29 October 2012

Russell Maliphant's The Rodin Project at Sadler's Wells

I am trying hard to get more dance in to my cultural diary and as part of this I picked three shows to go and see in the new season at Sadler's Wells.

First up was Russell Maliphant Company's The Rodin Project, which I chose mostly on the reputation of the company.

I decided to go for the cheap seats so that I could go more often and was early enough in booking to get seats in the front-row in the upper circle, a dizzy height that I had not climbed to before. From there you get a good view of the interesting ceiling.

Good connections on the bus / train / bus got me there in time for a drink beforehand and was persuaded to buy a bottle of bubbly on the grounds that it was a better deal than buying four glasses. Made sense to me.

The Rodin Project opens slowly and classically. The three men and three women are classically dressed is loose white robes and they move in traditional balletic style with gentle flowing moves. There is some graceful rolling which while not strictly classical keeps within the traditional theme by being soft and fluid.

The music has an Indian twang to it. It is a new piece commissioned for the project and it does sound fresh and modern if not overtly so. 

The first half is all very pretty if inconsequential. There is nothing to argue with but nothing to get particularly excited about either.

A break to finish off the bubbly then back for the second half.

That is when everything changes. The dancing style becomes overtly modern and more physical. Arms and legs are bent in to exaggerated and unnatural shapes and the gentle rolls evolve in to more expansive leaps and tumbles.

The set is the same simple mound and wall that it was in the first half only now the soft white drapes are gone and they are revealed in their brutal industrial starkness. The wall come in to its own and is treated almost like gymnastics apparatus as the dancers moved over it in a way that defies belief and gravity.

In one scene two of the men dance together on the wall in a display of strength, grace and extraordinary movement. This is the highlight of the evening and draws loud applause from the appreciative and knowledgeable audience that knows that it is not meant to applaud mid-performance, but does so anyway.

Sadler's Wells have been good enough to put part of the section on YouTube.

If first half may is just pretty then the second is beautiful. The movement is fluid and vivid, strong but not aggressive, and in sympathy with the music that directs the action without overpowering it. This is not Swan Lake.

Perhaps the most pleasing thing about the evening was the full house. Dance this good deserves to be seen widely.

28 October 2012

Tropical Nursery Open Day at Kew Gardens

A week after my last visit to Kew Gardens I was back again. The attraction this time was the Tropical Nursery Open Day, a look behind the scenes for members only.

It was a miserable day, not that that mattered. This was the only day that the nursery was open so I had to go then, I have no issues with walking in the rain, a lot of Kew Gardens is under glass anyway and, selfishly, bad weather keeps other people away.

The Tropical Nursery is situated close to Brentford Gate which, annoyingly, is the one furthest from any bus stop. I chose to go in via Victoria Gate so that I could so as much of the walk within the gardens as possible.

The quickest route would have been around the Palm House but I was in no rush so I walked through it. A delight as always.

Walking on from there I took a direct a route as I could (though I may, conceivably, have got lost along the way) and that meant avoiding the tarmac paths. That was a bonus. Here the leaves revealed the way.

The Tropical Nursery is an industrial greenhouse with no concession to beauty, which helps to make it beautiful.

Each of the cells has a carefully controlled climate and that meant that we could not go in to most of them. But these are glasshouses so it is easy to see inside.

There were also a few of the staff there to explain some of the plants to us and displays of some of them in the corridors so that we could get up close to them.

I skipped quickly past most of the displays put on for us on the grounds that the plants can be seen elsewhere in Kew Gardens, what was unique about this visit was that it allowed us to see how Kew Gardens works.

I liked the functional things like the large collection of plant pots, the valves and meters that control the flow and heat of the water, and the whiteboards showing what each of the gardeners duties were.

The greenhouse that we were allowed in was arranged in a square with a square corridor within it. This meant that we always had cells of the greenhouse on both sides of us to look at.

The plants varied as much as they do in the public greenhouses though this is a nursery so there was nothing particularly large. These trees in the corridor got about as large as anything that we saw.

Among the plants on view were some taking their first faltering steps in water. They looked as cute there as they do when they grow up and are taken to the Waterlilly House to live.

Obviously there were cacti.

One of the cells was full of succulents, looking rather like something from a not-so-scary-these-days horror movie from the 50s.

There was also a collection of cacti for us to take a close look at. I like cacti and have a conservatory full of them (not actually my fault) so I did pause to look at these.

