proudlock about it. He complimented my outfit – high praise indeed from such a stylish man – and I believe “badass” was the actual word he used. It doesn’t get more surreal than that! 

             This post’s aim was to recap my personal experience of LCM, to give you a feel for the event as a whole. I’ll catch you all next season, where I'll truly be re-“capping” 
 hitting the shows in my trusty black Panama hat once again.