25 July 2014

Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 Day One was a flying start

The Tête-à-Tête Festival moved in 2014 from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to Central Saint Martins and Kings Place just north of Kings Cross. That was something of a mixed blessing for me, Hammersmith is close to where I live but Kings Place is one of the offices that I work in.

The nice thing about Central Saint Martins is that it had a separate theatre complex (admittedly hidden at the back of the site) with its own spacious bar and outside seating area.

The format was much the same as in previous years with one programme on Thursday./Friday and another on Saturday/Sunday over three weekends. With two operas on at the same time sometimes which meant that you had to go every night to see everything. My plan was somewhat less ambitious and I might go six times, as I did last year, provided I can find enough to tempt me in each two-day slot. That has not been a problem so far.

My first visit was on a Friday evening after work. I had chosen to be in Kings Place specifically that day so that I could get across there early to get some food and drink.

That also meant that I was there in time to catch Whisper Down the Lane, a short piece presented in the bar. This was a musical variation of Chinese Whispers that worked well in the space and I found very pleasing both in concept and also musically.

April in the Amazon opened the paid part of the evening.

This was in the main Platform Theatre. I had been there previously for a comics event so I knew that it was a large and impressive venue.

I sat in the first raised row of the stalls, deliberately avoiding the cabaret style seating at the very front.

April told us the story of her love life in song. Her boyfriends led her on adventures across the globe before the relationships fell apart.

The orchestra added to the drama by moving about. They started in a normal arrangement (pictured) then gathered tightly around the desk for the second part of the story before spreading themselves around the edges of the stage for the final part. Then the capabilities of the theatre were used to drop black curtains to make the orchestra disappear one at a time.

It was a light entertaining cabaret piece that entertained without demanding any effort from the listener.

I was attracted to East O' The Sun, West O' The Moon because it was based on a Norwegian folk tale, and folk tales are a rich source for musical dramas.

A bear called on a poor family and asked for their daughter to go with him in return for a small fortune. They agreed.After living with the bear for a while she learned that he was, in fact, a man who had been cursed by a troll. She tried to free him, messed things up but they worked out in the end.

The story was good enough and they had put a lot of effort in to the production, from the bear's costume, to the wooden gates that were moved to create all of the locations. There was a good size cast and they all sing well. The mother was my favourite and I was pleased to grab a few words with her in the bar afterwards.

There was a good sized orchestra too, some of whom are just visible on the left.The performance was given in the smaller (but not that small) Studio with the seating arranged in three rows along the two long sides and the performance given in the middle.

This was a lovely complete piece and I really loved it.

The Fisherman's Brides sort of a Scottish Under Milk Wood but without much of the humour.

We met several of the inhabitants of the small fishing village and each had their own story to tell.

The one that defined the mood was of a woman asking lamentingly when her husband would come home. I suspect that she had been asking that for some years.

There was a touch of the Polly Garter about another of the songs, the one that opened and closed the piece, with a young woman singing about all the boys she had loved.

The quick succession of short songs allowed the mood and the tempo to change and easily kept me interested and engaged.

The quality and variety of the performances reminded me why I like the Tête-à-Tête Opera Festivals so much and the new venue offered better performance spaces. This was an auspicious start.

24 July 2014

Getting into Image comics digitally

Digital has gradually become my preferred method of reading and buying comics, and this is one of the main reasons that I bought my iPad with Retina display a couple of years ago.

The change has also allowed me to try new comics out, which I had been meaning to do for years.

This is much easier to do digitally as all issues are always available and teaser sales are quite common. I got in to comics like Umbral and Saga because the first issues are free.

The change in the type of comic that I read has, unintentionally, changed the publishers that I read. DC Comics have all but gone (because their digital strategy is all but missing) and Image comics now features prominently.

Despite being an American publisher Image has some high-profile titles by established British writers and my library has Trees and Supreme Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Umbral and The Fuse by Antony Johnston. These are also the first comics that I read when they come in.

Marvel retains a sizable footprint on my iPad thanks to its enlightened digital strategy which means that on almost all of their titles buying the paper copy also gets you the digital version.

