18 September 2017

Revisiting Thebes Land at Arcola Theatre because it is still exceptional

I do not often go back and see a repeat performance of a show but Thebes Land made such a good and strong impression on me the first time around that I had to see it again when it was revived for a second run. Quick booking got me 1 Full Price ticket (Ground Floor: A19 (Aisle Seats, Arcola Best Seats)) for £22, a snip. Last year it was only £19 and that was a ridiculous steal.

Usually when I see a play I have little or no idea of what to expect but with Thebes the situation was different. Not only had I seen the same production less than a year previously I also read my blog post of that to remind myself of what I thought at that time. Despite that I was still surprised at just how brilliant Thebes Land was. I was expecting something exceptional and it was better than that.

A second watching just brought home to me just how much was going on in the play and I noticed things that I had not spotted the first time. Some examples.

One short scene about the prisoner's rosary beads was presented four times. First we saw it as it happened with the prisoner and the playwright. Then we saw an almost exact copy with the actor and the playwright. Then the playwright added a Whitney Huston CD to the scene. Then, finally, the actor built on that to produce the final version of the scene. It was fascinating to watch and also opened the question of how many other versions of this scene had been tried before these four were selected for the play.

Throughout the play the question was asked, what is the time?, and the answer was always 5pm until the final time when it was 1 minute past. It was only a little touch, but a nice one.

The tempo of the play varied more than I remembered and I particularly liked the slow scenes where the action actually stopped for long moments.

Thebes Land was stupidly rich with great ideas and I loved even more the second time because of that.

I was extremely lucky to grab a few quick words with Trevor White (the playwright in the play) afterwards. These were mostly me struggling to find the way to say how much I loved the play but there were some nuggets of content in which I was surprised to learn that this version of the play was slightly shorter than last year's, through cutting some scenes, and was pleased to learn that I was right about the greater emphasis on tempo.

15 September 2017

Prism at Hampstead Theatre was wonderful theatre

The main reason that I wanted to see Prism is in the picture, Robert Lindsay, and there was plenty else to recommend it, not least my previous experiences at Hampstead.

Not sure what happened with the booking but somehow seat Q6, in the back row cost me an unbelievably low £25. Not sure what happened on the evening either as i was given the slightly better seat of P7. I only notice that now when writing this up.

Hampstead Theatre sits almost on top of Swiss Cottage underground station but going that way means going via Waterloo and that always seems wrong. Besides, there is no much walking that way so I went via the Overground and West Hampstead instead. The tube map is immensely unhelpful in that part of London as it does not follow the geography closely at all and it is only through walking around there that I have learned alternative routes.

There is not much in the immediate area of the theatre so I rely on the cafe there for food and drink. Sadly they closed the kitchens a while ago so hot food is no longer an option. Luckily I was able to find a fancy open sandwich. It was pricey but tasty and did the job. The bottle of Camden Pale helped too.

In Prism we see a former film maker, Jack, with dementia. His son, Mason, is trying to get him to write the book of his life while he can still remember it. To help he has just hired a carer to look after him and his much younger wife is there too. The action takes place in the large garage of Jack's house which has been filled with all sorts of memorabilia to try and stir Jack's memory.

Two things become apparent quickly; the extent of Jack's dementia and his love for and understanding of the art of taking a picture. The prism in the title was the innovation that allowed film to be made in good quality colour. While Jack can explain in detail how the prism worked inside the camera he could not differentiate a Vermeer from one of his own paintings.

I was a little uncomfortable at first as I do not find dementia anything to laugh at and other people were laughing at Jack's confusion (e.g. he could not find his local pub) and his constant repetition of questions. That quickly ended as we got more immersed in Jack's life, present and past.

The story was compelling and interlaced the present and the past brilliantly (rarely was an interval break better used). All of the characters were interesting, solid and presented skilfully. Robert Lindsay was fantastic as Jack but he did not steal the show as the other three were also excellent. The set did clever things that helped the story and the direction was crisp and imaginative. This was an exhibition in total theatre craft and I was extremely delighted to have witnessed it.

Prism was damn near perfect.

13 September 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (September 2017)

This Wednesday was a particularly blustery day and I was a little surprised to see so many people jostle with the weather and the resultant travel difficulties to get to West Hampstead for the BCSA  "Get to Know You" Social. We had to add an extra table to the group to accommodate every one and even then there were a few people standing, though I believe that was more out of preference than for a lack of chairs.

I had left work early to get to the social early but my travel difficulties meant an unexpected detour via Waterloo and the Jubilee Line rather than taking the direct London Overground. Plan B worked well and while I was not as early as I had hoped I was still early. Other people were too.

The evening went much as usual and much as expected with many interesting conversations, a few beers to drink and some smazeny syr to eat. Two of those are featured in the photo above.

There were several new people there and I made a point to talk to them. The opening gambits in these conversations was me asking them where they came from with Czechoslovakia (as it was) and them asking me if I spoke any Czech or Slovak (I do not). Pleasantries exchanged, the conversations then took on their own lives as good conversations do.

11 September 2017

Pleasingly disturbed by Doubt, A Parable at Southwark Playhouse

I often include part of a play's promotional blurb when explaining why I have gone to see it, this time I give the full text:
John Patrick Shanley’s masterpiece is one of the most acclaimed plays in recent memory. Winning 4 Tony Awards including Best Play, named Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Best New Play (Drama Desk Awards) and Outstanding Play (Lucille Lortel Awards). Doubt, A Parable won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
I was not going to miss that if I could avoid it. Luckily Southward Playhouse has performances on Mondays when many theatres do not so I went on a Monday. I went for a seat in the front row, as usual, and seat A20 in The Large was a more and reasonable £20. Incidentally, you have to admire a theatre that calls its two spaces The Little and The Large.

Despite having booked it only a few days before, I had no idea what the play was going to be about. I turned out to be on the somewhat challenging subject of abuse of children within the Catholic Church.

The priest under suspicion certainly had reasons for being under suspicion but was the sister being overzealous in her accusations? There was reasonable doubt both ways and that is what the play was all about.

Caught up in the dispute were a young teacher and the possible victim's mother.

These were four strong roles played strongly from the very start. The power of the play came from these four characters with their deep motivations and beliefs as they clashed and collided with each other. There was a lot of shouting.

As the play progressed we learned more about the possible abuse but never enough to erase the doubt. We were asked to choose which of the two, the priest or the sister, we believed and which should be punished. The system favoured the priest but that did not making him guilty.

It was a powerful production and it was easy to see why it won so many awards. If I have to be petty, the movement was a little unnatural as the players tried to satisfy all of the audience which sat on all sides. That was a small price to pay for being allowed to be so close to the action.

Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius was at the centre of the play and was simply magnificent.

Doubt, A Parable was disturbing drama and that is why I loved it.

8 September 2017

The March on Russia at Orange Tree Theatre was listless and pointless

While my interest in Orange Tree Theatre has cooled in recent years, as I have discovered more theatres that I find more stimulating, I still go there regularly and am prepared to give it any benefit of the doubt when considering whether to see a play there. This is a step down from seeing everything there automatically but it means that I still go there a lot.

