30 January 2015

Anything Goes at the New Wimbledon Theatre was such fun

Two of my nearest theatres, in Richmond and Wimbledon, are part of the Ambassador Theatre Group which is bad news on two fronts, their publicity is awful so it is hard to find out when good shows are on and secondly their website is truly awful so it is hard to buy tickets when you do find something good. In this case I would have missed Anything Goes but for a promotion via another organisation that does know how to do publicity.

The attractions to me of Anything Goes was that it was another mainstream musical that I had not seen, it was by Cole Porter and the offer price was good! I am far more likely to take a punt on an unknown work if it costs me £25 or less, which is one reason that I go to off West End theatres so much.

This time I paid £20 which secured me seat F30 in the stalls. It was almost at the edge of the row but the view was perfectly fine, as the photo below shows.

I chose to work at home that day and decided to eat before the show somewhere in Wimbledon. I knew that there were plenty of restaurants near the theatre but I had eaten there too rarely to prefer, or even remember, any of them. I was lucky to find Mai Thai which was tasty, smart and inexpensive. It is now officially my favourite restaurant in Wimbledon.

I had some time to kill before the show so I went to the The Wibbas Down Inn opposite the theatre first. It is a Wetherspoons so I knew the choice of beer would be excellent and I had no difficulty in ordering a pint of something that I had never heard of before. That was certainly a much better plan than going to the theatre bar and paying over the odds for a small bottle of bland lager.

Fed and watered I took my seat ready to be entertained.

Musically the show got off to a great start as the first song after the overture was "I Get a Kick Out of You", which I first heard and loved in a version by Gary Shearston in 1974.

It soon became clear that the story was a romcom with several people involved. The number of people involved and the other complications thrown into the mix (such as unsold shares, a gangster on the run and a missing dog) made for an interesting story that easily kept my attention.

There was only one other song that I recognised, the titular Anything Goes, but the music was good throughout. Somebody else thought that Kick and Anything were the two best songs as they were both repeated later in the show, and I was perfectly happy with that.

The story and songs could have been a relatively slight meal if not for the slick production and performances. Everything about the show was nicely done from the little characterisations to the set. It was clearly a well-practised show that also managed to feel fresh and sparkly.

And it was a bonus to see Hugh Sachs as the gangster. He is, of course, famous for his role as Gavin in several series of Benidorm. He's the fourth Benidorm actor that I've seen on stage so there is still a long way to go!

Anything Goes was everything I needed at the end of a busy week. It was jolly, frothy and happy. Just the sort of things a populist musical should be.

29 January 2015

Discussing 2050 Infrastructure and Transport Developments at the London Forum

One of the groups that the Kingston upon Thames Society is affiliated to is the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies who, amongst other things, hold some interesting events.

The event on 2050 Infrastructure and Transport Developments interested me both as a heavy user of all forms of public transport across London and as somebody interested in the future of London and of Kingston within that. Relatively poor transport is one of Kingston's enduring problems, particularly when compared to neighbouring Richmond and Wimbledon both of which have main-line trains and the tube with Richmond also having London Overground and Wimbledon the Tramlink.

The presentation was given by two officers of TfL, Geoff Hobbs talked about tracks and Helen Cansick about roads. In opening the talk Geoff also talked about how London's growth is anticipated to fuel demand for journeys and the set of plans that respond to this. The key document (for this meeting) was the London 2050 Infrastructure Plan, which was also the furthest looking of the current documents.

I found Geoff's presentation on tracks (tube, railways and trams) very informative and was only saved from the task of taking mountain of notes with the promise of a copy of the presentation afterwards.

It was a story that ranged widely in time (today to 2050) and geography (Zone 1 to Brighton). The overwhelming impression was that an awful lot was being done and more would carry on being done for some years.

The chart below summarises the line modernisation programme.

The main work being done was on signalling to allow more trains to be in service at the same time and so to increase the capacity. This was all very good, and needs to be done, but once it has been done the ability to get more throughput on the existing lines will be severely reduced. And the increased capacity only, at best, matched the anticipated growth and so would do little to ease the severe overcrowding that we already have; it will just stop things from getting worse. At some point we are going to need more tracks somewhere.

Geoff talked about potential new projects, such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension to the south, which would provide more tracks but only a few.

Helen had less to say on roads but that was understandable. We are more or less stuck with the roads that we have and their is limited scope to remodel them.

I liked the way that she structured a lot of her talk about one particular problem, the morning peak, and the various kinds of measures that could be used to manage this.

The first thing to note is that, as with the tracks, is that this is a stand-still plan, i.e. the aim is to stop the morning congestion from getting any worse despite the growth in journeys, not to reduce the current congestion.

This section of the talk was rich with ideas some of which were no more than that and many of which would have uncertain impact on traffic. The plan was to try lots of things and see which ones worked best. For example, freight traffic in the morning is an issue and things that could be tried to address this are to limit the times that deliveries can be made and to consolidate deliveries to an area being made by multiple suppliers to multiple destinations (i.e. to solve the tricky m:m problem when the 1:m and m:1 problems are easy).

After the talks, and the first long round of applause, Geoff and Helen fielded our questions and they both impressed me with their knowledge (there was none of the usual, "I'll get back to you on that one") and with their enthusiasm for the subject.

The question time ran for quite a while before the curfew fell with many hands still in the air, and then there was another long round of well deserved applause.

The talks were excellent but I was left concerned that the ambition of the plans was to maintain current levels of congestion and that there was little in any of this for the residents of Kingston.

28 January 2015

DIY Horror Play at The Cockpit Theatre was delightfully horrific

This could have been a disaster in so many ways, and almost was. I had to content with maps, gates and French but it was worth it for the sheer exuberance of the play.

A gory but fun horror story in the pulp fiction mold had an obvious appeal and would be rather different from what I usually see. I also liked most of the aims of the performers who said , "Our shows combine intense physical performances with multiple languages and strong visuals and sound." I lied all of that apart from "multiple language" but an exchange of emails with the theatre reassured me that I did not need to know any French.

I did not expect the show to be sold out and so I set off for the theatre confidently and looking forward to the walk, a walk I had done only a few days previously to see The Three Sisters. This time I decided to take a slightly more northerly route including going through Regent's Park. My maps app agreed that it was a good idea but neither of us realised that the park would be shut and I was forced to take a long detour around the top of the park, but that was alright as I had plenty of time.

