Tracks of the week reviewed: the Hotrats, Rihanna and Chai

This week weve got a chewy take on a Kelis classic, a husky slow jam and a beguiling piece of art-pop

The Hotrats


In lockdown, where Pringles dipped in peanut butter is an acceptable breakfast, its hard to know what we actually need. Do we really need a Kelis cover from Gaz and Danny from Supergrass? Is it actually a chunky, wonky, thigh-slappy hoot, or is it like slamming through a pack of Tunnocks before Bargain Hunt ie, Its Just Something To Do? Difficult to say. I think its magnificent. But then again, I havent left my flat for three weeks and just ate a whole a jar of jalapeos.


No More Cake

Cabin fever or not, this box-of-frogs whopper from artsy Japanese four-piece Chai absolutely bangs. Look at you, thats way too much / Your face is made up like a cake! they wail in prissy unison, over what sounds for all the world like Bjrks Army of Me and Nine Inch Nailss Closer nipple-twisting each other to death at a sexy party. The cake is a metaphor for makeup. Of course it is.

PartyNextDoor ft Rihanna

Believe It

Where has Rihanna been? Not a peep from her for three years, then out of nowhere she sticks her head above the parapet to wibble five words on this not wholly unpleasant yet instantly forgettable conjugal jam, before shes off again, disparu. Lovely to hear her dulcets, but for the Ri-Public thisll be like a nicotine patch, or screaming into a pillow because you want to go outside: itll take the edge off, but not for long.

Jess Williamson

Infinite Scroll

Time did unfold like an infinite scroll seems prescient at the moment, but rather than watching all three Lord of the Rings films while you languish in the Ocado queue, Austin tunester Williamson is deconstructing societys addiction to social media, making its languid desert-pop genuinely heartbreaking.

Kings of Leon

Going Nowhere

Few phrases these days conjure as little excitement as theres a new Kings of Leon song. And this is basically Oasiss Songbird, only with all that songs affable, doofus charm sucked out, so it sort of just plods hither and thither like a dying dog. Young people: KoL used to be good, honest. This, though, is toilet.

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McCoy Tyner, revered jazz pianist, dies aged 81

American musician, who played with John Coltrane, was seen as one of the most influential jazz pianists of all time

Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner has died at the age of 81.

The death of Tyner, known as one of the most influential figures in jazz, was announced on his Facebook page.

McCoy was an inspired musician who devoted his life to his art, his family and his spirituality, the statement read. McCoy Tyners music and legacy will continue to inspire fans and future talent for generations to come.

Tyner was born in 1938 and began studying the piano at the age of 13. He joined the John Coltrane quartet in 1960. We got along very well, Tyner later said of his relationship with Coltrane. We had a good feeling for each other, similar conceptually as far as music was concerned. I knew that is where I needed to be. I was really anxious and excited about it.

He was 21 at the time. He proceeded to play on Coltranes hit album My Favorite Things the following year. The band toured for the next few years, recording more albums, while Tyner also appeared on a number of other records from Blue Note.

He left the group in 1965 and produced a number of other albums before recording with other jazz trios for the next few decades, working with artists like Sonny Rollins and Stanley Clarke. He also made solo records, including Revelations in 1988.

The official account for Blue Note Records tweeted a titan has now been lost and that the amount of beauty Tyner gave to the world is simply staggering. Tributes have also arrives from Red Hot Chili Peppers founding member Flea who referred to Tyner as a stunner of a pianist and guitarist Charles Johnson, who played with him once, calling him an amazing force of nature and also a great person.

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Trevor Noah on ‘social distancing’: Dont breathe on me, bitch’

Late-night hosts continue to assess the response to coronavirus, from so-called social distancing to hand sanitizer

Trevor Noah

More and more events, festivals and political rallies are cancelled as Americans seek to stop the spread of coronavirus, said Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. The new phrase of the moment is social distancing, also known as dont breathe on me, bitch.

Social distancing is the term du jour for steering clear of crowded public spaces, such as subway cars and theaters, and close contact with other humans, sort of like the opposite of what you guys are doing right now, Noah told his studio audience. I actually wish social distancing was a thing when I was in middle school, because it wouldve made all the times I ate alone in the bathroom seem way more responsible.

The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow)

Talking about the latest coronavirus containment buzzword: social distancing.