The March on Russia seemed like my sort of thing so I reached for my credit card to pay an almost insignificant £15 for set A1, possibly my first time there.

The play was an almost voyeuristic look at a family. A couple were celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary and were joined for this by their three children, oddly with no partners or grandchildren.

As they talked about the past, when they the children were small and before that, skeletons stumbled out of the closet in droves.

Somehow, despite that, the play never got anywhere. Many of the stories told by the couple must have been heard many times before and so caused no reaction. And when reaction did come it was unnaturally muted. There were arguments between people who seemingly had never had an argument before and had no idea that they were meant to shout and throw things.

Dark hints were dropped but not picked up. One of the children looked as though they were carrying the bleakest secret all evening but it remained a secret. Throwaway comments were made about extreme behaviours that were not followed up. It was all deeply unsatisfying. There were so many directions the play could have taken but it took none of them, choosing instead to end as if nothing had happened.

The following evening I was in my local pub and one of the regulars there got involved in an inter-generational family dispute and was far more passionate and enthralling than this one.

The set did nothing to help either. I am happy to imagine that there are walls between rooms that I cannot see but a little imagination would have made a lot of difference.

It was almost boring at times and I saw a few closed eyes in the audience. Keeping it alive were the performances from Ian Gelder in particular and also Sue Wallace as the elderly couple. That was a small reward for an evening in the theatre.

2 September 2017

A fantastic evening with Nursery Cryme at The Oak

I do not often write about bands that I see in pubs because that would be a lot of writing and usually there is nothing new to say; one rock covers band is pretty much like another. The sheer brilliance of Nursery Cryme last night has forced me to change my habit.

I had seen the band a few times before so knew what to expect, as did the other people who filled out The Oak and who sang along to far more of the songs than I did. If anything the set was less commercial than previously in that they did not play some of the more obvious early Genesis songs, like I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). What they did play was a lot of longer more complex songs, like In the Cage. This was symphonic rock at its very best and I absolutely loved it.

Loot at Park Theatre was farcical and intelligent

While I have been an admirer of Park Theatre for some time and was aware of Joe Orton what really got me to see Loot was a chance encounter with Julie at a Sparks concert and Julie comes from Leicester, as did Orton. A convenient date was agreed and I bought the tickets, A18-20 in the middle of the front row, for a reasonable £26.5.

Apart from the promise of a 'dark comedy" I had little idea of what to expect. I had heard a couple of Orton short pieces on the radio recently and while they had some light touches I would be stretching a point if I said that I found them funny.

Loot was funny. Very funny. Laugh out loud funny.

Without giving too much away I can admit that it featured a dead woman, a nurse whose seven husbands all died quickly, a bank robbery and a policeman determined to solve several crimes all related to the few people in the room. Loot was a farce and a bloody good one too.

Trying to hide dead bodies is good farcical fare but there was more to Loot than just being a farce. The dialogue delivered clever funny lines at such a quick rate that it was hard to digest them all. Without the farcical elements of the plot it would still have been a funny play. A favourite, almost picked at random from the many, was when the coffin was being taken from the room the nurse put a copy of the Ten Commandments on it saying of the deceased, "She was a big fan, of some of them".

Some deep themes were covered too. There was a lot of religion, especially Catholicism, some politics and plenty of ethics. It was not a light play despite the heaps of comedy.

I found Loot to be hilarious from unusual beginning to unexpected end.

1 September 2017

Dissecting ethics charmingly with Windows at Finborough Theatre

I had been aware of Finborough Theatre for some time but there are lots of small theatres in London and I never had a compelling reason to go before. Then I saw Windows advertised in another theatre's email and the lure of John Galsworthy was enough and I willingly parted with my £18.

Finborough Theatre is conveniently located in West London alongside Brompton Cemetery. I took the tube to West Brompton and then a short-cut through the Cemetery. That part of the plan did not work well as there were no side gates and I had to walk all the way through then back up along the road outside. It was a pleasant walk if an unnecessary one.

The pub was a welcoming place and I had a difficult choice of beers to make. I'm still not sure what I had as there was no clip on the pump but the staff recommended it and it was a good choice. Their food came from the pizzeria next door and that also worked well.

The theatre was upstairs and we were allowed in a good thirty minutes before the show started. Not knowing the theatre I went up early to get a good seat. That was easy as there were seats on three sides of the stage and I took one on one of the central benches. Having claimed my seat I went back downstairs to get a coffee and came back with a beer, thwarted by the lack of paper cups I made the only sensible decision.

We joined Windows in the dining room of an upper middle class household, they had servants, soon after the Great War in which the son of the house had served. The father was a writer and the mother ran the house and family. Her immediate responsibility was to find a new parlour maid but the odd job man, who had come into the room to clean the windows, had a suggestion to make, his daughter. The only problem was she had just spent some time in prison, for murder.

What followed was a skillful dissection of ethics, politics and class as the opinions of the diverse group collided; as anyone you has read, watched or listen to The Forsyte Saga would expect.. Humour was one an obvious result of the collisions but there serious things to think about too. The play was a success because of the range of credible characters and the ability of the cast to bring those characters alive. It was an ensemble performance and they all deserved praise they got from the sold out house for the part they played. Carolyn Backhouse as the mother, Joan March, gets a mention because I loved the character and she had more work to do with it than the others.

Windows was a welcome discovery of a good play, a fine theatre and a decent pub. I expect the pub and theatre to have my custom again soon.

25 August 2017

Delilah delighted in Samson and Delilah at Grimeborn

Grimeborn is an interesting opera festival run every Summer at Arcola Theatre in Dalston. It compliments the Tete a Tete festival, which unfortunately is on around the same time, as that focuses on new opera (and many variants thereof) and Grimeborn largely does new productions of old operas. These are rough boundaries and they often overlap and a few operas appear at both.

Samson and Delilah fitted the Grimeborn brand neatly as it was written by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1877 but is not performed that often, By that I mean that I had not heard of it before. I had heard of Saint-Saëns and was interested to hear some of his works.

That was enough for me to fork out £22 for a good seat (A12, on the end of the central block) on a Friday night.

That night started well with a simple journey to the theatre, despite the partial closure at Waterloo Station, giving me enough time to hit the salad bowl beforehand. At £6.50 it is the most interesting and best value meal at any theatre that I know. The obligatory pint of Foundation was nice too.

The opera started on a high. We walked into a dark theatre, as usual, to find a group of people lying on the floor at the far end of the stage and a man dressed in Mad Max: Fury Road gear standing still just in front of my chair. It was something of an effort to get around him, which i liked as it brought me into the story at the very start.

The group lying down began to writhe and sing and we were off on the familiar story. Actually it soon transpired that I was not that familiar with the story (who was Dagon?) and I had to rely on the surtitles to help me a long as my skills with French were on a par with my knowledge of the Bible.

The story soon mattered very little as Delilah made here entrance. Not only was she stunning, as she should be as a femme fatale, she sung beautifully too, which was just as well as she had a lot of singing to do. The opera could have been called Delilah and Samson.