Star of the show was this one thanks to the white webbing that covers it and the ring or purple flowers that crown it.

This was just one greenhouse and we were not allowed in to most of it and yet it still took m something like 45 minutes to get around. And then I had the rest of the garden to look forward to.

Kew Gardens continues to please every time that I go, which is why I am a member and why I keep going.

26 October 2012

Sparks: Two Hands, One Mouth at the Barbican

I was lucky enough to see the try-out for Two Hands, One Mouth back in June and I leapt at the chance to see it again when it returned to London, this time as part of an European tour.

This time it was the plush seated main hall at the Barbican rather than the cramped standing-only Bush Hall.

I leapt quickly enough to get seats in the third row of the central block.

Sparks are not really the sort of band you want to sit and listen too as their poppy bouncy music commands you to move. On the other hand you get to see the band clearly without some 6ft 6in youth standing in front of you. It is a good compromise; dance to the band at Bush Hall then see them at the Barbican.

The seating was not the only difference that the Barbican made. The other big difference was the sound system that boomed and echoed across the hall. The low base notes ripped through me at times threatening to make a mess of my innards. 

The shows was much as it was when I first saw it, which was expected and was good.

They played a lot of my favourite songs, such as Metaphor, My Baby's Taking Me Home, Suburban Homeboy and When Do I Get to Sing My Way.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest cheer came for This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, which I still love but not as much as the later longer and more repetitive songs.

Sparks played a few tricks on us and three of the songs had false endings. Though, to be fair, in Suburban Homeboy they are not really endings but breaks after which the song resumes at a faster pace.

Russell did a lot of talking to the crowd, and Ron did some too. They said how much London means to them and gave us thanks for giving them their big break in the 70s. Unexpected but welcome.

More expected was the Ron dance though they kept us waiting. We all knew that Russell was at the keyboard ready to take over the one-finger duty releasing Ron. Most unexpected was Ron taking his shirt off and going in to the audience. A few middle aged women got the treat of their lives.

The show ended fittingly and well with the song composed just for this tour, Two Hands, One Mouth.

This was Sparks at their consummate best. They selected carefully from their extensive back-catalogue choosing songs with different styles that work well together and they magicked this in to performance that delighted the audience. The smile stayed on my face for a long time.

22 October 2012

Ham Amenities Group AGM 2012

The Ham Amenities Group (HAG) is one of the local community organisation that I am pleased to belong to. Their regular newsletters are very informative about local matters and while I not get to any of their other events (not yet anyway) I do attend their Annual General Meetings when I can.

This year's AGM followed the usual format with a round-up of the previous year followed by a guest speaker. There were some elections along the way but they went past quickly in a chorus of "aye"s.

Round-up of the year

Strong opposition from the meeting to the proposed MUGA (Multi_use Games Area) that I supported. This is a missed opportunity that has probably been lost forever. HAD did support the 25m pool in Grey Court. Some inconsistency there.

Membership about the same at 215 members. Dead people leaving.

Latchmere House. Councils cannot afford so will go private and that means housing.
Main building likely to be lost. Is Latchmere Lodge a worrying precedent?

Garden day next Friday.Jubilee Tree Planting 11:30 Ham Common near Pond on Saturday

Looking for people under 80 to join the Committee. I might just do this, because I am not on enough committees already. Next AGM Monday 21 October 2013 (in calendar already).

Guest speaker

The speaker was from SPEAR - homeless charity. SPEAR stood for Single Person Emergency Accommodation in Richmond but this is no longer true.

Richmond is a rich part of a rich country but we have people sleeping rough. Average life expectancy of homeless man is 47, same as DRC. Rough sleeping rose steeply in London last year, including more women. Waiting list for SPEAR hostel is 6 to 10 months.

Homelessness is often caused by family breakdown, unemployment, debt, all often related. There are 70,000 children in temporary accommodation on Christmas Day last year.

SPEAR are funded by LBRUT but funding cost 11% this year.Penny Wade House is the hostel, sleeps 14. This is not emergency housing, this is their home.Waiting list growing as hard to move people on, they need to be ready and have somewhere to go.

They support people for two years after leaving as this is when most become homeless again. The main focus is skills development, helping people to survive on their own. Life skills and formal skills.


I hung around for the wine, nibbles and chat. Somehow during that I offered to help with their website on the grounds that I do the same for three other organisations.

