“My First Night at the Opera” with Craig Leiper

French brie and cranberry jam, a man and another man at the Alter, Harriet Harman and a first-class honours degree, Donald Trump and an exit wound: some things just go together.

But me, Craig Leiper and the Opera? I wasn’t so sure.

For the first time ever, my Saturday night was spent rubbing shoulders with Edinburgh’s metropolitan elite, a social experiment above all else, was it possible for me to have an enjoyable night at the theatre?

My chosen opera: “The Trial” by Philip Glass, adapted from the novel by Franz Kafka. 


Veg Jalf: D-wicious. A fine, fine wine.

 Pre-Theatre (Pre-Op)

I had all the best intentions, to pre-theatre and do it right: a vegetable Jalfrezi cooked from scratch accompanied by a glass or two of red wine whilst researching some of Kafka’s works on YouTube.

However, the execution left a lot to be desired as I was running late – the large chunks of veg needed half an hour to cook (I still managed to sneak in two glasses of wine).

While the curry was simmering, I began watching a Will Self documentary on Kafka but soon grew tired of his weasel like face and droning voice; although I agree with many of his views, I wanted to see someone poking fun at him.

Clicking on a Question Time highlights video, I grew agitated as Carol Vordeman played the role of “concerned middle England mother” and no one was making fun of Self and his ferret like exterior. Cycling through Youtube videos is a dangerous game to play.

I was getting ready to head off as Andrew Neil’s disgusting, fat, cherry coloured face appeared on my screen, with his cleft chin reflecting in the studio lights like a shiny backside. It was time to go.

I opted for a grey blazer and burgundy shirt top half but couldn’t shake the feeling I looked more “Hearts Under 21’s” than “grande bourgeoisie”.


Delving into the world of Opera. Hard.

Pre-Op (Opera)

After collecting my ticket, I walked down some steps to a bar in the wings of theatre.

There was a hum in the air, a sophisticated hum; people were discussing their expectations for the opera and views on global current affairs aka Trump. No one seemed to be gasping for a drink in the same way I was. But, after a few I really do get on a roll, guilty as charged.

I was slightly irritated by the fact I was attending solo. No one was there to hear my cheeky jibes at the expense fellow theatre goers.

A couple went to the bar and asked for a red wine, the “large” was £5 for 175 ml (which is actually a standard medium glass) but they both seemed a little unsure and chose a small instead. 

They looked like the kind of couple who go jogging together in unbranded clothing, eat butternut squash (even though it tastes like the turnips pretentious cousin) and only make love in the missionary position so God can`t see their faces from above.

However, there would be plenty of time to silently ridicule people during the interval. Now, it was time to witness my first Opera.

The Op (opera)

The stage lay bare apart from a solitary iron bed, below in the theatre underbelly/dug-out area the orchestra was warming up, doing stretches and probably having a laugh at the conductors expense.

The man sat next to me was reading a book, typical. I interrupted him to ask him his thoughts and expectations for the opera. He told me his name was Robin and I had no reason to disbelieve him.”It’s definitely one of Kafka’s most accessible works, I’m really looking forward to it” said my new friend. I didn’t know what to say but I made some intelligent sounds.

Half way through the second act disaster struck: the King’s reached a perfect 24 degrees. My pre-theatre veg jalf lay heavy in my gut and my fourth glass of fine, fine wine was just settling… I fell asleep, in a Kafkaesque way.

The lights went on and applause filled the room, I woke to Robin excitedly asking me “So, what did you think?”

I thought he had caught me sleeping and this comment was a wise crack, but I could see in his eyes he was sincere. Again, I mumbled something about staying true to the book but had a horrible taste in my mouth, time for more wine. NOMNOMNOM


The cast of the Trial. Great bunch of lads.

At the interval I spoke with two medical students, one was really into Kafka and the opera, the other was a pretender, like me. I made deliberate eye contact with him as he spoke:

“Like yeah, I’ve read a lot of Kafka stuff and I think this is a good representation of his work”


Heading back to my seat, I appreciated the ornate ceiling of the King’s and wondered why none of the opera actors were as good looking as the beautiful ginger mermaid with her nipple out, depicted above.

I reasoned that theatre actors weren’t chiseled or athletic because they had spent so long perfecting their craft and had little time for anything else. Their lack of beauty and wealth of talent deserves our respect. The actor who played “Titorelli” the painter had a little bit of something going on:  I requested a rain jacket for my seat.


Titorelli, the painter.  Elgan Llyr Thomas

Final Comments

Everyone should go to an opera once in their life to witness a high end piece of performance art.

Hearing an orchestra play live is genuinely impressive; although it could be improved with the introduction of an electric guitar for some ripping solo’s, dude.