Then the maps app and I made our next mistake. Somewhere near Palgrave Gardens I avoided the correct left turn as that looked to be a private path through a Council estate and instead turned left immediately before it into what turned out to be a private path through a Council estate. I walked to the far end expecting to find another way out but the only gate there was closed and locked. So I went all the way back to the main gate only to find that closed and locked too. It must have been open to let a car in or out when I arrived there and the automatic gate had closed silently behind me.

It took several minutes for the anger to start to morph toward unease as no other cars came or went to open the gates and the one flat that could see me waving desperately just ignored me. I knew that I would get out at some point but was beginning to doubt that I it would be in time to see the play. Having no luck at the main gate I went back to the pedestrian gate at the far end and was delighted to see that while it was locked it could be forced open, which I did.

I got to the Cockpit with a few minutes to spare, enough minutes to get a beer and a bag of Nobby's Nuts, the evening meal of choice for after-work theatre going. After the ordeal of getting there I was ready for some entertainment.

The set was not very promising as it had absolutely nothing on it, but I took a picture of the view from my seat anyway.

The simple premise of the story was that a woman was being let out of an asylum and this was her last night there. Most of the nuns who ran the place were away attending a wake for a colleague and the lady went around the empty building looking for one person, avoiding others and trying to keep out of trouble so that she could leave the next day.

Lighting and sound immediately played a big part in the show, as they should in a horror story. The stage stayed dim most of the time and clever lighting was used to mark out corridors, which only appeared when somebody was in them.

Lots of bad things were hinted at and some of them happened. One of the people she met did vile things to animals to change their form, such as transforming a dog into a seal by taking its legs off. Luckily there were no props for this but the descriptions were bad enough to evince plenty of groans from the audience. Worse was to come, like the film of addition pieces being sewn into a living brain to make the animal more intelligent.

The ending was pretty gory too.

There was a reasonable amount of French towards the end and while the several French people in the audience laughed more than I did I could at least follow the gist of the story and was not completely lost. It is over forty years since I did 'O' Level French and it was not one of my better subjects.

After the play the three creatives of Two Tongue Theatre, all young women and two of them French, gave a short explanation of how they created the play from two Grand Guignol pieces and how they did some of the gory effects. It was a nice coda.

The play over I went back to the bar for a final beer.I would normally try and get to speak to the creatives at that point to give some positive feedback but they were all busy with friends so I left them alone. It was a nice surprise, therefore, when one of them broke away from her friends to ask me what I thought about the show. I was delighted to be able to tell her that I enjoyed it immensely.

DIY Horror Play was deliciously different and delightfully horrific. It was the perfect antidote to the real-world horrors that had preceded it.

27 January 2015

Big Ideas on Mathematical Logic

My knowledge of Mathematics has dwindled substantially since I got my degree in 1978 but it is still a topic that interests me and I love the Big Ideas events so it was no surprise that I spent the evening of my birthday considering Big Ideas on Mathematical Logic.

Our guide for the evening was Brendan Larvor from the University of Hertfordshire where he specialises in the history and philosophy of mathematics and science.

Over a couple of hours we had an entertaining and thoughtful discussion on mathematical proof (discussion is the whole point of Big Ideas) during which I tried to take some notes while also trying to work out why I did not quite agree with the hypothesis presented. That is my excuse for why the following notes are unstructured and probably inaccurate.

Ancient Greeks first looked at methods of proof. Mathematics was proved using pictures as the use of mathematical notation did not start until around 1630.

Some pictorial proofs are easy and Brendan used the small panes in the windows behind him to prove the that the numbers in the sequence 1+3+5+7+.. are always square numbers (1+3 = 4 which is 2**2 and 1+3+5 = 9 which is 3**2). In pictures this can be seen by adding one more block to two sides of a square to make a slightly bigger square.

Similarly, it's is visibly obvious that 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + ... = 1 as each additional step, 1/2**n, finishes half way between the previous step and 1. Drawing this on a number line makes it obvious.

The invention of mathematical notation made other proofs possible. It is easy to prove that 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + ... is infinite as the sequence can be grouped into an infinite number of segments each of which adds up to more that 1/2, i.e. 1/3 + 1/4 and 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/7 + 1/8.

Mathematical notation is still not always capable of finding proofs. It is fairly easy to see physically that one knot on a line can pass by another (simply by loosening one of them) but there is no formal proof for this. Of course it may be that a proof is not possible because the question is badly formed, and that in itself would be interesting if we could prove it.

There are various standard ways of proving things. Mathematicians like to find other ways to prove things that have already been proved (we may have a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem but it is not the proof that Fermat had, if he had one) and to find other generic ways of proving things. Proof is very important in Mathematics.

The realm of Logic introduced words into Mathematics and, therefore into mathematical proofs. For example, if A implies B and B implies C then A implies C.

This logic is not generally well understood and people still use arguments like you are a man, men play golf therefore you play golf.

Using words to describe mathematics lets linguists into the game and that was the part of the discussion that I had problems with. Just because linguists have rules it does not mean that it makes sense to extend them to the use of language in mathematics. I think that Mathematics is supreme here and if there are any conflicts then it is the upstart linguists that have got a problem to solve.

Some proofs come without insight or meaning. For example computers have solved the four colour map problem by number crunching all possibilities that does not help us to understand why it is true.

It is often said, and I would tend to agree, that the best solutions are simple and elegant but it this just pretension (quite possibly!) or is there something more right about a simple proof than a complex proof. If Fermat did have a proof for his Last Theorem then it was a lot simpler than the one we have now.

We also touched on the world of proof in other areas where proving something absolutely is much harder. For example, Climate Change is accepted by most scientifically minded people, myself included, but without a parallel world that does not have Man on it it is impossible to say absolutely what the impact of Man is. Similarly economists do not have another global economic system to compare ours with.

Big Ideas on Mathematical Logic was two hours of brain stimulating talk with a group of intelligent and interested people in a room above a pub. It was a happy birthday!


I like the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design (GRAD). That is hardly unusual, I like lots of galleries of all sorts, but there is something quirky and edgy about GRAD that especially appeals to me.

