Pretty well-Maid

With a basis of sadomasochism and lesbianism, this appeared to fit the bill as to what constitutes a successful production in Oxford.

Based on the chilling story of the Papin sisters, Genet sheds a new light on the plot, keeping the main features of it but altering the final outcome. Genet can be seen to actively try and draw the audience into the created illusion before abruptly dispelling it, leaving the audience with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.

This production has all the components to be successful; chatting to the cast after it is clear they have done a lot of research into the Papin sisters and understand fully what they are trying to express.

However at points they were unable to fully immerse the audience into the drama, resulting in less of an inquisitive wonderment and more of an absolute confusion at what is taking place.

Both Frances Hackett and Rachel Dedman were solid in their performances, portraying the servants’ state of mind successfully, as well as exploring the role-play of Madame in an enlightening manner. However, it was Roseanna Frascona who pulled the whole performance together, her strong portrayal of Madame making sense of many prior allusions and offering a new dynamic to the piece.

It is possible that more regular changes of pace could distinguish between fantasy and reality more distinctly. Genet is a playwright who enjoys the muted explosion of an anti-climax more than most, but this doesn’t quite come through yet in their portrayal.

Whilst aspects of the play seemed to lack a distinct edge, all the actors were impressive in their expression of individuals who have twisted logic and brutal desires.

All that needs to be found is that je ne sais quoi that will draw the whole production together: this has the potential to be a fantastic play, trapping the audience in the claustrophobic confines of the human mind, but for now ‘potential’ is the operative word.

CrystalBalls Week 7: World Cup

And so it ends. This term’s team have been catastrophically off the mark  with many predictions and much of this can be put down to the Editors’ lack of guile. Let’s hope we can have some joy with these predictions over the Summer.

Stephen Bush: Hodgson to replace Benitez
Thank God Rafa has gone. Things really can’t get much worse for the Kop but I predict better times ahead with Hodgson as they replace Arsenal in the Big Four.

Steve Dempsey: Spain v Brazil in the World Cup Final
Admittedly, I’ve made some stupid bets this term but surely this is a dead cert? Even if we’d all rather England were in the final, the prospect of Villa, Torres and Fabiano all on the same pitch is pretty special.

Sam Rabinowitz: England to reach the quarter-finals
Oh dear. No Ferdinand, a creaking King and an uncapped Dawson do not make a recipe for success and though I’d be surprised if they stumbled in the very early stages, it will only take a draw with one of the larger sides to see England sent packing.

Josh Davis: Wayne Rooney to do the double
» 18/1
Do we dare to dream? Top goalscorer and World Cup winner would be a summer of dreams for Shrek, and for the rest of us too!

Holly McCluskey: Landon Donovan to win the golden boot

Outside the bubble

Going to university is supposed to be a bit schizophrenic.

On one hand, life revolves around hours slogging away in the library, messy club nights and copious quantities of cheap wine. On the very opposite end of the scale, real food and an escape from college bureaucracy await tantalisingly at home. The alternative realities of the average student split us down the centre.

The Oxford switch-over is a little more off the rails than normal. It’s rather bemusing to go from an environment where a disproportionately large percentage of the population have a doctorate, a penchant for green corduroy trousers and a nicely bevelled brogue, to the normal world, in which trackies and Ugg boots are more realistic attire.

The Oxford “bubble” looms large. Although not a campus university, the general consensus amongst students is that the colleges’ dominance over a compact city centre creates a sometimes stifling atmosphere.

As Hilary came to an end, a conversation unfolded about how home provides “nothing to do”, and how Oxford’s 24/7 barrage of activity is welcome relief from siblings that “drive us nuts”.

Once we become accustomed to the eight-week blitz, it seems, any slower pace of living – i.e. anything besides a career in the City – drags by painfully.

I don’t think my experience here is much outside the Normal Distribution. In the village I call home, the reading material of choice is The Daily Telegraph. SamCam look-a-likes chase Mini Boden-clad children around the park, and the cricket pitch is the hub of the universe on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My patch of rural Hertfordshire makes The Archers’ trivia on Radio 4 look positively enthralling. As I wave good-bye to St Giles’ at the end of each term, the rapid deceleration in the pace of life is very noticeable.

But middle England vs. the Taylorian Library isn’t much of a jump compared with the leap made by foreign students. One French first-year from Somerville sums up the experience: “Although I went to an international school in Paris, and I do miss speaking casually in French, I enjoy the change. One of the points of university is to get out of one’s shell, so I actually like it that there is a cultural separation.”

Does the experience change throughout a university career? Does one simply accept the fact that home and college life are pretty much irreconcilable, and learn to treat one’s role in each differently?

Hanns Koenig, a second year PPE student, goes back to Germany every term, given the importance of maintaining family and peer relationships when studying abroad. For him, it wasn’t so much British culture that was the shock, but more the way “everyone knows everyone, and that gossip travels very fast” within colleges.

From those I spoke to, it seems balancing life in Britain and abroad involves keeping an open mind, accepting and benefiting from the inevitable differences, rather than viewing them negatively.

It can’t all be too strange an experience: in a recent survey, The International Student Barometer, 83% of Oxford’s respondents said they felt the city made it easy to “experience the host culture” and almost 94% said the city was “a good place to be in”.

A Christ Church mature student, who originally comes from India, mirrors other students’ thoughts when he says that the student body’s “cosmopolitan” diversity is a “reason to relish the culture gap.”

Eight weeks of an Oxford existence, followed by six of somewhat relieving banality, is, I think, the only way the system stays sane.

Believe it or not, there is a life in the big wide world outside, sans the cushy collegiate system. And it seems, international or British, the subjective experience of “Oxford time” exists across the board.

“When I go back to Paris at the end of term,” my Somerville interviewee admitted, “I have twice as much time, and yet do half as much. Time moves differently here, and somehow you manage to fit everything in.”

At Easter, standard family chatter summed up the surreal Oxford transition. The parents remarked on my sudden and unprecedented affection for the garden. (Previously, in my eyes, it was solely a fine sunbathing spot and place to scoff fresh raspberries.)

I did comment, though, that the borders were looking a little tired round the edges. Cue unrepeatable retort from Chief Hedge Trimmer Father.

“Oh, it’s OK,” I said. “At college we have a gardener to keep them neat.” QED.

Retro: Scooby Doo

Technically, Scooby-Doo shouldn’t be in this column, given that the last Scooby-Doo film was released a mere six years ago.

However, considering how dreadful both movies were, (yes, there were two; I refer you to the horror of Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed), I think we can ignore them.

If anything, the fact that there is a movie franchise proves the enduring legacy of everybody’s favourite speaking dog.

The animated movies were far better: Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers, Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, and Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School. Mystery Inc. were greatly entertaining, if perhaps a little lacking in the personality department.

There was Fred, the leader of the gang, and his red-headed dame Daphne, an enthusiastic but danger-prone damsel. Then there was Velma, the bespectacled brains of the franchise. Frequently losing her glasses (“Jeepers!”), she still managed to figure out the mystery with the accidental help of Scooby and Shaggy, the heroes of the series.

The team was a cooler, television-friendly version of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. It was only in Scooby-Doo, however, that many surprisingly technologically accomplished masks were able to hide a villain’s true identity until the end of the show.

Everyone wondered what those “Scooby Snacks” really tasted like: reviewers and the public have made connections between drug culture and the show, interpreting Shaggy and Scooby-Doo’s perpetual hunger for “Scooby Snacks” as a sign of drug related “munchies”.

Irregardless of whether Scooby-Doo was constantly battling “munchies”, the very fact that he was a canine detective proves that this ‘60s show was still pretty “far-out”.

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