Thursday, 15 July 2010

One-on-One Festival (part deux): Ontroerend Goed leave the best until last

*** Edit, February 2011 - if you're thinking about going to the 2011 One-on-One Festival, you might not want to read this, because it's a little bit spoilerish. Suffice to say that the essential shows I saw last time, and which are coming back, are the two Ontroerend Goed shows ("Internal" and "A Game of You"), "Rotating in a Room of Images" and "Rendez-Vous", all of which are outstanding ***

What a week this has been. The emotional rollercoaster of seeing the One-On-One Festival on Sunday (read that review before this one if you haven't already), the horror of Carmen Funebre, then last night a trip back to BAC to further the experiences of the other day. With it, I was hoping for some sort of closure. Closure I got.

Throughout, the key element is you the audience member; so much depends on your ability to cast yourself loose on the waves and allow yourself to be taken over by the performance, to slip into character as required. You need to be able to let your imagination run away with you pretty quickly, too: most performances are over in a matter of minutes. Those whose lack of imagination boxes them in are unlikely to benefit. In virtually every show, I came out wondering what would have happened if I had done things differently. 

A Game Of You (Ontroerend Goed) *****

After the frustration of the two previous shows, the musings, wondering "what if I had said something else?", wondering if the performances were unique to me, feeling self-centred and infuriatingly full of self-doubt, I was a little nervous before seeing A Game Of You. I purposely avoided any reviews or previews; my experience of Internal was slightly dampened by the fact I had a fair suspicion of what was to follow (not that I didn't fall into the trap). This turned out to be the key.

As a result, I won't say much about the content - there's no need for spoilers. Suffice to say that as with the other parts of the trilogy, you are played for a fool the whole way along; I walked out with a huge, imbecile grin on my face as I realised how I had been used as a plaything for half an hour. But as the company seem at pains to point out, this is a gentle piece. They have a lot of fun at your expense, but it's light teasing, not cruelty. Events move fast - you end up evaluating yourself in many different ways. A microcosm of the whole festival, you the audience equals you the performer and by placing yourself at the centre of attention, you will learn some things that perhaps you rather wouldn't.

I found out that my name is Steven, I am an artist, and I look like I spilled my dinner down my t-shirt. Tough times.

And yet seeing A Game Of You, as well as a long conversation with somebody else who'd been at Internal, confirmed something that I'd already wondered about: the Ontroerend Goed performers - barely older than me - are the masters of making you a pawn in their world, chewing you up, spitting you out, throwing you around for a while and then dumping you. They have a frighteningly powerful influence over people - shades of The Manchurian Candidate. They would be dangerous tyrants. But they aren't, they'er just frighteningly talented artists, and in the Smile Off Your Face-Internal-A Game Of You trilogy, they've created one of the top five artistic experiences I've ever had in my life.

And the feeling of being manipulated, that I had been a sucker all along, slowly gave way from one of intense self-pity to one of relief, and I started to laugh.

"He hath been most notoriously abus'd" - Olivia, Twelfth Night

2 Free (Ansuman Biswas) ****

Half an hour of breaking personal boundaries and entering situations which you would never wish to be in. Armed with a sand timer and a lantern, the participant explores a space where only by crossing the discomfort line can you experience the next stage of the show. In contrast to Ontroerend Goed, here you are on your own; there is no twist, nobody to laugh at you (which is just as well). This is about testing your own personal limits. What was it Eleanor Roosevelt said? "Do one thing every day that scares you." I let my imagination run riot. The figure in front of me - why was he there? What was his purpose? What did he need from me? How long had he been there? What should I do?

It was a deeply unsettling experience throughout, but I was proud to have overcome my doubts and inhibitions and proved my strength. The opportunity to test your inner mettle in a private half hour where nobody will judge you but yourself, is very enlightening.

Oh, and a tip: don't start emptying out the bag. You won't be popular!