It helps that they often cover Russian art in the style of, or inspired by, Constructivism and I love that. The little room of Russian posters at the Tate Modern was my favourite and I miss it.

This visit was also helped by their friendly opening hours. Being open until 7pm meant that I could work at our London office until 5:30pm, walk all the way there (boosting my daily step count) and still have time to see the exhibition, go for a curry and then head to Big Ideas, the real reason that I was in London that evening.

The excuse for this exhibition was The Bolt, a ballet with music by Shostakovich that was first performed in the early 1930s. The music was playing quietly in the background but the main purpose of the exhibition was to show off the designs by Tatiana Bruni.

These designs were mostly sketches of various characters and these were strung in long lines on four of the walls in the oddly shaped gallery. The Bolt had a large and varied cast from posh ladies to drunks.

In the centre of the room was a collection of costumes which I compared with their original sketches. My favourite was a young woman's outfit because of its colourful stripes.

The other thing that I liked about the pictures was the action in them with many of the characters leaning forward in unnatural poses. These were pictures for a ballet so the movement was useful to indicate what the characters could have looked like in motion.

There were other nice touches too, as I've always found at GRAD. In addition to the sketches, outfits and music, there were two displays about the ballet with cuttings and photos from the time, and a synopsis of the ballet that put it into historical context and also explained why it suddenly became unpopular.

I had to wait until later for the final part of the story. There was a BOLT at GRAD iPad app that had more detail about the ballet and it's creators. I tried to download it while I was there but I struggled to find sufficient signal just to sign in on Spawn/Twitter; either the gallery is made of lead or that corner of Oxford Circus is a mobile dead zone.

The political theme, the bolt and what it was used for, seemed to be a small, almost insignificant, part of the actual ballet that had lots of excuses for the workers and villagers to dance. Though, to be fair, even the might Swan Lake has a ball scene just so that it can include several regional dances which do nothing to advance the plot.

BOLT was a simple idea neatly executed that gave an interesting glimpse into the society, politics and fashion of the time.

23 January 2015

Widowers' Houses at the Orange Tree Theatre hit a topical nerve

George Bernard Shaw's Widowers' Houses (1892) is just the sort of play that the Orange Tree has built its reputation on, a lesser known play by an established historical playwright, so this was the Orange Tree playing to its strengths and it was rewarded with sold out performances.

I had booked early and had picked seat A1 (£20), which was the first seat in the front row on the left from the main entrance.

I was pleased to see the stage returned to its familiar flat mode after it had first been raised and then lowered for previous performances. I like innovation but I do not think that you need to mess around with the stage like that to achieve it.

The messing around with the stage that I did like was the use of images to reinforce the story. These were both on the floor of the stage and wrapped around the upper level like a border. In the first half of the play the stage was bank note and in the second it was part of the famous poverty map of London produced by Charles Booth in the late 1800s. The map caused a lot of interest as old maps always do.

The bank note and the map told the story of the play, it was about some people profiting greatly from the poverty of others by renting them shoddy rooms. At that time they were called Slum Landlords, now they are Buy-to-Let Investors.

Therein lies the point of putting this play on at this time. More and more people are renting because they cannot afford to buy and some landlords are exploiting this dependency, e.g. residents can be evicted just for asking for urgent repairs to be made. This is a problem that is easy to put at Thatcher's door as she enabled social housing to be sold and then sub-let when the housing had been built to protect people from avaricious landlords.

The play highlighted both the plight of the poor and the status of those that profited from the trade and it did this through a love story. A young man and his companion met a pretty young lady and her father while travelling in Europe. After wrestling with the social conventions of the time they manage to meet and fall in love.

It is only when back in London that the source of the lady's wealth was realised, something the lady herself did not know, and had not questioned, previously.

Other characters skitted around the scene to add richness to the story. The man's companion was a stickler for social rules, a debt collector revealed the steps taken to collect the rents and the lady's companion proffered advice on love and money.

At the heart of everything was the delightful Patrick Drury as the father. One moment he was the loving father and upstanding gentleman and in the next he was the steely businessman who protected his interests ruthlessly and was rigorous in the defence of his practices.

Having challenged the harsh business practices with love and morals they play ends with the money winning out, as it usually does in real life. The baddies won, again.

The current resonances made Widowers' Houses a provocative play but it did little more than that with a flimsy unsurprising plot and simple characters. What lifted it above the average was its relevance and its production, especially the acting of Patrick Drury as both hero and villain.

22 January 2015

The Three Sisters at The Cockpit Theatre was slow at times but always engaging

I do like my Chekhov but even I though that going to see The Three Sisters for the third time in eight months might be pushing it a bit. It wasn't.

My evenings was very busy at that time and there were a few plays that I wanted to see but had to miss due to lack of time and having to give priority to other shows. The Three Sisters was pretty high up my priority list and so I decided to see it on a day that I was working in London. Not only did that make the logistics easier but it also gave me a nice walk from Kings Cross to Marylebone, pausing for a coffee and a cereal bar in Marylebone Station.

There was a good, and a young, crowd there but they were not interested in the front row so I was easily able to grab my favourite spot. Once again I had forgotten just how low the seats are there and scared myself slightly as I fell down into my place.

This was a new translation of The Three Sisters, by Agnieszka Kennedy who also played Masha, and kept to the original story, unlike some previous versions that I had seen that had moved Moscow to London or had cut large parts out. This may have been my third Three Sisters n under a year but they had all been different adaptations.

The set was simple and effective. The front of the stage was a sitting room with a dining room at the back slightly raised. Some furniture moved around to make different spaces but this was more or less it.

On to that set poured a large and talented cast. One of the strengths of this version was the way that it made the most of all of the characters, even the lesser ones like the old housemaid who struggled with her many chores without a word of kindness from the family.

I tweeted at the time that to get Three Sisters right you have to get Masha right and @TCThreeSisters at @cockpittheatre did with @AgnieCKennedy sweet in the role, which I still think is fair. Life just happened to the other two sisters but Masha made things happen. It is a moot point as to whose tactics were the most effective in a story where (almost) everybody lost.

