20 May 2016

Blown away by Tête à Tête's Crime and Punishment at the Royal College of Music

Tête à Tête is a company committed to exploring the future of opera. I came across them at a festival of new operas that they ran at the Riverside in Hammersmith in 2011 and I have been back to their festivals every year since in which time I have seen a lot of operas, and other musical works. covering a myriad of themes in a myriad of styles and I have become a firm fan.

That alone would have made it an easy decision to see a series of six short operas inspired by Dostoevsky's classic book (which I had read and vaguely remembered). Taking the decision from easy to no-brainer was the location as the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music (RCM) is a little gem of an opera house, small on scale but large on atmosphere.

Finally the tickets were a derisory £8 (Dress Circle seat A28). I presume that was because the operas were created by RCM composers and performed by RCM singers and so the costs were somewhat less than for most commercial operas. Even so, on reflection the price was at least £10 below where it should have been.

My loose connection to Tête à Tête gained by writing nice things about them (fully deserved) and talking to them at events got me invited to their pre-concert drinks and nibbles, which was nice.

But first I had to get there which was less nice as my new workplace is in Teddington which has two slow trains an hour to Richmond and two slow trains an hour the other way to Kingston. It took me about an hour and a quarter to get from Teddington to South Kensington and that was with nothing going wrong. I'm going to have to work on my travel options for other events.

There were six operas each of fifteen minutes with a break for more drinks and more talking in the middle.

Stream of Consciousness, Sea of Blood by Benjamien Lycke (music) and Mien Bogaert (words) took us into the world of politics as a President looks to Dostoevsky for inspiration as he makes the most difficult decision of his life. I liked the tension in this as he wrestled with the possibility of being responsible for the deaths of many of his citizens.

76 Days by Kenichi Ikuno Sekiguchi (music and words) told the gripping story of a real-life kidnapping. This was dark and I like dark. I liked the way that we could see the wife at home and her captured husband with his captors at the same time. The lounged menacingly while she was struggling with her first whisky of the day. The husband's brother took a more pragmatic view.

Bel and the Dragon by Alex Paxton (music and words) was a retelling of a story from the Apocrypha. That story must also be elsewhere as it was one that I knew, in it a statue of the cow god Bel was though to come to life to eat the food each night but Daniel, he who liked lions, proved that it was the priests stealing it. Despite the seriousness of the accusations and of the penalties inflicted this was a humorous piece that ended the first half on a light note.

At the interval it felt like a typical evening at a Tête à Tête festival with three very different pieces each with their separate merits. I grabbed a beer from the bar and then found some Tête à Tête people to have that conversation with. It was a short interval and I took the rest of my beer in with me when the bell rang for the second half.

The Two Sisters by Algirdas Kraunaitis (music) and Grace Lee-Khoo (words) gave us more darkness and some humour in a quirkily gruesome Scottish folk-tale retold. One of the two sisters killed the other but said that she had gone away with a boy. Sometime later a stranger visits the house and produces a device which sounds like the dead sister which brings things to a head. I loved the story and the way that it was told.

Der Eisenhut by Amy Bryce (music) and Roland Bryce (words) was a tale of revenge in post-war Germany and was another successful dark tale, though this time with no magic, just ordinary mushrooms. Another simple tale well told and, in my opinion, the best singing of the evening from the two female leads.

The evening ended with Killer Graphics by Sam Hall (music) and Darren Rapier (words) was typical Tête à Tête fare with reality blurred between video games (GTA) and real life. This was an interesting story with lots of fun violence and a little bit of fun sex delivered by a large cast. It was a wonderful end to the evening.

At half-time I was happy and at the end I was ecstatic. I loved the second half operas even more that I had those in the first half and that made it an astonishingly good evening overall. It was a fantastic advertisement for modern opera, the students, teaching and facilities of the RCM and the format devised by Tête à Tête.

Crime and Punishment was a ridiculously good evening and I was delighted that Tête à Tête were being even more innovative and were live streaming it the following night (Saturday) so that I could watch it all again.

The video of the evening is now online on YouTube so you can see for yourself just how good it was. I'll be watching it again too.

17 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1947 with Judge Dredd on a charge

My deep dive into the last two years of 2000AD continues and while I am trying to draw attention to some of the lesser known, or almost unknown, strips there are times when the old favourites demand attention and Henry Flint's cover to Prog 1947 is one such moment.