March 11, 2020

Institutions and businesses are, in recent days, cracking down on social distancing. Colleges are cancelling classes or, in some cases, ending the semester. Google, Amazon and other businesses are encouraging or enforcing work from home policies. But in all seriousness, social distancing is not an option for much of Americas workforce because without paid leave, many people have to work, despite the danger, said Noah. Which is insane, when you think about it. Like imagine if Godzilla is attacking a city, but delivery people still have to keep doing their jobs.

The point of social distancing is to minimize the spread of the virus to protect vulnerable populations like the elderly and immuno-compromised people. But it turns out one of the groups whos most at risk just DGAF, said Noah, pointing to a CNN clip of Baby Boomers playing softball outside Orlando; when asked whether hed change his lifestyle to minimize risk, one said: I think thats bogus, and I think its something that each individual has to decide on their own.

Im sorry, thats insane you dont just get to decide what you think about a disease, said Noah. No one is in the doctors office like Doctor, be honest, is it bad? and the doctors like, Eh, its up to you.

Stephen Colbert

On the Late Show, Stephen Colbert turned to the local coronavirus response in New York. The biggest cluster of cases is in the suburb of New Rochelle, where New Yorks governor, Andrew Cuomo, designated a one-mile-radius containment zone on Tuesday (Oh, what a cluster-suck, said Colbert) and deployed the national guard.

The national guard. Containment area. These are Family Feud answers to the question: Name something you hear in a zombie apocalypse, said Colbert. Show me: Oh God! Hes eating my brain!

Cuomo also cancelled gatherings to minimize the spread. Oh, so its just a precaution, nothing to worry about, said Colbert. In fact, Governor Cuomo tried to calm anxious residents, saying This is literally a matter of life and death.

Colbert pointed back to his Family Feud board. Show me: Literally a matter of life and death Number one answer!

Cuomo also announced that New York will produce its own hand sanitizer to be available at government offices, and since its New York, it will also be available on a folding table next to a fake Louis Vuitton clutch, used paperbacks and a bootleg DVD of Mr Poppers Penguins, said Colbert.

Given coronavirus fears, the Dow dropped 2,000 points on Tuesday, so the president immediately held a press conference to announce his plan to plan to have a plan to do stuff, said Colbert, who summarized the speech: Im here with Mitch McConnell, with others, with everybody to announce some hastily thrown together measures that I feel like Im just throwing handfuls of dry dog food at a charging tiger but, uh, heres a tax cut, or maybe some loans, substantial reliefs for everybody, small companies, fat companies, sexy companies, ugly companies! Tell me when one of these works!

Jimmy Kimmel

Tuesday was Super Tuesday II, in which residents of several states such as Michigan and Mississippi voted on the remaining Democratic candidates: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and in case they dont survive the coronavirus because theyre old, Tulsi Gabbard, said Jimmy Kimmel. Does Tulsi Gabbard know shes still in the race? It feels like one of those things where you forget to cancel your health club membership.

While Biden and Sanders cancelled rallies on Tuesday because of the coronavirus, Trump said he would continue on as normal, which is a first, Kimmel said.

Speaking of coronavirus, The White House says they have everything under control, which must be why they delayed the release of a report from the director of national intelligence that says the United States is not prepared to handle a pandemic, said Kimmel. One possible reason why we might not be prepared is back in 2018, Trump fired the entire US pandemic response team to save money.

But dont worry, he has a plan, Kimmel deadpanned: on Tuesday morning, Trump commented we need the wall more than ever on a retweet of someone who argued The Wall could save America from coronavirus. There are more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in America and fewer than 10 in Mexico, said Kimmel, so, hes right, the wall would help to protect them from us.

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At least 170,000 lose jobs as film industry grinds to a halt due to coronavirus

Around 120,000 people are out of work in Hollywood, while in the UK it is estimated that 50,000 freelancers will lose their jobs

About 120,000 film industry workers have already lost their jobs in Hollywood as a result of the coronavirus shutdown, according to the US entertainment industry union IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

The estimate emerged in a newsletter sent out by the ICG (International Cinematographers Guild) to its members, which said: The IATSE reports that the pandemic shutdown has resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members. It is critical that our industry be included in pending federal relief package.

The film and TV industry worldwide has experienced a near-total cessation of activity, with thousands of largely freelance crew laid off at short notice with little or no financial compensation. Scores of productions, ranging from studio shoots such as the Avatar sequels and Fantastic Beasts 3 to independent films such as Paul Schraders The Card Counter, have been halted.

