Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Recoil Factor


Several of my friends and colleagues have suffered in recent years from a phenomenon that, in my head, I have begun calling “The Recoil Factor”.  This is essentially a negative reaction that those close to the sufferer have after the person goes through a trauma, illness (mental or physical), bereavement or major life change.  This reaction is baffling to those who do not experience it, and unfortunately means that a friend or loved one in great need of help and support suddenly finds those around them backing away, disappearing, and generally running for the hills.  This can often contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and a low sense of self worth.

Recently the victim of a sexual assault, one of my friends has bravely chosen to tell others about her ordeal so as to hopefully catch the perpetrator, and also so that others can avoid being in a similar situation in the future.  The after-effects of the attack have been traumatic and life-changing, and she is currently suffers from anxiety, panic attacks.  In the short period since the terrifying experience she endured she has been avoided, told to “get over it”, been given the distinct feeling of not being believed, and also due to a period of sickness from work to recover now feels her job may be in jeopardy.  ‘This must be an isolated case’ you cry!  No, sadly this is often the norm, and there are people all over the UK (not to mention the world) who are experiencing the same feelings of rejection and disappointment just when they are at their lowest ebb.

I can cite numerous examples of this.  Friends with eating disorders who are “hard to be around”, victims of psychological and physical abuse who “should’ve just left”, an ex-colleague who survived cancer only to find half her ‘mates’ seemed to have lost her phone number, and a friend whose sibling was murdered who apparently was “just no fun anymore”.  So what is it about tragedy that makes people so damned unappealing?  When we have a relationship with someone, romantic or otherwise, is it not understood that this is for both good times and bad? Often it seems to be a case of when the going gets tough the tough are on their own and the rest get going.

Of course, not everyone does this.  Conversely in the face of disaster there are those who step up, often those the victim of the personal tragedy would least expect to come to their aid.  Perhaps it is the friend who always seemed a little self-centred before, or a colleague who goes the extra mile, or even a stranger on a train.  Sometimes, just when it seems darkest, someone completely surprises you by giving you just what you need at just the right time.  These people will ultimately be the real friends that you treasure for life, while those that recoil are consigned to the friendship bin of history.

Ultimately, your friendships and relationships are a reflection of who you are as a person.  If you find yourself thinking, “that’s terrible, I don’t know what to say” then say nothing – listen instead.  If the situation is difficult for you – perhaps it relates back to a bad experience of your own – then be honest and say so, don’t just switch off your phone or sidestep a person who needs you.  Just remember, if you were in the same boat you’d wish there was someone around to help you keep your head above water.



Let My People Vote 2012

As election fever hots up in the US of A the Republican attempt at vote manipulation has begun in earnest. 

For those of us this side of the pond, American politics may not seem to be of that much importance or interest to we Brits, dealing as we are with our own financial pressures and revelations of serious corruption in the wake of the independant Hillsborough report.  For those who have any interest whatsoever in freedom or fairness, however, it does and should concern you.  At this very moment a concerted effort is being made to deny basic voting rights to scores of American citizens, primarily because they fall into the groups most likely to vote Democrat.  This insidious push to topple Obama by unscrupulous means has been well documented, however still has the power to shock and awe.

 Five short days ago, on 17th Sept, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was caught on camera branding almost half of Americans as ‘victims’ and intimating that he does not care about those people.  The video can be found at:  The gaffe, which he has thus far poorly defended, is taken from a recent address he made to Republican donors, where he is heard describing almost half of Americans as “people who pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.”

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney has not apologised for these comments, although he has conceded they were not elegantly stated, but the worrying element is not purely that this man could potentially be the next leader of the ‘free world’.  What is of greater concern are the tactics that have been employed in order to ensure that these “victims”, who by his own admission he cares not a jot for, are being blocked from their inalienable right to vote by introducing a new voter ID system that is intended to prevent them.

In a surprisingly guileless admission in June of this year, Mike Turzai (the Pennsylvania state House Republican leader) stated:

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” 

Feel free to draw your own conclusions by watching the video of said statement here, although in all honesty the intention is not really in dispute.

Essentially the new voter ID rules mean that those who do not have a driving license or, hilariously, a firearms license, are all but exempt from voting.  This is allegedly to prevent voter fraud, but the real fraud is in the targeting of this policy as it disenfranchises the core Democrat voters – namely people who are poor, elderly, young, disabled, and/or non-white.  Sarah Silverman, who was the spokeswoman for the Jewish Council for Education and Research’s ‘The Great Schlep‘ at the last election has again starred in an entertaining and educational short film detailing the underhand tactics of this latest attempt at winning by obstruction rather than via support – watch it here.  Unfortunately there is little anyone can do about this new system as it is now in place and will be the one used for the November elections, however what the citizens of America certainly can do is ensure they have secured the right ID to make sure their vote will count, and with any luck block the election of Romney and his undemocratic party once more.