The script or “Libretto” was strong but if they made the couplets rhyme it would have been far more memorable. I’m not looking for “We will Rock you” but come on.

Looking around, I didn’t see a single monocle, fur coat or high end prostitute. Everyone was incredibly middle class and enthusiastic. Shame really.

Glass and Kafka combined to the audiences delight, a real triumph. But, the unsung hero of the night was Leiper: he played a blinder.

Brainstorm: Super Bowl 2017 – Our top 5 Movie trailers

Many things happened during this year’s Super Bowl. The plucky young Falcons were latently smited by Tom Brady’s laser arm to win his 5th ring. Lady Gaga auditioned for the circus in her breathless speedrun through her musical discography.

Most importantly, however, we got another truckload of tantalising film trailers. Every time a Quarterback was tilted over (looking at you Tom Brady), or when the handsomely paid athletes asked for a time out – in which there were many – we were greeted with a slew of teasers; here are our best picks.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Guardians are back, all in their retro Sci-fi glory! Another golden oldy (this time provided by Fleetwood Mac – The Chain) and even more dizzying glimpses at their expanded cast.

Do we see much of the plot? Nope. Does it look like it has captured the smirking fun from the original? Seems so.


LIFE looks like the menage-a-trois lovechild of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Is that a good thing? It might be. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal scowl behind spacesuits and an unknown but definitely murderous substance is wrecking havoc inside claustrophobic spaces.  Watch this space (see what we did there).


Hugh Jackman is back as the brooding, (extra) bearded anti-hero of basically all of the previous X-men films. But with gore, pained music and naughty words!

Logan now has a young and precocious child, roadtripping across beige landscapes and running away from a bald Stephen Merchant and a menacing Boyd Holbrook (straight off of the plane from Narcos). Will the film be naff? Maybe, but it probably won’t be worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Pirates Of The Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

It’s at this point that the films are starting to blur together. Instead of a skeleton monkey, we have a skeleton parrot! Wow, what a difference.

More beaches, undead (of some variety) pirates and Geoffrey Rush debuts a sunburnt face in his reoccuring slot as Captain Barbossa – will he be a goodie or a baddie this time?!

The trailer features some more CGI multi-ship fights, an assumedly mud smothered cameo from (Captain!) Jack Sparrow and was that an appearance from Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

John Wick: Chapter 2

We love a wee meta trailer and what’s better than a John Wick trailer masquerading as the latest Shades of Grey film?

The retired one man army galavants across Rome in tailored, always black suits. His movements with a gun are like a lethal tango across blood-soaked floors; expect an even higher death-count than before.

Brainstorm: The Greatest Exhibitions of 2017

Mark Wallinger:MARK

Edinburgh and Dundee play host to the works of  Mark Wallinger which can be humorous, painful and political, sometimes all at once. Current Rorschach images shape the foundation of these exhibitions that focus on his latest body of work. Wallinger once performed as the back end of a pantomime horse but his profile and prominence cry out for a grander museum arena. However, the opportunity should be taken to appreciate his work in these more intimate venues.

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 4 March–4 June and Dundee Contemporary Arts, 4 March–4 June.


Detail from Aleksandra Mir’s space tapestry. Photography: Aleksandra Mir

Aleksandra Mir

 This visionary artist has created a 200 metre tapestry in honour of our astronomical journey into space. The project contains the real, the imagined, the present and the future. Mir has team up with a number of young artists bound for success in her optimistic urge for a stellar adventure.

Tate Liverpool, 23 June–15 October.

North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

With the theme of masculinity this exhibition explores the ways in which youth culture has influenced fashion and music. The exhibition asks whether Northern England presents a particular aesthetic along with an individual attitude?

Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, 6 January-19 March.


Standard Station by Edward Ruscha

The American Dream

This print art aspiringly tries to demonstrate the nation’s artistic glory with a focus on American society. Starting with the pop art giants, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jaspers Johns, this shows takes us through the artistic years and reaches modern day with the displaying of Kara Walker, Julie Mehretu and Ed Ruscha.

British Museum, London, 9 March–18 June.


 Examining how Californians are shaping our lives, this exhibition follows the design story from the 1960’s to define how the Golden State founded individual freedom. From skateboarding and self-driving vehicles to political movements and iPhones. How are their designers still contributing to everyday modernism?

The Design Museum, London, 24 May–15 October.


Portait of an artist (pool with two figures) by David Hockney

David Hockney

Nearing his 80th, Hockney is celebrated in the largest exhibition of his long and diverse career. As a distinguished portraitist, photographer, graphic and video artist, all will be displayed in a merriment of artistic wonder.

