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.

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.