The following is taken from the website things you should know about voter id laws

  1. These are not bipartisan efforts. They are initiated by Republicans, passed by Republicans, and signed into law by Republicans. The State House Majority Leader in PA asserted that these voter restrictions would allow Mitt Romney to win the state.

  2. The voters most likely to be burdened by these new voting restrictions are Democrats. Consider which voters don’t have ID. Among seniors and young voters, 18% don’t have valid ID. Among African Americans, 25% don’t have valid ID.

  3. Restrictions on voting, like poll taxes and “literacy” tests, have a long history. They are used by one party to prevent supporters of another party from voting.

  4. If someone were trying to steal an election, in person voter fraud, where a voter pretends to be someone they are not at the polls, is the last method anyone would chose. Absentee ballot stuffing is much easier. But more Republicans vote by absentee ballot. So no new restrictions on absentee voting.

  5. The Brennan Center has estimated that as many as 3.2 million citizens could find it harder to vote because of new voter ID laws.

Joyce McMillan - Online


JOYCE MCMILLAN for The Scotsman 21.9.12

DIVIDE AND RULE. THROUGHOUT history, it has been the favourite maxim of oppressive rulers; and it has never been deployed with more success that in the United States and Britain, since the fateful tipping-point – just a generation ago – when our societies began to shift from an age of progress and growing equality, into the present age of reaction.

So last week, we saw how the strategy of divide-and-rule worked to protect South Yorkshire police in the aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when those who died were portrayed to the rest of Britain as drunken thugs, alien to respectable citizens like themselves. And this week, we saw Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States, dismissing half of the voters in his own country – the ones who vote Democrat – as lazy slobs, who pay no…

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Save Our Hospitals

ImageTaken from the Ealing Gazette

Ealing Hospital is a pretty busy place on an average day, but today’s demonstration of a community’s united outrage was anything but average. 

Having massed from 10am in Southall Park, two thousand people marched East along the Uxbridge Road today to protest against further proposed NHS cuts, including A&E closures at Ealing, Central Middlesex, Charing Cross and Hammersmith. Meeting a further horde who had gathered at Acton Park and taken the same road West, the full contingent then joined together for a huge rally at Ealing Common where there were speeches from MPs, community leaders, and live music to round off the proceedings.

These are not a few disgruntled Labour supporters who simply abhor change, this is an entire community comprised of all different ages, races, faiths and backgrounds standing shoulder to shoulder to tell the Con-Dem(n) government that they have gone, and are continuing to go, too far.  Feet from where I was, Ealing Gazette reporter Rupert Basham tweeted that there was a “strong sense the community is all in this together, and that these closures are a matter of life death”.  I agree wholeheartedly, but standing outside Ealing Hospital with my colleagues and neighbours today – on my 30 min break from my NHS day job on the very same site – I was given pause, moved by the camaraderie and commonality of purpose but equally saddened that mutual anger and outrage are the ties that bind us.


Unfortunately I had to return to work, but the crowd – which included babes in arms and pensioners on mobility scooters – carried on marching, shouting and waving their banners a further three miles to Ealing Common.  Once there they were addressed by the leaders of Ealing’s three main political parties, Julian Bell (Labour), David Millican (Conservative) and Gary Malcolm (Lib Dem).  There were also speeches from GMB President Mary Turner, Ealing MPs Steve Pound and Angie Bray, Shirley Franklin from ‘Save Whittington Hospital’, and Dr Onkar Sahota (Ealing’s representative on the Greater London Authority).


Taken from Ealing Gazette

The fact of the matter is that, despite its ever-increasing cost, the NHS is the jewel of Britain.  Forget the Royals and forget the Olympics, if you ask someone from another country what the best thing about the UK is they will tell you (often at length) that it is our health service, which still just about holds on to its original aims of providing universal healthcare that is free at the point of use.  They see what we cannot, that once lost the NHS will never ever be rebuilt – certainly not if the Conservative party have anything to say about it.  Yes, it’s expensive, but what would be the social cost of it disappearing into the ether?  Those that have least will suffer most – as seems to be the case with every new policy under our incumbent government – and it will impact most severely on the elderly, who in a wonderful sense of irony have contributed most in the way of taxation in their lifetimes.  Do we really want an American system where the first question on arriving at Hospital is not “how are you feeling” but “who is your insurer”?  I think not, and judging by today’s display of solidarity I am not the only one.