21 October 2012

Exploring Kew Gardens (October 2012)

Each visit to Kew Gardens that I make has some sort of master plan to it simply because there is just so much to see and without a plan you risk either wasting time deciding what to do next or getting home and realising that you missed something that you really wanted to see.

These plans are not complex and can be as simple as picking one of the major attractions to see, such as the Temperate House. This time the plan was to go for a reasonably long and brisk walk so that mean go in at the Lion Gate and heading towards the river.

I was happy to be diverted along the way (a plan is just an intention, it is not an instruction) and the first diversion came courtesy of the Japanese Gardens that the Kew Gardens iPhone app had alerted me to.

The gravel-pretending-to-be-water and the pagoda are the main features of this small and tidy garden and hidden behind them is this neat stonework and fading ferns.

From there it was a simple and necessary step to the Treetop Walkway.

I made the mistake of going up in the lift, just to prove to myself that it really was working never having seen it in service before, and that was more terrifying than the steps. Never again.

The reward is to be in among the treetops as they concede that Summer has gone and start to prepare for the Winter to come.

A special feature of the walkway is the way that some of the thin, see-through mesh that passes for the floor flexes and pings under your feet. Not very reassuring.

I keep telling myself that if I keep going up there then one day it will seem natural and I'll not noticed that I am not worried. That has not happened yet.

Back on the ground I continued in the vague direction of the river, this time being diverted by coloured trees.

Some celebrated Autumn with bright yellows while others went a less impressive brown. The most flamboyant decided to go red.

The lake dominates that section of Kew Gardens and that forces a decision on how to get around or across it. I kept with the head for the river plan and followed the lakeside path to the west end of the lake.

The view back down the lake from there was something special.

The size of the lake, the shape and colour of the trees and the almost complete lack of anything man-made makes the scene natural and beautify. Even the hint of the Sackler Crossing in the distance does nothing to fracture the harmony. This is a wonderful spot in a wonderful garden.

From there it was a picturesque, if somewhat damp, walk vaguely following the river and avoiding the main paths. The next distraction provided coffee and cake.

Then a change of plan. I had intended to leave at the main gate, now called the Elizabeth Gate apparently, but once refreshed I fancied the longer walk back to the Victoria Gate.

The main reason for this diversion was the grass garden. This is one of my very favourite spots in Kew and is especially gorgeous at this time of year. I love the way that the grasses are planted in small groups to emphasise both their similarities and their differences.

I have walked through and around the Alpine garden many times but this was the first time that I had actually explored it.

Steps take you away from the main path and from the higher level you get a better understanding of how the garden is laid out and you find more waterfalls too.

It was a grey day with a strong threat of rain (it came) and that served to keep some of the families away. Not that I am totally against families, I am in one myself, it is just that they bring noise, movement and colour when I was looking for peace, serenity and solitude.

The absence of people was especially noticed here in the Alpine garden where all my previous attempts to take decent landscape shots had been thwarted by people wearing bright red, blue or yellow coats. I was wearing grey.

And somehow that was a couple of hours on a Sunday morning gone in a very satisfying manner. Rremarkably, no greenhouses were involved. It was a morning that paid testament to Kew Gardens' size, variety and natural beauty.

20 October 2012

The White House Murder Case at the Orange Tree

The White House Murder Case takes us in to familiar territory for the Orange Tree, a critique of the political process that highlights its flaws through humour. The Conspirators comes immediately to mind and there have been other similar plays.

This is a play about American set forty years in the future that was written forty years ago.

Familiarly, America is stuck in a foreign war that it is making a mess of. Obviously this was inspired by Vietnam whereas the modern resonance is with Iraq and Afghanistan. In this case it is Brazil.

Back at home the weak President struggles to deal with the war as the election approaches. His inner cabinet are worried and make plans to save the Presidency and the Party. Along the way the President's wife is murdered and it can only be by one of the inner group.

The way in Brazil takes a turn for the worse when an experimental and illegal weapon is deployed (shades of Agent Orange) only to fall on American troops.

The stage is split in to with the President's office on one side and the Brazilian jungle on the other. It is a bit clumsy and hampers the usual free movement that the unique stage allows but it just about works.

The play just about works too.

The first half is a little slow as we build the scene and get to the murder. The second half is much crisper and we laugh regularly at the military disaster in Brazil (many body parts are featured here) and at the ineffectual men running the country.

