31 July 2014

Wonderful evening at Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 Day Three

I had arranged to work in our Kings Place office on this Thursday to facilitate my third visit to Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 which was being held the other side of the road and canal in Central Saint Martin.

The new location impressed me. Not only were the three formal performing spaces better but the other spaces, such as the bar and the area just outside of the entrance, were better too.

The outside area was ideal for the short pop-up operas that decorated the festival and I arrived in good time to grab a beer before catching the first one. The food stall that had been there in the first week was sadly absent so my evening meal was a packet of peanuts, something I am quite used to when seeing evening shows.

I had planned a fairly busy evening seeing three pieces and it was something of a whirl moving between performing spaces with brief trips to the bar for refills and some moments to speak to creatives.

Spirit Harbour was the first opera that I saw. This was staged in the main Platform Theatre where I easily got a seat in my favoured front row. As is often the case these days one of the performers was already on stage as we entered. I argued to myself that this was not part of the formal performance so I allowed myself to take my usual view-from-my-seat picture with her in it.

Spirit Harbour was a story within a story. A victim of the 2011 tsunami recalled a Noh play she had seen and retold it to us. Other characters appeared, some good and some bad, and their singing was complimented by the carefully designed movements across the stage while the orchestra played hidden on the right of the stage.

It was all very pretty and nicely done. A good start to the evening.

Flat Pack was one of the operas that I was really keen to see as I had seen some of The Opera Room's work before. This was in the White Lab which, as you can see, was very white.

I was told on going in that we were meant to stand and you can see from the angle of the picture that I did. It tended to be the younger people who chose to sit. I think that they missed something by doing so.

The simplistic summary says that there was just one singer (baritone Peter Brathwaite), two instruments (viola and bassoon) and the story was about a man's attempt to construct a flat pack drinks cabinet. But there was much more to it than that.

Firstly the musical was delightful and was far more than simple accompaniment and secondly the story was more complex with the man facing difficult challenges in his relationship and career, challenges he hopes that his new drinks cabinet can help him through.

Flat Pack was a fully formed micro-opera (their term) and I absolutely loved it.

Tonseisha – The Man Who Abandoned the World was the third and final opera that I had booked that night and it was decidedly odd, in a good way. I think.

It was odd because it crammed so much in, including tapes, videos and the clatter of an old typewriter. At times I felt that it was verging on pretension but it never quite got there and it remained entertaining, if challenging, all the way through.

The opera was inspired by the works of Richard Brautigan who I had never heard of but reading about him now explains something of the fragmented nature of the piece and the confluence of Japan and Middle America.

Not the easiest opera to enjoy but I did.

My final opera of the evening was another pop-up (i.e. it was free) but this time we were led into the main campus. This is indoors and is a public space just behind the main entrance. By public I mean that there is no physical barrier to entry, to venture in to the main parts of the building you need a swipe card.

Sweeper of Dreams: The Calling was a cute little opera that told the story of a young woman applying for the job of Sweeper of Dreams, a job that had been seen as being a man's job. The people interviewing her were all women dressed as men. It was a fun and refreshing way to end the evening.

It is for days like this that I go to Tête-à-Tête Opera festivals as often as I can. I saw several very different pieces, all with a very modern take, all of which entertained. I would gladly see all of them again.

30 July 2014

Prometheus Drown'd and Airborne at Rosslyn Hill Chapel

I am going to try and make this not sound like stalking, but that is going to be difficult.

I first saw Clare McCaldin sing at a very good evening at the Tete a Tete Opera Festival in 2012. She was back the following year to perform Viviene which I liked so much that I went to see it again somewhere in Camden and yet again at the Linbury. I've spoken to her a few times and, of course, we've exchanged tweets. I'm a fan.

So when she announced that she would be performing Prometheus Drown'd I was obviously keen to see that. The piece, by Stephen McNeff, was an expansion of the work that Clare performed the first time that I saw her.

There were some hiccoughs along the way. Originally there was a Monday performance shown on the schedule and that suited me well but when I checked just a week or so before the performance it was not there and I had to do some frantic juggling of my calendar to free up the Wednesday. I went to something every evening the week and had to turn several other things down as well.

