10 May 2017

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


Another month another excellent BCSA "Get to Know You" Social.

The evening started with a shock, the layout of the beer taps in the bar had changed. The main impact of this was that they could pour two pints of Pilsner Urquell at the same time, something that I asked them to do a couple of times. That apart, it was a fairly typical BCSA "Get to Know You" Social and I had a fantastic time.

The conversations were a little more serious than they sometimes are, inspired by me mentioning a picture that I saw on Instagram of a protest in Brno. We did not discuss the protest itself but we had a lot to say in how the Mainstream Media ignored events like this to leave most people ignorant of the situation in other countries, including some quite close to home. I pride myself that I am better informed than most in world news and I only learned about the Czech protests thanks to a photo from somebody by somebody that I follow because of their photos of pretty Czech towns.

Technology was talked about, as it often is, and I found myself alone in not wanting, or needing, to work surrounded by several large computer screens.

One person there was having major work done to her flay, about six weeks' worth, and it was fun to look at pictures of the plans and of the work in progress. The enthusiasm she had for the project was infectious,

I was there just before 7pm and left not long before 11pm, and loved every single moment in between.

9 May 2017

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Donmar Warehouse entertained but failed to excite


My main reason for going to see The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was Bertolt Brecht though, as is often the case, the main theme of the play's publicity was its star, Lenny Henry. His presence did help my decision to go and I forked out a meagre £30 for Circle  Row A  Seat  5.

It was obvious that something was different about the performance as soon as I arrived and was approached by one of the cast who engaged me in friendly conversation. Audience engagement was a large, and successful part of the production. The front row downstairs was set up with tables as if in a bar and during the evening a few people were enticed onto the main part of the stage, mostly to be killed or abused.

Arturo Ui dabbled with comedy, music and menace but never seemed quite sure what it was really trying to do and in doing many different things decently it did none of them brilliantly and it failed to find a winning spark in any of them.

I would have liked more menace and more music and more of the other things that made the recent production The Beggar's Opera at National Theatre such a success. Arturo Ui paled in comparison to that production and while it was undoubtedly fun it was never any more than that.

28 April 2017

Intense and compelling drama with Obsession at Barbican Theatre

My season of big-hitter dramss continued with Obsession at Barbican Theatre. This time the big-hitter was Jude Law who I had seen on the stage a couple of times before, Anna Christie and Henry V,  and that was plenty enough to make he want to see him perform again.

I was nimble on the booking and was able to capture seat Circle A12 for a respectable £60. Barbican Theatre has an unusual layout (matching the building it sits in) so I was pleased that the first row in the Circle gave me the view that I was hoping for.

The stage was vast and almost empty, the width I expected but the depth was a surprise. Obsession adopted several contemporary theatre tropes, e.g. smoking and nudity, and this included starting the play with people already on the stage. The heroine, if that is the right word, Giovanna was in the kitchen area on the left and was joined by her husband, Giuseppe, who worked on the car engine in the middle.

The lights dimmed, most people stopped talking, and Gino (Jude Law) appeared at the doors at the back of the stage playing a harmonica. He entered the bar/diner looking for food and having eaten but not having any money to pay for it he offered to use his engineering skills to fix the car. He identified the problem quickly, Giuseppe went out to buy that required part leaving Gino and Giovanna behind and that's when the obsession started.


Jude Law was the obvious draw and he was excellent but did not outshine Halina Reijn and Gijs Scholten van Aschat as Giovanna and Giuseppe.

Obsession ran for 110 minutes without a break telling its story with fabulous theatre craft. I loved the pace of the play most of all, there were short scenes of intense passion mixed with long scenes of slow reflection. Here the full width and depth of the stage was used to let the few players make sedate entrances and exists.

The mood was also tempered brilliantly with music. This started with the laconic harmonica playing, featured a full aria from la Traviata, had an automated accordion (it's the odd shaped thing just to the right and behind the kitchen) and included hefty dollops of This Land is Your Land.

Because of the way that Obsession superbly managed the mood of the play (which was the whole point of it) I was reminded of Hedda Gabler and Obsession shared it's final trope with that production with the play moving seamlessly from dramatic ending to curtain call. And a very raucous curtain call it was too.

