28 November 2023

Trashfuture live

It has been ten years (!!) since I last wrote about podcasts which, given how much time I spend listening to them, is probably a mistake.

My regular walks, c20km a day on average, are spent listening to them or to BBC radio drama and I subscribe to podcast on news, science, comedy, politics, drama, technology and design. At any one time I generally have about thirty waiting to be listened to.

I got into Trashfuture both of whom are paid subscribers; I am not and I just get the weekly free episode. 

Trashfuture calls itself a "podcast about business success and making yourself smarter with the continued psychic trauma of capitalism", which it is. The format is a team discussion on current affairs that skilfully and entertainingly combines an intelligent and knowledgeable analysis of the failings of capitalism with some decent jokes; the adage a spoonful of sugar comes to mind.

Occasionally the Trashfuture do live shows and when one coincided with a son's birthday it was quickly agreed rhat the whole family would attend.

Being a family meeting meant going for a walk, Rower Bridge to Waterloo, and being a birthday meant going to Pizza Express.

Our progress towards Between The Bridges on Southbank was hampered by some event connected with Albania's independence day which is one reason that we were sat towards the back of a packed marquee. I did have time to buy a decent beer for a not frighteningly expensive £7.2.

I had been to many recordings of TV and radio shows and was interested to see how a podcast would differ. As expected from listening to the show for a while, recording it live made little difference, e.g. there were no retakes and no additional material that would disappear on the cutting room floor. What was different was that the four of them (the fifth was ill) sat in a line across the stage, so that we could see them all which is not the natural arrangement for a discussion and there were times when they spoke over each other a little.

The topic of the discussion was Nadine Doris' new book The Plot. One of the team, Alice, had drawn the short straw and had read it and she took us through both the content and the style with the other responding with analysis and humour. It was very like a normal show and so delivered on my expectations.

They talked for about an hour then the conversation reached a natural end and we all applauded enthusiastically before heading back out into the cold night.

I hope they pick this episode as a free one so that I can listen to it again.

21 November 2023

The Enfield Haunting at Richmond Theatre

I go to see almost every play that is put on at Richmond Theatre and with Catherine Tate and David Threlfall in the cast I was certainly going to see The Enfield Haunting when it passed through on its way to the West End.

Those names were expected to be a big draw and the prices matched so, again, I was forced out of my usual place, the front row of the Dress Circle, and I went up a level to the front row of the Upper Circle where a central seat (A16) cost a mere £20. At that price I could afford to take a risk on an unknown play by an unknown (to me) playwright.

I had seen other supernatural plays at Richmond Theatre, notably The Woman in Black, and with Richmond Theatre's reputation for putting on a good show I had reasonable hopes for the evening.

The view from my seat was fine (aided by using my coat as a cushion to make me sit a little further forward) and the set looked good.

What followed was a major disappointment.

The story had a few shocking moments and these were handled well with, for example, all the lights in the auditorium going off. but the bulk of the play felt slow and irrelevant. The children apart, the characters were not very believable and any supernatural story trying to be heard got lost in the messy interactions between the adults.

This was the first night of a preview run so perhaps things will get better but I found a lot of the dialogue stilted as if it had not be learned or rehearsed properly.

Apart from the few brief shocking moments it had nothing going for it and I was very glad that I had only paid £20 and that it was not very long.

19 November 2023

Knocking on the Wall at Finborough Theatre

The nice thing about Finborough Theatre is that they do the hard work for you, that is if they think that a play is worth putting on then it is worth seeing. And so I booked to see Knocking on the Wall for £20 without knowing anything about it. 

Other things going on made a Sunday matinee a good option which change the arrangements a little but not much, instead of having dinned at Cafe du Coin beforehand I had lunch there and ate the usual food despite the time change.

I also had time to explore Brompton Cemetery which is always worth a visit.

The other difference was that the audience arrived earlier than they do for evening performances and with the performance all-but sold out I had to settle for a seat at the end of the front row, which actually worked well, as corner seats often do.