This costs slightly more than the digital only version would cost, but not any more than the paper only copies were so it is a good deal. I read the digital copies and file the paper ones away.

By "file away" I obviously mean leave in tall piles in my study but I have now bought boxes and individual plastic bags to store a thousand of them and five hundred have been bagged and boxed already. I'm going to need more bags and boxes.

Finding time to read comics is a perennial problem and I have severely curtailed the number that I buy and that means that the core of my Marvel purchasing is Avengers and X-Men titles, spiced with a couple of oddities like Daredevil and Moon Knight (by that man Warren Ellis again).

The future of comics is decidedly digital and I see that as more of an opportunity than a threat, though I do worry about the impact on the specialist shops that help new people get in to comics in the first place.

23 July 2014

Open Mic Night at the Grey Horse (23 July 14)

Now that the Open Mic Night no longer has a regular slot at the Grey Horse (it now spreads itself across two venues) it is harder for me to get to as first I need to find out if it is happening that week or not, which is effort. It was much easier when I knew for certain that it was on and could wander down there any time that evening if I was free.

I was thinking of going to it this week as I had nothing else to do that evening but a quick look at Facebook suggested that it had been at the Grey Horse the previous week so I assumed that it would be at the other venue that week.

Then Pete sent me a message.

Pete is the person that I normally go to the Open Mic Night with, or rather we normally go separately and bump in to each other there, and he had some real news. He would be playing that week. That meant that I had to go.

Kingston Council tried to stop me by digging up Richmond Road forcing me to walk there quickly as I had just allowed myself enough time to get there by bus. I got there just a few minutes before Pete, Tony and Eugene came on.

Tony and Eugene I had seen play many a time, mostly with Hoaxwind but also in other local bands and at other Open Mic Nights. Pete I had only seen in a very informal Irish music pub gathering.

This was there first outing as a band and it was only at the end that Tony decided that they were called Random Numbers.

As is the general rule, they played three numbers and I was particularly pleased to hear Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free World in the middle of their short set.

They made a good sound and were well received.

The rest of the evening continued much as usual with some regulars singing regular songs, some regulars singing new songs, some new people singing regular songs and some new people singing new songs. One of the later, one of the several sole young men with acoustic guitars, impressed me enough for me to seek him out later to let him know that he had.

It was a fairly male-heavy evening with, I believe, stalwart Catherine Paver providing the sole female voice of the evening. That was somewhat unusual as there are often four or five women singing and I like the way that that mixes the sound of the evening up. Women also seem to be less prone to singing sad songs about early lost loves than men so they make for a livelier and happier evening too.

Everything else worked well. The Young's Ordinary flew down on the hot evening, the music was pretty good all the way through and I had several conversations with several people, the most memorable being on whether it is appropriate for schools to spend money on PR.

It was a jolly and very pleasant evening and I probably ought to make the effort to find out when future events are on.

22 July 2014

Simon Callow was superb in Juvenalia at Riverside Studios

Obviously Simon Callow was the main attraction in going to see this.

The Riverside Studios has a habit of putting on good one-man-shows (they are usually men) and I had previously seen Steven Berkoff and Edward Fox there.

I had heard during the day on Twitter that the show had sold out which added some unwanted tension to the difficult journey there. An incident miles away hours earlier meant that very few tube trains were heading west out of Paddington and I got to the Riverside just before 7pm. Plenty of time for a beer but no time to eat.

The queue started forming around then and I joined it pint in hand. I was beaten to my favourite seat by a family that first pushed their way in and then claimed about a dozen seats so instead of sitting in the second row just to the right of the aisle I sat in the second row just to the left of the aisle. The seat was perfect.

Juvenalia was a collection of commentaries written about Roman life towards the end of the first century AD.

Juvenal, the author, was a Grumpy Old Man of his day, and a pretty foul-mouthed one at that. His profanities included both the subjects that he chose to write about, subjects like old men having erotic relationships with young men, and the strong language that he used to describe them.

