Archive for October, 2013

An open, unbiased news gathering site

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

The problem with news reporting is that an individual editor with prejudices, political friends and vested interests has to decide which story to report. This obviously leads to a distorted view of the world and is relevant only to that group of people that falls into the editor’s chosen bias. It’s surprising how few people realise this simple fact.

With the advent of open technologies, it occurred to me that it might be possible to democratise the news gathering process. An open newspaper could exist on the internet that operated on a similar basis to Reddit but instead of people posting stories there that they’ve already read, they could post stories that they have directly experienced but which have not been officially reported yet. As more people add their concerns to the site, the story would get prioritised and moved up the list. The site could be called ‘Reportit’ or something.

In this way, if an issue affects many people in different ways and they choose to report it (think NHS) then that story will dominate the news site. This should eliminate the bias of a single editor and all the baggage that they bring to the job.

How those stories are then reported is another issue. Whether qualified journalists use the site as an indicator of what is actually concerning people and then use the lead stories to write a report for their own media is an option (assuming they don’t work for mainstream media). At least such a site could alert the public that certain issues are being ignored (for whatever reason) by the mainstream media if they’re not reporting it.

It would probably work best on a local community level and possibly engage an indifferent populace if they thought that their ‘news vote’ actually achieved something.

Sex, Death and Breaking Bad. A review of Sweeney Todd at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Friday, October 4th, 2013


Maybe Breaking Bad isn’t such a modern tale after all. Sweeney Todd has a similar story arc: a talented man wrongly denied his full potential by an uncaring society seethes with resentment. He accidentally meets an amoral criminal character who encourages him to become more ambitious in his crimes. After he is forced to commit his first murder he finds the subsequent crimes easier to execute. His crimes also turn him on sexually.

This is a long performance, two and a half hours no less and it is a musical of two halves.

The first half is paced a fraction too slow and during the interval I contemplated the second half with some trepidation—it was uncomfortably warm in the theatre— but I need not have worried, the second half flew by in a spell-binding flash.

The production values for this show are impressively high: clever set designs (with some Health and Safety issues!), dramatic lighting, complex choreography and quality musicianship – I only heard one bum note during the whole show.

All the cast members were excellent except for Niamh Perry who played Johanna and was merely good. It is unfortunate that the weakest member of the cast takes on such a pivotal role; her voice just isn’t on a par with the rest of them.

Sweeney Todd however, played by David Birrell, more than makes up for this dip in quality with his terrific voice and utterly convincing performance.

I particularly liked Sebastien Torkia who played Pirelli but he has the misfortune to bear a striking resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G) so when he formed part of the chorus again later in the performance he kept interfering with my suspension of disbelief.

I confess that I’m not a regular theatre-goer so certain aspects of the structure of the play confused me and I found myself asking questions like “why do the slaughtered victims have bloody bandages on their throats when they rejoin the chorus” and “why is one of the chorus present at this intimate scene?”

After the show I asked James Brining, the artistic director, what the bandages were all about. He told me it was a detail, Brechtian in execution, not important. Ah, but James, to me it is important. I thought I had missed some profound symbolism.

The second half is nothing short of sensational. Much darker in tone than the first half it brilliantly builds to its hellish climax—a demented Sweeney Todd sat in his barbers chair, caught in the high-intensity spotlight.

Judging by the wild cheering for the first time the chair and trap door swallowed their first victim and the rapturous applause at the end, the audience loved the show.

I loved the second half too.