Headlines (Ampersand) ****

Short and sharp. Swept off my feet and thrown into character in seconds, I had to respond instantly, and made a decent fist of it. It's a simple principle: you're thrown into an improv situation with no time to react. Again, nobody is watching except yourself, so there is nobody to judge you. Each day is a unique show; I was Ken Clarke's junior minister for the day, having to justify Clarke's statement that prison sentences should be scrapped for minor crimes. Again, as with so many shows, mental dexterity is required on the part of the participant. A bit of me wishes I had got irate and told my constituent to "fuck off and die". Ah well, next time.

I also played a minor role in a performance of The Fifteen Minute Relationship, and went Through The Wardrobe a second time; I found myself surprised to enjoy it more second time round.


Over the last few days I have faced my own death and realised what a miserable life I've led, fallen in false love, gone through a portal to the past, gone into a dressing-up Narnia, been "notoriously abus'd" by Belgian geniuses, battled through intense discomfort, had a karaoke moment with a serving soldier, judged and been judged, laughed, cried, appreciated the inner beauty of something raw and functional, and generally seen myself from more different angles than I could possibly imagine. As others have said, as individual pieces, some were more self-contained and complete than others. But the whole festival hangs together brilliantly; let's hope it's not the last. Most importantly: damn, it was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

15 years on, Carmen Funebre is just as terrifying

Carmen Funebre (Teatr Biuro Podrozy; National Theatre) *****

I saw Carmen Funebre in 1995 in a school playground as part of the Edinburgh Festival. I was twelve at the time and it made a huge impression on me; dark, robed, hooded figures appearing out of nowhere at lightning speed with fire and whips, like demons. They were menacing and I've had vivid images of them ever since. But much of what the work was about was lost on me, and with the exception of those demons, which were burned onto my retinas, the memories were starting to fade.

Fifteen years later, the show, from Polish group Biuro Podrozy, is still a hit worldwide and is back on these shores at the National Theatre. My attention was drawn by a tweet from the NT highlighting last night's "priceless preview" (ie pay what you think it's worth) and at the very last minute, I shovelled down some food, grabbed my girlfriend and hurried down to Waterloo. It was a real impromptu trip. Would it be worth seeing again?

Subtle it ain't. While the events it's based on - the atrocities in Bosnia in the nineties - may not be foremost in people's minds in this country any longer, the horrors portrayed are universal. The ten-foot hooded demons scoured the audience and plucked out their victims, who were summarily beaten and gang-raped - the defiling of a woman superbly intimated by means of the contents of a bottle of wine. Refugees attempted to create normal lives for themselves and were soon harassed by the soldiers. The wounded dragged their way around the set, rattling coins in tins, seeking succour from the audience. There was none. The figure of Death prowled around the surrounding horrors, forking the flaccid imagery of the dead for the peasants to burn. Thunderous strings alternated with a cheerful accordion.

It's a universal commentary - although no comment is required; the images are simple and brutal. Having seen Carmen Funebre more than half my life ago, I can say that it's just as terrifying as an adult. But it resonates even more.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

More Edinburgh Festival 2010 tips

A few more shows that have come to my attention over the last couple of weeks in the 2010 Fringe:

Metamorphosis (Belt Up) - C Soco
Beautiful Burnout (Frantic Assembly/National Theatre of Scotland) - Pleasance
Roadkill - Traverse
Freefall (Corn Exchange Theatre Co) - Traverse
Cirque de Legume - Gilded Balloon

I've only seen one Frantic Assembly production (Stockholm) which was excellent, and have meant to see other things; reviews are consistently good. Meanwhile, Aurora Nova may be no more, but Wolfgang Hoffman started up Aurora Nova Productions in 2009. They are producing Cirque de Legume; if it's good enough for Hoffman, it's good enough for me.