Other characters that I particularly liked were their brother Andrey who slipped sullenly into a downtrodden life, his wife Natasha who grew from a timid girl to a dominant woman, and Fyodor who loved his wife Masha desperately despite her actions. The only character I struggled to engage with was Masha's lover Aleksandr who started hesitantly and formally when he first met the family but failed to develop from there despite his relationship with Masha. The lack of passion in that relationship could have been a problem if it were not for all the other good things going on.

My only other minor gripe is that this was a very long play, we finished around 11pm, and while it was always engaging and never boring it did drag a little in the final third leading up to the dramatic endings. I probably felt this more that some there as I knew all too well what those endings were and so I had that sense of expectation that took a while to be fulfilled.

This version of The Three Sisters did what I wanted it to do. Not only was it entertaining but it showed me aspects of the play, particularly regarding the lesser characters, that I had not noticed before. It further stoked my interest in The Three Sisters and made me more likely to see another version when I next get the chance.

20 January 2015

Play of Thrones at the Union Theatre was magnificent modern Shakespeare

My introduction to the Union Theatre was with their magnificent Lear and so there was no way that I was going to miss Play of Thrones, their take on Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy.

Play of Thrones came with high expectations thanks to my recent experiences at the Union Theatre and of other modern Shakespeare adaptations. These expectations were comfortable exceeded in an exceptional performance.

But first I had to get there.

Work took me to Birmingham that day but I was able to leave a little early to catch the 17:00 train back to Euston which got me there at 18:15. From there the Northern Line whisked me down to Borough and I was left with a five minute walk to the theatre. Or rather to The Union Jack pub opposite where I went first for a quick bite and a pint before the show.

The good planning continued and I was able to bag one of the best seats in the house, in the middle of the front row. There I was confronted by two aluminium ladders, clearly this was going to be an unusual adaptation. I like unusual.

I had not seen any of the Henry VI plays before and could remember very little, if anything, of the real history so the story was new to me and I had nothing to compare it to. Phil Willmott's clever adaptation (he was also responsible for Lear) anticipated that book-ended the play with famous lines from Henry V and Richard III to place Henry VI in context.

Stripping the three plays down to one made for relentless action (physical and verbal) and I  never lost that I-wonder-what-happens-next? buzz.

Propelling the drama was a large cast of strong characters strongly portrayed. These were characters I wanted to scream at, marry or fight alongside.

Perhaps it is my Yorkshire birthright swaying my judgement but the character I felt closest too was the Duchess of York played by Penelope Day. Two other women stood out, Margaret of Anjou (Emma Kelly) and Joan or Arc (Abigail Carter-Simpson), and so did two men, the future Richard III (Michael Keane) and Duke of Suffolk (Gavin Kerr). Note that this is a comment on the characters, not the actors, and the lesser characters had good actors too.

These characters bounced off and around each other generating strong passions and deep hatreds. It was hard not to cheer and wince at the same time when Richard tortured Suffolk or to squirm when Margaret and Suffolk conducted their affair. There was quite a bit of torture, a fair bit of hanky-panky and a great deal of killing. The connection to Game of Thrones was obvious.

But there was far more to Play of Thrones than riding on the back of Game of Thrones' popularity with tales of ambition and revenge. The production was fast paced and imaginative, e.g. good use was made of the relatively small cast and the ladders to simulate the many battles.

The net result of all this was that Play of Thrones made three of Shakespeare's weakest plays, which I had never seen advertised much less been to see, something thrilling, exciting and unforgettable. I would go and see it again tomorrow if I could.

17 January 2015

Andrea Sorrentino sparkles on the X-Men

I have been reading X-Men for a long long time simply because the characters and their stories interest me. Of the various Marvel teams they are the ones who have been to the more exotic places and done the wilder things.

Unfortunately the time I have available to read comics has decreased while the number of titles featuring the X-Men has increased so I have had choices to make and I now just read the Uncanny X-Men regularly. This has gone through many reincarnations and relaunches since I first started reading it in 1976 and is now being written by Brian Michael Bendis.

I like Bendis' style as it is in the Marvel tradition as started Stan Lee and then developed by the likes of Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway with long story arcs and strong characters. These are good simple stories, and I mean that as a compliment.

X-Men Annual #1 took a slight detour with the story of one of the newer mutants, Eva Bell, and her trouble with time travel.

It also introduced me to the art of Andrea Sorrentino which I found stunning. This was Eva's first time jump into an unknown future. The quality of the art clearly speaks for itself.

I had not read a full comic drawn by Sorrentino before but he had appeared a few times in my selected highlights of DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks for his work on Green Arrow.

The 27 page comic only told the first part of the story so that I had to get All New X-Men Annual #1 too. Bendis writes All New X-Men too and this is not the first time that he has done a story cross-over like this and I've bought ten copies of the second title now to continue reading stories started in the first.

I was delighted to see that Sorrentino drew All New X-Men Annual #1 too. Here Morgana Le Fey is showing Eva her fractured future.

Bendis' story was fine, though when you've been reading comics as long as you will have seen some of the ideas used before, though not quite in the same way. What makes the story special is Sorrentino's artwork.

16 January 2015

Young Men by BalletBoyz at Sadler's Wells was exhilarating and exhausting

It's only a minor gripe but I'll start with it anyway. Sadler's Wells do nice posters for all their shows but they do not put them online for people like me to reuse. The only picture I could find with even the name of the show on it was in an email sent to me and this does not have the theatre name on it, let alone the performance dates.

Sadler's Wells also has a plain black safety curtain that is firmly down except for the performance so there was no point me taking the usual this-is-my-view photo. It would have hurt nobody to leave the curtain up at the end.

Other than those ever so minor gripes the evening was fantastic.

I went with some friends and we arranged to meet at the Banana Tree at 6pm because it was nearby and having eaten there once before I had always intended to go back one day. Somehow, despite all travelling independently from different places, we all arrived at much the same down and settled down to a good meal. Booking proved to be a good idea and the place was soon full with people waiting for a free table.

Mostly thanks to my friends, I had booked some really cheap seats (Second Circle A24 to A27, four Standard @ £22.00 each) which proved to be an inspired choice. I think we had some of the best seats in the house. That was because from that height we could see the full depth of the stage and the patterns the dancers made across it. From the Stalls, as shown below, the dancers at the front obscure those at the back and that is a real problem when those at the back are doing something very different, which in Young Men they did all the time.