Tate Britain, London, 9 February–29 May. Hockney

The Place is Here

This representation of black art during Britain of the 80’s show a collection of archive material including paintings, photography, sculpture and the moving images of post colonial Britain. Art from the likes of Sunil GuptaLubaina Himid and many more helped shape British culture throughout a time of significant cultural and social transformation.

Nottingham Contemporary, 4 February–30 April


Eruption by William Hamilton diplayed at Bodleian Library. Photography: Bodleian


Amongst the fascinating articles to be found amongst this history of volcanoes in science and art are charred papyrus from a Roman villa buried by the infamous eruption of Vesuvius in AD79. The prevailing analysis of volcanoes started during the 18th century, when artists started painting images of the erupting Vesuvius exploding into life. The illustrated scientific work, Campi Flegrei by William Hamilton and more recent work by  Andy Warhol captured Vesuvius. Explosively hot stuff.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, 10 February – 21 May.

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

This exhibition explores the art and diverse talents of the unique  Grayson Perry. Percy’s cross dressing, Turner prize winning, undoubted artistic talents and TV appearances have propelled him to the recognition of a national cultural figure. His artistic phenomenon will be there for all to judge. How will it stake up?

Serpentine Galleries, London, 8 June–10 September.


Clip from Amie Siegal’s work and history. Photography: Jens Liebchen

Amie Siegel: Strata

Her anticipated UK solo tour Amie Siegel takes us on a voyage through the complementary collections of places, materials, work and history. The film displays the voyage from the world’s largest underground marble quarry to their final destination amongst Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

South London Gallery, 20 January–26 March.

Brainstorm: Life, Animated Review

Director, Robert Ross Williams brings us a colourful and tender documentary with his newest release Life, Animated. A coming of age movie about Autism and of making sense of the world through film.

Many people can claim to grow up watching Disney films. Owen Suskind is no different. Every day was filled with toy sword fights with Dad, constant re-runs of the Little Mermaid and scribblings of favourite characters. But as he grew up he became distant, regressing into himself. Owen would communicate with babbles and his movement was erratic – unable to properly walk in a straight line.

The difference before and after his sudden change was stark. The once bubbly child was socially removed. He rarely talked or made eye contact, he would deviate from crowds at birthday parties. His parents learnt that he had autism and to their horror, were told of the possibility that he would not be able to speak again or potentially meet major milestones that other children will achieve.

Over time, his parents realised that Owen wasn’t babbling nonsense but was repeating his favourite lines from Disney movies. He had become a Disney dialogue dictionary, pulling phrases and lines verbatim and forming his worldview alongside Aladdin, Simba and others. Even though he was closed off, he was intelligent – learning how to read by watching the credits to every film.

“Life, Animated” documents Suskind’s growth as a 23-year-old into an independent adult dealing with holding down jobs, figuring out romance and living by himself. After spending all of his life watching Peter Pan’s escapades and Quasimodo’s struggle to fit in, Owen has become the star of his own story, with Disney acting as one of his beloved sidekicks; contextualising the major moments of his life.


Owen Suskind, the focus of the documentary

Even as he matures, his emotions and the way he interacts with the world has been and almost always will be funnelled through a patchwork of dialogue from his childhood. It’s these many moments speckled throughout the film that we get to see exactly what Owen is thinking. When he moves away for the first time, he lies in bed watching Bambi, specifically the heartbreaking scene where Bambi’s mother is shot. Without saying anything, Owen feels; He feels lonesome and misses his Mother.

Through Owen’s eyes, the many moments in Disney that I may have balked at have a newer sheen of deeper meaning: ones that are articulate in how they deal with learning how to belong, or how to deal with adversity during dark times. Maybe the repeated viewings have accumulated to an intimate knowledge that can only be gleamed by religious studying.

But such an approach using Disney as a bible to base oneself upon becomes clear in how it has flaws. Not everything in Disney translates accurately over to real life. There is a gaping point after the “happy ever after” that Disney films rarely account for – the complicated stuff that happens later on in the story. Even though Owen is 23, how do you approach topics like sex using examples from the films? – the solution to the question is cautiously attempted by a stand-in-mentor.

Life, Animated is a powerful documentary that refuses to shy away from the family’s struggles by covering things up. It shows the group effort to help Owen transition towards where he wants to be, validating who he is and not forcing him away towards where they want him to be. While at times twee, it packs emotional punch in its intimate interviews and the use of vivid animation to clarify how someone on the autistic spectrum thinks. By the end of the film, I genuinely do think I have seen someone change on camera during the short period.

Overall “life, animated” provides a stark look at the reality that many people affected by autism face on a daily basis, and perfectly demonstrates the demands that a modern society can have on people afflicted.

8/10 stars.


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