I know I mentioned other shows previously, but just so I can see them in one handy place, these are the other things that appeal to me:

Sub Rosa - Remarkable Arts
Ballet Work No 1020 - Traverse
Jack the Knife - Assembly
Teenage Riot (Ontroerend Goed) - Traverse
Decky Does A Bronco (Grid Iron) - Traverse
En Route - Traverse
The Girl in the yellow Dress - Traverse
Apple - Traverse
no child - assembly
Tripod vs The Dragon - Assembly
Pajama Men - Assembly
Camille O'Sullivan - Assembly

I'll keep adding to that list as I hear about things. Wallet constraints mean that I'll need to be selective, unfortunately! If anyone hears of any freebies/cheapies (not likely, given that I won't be up until the 21st), then let me know...x

PS I still have to take issue with prices. Almost everything is more expensive than in London; this should not be.

Monday, 12 July 2010

One On One Festival (BAC) - mindblowing

*** Edit, February 2011 - if you're thinking about going to the 2011 One-on-One Festival, you might not want to read this, because it's a little bit spoilerish. Suffice to say that the essential shows I saw last time, and which are coming back, are the two Ontroerend Goed shows ("Internal" and "A Game of You"), "Rotating in a Room of Images" and "Rendez-Vous", all of which are outstanding ***

For the umpteenth time I scurried up the stairs to the Yellow block and chattered senselessly at the staff about how I'd been looking forward to this for WEEKS and how excited I was and how the show 'd just seen was nuts and how you've got to...they indulged me patiently. A fair few people seemed as wired as I was. Two years in the making, the One on One Festival is a mammoth project that the Battersea Arts Centre have put together, and confirms for me why it's the most exciting venue in London. A series of loosely related projects, exhibits, installations and performances all based around the concept of a one-person audience: a show created especially for you. I sensed that this might be an opportunity to throw off the shackles and let myself go. I wasn't disappointed. While the real reason I was there was to see my heroes, Belgian geniuses Ontroerend Goed (and I'm about to shell out another £22.50 to see their other show, along with whatever else I missed) but the rest was an unknown quantity. I was not disappointed.

Every inch of the space is used, including all the foyer and bar areas. More than anywhere else in London, it reminded me of being in Edinburgh during in Festival time. Every other person seemed to be either BAC staff, volunteers or a performer. The staff were all great banter, especially the box office girls who had a hellishly complicated system to navigate and still seemed pretty chipper, happy to help greedy people like me who wanted to see show after show, on top of our paid-for allocation. It seemed a shame to be a mere paying punter - as usual in these festival situations, I felt a little wistful that my career path has taken an infinitely less interesting turn.

As for the shows: you just need to relax, let yourself get into the spirit of things and they range from sweet to extraordinary. A fabulous project from BAC - start preparing for another one in two years' time please. Every bit as I expected. And then some. Go, quick. I'm on the phone to the box office to get my second ticket as I type.

Other reviews worth reading here:
Matt Boothman
What's On Stage

Through the wardrobe (Breathe) ***

My first encounter of the evening. The greatest thrill came at the start: to be sat in the dark, armed only with a failing torch, and faced with a knee-high door bearing the placard "Enter when you hear the knock." The adrenaline rushed as I waited for the knock. Once inside, it was tmie to explore, to choose, and to dress. It was a charming encounter - tempered only by the fact that it felt rather hurried when I would have been happy to stay longer.

The Soldier's Song (Quarantine) ***

I think I went into the karaoke shack with the wrong state of mind. I belted out "Please Release Me" with nobody but an army sergeant for company. It was a lot of fun, but I think I was too drained by the time I got to it to get myself up for anything more.

Drag Mountain (Thom Shaw) ***

Theatrically limp (perhaps I couldn't get properly into the "become an agent of gender resistance"?) but visually stunning: there is something truly regal about this drag queen. My creativity - not to mention knot-tying - was utterly embarrassing.

It's Your Film (Stan's Cafe) ***

The ultimate one-on-one experience: a film produced live, and exclusively for one person. Through a screen-sized peephole, two white-collar workers - or are they gangsters? - are on the hunt for someone. With Orson Wellesian cool, they smoke, sling their jackets over their shoulders, smoulder and pout. Will they find their quarry?

