Charles Dickens was a famous insomniac and night-time walker. Photo by John & Charles Watkins/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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The Big Tramp comes to London

The Big Tramp, combining the literary tropes of homelessness and night-walking, will raise money for theatre company Cardboard Citizens.

Night-time London has long been a joy of writers. To wander its streets at night, sobre, is to discover a tranquility and beauty that the capital cannot afford during the day, as well as a different variety of ugliness – the stench of urine and fried food is stronger. In the nineteenth century Charles Dickens, workaholic insomniac that he was, drew on his nocturnal exploration of the city in his essay ‘Nightwalks,’ a piece of writing that also explores what he terms “houselessness.”

Homelessness, as we’d probably call it today, also exerts strong influence over English literary culture. George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris in London is a particularly prominent example of the interest writers take in deprivation. And W.H. Davies, the self-styled “super tramp” of the early twentieth century, was also a writer who drew heavily on his experiences of being without a home, even if he is not especially remembered today.

There might seem something distasteful, however, in selling homelessness as an experience, even if it is combined with another literary trope – something that Cardboard Citizens, a company that creates theatre with and for homeless people, is currently doing. Termed the Big Tramp, their walking tour of London this Saturday night will allow participants to see Dickens’ night-time haunts, places mentioned by Orwell in Down and Out, and the dosshouses where Davies stayed.

Will the Big Tramp come across as homelessness tourism? “There’s definitely a danger of that,” Henry  Eliot, who is leading the walk, tells the New Statesman. “But we’re not going to be pointing fingers and observing the homeless in their natural habit, as if we were in a zoo – that would be crass.”

“The point is to raise awareness of homelessness,” he adds. “Most of those coming will be people who want to learn about homelessness and who are in a position to donate – everyone has to try to raise £500 in sponsorship.” The money will be going towards supporting Cardboard Citizens’ 2015 forum theatre tour to hostels, prisons, and day centres in London.

Eliot regularly leads walks like these. He has twice taken a group from Salisbury Cathedral to Stonehenge to see the dawn of the summer solstice, and has led a tour of London themed around T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland. The lucky guests on the latter tour got to see a slurry processing plant not normally open to the public.

“The theme of the Big Tramp was always going to be homelessness,” Eliot says, making reference to the activities of Carboard Citizens. “George Orwell is one of the most famous down-and-outs of London. Dickens was famously an insomniac, and his essay ‘Nightwalks’ was very important to me. The rest grew from that.”

Part of the walk will be a performance of the opening scene of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion by St Paul’s, Covent Garden, where the play is set. The cast will be comprised of actors from Cardboard Citizens. “People mingle and chat on night-time walks, so I imagine the same will happen with this one,” Eliot says. “Hopefully people will learn something about homelessness from talking to members of Carboard Citizens.”

At nine miles the walk is not much of a test, in length, for most people. The challenge will lie in staying awake all through the night. Raising £500 might not be all that easy, either.

Alexander Woolley is a freelance journalist. He can be found on Twitter as @alexwoolley4.

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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.