20 August 2016

London Broncos 28 - 42 Leeds Rhinos

Various things have conspired against me seeing Leeds Rhinos playing in recent years, mostly the London's only team, the Broncos, moving away from Twickenham (a comfortable walking distance) to Enfield (I have no idea how to get there) and then being relegated so that they had no regular fixture against Rhinos.

Then Rhinos helped by having a terrible start to the season so that they played in the end of season Qualifiers rather than the Super 8s and the Broncos helped by moving to Ealing which I can get to on one bus.

Well, normally it would be one bus but a road closure meant that three buses or, as it turned out, one long walk to Richmond and then the rerouted 65. I had planned to walk from Ealing Station to the ground but I had done enough walking by then so I took the 297 bus. It was good to see a few other people in various Leeds Rhinos shirts get on the bus with me. None of us had been to the ground before so we all used our phones to work out the route and mine threw me off the bus the stop before everybody else, it was not a long walk from there to the ground but I suspect that everybody else took the better option.

First impressions of Ealing Trailfinders was good. Two sides of the ground were little more than basic but, at one end, had a reasonable amount of covered seating and along one side was the main building with grandstand, bar, shop and dressing rooms. Judging by the noise coming from there that is where all the Broncos fans were; they had to be somewhere as the rest of the ground was packed wit Rhinos fans.

The game itself was patchy with Leeds Rhinos dominating the possession and territory for large sections of the game, enabling them to run in an impressive eight tries, but they also lost concentration a few times to allow Broncos to run in five tries themselves, including the first one and the last two. Several of the Rhino's tries came from wide play with winger Tom Briscoe getting three, and with the gusting wind several conversions were missed which also made the score closer than it could have been. The final score flattered Broncos somewhat and I had hoped for something like the 12-58 win I had seen a couple of years ago.

Still, a win is a win and I was happy with that and with the chance to see Leeds Rhinos in the flesh again.

And I was so buoyed by the win that I walked all the way back to Ealing before taking the 65 back to Teddington where I found a pub to celebrate in.

13 August 2016

Brexit means paying a fortune to make ourselves worse off

Obviously there was more to the Brexit debate than just the economy, which is just as well as the wheels on that bus are falling off that bus rapidly. We always knew that leaving the EU would be bad for the economy and we are just beginning to find out how bad.

To add insult to injury, we will be paying a small fortune over the next few years to make ourselves worse off. The Department for leaving the EU have just announced their Senior Management Team and it's big. There will be thousands of other managers and staff below this adding millions to the wage bill. Then we can add the cost of all the officials in other departments and organisations that these people will be working with.


11 August 2016

A brilliant evening with Dark Vanilla Jungle at The Cockpit

This was a very mixed evening, it ended brilliantly but there were a few hiccoughs along the way.

There are four playwrights that I have Google Alerts set up for and Philip Ridley is one of them. So it irked me somewhat to find out about a production of his play Dark Vanilla Jungle at one of my regular theatre by accident. I forget the details now but I presume it was via Twitter, it normally is.

The Cockpit Theatre used to be a pleasant walk around Regent's Park from my office in Kings Cross but working in Teddington meant coming up with alternative plans. It was a sunny evening so I opted to take the train to Wimbledon, the tube to South Kensington and to walk the rest of the way including a jaunt through Hyde Park. That was a very pretty walk taking in the Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion, some sculptures and the Italian Gardens. The plan was working.

I had time for a proper meal and my plan included a curry in a place I had been before. That plan went less well. Conscious of the time I placed my simple order as soon as I got in there but 30 minutes later and I did not even have a papadum to show for it. I had to leave then so I went to pay for the mango lassi that had arrived, they were all very apologetic and offered me a free meal later that evening and I was all very reasonable about it and declined due to lack of time. I forgave them, we parted amicably and I'll be back. Plan B, not for the first time, was a packet of Nobby's Nuts and a bottle of beer in the theatre bar just before the performance.

This was almost 9pm and that brings me on to the last bad point. I do not know who thought that 9pm was a good time to put a play on, particularly one that demanded attention all the way through. This, combined with the lack of publicity, probably explained the low turnout. I don't think that it was the smallest audience that I have ever been in but it was close.

I made my way into the theatre and took a seat in the second row in my usual area (the front row is too low and is like sitting on a child's chair). The stage was bare apart from a desk, a chair and a woman sitting on it. And that is all that there was throughout the performance.