There is a murder mystery to solve too and the solving gives us a quite a surprise, as does the reaction to the solving of the mystery.

I found the play to be a little patchy but the strongest patch was in the President's office in the second half and that was strong enough to carry the evening thanks to the solid cast.

Finally, a thank you to Tony Larkin for providing the cast photograph. He took the official press photographs for the production and let me use one despite us being regular rivals in the pub quiz at the Willoughby Arms on Sunday night.

Marching for A Future That Works

There are times when you have to stand up and be counted and Saturday 20 October 2012 was one of them.

The march for A Future That Works was organised by the TUC, and supported by a raft of organisations, in opposition to this Government's disastrous economic policies that have taken us from a position of growth in to a double-dip recession with no sign of any significant improvement for years to come.

The cuts are not working and we need an alternative approach that gives us growth and, through that, employment.

I had a choice of organisations that I could have marched with (last time I went with Kingston Peace Council/CND) and I chose Compass which I have belonged to for a few years.

Our muster point was St Pauls. We shared this with a few similar organisations, notably UK Uncut, and there was a good collection of banners to interest and confuse the foreign tourists.

From their it was a short walk to Blackfriars where we joined the back of the march that was strung along the Embankment. It was slow going from there, as expected, and we stopped-started our way for the next three hours or so.

The route was familiar. We followed Embankment all the way to the Houses of Parliament before doubling back to Trafalgar Square then along Pall Mall, St James Street and Piccadilly to Hyde Park.

The mood was familiar too and there was singing, chanting and drumming all the way.

Behind the good mood was the serious matter at hand. 150,000 people do not sacrifice a Saturday just for a slow walk through Central London. We all wanted to stand up and be counted.

This government is making a big mistake by trying to cut their way out of a recession and we needed to tell them that. I am fairly certain that they will not listen but that does not mean that we should not try. And we will try again and again if we have to.

19 October 2012

The Static at the Riverside

Everything about The Static is brilliant.

But let's explain what it is first.

The Static is a coming of age story with a twist. Sparky is the ADHD teenager who survives on Ritalin and large headphones that he wears constantly to keep the rest of the world out.

Then he discovers that he can will things to happen and another girl in the school can do the same. She has family problems, including a step father with a dubious intentions. Then there's the failed classroom teacher who now just does special needs children and the PE teacher who left his last school under a (sexual) cloud.

The story goes on from there.

The opening sets the mood for the evening. All that is on the stage is a set of white school lockers on which a film is played of a boy marching through school corridors to loud pulsing music.

Then as the boy marches towards us the lockers part and the film boy becomes a real boy. Hello Sparky.

The story moves rapidly from scene to scene with the four actors moving energetically and with urgency.

Their movements are carefully choreographed and there are elements of the circus and dance in this. The lockers become a roof that the boy and girl climb on, objects are thrown between them as they move around the stage, there are balletic lifts and rolls, and even the do-your-trust-your-friend move of falling backwards expecting to be caught. It is all very marvellous and very exhilarating.

But all the cleverness does nothing to detract from the story that motors on as relentlessly as the scene changes and the characters movements. The story builds coherently and then jumps sideways a couple of times so that the ending is a mystery right up to the point that you get there.

This is a Scottish theatre company, ThickSkin, and a Scottish cast which makes the obvious reference point Gregory's Girl, and that is a good and fair comparison.

 Unusually the video trailer does actually tell you something meaningful about the play, so here it is.

The end result of all this was a truly sensational evening in which the end of the play led to a large release of suppressed energy in the form of whoops, cheers and ridiculously enthusiastic clapping. And with a packed house that was a lot of noise.

One day I'll get around to compiling that list of exceptional plays that make up under 5% of what I see, and The Static will definitely be in that list. It's intelligent, faultless and fun.

18 October 2012

Socks in Teddington

I have a great deal of admiration for Kev F. Sutherland, the man behind The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. The Socks would be enough for that but he does so much more and has a relentless schedule that takes him across the country delivering art classes, doing caricatures and being the Socks.

This travel brings the Socks to London most years and this time it was even better as they came to Teddington and that is walking distance from home.

Admittedly I was not at home. I was working in Cardiff that day but I escaped in good time to get to the Landmark Arts Centre before the show, if not to eat an evening meal. That's a very small sacrifice to pay.

The Landmark was built to be a church so it comes with high ceilings, almost invisible in the dark, and an echo to match.

