Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

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Tragedy, in the home of tragedies

This summer I went to Epidaurus (/ ˌ ɛ p ɪ ˈ d ɔː r ə s /; Ancient Greek: Ἐπίδαυρος Epidauros) was a small city in ancient Greece, on the Argolid Peninsula at the Saronic Gulf, because I always wanted to watch an greek tragedy in the ancient Greek open air theatre.

I picked the play Elektra because it is a classic and a true tragedy, set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan War, it recounts the tale of Electra and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

The play was directed by a relatively new director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, who has found increasing attention, in a relatively short space of time, and in a very competitive genre.

I really loved the drive to Epidaurus, in the late afternoon, nearing sunset, travelling through the mountains with many other thousands, for the one purpose, to be at this venue and watch an ancient play. My expectations were close to none, as it would have been my first experience. I only assumed, Elektra would have been translated into a slightly more modern version, as many other cultural references and movements in Greece nowadays do.

I only realized the enormity of the crowds gathering there when I saw the size of the carpark and the queues when we got to the theatre gates. The ancient stone carved and built space welcomed us with a stage made in the same shape of its roundness, all in white with a round hole cut out on the white backdrop, linking the stage with the backdrop, by steep dramatic steps.

Epidavros

The tragedy begun and it was a disorienting and confusing experience. There were women covered in see through cloths, moving effortlessly like on-screen ghosts from the 70’s era. They reminded me of Catholicism and that became even more apparent as the play evolved. They were judgmental and backbones-less. The main character squeaked and screamed in unconnected personas making it even more uncomfortable. Yes she was going through a huge trauma however she did not need to be portrayed in such a misogynistic way. She was neither a woman, nor a devil. She was bitter and lost but the character portrayed was uncharacteristically poltergeisted for the pain and revenge she was planning. The whole lot of the other characters played out the same, they were either too weak or a copycat of Dracula like comicon characters that lacked dimension – this was a huge disappointment. The director could have played out the roles much more and did not think about their human element. It felt like he imposed his impression of the story on the actors. This left me with the impression the actors did not connect with the Director, and that is was pretty obvious he had made little effort to collaborate them even between them.

At the end of the tragedy, a bigger one happened. As the actors were bowing to their audience and receiving lots of thanks, the director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, went to the stage, dressed in an outfit resembling a German soldier outfit from the 2nd world war.

I did not find that funny or creative. I understood well his tendency to associate with the dark wave movement in Athens, after all I once was part of it too and remember al the boys getting excited with memorabilia, only to find themselves very isolated in the end. His choice was distasteful and inappropriate given we are at the verge of fascism all over Europe.

Thanos Papakonstantinou, failed on all fronts. It sounds like someone is pushing him to the front stage, however unqualified.  The Greek economy may be small, and opportunists like him can get attention and success, however Greece doesn’t deserve people like him mocking the situation (this is not a creative license, whatever he may come up to say) and fueling the division in our society further.

I wish to not see Thanos Papakonstantinou getting opportunities any day soon and for greek stages to host the original grassroots talent that exists but doesn’t try to buy in their way, through controversy. This is not USA, and there is no reason to be wearing an offensive outfit, not un-similar to Melania Trump’s ‘I don’t care’ outfit as she visited the children immigrant detention centres.