She was writing what I assumed was a statement of some sort and that turned out to be right. This was Andrea and for the next 90 minutes or so she told us her story.

It was a story that leaped around in time, something she apologised to us for, as she told us about how her parents met and how she came to be living with her grandmother, who she did not get on with.

Early on she dropped big hints as to what might come, with references to a soldier, a baby and dark events in Epping Forest, before we converged on the story of her and Tyrone.

That was a pretty dark story too. I think we all saw the sexual grooming coming though the brutality was no less shocking because of that. Andrea's reaction was equally shocking as she tried to reconcile what had happened to her with her love for Tyrone. Things got a little weird after that but remained gripping and absorbing.

Every Philip Ridley play I had seen, this was my fifth, had been so rich with ideas that I am sure that many of them passed me by on a first watching. The time-hoping was the simplest to understand and simply mirrored how we communicate normally, a tale is rarely told chronologically. There were relatively few references to religion and mysticism compared to his other works but they were there. More obvious were the repeated lines, or themes, such as the descriptions of two people meeting for the first time and the ice creams, which is where I presume the "vanilla" in the title came from.

It was a well crafted play, as I knew that it would be, with the themes leaping and mingling while the mood bounced up and down in different phases, like a symphony. One scene that clings vividly in my memory had an angry Andrea scattering c-bombs like confetti having never used such strong language before.

I am beyond praise for Lexie Braverman who played Andrea in the gruelling one-woman show. It was a difficult enough task to do all the talking for 90 minutes and was made even more difficult by the subject matter and more difficult still by the extreme variation in mood required. Lexie was brilliant.

The staging was good too. Like the gymnastics floor exercise, full use was made of the marked out square with Lexie sometimes moving the desk to another part of the stage where it became something else.

The best indication of how gripped I was by the play and the performance was is that I still had some of my beer left at the end of it. Even taking a swig would have been too much of an interruption.

It was late when it finished, 10:30pm to save you doing the maths, and with a difficult journey home (thanks to closing the road to/from Richmond) I was not keen to hang around but I did stay just long enough to say a few words with Lexie. I would have liked linger but then she deserved a rest too, I was exhausted from watching it so I can only guess at how drained she must have been.

Dark Vanilla Jungle was a difficult play to watch because of the subject matter but I am very glad that I did.

5 August 2016

Present Laughter at Richmond Theatre

Richmond Theatre is an easy one for me to get too from my new workplace, the 33 bus takes me from the office in Teddington into the heart of Richmond, so I am currently going to all the shows there that have any interest for me, and a Noel Coward play is always going to interest me.

I had to eat first and while I had yet to establish a regular pre-theatre eating place in Richmond the Prince's Head on The Green was good enough and the beetroot and mushroom bourguignon did the trick, which it had the last time that I was there. The same can be said for the pint of Oliver's Island.

Noel Coward obviously has niche appeal and while the theatre was busy it was certainly not full and the average age looked to be somewhere in the 60s. I was a little surprised that there were a noticeable number of under sixties there as Noel Coward strikes me as being decidedly dated in much the way that the far more recent sit-coms from the seventies and eighties are. Similarly I am not sure who reads the novels of Evelyn Waugh these days.

On the plus side, dated can also mean period giving an historical perspective on how we live. After all, "the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there". Also Coward does delightful dialogue which is the main reason that I wanted to see it.

And as it was the dialogue that I was mostly interested I took a punt and went for the very end of the front row in the Dress Circle, Row A  Seat  26 Price £35. I went for this as the premium seats extended across almost the whole row and I did not fancy sending £5 or so for the seat next to mine. The safety rail and the boxes did impinge on my view of the set slightly but not enough to impact my enjoyment. Still, I'll probably not book that seat again.

I would normally show a picture of the view from my seat and of the set but the safety curtain went up and down so quickly this time that I have had to settle with a publicity shot found on the internet. From my seat I could not see the fireplace or the door next to it. Fortunately I did not need to.

Present Laughter centres on a recently middle-aged actor, Garry Essendine (played excellently by Samuel West), who likes playing the field. In this field are a young actress, who has just spent the night in the spare room, his ex-wife and the wife of a colleague (Zoe Boyle). Among those watching the goings on were his long-term secretary (Phillis Logan), an unnaturally happy man-servant and an exuberant maid. The mix of characters and their well observed interactions were the main strengths of the play and the source for much of comedy.

