31 May 2015

Richmond Hill Open Gardens 2015

I need little invitation to go to Open Gardens in the National Gardens Scheme and when those gardens are on swanky Richmond Hill then I just had to go as it would give me the chance to see some of the houses as well as their gardens.

The gardens were scattered a little over the hill in an area around The Marlborough. This was a pub I was familiar with which meant that I also knew the main road that it sat on but I knew nothing of the many roads that ran off it so there was a nice element of exploring to do too.

The houses all cost in the order of £5 million, some a lot more, so I expected gardens to match and was not disappointed. The one above looked like a Chelsea show garden with its mix of architectural features and neat planting. It was incredibly formal and it almost felt like an intrusion to walk through it.

Water features and fancy pots were common and I chose this combination for its Zen feel with its simple pots, still water, small bridge and water bubbling out of a stone ball.

I took many pictures of garden ornaments and this happy chappy was my favourite.

Of course there were plenty of flowers too and these little splashes of different colours were lovely.

While several of the gardens were violently modern quite a few were cosily traditional and few things are more tradittional in an English Country Garden than a collection of plant pots.

The final garden that I went to was the largest. What was one the garden of a large house once, or maybe even two large houses, was now the garden to a moderate sized block of expensive flats and some care had been taken to make the garden live up to the expectations of the tenants.

This was another one of those Open Garden days that required some rushing around to see things and I was left short of time to see everything which is better that running out of gardens to see in the time available. None of the gardens were super sensational, and I expected that to be the case, though several were not that far off and the houses they belonged to were pretty good too.

Mutts pays homage to Krazy Kat

Mutts is a gentle comic strip that reminds us how cute nature is in general and pets are in particular. I read it because it comes by email and takes no time to consume. I have been reading it for a few years and while it has been pleasant enough nothing remarkable has ever happened.

Until today.

The Sunday colour strip features the two main characters, Mooch the cat and Earl the dog, as well as the nut throwing squirrels and so in many ways it is a normal strip. What makes it special is that it is drawn in the style of Krazy Kat, the classic cartoon by George Herriman which ran from 1913 to 1944.

Krazy Kat was an odd love-triangle involving a cat, a dog and a brick throwing mouse and that alone would have made it a notable strip but what elevated it to the level of a genuine classic was the abstract drawing style, which Mutts paid homage to in today's strip.

29 May 2015

Poliuto was Glyndebourne just as a like it

My first visit to the Glyndebourne Festival 2015 was to see Donizetti's Poliuto and my day was the opposite of the opera.

My day started with a difficult drive down in heavy rain and more heavy rain while we set up our picnic in the table. Then, while we had our tea and cake, it gradually got brighter outside and eventually the sun came out and our excellent collection of umbrellas was not needed again.

The opera started with happily enough with Poliuto affirming his new Christian faith with a baptism but things went downhill somewhat rapidly after that to end in good tragic opera style.

The big advantage of getting there early (3pm) while it was still raining was that I got to walk through the gardens while most people were either staying safe at home or were sheltered in one of the cafe or bar areas. That meant that I could take pictures like this without the clutter of people getting in the way.

One of the delights of the first visit of the year is always to see how the gardens have changed and this year the big difference was addition of a rose garden just beyond the croquet lawn. There was also a new White Cube Gallery but, surprisingly, less art than usual in the rest of the garden.

Each visit to Glyndebourne is a negotiation between the group members and  this time we agreed on fairly cheap seats, but in my favourite area the centre block of the Upper Circle. We were in E16-E19 which cost us £85 each. I think that is the best value section of the house. Our view was good, as always.

We had gone for fairly cheap seats as nobody knew Poliuto, not surprising as it is not performed very often, but the Donizetti brand (plus Glyndebourne's) was enough to tempt us to go.

Poliuto is a fairly simple play of a one woman and two men with the complication that one of the men converts to a banned religion and so faces death at the order of the other.  That gave us three soloists at the centre of the story and a large chorus that alternated between Christians and Romans. And that set the scene for the evening that was rich with beautiful solos, duets, trios and choruses.

The staging was simple but effective with walls sliding around to make street scenes and different rooms. Only a few props were used, little more than a bed that was used once, and some of the other effects were done with lighting. I especially liked the way that a prison window was projected in one scene and I wish that it had stayed there longer. The other lighting was possibly too simple with a lot of spotlights being used on the main singers.

Overall it felt more like the Glyndebourne that I fell in love with years ago with almost all of the focus on the singing (and the music behind it) and much less attention paid to the ephemera of the stage. I prefer simpler presentations and this one worked very well.

The main reason that it worked so well was because of the singing and this was all wonderful. I joined in the traditional foot-stamping for all three soloists.

This was Glyndebourne just as I like it.

24 May 2015

Gardens in Kew and then Kew Gardens

The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) is a great way to see some different gardens and to give money to charity while doing so. There are a few local gardens that I try to get to each year and these include a few on the river at Kew that open together.