Almost six years of working for the NHS has made me realise that, although it is not perfect, it is full of people who are doing their absolute best to help the wider community.  Money, or lack thereof, is the primary reason for all the health service’s problems and deeper and deeper cuts are overtaxing staff and short-changing the taxpayer.

In the mental health sector, where I work, chronic understaffing and the removal of ‘non-essential’ staff (whether they are essential or not depends whether you are talking to the patients or politicians) is hitting us hard.  In an environment where staffing costs are 75% of our total budget, colleagues, service users and the wider public are feeling the impact of the financial squeeze.  Therapy groups, essential to rehabilitation, are cut down to the bare minimum with rumours of more to go.  Staff have less time to spend with their patients as they are so overstretched, and when someone is very unwell this can result in assaults and injuries to both staff and patients.  This unfortunately is always a possibility given the nature of the place we work, but the situation is exacerbated with every fresh slice into the budget – how can we care for people with both hands tied behind our backs?

But don’t worry – if you get assaulted you can go to A&E…for now.

Save Our NHS

Save Our NHS

Photo from the Ealing Gazette taken outside Ealing Hospital at the Save Our Hospitals March

Fantastic showcase of plays on the theme of art

Many thanks to all involved in the “She Writes” showcase – particularly to 17Percent founder Sam Hall and to Director Sarah Davies and our wonderful actors Sue Blakesley, Chyna Graham and Sioned Jones for all their hard work on ‘My Bloody Laundrette’.


Tonight we showcased 7 plays that have all responded to our theme of ‘What is art?’ in different ways.

Sally Whyte’s play ‘Joined at the hip’ was written in response to a painting by Frida Kahlo ‘The Two Fridas’. Maggie Drury’s ‘The arrangement’, Karen Bartholomew’s ‘Who knows art?’ and my own play ‘Graf’ were all musings on the question of what exactly art is, and who has the right to define it.

‘My Bloody Laundrette’ by Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman interpreted the theme in a magical realist way – Princess Leia, Mona Lisa and Juliet Capulet, all women created by men, who decide to give themselves and each other a voice.

Sioned Jones’ ‘Drawing a blank’ and ‘Pink Lady’ by Tracy Harris were both about relationships. But with unexpected twists and shown from different angles.

One of the criticisms as to why theatres won’t commission work by women is that…

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Reviewers on the Rocks – Is theatre reviewing a thankless task?

Having read with interest Amy Taylor’s well-written and extremely even handed article on this evening I began thinking of the many unpleasant exchanges I have had with individuals and companies in response to pieces I have written since I began reviewing in 2006.

What many people do not realise is that the vast majority of critics do not get paid for their work, regardless of whether they are publishing their reviews on or off line.  Of course there are free tickets to the productions, and occasionally a nice press function, but by and large critics are people who love theatre – or their chosen genre(s) – and give up their free time to see and write about it.  In most cases critics will see the production and then rush home to write the review in time for their deadline, which is more often than not the next day.  If you are also working at another job, as most freelancers are, this can mean you are under a great deal of pressure, particularly during a period as jam-packed and frenetic as the Edinburgh Festival.  I personally reviewed 54 individual productions at Edinburgh this year, and saw a further 15+ of my own volition, and trust me – we want them to be good.  I find a 60 minute show translates to approximately an hour of writing about it, and when you are seeing 8 shows a day a terrible show can be soul destroying, particularly as you have given up the opportunity to see another production in order to attend.

As a performer I have been in productions that have received reviews ranging from 2 to 5 stars (so far I’ve avoided the painful 1 star…) and negative press is a hard pill to swallow.  That said, if you invite someone to review it you are presumably confident that it is good, and understand that in asking for someone’s opinion on your work you might be unpleasantly surprised.  By all means be annoyed, particularly if you feel the piece has inaccuracies, but if that is the case contact the publication to ask for a correction or, quite frankly, suck it up.  Shows I’ve been in have been given less than sterling reviews by publications I write for!  If that doesn’t show a lack of bias I don’t know what does.  I have personally reviewed shows where I have known one or more of the actors, or the writer, the director, or sometimes all of the above.  I do not do this intentionally, however if you write and perform it is always a possibility, and those are the times when your professionalism is really tested.