The music came from a single piano and that was lovely too. It flowed continuously rising when called upon to provide more colour during the frequent arias.

Samson and Delilah was everything that I would have hoped from at Grimeborn, a good classic opera delivered as if it was a new brash one. Everything about it was right.

21 August 2017

Bob Dylan shines in Girl from the North Country at Old Vic

It took quite a lot to get me to see this as, apart from the promise of some Bob Dylan music, nothing about it appealed to me. It sounded bland and I do not like bland.

Then the good reviews flooded in and that was still not enough. Finally a friend said it was so good she was considering going again and that forced me to consider it. I was lucky an =d was able to get a single seat on its own, A30, in the front row of the Lillian Baylis Circle (my usual place) for a not to be argued over £21. I got a safety rail in front of me for that but I knew from previous experience that I could live with that.

I was still not sure what to expect, which is how I like it, and I settled into my seat with no preconceptions.

I think Girl from the North Country was a musical. There was certainly plenty of music in it but little (if any) of it seemed to be directly related to the story. This was not just an excuse to play some greatest hits either and I did not recognise most of the songs despite owning, and playing, several Dylan albums.

The songs were the highlight of the show and all were delivered with energy and panache. The singing roles were shared widely and successfully, leading to much clapping after every song, just like at a more obvious musical. Those not singing the lead in a particular song were usually dancing, providing some backing vocal, playing instruments or some combination there of. These were long songs too and they filled the performance with their exuberance and, thanks to Dylan's Nobel Prize winning lyrics, intelligent wit.

The songs led the way and the story flowed around them. It flowed nicely too. The simple premise, a guest house, allowed us to follow the fortunes of many people who lived, worked or stayed there. These were generally unsetting stories which was not surprising given that this was set in 1934, just a few years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 when America was wallowing in the Great Depression. There were tales of love and humour in the mix but there were more about despair and unhappiness.

Girl from the North Country (I never did work out why it was called that) was an undoubted success and an affirmation of humanity and it's ability to survive large setbacks. The large cast was excellent and deserved all the cheers they got but the undoubted star of the show was Robert Zimmerman.

20 August 2017

Kew Gardens (20 August 17)

Kew Gardens opens over the Summer at 8am for members and I decided to take advantage of that even though it meant getting up earlier on a Sunday than I would normally do on a working day. The breakfast and buses worked to plan and I was at Victoria Gate about five minutes before opening time. There were people there before me.

Going early means that less of the day is taken with the visit but the most important benefit is that the garden is relatively empty and do it is possible to take pictures like this without worrying about the people in it.

My plan, such as it was, was to walk round anti-clockwise sticking more or less to the outer path. That was only a rough plan and I went through the Rock Garden rather than the Plant Family Beds. This is one of the areas that benefits most from fewer people as the sounds of the several waterfalls can be heard more clearly and the main view, next to the biggest waterfall, is peaceful.

The Grass Garden, close to the Rock Garden, is always one of my favourite parts of the gardens at this time of year when they are in full growth. The variety and majesty of the grasses never fails to delight me.

It was quite a long walk round from there to Log Trail in the south-west corner. It had been many years since I had last seen, let alone tried, the trail and it was much longer than I remembered. I presume that was because it had been added to rather than a fault of my memory.

This is just a section of it, perhaps a quarter, and you can see that it has a wide variety of balance challenges. I suspect that it is intended for children but I had great fun completing the course.

I finished my tour of Kew Gardens just before 10am as the gates were opening for the regular visitors. It had been a wonderful two hours.

18 August 2017

boom at Theatre503 was entertaining and surprising

I go to all the main shows at Theatre503 these days, not out of some loyalty but because they have a consistent track record of delivering unusual plays that are both stimulating and entertaining.

And so I eagerly forked out my £15 for boom.

First I had to feed and water myself and I did that in the pub downstairs, The Latchmere. I am not much of a foodie so I had the nachos, yet again, and a pint of Landlord, yet again.

The premise of boom is in the poster. A gay geek is studying fish and from this he concludes that they know that the world is about to end due to a collision with a large asteroid. The fish are right.

The geek makes plans, he prepares a bunker and entices a woman into it just before the collision. She is studying journalism and her motive in going was to write a piece on him.

boom is the story of one man's attempt to save the human race.

Except it is more than that. There is a third player, a narrator and our guide. She is in a uniform and it soon becomes clear that the play we are watching is some sort of historical reenactment taking place in a museum for our education.

Balancing this sci-fi element is the story of the two young people as they try to come to terms with the new world and with each other. They had been thrown together by circumstances and were not really suited which generates a lot of humour. The play (the couple) within the play (the history lesson) is nicely entertaining in the way that sit-coms should be.

The history lesson is a surprise. I've had to delete several attempts where I have tried to explain why it is surprising without spoiling it but the clues were too obvious. Just trust me on that one.

boom was a delightful treat and ideal fare for a Friday evening.

17 August 2017

Socks Do Shakespeare at Camden Fringe

If this blog is to be believed it was almost five years ago that I had last seen the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. That was five years of bad luck with the occasional Socks gig in the London area always clashing with something I had already booked.

So when a date was announced that there was a chance that could make I jumped at it. The start time (6:30pm) and location (Islington) were far from friendly but needs must and I sneaked out of work early, grabbed a train and a tube, then walked the final mile or so down from Highbury and Islington to the Bill Murray, which is a little off the beaten track.

There was a bar so I grabbed a pint while somebody wrote "15" on my hand in green pen.

The club room was small, dark, packed and hot. That was far from ideal but the discomforts were forgotten as soon as I heard Kev Sutherland say the familiar, "Hello, we are the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. And so am I. And so is he."

The only other material that I remembered from previous shows that I had seen was the I am a Sock song, which I guess is mandatory. The Socks do tours, or seasons, on a theme and this was all about Shakespeare so it was new material to be, apart from the odd clip that I had seen on YouTube, though Kev tries to keep his live act and YouTubing separate so there is not much opportunity to see the live show except by going to it.

For the next hour the Socks did what the Socks do and, I believe, better than I had see them do it before. The hour simply whizzed past and I spent almost all of it laughing. The only times I was not laughing at jokes I was groaning at puns.

Socks Do Shakespeare was simply far funnier than it had any right to be. Kev Sutherland is an artist who knows his craft and his audience. It had better not be another bloody five years before I see the Socks again.

15 August 2017

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Apollo Theatre was blistering

There are several names on the poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the one that made me buy a ticket was Tennessee Williams. I love modern theatre but I like seeing the classics too, especially if I have not seen them before, and so this was an obvious choice to make.

It was a Young Vic production at a west end venue so it came with eye watering west end prices and so I found myself up in Grand Circle, seat B12, with part of the safety rail obstructing my view and still paying £35 for the privilege (top price was £99). The play had to be pretty good to justify that.

It was pretty good.

In a format I am beginning to think of as American Standard we watched a family in almost real time across an evening in one room.