The next hassle was the location. I had been to Hampstead a few times before but it is not well served by public transport and go there normally involved a fair amount of walking, usually to/from the Hampstead Heath stop on the London Overground. This time I was working in Reading which meant travelling from Paddington. The various apps on my iPhone suggested that the best way to get there was to take a couple of trains to Finchley Road and then walk. What they did not say was that most of the walk was uphill.

Having finally found Rosslyn Hill Chapel I was rather keen on some beer and reasonably interested in some food. The pub sign next door was encouraging but that was a false hope as the pub was closed. I had to walk along way back up the hill to find another pub where a pint and a bucket of chips costs me the best part of £10.

I got back to Rosslyn Hill Chapel in good time for the performance which was helpfully not until 8:15pm. After very little thought I bagged a chair in the front row. I was on my own there for a little while and I was relieved when a few more people joined me just before the start.

There were two pieces on the programme and Prometheus Drown'd was on first.

This time Clare was joined by a narrator and a couple of actors but all the singing duties were still down to her.

The piece was as lyrical as I remembered the original being and through the new text I learned something more about Percy Bysshe Shelley, who is never going to be my specialist topic on Mastermind.

I found some of the lighting a little distracting. Clare sometimes sang with a strong white light on her from below. This was somewhat unflattering but it did give me a good view of her open mouth and I was able to study the mechanics of her singing style.

There was an interval and I helped myself to a glass of wine and had a bit of a look at the church. While minding my own business Clare came out and we had a little chat. She explained that all of the original work was in the new piece and that new bits had been added throughout.

Airborne after the break worked well with the first piece. It had a similar feel musically, helped by having the same musicians and conductor, and the mood of the story was similar too, i.e. there was death and sadness.

There were two young singers and they were both excellent.

I did not hang around long afterwards because there was nobody there to hang long afterwards with and I strolled fairly gently to Hampstead Heath station. There waiting for the train was a lady who had been near me in the front row so I started talking to her. In the end we talked about music all the way back to Kew, where she lives. It was a fitting end to a good evening.

29 July 2014

Big Ideas on Neoliberalism

We skirted around neoliberalism at Big Ideas when we discussed Democracy in an age of Individualism and then we had the opportunity to discuss it head-on in an invigorating session lead by Will Davies, a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I was not alone in wanting to explore the subject and the room was absolutely packed. I had got back from working in Reading in good time to grab some food, a beer and a decent seat before it started.

I do not have a regular seat and almost insist in trying a different one each time (I'll run out eventually). This time I was in the middle row right at the back.

Will gave us his view of the history of neoliberalism, which I will over simplify to make my point, and to save time! I'll also freely mix in some of the comments made during the discussion and some of mine from later.

Neoliberalism was the reaction to previous financial crises that had hurt the rich, through falling share prices etc., more than the poor who were protected by the collective power of Trade Unions etc.

Neoliberalism could be seen as a deliberate attempt by the establishment to protect their wealth from these threats and to undermine labour by cutting union powers and raising unemployment. This is the Marxist line and quite plausible. I'm convinced!

The main tactic employed is to force competition in to as many activities as possible, even those where competition was difficult to create due to natural monopolies etc.

Competitions need a place to happen and that is what markets are. Money is the predominant measure of success in those markets but others exist in things like school league tables. The State has no place in these markets as it would be an unfair competitor.

Monopolies may arise (and they do) but neoliberalism sees this as OK provided that the elements for competition still exist. For example, there is nothing, in principle, to prevent somebody starting a new Facebook or Amazon.

Competition identifies winners but it also creates losers when previously there had only been peers. Competition also has hidden costs, markets cost money to operate and some of them take a vast amount of money.

Power is entrenched in the establishment as they set the rules for the competition and ensure that they win or, if possible, do not even have to take part. Rather like trench warfare.

Neoliberalism wins on simplicity (competition is good) but is proving to be less successful in practise with, for example, China winning economically, social-democrat countries like Denmark winning on happiness and German team-work winning the World Cup.