Knocking on the Wall is a collection of three plays on the shared theme of loneliness with a hint of hope. That sounds a little miserable, and there were few laughs, but they proved to be engaging stories with characters I cared about in situations that I found interesting. The cast portrayed those characters excellently.

It was a thoroughly satisfying and fulfilling afternoon. Once again Finborough Theatre demonstrated what theatre can do and delivered a genuine treat.

17 November 2023

The House of Bernarda Alba at National Theatre

I first saw The House of Bernarda Alba at Cervantes Theatre in 2017(!) and was keen to see it performed on a bigger stage. So much so that I pushed the boat out a little and paid £67 for Lyttelton Circle Row A Seat 22.

And as back in 2017 the evening started with a visit to Culture Grub for a Chinese curry. I still use that restaurant for any visit to a theatre in the Southbank area.

Food and drink arrangements at National Theatre were less impressive and I had to have a beer out of a can at some ridiculous price. I consoled myself by thinking that the profit was going to a good cause. The front of house there always feels like an afterthought with lots of open space but little in the way of seating or refreshments. I have eaten there but it is always busy and always a struggle to queue and then find a space. Much better to eat elsewhere first. 

This was a new version of The House of Bernarda Alba and the set reflected that newness. I liked the minimalist clean lines of it and the use of three levels. This seems to be the fashion and it looked quite familiar.

The story was the same and the extra space allowed it to be told more naturally then in the confined spaces of Cervantes Theatre.

Less natural was the language and I was very surprised that a story set in a strict religious household would contain so much swearing, it was unnecessary to the story and jarred with the setting.

Luckily the occasional foul language was the only (minor) flaw in an otherwise excellent production. I was again gripped by the story, despite remembering much of the detail, and fully engaged with Bernarda Alba, her daughters, her mother and her servants. Each one had motives and aspirations that created the tension that drove the story.

Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca, who was Spanish, is recognised internationally as a great playwright and The House of Bernarda Alba as one of his major works; this production did it full justice.

4 November 2023

Ceasefire Now!

While it was uplifting to be in a huge mixed crowd of people in Trafalgar Square all calling for an end to the genocide in Palestine it is also very sad that such demonstrations are the only voice that we have and the the political class continues to not only refuse to denounce the genocide but are actively supporting those doing it.

The politicians do not reflect the people they represent on this and we will keep demonstration until they do. 

2 November 2023

A View From The Bridge at Rose Theatre

Not all Arthur Miller plays are classics but it is probably fair to say that are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), and A View from the Bridge (1955) are, and Wikipedia backs me up on this.

I had seen all but A View From The Bridge so was very pleased when it was announced that it was coming to Rose Theatre, particularly as their production of All My Sons was a triumph.

I picked a seat in my now favoured Circle, A24, which cost £35 with my Senior Citizen Concession. I like the view from Circle and that more than makes up for sitting amongst school children when at a matinee. That said, seat A24 is next to the aisle where a safety rail hinders the view slightly and I will avoid that seat in future (I am writing this now to remind me!).

The story was a fairly simple one, an American-Italian working class couple living with their orphaned niece (aged 17) are joined by two cousins who arrive from a poverty stricken Italy illegally to work on the docks. One of the cousins starts a relationship with the niece to which the over protective uncle is strongly against.

The story is the thread on which so many things hang that are revealed through the discussions between the five family members. Through these we learn more about life working on the docks, immigration into America at that time and the Italian community they belong too. We also learn about their histories and beliefs, for example the families left behind in Italy.

Central to all this is Eddie Carbone, the head of the family. It is his beliefs and passions that drive the story to its predictable conclusion. And we know it is predictable because a lawyer is used as a framing device and her intermittent narration explains that she has seen all this before. She may have done and while the outcome was predictable there were other outcomes that were equally possible.

Jonathan Slinger was perfect as Eddie and that was one of the main reasons the I loved the performance so much. The other cast members were good but this was Eddie's story.