Oddly, Obsession was probably the big-hitter play that I had the least expectations for and is the probably the one that had the most impact on me. I loved it to bits and then some.

13 April 2017

The Lottery of Love at Orange Tree Theatre was fluffy fun

I may be less enthusiastic about Orange Tree Theatre these days but it still the easiest theatre for me to get to and I am always going to be tempted by a play described as Marivaux’s greatest comedy translated by John Fowles to the Regency England of Jane Austen.

That period chimed well with my listening at that time with BBC Radio Drama broadcasting (or rebroadcasting) many classics including works by Jane Austen that I had not read previously. These were mostly stories of class and love which set my expectations for The Lottery of Love.

These expectations were quickly met.

The thin premise of the play was that a well to do couple, who had never met, were being steered towards each other by their parents but both wanted to be sure of the other first and both came up with the plan of swapping places with their maid/manservant to observe the manners of the other from a more lowly position.

This was explained to us at the start of the play so there were no surprises for us. The only other people in on the double deception were the woman's father and brother.

I had anticipated the plot even before its early announcement and it maybe that I had seen the play before or, possibly, another play with a similar theme. No matter either way, the plot was largely immaterial, which was just as well as all that happened was that the two couples (the two gentlefolk and their two servants) spent an hour and a half confessing their undying love between them despite the clash in positions that they all that there were.

The minimal plot was supported by a minimal set. The cast wore period costumes, which I think they had to as the class conflicts would not have worked in modern dress, but there was no furniture and no props. The circle on the floor may have meant something to somebody, if so I missed the clue.

So far it does not sound as if The Lottery of Love had much in its favour, and that was true, so it is just as well that the acting was sumptuous.

These were simple characters with simple emotions so the actors were not called upon to do very much but what they did do was ham it up magnificently.

The father skipped in delight at the mischief, the women fanned their faces in awe of attractive men, the servant come gentleman was outrageously extravagant in his movement and gestures. In stark contrast the gentleman come servant was calm and resolute to a degree that no human being ever could be.

The acting lifted the light production and made it something genuinely and constantly entertaining. A welcome jolly end to the week.

The Lottery of Love was fun but it again left me wondering why Orange Tree was putting on plays like this. I go to the theatre to be entertained and I also go to be stimulated and challenged and The Lottery of Love was far too fluffy to do that. I expect fluffy entertainment at places like Richmond Theatre (and they do it well) and I expect more from Orange Tree.

After many years of being an Orange Tree regular I have reluctantly decided not to go to every show there automatically, each play has to win my time on its merit and has to compete with the more consistent offerings from places like Theatre503.

12 April 2017

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


For some reason the monthly BCSA social was especially busy and there was a struggle to get seats for everybody. A nice problem to have.

The conversations, as always, were the point of the evening and, as always, they covered a wide range of subjects. I was sad enough to take brief notes of some of the topics covered and these included the Rough Guide to Czechoslovakia, bottled beer and yoga. There were also several conversations about the internal mechanics of the BCSA ahead of the Annual General Meeting.

The BCSA "Get to Know You" Socials are always good and this one was a bit special.

11 April 2017

The Goat at Theatre Royal Haymarket‎ was both disturbing and funny

There seemed to be a steady stream of A-List actors appearing at the West End in the early part of 2017 and all were appearing in interesting plays so I just had to go and see a lot of them.

With A-List actors there is usually a hefty ticket price to pay and to see The Goat I had to fork out £45 for a front row seat (A14) in the Upper Circle. I was happy with that deal.

Perhaps because of the pricing, or perhaps because of the less familiar play, or perhaps because Damian Lewis is not quite at the top of the A-List, the theatre was busy but not full.

A sign on the way up warned that the play was an hour and fifty minutes without a break. This was a little on the long side (though ninety minutes is common) and suggested that there was no natural break in the story to insert an interval. That meant missing out on the ice cream and that was probably a good thing.

The play was similar in structure to several other American plays I had seen in that everything happened in one room and more or less on one day. The time period was slightly longer this time but not much. The core of the play was the intense, and often funny, dialogue between a long-time married couple, Martin and Stevie (played by Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo), with some contributions from their late teenage son and a long-term friend of the family.