In the current Dredd story line, Enceladus, he is up against fallen judges who had been exiled to the penal colony on Titan and then had moved to another of Saturn's moons, Enceladus. Somehow that had led to Mega City 1 being engulfed by ice and under attack from ice monsters. The strip carries these longer stories from time to time and I love them. Writer Rob Williams takes the credit for this one.

But it is Henry Flint's art that makes this Dredd story something rather special.

I also like the reference to the classic Doors song, Riders On the Storm, in the title. 2000AD does a lot of that sort of thing.

16 May 2016

My first day at sparesFinder

Today I started my new job as a Project Manager for sparesFinder. We can help solve your company's materials data challenges and provide the tools you need to deliver significant savings to take you beyond data cleaning.

Materials Data Management (MDM) is not quite a completely new area for me as I had some exposure at both Dwr Cymru Welsh Water I managed a small project that maintained asset details in a GIS and at EDF Energy where I worked at a coal-fired power station for a few months and everything they did was about managing assets. I see MDM as an excuse to learn something new which I will both enjoy and expect to be good at.

One of the attractions of the job is that is is based in Teddington. I mapped my walk to work this morning and it came out at 2.33 km and took 22:24 minutes walking at an unhurried pace. I plan to walk to/from work every day and will be experimenting with longer routes, though I will probably always have to cross the river using the Teddington Footbridge, so that I can get more steps in and can spend more time listening to podcasts.

For the first time in quite a while I am genuinely looking forward to coming in to work and I hope to be here for a good few years until the lure of doing nothing finally pulls me into retirement.

12 May 2016

Jelly Beans at Theatre503 addressed adult themes violently and intelligently

It does not take much to get me to see something at Theatre503 and this time it was the simple statement that Jelly Beans was by the creative team behind BU21 and Cans, both of which I saw at Theatre503 and both of which I loved. To be specific, ir was written by Dan Pick who had directed both of those shows.

Unusually it was only on for a week which gave me limited options on when to see it and I settled for a Thursday evening even though I was at home that day and had something to do locally in the afternoon. That meant a prompt tea before catching a 65 to Richmond and a train to Clapham Junction. The travel worked exceptionally well and I got to the theatre about half an hour before the show started, plenty of time for a pint of Landlord from the Latchmere before heading upstairs to the theatre.

The stage was refreshingly bare and this was my view from the middle of the front row which cost me a parsimonious £12.

Like Portia the week before, this was a one person show that explored some pretty dark places. This time it was a troubled young man, played by Adam Harley. The tale was told in the first person and I do not recall being told the character's name and there is none listed on the theatre's website.

We could tell immediately that he was troubled because of the way he looked, the way he spoke and the things that he told us about his lifestyle and recent events. This was an 18+ performance so I cannot repeat much of what he said.

In talking to us, he switched topics and periods rapidly as his fractured mind made connections. As his story jumped around we learned some things about his family, girlfriends, school days and thoughts. As the story jumped, Adam fidgeted with his clothes and played with the chair in a slightly maniacal way, because he was slightly maniacal. Just how maniacal he was became obvious when he went to the supermarket to buy Pop-Tarts and ended up having a confrontation with a large man in a mobility scooter. Things got really dark after that.

There was strong violence (but I think I escaped the blood, that is always a danger with a front row seat) then there was more strong sex. Neither was gratuitous or prurient and instead were a natural, if extreme, extension of the drama that had gone before. It was a shocking story that shocked mightily while giving us a deep look inside one troubled mind. It almost seems wrong to describe it as entertaining despite being entertained by it.

Jelly Beans was very much in the usual Theatre503 mold of being provocative, dramatic and intelligent. I use the word "intelligent" a lot when talking about plays at Theatre503 and that is deliberate on my part and, I am sure, on theirs. 

2000AD Prog 1936 with Harry Absalom

My catching-up with 2000AD is going well, if not quite well enough for me to be up to date by the time that I start my new job. There has been a lot of enjoy as I've tried to read four issues a day and I wanted to highlight one of the less well know stories - Absalom.