And to reinforce the point, even a neoliberal fanatic country like the UK is conveniently avoiding its avowed belief and is doing many anti-free-market things like actively creating new banks and imposing a national curriculum.

After seeing how neoliberalism was invented to keep the rich rich and how competition does not actually produce better results it was something of a surprise to find a Tory voter in the room during the informal discussion that always takes place after the formal one.

My convictions went the other way and the talk help me to understand neoliberalism and, more importantly, its inherent failings.

28 July 2014

Perseverance Drive at Bush Theatre was rich with ideas

I've fallen in to something of a virtuous circle with the Bush Theatre, the more that I go the more that I like it so I go more.

Perseverance Drive was a case in point. If it had been at another theatre I might well have given it a miss but the Bush Theatre experience was enough to tempt me. That and the fact that it was written by Robin Soams who had impressed me as an actor not long ago at the Arcola in Visitors.

I was working in Reading that day so I ate at the bar there beforehand. I also had a pint of Beck's Vier, which was almost the "Best Bitter" that I had asked for. Luckily I drink both.

The queueing was less frenetic than on recent previous visits and I found myself pretty much at the font of the queue without trying too hard. The two ladies who tried to queue-jump by waiting outside the toilets were less lucky and were sent to the back, not that that was a long way to go. My good organisation got me the seat that I wanted in one of the two front rows. I chose the far one from the entrance just for a change.

Perseverance Drive used the passing on of leadership in a family to address several themes. The mother had just died and the family were gathered for the funeral.

This family had its fair share of skeletons in the cupboard but no more than most families. There was the sibling rivalry between two of the sons one of whom had caused a stir through his relationship with a previously married woman. Another son was gay which was also a problem for the strongly religious family.

Religion was the other main part in the play with two of the sons active in rival evangelical churches and one of the family friends was a bishop.

Rejection was one of the main themes with some family members ostracised because of what they had done and, previously when living in England, the parents of the family had been subject to racial discrimination.

The cast (father, three sons, two wives, a bishop and his son) were all good and the two that I found the most engaging were the competitive wife and the gay son. She was a villain of the piece and he was the hero, in my view.

I tweeted at the time, "Perseverance Drive pokes awkward fingers in to families and religion to create a fine play that questions and entertains", and on reflection I still think that is a decent summary. It could have been a simple family crisis play and still entertained but it was more than that and so it engaged too.

26 July 2014

Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 Day Two was deep

I played safe on my second visit to the Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 and did not book one of the early performances due to the London walk that I had in the afternoon. That proved to be a sensible choice as even though that walk finished unexpectedly on time at 6pm it was good to have some down-time to rest, eat and chat before making the short journey north to Central Saint Martins.

I arrived there in good time to grab another beer, I had had a few in the afternoon, before settling in to see the two operas that I had booked.

Gut was performed in the White Lab, the smallest of the three rooms used and the hardest to find. The organisers were aware of that and had guides along the way to keep us moving in the right direction.

The White Lab was intended for multi-media use with its white walls for projecting on to and I presume that is why it was chosen.

Gut consisted of a film, recorded music and a baritone. The film was mostly of the seashore with crashing waves and tall cliffs. The music was dense and varied, there were hints of Glass early on and later a tune that could have been Portishead. The baritone voice rode clearly above them both and was the dominant feature.

This was just the first movement of a three-movement piece dealing with depression. It was also the darkest movement and the composer, Pete M Wyer, assured us that there was a happier ending. It was a difficult piece to appreciate on a first hearing but there were themes and hooks in there to make it a rewarding experience despite the challenges.

The second piece, they came back, in the slightly larger Studio was also on a dark theme and told by a baritone and so went well with the previous piece.

They that came back were the dead though they only did so fleetingly.

A middle-aged man tried to come to terms with this and had a particular loss who we wanted to speak to again. He was a somewhat tortured soul and the music and singing reflected this. Again the singing was very good.

The story-telling was assisted by some short film clips of TV reportage. I felt that worked well as it both progressed the story and gave us another voice to listen to. It was a complete story too which made the performance easy to get in to.