In what felt like the first of three acts (and the internet suggest that it might be that) there was a long conversation between Maggie (Sienna Miller) and Brick (Jack O'Connell) where Maggie did most of the talking and Brick did a lot of drinking. His drinking was one of the things they discussed. Sienna Miller rose highly in my estimation (admittedly from a position of obscurity).

There was also a fair amount of nudity which felt unnecessary to the story and a little distracting. They were in their bedroom, and Brick was having a shower, so the nudity was natural but unhelpful.

In the second act the main conversation was between Brick (still drinking heavily) and his father, Big Daddy Pollitt (Colm Meaney). Colm I did know because he had appeared in several great films including Layer Cake and, or course, Under Siege. This was a more equal conversation about the future. Big Daddy was celebrating his 65th birthday and had big plans for the future. Women featured in these.

In the final act all the family dramas came together and the other people at the party became more prominent, including Brick's mother, brother and his wife who had designs on Big Daddy's substantial wealth, and a couple of old family friends.

The plot helped to move things along and gave a point to the conversations but, as with other American Standard plays, it was the conversations themselves that mattered with the crisp use of language to convey emotions and ideas. The dialogue fizzed because Tennessee Williams wrote a great play and the cast did it full justice.

11 August 2017

Sumptuous evening at Tête à Tête Festival 2017

Tête à Tête took a gap year last year and there was no festival in 2016 so I was keen to get back in the groove with Tête à Tête Festival 2017.

This year the Festival was based around RADA Studios (the former Drill Hall) near Goodge Street which would have been ideal if I were still working at Kings Cross but I had changed jobs and was in distant Teddington with a train service disrupted by major works at Waterloo. All that is my thin justification for not getting to the Festival until the final week. Still, better late than never.

The first performance that I saw was Albatross.

This was a work in development that was exploring the mystery and majesty of the albatross using The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as the guide and pulling on other voices, such as Herman Melville.

This was a sparse piece with just two actors, the mariner and the albatross, one other voice off stage and an accordion providing all the music. The accordion also provided some pretty impressive wind noises in a way that I did not know that it was capable of.

One of the creatives behind the piece introduced it by saying that movement was a key part of what they wanted to achieve and this was obvious from the beginning. This worked particularly well when the two actors used two white rods each to summon images of a wild sea.

We were presented with a series of scenes, i.e. the ones they had managed to write and rehearse, that were sequenced in the way that made best sense.

It could have been clunky but was nothing of the sort. While pushing the boundaries of what opera is (one of the things Tête à Tête does) with only a couple of what could be called songs it easily managed to be poetic, musical and engaging. I enjoyed it a lot.

An excellent start to the evening.

The second performance that I saw was The Winter’s Tale, an interpretation of Shakespeare's play. The picture gives a good idea of what it looked like.

This was a fully formed piece lasting about an hour. There was a substantial cast with the musicians stepping into roles when not playing their instruments.

The music was composed by the man who also wrote Albatros and had the same short sharp sounds, more like sound effects than tunes, though that is an oversimplification. The singing was in the same mode with sounds rather than words. The story was told in spoken word.

If I had to classify it I would say that this was a play with a musical accompaniment. That music was constant and was important in describing the mood of the story. As was the movement.

It was a nice version of the story and even though I knew it I was caught in the mood of it as if hearing it for the first time.

Again I would have been pushed to call The Winter’s Tale an opera but it was a fine piece of something and I would happily see it again.

I ended the evening with ‘i’. To be honest, I was at the Festival that day anyway and it was the only thing on at that time so I booked to see it too.

I love it when accidents like that happen. "i" was my highlight of the evening.

"i" was very different again. It was much more like a traditional opera than the other two works and it was a lot weirder and a less structured story too.

It had plenty of songs which sounded like "normal" songs, with a clearly modern twist. The lyrics were heavily repetitive, for example the princess said "I" many many times before she completed the sentence "I am not happy". Musically and lyrically it was an excellent opera.

Making the good something special were the costumes and the touches of humour. The costumes were extraordinary and then some. The story teller who opened the opera by singing on her back is only a clue as to what they wore. Note the makeup too.

"i" was delightful in every way and for every minute and it was all the more pleasing because it was such a surprise.

Adding to the pleasure of the evening were the opportunities to mix with some of the Tête à Tête crew and friends in the breaks. That's why they call it a festival.

9 August 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (August 2017)

The second Wednesday in August 2017 was ridiculously wet in south-east London but a few hardy souls still made it to West Hampstead for an evening of talking, drinking and eating at the regular BCSA "Get to Know You" Social.

There were a few new, or rare, faces there which helped the conversations take a different tack this time. There was no mention of politics and it was nice to have a long chat with Jana about dance at Saddler's Wells instead.

Other things were much the same; I started the evening on Pilsner Urquell, topped it off with a bottle of Zlaty Bazant on last orders and had some smazeny syr somewhere in the middle.

Another excellent evening and only five weeks to the next one.

8 August 2017

The Hired Man at Union Theatre was beautiful

The Hired Man was one of those easy choices. I had seen three Howard Goodall musicals at Union Theatre a couple of years ago and loved them all and that was more than enough to get me back there for a fourth helping.

Having the story based on a book by Melvyn Bragg only made it more attractive.

A bargain at £22.50.

Normally a trip to a theatre in that area (there are four that I go to fairly regularly) means eating at Culture Grub first but they were closed for refurbishment so that meant looking for a Plan B. That was an easy too and I stayed in the theatre cafe and had a halloumi wrap with some interesting accompaniments and, er, chips.

My usual good planning got me a top ten ticket which got me in the first batch of people let into the theatre and that got me a middle seat in the front row in what proved to be a full house, they even brought a couple of chairs through from the bar.

The Hired Man told us the story of a casual agricultural worker, his two brothers and their friends and lovers in the early part of the twentieth century. They were people at the bottom of the economic tree, the sort of people Thomas Hardy also wrote about, and their lives were never settled, never comfortable. There were plenty of moments of happiness, times spent with lovers, time at the races and drinks with friends in the pub but there was also the discomfort and danger of working in the pits and the even worse discomfort and danger of the trenches in the Great War.

It was a grim story that was, somehow, never bleak.

Holding everything together was the music which did everything that I hoped it would do from my previous experiences of Goodall's work. The mood and the structure kept changing with soloists, diets, trios and choruses providing different soundscapes while some themes were repeated to make new tunes sound familiar. There was clearly a Goodall approach at work here and I felt he could write musicals in the way that other people write episodes of The Archers and they would all be good.

Sitting in the front row proved to be a good choice and I felt totally immersed in the story. That story gripped me because I did not know it, it was not obvious where it was going and there was always something interesting going on.

There was a lot of activity too with the large cast dancing quite a bit and generally moving around a lot. It was an ensemble performance and everybody played their part well.

With story by Melvyn Bragg and music by Howard Goodall my exceptions were clearly set and The Hired Man sounded exactly like that. It was beautiful (and grim!).