Harry Absalom is a police inspector who fights supernatural forces in a version of modern day Britain. His police procedures are far more The Sweeney than Line of Duty and that is part of the charm of the stories. These are penned by 2000AD regular Gordon Rennie who has written several Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper stories as well as creating other titles such as Aquila.

The artwork by Dom Reardon is deliciously quirky and ideal for the strip.

Absalom is something a little different and a cracking read with it.

6 May 2016

Funny Girl at Savoy Theatre was a triumph for Sheridan Smith

I last saw Sheridan Smith in a musical at the Savoy Theatre back in September 2010 when she was in Legally Blonde and while I had seen her a couple of times since then that was in serious plays, if you can count A Midsummer Night's Dream as serious that is, so it was good to have the opportunity to see her sing again.

I was tempted to get tickets for her run in Funny Girl at Menier Chocolate Factory but even though I was far more organised that usual they had sold out before I could get some. I was, therefore, delighted when it was announced that the show would transfer to the Savoy Theatre and I was in early to get front row seats in the Grand Circle (that's the top level). Other people had expressed an interest in going so I ended up buying four tickets, A18-20, for £39.50 each.

The view was reasonable, as the photo shows, and hearing was not a problem as the sound was amplified. Sadly the amplification was a little bit of a problem as the clarity was not always there and I could not hear some lines that people elsewhere in the theatre laughed at.

In some ways the story of Funny Girl is the same as Legally Blonde, a young woman faces setbacks at work but battles through to become a success. In Legally Blonde Elle's success comes near to the end when she shifts from what is expected of her to become shocking in pink but in Funny Girl ii happens almost immediately, Fanny is thrown out of the chorus for her bad looks (Sheridan!!) and poor dancing, resolves to become a star by exploiting her comedy and gets her opportunity straight away.

Of course it is not all as simple as that and there are some hiccoughs along the way, some of them very big, but essentially the story is about her success through individuality and effort.

Funny Girl is very much a one-woman story, more so than Legally Blonde, and Sheridan was absolutely brilliant as Fanny Brice. She sang well enough but it was her acting that dominated the show. She had all the familiar humorous touches learned in her early comedy career, e.g. Two Pints ..., plus she convincingly transformed herself into a dark-haired Jewish American. It was a magnificent performance that was widely applauded throughout the show and even more at the end.

Even though it was a one woman story it took a good cast of characters to tell it, there were other significant roles, like her husband and her mother, and a chorus of singers and dancers who supported Fanny in her stage performances. The card playing elderly relatives were a particular favourite with the audience, and rightly so.

The music was fairly standard musical fare with a mix of belters (Don't Rain on My Parade) and slow ballads (People) played by a small orchestra. The two songs mentioned were the only two that I knew and that was fine as the rest were in the same vein. Here the songs were more about Fanny's/Sheridan's performance of them that what they added to the narrative, and she sang in most of them.

Funny Girl fitted Sheridan so well that it could have been conceived as a star vehicle for her. She is not yet in the Imelda Staunton class but the fact that such a comparison is now possible shows just how far she has come as a stage performer. I hope that this is a portent for what she might do in the future and that I do not have to wait another six years to see her in another musical.

Missoni Art Colour exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum

My sister was staying with me in London for a couple of days and I suggested a few things that we might fill the days with and while she was not so keen on going to the theatre she was interested in the Missoni exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum because she had not been there before and had three Missoni scarves.

Getting there was fairly straightforward but slowish; a bus to Richmond passing through some road works, a bit of a wait for a train to Waterloo, a trek across the station to the Jubilee Line to get to London Bridge and a final walk under railway lines in Bermondsey to get to the museum.

After that minor ordeal we started off in the cafe where I had a fruit juice called something like a Zesty Zandra and a toasted goat's cheese sandwich. All very nice if a little pricey at the best part of £10. It did the job and I was refreshed and ready for the exhibition.

My Art Card gave me a 50% discount for the exhibition so I only paid £4.50 to get in. That was good value however you look at it and even better when compared to the lunch.

I do not own any Missoni scarves so I went in with few preconceptions, the only clue I had on what to expect was the poster above with its bars of different colours. I had seen similar samples at the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern and I had been intrigued, and impressed, by the careful planning of colours and how they work together.