Apart from the two fine operas there were the usual extras that make Tête-à-Tête Opera Festivals so much fun, things like talking to some of the performers, helpers and other visitors and having the time, space and refreshment to relax between shows. I also managed to catch one of the five minute pop-up operas given outside.

It was another good day in the office for Tête-à-Tête in their mission to promote exciting new opera.

Walking through The Grey Soul of London (July 2014)

For each of the last three years I have taken Minimum Labyrinth's walk through The Grey Soul of London and I saw no reason for 2014 to be any different. The Grey Soul is a great walk and talk, and so are their others, which is why I have been on a few of them.

All of the Grey Soul walks have been a little different; they have been at different times in different weathers and one ended at a different location and my fourth attempt was probably the one that best kept to the script. It also finished on time, 6pm, which the other attempts had spectacularly failed to do.

Being the fourth time also meant that, finally, I had some sort of handle on where we were and where we were going. It also meant that I had taken photos of the main sites before so this time I have tried to pick a few different ones. I've not always succeeded.

We started in the Shakespeare's Head behind Sadlers's Wells. The first thing that I noticed was that one of the other walkers was wearing a Zenith t-shirt, a promising omen for things to come.

We headed off south towards the former Finsbury Town Hall before wandering down Exmouth Market and along to the brilliantly named Coldbath Square before turning east along Warner Street.

We stopped several times to hear Robert's stories about the places we were passing through while I took the sort of photos that I would take if I was visiting the place on holiday. That means that there were two parallel tales, those narrated by Robert and those told to me by the buildings we walked past.

The distinctly different middle part of our journey took us in to the industrial zone dominated, but far from limited to, the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office. Just before we got there I was captivated by this collection of brick and metal in Eyre Street Hill.

That is where we had a set-back when the pub we were aiming for was closed and so was the fall-back. That meant we had to head for the Union Tavern where we were due to end our exploration later on. I found that very useful as it helped me to work out where the Union Tavern actually is in relation to the other places that we visited.

After our brief dalliance with industry we headed in to the Georgian squares in what may be Pentonville, or Finsbury, or Islington. This was also the world of Arthur Machen, one of the inspirations behind this walk.

Our entry to this new world was the Riceyman Steps, made famous in a novel of the same name by Arnold Bennett. At the top we found Granville Square, the first of several.

These houses are fairly typical of what we saw for that section of the walk as Robert dragged as down unknown streets and alleyways in a fairly successful attempt to get us all lost. And he kept telling us tales to distract us.

Water formed part of many stories that day from the wells that still live on to place names, the submerged and subjugated Fleet river, a shy reservoir in Claremont Square and a Thames Water pumping station in Amwell Street which was proud to show off some of its pipes.

Somewhere around there we found another pub. This time it was open but it was not the pub that we expected. The legendary Filthy MacNasty's was our intended destination but it was being turned in to The Fountain, a fairly standard gastro pub with little beer and fewer staff. It took a while but I did mange to get a pint of something drinkable.

Passing along an alleyway between Naoroji Street and Lloyd Square I could not fail to notice this green house covered in scaffolding. It was not part of the formal walk but was very much the sort of thing that I like to see, and photograph.

My final picture from the walk is another typical picture of the area we explored at the end. I think this is LLoyd Square but the precise location is not the point.

From there we headed back to the Union Tavern this time for a longer stay and some food. Robert had finished his tales by then so we had to fill the gap with our own conversations. This was considerably helped by finding other people who read comics, and not just the Zenith guy, and a woman whose boyfriend could not make the walk because he was off being a wizard somewhere.

This was another fine walk through The Grey Soul of London and another fine walk from those nice chaps at Minimum Labyrinth. As long as they keep doing them I am going to keep walking with them.

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.

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories at the House of Illustration

I am rather fond of illustrations so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover the new House of Illustration just a stone's throw from the office. The stone throwing is made a little easier by me being on the top (7th) floor of Kings Place and the House of Illustration being at ground level on the other side of the road. It is located in Granary Square, part of the new Central Saint Martins complex just north of the canal and a couple of hundred metres north of Kings Cross.

It's opening exhibition was Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. I would have gone to see the exhibition whatever it was, just to find out what the gallery was like, but it helped having fond memories of Quentin Blake's work from reading Roald Dahl books to small boys.