4 August 2017

Yerma at Young Vic was a powerful story

I am not sure why I skipped Yerma when hit first appeared at Young Vic last year but it got plenty of good reviews then, and won some prestigious awards, so I was in the queue early when it returned. That alertness secured me seat A36) in the stalls for an unbelievable £10. At that price it did not matter what view I had or even if the play was not particularly good.

Young Vic seems to delight in extreme productions and this was no exception. The stage was arranged as a rectangle with seating on the two long sides, it was raised about 1.5m, had glass walls and the actors communicated with the audience through speakers. None of this had anything to do with the story and all seemed rather pointless and gimmicky.

That was a shame because Yerma was a really good play and the cast did a great job with it. Of course Billie Piper as the mother trying to get pregnant was the star, and many people seemed to have come just to see her, but there were equally strong performances from her husband, sister and mother.

Yerma started with a raunchy conversation about sex between the couple. I am not sure if it was done to shock us at the very start or as a way of raising the issue to childlessness early but the conversation started with bum sex (as they called it). No other conversations in the play were as crude.

There were many other strong conversations though as the story developed. Possibly the most shocking was the sister talking about her baby in angry terms. The complaint about exploding nappies rang a bell! It was always a tense story and while there were many light touches, particularly from the mother, it was an emotionally draining story to hear and a happy ending never looked likely.

There was no interval and that was as it should be. This was not a story to drop and pick-up again.

Despite the nature of the story I loved it for its realism, grittiness and pace. It dragged you along brutally pausing for breath occasionally.

I love dark challenging theatre and so Yerma suited me well. I liked it a lot and was only prevented from loving it by the somewhat ridiculous staging.

27 July 2017

Datong - The Chinese Utopia at Richmond Theatre was melodic and interesting

A Chinese themed and styled opera at my local theatre was an obvious attraction even though the odd performance times meant that I had to take an afternoon off work to see it. The pricing was friendly enough though and sitting in my preferred area, Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 21, cost me a mere £20, though some of that may have been down to my ATG Card (I cannot remember).

The opera told the tale of "modern China's first major utopian philosopher and earliest constitutional reformer, Kang Youwei and his pioneering daughter, Kang Tongbi." Needless to say I had not heard of either of these people before and knew nothing of their story. It was a story of flight from China, a period in the USA, a death in India and a return to and another death in China.

Apart of the location changes (one for each of the three acts) there was little physical action and little narrative. Instead the space was filled with philosophical and political discussions. Our understanding of these were helped with translations given at each side of the stage in both Chinese (the traditional form, I believe) and English.

The story covered some sixty years starting early in the last century with each act set at a different time. Kang Tongbi was the one constant in all three acts which, made her the star of the show, a billing she lived up to. All of the singing was good and hers was delightful.

I liked the music too. It was in the western tradition, it even incorporated some well-known tunes (e.g. The Beatles' Let it Be), and was given an oriental flavour in both the scoring and the instrumentation. The evocative and mournful sounds familiar from films like House of Flying Daggers came from a huqin (thanks Google) and there was lots of percussion too.

Datong was everything that I hoped it would be, enough of a western opera to be understood with enough Chinese influence to make it different. 

26 July 2017

La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Visit four of six to Gyldebourne Festival 2017 was to see La clemenza di Tito.

The seats we got in the ballot were Red Upper Circle G31-34 for £125. That is, technically, the very back row in the opera house but they were good seats because of their central positioning. Every seat in that zone is a good one which is why we almost always sit there.

We had some Glyndebourne first-timers with us, my boss and his wife!, which was a good excuse, if one was needed, to walk through the whole of the garden. A little drizzle did nothing to put us off either; that's what umbrellas are for.

The opera was very much in two halves. Before the dinner break we met a host of characters and their complicated relationships. All this led to a plot to overthrow Emperor Tito. In the second half he forgave them. Of course there was a lot more to the opera than that. The limited action was there to build the emotion and the emotion was expounded upon at great length in the words and music.

The music was Mozart and the singing was Glyndebourne. That is a winning combination.

24 July 2017

Milly Thomas was phenomenal in Dust and Brutal Cessation at The Bunker

This was my fourth encounter with the talented Milly Thomas and I made the trip to The Bunker specifically because of her. She wrote both of these Edinburgh sized works and also performed solo in one of them. Previously I had seen her act twice and seen one of her plays, Clickbait. It was Clickbait that made me want to see more of her works and so I happy paid my ridiculously low £15.

Dust came first. It came with a work in progress warning and Milly carried the latest version of the script with her but did not seem to rely on it very much. The presence of the script did not bother me in the least and it did nothing to mar the performance.

Dust started strongly and got better. It was narrated in the first person by a young woman, Alice, who had just died. What followed over the next hour was an exploration of how we got their and what the impact of her death was on the people around her.

Alice, as a ghost (presumably) went to see family and friends and Milly played them too, or rather she played them as Alice remembered them. Milly proved herself to be a formidable actress.

The play was naturally grim, death is like that, but there was a lot of humour in there too which had me laughing, giggling and even squirming at times. To give one example from early on, Alice examines her own dead body and has a close look at her vagina as she had never been able to see it before. While doing so she remembered all of the boys/men who had been in there. It was a long list and she wheeled it off quickly.

Dust was similar to Clickbait in the way that it moved violently between moods and ventured into sexual territories usually ignored out of embarrassment. It was a very different play and the similarities were more of house-style that anything else. It is a style that I very much like and I loved both plays.

Dust built neatly towards an ending with more discoveries and revelations and after an hour I was emotionally drained and in complete awe of both the play and the performer. Milly has already achieved a lot and is sure to achieve a lot more. Update: Dust has won a Stage award at the Edinburgh festival; I'm not surprised.

Brutal Cessation was always going to suffer following immediately after Dust. I had invested so much in Dust that I had little left for Brutal Cessation and I was unable to give it the attention it deserved. I could appreciate it but was unable to engage with it. That was my fault, not the play's.

It felt more like a work in progress than Dust had with a lot of clever techniques looking for a story to hang off, or it was there and I missed it. A couple were going through some issue that mattered a lot but probably not quite enough to break the relationship. The clever bit was the way that they used the same arguments against each other at different times and repeated the other's dialogue to do so. It forced us to look at both sides of their arguments at the same time.

Brutal Cessation was a competent play that suffered in following a brilliant one.

I hope that Dust comes back to London for a proper run somewhere and if it does I will definitely go and see it again. It was absolutely exactly what I go to the theatre for.

21 July 2017

HAG talk: Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck

I had never heard of Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, and I am not that interested in history but I am interested in the place that I live and I always find HAG talks interesting and informative so I booked a place at this one. I also did the poster.

Mary Adelaide lived 1833 to 1897, a period when the royal families married each other with great regularity. As a result she was both granddaughter of George III and grandmother of Edward VIII and George VI.

While she was never in the centre of the Royal Family she was close enough to benefit from it, she was paid under the Civil List (or that period's equivalent) and was given grace and favour houses.

She lived for several years in Cambridge Cottage on Kew Green, which is now part of Kew Gardens where it is a popular venue for weddings. She also lived in White Lodge in Richmond Park for a while so she had strong connections to Richmond. One of the many things she did locally was open the Terrace Gardens next to the river.