There were also elements of farce with people hidden at various times in the office on the left and in the spare room on the right. A wife hiding from an suspicious husband may not be a new idea but it is one that worked. All the other ideas worked too and the play was humorous all the way through and frequently edged into laugh out loud territory.

Essendine is a role that Coward wrote for himself and he remained centre stage throughout. To use some dated terminology, he was a cad who cared nothing for the women he played with or for the impact that this had on others. In his eyes he was the star and everybody owed their success to him but did not respect him enough for that. Despite his character our sympathies were more with him than against him. This was partially because the wronged women were portrayed as contributing to their own fates, remember this was written in 1939.

The story got messier and more complicated before ending in much the same way that Private Lives did and, like Private Lives, the ending was more a way to draw the play to a close than an ending to a story and it was the journey to this point that mattered far more than the destination. I liked the journey.

Present Laughter was never going to be more that a light treat, like a slice of cake with your afternoon cup of tea, and the simple production and good cast made it a treat to truly savour.

31 July 2016

Black Road by Brian Wood and Gary Brown

My time available for reading comics is still very limited, though the new job is helping with the shorter commute making more free time in the day some of which spills though into more time for reading, and that means taking care over what I buy. The days when I bough almost everything that Marvel published and a lot from DC too have long gone.

I am also looking for different things to read. There are still some good superhero comics out there but the overall standard has fallen with the proliferation of titles (there are three or four different Avengers books every month) and the interest in the characters has gone with the innumerable relaunches and resurrections. I have no idea who DR Henry Pym is these days and I do not care anymore.

On the plus side, the rest of the comics market is very vibrant, particularly Image Comics, and it is easy to find and buy new things on the internet. My current reading list includes Trees, Injection, Sage, Autumn Lands, Midnight of the Soul and Fuse. To that list I have just aded Black Road.

The Black Road leads to the north of Norway and this is a medieval world with a powerful church, waring lords and wolves. Travelling the hazardous road are a warrior and a young woman who grew up as a slave in Rome.

The blurb sounded interesting and I had liked Brian Wood's work on one of the (many) X-Men books and that was enough for me to take a punt on issue #1. Having read that I immediately bought the other published issues (#2 to #4) and then subscribed to the series to get all future issues (#5 is due on 17 August).

There is a lot to like the book. It has lots of familiar themes, the journey, the companionship, the church, the primitive setting, the mysterious ast, etc. and they are brought together skilfully to make something new and interesting, much as Game of Thrones does.

The main narrative is the journey, hence the title of the book, and that drives the story in a clear direction, unlike Game of Thrones!, and makes it a compelling read.

I do not often fall in love with books as quickly as I did this one and not only have I got a new title to read every month I've also been encourage to try some other new titles.

29 July 2016

Cargo at the Arcola Theatre

I do not get to the Arcola Theatre as much as I would like. That is mostly my fault for living on the other side of London a problem made worse by me now working in the south-west too and no longer having the sort of job that I could sneak out of for a matinee performance. Despite those obstacles I still keep a close eye on their programme and Cargo attracted me as soon as I read about it. Then the reviews started to come in and I had to go.

A Friday suited me and I left the office in Teddington very promptly, slightly before 5:30pm, to catch the slow train to Vauxhall (all the trains that stop at Teddington are slow), the faster Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington and then the London Overground for the last two stops to Dalston Kingsland. I made good time and arrived there about 80 minutes after I left the office. It was much better when I could walk up from Kings Cross.

Arriving early gave me plenty of time to eat and drink before the performance, and I did both. The menu had expanded since my previous visits but they still had a risotto balls and salad thing that was much like the dish that I used to have, except it no longer had a warm stew at the bottom. The beers were a couple of crafty ales from the east end, a Shoreditch Blonde then a Foundation Bitter.

Then about a quarter to eight I headed downstairs to start the queue to Studio 2 only to find that it had been started by somebody even keener than me. Still, third place was fine.

I had been in Studio 2 many times but had never seen it like this. It was lined with metal to make it look like the inside of a container and the seating was two benches along each side. It was dark too.

I took a seat around the middle of a long side. In the darkness I could just make out some packaging in front of me. There was also a scruffy looking woman sitting on the bench opposite me who had to be one of the cast.

Then the lights went out and in the pitch black the play started. With us in the container and on the ship were two stowaways and young but street-wise woman and her younger brother who had little grasp on what was going on. When they were sure that they were at sea and had not been detected they were brave enough to put a light on and discovered that there was another young woman in there with them.

