It is always harder to criticise a show that’s based on personal history because you’re often dealing with very real and often very present pain. The three performers in As a Tiger in the Jungle – an international production from Ali Williams and Circus Xanti – joined the circus as a result of human trafficking. Renu Ghalan and Aman Tamang were trafficked aged five. In a recent interview, Ghalan said, “I was in the circus in India for nine years, from age five to age 14. I don’t like talking about what happened to me there.”

There is something uneasy about this discomfort being translated into a show where he is forced to retell parts of his story every night. If the production was exceptionally brilliant, perhaps it would lend the show a level of honesty, or humility, or rawness. But a traumatic true story does not immediately make good theatre.

This piece, although a pleasantly entertaining hour with some good circus skills, does not justify the adaptation of real suffering. If we’re not being blown away by the injustice of their story, then we’re just witnessing their pain. That they speak very little English in the piece adds to the feeling that we, as an audience, are somehow exploiting them.

On a bamboo-like structure, Loan TP Hoang, Ghalan and Tamang clamber about. Tamang scrambles around a hamster cage, lifted by Hoang as he leaps up to drop her by the rope that holds them together, two weighing scales tipping up and over. Later the cage is replaced with a ring, and they glide over each other, almost embracing as their skin breezes past. Ghalan and Tamang are the more agile, leaping and twisting, while Hoang narrates, relating their stories with wide-eyed horror, as you would a ghost story round a campfire.

But director Sverre Waage’s script tips the story tips into melodrama with moralistic, storybook tropes that feel a little over the top. The attempts to combine the actions with the words are the weakest parts of the production. It is strongest when the choreography stands alone.

In one section of the dance, Ghalan and Tamang fight. They chuck themselves at each other with the full force of their weight. But just as their sibling is about to fall, their weight appears to slide off and they glide to the floor rather than thump. They flip when they should fall. A light touch moves into a violent thud. They are so utterly in control of their bodies they seem to defy physics.

After the fight, they sit, their bodies touching. One looks at the other. The other looks away. Their gaze glides past each other, just falling short of making contact. It is these moments of silence and beautiful movement that stand out, but it is the melodramatic script and the uncomfortable morals of the piece that linger.

One of the last pieces of choreography involves Ghalan dangling from and dancing around a length of fabric. He dresses up for it, demonstrating to us that he is acting. Then he sheds the costume and he winds himself up and up and up in the fabric. He knots himself into it, his muscles shaking and hair sweating. It feels like an act of self-harm.

How can we congratulate something that feels like exploitative?

Original: Exeunt



it is easy to look down on rupi kaur’s poetry. too young. too tumblr. too i’m-in-love-for-the-first-time-and-no-one-has-ever-felt-this-way-before.

kaur’s anti-establishment style- self-published, with a lack of capital letters and a disdain for punctuation- is synonymous with many of today’s instapoets. yet it is kaur’s work that has leapt into the mainstream and topped the new york times bestseller list. twice. so there must be something special about her writing.

and there is. kaur’s first collection, milk and honey, is one of the few books on my “if you don’t give this back i won’t just be angry, i’ll be disappointed” bookshelf. from the lyrical poems down to the matte cover, milk and honey feels a little bit like a carefully selected gift.

this second collection, the sun and her flowers, has been too hastily wrapped.

the canadian 25 year old still manages to make many of her turns of phrase bloom. her words still depict bodies, inside and out, as susceptible to emotions as if pain or lust were physical elements. skin is floral, easily ripped or torn. the mind is shaken in a storm, sometimes a weed and sometimes a healthy root. there are still so many moments of beauty, of rawness, of  vulnerability. the words seem to flow out of her. she makes it look so easy.

but that’s where kaur stumbles. this second collection is too easy. it has neither the grace nor the thorniness of milk and honey.

much like her first collection, the sun and her flowers is divided into sections, here taking the shape of a flower’s life: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming. kaur explored most of the themes in similar ways throughout milk and honey, and many of the new poems could be interchanged with the first collection. love, sexual assault, family, femininity, strength. all worthy, but many here dealt with too heavy-handedly. frequently, kaur leans so heavily on cliche that she topples into it.