She became known as the People's Princess because of the things she did and she was helped in this in Victoria's almost complete absence from public life due to her mourning for Albert. Mary Adelaide was one of the most active royals at that time and was popular because of this.

She is commemorated by a monument just outside Richmond Gate, somewhere between the busy road and the brambles. This site was originally chosen after a full sized model, in wood, of the monument was tried in various locations in Richmond. Plans are being developed to restore the monument and to remodel the setting so that it can be appreciated by people passing through the gate.

18 July 2017

Sheep at White Bear Theatre was nicely strange

The new White Bear Theatre is an attractive place in a convenient location for me so it is towards the top of my places to look when free evenings come up, as one did this Tuesday, and a humble £15 secured a ticket for Sheep. It sounded like an odd play, it was about somebody who had not slept for days and who had strange visitors, and I love odd plays.

It was also written by David Cantor who had Two Pints ... amongst his credits (admittedly it was Series 9) which was always going to appeal to me.

My route there was a simple one, train from Teddington to Vauxhall then a short walk of about fifteen minutes. For reasons I never understood, the play started at 7pm, despite being 90 minutes straight through, so my even feast was a pastie procured at Vauxhall Station. Not for the first time.

The theatre was set up with seating on two sides of a square and I took a seat in the middle of one side while everybody else piled into the other side. I felt like nobby-no-mates for a while but a few people came and sat on my side eventually. In the end the house was pretty full on what was its first night.

The stage was set as the living room in a flat and that is where everything happened. This was Dexy's flat and he was the one who could not sleep. He was visited by two friends. First an outrageous bon vivant who spent his nights clubbing with the rich and famous and then a sedate bus driver keen on board games. The fourth character was unseen out of the window, she was clearly a prostitute but Dexy tried to read something positive into her loitering and then going off in cars.

Then things got a little weird.

It could have been it-was-all-a-dream but that is an unlikely guess. Gradually we heard things about Dexy and his life that contradicted what we had heard before. A gangster was prominent. Dexy was as confused as the rest of us until and ending was reached, and that did not give too much away either.

The strength of the entertaining story came from the strong characters.

The woman, who came into the room later, was wearing a bright red dress and I hope that was a reference to, or at least a homage to, The Matrix. It certainly suited the uncertainty and artificiality of what we were seeing.

There were plenty of nice moments along the way and some of these carried the Two Pints ... house style of unexpected two liners. It was also a funny play.

Sheep was both odd and funny, as I hoped it would be. Job done.

14 July 2017

Hir at Bush Theatre was phenomenal

I wanted to see Hir because it sounded quirky in an interesting way, it was at Bush Theatre which is one of my regulars and it had Arthur Darvill, recently of Dr. Who in it. All good reasons and so I paid my £20 for seat A10.

As usual with Bush Theatre I was not quite sure what to expect on the day. I had hoped for a veggie wrap or sandwich but their limited range was devoid of veggie options when I got there so I had to find a cafe instead. Dough & So Bakery did the job very nicely.

I returned to Bush in good time to get a pint of Camden Pale Ale to take in with me.

For Hir the seating was arranged in a more familiar pattern than it had been on my last visit with the stage in the middle and the seating on either side. The slight difference this time was that there was an additional row of seating, row AA, next to the stage and sunk quite low. I was right to have avoided this, despite its proximity, and gone for row A instead.

That stage was a mess. It was an open plan room with the kitchen at one end and a sofa at the other but the main feature was the mess, particularly the clothes strewn about the floor. In the room was a middle aged woman and a similarly aged man, She was happily doing things while he was slumped in a chair. He was also wearing a women's night gown and a rainbow wig. In to this scene arrived their son Isaac (Arthur Darvill) returning from serving in the Marines in a war zone for the last three years.

We met the fourth member of the family, Max, a little later. Max used to be called Maxine.

The title of the play suggests that it was about Max/Maxine but that was just one of the strong themes and the harsh spotlight featured all four family members at various times. A phenomenal amount went on and a lot of it was verging on grotesque, though there were several lighter moments too and I loved the line, "What is the kitchen table doing in the kitchen?".

The impact of the play can be explained by a young woman in the front row almost directly opposite me. She loved the play too (I asked her afterwards) and sat through it with an almost constant look of horror on her face and she brought her hands up to her face several times. We were watching people say and do almost unbelievable things to each other. Making your husband wear a dress was only the start of it.

Hir walked many fine lines brilliantly. It was never voyeuristic in a Jeremy Kyle sort of way or exaggerated in a absurdist sort of way. This was a family on the edge, or several edges, but these were real edges lived on by real people.

And those real people were portrayed magnificently by Ashley McGuire as the mother at heart of the family, Andy Williams as the father deposed from his previous authoritarian role, Griffyn Gilligan as the young man confident in his new role,  and Arthur Darvill as the prodigal son trying to make sense of it all. They all got a lot of applause and cheers at the end and it was all thoroughly deserved.

I like modern edgy theatre and have seen many plays that could be roughly compared to Hir but Hir stood out among them all. It was phenomenal.

12 July 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (July 2017)

The monthly British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) "Get to Know You" socials continue to come around with remarkable speed. They are scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month but it never seems like a month has passed before I am back at the Czech and Slovak Bar and Restaurant in West Hampstead for more beer, more food and more conversations.

Now that I work out of the same office (in Teddington) all of the time that travel has become an easy ritual too. I leave the office around 5:40, well before most people, and walk to Strawberry Hill Station. Teddington Station is a lot closer but I like the walk and I am under no time pressure. I catch a train to Richmond just before 6pm and from there take the Overground to West Hampstead. I get to the club a few minutes before the start time of 7pm.

Richard is normally already there and has rearranged the tables and put the sign on the door. His final preparatory act is to buy me a Pilsner Urquell.

After that people drift in and the conversations start. Somewhere around 8pm we realise that we are hungry and order food. I always have smazeny syr and try to compose a different photo of it.

In July we talked about Brexit again but this time with some hope (for some of us) that it might not actually happen, the perils of budget airlines, the delights of Munich, the progress of Czech and Slovak players at Wimbledon, and the history of women jockeys.

Somebody also sang the Jeremy Corbyn song at some point. It was probably me.

11 July 2017

Lonely Planet at Tabard Theatre was a celebration of humanity

Tabard Theatre is one of the theatres that I need more of a reason not to go than to go due to both its very convenient location (next to a tube station and above a pub) and so I booked to see Lonely Planet. The synopsis sounded a little unusual, I like unusual, and the writer came with some recommendation from his work in America.

And so I duly paid my £20. The booking experience was a little surprising in that Tabard had introduced allocated seating since my previous visit. I chose A7.

The pub came first and that had changed a little too. I was expecting to have my usual veggie fish and chips but the menu had been changed. There was a still a halloumi dish and I went for that. The corn bread made it very filling and a bit chewy so I'll probably go for something else next time. There will be a next time because its still a good pub with a good range of beers.