Young Men was an exploration of war and the large number of young men killed, injured and damaged in war. It was told in six tableaux of about ten minutes each with a break for a bottle of Prosecco after four.

I went to see the BalletBoyz dance and had little expectations for the music so I was delighted to hear the repetitive beats made popular and familiar by Philip Glass. Actually Michael Nyman was closer to the mark and I was almost expecting to hear Memorial Requiem at one point. The composer was Keaton Henson, a name that was completely new to me and I am not much wiser having looked him up. All that really mattered was that this was the sort of music that I like and adding dancing to it just made it that much better.

The dancing was fairly typical BalletBoyz albeit by a new choreographer, Iván Pérez. There was lots of intricate movement as the dancers intertwined their bodies, the movement flowed quickly from one dancer to the next, there were several different things going on at the same time, a lot of the dancing was done on the ground and the eleven men worked in formations of various and changing sizes. It was exhilarating and exhausting to watch.

Another plus was that most of the music was played live by a small orchestra partially hidden behind a net at the back of the screen.

This was the most complete and satisfying performance that I have seen from the BalletBoyz. So much so that I am making plans to see it again. Soon.

Richard Serra at Gagosian Gallery

Richard Serra and the Gagosian Gallery were both new to me and it was a fortuitous situation that led to me discovering them.

I had an evening even booked close to work and had planned to work a little late and then walk along to it but the work withered away and so I looked for something else to fill the time.

The place that I looked was the Art Fund iPhone app and I used the Nearby function to find something, er, nearby. And there was Gagosian Gallery just a few hundred meters south of me in Britannia Street. So I packed my bags and off I went.

The gallery was relatively small, just four rooms, and was constructed in the standard form with tall rooms and white everywhere. The lighting helped to blur the boundaries between walls and ceilings by adding its own whiteness; it also played havoc with my camera's automatic focus.

As the announcement in the reception area made clear, there were just four pieces on show; Backdoor Pipeline, Ramble, Dead Load and London Cross. What it did not make clear was that those four pieces would do a fine job of filling the four rooms.

Ramble was a collection of steel slabs arranged in dead straight lines across the room but staggered in the other direction to create interesting spaces to ramble through.

There were 24 blocks in 12 sizes, 2 of each size. The blocks were all 23cm deep with widths varying from 71cm to 144cm and heights varying from 60cm to 72cm. That mixture of sizes produced an effect not unlike the holocaust memorial in Berlin.

Backdoor Pipeline was the oldest piece in the exhibition, it dated from 2010 whereas all the others were from 2014, and was the odd one out. While it was still made of metal it was curved and orange rather than straight and grey.

The two halves curved vertically to meet at the top and horizontally to hide one end of the halfpipe from the other. It was another piece that you could walk through and everybody did. I walked through it twice, once in each direction.

London Cross was my favourite piece. It was made for the room it filled with the two sheets running from corner to corner bisecting the room twice. The lower piece blocked passage across the room but there were two doors into it so it could be seen on both sides.

What made the piece for me was the way that it sat in the room so that the room itself, its two doors and the things beyond them were as much a part of the piece as the metalwork was.

Dead Load took a different approach and tried to look as small as it could by occupying the centre of a big room. It may not look it here but it was taller than me.

The neat trick here was how the slightly larger top piece seemed to hover over the base. I was not the only person who crouched down to try and see how that mystery was solved.

There were just the four rooms and these four pieces but they managed to captivate me for some time. I visited each room at least twice and walked all around all of them looking at the works from various angles. That is the difference between simple objects and art.

Rethinking the Urban Landscape at The Building Centre

The Building Centre exists to promote innovation in the built environment and one that it does this is through exhibitions in its Central London office. I have always found these exhibitions easily digestible and very informative so, like RIBA, it is a place I like to visit regularly.

It also helps that The Building Centre is a brisk twenty minute walk from my office so the round trip is good exercise too.

There are several small exhibitions on at the same time, the model of London was still there from my last visit, and the one that I was there to see this time was Rethinking the Urban Landscape. This was looking at the use of green infrastructure in developments.

In some ways this is an obvious point, and has been demonstrated in things like the Garden Cities, but it is a lesson that is periodically overlooked when developers' money sees no value in the space between buildings.

As with other exhibitions I've seen at The Building Centre, there was an invigorating mix of pictures, words and models.

Between them they packed a lot of information into a small space and I had to skim through some of it due to the time constraints of a lunchtime visit.

There was good and bad in what I saw.

All of the schemes looked good and some looked spectacular. The Olympic Park got plenty of coverage but I had already seen that and I was more interested in the schemes that were new to me.

Of these the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon impressed me the most. This is a long breakwater that ends with the semi-circular stone-clad power plant, you can see it behind the gas holder below. It looks magnificent though it also looks a long walk out to see it.

The disappointments were that many of the schemes were really quite small and several of them were linked to major regeneration projects like the Olympic Park. Three of them, including the gasholder, are part of the Kings Cross development and I can see them from my office window.

There is nothing wrong with small schemes, or large regeneration projects, but the impression that I got from the exhibition and from walking around London is that they idea of green spaces has got a long way to go before it becomes the default and is no longer worthy of an exhibition.

Still, something is much better than nothing and any signs that the spaces between buildings are become important again are most welcome.

The Building Centre knows its subject and knows how to show it off in exhibitions like this one. And that makes a visit there informative, rewarding and uplifting.

15 January 2015

Mixed feelings about Dynamite's Dan Dare

I was an enthusiastic Eagle reader as a boy and I still have a healthy collection of Eagle Annuals, all of which I read many times. There were many strips that I liked, all of them basically, but Dan Dare was a clear favourite.

There were two reasons that Dan Dare was special for me; the artwork by Frank Hampson was fantastical and it had long stories that ran for many weeks.

After the Eagle's demise in 1967 Dan Dare disappeared for a ten years before being reborn in the new 2000AD (before I started reading it) but that experiment lasted only two years. I was reading it by then and quite liked what they did with it.

Dan Dare made a few other appearances before Virgin got hold of him in 2008 and produced a seven part story written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Gary Erskine. I bought the first issue at the time but it did not do enough to get me to buy the second.