The ICG, which has nearly 9,000 members, added: Although some of our members are being paid for up to two weeks after their shows shut down, based upon the reality of the healthcare crisis we now face, it is highly unlikely that productions will resume after so short a period of time This problem is likely to continue for months, not weeks.

In the UK, the situation for below the line crew appears equally catastrophic. Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) estimates around 50,000 industry freelancers will have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The unions head, Philippa Childs, said: Nearly all film and TV production has ground to a halt in the UK The [countrys] world-class film and TV sector is at risk of a whole generation of talent being financially ruined by this crisis. A survey conducted by the union suggested that 71% of freelancers about 35,000 people in the industry will struggle to survive financially as a result of the shutdown.

Directors UK, the trade guild representing British screen directors, sent a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for further measures to support freelance and self-employed film industry personnel. Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns wrote: There is now a critical need for similar emergency support measures to be introduced for self-employed workers who are worried, not just about losing their current work, but at the prospect of facing months without income as productions are suspended longer term and, for some smaller productions, indefinitely. Chowns called for the introduction of proportional income support and sick pay to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Guardians callout for insight into how the shutdown has affected film industry workers has revealed scores of anecdotes about the impact of coronavirus. A selection will be published in the near future.

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James Franco accusers are ‘jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon’, say actor’s lawyers

Franco denies allegations and asks Los Angeles county superior court to dismiss lawsuit against him

James Franco has responded to allegations of sexual harassment by two former students by claiming they were an attempt to jump on the [#MeToo] bandwagon and played into the medias insatiable appetite to ruin the next celebrity.

In a demurrer filed on 28 February to the Los Angeles county superior court, Francos lawyers asked that the lawsuit filed in October by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal be dismissed, saying none of the alleged events detailed had happened, and the statute of limitations had passed for the accusations.

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal have alleged that a now-defunct programme run by Francos Studio 4 acting school had enabled Franco and his male collaborators to engage in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects. Among other claims, Tither-Kaplan say Franco allegedly removed plastic guards that had been placed over actors genitals while he simulated oral sex.

In the demurrer, Francos lawyers state: The salacious allegations in the complaint have made great tabloid fodder, but like most tabloid stories, they are false and inflammatory, legally baseless and brought as a class action with the obvious goal of grabbing as much publicity as possible for attention-hungry plaintiffs.

The filing by Franco denies that actors were pressured to participate in nude scenes, saying that all performers had signed nudity waivers and no complaints were made at the time. It also denies that vaginal guards were removed as Tither-Kaplan alleged, saying that all of the performers using them confirmed this was the case.

In a statement the plaintiffs lawyer James Vagnini rebutted the filing. Mr. Francos aggressive effort to position himself as the victim and smear the reputation of the survivors who have come forward is, unfortunately, a tactic commonly used by perpetrators of wrongdoing We firmly believe Mr Francos claims to be without merit and we are confident that, as we work through the legal process and hear from numerous other witnesses and survivors, we will achieve full justice.

In 2018, he was accused of sexual misconduct by five women (including Tither-Kaplan), which he denied, and was sharply criticised only, including by Breakfast Club actor Ally Sheedy, after wearing a Times Up badge to the 2018 Golden Globes.

Franco is described in the statement as an ardent believer in the righteousness of the #MeToo and Times Up movements.

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Zac Efron falls ill while filming reality show Killing Zac Efron

US actor hit by suspected typhoid while filming survival TV series in Papua New Guinea

The American actor Zac Efron has confirmed he recently fell ill while filming a survival reality TV show in Papua New Guinea.

Australian media had reported that Efron, 32, was flown by helicopter for treatment in Australia after contracting a bacterial infection, possibly typhoid, while shooting the Killing Zac Efron series.

In a post on Monday on his official Twitter account, accompanied by a photograph of him in Papua New Guinea, Efron said he was back home for the holidays with my friends and family.

Very thankful to everyone who has reached out, his post said. I did get sick in Papua New Guinea but I bounced back quick and finished an amazing 3 weeks in PNG

Glenn McKay, a doctor with the Medical Rescue Group, told the Daily Telegraph on Sunday he could not discuss confidential patient information, but could confirm that Medical Rescue retrieved a US citizen in his 30s from PNG to Brisbane recently for medical attention.

The newspaper reported that doctors allowed Efron to fly home to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by contaminated food and water, and kills 216,000 to 600,000 people worldwide each year.

Killing Zac Efron is billed as an adventure series in which the star ventures deep into the jungles of a remote, dangerous island to carve his own name in expedition history.

The series was commissioned by the short content platform Quibi, which is scheduled to launch in April.

