Sunday, 18 May 2014

It’s a Marvellous Night for a Moondance

It really was a marvellous night for a moondance, I thought, as I left St. Stephen’s church in Vauxhall on Tuesday evening, smiling from ear to ear, having just participated in the ‘5 Rhythms Full Moon Dance’ with my cousin. Van Morrison’s lyrics may have popped into my head at that moment but I very much doubt he was inspired in quite the same way I was!

It all started a few weeks ago when I received a text from my cousin, trying to organise a date in the diary to meet up. It said: ‘Do you want to have an early dinner on Tues 13th and go to a full moon dance with me in Vauxhall?!! X’

I was a bit taken aback. All I could picture was one of those infamous full moon dance parties they have on beaches in Thailand, with thousands of youngsters e-ing off their heads, covered in body paint and raving til dawn. Being slightly more responsible these days, my main concern was that it was on a Tuesday rather than the idea itself, so my response was: ‘A full moon dance? Do you mean a rave... God, not sure I can handle that on a Tuesday night! X’
My cousin responded with: ‘Hahaha, no it is an all women’s sober affair, v chilled and fun, you can look it up at It may or may not be your thing! xxx’

My interest peaked, I looked at the website (which I’m sure you will duly do too) and thought... well why on earth not? It sounded like my perfect level of weird. A bit hippy, a bit trippy, in a church, with music, on a full moon. What’s not to love? But what I was more excited about, was the dancing.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has put on some music and danced in their sitting room, bedroom or kitchen, with carefree abandon, knowing that no one is watching. You don’t have to look cool, you don’t have to dance well, you can basically do whatever you want and not worry about looking like a fool in the process. In fact, one of my primary sources of spontaneous exercise each morning, after doing my sun salutations, is dancing to a random song on the radio. I call it ‘Dance Roulette’. You simply select an arbitrary station and dance to whatever comes on next. It may be a classical number, in which case you would find me channeling my inner Darcey Bussell, pirouetting around my flat and pretending to jeté into the arms of Carlos Acosta; or it may be a rock song, the Foo Fighters for instance, and in that scenario, I would be jumping, head banging and air guitar-ing my way through the 3-minute song. I highly recommend it for a challenging, hilarious and somewhat exhausting start to the day. So being invited to do something similar but with dozens of other women, and a DJ, in a church, therefore, was something I just couldn’t turn down.

I met my cousin at the Church at 7:15pm on Tuesday evening, having walked from Elephant and Castle roundabout. I would usually have taken a bus but it was a lovely evening and I had a bit of time to kill, so I casually strolled up Kennington Lane. At one point I crossed the road, having waited patiently for the little man on the traffic lights to turn green, and walked purposely across. I hadn’t quite reached the other side when a car honked its horn, loudly, not only causing me to jump but to be, instantly, annoyed. There is only a short amount of time allowed for road crossing in London but I was well within it. Behind me, however, was a little old lady taking far more time to cross. I thought, ‘My God, how bloody rude is this person, beeping at the poor old lady, trying to get her to speed up. RUDE!!’ So I looked in the cars’ direction and gave it my best Juliet death stare. The car then honked again, with far more purpose and for much longer. I scowled, furiously, and was just about to shout something obscene, when the driver shouted, ‘Juuuuuules!’ and waved frantically out of the window. It was my cousin. Not the cousin that I was going to be dancing with, but another cousin on his way back from work. How bizarre. He pulled his car over, laughed whilst telling me how terrifying I was, gossiped for a nanosecond, and then I was on my way again.

There were about 30 women, milling around, as I entered the church… all ages, all shapes, all colours. The main nave had been cleared of chairs, exposing the vast carpeted floor. A dozen twinkling lamps illuminated the space, casting both long shadows and glinting reflections off the stained glass windows and the high vaulted ceiling. Some women were lying on the ground stretching or meditating, others were sitting on pews in the aisles, getting changed, or chatting in low voices. I spotted my cousin and we had a quick chat before I changed my clothes into suitably stretchy vestments and the music started. 5 rhythms is just that… the DJ takes you on a journey through 5 stages, starting with low and laconic instrumentals, then building to drum laden crescendos and soaring vocals. It booms out of the speakers, placed strategically around the church, with the bass turned up, just high enough, so that your body feels the beat. It did take me several minutes to lose my inhibitions though. Even though I knew no one was watching me, it’s still an odd sensation being in a room full of women, and not having any direction, not being told what to do. You just have to do whatever your body tells you. Mine, told me to lie on the floor and roll around a bit. Other women swayed with their eyes shut. But, as the music built so did the dancing. As the pace increased, I began trotting, yes trotting, and skipping a bit too, moving around the space, weaving between the bodies. I then glided gracefully (I like to think) along the cool, stone floor in the dark uncarpeted aisles, then shimmied down to the front of the church, wiggling my hips by the altar as I stared up at the beautiful architecture, mesmerised by a sculpture of Jesus on the cross and the intricate paintings behind him. I don't know quite how I would describe the experience. I was moved by the music and the beauty of the church. I was also completely overjoyed, watching a roomful of women dance so freely, and finding myself doing the same. I did dance moves I would never usually do in public… tribal stomping during a particularly rigorous bongo section; wild banshee head shaking to accompany a trancy/techno number (which I suffered for, the next day, with a rather stiff neck). It is definitely a release… you actually feel like a child at times, running, jumping and screaming around a sacred place, knowing you won’t be told off.