Then, late in 2014, the collected volume popped up on a ComiXology sale and I bought it.

The first surprise was that the cover to issue #1 was drawn by Bryan Talbot. Obviously I knew that in 2008 but had forgotten it so it was a pleasant surprise for the second time. Being a goldfish must be like that.

The collection include an interesting introduction by Garth Ennis in which he explained why he chose to write the story. It was to write about Dan Dare, not the places he went or the machines that he used.

He even said of Frank Hampson's version, "the classic Dan Dare is nice, but doesn't really grab me."

So, instead of a story with exotic locations and bizarre creatures we get a story about a modern hero.

And that is my problem with this version, I loved the world that Frank Hampson created and did not care that much for Dan Dare the man.

That being the case, this version of Dan Dare was never going to rekindle my love for the original stories but judged just as a story it certainly had its good points.

I liked the new more menacing Mekon who used to be something like a Batman villain in the 1960s TV series, more cad than credible. Here he was the despot in charge of a fanatical army and he was prepared to sacrifice many of them to further his own ends.

It was also good to see Digby and Peabody again and I also welcomed the new character Ms Christian, a young officer who grew under Dan Dare's leadership. Some surprising things happened to some of these major characters, things I did not see coming, and that gave the story a buzz.

The artwork reflected the new narrative of the comic and it looked much like a standard comic book with rectangular panels drawn mostly from close-range. There were lots of Treens and some monsters but no there aliens and no other creatures. That, combined with Dan Dare's bomber jacket, reinforced the feeling that this was a World War II story moved to outer space.

This may sound like faint praise but I did read all the story, which is not something that I can say about every comic that I've bought on a whim in a sale. The story did plenty enough to keep me swiping the pages to read the story in a single sitting.

Dan Dare has not made an appearance since then and I have no idea who owns the rights but the legacy is still strong and he deserves to come back. I hope he does and I'll give the next Dan Dare a try too.

14 January 2015

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (January 2015)

There is not much to say about the BCSA "Get to Know You" Social in January 2015 that I have not said about previous ones but I wanted to mark the occasion with the now traditional picture of my Smazeny Syr and Pilsner Urquell.

One day I'll eat something else or take a photo of something else. Possibly.

Unusually I had worked at home that day so it was a leisurely trip for me up to West Hampstead from Richmond on the London Overground. That line is a gem. Ruzena and Petr beat me there so I was able to blag a free drink before settling in to the evening.

The weather was pretty terrible that night and the rain kept our numbers down a little. I was not counting but I think we had about eight people there which was plenty enough for some good conversations, which is what these evenings are all about. That and the beer.

As always I cannot remember any of the conversations, only the happy mood they left me with. One day I'll take some meaningful notes to remind me of what we talked about. Possibly.

12 January 2015

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: January 2015

January's Kingston upon Thames Society Committee Meeting was fairly typical with internal affairs to consider as well as some planning applications.

The main points of the Annual General Meeting had been settled previously but there were several smaller details to sort out, such as who was going to provide the drinks and nibbles. I offered to issue a press release about the meeting but given the recent history with the local papers I was not expecting it to be published. That was one of the many things that I wanted us to work on in the following year.

The first step in this year's Heritage Open Days (HODs) was to apply to Kingston Council for a small grant for the printing of the brochure. I explained that although HODs was a Borough-wide activity we had to apply to one of the Neighbourhood Committees and would apply to Kingston as most of the HODs properties were there. After a short discussion it was agreed that we should keep things simple and apply for the same as last year and not go for anything additional like posters.

We discussed possible speakers for our Public Meetings. February (Andrew Sutherland on the former Surbiton Police Station) and March (the new Chairman) had already been confirmed. We were hoping to get a speaker on Parkleys and on the new proposal for New Malden.

Our finances were alright but falling year-on-year meaning that they will need to be addressed at some point. Some of the ideas that will be considered by the new committee after the AGM include more visits and some socials. This is in addition to the proposal to charge non-members a nominal sum for attending our Public Meetings that will be voted on at the AGM.

The Old Post Office

We had arranged to meet with the developer the following Monday. There would be another exhibition on at The Old Post Office before then which most of us would visit to get the latest on the development.

We had also been ploughing through the planning application as well and the visual impact assessments had proved to be the most interesting, and controversial.

We were a little sceptical of the way that some of the views had been presented as these seemed to be chosen from vantage points that best suited the developer. I agreed to write to the Council to ask how the vantage points were chosen.


The first tranche of work under the mini-Holland was due to go to the Infrastructure, Projects and Contracts Committee the following day. Out of a total of some £30m, about £13m was to be allocated and of that £6m was for the Kingston Station scheme.

We were keen to find out more about the proposals and the way that they would be approved. These were likely to be through traffic orders rather than a planning application so this would be an unfamiliar process for us.

I agreed to write to the Council to establish what the process and timetable would be.

University Town House

We had had a presentation on the University Town House in May and the planning application had been in one of the recent weekly planning lists. Howard had circulated some comments by email and these had been held to allow for a discussion at committee.

The new scheme was broadly the same as that we had seen in May but was one storey lower and the interior space had been remodelled to reduce the amount of circulatory space.

I took yet another action, this time to submit our comments on the proposal.

11 January 2015

Ham House gardens looking good in Winter

I have always liked walking and now my iPhone encourages me to do even more by counting my steps for me. The target is 10,000 steps a day but I do not get that much opportunity doing most working hours (it depends where I am working, London is good and everywhere else is bad) so I am making more of an effort to get out for short brisk local walks.

The shortest of these routes takes me all around Ham Common in just under half an hour and I have lots of longer circular routes available. One of the longest takes me into the gardens of Ham House which, as a member of the National Trust, I can get into for free.

I broke all sorts of personal rules this time and went around the gardens clockwise, starting with The Cherry Garden on the east side of the house. I think it is the first time that I have done the gardens in that order as going counter-clockwise means that I end on a high-note with The Cherry Garden and the borders around it.

Having been replaced a couple of years ago the new lavenders had reached their full size and the garden was looking at its best.

The back of the house was looking very good too with the Winter sun shining directly on it. The row of pots on the terrace were a relatively recent addition and I like the detail they add.