You me nothing (Franko B) ***

An ideal warmup to get you to "free your mind". It's an installation where you are the key element. What is there? Nothing. What can you do? Very little. I managed to work myself into an agitated state of mind where the most obvious thing that you would do with the key prop...I just couldn't bring myself to do it. When I finally forced myself to do it, I knew my time in the exhibit was over.

A little bit of a beautiful thing (Barnaby Stone) ****

This one only really grabbed me afterwards. A log which has been through the wars - perhaps literally. Once it had a life. Then it died, and had a new, functional life. Then it had a third life - for 400 years. Now, the log is retiring from active service - with one final adventure.

Barnaby Stone tells the story of the beaten up lump of wood. From the far end of the sanitary corridor (no, really) it seems like he is raping the log with tools: sanders, hammers, pegs. Only at the end can you appreciate just how this log's final journey is to become something of beauty and delicacy that you jsut could not imagine from looking at it.

One key element of being the only member of the audience is that the normal rules of behaviour can be broken. As a regular theatre-goer, it's my instinct to keep my trap shut throughout, applaud at the end and go on my merry way. When there are no other audience members to disturb, can those rules be broken? I found it difficult. As a result, in this show and others, I mainly sat in lumpen silence. I grabbed my present, muttered thanks and scuttled out. I wish I'd shown a bit more gratitude, both to Barnaby and all the other performers.

Talking of shows where you don't quite know how to behave...

Internal (Ontroerend Goed) ****

My head is full of questions.

In the summer of 2007, in a tiny room in Edinburgh, I allowed myself to be taken over by hands unseen, bound and blindfolded, put in a wheelchair, then controlled, manipulated and manhandled for a terrifying yet exhilarating twenty minutes that left me in tatters. The focal point of the evening was a moment on a bed. A voice whispered sweet nothings in my ear in the blackness. It was the first time in what seemed ages that I had contact with a real human being. The voice asked me what I thought. I said that at that moment in time, she was my only friend.

Should I be doing this?

Fast forward three years. I am sitting in a private booth sharing a table - and some vodka - with a stunning girl whose eyes punctured my defences from six inches away. I was mesmerised. I babbled about idioms and dams for a while. I told her about the moment on the bed.

If we weren't in a performance, would we...

"That was me."

Isn't she a great actor. I'm supposed to think these thoughts, aren't I?

I nearly keeled over. That voice had stuck with me all that time, haunted me. And now here she is holding my hand.

In another life, would I...

Ontroerend Goed are masters of finding your weak points. Within minutes, she knew everything about me. In a flash our date was over and we were sharing our experiences in a group post-dating counselling session. No punches were pulled. Some uncomfortable truths came out. Questions were asked. Sophie looked at me again. "Did we click?"

Should I have kissed her properly?

The brilliance of this show is that if you can let yourself go, you'll be cast into a horrible illusion - no, delusion. You'll be elevated to a status you're utterly unworthy of, then become the plaything of a few young Belgians, and tossed away again. The delusion that you are something special is brilliantly executed. I believe professional prostitutes work in the same way. For just a moment, you wonder if the money you paid has anything to do with this. Questions that really shouldn't be asked start flashing across your mind.

What would my girlfriend...

The performers' ability to find your weaknesses and prey on them is uncanny and scary. The delusions are kept up until the end, leaving a disturbing aftertaste. Watching the video trailer afterwards gives a hint. The performers pierce the camera with their eyes and explain why they are searching. Only at the end, a voice off-camera shouts "because you're a slut" and the actor dissolves into giggles. The spell is broken; the session with the prostitute is over and it's time to hand over the cash, before she goes in search of a new punter. Next morning, I was reminded of a song which I played over and over on my way to work: Irene Kral - Is It Over Baby? "Once you told me that our love would never I have to wonder if it all was just a lie...Is it over baby? Have you got a date with someone new?"

Am I falling in love with her? (That one's easy. Yes - three times over).