I was the first one in (it was not meant to be open) and was lucky to spend some time with Kev talking about places that films and TV shows were made, we were close to the famous Teddington Studios, while I grabbed some peanuts and a bottle of beer. An excellent start to the evening and worth the price of admission in itself.

I was soon joined by some friends that I had persuaded to join me for the evening. The Socks' humour is somewhat off-beat so there was a little trepidation about recommending the show.

I need not have worried. Almost with the opening words they were laughing out loud as were the other fifty or so people in the theatre.

The first half of the show, Boo Lingere, was a series of sketches, spoofs and puns on a horror theme, a new set for this year.

There was a short break, I'm sure more for Kev to rest in than anything else, where another beer was consumed, then it was a second half of older material.

I had seen some of this before but that did not make it any less funny and the loud laughter continued as before.

There were a few spills along the way, as expected, and Kev's ad libbing abilities were remarkable, especially as he was doing it in two characters at the same time.

There is no point in over-analysing what the Socks do or how they do it. The point is they are funny. Very funny.

15 October 2012

Little Nemo in Google-Land

Every comics historian is very happy today thanks to Google.

The famous Goggle logo is often changed to recognise special events and anniversaries, such as Christmas and the Olympics. This time the recognition goes to a comic strip that first saw the light of day in 1905.

It is a testament to Little Nemo in Slumberland's importance in the history of comics that it is remembered by Google almost a century after it finished its original print run and that it was immediately recognised by so many comics fans.

The Google adaptation is gorgeous and it is animated so you can see Little Nemo fall through the picture until he falls back in to his bed, which is how the stories always ended. The full picture lacks the motion but has the fantastic artistic style that makes Little Nemo such a joy.

14 October 2012

Decasia at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Rarely have I leapt to buy a concert ticket so quickly.

I was introduced to Michael Gordon quite some years ago when I read a review of Bang on a Can All-Stars' Industry in Q magazine persuaded me to buy it. I fell in love with this style of new classical music and have bought several Bang on a Can CDs since then.

Bang on a Can are an American organisation and they do not travel very much and I was very lucky to catch one of their concerts, by Iva Bittová, about ten years ago.

One of the CDs I picked up along the way is Michael Gordon's Decasia.

Early booking got me a central seat about five rows back, i.e. just where I wanted to be.

Then the news got even better with the announcement that the concert would be proceeded by a short discussion about Decasia and a performance of Industry. For free. That was booked just as quickly.

Booking early meant that I had forgotten the details of what I had booked and so it came as something of a surprise to be reminded that Decasia was music for a film. Even better.

Most of the talk was about the film, the concept behind it (freezing decay), how it was produced and how it was joined to the music. A tasty morsel to start the evening with.

Industry was as good as expected. This is a shortish piece, around ten minutes, and was performed on a solo cello with some electronic assistance. It was excellent entree for the main event being very tasty but smaller in form. But before that there was just time for the small glass of free wine that came with the talk.

Decasia was performed by the large and youthful Aurora Orchestra. In the pre-concert talk we learnt that they were split in to three groups that were tuned to differently to produce a consistently discordant sound.

The music throbbed, pulsed and danced across the stage relentlessly while the decayed film flickered on the screen above the orchestra. The amplified sound filled the hall and bounced from all directions giving no respite from the energy. It was like being in the music rather than listening to it.

Minimalism was parent to the music and lived on in the repetition but it a was a strange child that delighted in rebellion and violence and joy and brashness and confidence and noise. An unforgettable sound.

The flickering of the fragments of film gave an even faster pace to the evening, like a strobe light at a disco. Not what you usually expect to come across at a classical music concert.

It was exhausting to listen to and exhilarating at the same time, like being on an extreme ride in an amusement park.

Decasia was bold and wonderful in equal measure. An unusual piece of music delivered with force and skill. That made it special.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse live in bed

Life does not get much better that this.

It had been a good Saturday evening watching a local band in a local pub then going to another local pub for a nightcap before settling in to bed around 2am.

Going to bed these days means a quick look at my new iPad (what are they going to call it when the next one comes out?) to check on my Words with Friends games and to check on the state of the world as reported on Twitter.

That was when I learnt from ThrashersWheat that a Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert was about to be streamed live from Austin, Texas. I followed the link and snuggled down in bed to watch the show.

I knew that it would be good but it was much better than that.

My previous experience of webcasts had been experimental and exciting for a technological perspective but somewhat lacking in terms of the quality of the music and video. This was completely different.