The houses are on the north side of Kew Green, just east of Ferry Lane, and their gardens stretch all the way back to the towpath, which is how we got in to them.

There were five gardens open, 65 to 73 Kew Green, which meant plenty to see.

There were some similarities between the gardens which was understandable as they were all long and thin and were bounded by brick walls. Somewhere in every garden, normally close to the house, was a pretty border set against the wall.

Each garden also had a long path or two running through it. These were paved, gravel, grass or mulch and were straight or winding, often in the same garden. Whatever their shape or construction of the paths they all struggled to cope with the large number of visitors to the gardens.

The large number of people meant that I usually had to wait a while to take pictures like these with nobody in them.

All of the gardens were split into zones, which is the obvious thing to do with long gardens, and several of them had wild sections. I like wild gardens.

Some of the gardens also found space for orchards and vegetable plots as well as formal gardens, lawns and Summer houses.

The plants and trees were the main features in all of the gardens and there was little in the way of formal ornamentation. There was some, of course, but one small water feature like this one could easily get lost in a long garden.

The final garden was the narrowest and there was no room for the borders that the others had so this was the garden chosen to host the teas and cakes. There were chairs spread the length of the garden but all these were in use when I wanted a cup of tea and the queue to get served was quite long. Too long for me to wait so I headed for a cafe nearby,

That cafe was the Orangery in Kew Gardens. The main gate, now called Elizabeth Gate, was off Kew Green so it was a short walk to get there and another short walk once inside to get to the Orangery.

That walk took me past this bold planting on what looks like a roundabout, i.e. a large circular thing at the junction of two paths. I had always liked the display there and it certainly brightened up the otherwise unattractive wide tarmac path that leads from the main gate.

Once I had had my tea and cake there was time to enjoy Kew Gardens itself and I took a scenic route (all the routes are scenic) to Victoria Gate. That meant passing the impressive Palm House and the equally impressive planting of the Parterre in front of it. This is the iconic view of Kew Gardens and one that still excites me on every visit there.

Sundays were invented for seeing beautiful and interesting gardens like these.

21 May 2015

A nicely focussed King Lear at the Rose Theatre

I have still not fallen in love with the Rose Theatre, which is sad as it is the only theatre within comfortable walking distance, but I keep giving it a chance and sometimes it delivers the goods. King Lear was one of those good times.

I can usually be tempted to see Shakespeare but I had to think twice about this version of King Lear as I had seen the play twice in the last year and one of those times, at the Union Theatre, had been astonishingly good. What swung it for me was the name Jonathan Miller and it was at the Rose.

Things nearly went horribly wrong. I had to work in Reading that day and getting back from there to Kingston takes me around two and a half hours so to get back for 7:30pm I have to leave the office by 5pm and if I want some contingency then I have to leave even earlier than that.

I did manage to leave earlier than that but my bus got delayed in Reading and I ended up walking the last kilometre to the station only to miss the train by about ten seconds. That left me with a half an hour wait for the next one. Only that was delayed. I spent most of the next ninety minutes burning my mobile phone data allowance checking route options which led me to catch the Waterloo train that does not go via Richmond and changing at Clapham Junction to get a train back to Kingston. That got in just after 7:20pm (it was a couple of minutes late too!) which was just enough time to get to the theatre and claim my seat before the performance started.

That was my second close shave in a week so I must try and not work in Reading so often.

The seat I got to just in time was A28 and it cost me £25.00. As always the view from row A in the central block was excellent.

The simple stage with just a dais and a bar was a happy harbinger of things to come. This Lear was a stripped down version that let the actors paint all the pictures using Shakespeare's words. Few props were needed or used.

How stripped down it was I am nothing like qualified to comment on but there did seem to be some cuts. The most obvious one was that here the deaths of Regan and Goneril happened off stage and were merely reported whereas at the Union Theatre Regan died in the chair next to me.

The timings were slight and nothing material was removed. The result left the focus on Lear throughout, and I was very happy with that as the play is about his decent into madness and the consequences of that with the supporting characters there to help to paint that picture. Barrie Rutter was magnificent as Lear and the rest of the cast were very good too.

The other feature that I liked was the way that the scenes ran together quickly with one set of characters walking on to the stage while others were walking off. That was something that the sparse set allowed, that is no time was required to reset the stage for each new location.

I really enjoyed this version of King Lear. It both reaffirmed my faith in Shakespeare and enhanced my view of the Rose Theatre.

19 May 2015

Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic

Going to see an Eugene O'Neil play is always an easy decision to make and even more so when is is on somewhere like the Young Vic which has a happy habit of doing classic plays in modern ways so that they appeal to a wide-range of theatre lovers.

My knowledge of Eugene O'Neil plays is still somewhat limited and this was another one that I had not heard of, much less seen and I was keen to increase that knowledge. I was quick enough off the mark to claim a front row seat (A14 for £27.50). The Young Vic rings the changes with the seat layouts which makes it hard to decide where is the best place to sit and I chose this one in a corner of the U based on my visit to Happy Days. It worked again.