I'll be back for part three of the trilogy , "A Game Of You" this week. Incidentally, I wonder if Ontroerend's latest show, "Teenage Riot" will make it to BAC - if so, I bet it'll be cheaper than the £19 the Traverse are charging in Edinburgh.


Rotating in a room of images (Lundahl & Seitl) *****

By a distance, the most polished and sophisticated show that I saw at the festival, and pound-for-pound, my favourite of the whole lot. Rotating in a room of images is a full-on sensual experience. It's also downright creepy - shades of horror films, but the best comparison for me would be Lucy M Boston's books about The Children of Green Knowe. In complete darkness, with all sounds blacked out, a child's voice in my head. Imploring, commanding, reassuring. I found myself taking steps through the void. The voice is at once in front and behind, above, below, it is all around. "I am here with you." A hand guides you, leading, cajoling. You are in The Room. Now there is a screen. I see myself projected. There are footsteps behind me. Multiple footsteps. "We are behind you." I spin around. Nothing. I spin back in front. Ghostly figures from another era are with me on the screen. are they my ancestors? Who have I got mixed up with? Where am I? When am I? The ride is not finished. There is a glimpse of another world. Just a glimpse - tantalising but spinetingling. Then a shaft of light and a door leading to the 2D world. Rotating in a room of images is a extraordinary, mind-altering experience - let yourself go and allow yourself to be taken through time and space to somewhere forgotten. Lundahl & Seitl are the closest I've come to another Ontroerend Goed moment - that's a compliment of the highest order. Creepy, exhilarating, magnificent.

Rendez-Vous (Villanella/Hanneke Paauwe) *****

You may confront your greatest fear in this show. I thought my greatest fear was electric shocks (Ray Lee's "Electric" was off-limits for me). I went into Rendez-Vous and was presented with the prospect of my own death. "This is the end of the journey."

I had still not faced my greatest fear.

A figure in white, reassuring words, a welcoming smile. This isn't so bad after all. I know exactly how I'll leave this world, by the way; the strings will fade away at the end of the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and at the precise moment where I cease to exist, the pure horn note at the start of the final movement will sound. I know this will happen. If I get invited to heaven, then it'll be here (hence my prattling to Sophie about damming up streams). Maybe Hanneke will be there to greet me. But then, a life's retrospective.

I faced questions about what I'd achieved. What I had done. Who had I influenced. Who had I changed. Whose lives had I made better. Had I done everything I set out to do. Would people cry for me. Would anyone remember me.

Are you afraid of death?

I was facing my greatest fear. Not of death, not even of being forgotten - although that was pretty painful. My own answers to the questions did not make for a comfortable analysis. Worst of all: I have done nothing to be proud of. I need to rectify this, do something to be proud of, change somebody's life. But I am about to die. It is too late.

Suddenly, I was in pieces. My imbecile grin as I left, and casual "Yeah, it was wicked" to the ushers, managed to stifle the tears.

I didn't open the envelope until I was nearly home. Kidney punch. But at least a reminder that I've still got time. This is how it ends...

Ontroerend Goed - The Smile Off Your Face (review from Edinburgh Festival 2007)

I actually wrote the following review of Ontroerend Goed's The Smile Off Your Face three years ago, when I saw it in Edinburgh, at C Venues, as part of the Edinburgh Festival. If I'd written it today, I'd probably have written it slightly differently; as it is, I've left it untouched. I only posted it to my Facebook at the time, though; time it got a more public airing, particularly as it's pertinent to another review I'm about to write. Looking back over it, this contains spoilers; the edited version says "Just buy a ticket".

Quite simply the most surreal, most sensual, most utterly extraordinary 20 minutes of my entire life. I read the first couple of sentences of a review, realised that I needed to literally RUN to buy a ticket that day and did without bothering to read the rest of the review. The premise is simple: you are blindfolded and bound to a wheelchair and...things happen. The audience capacity is exactly one, so I sat in the waiting room with a slight feeling of trepidation which, as previous 'victims' came out in floods of tears, was mixed with nervous excitement. (The show isn't playing any more in the UK as far as I know but I'm about to spoil it so you might want to look away if you think you might hunt them down...which you SHOULD). Anyhow.