The technology has improved several fold since then. I now have BT Infinity broadband that delivers up to around 36Mbps (it varies by device) and an iPad with a retina screen to watch the bits on. The overall result was high definition picture and sound with not a hint of a skip or a pause.

With the technology working well that left me free to concentrate on the music. And that's how it should be, technology is at its best when it's invisible.

Neil Young playing live with Crazy Horse, what more is there to say? You know that means extended songs with Neil doing whatever he wants and the band following along as if it had all be rehearsed down to the last detail when you know that's not true. The first song lasted around 15 minutes, maybe more.

The concert offered up some of the expected classics (there are so many to choose from) including the most-played Powderfinger. It was also my first chance to hear some of the new songs and they sounded excellent, i.e. very much in the same vein as other Neil Young songs written with Crazy Horse in mind.

My only regret was the late hour and my lack of stamina. I watched for about an hour before the lack of sleep caught up with me and I drifted off very happy.

13 October 2012

Oh the Humanity at Soho Theatre

The Soho is one of those places that I like to go to but frequently fail to as they change their programme frequently I often find out about good shows too late to see them myself.

So I was pleased to get to Oh the Humanity having picked up some good reports via Twitter.

Oh the Humanity is a series of five scenes each showing an aspect of humanity that is dark and confusing.

First up we have a football manager who has obviously come to the end of a very difficult season and he is trying to rescue some crumbs of comfort from the disaster that he has lived through. We soon learn that his personal life has been just as bad, his wife has left him and he is struggling to survive on his own.

In one revealing line he tells us about visiting late-night supermarkets and looking at his reflection in the freezer window that brings the thought, "you've not had a bad day, that's what you look like now".

Next we see two people doing introductory videos for a dating service. Both are not far from normal and not that far from happy but, again, their masks slip a little and we see some of what they are thinking that really should have been left hidden. Things like screaming alone in the dark.

Then comes an airline PR person making an announcement following a serious plane crash that has killed all the passengers and crew. She is cringe-worthy bad at her job and makes several inappropriate comments and gestures. Again she tells us more about herself than she really should have done and we find another damaged person.

We, the audience, are involved in the next scene as a group photo is being taken of us.It is a recreation of a famous war photograph and one of the photographers speculates as to whether the picture was taken before or after the battle. She speculates in graphic detail on what the battle they may have lived through was like.

The language of the speculation shocks, as it does in the other scenes and its this inappropriateness that drags a lot of humour out of what is essentially depressing situations.

The final short scene is completely different and provides a splash of humour that highlights the misery that has gone before.

The scenes are played by just a few actors who move quickly and smoothly between the roles in a way that had me seriously doubting that they were the same people at times. All the acting was excellent. Really excellent.

Somehow the overall effect is very positive with the clumsiness of the human frailties triumphing over that dark side. A bit like a bad taste Frankie Boyle joke that should offend deeply but has you laughing instead.

Nutloaf at The Albion

I missed a few Nutloaf gigs due to calendar clashes so this was my first chance to see them. While they were a new band to me I knew a couple of them as they also play in Hoaxwind and friends had been to see them and had brought back positive reports.

The Albion was a new venue too. Not as a pub, I have been there a few times over many years, but as a music venue. The layout is quite good. It is a large "L" shape with a bay window at the bend giving the band somewhere to play that gives plenty of space to see them and also allows free access to the bar.

There was not much of a theme to their set, other than I suppose they all like the songs they chose, so we get some early 70s rock from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin mixed in with later stuff that I knew less well.

Musically they made a rich sound and each of them is clearly proficient and confident with their chosen instrument.

What seemed to be lacking was much interplay between them and I could not tell who, if any one, was setting the pace.

That did not stop them from turning out a succession of good tracks that got (some of) the reasonable crowd dancing and even singing. I was content just to watch and listen. And Nutloaf were certainly worth listening too as they rocked their way through a slightly eccentric "rock's greatest hits" selection.

One of the more eccentric was the Osmonds' Crazy Horses. I was glad to see it, and other unusual songs, included although it sounded a little strange without the keyboards. But I'm not going to deduct too many points for that.

The Albion had a limited choice of ales so it's just as well that the IPA was on fine form. The beer was the final flourish that combined with the music and companionship to turn a drab Autumn evening in to something jolly and uplifting.

