‘The Convert’ review – Letitia Wright is sensational in this haunting and emotive production

The Black Panther star leads a phenomenal cast in a powerful retelling of Danai Gurira’s play on faith and identity –

An epic three-act production takes place on a small stage in the Young Vic theatre. Wright plays Jekesai, a young Zimbabwean girl who ends up working for a Catholic priest  named Chilford (Paapa Essiedu) in a bid to avoid a forced marriage. What follows is an attempt by Chilford to convert Jekesai – now named ‘Ester’ – to the Roman Catholic faith, in a shocking and raw exploration of heritage and culture.

Wright stars as Jekesai, later renamed as ‘Ester’ by Chilford during his attempts to convert her to Catholicism. Photo: © Marc Brenner.

As two cultures collide, Gurira’s script tackles various identities, issues and beliefs with razor-sharp scrutiny. Powerful performers are given equally bold story arcs to play with. Essiedu is striking as the priest trying desperately to follow his faith, Humans’ Ivanno Jeremiah is chilling and sinister as the racist Chancellor, and Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo radiates confidence as the Chancellor’s wife, Prudence.

Pamela Nomvete, Jude Akuwudike and Rudolphe Mdlongwa complete the incredible cast – as Jesekai’s aunt Mai Tamba, Uncle and cousin Tamba respectively.

The play pans out effortlessly across three acts – with several twists and turns inside a fast-paced narrative arc – but it’s in the third and final act where Ola Ince’s masterful and erudite direction comes to light. Here, the choreography brilliantly accentuates the script, establishing imaginative visual metaphors which tap into the underlying theme of religion at the heart of the play. It’s made all the more engaging by a lot of the action taking place off-stage, providing the necessary fourth-wall break to immerse viewers in this tense and unsettling production.

This review is of a preview performance. The Convert is now showing at the Young Vic Theatre until 29 January 2019.

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‘Macbeth’ review – ‘24’ meets Shakespeare in Polly Tindlay’s tense psychological thriller

Christopher Eccleston makes his Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) debut alongside Niamh Cusack in this fast-paced and unnerving drama –

The Scottish Play is the best production for Eccleston to perform in his first RSC outing. Known for playing larger than life characters before – most notably The Doctor in Doctor Who and Maurice in The A Word – the actor now takes on the role of the ill-fated king in this new version of Shakespeare’s classic.

Photo by Richard Davenport (c) RSC

His performance is a powerful one, and one which works perfectly alongside Cusack’s bold take on Lady Macbeth. Elsewhere, the three witches are played by three girls, chanting Shakespeare’s prose in eery, childish singsong. Throw in an overbearing countdown timer and Michael Hodgson’s performance as the creepy janitor (Porter) – who keeps a running tally of all the bloody deaths – and you have a production which masters both suspense and fast-paced action.

Macbeth is now playing at the Barbican Centre until 18 January 2019.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Grip’ by Seeb x Bastille

Calming and immersive, this Seeb and Bastille collab is the latest dance hit to add to the band’s impressive catalogue of high-profile collaborations.

It’s not often that Dan Smith and the rest of Bastille take it down a notch. Known both on-stage and in the recording booth for their loud, boisterous anthems, the group have very rarely strayed from that specific sound.

With Grip, it’s clear that Smith and co. wanted someone wanted to listen to the previously live-only track with fresh eyes – or rather, ears. On this occasion, they turned to hit Swedish remixers Seeb, who, as Smith says himself, transformed the song into “something new and completely different” which still has the “euphoric highs and crashing lows of night-chasing” of the original.

Striking that balance is what makes the electronic duo such masterful producers, fluttering effortlessly between catchy minimalism and elaborate creativity. Here, Smith takes the former with his usual soft vocals, whilst Seeb pursue the latter with a stripped-back main melody. It’s your usual Bastille bravado, but not in the way that you expect – and that’s what makes Grip so… well, gripping.

Grip is taken from Other People’s Heartache (Pt. 4), available to stream and download now.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Bye Bye’ by Gryffin feat. Ivy Adara

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Gryffin’s latest single sounds familiar. Continuing to tap into talented, up-and-coming female singers (this time the soft and delicate sounds of Ivy Adara) and steady trap beat drops, the producer’s new release Bye Bye has some striking similarities to pre-album smash with Iselin, Just For A Moment.