Blindfolded and with my hands bound, I was sat in a wheelchair and wheeled through a curtain into the unknown. For the next 20 minutes I was subjected to the complete range of sensual experiences and invasions of privacy. Faint music sounded from all directions. The a clock ticked just beside my right ear, then my left. Sudenly I was aware of the feeling of warmth, followed by the smell of cinamon just under my nose as I was wheled round. Apart from the faint ticking and music, there was no sound - it was impossible to tell if there was one person beside me or ten - or any at all. Sudenly I flinched violently; the unmisakeable sound of a cigarette lighter being lit beside my face. Not a pleasant experience when you're so vulnerable and my emotions were dominated by fear and paranoia at this point. Then I was encouraged to stand up and I felt a pair of hands touching my face, exploring me, feeling my shape. My hands were led to explore the other person's face. Who were they? was it someone blindfolded like me? Was it an actor? Or was it someone who was genuinely blind? I realised that I would leave the theatre with a lot of questions either answered or unanswered. Then another figure led me in a dance. I was sat down once again in the relative comfort and safety of the wheelchair. Or so I thought.

Suddenly I was violently thrown backwards - the wheelchair had no back. A girl was lying on top of me, arms around me, nuzzling me, dominating. Erotic? Hmmmmm. Alarming? Most definitely. She began a whispered conversation in my ear. Personal, yet abstract questions; every one of them seemed so profound I had to pause each time to come up with an answer that seemed inadequate in the circumstances, each time. Then she was gone as quickly as she'd arrived. As the first time anyone had spoken to me in the whole process, I was astonished at how quickly she had become my only friend and I felt lonely once again at her departure.

One disconcerting aspect was that it was impossible to work out how far I had been wheeled - it felt like a long ghost train. Soon another girl was talking to me, a new conversation, and once again I had to place my complete faith in her as she fed me various flavours. Then she said 'now I want you to see me' and for a second the blindfold was lifted to reveal a girl sitting, goddess-like, on a golden throne in a blaze of light, dressed entirely as Father Christmas.

Finally, feeling exhusted, came the climax. A young man spoke to me and took the blindfold off. He was sat staring into my face, about 6 inches from my visage, with electric blue eyes. Slowly he asked me to explain my experiences in a sort of 'debrief'. Then he asked me to give me the widest smile I had ever managed, and hold it. His own face gave me a strange, distant smile. I beamed at him enthusiastically. We stared into each others eyes, until I realised that there were tears rolling down his face. Slowly I was wheeled back through the arena - it turned out the whole thing had taken place in a tiny room.

Astonishing. I left exhausted and with my emotions in complete turmoil.

Click here for more Ontroerend Goed reviews.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Misanthrope - review

The Misanthrope, Comedy Theatre ****
Damian Lewis is excellent as protaganist and main character Alceste: at once ebullient, volatile, believeable and human and has terrific stage presence as well as good comic timing. His main sparring partners are Dominic Rowan, who plays friend John squarely and confidently without attracting too much attention to himself, and Keira Knightley as American movie star Jennifer. Knightley is convincing as the vacuous diva and manages to keep her friends strung up for the entire play until the bombshells are dropped towards the end. It's a part that could easily be turned into a hammed-up mess but Knightley manages to be irritating for the right reasons and is a good foil for Lewis.

The production stays true to the stage directions with a lush drawing room setting. Best of all is a red-hot script by Martin Crimp, which updates the Moliere original and puts it in a 21st century celeb-paparazzi setting. With a loosely rhyming script, which keeps its rhythm throughout and adds bite to the humour, it's a terrific piece of writing. Overall, a very enjoyable show.

