British Media Coverage of the Christmas Day Bomber

I’d love to write a long critique of the media coverage of this terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day, but alas, I think it would probably take me the rest of the day and I have an essay to work on. Instead, some short thoughts will have to suffice.

Understandably, the British media are focussing on the perpetrator’s time in the UK, in London to be precise and the changes Britain is making to its airport security. What I don’t understand is the efforts of some (the Telegraph, basically) to appear to lay the blame squarely at UCL’s door.

This shown best in this Telegraph article. At the time of writing, some of the later comments have the right idea, but the article appears to suggest that UCL should monitor the activities of those that attend it. At first pass, that sort of seems reasonable, drawing parallels with a school or other welfare oriented organisation. And then you realise (or don’t in the case of the Telegraph), that isn’t the purpose of Universities. They exist to teach adults advanced concepts without the nannying or fussing of a school.

This sentiment is put perfectly by a comment by Ross Anderson on the above article:

we have neither the skills nor the management structures needed [for monitoring students]. Monitoring troublemakers is the special branch’s job (whatever it’s called this week) just as putting out fires is the fire brigade’s job.

This something I totally agree with: why isn’t more blame (or at least scrutiny) being given to both our security services and there American counterparts. I’ve travelled the US recently and they ask for a lot of data before you even get to the airport, so it does beg the question: what are they doing with that information?

Other recent Telegraph articles inciting a backlash against universities are here and here. The first one, and perhaps the most outrageous; accusing UCL of being “complicit” in the attacks is here.

Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL had his say in the THE, a brilliant article which I wish more people would read.

Grease (is NOT the word)

Grease Logo (Copyright: Ambassador Theatre Group)

Grease Logo (Copyright: Ambassador Theatre Group)

Last night I had the misfortune to go and see Grease is the word down at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End. My verdict: don’t.

This was my first time seeing Grease, but like everybody I had a pretty good idea what the show entailed. I also wanted to see it as I’ve been following Grease:The School Musical which ended tonight (although I have it on PVR and haven’t seen it yet). Regardless, I was very disappointed.

Now, I’m not really a typical theatre critic, in that I come from a very “techie” background and so any sound/lighting problems will probably affect my enjoyment of the show more than others, but both the sound and lighting were truly terrible. The sound was bearable when the cast were using handheld mics, such as in “Greased Lightning” and in the finale, but otherwise it just sounded wrong (I can’t put my finger on why though).

The lighting was my biggest bug with the whole show. The standard of followspotting was just awful. I don’t care if the design calls for sharp half- and whole- body followspotting, it looks like stand-up comedy and detracts from the action. Using the followspot as the frontlight for the whole drive-in movie sequence was a bizarre choice for me, as there were plenty of other, more suitable lanterns out front and achieving a simple chase that actually looks like the actors are watching a projection is pretty standard stuff. The mirrorballs hung off the proscenium were never fully utilised and when they were used for the “prom/beauty school drop-out” sequence they were lit so poorly as to be useless. Continual blackouts also sap the show of any energy  and momentum it was building up.

Another unforgivable sequence in terms of lighting is the finale. For the biggest numbers in the show, to have a fairly static state (with just a chase on the back of the bar) is counter-productive when the cast are attempting to muster as much energy as possible (more on that later).

And then there was the set – I quite liked the cartoon/drawn paint effect that covers most of the set. In fact, I would probably say the set is the highlight of the show (or maybe the band up at the back, who are perfectly adequate for the show) Some of the neons are nice too, but it is just a pity the theme isn’t carried out further. The structure of the bleachers for instance, could be made more fun/cartoony and a few more props for “Greased Lightning” wouldn’t go a miss.

Eventually, we come around to the meat of the show for most people – the acting. Firstly, I don’t believe in the casting – the cast as a rule do not reflect the teenage nature of their fictional counterparts. More fundamental is the lack of energy the show builds up. This is meant to be one of the “happy, clappy” shows on the West End, comparable to the camp-tastic Hairspray. To draw any parallels to Hairspray is just unkind to a fabulous show. The cast struggle to drag the audience through the songs. In their defence, the script may not do them any favours, but it needs a lot more enthusiasm and bounce to be convincing.

If I were to give out stars: 2 stars would be my verdict. Better than that is my advice: Don’t bother, go and see Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre instead.