The DJ’s previous single Remember was a bold break away from the slow rhythm of past releases, swapping relaxed, hazy melodies for deep, thudding synth. Meanwhile, Bye Bye is a return to familiar ground.

It may not offer much that’s new in terms of chords and structure, but it creates room to experiment with pacing and lyrics on top of the foundations of a traditional Gryffin track – the components of which are becoming more apparent as we move towards the release of his debut album in the coming months.

Bye Bye is available to stream and download now.

REVIEW: ‘Every Colour of You’ by Amelia Mandeville

An advanced readers’ copy of Every Colour of You was sent to me by Little, Brown for review, but the opinions in this piece are honest and my own.

Every Colour of You is the first release from YouTuber Amelia Mandeville, a 21-year-old writer whose debut novel is the culmination of many years of trying to get a book published.

The novel centres around the relationship between young adults Zoe and Tristan (or ‘Tree’ as the former likes to call him). Zoe is chirpy and upbeat, while Tree battles with depression and a tense relationship with his brother. It’s a typical ‘boy meets girl’ and ‘opposites attract’ story which regrettably, also comes with the slight implication that a positive relationship can ‘fix’ mental health issues. Although this is no doubt unintentional, and strongly challenged by Zoe and Tristan in the novel, such a message is unfortunately easy to convey with two personalities which are the binary opposite of each other.

Split into two perspectives, it’s Tristan’s chapters in the story which really show the best of Mandeville’s writing. Descriptive and insightful, Tree becomes a believable and three-dimensional character as his mental health issues are explored in detail with careful sensitivity. Contrast this with the quirky and bubbly Zoe, and her tone of voice reads as far too childish for a 20-year old girl. Established as a cliché extrovert, it’s only towards the end of the novel where this protagonist feels credible. For the most part, attempts to paint Zoe as an intelligent and witty individual are later marred by her inconsiderate comments and actions around Tristan’s depression.

This is similar to many plot points, too, where sudden changes to characters or the story take place, but are only fully explained further on in the plot. There’s a clear ‘beginning, middle and end’ structure to Every Colour of You – something which all writing masterclasses encourage – and it is in the middle of the novel where one of the most significant (but also one of the most unexplained) plot points takes place.

Here we see bizarre and sudden character developments with Zoe and Tristan. While a lack of explanation could just be dismissed as the author raising questions to keep us reading on, launching into large-scale turning points in the book without providing some sense of a reason why the plot heads in that direction only creates confusion, and when the big reveal does come, the intended feeling of surprise is replaced with confusion and disappointment. The technique works on some occasions, but for the most part, elements of the story which could well have delivered a ‘shock factor’ lack the necessary build-up.

It’s a pattern which continues up until the very end. While the climax has the desired effect of being incredibly emotional, there’s still the sense that something is missing as the novel heads towards its conclusion: motifs which could have been used one last time for that little extra touch; character descriptions which don’t quite add up in hindsight and expectations of where the story will end up which, although realised, are too short-lived. What’s supposed to be a surprising plot twist is an underwhelming change in direction, and one which calls the whole plot into question.

For a debut novel, Every Colour of You has the benefit of interesting and unique characters, but is ultimately let down by a disappointing plot structure. The end result is a book with sprinkles of charm, but lacks the shine it desperately seeks.

★★★☆☆

People’s Vote: A final say on the Brexit deal risks the revival of misinformation politics | Liam O’Dell

Expecting the electorate to vote on a Brexit deal they haven’t read is the type of blind faith and naïvety which was easily exploited in 2016.

Most of the general public didn’t look at this week’s draft withdrawal agreement in full. A total of 585 pages in length, it fell on journalists and politicians, each with their own conscious or unconscious bias, to summarise the entire document and inform the British people. The same will happen with the final deal, and if a People’s Vote is granted, it’ll be yet another referendum led by soundbites and manipulation.

Photo: David Holt/Flickr.

