Posts tagged ‘the london paper’

25 September, 2009

Launched: theblogpaper, the troll’s soapbox

Written for The Collective Review, 25 September 2009

This time last week, thelondonpaper published its last ever issue. Just one week later another publication seeks to fill the resulting vacuum.

Anton Waldburg and Karl Jo Seilern-Aspang, creators of theblogpaper, style their new freesheet “the first user-generated newspaper in the UK”. Users submit articles and photos to, where their content is rated out of five by the community. The highest rated content in each category is then published in a weekly print edition, distributed for free around London à la thelondonpaper, London Lite or Metro.

So far, so bleeding edge*. Crowdsourcing is the new self-lacing trainers, after all; theblogpaper should (in theory) be to thelondonpaper what Wikipedia is to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

That theory holds up pretty well until you actually pick up an edition and read it. It’s not Waldburg and Seilern-Aspang’s fault; they harbour the naïve and optimistic hope that their newsmaking community will be self-moderating. “[W]hen constructed by the general public,” they opine, the process of reportage “becomes naturally incredibly accurate, due to the fact that people who write about specific subjects tend to already know a great deal about it.” Which doesn’t take into account the vast number of internet users who think they know a great deal about something but are in fact ignorant cretins. But wait, the community will filter out the ignorant cretins by rating them poorly, and their content will never see print! Well, not necessarily; you can’t trust an anonymous online community to engage in civil debate, as anyone who’s ever felt their eyes scorched by the abyss of flaming spam beneath every YouTube video, good or bad, will testify.

The result is that despite its creators’ good intentions, London’s latest freesheet is composed as much of ill-informed, dreary and bilious ranting as it is of well-researched, dreary and irrelevant pontification. More importantly, very little of the first edition’s content can accurately be described as news. A couple of articles respond to events that were newsworthy weeks ago (Cartrain’s theft of pencils from Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, or Usain Bolt’s latest record-breaking sprint); but it certainly isn’t news to anyone but the contributors that’s recommendation algorithm is quite accurate, or that music festivals are a bit commercialised these days.

If theblogpaper survives long enough for its community to grow, perhaps in the future it could feature articles by genuine experts, rated by a pool of voters big enough that the open minds and level heads outnumber the spammers. Until then it’ll continue to read like a collection of op-eds by right-wing forum trolls from two weeks ago.

*Well, ish. Joshua Karp founded The Printed Blog in the US in late 2008. Karp’s paper takes the idea further, printing twice a day and producing different editions for different areas, with content filtered by geographical proximity.

21 September, 2009

Punk Rock

Lyric Hammersmith, 3 – 26 September 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

Each scene of Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is abruptly curtailed by an uncomfortably loud belch of feedback and a mangled excerpt from a rock song. By the second hour, each of these sonic interjections sends ripples of uneasy laughter through the stalls. The whole audience is on edge, braced for a shock. Stephens’ clutch of Stockport sixth formers, seen between lessons in Paul Wills’ towering, forbidding onstage library, seem incapable of reining in the impulse to probe and prod and push one another’s boundaries; everyone in the auditorium can tell someone’s going to snap.

By the time the anticipated act of violence occurs, Stephens has laid out a whole smorgasbord of potential contributing factors: unrequited teenage love; body image issues; the spectre of trouble at home; alcohol; an environment in which parents and teachers allow sixth formers to believe a C grade in an English mock means they’ll “never get out of Stockport”; plus Bennet Francis (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), a bully whose aloof disregard for those he hurts is worse by far than actual malice, and whose effect on the group debunks with ease that maxim about sticks and stones so beloved of adult authority figures.

Yet Stephens’ real achievement is that despite all the factors presented to us, when our minds reach, as they tend to do, for a simple, catch-all way to explain the tragedy, there isn’t one. It doesn’t even feel satisfactory to conclude, “it was probably a combination of all those things”.

As an examination of the overly simplistic adult tendency to classify teenage behaviour as the direct result of easily identifiable causes like alcohol, pornography and violent media, Punk Rock delivers; though no alternative theory is forthcoming, unless you count, “some people are just broken”.

Stephens’ love of language carries him away into the odd overwrought line, and Director Sarah Frankcom’s love of Stephens’ language leads to characters delivering extended passages straight out front, while the characters they’re supposedly addressing slouch behind them in a symmetrical chorus-line chevron. The script is excellent – funny in a terrifying and guilt-ridden kind of way – and it deserves to be placed centre stage, but such unnatural blocking actually distracts from the words. Or is that too simple, too immediate an explanation…?

Written by Simon Stephens

Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer) and Pete Rice (sound designer)

Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Ghazaleh Golpira (Lucy Francis), Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Bennet Francis), Harry McEntire (Chadwick Meade), Jessica Raine (Lilly Cahill), Tom Sturridge (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey) and Sophie Wu (Cissy Franks)

Need a second opinion?

18 July, 2009

The Container

Young Vic, 15 – 30 July 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you manage to get a ticket for Clare Bayley’s The Container – and with a capacity of just 28 per performance, that’ll make you part of a fairly exclusive group – first check the weather forecast, and pray for rain.

Staged in a freight container parked outside the Young Vic, The Container simulates the experience of illegal immigration aboard a long-haul lorry. Inside it’s pitch dark and smells slightly musty (avoid this production if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of the dark).

The whole space rumbles and vibrates to create a convincing illusion of movement, the result of designer Naomi Dawson and sound designer Adrienne Quartly’s combined technical efforts. That vibration creeps into your body, through the floor and the uncomfortable wooden crates that serve as seats, and sets your guts squirming.

Compound the rumbling and mustiness and darkness with heavy rain, rattling relentlessly on the container’s roof and sides, and the word ‘tense’ begins to sound woefully inadequate. The sound of rain makes the space feel even smaller, and requires the cast to raise their voices, which has a much greater effect in a metal box than it would have on stage.

It’s also a constant reminder of how hostile the outside world is to the characters, all of whom are braving unscrupulous traffickers and European police to escape war, oppression and refugee camps. The door is locked from the outside, forcing the characters – and the audience – to trust sporadic reports from a threatening Agent (Chris Spyrides) concerned more with putting one over on the authorities than with their wellbeing.

The Container is deserving of its Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award simply for its lateral-thinking approach to altering British perceptions of asylum seekers. Rather than try to release immigrants from their pigeonhole, the play puts the British public right in there with them.

Written by Clare Bayley

Crew includes Tom Wright (director), Naomi Dawson (designer) and Adrienne Quartly (sound designer)

Cast includes Amber Agar (Mariam), Doreene Blackstock (Fatima), Abhin Galeya (Jemal), Hassani Shapi (Ahmed) and Chris Spyrides (Agent)

Need a second opinion?