Much of Eddie's character was the macho head of the family stuff but the play added some confusion over his relationship with his niece, he was accused of being jealous of his cousin at one point, and there were hints of homosexuality that were never resolved.

The other star of the show was the staging which made use of the shape and height of the unusual stage. It was a simple staging too with very few changes to the set, just a few chairs being moved around. I  have no idea why the swing is there in what was mostly a living room but it worked. Rose Theatre seems to like swings and so do I.

A View From The Bridge at Rose Theatre gave me everything that I could possibly want from a visit to a theatre, it was that good.

31 October 2023

And Then There Were None at Richmond Theatre

Although I have never read any of her books, I have a bit of fondness for the works of Agatha Christie gained through listening to radio adaptations, of which there are many. That made And Then There Were None at Richmond Theatre a must see.

My usual seat had been sold so I went for the same position on the other side, Dress Circle A2, which was a very reasonable £26. Lots of other people bought tickets too and the show was sold out.

I had heard it on the radio not that long ago, probably less than a year, and while I could remember the main theme, and the main twist, I had forgotten most of the details and, most importantly, who did it.

The point of And Then There Were None is the story and I settled down to some unchallenging but entertaining theatre. The simple plot is that ten people have been tricked into a short break on an isolated island and one after another is killed until And Then There Were None.

Being character-light the ensemble cast was composed of relative unknowns which, as before, proved just how good less famous actors are. And being an ensemble it is a little unfair to pick any one actor out and Sophie Walter, as the school teacher Vera Claythorne, gets a mention possibly because she was one of the last to die and so was on stage for most of the evening but also because she was very good in the role bringing real drama to the piece as revelations about her past were revealed.

The staging was very good, being clever enough to cope with the various scenes and events while not being too clever to detract from the story. The only part that did not work for me was the very beginning where a not very legible recorded voice read out the letters that brought the ten together and that had no impact on my understanding or enjoyment.

Once again I was gripped by the story, one again I failed to guess the killer and once again I thoroughly enjoyed it.

30 October 2023

Ships by Brian Eno and Baltic Sea Philharmonic at Southbank Centre

And to think that I only went to see this because I had some credit at Southbank Centre.

Of course I bought the early Roxy Music albums, and I had heard Brian Eno give a lecture on art and humanity (I think!) when at university yonks ago, and I bought some of his solo works, particularly Ambient 1: Music for Airports, and I bought Bang on a Can's version of that too, but for reasons verging on insanity I was not quick to buy tickets. Eventually I saw reason and paid out a somewhat massive £135 for seat CC - 39 in Royal Festival Hall. That is about what I pay for Glyndebourne tickets!

Combined, Brian Eno and Baltic Sea Philharmonic was a fest of musicians wielding both classic and rock instruments. They were all dressed in black, played without a score, were spread standing on two levels and on the lower level they moved around a little.

The show was completed by an extraordinary effective light show which upgraded it from a mere concert to a performance.

The show opened with The Ship, Eno's album from 2016. This had four dark and brooding parts which glided along beautifully. At times is sounded a little like a sea shanty, at others there were the tannoy sounds from Airports and there was an awful lot else going on too. I loved it.

The second of the three halves was a collection of other songs from Eno's extensive back catalogue, non of which I knew. They had the same sort of atmosphere as The Ship not least because the same set of musicians was used throughout. Whoever scored the songs for this orchestra did a fine job.

One song, Brian told us, had been written about Israeli and Gazza several years ago in the expectation that the issue would have been resolved by now, instead it was the worst it had ever been. He said that anyone not marching for peace should be, and got applauded for saying that.

A little after an hour of the expected seventy minutes everyone took a well deserved standing ovation only to return shortly after for an encore. This was more like a rock concert than a classical one after all.

That encore consisted of several more songs and took us up to almost the ninety minute mark, with a few people sneaking out before the end. It was more a third act than an encore and I certainly welcomed the extra time.

Ships far exceeded my reasonably high expectations and it was a phenomenal show. Of course Eno's music was the heart of it but the arrangements, the musicianship and the staging all added to the experience.