It cost me £7.50 to get in (my attempt to walk in without paying failed miserably) which I thought was a little steep and I was further aggrieved to find that my usually helpful ArtFund card carried no weight. When places like the V&A and Saatchi Gallery are free and the much larger Cartoon Museum is £7 (free with ArtFund) then this sort of fee takes some justifying.

The exhibition was not that big, not much more than one room but it was deceptively busy and it took me half an hour or so to see and read everything. And I did read everything.

The exhibition was spread over all of the walls and two large tables.

It was arranged by book and each section started with an explanation of the book and the approach taken to the drawings. It was then illustrated with several original drawings.

One of the things that I found interesting was the way that some parts of some of the pictures had been redrawn and the new part literally cut and paste over the old. This is not something an illustrator has to do today when they use digital tools extensively or exclusively.

I only knew the Dahl books so it was interesting to learn about the others. Different techniques were used in each but all the drawing had the same distinctive and instantly recognisable style. Most of them were amusing too.

The surprise came in the second and smaller room that was dedicated to just one book. This was Michael Rosen's Sad Book which was about his reaction to his teenage son's death. It was quite a shock after the monkeys, princesses and washer-women in the previous room. It was still very much Blake though and Rosen's words were a poignant read.

The whole exhibition was neatly curated and arranged with plenty of helpful words to explain the pictures.

It will be interesting to see how the House of Illustration develops and I hope it grows to become a worthy and established gallery catering for those of us who like our stories told in pictures.

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.

19 July 2014

Dazzling Carousel at the Arcola Theatre

My feeling towards musicals is still somewhat ambivalent but I was not going to miss Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel when it was on at one of my very favourite theatres, the Arcola in Dalston.

I had planned to go with friends but a mix-up meant that they went to the matinee when I was booked for the evening show. It still worked out reasonably well as we were able to meet up in a nearby pub between the two showings.

For the first time in my experience there was allocated seating but, unusually for me, I was sufficiently alert to get in early enough to get a front row seat on the far side.

That was just as well as it had received plenty of good reviews and that meant another full house. I am sure that the seats further back are fine, it's just that I do not want to try one to find out.

This was the last performance too, something of an accidental tradition of mine, so there were no second chances.

I must have seen Carousel at some time because elements of the plot were familiar but they were only thin fragments and most of it was completely new and surprising to me.

It was a lot darker than I expected. I tend to think of musicals as rom-coms with songs, which is unfair on my part as opera deals with tragedy as much as it deals with the foibles of love. There was a happy ending of sorts but it wasn't the and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after kind. Especially not for the people who were dead.

The music was as much a mystery as was the story and the only song that I recognised I did not know came from a musical, let alone this one. That song was You'll Never Walk Alone. I am more used to the staccato version sung on the Kop so it was good to hear it with its original melody and timing.

With an unknown story and unknown music it was down to the production to engage me and they did that with much aplomb. A lot of care had been put in to the detail of the production and there was always a lot more going on than was strictly needed to tell the story. The singing and acting were very good too.

But it was the dancing that made the production so dazzling. The choreography was intricate and imaginative making full use of the cast and the limited space available.

Arcola had often impressed me in the part but this was the first time that it had done so with a musical.

Trekking to William Morris Gallery and Lloyd Park

I love the works of William Morris and examples of his designs can be found among my shirts, ties, mugs and gardening tools.

This is a passion that I share with many people which is why his works are on display across the London in both permanent and temporary exhibitions. In recent years I have made Morris pilgrimages to Two Temple Place and Kelmscott House.

Somehow, though, I had never been to William Morris Gallery before.

The main reason for that is because the Gallery is in one of William Morris' former home in Walthamstow (E17) which is the other side of London, which made getting there an interesting challenge.

Guided by an app on my iPhone I took the London Overground to Gospell Oak when I changed lines to get to Blackhorse Road and then a bus. (Admittedly the first bus went the wrong way and I had to cross the road at the first stop and swap buses.) I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the area looked with plenty of parks and water. That was not the image that places like Tottenham Hale conjured up for me.