Lonely Planet was set in a small and untidy map shop. Proprietor Jody (Alexander McMorran) lived there and was regularly visited by Carl (Aaron Vodovoz) who had several jobs most, if not all, of which were fantasies.

Carl kept bringing Jody chairs which were piling up in the storeroom at the back where Jody slept.

Jody and Carl talked about things a lot of which was small talk between friends, some of which was Jody explaining to Carl how map projections work and a some of which was about AIDS and the impact it was having on their group of friends many of whom had died. They talked in the way that normal people talk and the mood and the pace of the play changed with the subject matter. It was as light hearted as it was sad.

Carl kept bringing chairs and spoke about his chair at home with fondness.

The ending was bit of a tear jerker. It was unexpected but, with hindsight, should not have been. But it was not the sadness of the moment that stood out, it was the reality of it. This was a play about two close friends living awkward lives in difficult times. It was a celebration of humanity and that made it an engaging and rewarding play.

7 July 2017

Mumburger at Old Red Lion Theatre entertained in an intelligent way

I discovered Old Red Lion in Islington via a Philip Ridley play and had kept an eye on its programme since then. I managed to get back there only once subsequently but that was more because of the my inability to see everything that I want to due to a lack of time (and if I stopped working to make time then the lack f money).

Mumburger appealed because it sounded weird but weird alone is not enough. It took me a while but what clinched it was the realisation that Rosie Wyatt was in it. I had seen her act several times before and was keen to keep up the tradition. To be fair to Red Lion Theatre their publicity material did say she was in it but to be fair to me they wrote everything in capital letters which made it hard to read.

Having discovered my error in time I forked out a miserly £16.50 for a ticket on a Friday night.

It is always interesting to go to theatres like Old Red Lion (White Bear and Union are similar in this regard) in that you do not know how the stage will be arranged until you climb up the steep stairs and enter the room.

This time the stage was arranged as an right-angles triangle with the base about half the length of the height. The seating was along the base and vertical and the back of the stage was a grey curtain draped along the hypotenuse. The stage was sparsely set as living room with a boxed seat (useful for storing props) and a coffee table.

The play started with film projected on the grey curtain. This was a fast collage of events including a TED Talk and a serious car crash. The Mum of the play died in that crash. It was a bold and effective start to the story.

Trying to come to terms with the Mum's sudden unexpected death were her husband and daughter (Rosie). The daughter was more in control of the situation initially and had created a shared Google document for them to track activities like notifying people and finding a funeral director. The father/husband was lost in grief.

The relationship between the two was the focus and purpose of the play. That relationship had its expected ups and downs as they both went through the violent stages of grief, shared their memories of Mum (which did not always coincide) and tried to come to terms with her final wish, an emotional act of sharing.

Mumburger went all over the place, in a good way, with moments of humour, anger, sadness, absurdity and tenderness.It was something like a fast version of, er, The Fast Show, with the same two characters. A few of the scenes did not work for me and at times it felt like the script needed a bit of an edit but in saying that it feels now like I am looking to criticise it when serious criticism is unjustified. The play worked well and being a little rough and ready at times did nothing to hamper my enjoyment of it.

I went to see Rosie and she was good, as expected. Andrew Frame was just as good as her father and the two of them gelled well. I could believe that they were father and daughter and that mattered. I liked the simple staging too.

Mumburger entertained in an intelligent way and any theatre that does that is fine with me.

30 June 2017

The Ferryman at Gielgud Theatre was a complex tapestry of rich stories

I was impressed by Jerusalem, if not overwhelmed by it, and so a new Jez Butterworth play was always going to attract my attention. Adding the name Sam Mendes made it almost mandatory.

I still had my reservations though and my reluctance to pay full west-end prices so I went for a restricted view seat in the front row of the Grand Circle, A26, which set me back an inconsequential £24.50. I reasoned that the important part of the play would be the dialogue and so a good view did not matter. The best tickets were over £100 which is well above my theatre limit.

The view I got was looking through the handrails which actually worked well.

The Ferryman was a very busy play with an awful lot going on for three hours. The main plot concerned the discovered of a body of a man killed by the IRA ten years previously (1972) for, supposedly, betraying them in some way.

The main characters in the story were his brother and his wife who had moved into her brother-in-law's farm with his large family, they had seven children at the time of the play. Add to these an assortment of uncles, aunties, friends, helpers and some members of the IRA. That large cast bred a multitude of stories many, but not all, of which were wound up with the Troubles in Ireland. To give just two examples, an aunt had been at the Dublin GPO Riots in 1916 (part of the Easter Rising) and she later recited all of the names of the Hunger Strikers. Some of them had been at Bobby Sands' funeral and he was mentioned many times.

My Mum was an Irish Catholic from Straban on the border and many of the stories here resonated with things that Mum told me about her family. When we moved house in 1964 she wrote "Up the IRA" in large red letters on the hall wall before it was covered in wallpaper. She also sang me to sleep with rebel songs like, my favourite The Wild Colonial Boy. I believe that several members of her/my family spent time in the infamous H Blocks.

Around this large and dark theme of Irish political history there were lots of other things going on including an escaped goose, some rabbits, tales from Ancient Greece (where The Ferryman came from), fortune telling, teenage bragging, an affair, a proposal, a death, a harvest, some dancing and an awful lot of drinking and swearing.

To tell stories like this needed a good cast and there was one. Paddy Considine (hapless Guardian journalist in Bourne Ultimatum) led the family and the cast with notable help from Laura Donnelly (his sister in law) and from, to be honest, far too people for me to mention or to look up. The only one I had seen on stage before was Carla Langley.

It was the complex tapestry of stories and emotions that made The Ferryman such exceptional theatre. It's mood and pace swayed unpredictably as we followed the large and extended family through little more than one day. In doing so it followed other classics like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Long Day's Journey into Night in allowing us to see the story unfold in almost realtime.

I came to The Ferryman a little sceptical and left a firm fan. I hope to see a revival in a couple of years or, as things stand, this production again as it is already running through to January 2018.

29 June 2017

Sometimes Apple Maps is better than Google Maps

The consensus seems to be that Google Maps are god and Apple Maps are bad but, despite this, I persevere with Apple Maps as the default mapping system on my iPhone and, because of that, on my iPad and iMac too. So I was pleased to find an example where Apple Maps was clearly better.

I am going to see a flat this evening and while I know the route very well I wanted to check the distance so that I could time the walk; 1km is a convenient 10 minutes for planning purposes.

I am actually travelling from Teddington but I redid the planning from Northweald Lane as that demonstrates my point better.

Apple Maps shows a quick and easy route.

On the other hand, Google Maps wants to take me on a large detour, taking 9 minutes instead of 4.

The reason for this is that Google Maps does not know about some of the local footpaths that Apple Maps does know and so it takes me along the roads instead.

That is not my only grips with Google Maps either; it insists in showing me distances in Miles (their default for the UK) rather than in km (my preference). This is despite me having a Google Profile where it could hold details of my preference.