Moving out on to The Plats (the lawn area that is split into eight square parts by wide gravel paths) gave me a fuller view of the back of the house, which I much prefer to its dark and fussy front.

I avoided The Wilderness at the southern end of the garden as the grassy paths were wet and there was little to see in the patchwork of little gardens formed by the hedges. I love The Wilderness but it is a Summer place.

Instead, I moved straight to the walled vegetable garden and the Orangery cafe where I rewarded myself with a coffee and some cake.

Once again I was reminded of how lucky I am to have Ham House just the right distance away, about a mile, for a reasonable walk.

10 January 2015

Trees by Warren Ellis is as strange as it is beautiful

It does not take much to get me to buy a Warren Ellis comic and I jumped in to Trees with issue #1 in May 2014 and I was hooked immediately. Now the first arc has just concluded with issue #8.

Warren's name may have been the main reason for reading Trees but Jason Howard's name helped. The two first worked together in 2013 on Scatterlands, an experiment in producing a weekly comic in the style of a newspaper strip. That experiment may have been inconclusive but it brought Warren and Howard together, so that part worked.

The other bit of good news is that Trees is published by Image Comics, currently my favourite publisher thanks to their diverse range of top-quality comics. As with all Image Comics, I bought Trees in digital format.

The idea behind Trees is simple enough, the Trees, as we called them, are an alien life-form that arrived on Earth, planted themselves across the globe and stood there doing nothing for ten years. That's when the comic starts.

The people of Earth reacted to the Trees differently, some studied them while other ignored them. The comic tells the story of some of these groups of people. These include a test community created by the Chinese around the base of a couple of trees, an Arctic science station and a retired secret service agent in Italy.

Dramatic things happen to each group thanks to the indirect influence of the Trees that just stand there motionless throughout the story.

I like Warren's writing style as he is economical with words and lets the pictures tell the story when they are all that is needed to do so. In issue #8 their is a four page section that just has one word and that is a person's name. The lack of words gives more space to the art and that is a good thing as Jason's art is beautiful. It has a gritty, linear style that is entirely suited to the story and helps to make it stand out from the usual.

This early scene shows the arrival of the Trees in Rio.

The first story-arc ends on a dramatic point and while that may be where the story was going to end I am delighted to say that other people like Trees as much as I do and so a second story is on the way. This will be called Two Forests, which sounds somewhat ominous. I'll be there to find out.

9 January 2015

Cinderella and the Beanstalk at Theatre503 was fun all the way

It occurred to me when booking to see Cinderella and the Beanstalk at Theatre503 that almost everything that I had seen at Theatre503 so far had been dark, grim or bleak. There were comedies among them but nothing that was light or jolly. Obviously this Christmas show was going to be different.

The first part of my plan worked well and I managed to be in London that day but the plan fell apart slightly thanks to road works in Battersea. I was forced to abandon my bus and walk the last kilometre or so which got me there in good time for the show but too late to eat in The Latchmere. That was no great problem and I simply resorted to the old favourites of a beer and some dry roasted peanuts.

Peanuts consumed I took my beer with me up the tricky stairs to the box office to collect my ticket and to bag a seat in the waiting area near the entrance to the theatre ready to claim my usual seat in the middle of the front row.

I was not used to seeing pantomimes, or any other sort of outright jolly show, and I settled down a little warily. My trepidations seemed founded when the three-man team came up with the lamest of excuses for why there was not a vast cast to play the many roles. I should not have worried, that was the only weak spot in the show and it was quickly forgiven.

The story was a delightful mash-up of, not surprisingly, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk with a large dollop of Rumpelstiltskin and a host of other references and characters.

The small cast added a lot to the fun and in one memorable scene the man playing both of the ugly sisters staged a conversation between them and Prince Charming, who he was also playing.

The story and the presentation was pure pantomime but aged just a little for the mostly twenty-something audience. There was plenty of audience interaction and I may have shouted "Behind You!" a few times.

The script was original and I noted the line, "Love is a Wicks brochure", as a good example of this. This was Benidorm humour, and that is a good thing.

After a few setbacks there was a happy ending but it was not as happy as the audience. We giggled, chortled and laughed all the way through a thoroughly entertaining show delivered with panache and a good understanding of both the medium and what audiences want.

John Golding: Finding the Absolute at Kings Place Gallery failed to stir me

I have mentioned several times how much I like working in a building that has a couple of art galleries and I have also mentioned many times the excellent exhibitions of modern art that I have been to here and abroad.

So, on the face of it, John Golding;s Finding the Absolute exhibition at Kings Place Gallery should have been just my thing, but it was not.

I've been turned on by a pile of tea-towels in the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt and by metal blocks at the Gagosian Gallery London but not by these paintings.

This surprised, and still surprises, me as I generally like this sort of abstract art, i.e. large canvasses with just a few coloured shapes and/or lines. And, to be fair, I do like the opening picture with the blue on black rectangles. I did not like any of the other pictures though and it has taken me a while to attempt to understand why that was.

I think that the colour was part of it. The blue on black was two bold colours but elsewhere there were timid blues and unexciting greys. Not just dull colours but uninteresting combinations.

I also found the non-straight lines a little disturbing. They started to make the shapes look like objects rather than just being shapes; is that a black paintbrush handle at the bottom of the picture?

John Golding may not be my cup of tea but I am not going to let one little disappointment put me off modern art in general or the Kings Place Gallery in particular.

7 January 2015

A fascinating talk on The History of Ham Riverside Lands

Ham Amenities Group (HAG) organised some talks about the area by locals for locals which I found appealing, and so did many others.

The talk on The History of Ham Riverside Lands was given by Sir David Williams, former leader of Richmond Council and a long-time local councillor. It soon became apparent in the talk that he was involved in many of the effort to protect Ham Lands and so was well placed to talk about it.

He started with a brief history of the area that had had various names, including Ham Fields and Ham Pits, before becoming Ham Lands. This started a short discussion among the audience several of whom remembered when it was market gardens or gravel pits.

The exploitation and the protection of the area has been the subject of many laws and the first one that David mentioned was the 1902 act which protected the view from Richmond Park but at the loss of some of the people's rights over the land.

The extraction of gravel started soon after and was the main use of the land for the next fifty years or so.

The last gravel pit closed in 1962. What is left is now is the little lake used by Thames Young Mariners.