Early in these discussions Martin revealed his adulterous love for Sylvia and things escalated rapidly from there. In the long scene while Stevie tries to understand the situation (but not to come to terms with it) she destroyed ornaments almost with glee.

The Goat tested us by presenting Martin as an intelligent man and a good husband/father who just happened to have fallen in love unexpectedly. It was easy to be sympathetic to his plight despite the extent of his moral crime. Martin remained calm throughout and is almost bemused by everybody else's disgust.

Sophie Okonedo had the more interesting role as the injured wife and she was magnificent.

The play managed to be funny throughout despite the serious nature of the story and without going for cheap jokes. It also managed to make an hour and fifty minutes speed by such that when the lights went out it was hard for me to believe that we had got to the end, a confusion helped by the distinct lack of resolution to the story.

The Goat may not be the classic that Virginia Woolf is and Damian Lewis may not have the stage presence of Imelda Staunton but that would be to unfairly compare it to something staggeringly good which almost every play will look paler against. Considered on its own merits The Goat was an intelligent play that managed to be both disturbing and funny, often in the same sentence.

10 April 2017

The Plague at Arcola Theatre was harsh, harrowing and hopeful


I do not need much encouragement to go and see something at Arcola Theatre, despite its relatively distant location that requires three trains to get to, and an adaptation of an Albert Camus story was easily sufficient.

I was quick off the mark and was able to claim my seat in the middle of the front row, unusually numbered B15, for a modest £22. Row A had been replaced for the evening to make more space for the stage.

The set consisted simply of two tables, some chairs and a few microphones. Originally set for an enquiry panel, these moved around to create a variety of rooms in a variety of buildings including a block of flats, a doctor's surgery and a hospital.

The simple props were ably enhanced by some striking lighting, such as heavy use of spots during key moments, and some vividly atmospheric sounds, such as a swarm of rats.

The Plague was not a happy story dealing, as it did, with a town that is hit by a plague carried by rats and which was put into quarantine by closing the town gates for several months.

The story was told by five inhabitants of the town who were all impacted by, and responded to, the plague differently. There was much sadness, some despair, some greed, some resistance, some bravery and even some hope, The situation was tense with emotion and that was carried into the audience expertly.

For the second time in a few days the leading male role, a doctor, was played by a woman (Sara Powell) with no pretence and for the second time in a few days it did not matter. Even when he/she spoke about his/her wife everything seemed quite normal. Good acting does that. The rest of the cast were good too and it was a nicely balanced performance with the spotlight literally moving between them.

The Plague was a powerful drama and the technically rich production added to the power and heightened the drama. It was harsh, harrowing and hopeful, and also entertaining despite the subject matter.

4 April 2017

An open letter to the Royal Park Gate Residents Association

Royal Park Gate Residents Association needs to improve

It is now over two months since the inaugural meeting of the Royal Park Gate Residents Association and I am deeply irritated at the lack of progress since then. All of the enthusiasm shown at the meeting has been allowed to dissipated and in two months there has not been one email from the Association. This is unacceptable.

I am also angry at the way that work has continued along the footpath through Royal Park Gate without consulting residents. The meeting made it clear that there were mixed views on whether the wildlife friendly planting should be replaced with flowers. I do not know where the balance of opinion lies, I am firmly in favour of keeping it wild myself, but I do know that the nature of the area where I have lived for twenty years is being changed without me having any say in this. To create a Residents Association and then to refuse to consult with it before undertaking works like this is also unacceptable.

At the meeting we also talked about the state of the footpath and the way that the vegetation restricts the width severely in a couple of places. The path needs to be kept clear to allow buggies and bikes etc. to share it and if the Council is not going to do this then it makes sense for the Residents Association to do so. In desperation, my wife and I cut back the vegetation on the junction with Northweald Lane to the edge of the path so now people can pass on both sides of the bollard.

I am disappointed that nothing has been done to the section just north of Debden Close. This, combined with the planting of flowers, suggests to me that some people on the committee are acting in their own interest while paying no heed to the needs of other residents.

The lack of consultation on the works done and the complete lack of any communication on anything else prove to me that the current committee is not functioning properly. I strongly urge the current committee to stand aside and let those prepared to make the Association a success to do so.