It is this, alongside the fact that the vote will most definitely include a ‘remain’ option, which allows for the ‘final say’ project to be easily dismissed as a “loser’s vote” or a re-run of the first referendum. If it does indeed come to fruition, it would not only be met with contempt by Brexiteers, but it would further fuel disillusionment and a hatred of the establishment and public institutions. Misinformation’s revival would put fake news and manipulation back on the agenda, and the tireless work of journalists using investigative reporting to win back public trust in a post-truth climate will be undone.

This wouldn’t be the only detrimental backtrack to occur if a people’s vote was granted. It would also involve significant u-turns from the Conservative government – both on its stance on a people’s vote and going back to the public for a second time. The first decision will damage the party’s reputation amongst Brexiteers, whilst the second will most likely infuriate some SNP politicians who have consistently faced opposition to calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Such a decision would be unlikely for a unionist party, and would only lead to an increase in support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Not only that, but the Tories’ decision to allow the public to have the final say would also come with a sense of concession from Theresa May (if indeed, she is still negotiating in this hypothetical scenario) that her deal may not be the best option. Whether such a sentiment is explicitly stated, or simply implied, it’s a decision which would harm the case for the public to vote for her deal should that be on the ballot paper. As such, even if there were three choices on the ballot (a ‘no deal Brexit’, May’s deal, or remain), it could still appear to be a remain-leave referendum if it’s deemed that May no longer has confidence in her own deal by calling a people’s vote.

I do, however, think that this would be unlikely, and the government would still urge the public to back her arrangements. In which case, consider this: what’s not to say that they might send out leaflets to households similar to the ones they sent in 2016? Granted, this may be where the Electoral Commission steps in, but could UK households receive a summary of the deal from the Prime Minister, and if so, what would the implications of this be?

While all of this is, of course, hypothetical, if the People’s Vote campaign wishes to win over more leavers and remainers, it must be seen as offering the single, logical solution which is optimistic and would not create further division. This would also involve setting down the foundations for a fair and honest referendum, free from sensationalist language and misleading information.

Unfortunately, those behind the campaign are yet to acknowledge the full scale of misinformation and post-truth in our political processes. In their reportA Roadmap to a People’s Vote, the group say “there is a strong democratic case for much better regulation and transparency in political advertising on the internet, or even going further”, calling for social media companies to be “challenged to show that they are taking all actions within their power to prevent abuse” with the threat of tough new legislation if they don’t. It’s a promising step, but one which completely ignores the other, wider issues which tie into the misinformation machine. If a referendum on the final deal were to see the creation of official campaigns, their activities must be closely monitored for accuracy and fairness.

Yet, in amongst all of this, they recognise that “there may not be time for legislation” around online political advertising. When one considers the fact that there wouldn’t be enough time to call another referendum before the Brexit deadline of 29 March next year, both the plausibility of a people’s vote and its repercussions are called into question.

To truly learn from the lessons of 2016, adequate safeguards and provisions preventing the revival of misinformation in our political discourse must be put in place during a people’s vote. Without these assurances, the campaign will continue to be branded a re-run of the first referendum, and will fail to win over the support from Brexiteers which it so desperately needs.

Liam O’Dell is a freelance journalist and blogger.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘23’ by Chlöe Howl

If Taylor Swift has the jubilant party hit for 22-year-olds, then Chlöe Howl has the confident, reflective follow-up with 23.

Maidenhead singer-songwriter Howl has never shied away from being honest. Now, in her usual candid and soulful style, the artist explores adulthood and the realisations that come with growing up.

Opening with the fuzzy piano chords seen on previous singles Do It Alone and Magnetic, it’s easy to assume that 23 might be the delicate, personal track on the upcoming EP, Work. Yet with a steady beat, the release is in fact a chilled song perfect for slow dancing at parties.

Though the tempo is standard, there’s still a strong pace to the track as Howl’s words float and experiment with the rhythm of the track. Refusing to descend into the structural and lyrical clichés that come with nostalgic looks back at years gone by, 23 is both a confident and delicate story of young adult life.

23 by Chlöe Howl is available to buy and stream now.