It has been a busy couple of weeks. I turned twenty five last Sunday, and it’s hardly an excuse but sometimes it’s a struggle to write when your mind is on seven hundred different things happening at work and in your personal life. Not that I’ve been creatively deprived – in the past few weeks I have qualified in fighting with an axe (in stage combat, I hasten to add) and I’ve submitted a project I’ve been working on for an upcoming scratch night. Little steps, I know, but it’s made me feel better about neglecting my blog.
So, it’s time for a good old catch up!
8 of 25: Parks and Recreation
I adore comedy, but I tend to be a bit fussy when it comes to the style of comedy I enjoy. I stray towards the bizarre, the surreal and the dark, but Parks and Recreation is a special kind of comedy. I discovered Parks and Recs, as I often do with American series, a lot later than everyone else on the internet. I knew the Ron Swanson memes and the Andy Dwyer gifs from my Tumblr days, but it was only when I started my Masters degree that I watched the series itself. Parks and Recs is like a sweeter version of The Thick of It in that it delves into the complex structures of the civil service, is just as absurd, but doesn’t have the swearing psychopathic poet that is Malcolm Tucker steering its helm. Instead, it has the gorgeous, optimistic, diligent and wonderful soul that is Leslie Knope. For me, Leslie is such an important female character in both film and television. She is proof that female character’s can be just as captivating without a tragic backstory or some terrible demons lurking in their psyche. Above all, she highlights that female characters can be funny, and both she and April Ludgate demonstrate the hilarity of female characters who cross into the absurd – whoever said women aren’t funny, you’re just wrong. And do you want to know why you’re wrong? Just watch Parks and Recreation and you’ll see.
9 of 25: Fantastic Mr Fox
I love Wes Anderson and I love Roald Dahl, so Fantastic Mr Fox is something of a match made in heaven for me. There is such an inherent charm to Anderson’s work; his visual style is so evocative, his scripts to whimsical, and his soundtrack choices are impeccable in their creation of atmosphere. But there is an added delight to Fantastic Mr Fox‘s stop motion animation. I’ve always found stop motion a particularly magical form of animation – the patience and dedication involved truly astonishes me, and in a sense, stop motion reminds me of the building blocks that led to the invention of film. While the story itself is something of a moral tale about arrogance, the film’s world is so captivating in the script’s humour and the warmth of the visuals. If ever I am in the mood for a bit of cheering up, I often choose to escape into beautiful world of Mr Fox and his family.
10 of 25: I Shall Wear Midnight
Now this next choice was a difficult one – difficult because I had to choose out of around 34 of Terry Pratchett’s works. I adore Terry Pratchett for his humour, his razor sharp satire and his unique flare for examining human nature. But out of all of his novels, I chose one of his last published works, I Shall Wear Midnight. The novel’s hero, Tiffany Aching, was an unexpected seminal inspiration for me. Tiffany is a tough, diligent, determined and fiery young woman who happens to be a witch – but a Discworld witch, which is very different to the witches you get in Harry Potter or in horror films. Witches in the Discworld are practical women, the wise women of a community who provide healing and help to those in need; they are much more salt of the earth than away with the fairies. I Shall Wear Midnight sees Tiffany mature from a teenager into a woman, and I read it at a time when I was transitioning from a school student into a university student. Tiffany’s strength of character was a strange support at a time when I was unsure about my future, and I can only be grateful to Terry Pratchett for a creating a complex and resilient hero in the form of a young farmer’s daughter, because heroes can come in all shapes and sizes.
13 of 25: American Gods
The first of my two picks from Neil Gaiman. American Gods is one of those books which to hold and look at in your hand is the promise of a commitment. It is something of an epic, but then again, it is dealing with an utterly massive country, rich with the cultural histories of immigrant and indigenous peoples alike. I adore Gaiman’s style of fantasy, his magical realism being evoked with a dark, self aware sense of humour; it is no surprise that he and Terry Pratchett were such great friends. I read American Gods while I was working a summer job in the States – a conscious decision I made in order to feel immersed in the world of the text. It was a decision I did not regret, as I was transported with Shadow, the book’s hero, across the great expanses of the North American continent. American Gods is a beautiful work of literature, and if you ever find yourself in need of a bit of holiday reading whilst visiting the States, I would highly recommend this epic piece of work.
14 of 25: The Dark Knight
For a number of years, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to become an actor professionally or not, but there was one film event which really solidified my desire to become an actor. That film was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. To me, The Dark Knight is a truly great film. Many cinema snobs are unwilling to admit a comic book film can be anything but cinematic pulp, but The Dark Knight is a masterclass in plot building, pacing and acting. There is one person who in fact changed the course of my life with this film, and that was Heath Ledger. Ledger’s portrayal as the Joker is truly legendary, and I remember the feeling of utter awe and admiration I felt when I first watched his performance. The Dark Knight became one of the few films I saw over three times in the cinema because I was so entranced by Heath Ledger’s performance. He truly was an extraordinary talent, and the recognition for his performance raised the pedigree of superhero film from derivative action movies to a space where an actor can thrive and give the performance of their career. The superhero genre would never be the same after The Dark Knight, and I think the current successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ironically owe their cinematic clout to this particular DC adaptation.