in part, the fault here lies with the visual layout. the illustrations, which are no doubt beautiful, feel so lazy. in the first, some poems hid inside illustrations, the pen curving round the printed word. there, the drawings embellished the meaning of the poems, extending metaphors or adding a nudge of understanding. in the sun and her flowers, the illustrations directly repeat the image of the poem. a poem about a unibrow will be underscored by a subtitle that says “unibrow”, above a drawing of a unibrow. we get it. many of her illustrations in the sun and her flowers are also an “ode to”, rather than holding a unique voice.

all of this feels like watching a bad actor, when the pace at which they walk dictates the rhythm of their speech. i want her to run while she sings us a lullaby. her first collection proves she can. this second lets her down.

one of the most significant steps away from her first collection is the section rooting. many of these poems draw both on the world’s compassion fatigue at refugees flooding the news, and her own ancestry. she writes about female infanticide, about racism today and about her mother with a delicacy that necessitates the blank space around her words, in order to let them settle on your lips.

and then she leaps. back to the rom-com tropes. it feels naive, no worse than that, it feels immature to combine the overbearing hunger of a refugee and then the wholeness of her being in love. her writing doesn’t yet have the strength for them to all coherently fit together. the vastness of the topics she tries to cover swallows up their logical connection.

this week has proven that women need a support network and a space to speak out about injustice. and rupi kaur has opened up poetry to so many young women, being brave enough to talk about tough topics. so she deserves more space, more room to breathe, more platforms to speak upon. her work is tangible, and bold. yes, it’s cliched, and yes, the lack of full stops sometimes feels more effortful than just giving into autocorrected capitalisation, but my copy of the book is still dog-eared and underlined.  there is something about the cliches that are unavoidably attractive. i just can’t shake the feeling that for everything kaur tries to tackle in this collection, the result disappoints.


Photograph: Pamela Raith

Read on The Guardian here.











“Sexual consent row as feminists accuse Bristol University of downgrading workshop to online quiz”

“Feminist group furious over Bristol University’s ‘reckless’ changes to sexual consent workshops”

These were just two of the headlines last week from newspapers reporting changes made by the University of Bristol to its face-to-face sexual consent classes. But there is more to the story than the headlines might suggest.

Optional consent lessons are still being offered, though they are now taught alongside other topics including drug and alcohol awareness, personal safety and community living. Meanwhile, a section on assault and consent has been added to the mandatory e-induction for all students moving into university accommodation. In previous years, attendance for the classes was low, but the new efforts have increased numbers.

Consent lessons are regularly accused of being patronising, demonising and simply unnecessary, but the ultimate value of a well led session – that it has the potential to prevent someone from committing rape – cannot be underestimated. They offer a platform for difficult questions to be asked, away from porn, Reddit or ill-informed, exaggerating friends. They teach that rape and sexual assault don’t only occur in dark alleys, and that perpetrators are more often than not known to their victim. They teach about homosexual as well as heterosexual assault and about victim blaming, revenge porn and sexting. They teach about rights and responsibilities, and where to get help.

In its current form, sex education in Britain is something to be ashamed of, with the Local Government Association describing it as a “ticking sexual health time bomb” and students as young as 11 demanding better. At the same time, one-in-three female students in the UK reportedly experience sexual assault or unwanted advances on campus.

Every year as freshers’ week rolls around there’s a new article in a university newspaper from a young man denying the need for consent classes, but the hideous statistics speak for themselves and prove the need for these discussions. Any efforts to increase awareness around issues of consent should be welcomed.

Lumping consent into a talk with a number of other topics may suggest it’s not deemed worthy of deeper discussion. However the university reports that attendance for the new classes has doubled. Last year the uptake for the consent lessons was 40% of the 6,000 freshers living in student accommodation. This year 80% attended. Surely it is better to engage disinterested students through the lure of the other topics, while making the most of the opportunity to present them with information about consent?

Online, the e-induction has the potential to engage better with nervous freshers. Around the world, online-only services such as the Nigerian information provider My Question and the Arabic educational service Karaz have proved popular among young people, providing a platform for them to ask questions they are otherwise too embarrassed to ask. It’s not hard to believe that offering a more private space for students to learn about consent could be more effective than a Powerpoint presentation with a group discussion. At the very least, the obligatory course serves students the facts and would perhaps promote a discussion or two over the kitchen table.

Ultimately, it is the content of a consent lesson that makes the difference. As the optional classes have doubled in attendance and the online course is now mandatory at Bristol, these efforts to engage students through new formats should be celebrated. They are an attempt at positive change, not a reckless disregard for victims.



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