Efron had previously posted images on social media showing him in a canoe on PNGs Sepik River and travelling to Yanchan Village to see a traditional skin-cutting ceremony.

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Protests grow as Peter Handke receives Nobel medal in Sweden

The literature laureateship, due to be presented in Stockholm on Tuesday, faces boycotts and widespread protest

As Turkey joins Albania and Kosovo in boycotting Tuesdays Nobel prize ceremony for Peter Handke over his support for Slobodan Milosevics genocidal regime, war correspondents from Christiane Amanpour to Jeremy Bowen are protesting his win by sharing their harrowing stories from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Austrian writer, whose stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and attendance at Milosevics funeral have been widely criticised, is due to receive his Nobel medal in Stockholm, where a large protest demonstration is expected.

Bosnian Swedish writer Adnan Mahmutovic, who is organising the protests, said there had been a huge negative response to Handkes win in Sweden.

We hope that our voices tonight will help us start a dialogue about the consequences of continuous genocide denial that has been going on for decades. Genocide is not an event but a process whose last phase is denial. We cannot let our Nobel legacy legitimise it, he said.

A digital mural on the side of a Sarajevo shopping mall protests against the awarding of the laureateship to Handke on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week Peter Englund, a member of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, announced he would boycott the ceremony, saying: To celebrate Peter Handkes Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Handke on television, saying the Nobel has no value granting the Nobel literature prize on Human Rights Day to a figure who denies the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nothing less than rewarding human rights violations. Turkeys ambassador to Sweden, Hakki Emre Yunt, also announced he would not attend the ceremony.

Albanias acting foreign minister Gent Cakaj has instructed the countrys ambassador to Sweden to boycott the ceremony, as is Kosovo, with its ambassador to the US, Vlora itaku calling Handkes win a preposterous and shameful decision.

Journalists who covered the war in Bosnia, meanwhile, are protesting Handkes win by describing what they saw during the conflict using the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists.

I was there. We all know whos guilty, wrote Amanpour, the chief international anchor for CNN who covered the war as a young reporter.

My colleagues #BosniaWarJournalists are outraged so we are posting our work to remind the world of what happened there. Never forget, wrote foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni. In Sarajevo, Id go to the morgue to count dead: Children, women, soldiers, horrors of that unjust war laid out on a slab. What BosniaWarReporters like me saw was relentless attacks on civilians. Genocide. Please speak out against Handke getting Nobel.

The BBCs Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen wrote: I reported all the Yugo wars. Saw monstrous crimes. Later testified at war crimes trials, inc those of Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic & Mladic.

Former foreign correspondent Emma Daly said that she will never forget walking around the mass graves holding hundreds of men & boys who were blindfolded, shot & buried on farmland near Srebrenica. We know Milosevic was responsible.

The New York Timess Roger Cohen, sharing a link to his 1994 story about a Serbian concentration camp, wrote: shame on Nobel Committee and Swedish King for handing Nobel literature prize to Peter Handke, who calls the Bosnian genocide myth.

Journalist Peter Maass, who was told on Friday by Handke that his questions about the Srebrenica massacre were empty and ignorant, wrote on Twitter that the legacy of the Swedish royal family, who will award the Austrian author his medal, will be that they authenticated a genocide denier.

Handke has claimed that the Muslims staged their own massacres in Sarajevo and then blamed this on the Serbs, also casting doubt on the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. In an essay for the French newspaper Libration in 2006, he wrote: Lets stop comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Hitler and lets never again use the expression for the camps installed during the Yugoslav war concentration camps.

True, there were intolerable camps between 1992 and 1995 in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. But let us stop mechanically linking, in our heads, these camps to Bosnian Serbs there were also Croatian camps and Muslim camps, and the crimes committed there, and there, are and will be tried in The Hague, he wrote. And finally, lets stop linking the massacres (amongst which, in the plural, those in Srebrenica in July 1995 were by far the most abominable) to Serbian forces or paramilitaries. Let us also listen to the survivors of Muslim massacres in the many Serbian villages around Srebrenica.

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The ‘female pirate printer’ who creates fashion from manhole covers

Artist Emma-France Raff decorates clothing and tote bags guerilla-style in the street using ink, a roller and manhole covers as her printing press

Its not often manhole covers and fashion are uttered in the same sentence, but for Emma-France Raff, these functional metal structures have a distinct charm.

So much so that she scours the streets of cities for ones with intricate details and textures which she uses as a printing press – painting them with ink and transferring their designs onto t-shirts, hoodies and bags.