15 of 25: The Handmaid’s Tale
I’m going to do a little cheat here and include both the original novel and the Hulu series in this next choice. I first read Margaret Atwood in preparation for a stage adaptation of another one of her works called The Penelopiad. I got hooked on Atwood’s style as a result, and soon after finishing The Penelopiad, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. It truly is a parable for our times, which is honestly a very terrifying thing to say – that a book originally published in 1985 could have such relevance in 2018. While the TV series has expanded beyond the plot of the book, the series still reflects its source text’s raw sense of horror, outrage and pain. It truly is a stark and frightening reflection of what could be, and highlights the ongoing importance of the resistance to fascism which is so vital in this current political climate.
16 of 25: Othello
I didn’t always love Shakespeare – I know, shock horror! I, like many other school children, was somewhat bamboozled by the legendary status of the Bard. But that really changed as I began to study Othello in Sixth Form. I always say that a student’s passion for a subject is often impacted by the quality of their teacher, and I was fortunate enough to have an amazing English teacher during my A-Levels. This was my first experience of understanding the power of Shakespeare’s text, understanding the enormous emotional stakes at play in the raw ferocity of the verse. Othello is one of William Shakespeare’s many masterpieces, but it was the first masterpiece which made me realise the stunning genius of that country boy from Stratford-upon-Avon and his ability to empathise with those whose experiences were so different from his own.
17 of 25: Steven Universe
Another recent discovery for me, I started watching Steven Universe about a month ago after stumbling across it on Netflix. I was initially hesitant to watch it, but after reading an offhandedly praising comment from one of my favourite feminist writers, Laurie Penny, I thought I would give it a watch. Steven Universe is an example of a recent spate of powerfully written and progressive animated series which are currently being aired. Within the confines of its strange universe of sentient space gems and quaint coastal towns, Steven Universe deals with subjects like grief, consent, gender and relationships in beautifully sensitive and forward-thinking ways. Most importantly for me, though, it is a show which promotes strong women (human or otherwise) and men who support them. Steven Universe has presented some of the most beautiful iterations of same sex relationships and non-binary gender identities I have ever seen, and in my opinion, it truly is a gem of modern television.
18 of 25: The Bloody Chamber
Sixth Form (or 11th and 12th Grades in the US) is a seminal time for a lot of people, and that was certainly true for me, particularly when it came to my literary tastes. I had never heard of Angela Carter before I studied her anthology of re-imagined fairytales, The Bloody Chamber, but she has become a huge creative influence for me. I adore magical realism as an artistic device, and to me, Angela Carter is the master of magical realism – certainly in the English language, at any rate. Her dark and twisted tales in The Bloody Chamber have stayed with me since I first read them at the age of seventeen. Their potent handling of female sexuality and personhood are still rooted in my psyche, and I will freely admit that most of my writing has been influenced in some way by the magnificent enigma that was Angela Carter.
19 of 25: The Simpsons
I do have a soft spot for cartoons as you can probably tell, and my first experience of ‘adult’ animation was The Simpsons. Like many people growing up, your TV and film tastes are often shaped by your family, and to an extent this is true with my tastes. My dad loves The Simpsons, and Matt Groening’s other brainchild, Futurama, and by extension, so do I. Watching The Simpsons was like a ritual in our household, and I still associate it with being the treat after dinner which I could watch before going to bed at the age of seven. I have to admit that most of my favourite episodes originally aired in the mid-90s – in my opinion, that was when the show’s writing was at its peak, and the dynamics between the characters were still at their most heartfelt and realistic. Lisa Simpson is one of many bright and determined female characters I looked up to as a child; her intelligence and unwavering thirst for knowledge was inspirational to me. Though I think the quality of the show has dipped somewhat in recent years, The Simpsons will always have a special place in my heart, being the first show to prove to me that animation can tackle adult themes, even if it does so with a slathering of comedy.
20 of 25: Neverwhere
The second in my Neil Gaiman selection, and probably my favourite of his works. Neverwhere has an interesting history, originally beginning its life as a miniseries for television, created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The miniseries is great, with a selection of familiar faces from British film and television, including a very young and very curly haired Peter Capaldi. However, I have to admit that I prefer the novel to the original TV series. There is a magic to literature which film and television can never quite capture, and that is certainly true of the dark and mysterious London Gaiman creates in the book adaptation of Neverwhere. To anyone who is familiar with London, Neverwhere is a treat of historical and regional references, and if you aren’t, the magic isn’t lost. I love dark fantasy, and Neverwhere is certainly dark but with a hearty helping of gallows humour mixed in, which, in my opinion, is never a bad thing. Sometimes you have to have a bit of humour to see you through the dark times.