As the gravel pits were closed the concrete barges that were used there were abandoned and covered up. These solid lumps of concrete now have a noticeable impact on the way that water moves through the area.

A border was established with Riverside Drive and the Wates Estate was built to the east of this. Being built on recently reclaimed land the estate has continued to suffer from subsidence problems.

The drawing above is from the promotional literature for the Wates Estate and is looking up Croft Way toward the church. The garage was still there when I moved to Ham twenty years ago but has since closed. The clean lines of the estate and the unusual shape of the church and, thankfully, unchanged.

Wates wanted to build to the west of the road too and this was the scene of the last great battle over Ham Lands. They wanted to build in three sections, shown on the map. The locals agreed to building of social housing on the first plot of 5 acres but the Council changed their mind and went for private housing instead in what is now the Locksmeade estate.

In 1979 a strong local campaign started to stop any further building. They were helped by the presence of rare orchids and birds (stone chats) on Ham Lands and eventually the campaign was successful and that section of Ham Lands has been protected.

The land to the south-east of there has housing much closer to the river as the precedence for this had been set by the Sopwith Factory.

I am not by nature a historian but I do care about Ham and this was a fascinating and very informative talk on how Ham Lands came to be and came to be protected.

The next HAG talk on Friday 20 February is Hidden Ham by Ham Photos Blogger Matthew Rees!

3 January 2015

Sirens at Soho Theatre was strange, stark and sparkling

I was enticed into seeing Sirens as it sounded unusual and outrageous. I love unusual and outrageous can work very well when it is used to shock and provoke rather than to titillate.

I also like Soho Theatre as a venue. The performance spaces are good, if somewhat traditional, and the location is ideal. Being placed in the heart of Soho means that it is easy to combine a trip to the theatre with something else. This time it was a trip to the Liberty Sale and that is why I chose to go to the matinee performance rather than the evening one.

Soho Theatre is a pretty and gentle walk away from Piccadilly Circus, my usual arrival point in Central London. I had allowed time for a light lunch in the safe expectation that I would find a good cafe along the way. My expectations were exceeded with Apostrophe in Brewer Street with its rough modern look (not unlike some of my favourite theatres), art exhibition on the walls and reasonable menu. There were young men in there with beards and laptops. My sort of place.

I had not given up drink for January but I was cutting out the "unnecessary" drinks and as many of those are before and during theatre trips I made the point of this time of arriving at the theatre just in time to collect tickets and join the queue and I avoided the bar. Queueing was an issue, as always, with the keenest people huddling by the door and so blocking it for other people. I was not that far away but kept out of the main routes to avoid inconveniencing others. There I struck up a conversation with a woman who liked the same sort of theatres and shows that I do. That was a pleasant way to pass a few minutes before we were allowed up.

Once released, we proceeded in a reasonably orderly fashion up to the second floor only for me to walk back down again to claim my usual seat in the front row where a dark and bare stage was only interrupted by some music stands and bottles of water.

Sirens started with some singing without words, or noises if you prefer, and continued with a series of short pieces that used speech, signing, a little movement and more noises. The sole connection between them was that they were a view of womanhood and with nothing else to link them they flew past in an almost bewildering way. The changes in styles and moods kept the show interesting at the time but makes it harder for me to recall most of it now, almost two weeks later. However,  there were several notable scenes that have stuck in the memory.

I liked the one where the women talked about the cosmetics they bought and how much they spent on them. This was an interesting side of womanhood that I was aware of but had no real understanding of and it was made humorous too with the young woman in the glamorous purple dress admitting that she bough all her cosmetics from Lidl for not very much money.

Another scene that I could relate to more had a young woman talking about her baby, her fear that its silence meant that it had died and then talking through the consequences.

And so the show continued with a startling mix of topics delivered with intensity and humour, but almost without the confusion and bias of passion.

It was also a fairly negative view of womanhood in that it showed many of the trials and tribulations associated with being a woman but said almost nothing about the joys. For example, there was the expected view of the pain of birth but nothing about the pleasure of being a mother. I did not mind that as the purpose was to balance the almost relentlessly positive view given in the mainstream media and so it did not need to be balanced itself.

Sirens was a difficult show because of the style of presentation as much as the subject matter and it was that difficulty that gave it its edge. It was not comfortable to watch, nor was it meant to be, but it was intelligent, challenging and rewarding.

2 January 2015

Christmas Storms and Sunshine at the White Bear Theatre was a nice Christmas treat

Christmas Storms and Sunshine sounded a little weird, in a good way, with the promise of puppetry, magic and the like but it was grounded in a story by Elizabeth Gaskell and performed at the White Near Theatre in Kennington, so it had a lot going for it. Besides, it would not be Christmas without Christmas shows.

It was a Friday and I was able to book a desk in the London office. Actually it was so quiet that two of us independently took pictures of the rows of empty desks and posted them to Instagram, this was mine. The quietness also meant that I was able to leave promptly, take the tube to Waterloo and walk the rest of the way.

I paused at The Dog House, a trendy pub near the theatre, where I had a pint of something unusual and something to eat that included haloumi. The pub was a good find and I'll remember it if I am back in that area.

Moving on to the next pub, the White Bear itself, I got a pint of Young's Ordinary to take in to the show. I did not have long to wait to get in as I had timed it well, not hard when the previous pub was only 500m away.

The cast were already busy doing things when we went in. There were only four of them I quickly learned, and all young women too. Here one of them is throwing things for the other to catch behind her back; I have no idea why.

As we took our seats they started to talk to us and one of them asked us to write insults which were put into a top hat and used later in the play.

The story was a simple but nice one of two feuding newspaper owners and their wives brought together at Christmas by a baby (played convincingly by a tape recorder) and a cat (it was the puppet).

I liked the story. It was cute without being overly so and it was full of Christmas Spirit. It was something like Dickens' Christmas stories (he wrote several) but with added humour.

What made the evening such fun was the delivery of the story. It was done pantomime-style with unconvincing costumes (such as the false moustaches made from paper), exaggerated acting and lots of playing to the audience. It looked as though the cast were having as much fun telling us the story as we had being told it.

Christmas Storms and Sunshine was a jolly little show and a nice Christmas treat.