The William Morris Gallery was in another park. Lloyd Park was originally the estate that went with the house when this part of London was semi-rural and inhabited by rich people working in London. Rich people like William Morris' father who rented the house for a while.

The new extension on the far left of the house is a cafe and this is where I started my tour. I did not have much time to do everything, I got there around 3pm and it closed at 5pm, so I made just a fleeting foray in to the garden.

It may have been called the William Morris Gallery but it was more of a museum than a gallery and it had far fewer works on display than Two Temple Place had. That was OK with me as I like museums as much as I like galleries.

The museum covered both the man and his methods and covered both well. There was a lot of interesting stuff to read, but that does not make for interesting photos so I've chosen ones that show the works and, in some, tried to capture something of the essence of the museum too.

Palace Green was one of William Morris' early commissions and the display described the scope of the project, the approach adopted and had samples of the work. The background to the commissioning and design were interesting and helped to explain the final result.

I could not resist a close-up of Strawberry Theif, a pattern that appears on several of my things, including a favourite short that I still wear desipte the ravages of wear and sunshine.

There were plenty of other designs on show and also words, pictures and videos showing how they were made.

Morris' personal and business lives were interweaved through the museum and I learned much about both. This included little things like how he traveled between his country home and studio is Hammersmith by boat as well as the changes that gradually led to taking over the company that he helped to form, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., and how it then took just his name.

Another room explored his links with Socialism, which was an important part of his life. At the core was his wish to see good design everywhere, not just in the houses of the rich.

Morris worked in many areas, all of which were covered in the museum. In his day he was most knows for his books. These included his poetry, translations of North European sagas and an illustrated version of Chaucer.

I had to squeeze another coffee (and more cake) in before leaving so I rushed a little through the museum but in just over an hour I had done it justice. I could not leave without a memento so I bought myself a tie on the way out. I can always do with another pretty tie.

16 July 2014

An architect 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.

14 July 2014

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: July 2014

July's Kingston upon Thames Society Committee Meeting was mostly concerned with finding a new Chairman and the process we follow for assessing Planning Applications.

New Chairman

With Jennifer having announced that this would be her last year as Chairman, the Committee had started the process of looking for a new one. It was generally agreed that we should seek somebody from outside of the current Committee to bring a new viewpoint to our work.

It was also hoped that we could attract somebody already active in the public realm locally so that they could use their existing contacts to help to promote the Society's views and to raise our profile. One potential source was the councillors who had recently lost their seats in the local elections. Some specific names were mentioned (but I am not going to name them here) but no obvious candidate emerged.

All of the Committee were charged with coming back with ideas at the next meeting.

Assessing Planning Applications

I presented a proposed process for assessing Planning Applications. The main changes from the old one was that the Weekly Lists from Kingston Council would be sent to all Committee members and certain individuals would be responsible for identifying applications worth considering according to their local or professional knowledge.

In my new role as Planning Secretary it would be my duty to manage the activity rather than to be the main commentator. Planning Applications would be managed from initial assessment through to final decision. Previously we had sometimes lost sight of applications after we had made our comments and we did not know whether they had been accepted, rejected or withdrawn.

I also wanted to do more publicity on our decisions. This could include, for example, notices to our members, announcements on our website, Facebook and Twitter, or press releases.

The broad idea was approved and it was accepted that a lot of the detail will fall out of actually trying it. Things that had yet to be resolved included the use of paper copies of the plans and the possible need for separate meetings to consider applications.

Other business

A visit had been arranged to the new Quaker House.

The Gas Holders' site came up again in response to correspondence received from the public. This generated some heat but no action. The letter on the original (taller) application stood and no response was made on the revised application.

It was decided that we would not as a Society comment on the current consultations on Eden Walk, Ashdown Road Car Park and New Malden but Committee members were encouraged to comment individually.

It was agreed that a priority for the mini-Holland scheme should be safety and a letter to this effect was to be drafted for consideration at the next meeting.

There was some dissatisfaction with the way that the Ancient Market had turned out but it was agreed that there was no need for immediate action and that we would continue to monitor the situation.