I am not sure that this is what the parents in the large family wanted their young teenagers to hear but for those of us old enough to be used to the rude subjects and robust language it was good old-fashioned ribald humour.

Simon Callow, dressed smartly and formally, carried the part very convincingly. There was not mush in the dialogue to play with, only a single voice in a single tone, so he added texture to the words with expressions and some little movements. His delivery gave the words authority.

The pieces were interesting for what they told us about life in Rome, as Juvenal saw it, and how that could possibly compare to life today but the real interest was in the performer, it was because of Simon Callow not Juvenal that the room was full, and it was a superb performance.

21 July 2014

The Pyjama Game at Shaftesbury Theatre was cute

I often start my theatre write-ups saying something about how I had forgotten why I had booked to see that particular show by the time that I got to see it, but not this time.

The reason that I wanted to see The Pyjama Game is because I remembered enjoying the film adaptation when I watched it about forty years ago! Possibly not the strongest excuse for going but good enough for me.

This was another group event with friends and the evening started with a curry just around the corner from the theatre. Always a good start to an evening.

I had booked the tickets quite late so we were just over half-way back in the stalls. I was in seat O11 which had a face value of £63 but I paid half that. Looking around the audience I suspect that not many people, if any, paid the original asking price and even with the reduction the theatre was only two-thirds full. I suspect that the headline price had put people off as there was nothing wrong with the show.

I had remembered the gist of the story but had forgot almost all of the detail so I was seeing it afresh. I was quickly engaged with the characters and keen to find out what happened to them, even though the main there was obvious (as it should be).

I surprised my self by recognising a couple of the songs too, and one of these, Once a Year Day, was my highlight of the evening.

There were more themes, or sub-plots, than I remembered and there was always a lot happening to keep me engaged with the story.

The dancing was another strong point and the production went out of its way to make the most of the material that it had to work with. It kept to the standard musical formula, which has been proven many times, to deliver a show that was good simple, clean fun and highly entertaining.

16 July 2014

An archicect explains Parkleys

If I had to design my perfect outing it would be something like this.

I am a fringe member of Ham United Group (HUG), which means I go to some of their meetings and at one of those meetings local architect Richard Woolf suggested that HUG got out and about a little to learn more about the area. The upshot of all that was that he ended up giving a talk on local development Parkleys in Parkleys.

A talk on architecture about a development that I like and is just a minute's walk from my house was not something that I was going to miss. Plenty of other people thought so too and a good crowd turned up to listen and learn.

Parkleys was designed by Span the driving force of which was architect Eric Lyons. The name Span was chosen to indicate that the design spanned the whole development, i.e. the spaces between the houses as well as the houses them selves.

It is the combination of the broad design of the site and detailed the detailed design of the features (including paving and lighting) that mean that places like Parkleys are still very attractive and popular today.

Richard had done a fantastic amount of research for his talk and had found some good illustrations to explain his points. This map shows the greenhouses that were on the site before and in red is an early outline of what the site could look like. It is very close to what was actually built.

Richard's talk covered other works by Lyons and he was helped in this by somebody who had worked for Lyons for a while (but whose name I forgot to write down).

It was a brilliant and fascinating talk that continued in the pub afterwards where Richard was able to claim a corner of the garden and display all of his posters so that we could examine them at a more leisurely pace.

This was something of an experiment for HUG and for Richard and given its great success I am hoping that there is more like that to come.

11 July 2014

A full and happy day at RHS Hampton Court

For many years all that the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show meant to me was long queues of traffic in the area which meant finding alternative routes to/from Kingston. Then I started going to RHS Chelsea and it finally dawned on me that I ought to give RHS Hampton Court a try. Not only is Hampton Court that much closer but the flower show is somewhat cheaper too.

Two short bus rides got me to Hampton Court but it was quite a trek from there to the flower show which was held in Home Park some distance behind the Palace. And having got in there was then another bit of a walk past the shops and over The Long Water to get to the first of the show gardens that were spread across the site.