The artist, who brings a whole new meaning to the term streetwear, gets some curious looks when she gets her roller, ink and equipment out, and starts printing on the ground in public places.




  • Raff copying designs from Berlin and Budapests distinctive manhole covers as well as a more abstract design from Portos tram tracks

But Raff, who has turned the streets of Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul, Paris, Porto and Stavanger among others into fashion has always been fascinated with tiny details spotted while out and about, and finding inspiration in often overlooked elements of the urban landscape. The appeal of manhole covers, she says, is that they often have a local flavour.

Often drain covers will have symbols or letters that make them unique to that certain place. They have something from the city on them, she says. In Berlin, for example, they have the TV tower on them and other monuments.


  • Raff at work in Vienna in 2017

The Berlin one is very nice because it has a lot of details but I also like the abstract ones. Theres so much variety, you have thousands of different ones. Theyre special because they always have something local.

Raff, whose parents are German, was born in France. Her family moved to Portugal when she was nine, and she came up with the idea of using manhole cover as prints with her father while she was studying textile design in Porto.



  • Raff capturing a floral tile pattern in Barcelona

She went on to create experimental printing project raubdruckerin which means female pirate printer which is based in Berlin, although she travels to different cities to do the printing, and sells the t-shirts and other hand-printed merchandise via her website.

In addition to manhole covers, she finds other neglected patterns in city streets. I did a sign for bicycle parking in Amsterdam. In Barcelona we printed tiles on the concrete floor. If theres chewing gum I leave it on, sometimes you can see it on the print. It makes it very unique – its the idea that this print comes from one specific place, and maybe in two years it will not be there, so it has to do with time and place.

After the printing it can take between half an hour to an hour to clean up. She says she uses a water-based ink, which reacts with the fabric but it doesnt connect with the metal. Its like painting with water marker on plastic, it makes pearls.

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Slave Play: the Broadway show sparking an intense debate on race

The drama tackling race, sex and slavery by the youngest black male playwright on Broadway is seeing queues and grabbing the attention of theaters biggest names

Slave Play does not officially open on Broadway until next month, but just a few nights into previews the ground-breaking drama is already sparking an animated debate over race, drawing queues down the street and the attention of some of the biggest names in theatre.

The play, which Jeremy O Harris wrote while he was still in his first year at the Yale School of Drama, tackles race, sex, sexuality and slavery through the lives of three modern day interracial couples against the backdrop of a plantation in Virginia. The Rihanna song Work also features the lyrics to which hang in Manhattans Golden Theatre.

Harris is part of a new wave of diverse theatre-makers and playwrights including Jackie Sibblies Drury, who won a Pulitzer prize for Fairview, and Tarell McCraney, who won an Oscar for Moonlight and whose play Choir Boy was recently on Broadway who are bringing new work and new voices to New York theatre. They are also changing perceptions of what can be commercially successful in the process.

Slave Play, directed by Robert OHara, was performed at New York Theatre Workshop last year, where it attracted rave reviews and sold-out audiences that included stars such as Madonna, Whoopi Goldberg and Scarlett Johansson. It also attracted anger from some in the form of a campaign to shut it down and a petition started by a woman who said it left her offended and traumatized.

But when, months later, it was still being talked about, the shows producers decided to take it to Broadway.

At just 30 years old, and only months since graduating, Harris is now the youngest black male playwright ever to have a play on Broadway, a place where he never expected his work to find a home.

Its really humbling and exciting that a work like this is going to Broadway, but its also raw, he said. Its a lot of different emotions for me because theres a history on Broadway and Im not really a part of it, or people like me arent really a part of it. You can probably count on your hand, on your right hand, the amount of black queer men or women who have had successful Broadway careers.

Theres definitely some energy happening I dont know that I can call it a sea change until its not a surprise that a young, black and queer person is on Broadway and having a show that people want to see, said Harris.

Lead producer Greg Nobile said the golden age of television and social media have helped shift audience tastes. Were seeing actively the conversation about what is commercial shifting pretty radically in real time on Broadway, he said.

To Sullivan Jones, who plays Phillip in Slave Play, Broadway always felt like an elite space. Of course there have been the outliers, but just like a trend of old pieces of theatre that have been composed and worked on by black people, brown people, queer people, and were bringing all of that forth with this, he said.

OHara, who directed both the off- and on-Broadway productions, said the play is incredibly triggering.