Of course, I did take sneaky peeks at my fellow dancers, who wouldn't? I couldn’t keep my eyes off one rather large lady in her mid 30's, who must have been a dancer when she was younger. She seemed to be reliving her balletic past, leaping (surprisingly lightly) across the floor with a huge grin plastered across her face, doing chassés and arabesques and plies. Later on I searched her out and saw her crawling on all fours, like a panther, growling and snarling at people's ankles. She made me so happy because she simply didn't give a crap. Other women howled whist shaking their bodies, and some merely shifted from foot to foot with their eyes closed and chin raised. 

I know it sounds a bit odd and I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but it was one of the best nights I've had in ages. I felt strong and happy and free, and I tell you what, dancing for over two hours like a crazy banshee, is fabulous exercise too. If you don't feel like dancing with a room full of strangers, completely sober, then definitely give my ‘Dance Roulette’ a go instead. It will make you smile, if nothing else (unless of course you get Justin Bieber and then you might want to head to St. Stephens to pray that that never happens again!)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Let the Right One In

What I Saw.

Take a successful Swedish horror film about the friendship between a 12-year-old boy and a vampire girl, re-write it in English, change the setting to a Glasgow housing estate and put it on the London stage. Design the set so it resembles a snow covered forest, buy bucket loads of fake blood, throw in a few knifes and you certainly have all the ingredients for a theatrical hit.

I absolutely loved the original film. It was dark and unsettling, yes, but it was also tender and quite beautiful. Two years later, it was re-made in English - because people still have problems reading subtitles, it seems - and the characters were suddenly transported to a small town in New Mexico. I have no problem with films being remade, as long as they do something a bit clever with it, justifying the update. If all they do is change the location and translate the language, it's not original or clever. But I was very intrigued when I heard about the stage adaption. There were things that were just impossible to do on stage (I thought) - swimming pool scenes, horrific bloody murders, and a particularly gruesome bit where a character is attacked by a house full of cats - so the director and playwright were going to have to change the story to make it work, surely. My friend Lisa and I were laughing about the cat thing before the play even began… what were they going to do? Have live, bloodthirsty cats on stage, maybe stuffed cats, the mind boggled. It was also the only play I have ever seen advertised, that had an age restriction on it! Blimey. 

The play began with something soothing, to guide us in gently... a man being brutally attacked and rendered unconscious. Lovely. He was then strung upside down from a tree, had his throat slit and was left to bleed out. Oh my God. The poor actor, was the first thing that sprung to my mind, all that blood going right up his nose! At that point, the audience knew they were in for a gore fest. Bullying, friendship, love and retribution pretty much sum up the plot but what was happening on stage was definitely not for the lighthearted. A couple behind us gasped and muttered disapprovingly whenever someone was killed and more blood was sprayed and splashed about the stage. I have to admit, it was quite unsettling, watching the young vampire girl (and actress) kill her first victim… biting into his neck, lifting her pale face, dark crimson blood oozing from her mouth. 

And there were some really scary, 'jump out of your skin' moments too. I won't spoil it for you, but one particular occasion had the whole audience shriek, recoil and, literally, leave their seats!!

I also have to confess to a giggling fit, well, both Lisa and I got the giggles, which I don't condone in theatres at all (unless it's a comedy, obvs). Not only is it inappropriate and disrespectful to the audience around you and to the actors on stage, but it's damned difficult to control or stop. Hilarious though. It's like actors corpsing on stage… you have no idea what's going to trigger it, but when it comes, it comes instantaneously and without warning. During the interval, I had said to Lisa that for all the thousands of years the vampire girl had lived, why then, could she not speak english properly? A valid point, I thought, because the actress portraying her, had this very peculiar way of talking, forcing out her breath at the end of each faltering and stammering sentence. It was rather annoying. Unfortunately, the second act began with the vampire girl visiting a friend in hospital. She came up to the hospital bed and forced out a weird sounding, 'He-ll-oo'. It sounded like Lionel Ritchie was singing the word from his song Hello, but with an extreme case of constipation. I immediately did the worst thing possible and looked sidewise at Lisa, letting out a small squeak. And that was it. She went completely... I could actually feel her body shaking with laughter. Then off course, because you know it's so taboo, it's even more contagious. I had to turn away from her and the stage, and cover my face with my scarf, it was genuinely painful. Every time I took a breath and calmed down, I would think of the strangled 'Hello' again, and I would go again. Thank goodness the couple behind us had left in the interval (too much blood, I assume) and there was no one to my left, so we didn't disrupt things too much.

This play won't be to everyone's taste but I thoroughly enjoyed it... There were a few slow points and many many bloody moments, but the acting was superb throughout, especially the incredibly talented 18-year-old Martin Quinn, who plays the lead character Oscar. He is definitely one to keep and eye on… sweet, charmingly natural and delightful to watch.

There were no cats (boo, and aptly, a hiss) but there was a swimming pool scene (very impressive it was too, for the pure fact of how long the actor could hold his breath underwater), a dense forest, snow and blood. Just a typical Tuesday night!