12 October 2012

Insufficiency at The Riverside

While I had not exactly been avoiding the theatre over the Summer the opportunities were fewer as some places took a seasonal break and a lot of my cultural free-time was spent at opera festivals.

Now that Autumn has taken hold it is time to get back in the groove and that means going back to some regular haunts like The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

The first thing that caught my eye in the new season was Insufficiency. The eye-catcher was that this is a play about chemistry written by a chemist, Carl Djerassi who is best known for the contraceptive pill.

The hero, and very much the main character, in the play is Jerzy Krzyz, a Polish chemist who has moved to the USA and is trying to get tenure as a professor. He feels, with some justification, that his career progression has been slowed by his foreign background and by colleagues who do not understand his work.

He works with bubbles and that means he gets sponsorship from champagne companies, much to the chagrin of his colleagues who have to wrestle endlessly with grant applications. In appreciation of this sponsorship and in frustration in his colleagues not being able to pronounce his name, he has changed it to Le Croix.

Jerzy thinks that the key to his progression is his research which he guards jealously, even writing his notes in Polish. His department head wants him to publish more to prove the worth of his research but Jerzy refuses. This tension is at the heart of the play.

The play opens with a court scene in which we learn that two of Jerzy's colleagues died suspiciously and Jerzy is being tried for their murder.

The play switches seamlessly between there and department head's office which allows the action to flow with little pause.

The court scene also allows the prosecutor (the excellent Karen Archer) to speak directly to us in the audience.

And using a trial to drive the narrative allows us to go back to individual episodes non-sequentially as each witness tells their story. It's a good story and well told.

The story obviously revolves around Jerzy and that works because he is such a believable character and is superbly played by Tim Dutton. He wins our sympathy with his honest aspirations and eccentric behaviour.

The story unfolds neatly joining some dots and adding new ones giving us a couple of little surprises towards the end.

Insufficiency is a tidy play with a heart of gold. Immensely enjoyable.

8 October 2012

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: October 2012

October's Committee Meeting covered some familiar territory with familiar results. It was a productive meeting with broad agreement on most topics.

50 Years of the Society

The booklet celebrating 50 years of the Society is almost ready, thanks almost entirely to Michael Davison.

We have not yet had the funding for this confirmed by the Heritage Lottery Fund but we are going ahead with the publication anyway. The aim is to have it ready for our meeting on the direction of the Society in November.

Relaxation of planning rules

We are disappointed in the response from local politicians on the proposal to allow substantial extensions to houses (up to 8m) to be exempt for planning permission. They do not seem to understand that if planning permission is not required then there is no planning application and so no way for neighbours to learn about the development before it happens.

Shared path across Fairfield

There is a proposal to make the main path across Fairfield a shared path used by pedestrians and cyclists. We are against this as, on principle, we are against such shared paths as it is a poor compromise for both sets of users.

We do support initiatives to improve cycling in Kingston but not at the expense of pedestrians.

This became a longish debate with me taking a rather vociferous stand for cyclists. As a result, cycling will be the subject of a future public meeting.

Heritage Open Days

The Heritage Open Days were seen as a great success. The numbers were similar to last year despite the distraction of the Olympics. The new venues more proved to be particularly popular.

Kingston Riverside

There was a proposal for illuminated signs on Kingston Riverside. We were so against. They looked so cheap and would have a negative impact on the river and the opposite bank.

Being consulted

The Kingston Riverside issue led to a meeting with RBK planners and that brought to our attention that the Society is no longer formally consulted on relevant planning applications. We are sent the weekly notices, which are freely available, but are not formally asked to respond. This is something that we need to address.

Other news

The Bingo Hall in Richmond Road had been resold and new plans are awaited.

Zac Goldsmith has arranged a public meeting on the future of Latchmere House.

The lighting in Canbury Gardens is still a problem.

Sainsbury want to change look of Surbiton Station. Most of the changes are inside, e.g. large colourful fruit. but will be visible from outside. Mixed reaction from the Committee.

The Local History Room at the North Kingston Centre is due to close in Sept 2013 to make way for the new school.

7 October 2012

Comedy World Cup - The Final

I was only vaguely aware of the Comedy World Cup (C4 Saturday evenings) when I got an offer to be in the audience to see one of the programmes being filmed. This came from one the emailing lists, SRO Audiences, that I subscribe to for just that purpose.