Such is the thought-provoking nature of the play that they are holding public conversations on Sunday afternoons for audience members to discuss the play.

During rehearsals, OHara said the cast had a lot of conversations about the nature of race, the nature of sexuality, the nature of interracial love, the history of America, the history of the world. All of that was in the world with us.

They worked with an intimacy director for the plays multiple sex scenes only the second Broadway show to do so.

During rehearsals, he said, the team was predominantly formed of black women. The smallest demographic was white men.

On any given day, two white men in the space. That dynamic does not happen on Broadway normally. Normally its a room full of white people and mostly white men running things, OHara said. That to me in itself led for a different type of conversation in a different type of environment.

On Thursday night, only the fourth night of previews, audience members queued down the street in the rain to get in and the cast performed to an almost full house.

In the auditorium the audience was vocal in their reactions laughing regularly and at one point breaking out into spontaneous applause mid-scene and gave a standing ovation at the end.

Outside the theatre, audience members said it would take time to process the experience.

Sandra Hood, 62, a senior court clerk from New York, said she was attracted to the play by its provocative title and the reviews of its first run. It sounded like something that would make me want to make my own opinion, because it sounded like there was quite a bit of polarity.

She added: Im digesting it Im still sort of scratching my head about what point or points were intended, so its going to be very individual, what you walk away with.

Paris West, 29, a marketing associate from Westchester county, does not go to the theatre very often and when she does, she usually prefers musicals.

She said: Im still processing it. There are a lot of themes. I sat with my mum so Im really interested in how she feels about it, but yeah, it was great I havent seen anything like it before, its very provocative.

Early viewers on Broadway have so far included the author Roxane Gay, who praised it on Twitter, saying it was incendiary and moving and hilarious and brilliant and uncomfortable and painful and true.

Hamilton star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda enthused: Dear Jeremy, I cant be at opening but Im dying to see your play and Im so excited its on Bway.

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Depth of Field: The Movie Poster Brexit Deserves

Photographs, Susan Sontag once famously wrote, “fiddle with the scale of the world.” They tell us only a distortion. They are incomplete, even as they strive to render the frame whole and exact. That does not make them false. Exactly the opposite. Photographs invite meaning, possibility. The best photos, thick with narrative, sweat. It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. It is also true that a picture is worth a thousand more pictures. One image gives way to another. What are photographs but gateways into parallel realms, memories resurrected, passageways into the familiar? What we see, we have already seen.

John MacDougall’s portrait-style capture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson—taken during a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, where intense talks of Brexit continued—works a bit like a portal. It transports. It flirts with memory, tests knowledge. It is an image of many images. Typically, I would say photos fall into two distinct categories. There are those that carry a density of self, images of such presence and posture that the viewer adds very little to their overall import. The second type, which MacDougall’s photo falls under, bear a charming hollowness. They’re plain but deceptively layered configurations; that is, they help us to see more than what we see before us. It’s not that they are vacant a narrative. Instead, they welcome additional narratives, pyramid-like, one atop another.

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  • For me, the first parallel that shot to mind was the movie poster for John Woo’s 1997 identity-swap-thriller Face/Off. I can taste the moment. I’m all of 11, shy and curious and awkward, standing outside the Marina del Rey theater gazing into a poster encased in glass. Its sleek black background calls to me; the possessed faces of Nicolas Cage and John Travolta, looking as if they might fuse into each other. An almost perfect metaphor for the film, which involves an actual surgical face swap and an intricate game of cat-and-mouse between an FBI agent and a criminal mastermind. Our family was big on movies, and almost every weekend we escaped to the theater and into the lives of others, people whose existences we saw as grand and exciting, people we were eager to befriend, to figure out, to become. I ate up every minute of it.

    The beauty of MacDougall’s photo is its desire to furnish yet more room, even as memories and narratives stack up. It’s got obvious movie-poster allure: Merkel and Johnson look as if they have been cast in the latest spy thriller about deceitful foreign diplomats, or a B-level rom-com about stubborn widowers who refuse to profess their love for one another. It is a photo that provokes analogy. It seeks a kindred narrative, even as it has its own. The aesthetics of the photo—the layers, the depth, the symmetry—also call to me. Christopher Nolan’s 2010 sci-fi blockbuster Inception was an immediate touchstone. Specifically, the way his cerebral cities moved and stacked and remade themselves. MacDougall’s photo hints at such an outcome; the manner in which Merkel’s head jostles for center, as if it might eclipse, or collapse onto, Johnson’s.

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