21 of 25: Bojack Horseman
Speaking of humour in the dark time, another recent discovery of mine is Bojack Horseman. I will admit it took me a little while to get into Bojack – the first few episodes didn’t quite grab my attention, but I persevered with it as I knew it had been praised by critics and friends with similar tastes to me. Bojack Horseman is a very funny show but it isn’t an easy watch. For a show about a cartoon anthropomorphised horse, you wouldn’t expect it to be so hard hitting, but Bojack Horseman has some of the most devastating and cutting plot lines I have ever seen portrayed on a show. The way in which it tackles mental health, the hypocrisy of Hollywood (or rather, Hollywoo) and the acting industry is truly masterful; the episode entitled ‘Times Arrow’ will forever haunt me in the way it handle’s a person’s mind deteriorating from Alzheimer’s after a life of misery and mental illness. Bojack Horseman is a true work of art, in both its writing and animation style, and it is certainly worthy of all the praise it has received.
22 of 25: Linda
The Royal Court is one of my favourite theatres in London, and I have seen numerous plays staged there. However, there is one show in particular which I never got to see live, and there will always be a part of me that wishes I had been able to. On reading Penelope Skinner’s 2016 play, Linda, I was utterly captivated by the power of the text alone. It is one of my favourite play texts, being a standard go-to when I have to select a modern monologue for an audition. The hypocrisies of the professional world for women are laid bare, and the raw pain felt by women across generations at the sexism and misogyny they face is presented with such devastating honesty – Linda does not hold back on the power of its punches. It achieves one of the things I love about theatre; being able to hold up a dark mirror to our society and question the norms we live with on a daily basis. Theatre can be a provocation for change, and what Linda certainly is is provoking.
23 of 25: Mad Max Fury Road
I will happily admit that I do love a good action film. Sometimes, I crave a bit of mindless pulp, some corny muscle man swooping through exploding backdrops and saving the world. However, Mad Max: Fury Road is much more than a simple action movie. I saw Fury Road when it was first released which coincided with the final year exams of my BA, and in all honesty, Fury Road got me through the last leg of my undergraduate experience. I wasn’t in the best place emotionally and mentally during my third year and though it may seem strange that a film set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland could help a person get through a tough period in their life, Fury Road did just that for me. Many have said that Fury Road is Furiosa’s and not Max Rockatansky’s film, and they’re not wrong. It is precisely that reason why Fury Road had such a powerful impact on me during one of the most vulnerable times of my life. The women of Fury Road – Furiosa and the Wives – are powerful; they are powerful because they are determined to gain their liberation in the face of impossible odds. They have been abused and tortured, but they never give up, and that is something I needed to see and believe myself capable of as I completed my undergraduate degree. A bit dramatic, I know, but then again, I am an actor.
24 of 25: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
If ever I’m bored and scrolling through YouTube, looking for something other than vine compilations to make me laugh, I will usually end up watching a compilation of Brooklyn Nine-Nine Best Moments. This is a show which is both hilariously funny and brilliantly progressive. Brooklyn Nine-Nine celebrates the weird and honours the marginalised. It has one of the most diverse casts currently on television, which the actors’ ethnicities and sexualities being recognised in their characters’ identities. The humour is on the silly side of funny – I love a bit of silly – but Brooklyn Nine-Nine recognises real life issues like institutionalised racism and homophobia, and makes some extremely compelling points about such issues. It is an incredibly powerful show, demonstrating that comedy can make as powerful a point about our society’s short comings as tragedy can.
Before I reveal number 25 of my 25 favourite things, I thought I would have some honourable mentions, because it is difficult to narrow down my favourite things to just 25 after living a quarter of a century.
They include Hot Fuzz, Gilmore Girls, Narcos, The Help, Frasier, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, Under the Skin by Michel Faber, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale, Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen, Walking with Dinosaurs, the works of Beatrix Potter, Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Arrival, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Gone Girl, Dumbo and Bambi.
25 of 25: Jurassic Park
Now, this will sound very odd, but I first experienced Jurassic Park when I was still in the womb. That’s probably not a sentence you’d ever expect to read, but it is true. My parents saw Jurassic Park when it was first released in the summer of 1993 when my mother was about 6 months pregnant with me. To this day, we are convinced that my obsession with dinosaurs stems from my in vitro experience of Jurassic Park, but even if that’s not quite true, I certainly watched it enough as a child to solidify my love of dinosaurs. To this day, the special effects of Jurassic Park are breathtaking, and the plot is still a rip-roaring (pun definitely intended) adventure with a truly fantastic cast. Richard Attenborough has always been what I refer to as my ‘film grandfather’, while Jeff Goldblum has become the sex icon I never expected I needed, but by God, I did! It is, honestly, my favourite film, and if ever I’m having a sick day, I always know what I will inevitably watch while tucked up in bed trying to stave off whatever germs are afflicting me. It’s an unlikely comfort film, but it is most certainly my comfort film.