And that is not my only gripe with Google either! I wrote something about the accuracy of online maps back in 2009 and somehow in all the changes with Google Photos (remember Picasa?) they have managed to lose some. Update 30/6/17: Google have found my old photos and they are now shown on the previous blog post.

25 June 2017

Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne (2017)

I had seen Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne before, in 2013, and I said then that "it was all very pretty, even if it did not make a lot of sense" so I was happy to see it again when it was revived for this year's festival.

Some friends wanted to see it too and I managed to get seats Red Upper Circle C38-41 at £100. Good seats in a good part of the theatre for a good price.

The traffic was kind so we arrived there just after 3pm, the official opening time but we were by no means the first people there. The weather was kind too so while we bagged a table in the marquee out of convenience we were able to spend a long time walking through the gardens before the opera started.

The production was much as I remembered it from earlier, though to be honest I did not remember that much, just general themes and concepts. Of course I could have read the synopsis in the programme or even my notes from the last time but that is not the sort of thing that I do. I prefer surprises.

I found Ariadne auf Naxos just as confusing the second time round and, just like the first time, that had no impact on my enjoyment of the opera at all. The first scene-setting half was nice enough but the second surreal half was gorgeous. Obviously Richard Strauss knew how to write a good tune and Glyndebourne know where to find good singers. The combination was dazzling.

I know I say the singing is good, or better, every time that I go to Glyndebourne but I only say that because it is true and this year I think that the singing has been even better than usual.

Ariadne auf Naxos was all very pretty, even if it did not make a lot of sense

23 June 2017

HAG talk: Ham's Modern Architecture

My involvement with Ham Amenities Group (HAG) is not that much to boast of but I do get to produce the posters for the events. An upside of this is that I get to know about the talks early and can be one of the first to book.

I was very keen to hear this talk for several reasons. I am interested in Ham and in Modern Architecture so this talk could have been made for me, and in a way it was. I had heard Richard Woolf talk about local architecture before and it was that which made me suggest him as a speaker for HAG.

I did not know beforehand that Richard also does lecturing and that came though in a superbly composed and delivered presentation.

The content was both detailed and authoritative. Richard certainly knew his subject and was enthusiastic about it too. That enthusiasm had taken him all over Ham and down no-through-road, like Sheridan Road, which I thought that only I walked down (for my Ham Photos blog).

Richard hit all the right buttons for me in the talk, and I would have been delighted with it whatever opinions he had, so it was a bonus that he seemed to agree with me on almost everything and as he was the expert that was even more gratifying.

The aim of the HAG talks is to interest and inform residents in some aspect of Ham and Richard Woolf did that magnificently. We are already trying to find a way to get him to do another talk.

22 June 2017

Punts at Theatre503 was powerful and entertaining

Punts, like Clickbait, was one of those plays that addressed an overtly sexual subject intelligently while skilfully avoiding the trap of becoming voyeuristic or pornographic. The poster says that quite well, it is clearly sexy but there is fun in there too.

The play was about the sexual awakening of an autistic boy who got a lot of help from his parents in that they bought a high class sex worker for him. It opened with his mother matter-of-factly preparing him for this encounter which included checking that he had washed under his foreskin. That got a laugh as did a lot of other things.

But this was not Carry On Prostitute, it quickly grew in to a lot more than that as we learned more about the boy, his parents and the sex worker. They all had reasons for doing what they did, things that they feared and aspirations for the future.

Punts became a play about empowerment as each of the four tried to take control over some aspect of their lives. There was a good story too and some important things happened which had an impact on the four and the relationships between them. It was powerful and entertaining too.

Given that all four parts were equally important to the play and that all four actors played their roles admirably, it is only fair that I name-check all of them, so take a bow Christopher Adams (son), Clare Lawrence-Moody (mum), Graham O'Mara (dad) and Florence Roberts (sex worker) for bring to life four people that I cared about.

Punts was exactly the sort of theatre that I expect from Theatre503 and that is why I keep going back there.

20 June 2017

Incident At Vichy at King's Head Theatre

I fancied Incident At Vichy because it is by Arthur Miller and I was also keen to go to King's Head Theatre which I had somehow not managed to do previously, despite working within easy walking distance for a while.

I was feeling generous and pushed the boat out a little and went for a Premium seat, C8; this cost £25 which is heading towards pricey for a pub theatre. I would not have minded that if the premium seat was good but the first few rows were at the same height so I has two rows of people in front of me. None of them was ridiculously tall or wide but my view was impacted. The view I had was something like the picture above but with some heads in the way.

The evening had not started that well either. The unusual 7pm start meant something of a mad dash from Teddington which left no time for food beforehand. The pub foresaw this and did not provide any anyway. They did provide some reasonable though and while it took a little queueing to get some the first pint went down in under five minutes and I took a second in with me.

Incident At Vichy was a procession of men waiting to be called in for nationality checks by the Nazis. These checks apparently consisted of examining papers and foreskins and took place in a consulting room off to the right. This was in the early 1940s when the Vichy Regime was the nominal government of France while the Nazis occupied the north of the country.

As the men waited they talked. Some were sure that everything would be fine, others were worried about their papers and others shared stories of what they had heard happened to those who failed the tests. In one, of many telling exchanges one man said that it did not make economic sense for the Nazis to kill so many people when they needed workers and another commented that was exactly the sort of remark that a Jew would be expected to make.

As with other war plays I had seen recently the othering of Jews, Gypsies and gays etc. had uncomfortable resonances with current times where blame for woes was laid at the doors of Muslims, Remoaners and Fake News Media. We seem determined not to learn those lessons.

Incident At Vichy was tense but it was also illuminating and stimulating thanks largely to the simplicity of the production that let the characters do all the work and to the strong cast that made all of those characters realistic and interesting. 

19 June 2017

Loving The Old Guard

It has probably been forty years since I've loved comics as much as I am now. Then the two main publishers, Marvel and DC, published a host of off-mainstream books like Warlock, Claw the Unconquered, Deathlok the Demolisher, The Warlord and Killraven, all by top class creators many of whom rose from these humble starts to become genuine stars, including Jim Starlin and P. Craig Russell.

This golden era is different in that it is the fringe publishers, notably Image, that are doing the interesting books while Marvel and DC are mired in constantly trying to refresh the dying superhero books. Another difference is that this time a lot of the good books are coming from established stars, like Brian Wood and Brian K. Vaughan.

The Old Guard appealed to me because it looked interesting visually and as a concept and because there was a lot of buzz around its launch. The barrier for entry to new comics is now very low, as soon as I hear about something that I like I can go online to buy it and the iPad means that I can read comics in any free moment. I currently have 89 books on my iPad waiting for free moments but that does not stop me buying more.

The Old Guard is very old in some cases. These are people who have lived for centuries, or millennia, simply because they cannot be killed very easily. Being almost immortal has brought them all together and made then successful mercenaries. Not a unique concept by any means but there is a lot more to the story than that and the story telling, words and pictures, is excellent. It is both a fun book and one that stands up to critical scrutiny.

The good news is that it is coming back for a second series, the bad news is that is in 2018.