The main reason for wanting to go was the location, Teddington Studios is a steady 20 minute walk away. I have been to a few recordings there but these have become less and less frequent as UK production companies prefer to use other locations.

Of course it had to be something that I was prepared to sit through too and this had the word "comedy" in the title and that was enough for me. It was enough for a lot of other people too and there was quite a queue when I got to the studios just after midday.

The logistics worked and I got a seat about three rows back in the central block.

Unlike other panel comedy shows this is a genuine quiz with proper questions, answers and points. In contrast, shows like MTW and HIGNFY just toss feed-lines to comedians for them to grab with their prepared scripts.

The show went much as expected with much off-camera banter, or rather on-camera banter that has no chance of making the final cut for legal and decency reasons. I enjoyed the actual quiz, especially the archive footage sections.

We all clapped and hollered enthusiastically at the right places having been effectively warmed up. You might just see me joining in as I was next to an aisle and was wearing my pink and grey hooped Leeds Rhinos shirt (because we had won the Supper League Grand Final the day before).

I was going to say something like, I know who won but I am not allowed to tell you, but I do not know. Whether it was to stop us spilling the beans or not I do not know but they miss counted the score so both teams were declared the winners at some point. I'll just have to watch it again in a couple of weeks.

5 October 2012

Yours for the Asking at the Orange Tree

The 2012-13 season at the Orange Tree opened with a corker.

Yours of the Asking played to all of the Orange Tree's considerable strengths. It's a play that almost nobody has heard of from an equally obscure playwright, the acting is good and the direction make the most of the layout of the unique theatre.

It tells the story of a cynical journalist struggling to survive in Fascist Spain whose life is changed when he gets the opportunity to interview a young beauty (a sort of Diana Dors figure played brilliantly by Mia Austen) who's star has fallen rapidly when a product she advertised is linked to the death of some children.

The story tells us how that meeting came about, what transpired there and what the dark consequences were.

In some ways it is a simple story but the way it is told makes it special.

The scenes change quickly and are not chronological.

A further complication is that some of the scenes are played concurrently in the simple set that our imagination convinces us is a newspaper office, a living room, a study, a bedroom, another office and probably a few other places that I have forgotten about.

The final complication is that Orange Tree regular David Antrobus plays several support roles. That works well too.

The story weaves in direction as well as in time and there are a few surprises along the way. The mood changes too with periods of tension, despair, love and laughs. It's engaging, engrossing and enthralling.

Yours for the Asking was a wonderful production that demonstrated the Orange Tree at its very best.

2 October 2012

Twelfth Night at The Globe

I had always considered The Globe to be a tourist attraction rather than a serious theatre and that is why I had not been there before.

I only went this time because work organised some (relatively) cheap tickets and the cast included a couple of big names, i.e. Stephen Fry and Roger Lloyd Pack in the character roles Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Mark Rylance staring as Olivia.

The Globe soon shows you why they stopped making theatres like that. The climb up to the gods is steep and when you get there you are greeted by a narrow wooden bench.

The more famous place to watch plays is in the pit that is open to the elements and on the night that I went that meant wearing something seriously weather-proof. And warm.Even in what passes for indoors a winter coat was needed.

I respect the experiment of rebuilding a period theatre but, to be honest, I think that it was the wrong direction to take from a theatrical view-point. Personally I prefer the modern route that the RSC has taken at Stratford upon Avon. The tourists seem to love The Globe though.

This production of Twelfth Night has an all-male cast, as it would have had in Shakespeare's time. I had seen all-male Shakespeare before and loved it then so that was another attraction for me this time.

For most of the play the main character is a man playing a woman who is pretending to be a man. And, thinking that she is a man, another woman falls in love with her.

She also has a brother who looks just like her.

A lot of the comedy comes from the flirting that goes on between the mixed sexes.

More comedy comes from the supporting character roles.

Stephen Fry is getting most of the press because he is Stephen Fry. He plays Malvolio just as you would expect him to, with superciliousness and pathos. All this makes for a lot of fun when he is tricked but we do not really see the bad side of his character that led to him being tricked in the first place and which gave him his name.

Not that this really matters. This is a comedy with a paper-thin plot so the comedy element is far more important than any attempt at realism.

Roger Lloyd Pack is brilliantly hapless as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

The direction plucks all the humour that it can out of the plot and the characters and there is always a lot going on with movements and expressions.

After a slow start that felt a little jilted at times there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that even the rain and the cold could not suppress.