All nervous, scared and untrusting they quizzed each other about where they had come from, how they had got on the boat and what their plans were. Answers were cautious because of the lack of trust and we were not certain that we were being told the truth.

After the scene was set several surprising things happened but I'll avoid the spoliers and not say what they were. I can say what they did and that was make us look at the "problem" of refugees from different perspectives. I half expected a simplistic story that showed us that refugees are normal people too and, done well, I would have been happy with that but Cargo was more intelligent than that. It also explored the motives, ways and means that people get involved in various aspects of moving across borders. It was engrossing and entertaining as well as intelligent.

The characters with us in the container were very different people and that sparked all sorts of reactions as they parried with each other for the best outcome. Helping the sparks were some excellent performances. I'll, possibly unfairly, pick on Milly Thomas for praise as much as anything because I did not recognise her despite being very close to her only a year previously when she appeared in Animals at Theatre503.

Cargo was a good play and staging it in a dark container helped the experience and made it an event as well as a story. It appealed to me artistically and politically so it is no surprise that I really liked it.

23 July 2016

Most of my "fans" are in Russia

I run Google Analytics on this blog and while I take them with a huge pinch of salt I do find them interesting.

For example, I can always tell when certain events are coming up, such as the open days at Watergardens on Kingston Hill, as my write ups of those start appearing in the most popular stories list.

The pinch of salt comes from the places that people read my blog from. Some foreign readers are to be expected as I often write things about other countries, especially the Czech and Slovak Republics, and some of my stories are not about any country, e.g. those I write about comics.

However, none of that explains the current high interest that I am getting from Russia. I am pretty sure that they are all spammers, cyber-crooks or members of some other nefarious groups.

If you are from Russia and you are a real fan then please leave a comment to let me know why. I'll understand if you are shy. Or a bot.

19 July 2016

Ivanov at the National Theatre

Sometimes deciding to see a play is easy, but rarely as easy as this.

There are four playwrights that I have Google Alerts set up for an Chekhov is one of them. These adaptations are by David Hare who has possibly been the biggest playwright in the UK for the last few decades.  They were staged at the Nation Theatre that has the infrastructure, and budget, to stage large productions.

I had thought about going down to Chichester to see the plays when they were first staged there last year but I was too disorganised to book tickets in time. I was not that worried as a London transfer seemed certain.

There were three plays in the season, Ivanov which I had not seen before and The Seagull and Platonov both of which I had only seen once. I was half tempted to go for the three plays in a day option but decided that would risk the three plays blurring into one. Obviously, That was not a problem when I saw Henry IV Parts I and II in a Shakespeare marathon.

My seat for Ivonov was Olivier Circle A23 for which I paid £32. I do not recall now if this was a preview price but it could have been as this was the first performance, a sign of how keen I was to see it.

The stage was superb and the photo does not do it justice as it is hard to make out the water flowing around the front of the stage and it does not show how parts of the stage went up and down to provide and remove props that transformed the stage, for example, from a garden to a dining room.

The central plot of Ivonov was simple enough. Nikolai Ivonov is a junior governor official fed up with his prospects and his wife of five years who he had fallen out of love with. She was ill with tuberculosis which increased his guilt. He spent most evening with his friend Paul Lebedev who hates his own wife, Zinaida, with a barely concealed passion. They had a twenty year old daughter, Sasha, who is infatuated with Ivanov and, understandably, he is interested in her too. Things developed from there.

I had not seen Ivanov before so could not tell how much was Chekhov and how much was Hare but the combination worked. The dialogue flowed briskly and smartly with a contemporary but not overly modern lilt. That dialogue took as deep into love, misery, power, deceit and bigotry (Ivanov's wife was a converted Jew). It was heady stuff with a few light touches added, as in Dickens some of the supporting characters were frivolous, which stopped the mood from getting too melancholy.

It was a large and top quality cast which included the magnificent Nina Sosanya as Ivanov's wife and the endearing Peter Egan as a bumbling uncle of Ivanov. There were some sixteen people in the cast and they all performed magnificently. The stage played its part too by being clever but not distractingly so. Likewise the lighting.

The whole production was professional without being cold, far from it actually. That left the play with plenty of space to breathe and to do what it wanted to do which was to emerge us deeply into the lives of a group of friends as they lived through some momentous events. It was enthralling to witness.

This may have been billed as an early Chekhov but it was very familiar Chekhov and that was what I was hoping to see.