Heaven is a place on Inchydoney beach

When I was about eleven I had a little daydream that if I died and by some miracle got an invite upstairs, that I'd be told I could do one thing of my choice for all eternity, but one thing only. I had a good long think and concluded that my idea of heaven would be a sandy, muddy beach, with loads of streams running down to the sea, and I would dam them up and create interesting new watercourses for the trickles.

Sixteen years later, I had the same daydream, and came to the same conclusion.

West Cork is the best place in the world. When I was small we were out there three times a year; this summer I went there for the first time in ages. Memories came flooding back. There's still a chap van on the Bandon road, by the river a few miles past Inishannon, although I'm not sure if it's the same bloke who we used to religously buy chips from every time we were out there (I barely ate chips outside West Cork until I got to secondary school). The beaches, the bad roads, the tractors, still there.

There's actually very little to do; just beaches, views, roads, pubs and calmness. The heat and rain mean that the landscape is incredibly lush. Taking an early morning walk down into Unionhall harbour, wandering through piles of trawler nets and rope, looking down the bay at the Teflon-smooth sea with a glimpse of the open Atlantic, with only the odd leap of a grey mullet or pollack creating a ripple: life really doesn't get any better.

But the memories of childhood, my entire family at their happiest driving into Skibbereen for a drink, a quiet day on the beach at Glengarriff, visiting relatives...those old memories came back again and again. Although I've never lived there, for me it really felt as if I was coming home. And that was the best feeling of all - I felt a pride in where I came from.

I would have died happy. West Cork is truly the best place in the world. Life doesn't get any better.

Friday, 9 July 2010

policing and social media

I wrote a piece on the SML blog today about ways in which police forces are using, and can use, social media. Until I dug around today I wasn't aware quite how much some of the forces are using various forms of social media. The Met (surprise surprise!) is lagging way behind some of the county forces.

A couple of further points I meant to mention: firstly, police forces could learn a lot from some of the better customer service case studies, like EasyJet's use of Twitter. That said, given the volume of wind-up and malicious communications which can be made via social media, care should be given to spending vast resources responding to anonymous communications and criticisms.

Care must be given to who is given access to official social media streams, and how it is audited - police forces don't want a Vodafone incident.

Lauri Stevens (thanks for the retweet) is an expert on such issues Stateside and has written plenty of articles on the subject, including a terrific one here about the social media reaction to the recent G20 summit in Toronto. She makes several important points, which have given me a couple more thoughts.

There will always be huge volumes of social media conversations surrounding police activity, and most of them will be negative. From opinions at a micro level ("why didn't the police answer my call quicker?") to the macro ("police are terrorising innocent civilians" or simply "ACAB"-type posts), there will be thousands of rational and irrational opinions given every day. Police forces had better have a thick skin. The measurement/monitoring aspect of things can give a tangible metric of how opinions can be changed by a combination of communications and practical operational techniques changing. For example, an analysis of social media chatter around the May Day protests - where plenty of opinions are voiced about police - could be done one year, measuring volume and overall sentiment of conversations. This could be repeated the following year to give quantitative comparisons.

Lauri Stevens says "engagement is king", which is true in my opinion, and praised Toronto Police for communicating with "anyone and everyone who engaged them". This may be shooting themselves in the foot. ocial media is rife with hyperbole and hysteria; there will be many arguments which are unwinnable, simply because they are with people who are Always Right. The recent campaign by Greenpeace to bombard the Nestle Facebook page provides a case in point; police social media strategists might do well to take some tips from this article.

Finally, a word on a one-stop-shop case study: PC Ed Rogerson's Twitter page. No comment required; it's brilliant. Not sure how many officers would have the inclination do do likewise, and there should be some pretty strict regulations to ensure nobody goes off message (I am uncomfortable with officers updating their Facebook status via their phones whilst on duty) but Rogerson shows how it should be done.

Live update: as I watch the dramatic events unfold in Rothbury with, I must admit, a little bit of an excited schoolboy thrill, how about this for a use of social media. It was instantly retweeted extensively - I wonder if it was actually an effective way of getting their message to the media?