As a general rule I always try to find a positive note, even in the direst of plays, but sometimes a show truly has no redeeming feature.  Those are the 0 star shows, and I have yet to give one out (although one show at Edinburgh this year came close).  If I can find a glimmer of hope or positivity it will be 1 star, and on two notable occasions – both solo shows – those reviews have provoked the unbridled ire of the companies who received them, along with allegations of unprofessionalism, “targeting” the performer, and public defamation.  One of these experiences was in my second year of writing for Fringe stalwarts ThreeWeeks, while the other came two years ago while reviewing for The Public Reviews.  Even though you, and those who know you and your work, are certain that the review you have written is one based on your honest response to a production you have experienced – and one that your readers will pay for if they see it (often at great expense) – it is still hard not to question yourself and take verbal and written attacks personally.

Like Amy I will not name the companies in question, but suffice it to say that both experiences were extremely unpleasant.  The first individual, rather than contacting the publication or my editor to raise concerns, stalked me over the internet in order to get my personal email address to which they sent abusive missives suggesting my mission in life is to destroy the work of others.  I did not respond, but forwarded it to my editor who replied on my behalf.  I heard nothing further, but a couple of years later was reviewing a production and realised that this person was in the cast.  As it transpired I knew the writer of the play I raised this as a concern and asked if they would prefer someone else review the show.  I was told this was not necessary and duly attended the show in which the lady in question was very good, however on hearing my name she apparently hyperventilated and begged that I not use her name in my review, regardless of context.  Although I thought this was unfortunate – given that I would have otherwise positively name checked her – I acquiesced and instead referred to a “strong supporting cast”.  I hold no grudge against this person, but clearly she is still reeling from a review published more than four years ago and is unable to understand that it was a professional critique, not a personal attack, which is sad for a myriad of reasons.

The second incident was rather more dramatic, with my poor, long-suffering editor being inundated with emails and web posts from ardent supporters of the actor they felt I had maligned in my review.  Fortunately for me I was not privy to all of these, and TPR has my eternal thanks for that, as I gather some were fairly unpleasant.  The upshot, however, was that my editor received many calls for my review to be removed and for me to be banned for writing for the publication.  Again it was suggested that this was “personal”, despite a positive 3 star review of another of the actor’s solo shows – written by me and published on the same site – was still in evidence on the site and ad received a grand total of zero complaints since it’s publication.  In a bizarre twist, the actor in question latterly met my editor in the street and claimed he had nothing to do with the behaviour of his fans and said my review was helpful in improving his show, inviting me to see it in its new incarnation and offer my thoughts on whether or not it had improved. Finally a professional, no? No, because that same person told a colleague and friend of mine, only weeks later, that I am “evil”, “the devil”, that I clearly have it in for him and told her that my editor had banned me from reviewing him and would instead see all of his shows personally in the future. True? Not one word.  Luckily the person he approached is a good friend, and someone who is often my plus one and knows my work, however I know he continues to hold a grudge and to blacken my name at every opportunity.

As a performer myself I do often wish I had begun writing under a pseudonym because of these incidents, but I didn’t and refuse to change now so far into my career.  I hope that my writing continues to reflect my passion for and love of theatre, and that the reviews and features I write retain their positivity and impartiality as that is what companies and their productions deserve.  I begin every show at 3 stars and work my way up or down from there, and always challenge myself over negative reviews to ensure I am being fair.

It is worth mentioning that these experiences are extremely rare, and that from the hundreds of reviews I have written over the years I have had far more thank you’s than screw you’s!  I continue to enjoy watching and writing about theatre, along with a variety of other genres, and envision myself always doing so.  If I stop enjoying it, or worse stop caring about it, then that will be the time to retire my paper and pen and go back to passive viewing.

Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman at ‘She Writes’


Ali & Deborah’s short play will have a rehearsed reading on 12th September in Whitstable in Kent!

The lineup for 12th September 2012 is:

My Bloody Laundrette – Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman
Pink Lady – Tracy Harris
The arrangement – Maggie Drury
Drawing a Blank- Sioned Jones
Who Knows Art? – Karen Bartholomew
Joined at the hip – Sally Whyte
Graf – Sam Hall
Title TBC – Sarah Davies

She Writes presents ‘What is art?’
12 September 2012, 7pm
The Horsebridge Centre bar-cafe,
Whitstable, Kent CT5 1AF (Map)
£5/4 concs


For those that are unfamiliar with IdeasTap, they are a creative network supporting artists across various genres through opportunities, finding, jobs and support.  I attended some of their talks and meetings during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year and found them to be an excellent resource.

Previously aimed at the under 30s they are now branching out and extending the network to include anyone in the creative industries – it is well worth a look:  I have just set up a profile and am looking forward to utilising their funding and support opportunities – you can view my profile here: Deborah Klayman.