Anthony Sher. Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
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From Falstaff to Loman: behind the scenes with Antony Sher

It seems that Sher is never not speaking on the radio or being spoken about. 

The Radio 2 Arts Show
BBC Radio 2

“We decided he was an alcoholic, because there are several sections in part one where he says he’s got to clean up his act and then, a few moments later, he’s doing exactly what he was doing before . . .”

Antony Sher was speaking to Claudia Winkleman (8 May, 10pm) about ­playing Falstaff for the RSC and somewhat automatic-pilotly covering the same areas that his just-published diary of the production covered, recently abridged for Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4. Pre-first-night dreams, coping with nerves . . .

The British have a fondness for this sort of memoir. It provides that comforting sense of the extended family – casts, crews, intense shared experiences in touring theatre or on movie sets – that actors seem to thrive in. Yet it can sometimes feel that the BBC has handed the airwaves over to certain people. What with Falstaff, a new production of Death of a Salesman (in which he plays Willy Loman) and the burial of ­Richard III, it seems that Sher is never not speaking on the radio or being spoken about. The Today programme’s coverage of that absurd funeral culminated with Sher reciting, “Now is the winter of our discontent . . .” introduced forelock-tuggingly, as though he were Olivier.

In truth the actor, now 65, can sound fairly tremulous. But even if Sher’s voice is not what it was, his Loman is something to behold. Thickening the meaning, he makes you believe that Arthur Miller’s play is actually all about charisma-envy. College educations and Studebakers, giant refrigerators and paid-up mortgages – they are nothing compared to being “rugged, well liked, all round”. That’s the American dream – to be liked! (Richard wanted to be liked, too. “But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks . . .” he concedes, limping towards villainy.)

There was a nice, spontaneous bit in the interview with Winkleman in which Sher recalled finding one of the crutches he had used in his 1984 production of Richard III, so many years later, in the rehearsal room for Falstaff.

“It isn’t life and death,” shrugged Sher to Winkleman of all that effort and panic and memory, in a moment that sounded far more self-effacing than anything that had gone before. “It’s just a dusty prop.”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory triumph

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Katy Perry’s new song is not so much Chained to the Rhythm as Chained to a Black Mirror episode

The video for “Chained to the Rhythm” is overwhelmingly pastel and batshit crazy. Watch out, this satire is sharp!

If you’ve tuned into the radio in the last month, you might have heard Katy Perry’s new song, “Chained to the Rhythm”, a blandly hypnotic single that’s quietly, creepingly irresistible.

If you’re a really attuned listener, you might have noticed that the lyrics of this song explore that very same atmosphere. “Are we crazy?” Perry sings, “Living our lives through a lens?”

Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren’t you lonely?
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough
Happily numb

The chorus muses that we all “think we’re free” but are, in fact, “stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah.” It’s a swipe (hehe) at social media, Instagram culture, online dating, whatever. As we all know, modern technology is Bad, people who take photos aren’t enjoying the moment, and glimpses other people’s Perfect Lives leave us lonely and empty. Kids these days just don’t feel anything any more!!!

The video for this new song was released today, and it’s set in a (get this) METAPHORICAL AMUSEMENT PARK. Not since Banky’s Dismaland have we seen such cutting satire of modern life. Walk with me, through Katy Perry’s OBLIVIA.

Yes, the park is literally called Oblivia. Get it? It sounds fun but it’s about oblivion, the state of being unaware or unconscious, i.e. the state we’re all living in, all the time, because phones. (I also personally hope it’s a nod to Staffordshire’s own Oblivion, but cannot confirm if Katy Perry has ever been on the Alton Towers classic steel roller coaster.)

The symbol of the park is a spaced-out gerbil thing, because, aren’t we all caged little hairy beings in our own hamster wheels?! Can’t someone get us off this never-ending rat race?!

We follow Katy as she explores the park – her wide eyes take in every ride, while her peers are unable to look past the giant iPads pressed against their noses.


You, a mindless drone: *takes selfies with an iPad*
Katy Perry, a smart, engaged person: *looks around with actual human eyes, stops to smell the roses*

She walks past rides, and stops to smell the roses – and the pastel-perfect world is injected with a dose of bright red reality when she pricks her finger on a thorn. Cause that’s what life really is, kids! Risk! At least she FEELS SOMETHING.


More like the not-so-great American Dream, am I right?!

So Katy (wait, “Rose”, apparently) takes her seat on her first ride – the LOVE ME ride. Heteronormative couples take their seats against either a blue heart or a pink one, before being whizzed through a tunnel of Facebook reaction icons.

Is this a comment on social media sexism, or a hint that Rose is just too damn human for your validation station? Who knows! All we can say for sure is that Katy Perry has definitely seen the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”:

Now, we see a whole bunch of other rides.


Wait time: um, forever, because the human condition is now one of permanent stasis and unsatisfied desires, duh.

No Place Like Home is decorated with travel stamps and catapults two of the only black people in the video out of the park. A searing comment on anti-immigrant rhetoric/racism? Uh, maybe?

Meanwhile, Bombs Away shoots you around like you’re in a nuclear missile.


War: also bad.

Then everyone goes and takes a long drink of fire water (?!?!) at Inferno H2O (?!?!) which is also a gas station. Is this about polluted water or petrol companies or… drugs? Or are we just so commercialised even fire and water are paid-for privileges? I literally don’t know.

Anyway, Now it’s time for the NUCLEAR FAMILY SHOW, in 3D, no less. Rose is last to put her glasses on because, guess what? She’s not a robot. The show includes your typical 1950s family ironing and shit, while hamsters on wheels run on the TV. Then we see people in the rest of theme park running on similar wheels. Watch out! That satire is sharp.

Skip Marley appears on the TV with his message of “break down the walls to connect, inspire”, but no one seems to notice accept Rose, and soon becomes trapped in their dance of distraction.


Rose despairs amidst the choreography of compliance.

Wow, if that didn’t make you think, are you even human? Truly?

In many ways – this is the Platonic ideal of Katy Perry videos: overwhelmingly pastel, batshit crazy, the campest of camp, yet somehow walking the fine line between self-ridicule and terrifying sincerity. It might be totally stupid, but it’s somehow still irresistible.

But then I would say that. I’m a mindless drone, stumbling around like a wasted zombie, injecting pop culture like a prescription sedative.

I’m chained…………. to the rhythm.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.