It came as a surprise that the exhibition began with some pictures, i.e. proper art. They were there to explain the context of the Missoni work in fashion by showing how similar themes were being explored in mainstream art. This started in the '50s when abstract art with its reliance on shape and colour was becoming more prominent, though it had started a few decades earlier. One reason that fashion had lagged behind painting was that fashion is generally more conservative and another is that, as one of the videos explained, the technology was simply not there. In Missoni's early days machines could only weave stripes and the more complex ideas appearing in art could simply not be copied.

The extent to which this was experimental was shown by the many sheets of paper where colours and patterns were carefully tested.

I had seen similar experimental work by artists at other exhibitions and I love the way that they show the artist's working out of things such as which colours go well with others. Here as well as a multitude of colours there were simple patterns and next to them more complex ones where the straight lines of triangles had been bent into experimental curves.

The importance of this design phase in the work is shown by the exhibitions logo (at the top) which consisted of coloured lines and made no reference to the fabric made using them.

These geometric designs featured throughout the exhibition and were most notable in the collection of wall hangings in the main room.

A small section of one of these is shown below. It is an almost ridiculous collection of lines and colours that combine to make something striking. This was a very large piece overall and looked as though it belonged on the stairway of a grand mansion. It certainly needed somewhere the size of the main room to contain it, let alone to show it off fairly.

The main element in the main room was a collection of mannequins (below). This was a clever display but it took me most of the afternoon to work out how clever. It is not that obvious from this angle (that is my excuse) but the mannequins were dressed in stripes of colours that ran diagonally from bottom-left to top-right. The orange mannequins are the best clue and the stripe in front of them is green. These stripes were obvious, once spotted, from the right angle on the ground floor.

It also took me a while to work out that the lighting that I complained about was part of the effect and different elements of the display were lit in a cycle as a clock ticked somewhere in the background. Once I realised this all I had to do was wait for the phase when all the lights were on to take my picture.

What did surprise me was how timid most of the colours were and because of that how subdued most of the garments were. It took some close inspection to identify some outfits that looked sensible in today's eyes. One of these was the checked coat worn by the mannequin with the blue hat at the top-right of the collection.

There were other rooms and other things to see. There were some videos running on continuous loops, some carpets that looked rather like ones that I grew up with and more paintings by contemporary artists. It was not a vast exhibition, he Fashion and Textile Museum is not a big place, but there was plenty to see and much of it warranted spending some time looking at, particularly in the detail of the patterns and the colours used.

I return to another sample sheet for my final image. These samples are in fabric rather than paint and the patterns are more complex which shows how much the ideas and technology evolved. I could find somewhere in my house for this particular display even though it is just a collection of samples as the combination of shapes and colours is arresting. I returned to this display several times.

While I have never been that interested in fashion (as my wardrobe testifies) a well curated exhibition will always interest me, much as In our Time does whatever Melvyn Bragg is discussing, and I found plenty to stimulate and entertain me in Missoni Art Colour.

5 May 2016

2000AD Prog 2014 - and many others

Somehow I let my unread pile of 2000ADs grow to around two year's worth, just over 100 issues.

I have long intended to catch up and then keep up to date and finally I have the chance to do so with a four week break between finishing one job and starting another. That works out at around four progs a day and I have more or less kept up with that for the first two and a bit weeks. I think the required read rate has crept up to five a day but I think that I can increase the rate as I head towards the deadline and even if I fail that target then reading just one prog a day will allow me to get right up to date within a week or two.

Catching up may sound like a chore but it is proving to be a real pleasure and I have thoroughly enjoyed the sixty issues that I have read so far.

One of the nice things that 2000AD has done in recent years is have jumping on issues, like prog #2014, where all the strips start new story lines. Prog #2014 also has a triumvirate of mega-stars inside and on the cover, namely Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd and Slaine. Good days indeed.

Another task I have given myself for this break is to sort out my comics that were arranged, not organised, in piles in three rooms by bagging them all and putting them into boxes. This has meant several trips to Raygun Comics, always a good place to go, to buy boxes and bags followed by hours spent at the top of the stairs carefully putting comics into bags and bags into boxes. Those hours were made palatable by listening to drama on BBC Radio, starting with seven hours of Evelyn's Waugh's Men at Arms.

Once I have dealt with the 2000AD backlog I can start on the other piles of unread comics.