I refused to pay a few guide for a guide just to get a map so I relied on the few maps posted around the site to find my way around. I also took a photo of one so that I could refer to that in case of emergency.

The garden above was one of the selection of smaller gardens all of which showed that you do not need a big space to make a big impression. The one above was my sort of garden with strong physical elements, water and bold planting.

Sometimes it was the little things that I liked, little things like these ducks.They were part of a childhood garden that had children's toys scattered through it.

By then the early rain had gone and that promised for the rest of the day slipped away making the umbrella in my bag somewhat redundant.The walking was starting to take its toll too and I took my first coffee break, with some cake of course. The site was well laid out in that respect with refreshment stall liberally spread and I chose one with seating as I wanted a rest too.

There was a series of larger gardens near the main entrance and these took advantage of the space they had to get very physical. I especially liked one made out of wooden packing crates as we could walk through it. The flowers and fruit were displayed in crates which was both structurally pleasing and also brought more colours in to play.

One of my favourite gardens was this one by Jordan's. Others liked it too and it won the People's Award after the judges strangely only gave it a silver. The wild flowers were fresh and vibrant and the grass paths made this a garden that begged to be explored. Some were allowed to while the rest of us had to settle for watching from the edges.

Across the main path more wild flowers did their best to hide a metal cow. I spent a long time walking around and looking at from different angles. In addition to the brilliant cow their was a large brick bridge and some bikes. The construction of the garden was impressive as was the detail of the planting.

Rusty metal featured in quite a few gardens and in three that I have featured here, though in the one above it was the damaged walls that had the most impact. Despite this dereliction the flowers still managed to make a very positive statement to show the power that gardens can have.

Another star garden was this one featuring a volcano that spluttered in to life from time to time and even threw out some water on unsuspecting passers-by. The lingering smoke added movement and interest but the eye-grabbing feature of the garden was the striking flowers, as it should be, with the colours and shapes vying to be the more distinctive.

More wild flowers and more rusty metal. It's not my fault that I love them both.

I had lunch somewhere around here somewhere. The queues were daunting and it was something of a battle to get a table but I managed to grab a posh sandwich and to find somewhere to eat it. This was just a short break as there was still a lot to see.

Alongside the competition gardens there were several that were there to promote commercial offerings. This garden was for Ocean Spray which is why the pond was full of cranberries. I loved the garden but refused the free samples.

I had more success with my cloth bag collecting. The best one was the Telegraph bag. At Chelsea I had to pay £2 for one and they gave away a copy of the Telegraph with it, but here the bag was only £1.40 and there was a decent jar of jam thrown in too.

Chelsea has just the one marquee but Hampton Court had several. I managed to see part of just one of them. That was not a problem as I had gone to see that gardens and that had filled five hours, after which I was happy to go home and to file my new bags with all the others.

RHS Hampton Court impressed me and there is a very good chance that I'll be going back, probably next year.

10 July 2014

Consulting on the future of the Eden Walk site

Eden Walk forms a significant part of Kingston's shopping centre so any changes there are of interest to anybody who cares about Kingston. Anybody like me.

The site currently is something of a disjointed mess and even the best bits look old and tired. The owners are aware of this and are consulting on making substantial changes. I attended their exhibition to find out what they are proposing.

I was pleased to see this map showing Eden Walk in context with the rest of Kingston. The blue areas are those that Eden Walk wants to connect to. Anything that improves the permeability of the centre of Kingston is a good thing.

The people running the consultation were keen to find out what sort of shops and facilities I wanted to see in the new centre and I had to explain that I rarely went there and could not remember when I last bought something there. That was another clue that Eden Walk needed a revamp.

The plans for the future were, I was told, very much up for grabs, including what could be demolished and/or built but there was an artists impression of the sort of thing that could be coming. The obvious features are that it was far more open and also taller.

Eden Walk is in a part of Kingston with little architectural or historical merit so, frankly, I do not care too much what goes there and I would much rather that tall buildings were kept to the centre than allowed to creep in to North Kingston.

It also looks as though Eden Walk will become another destination in the town, rather than just a collection of shops, and that is a good thing.