FourSquare reminds me that this was a busy day. I worked in Birmingham that day which was fine as our office was very close to Birmingham International station and there are lots of fast trains to Euston from there. I left work around 4:30pm, to be safe, and was in Southwark two hours later. First stop was Culture Grub for my usual curry and then a quick coffee at the Union Theatre Cafe theatre. I had, of course, considered having something to eat and/or a drink at the bar at the Young Vic but that was far too busy, a victim of its own success.

The down-time and refreshments had put me in the right mode for some theatre. My seat proved to be a good one and the only disappointment was the enthusiasm with which the attendants prevented photography, they are the worst theatre for this in my experience. The best I could come up with was the hastily taken, and hence blurred, picture below which I took on the way out. I just wanted something to remind me of the view I had of the stage,

I fell in love with the works of Eugene O'Neil through his grimy sea plays and this was nothing like that. Ah, Wilderness told the coming-of-age story of a young man buried in books and it was a jolly story peppered with a few darker moments.

The jollity came mostly from the young man who had the relentless optimism of youth and a passion for reading.

He was surrounded by his family including a successful father who epitomised firm-but-fair and a couple of siblings who rivalled and loved as siblings do.

Adding the darkness was a friend of the family who was unable to resist the lure of alcohol for long and that led to some bad drunken episodes where he disgraced himself. This addiction kept his long-term love from marrying him thus adding regret to embarrassment.

The young lad also had a drunken episode, led astray by a friend, but this was of the youthful excess kind, prostitutes were involved too, and it was one of the funny episodes in the story.

The story zipped along because the lad did, never still and never quiet there was always something happening that demanded attention.

The production did some very clever things without the cleverness getting in the way. The set, reminiscent of that used in Happy Days, effortlessly changed in to other places without really changing anything. Chairs appeared and it was a bar, a table appeared and it was a dining room, water appeared (by magic!) and it was a beach.

The best thing the production did was leave plenty of space for the strength of all of the characters to shine through and it was those characters in a touching story that made the play work for me.

This production of Ah, Wilderness! was just my sort of thing and judging by the full house and cheering at the end is was lots of other people's sort of thing too.

16 May 2015

Each His Own Wilderness at the Orange Tree had one pace and one tone

Even if I did not go to see everything at the Orange Tree automatically I would have been tempted by Each His Own Wilderness as it was written by Doris Lessing who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. Admittedly she is far more famous for her novels than for her few plays and I had only read one of her novels and I had not enjoyed it that much but, even so, it sounded like the sort of thing that I ought to go and see.

Scheduling theatre is always difficult when my job takes me to places like Reading and Birmingham at short notice and in this case I made the unusual decision to go on a Saturday evening as I knew that I would be around that day as Ham Open Gardens were on that afternoon. That meant that I had the luxury of an evening meal at home before taking the 65 bus that conveniently goes all but door-to-door.

Each His Own Wilderness took us to the late 50's, a time of National Service and much political activity as we emerged from the war and started to face our colonial past. At the core or the story was political activist mother, Myra, and her son, Tony, who had just returned to the family home after his National Service.

The rest of the cast fell neatly in to camps of age and gender. Joining Myra in the old women group was her close friend Milly. The two old men were Myra's ex husband and a long-term admirer of hers. In addition to Tony, the other young man was Myra's campaign assistant and lover, and the only young woman was Myra's ex-husband's fiancé. It all had a very Bohemian feel to it.

The story, such as it was, concerned the forming and breaking of relationships between people and things (i.e. the house Myra and Tony lived in) and this was set against the political ideals for Myra and Milly which Tony was reluctant to take on have just experienced the results of politics first-hand.

It was very emotional story but these emotions were not where you expected to find them. Tony, at the centre of it all, was dead-pan in a Jack Dee sort of way and the young fiancé, who had only just been introduced to the family, as emotional almost to the point of being hysterical. It made no sense.

The play plodded along at one pace with one tone of voice despite all the momentous things happening in it. In once scene three long-term relationships were ended abruptly with little more emotion than switching a TV set off. I am not sure if it was the writing, direction or acting that stifled the emotion, possibly to try and make space for the politics, but it produced something flat and purposeless.

The play was rescued by two fine performances by Clare Holman as Myra and Susannah Harker as Milly who managed to spark individually and even more so when together.

Whatever the idea behind Each His Own Wilderness was it failed to come through and only the leading ladies made it an evening that was not completely wasted.

Ham Open Gardens 2015

Ham Open Gardens 2015 was something of a challenge!

There were twenty gardens to see and only three hours to see them in. A basic calculation shows that there was eleven minutes per garden including the time is took to walk to each one. It would have been much better if that had been more time, e.g. 1pm to 6pm rather than 2pm to 5pm, but even with four hours it would have been difficult to see all the gardens and to do the larger ones justice.

My plan was to try and see all of the new gardens and all of the must-sees, to fill in the remaining time with gardens close to those that I was already seeing and to give a low priority to those gardens that open at other times.

Executing the plan was hampered a little by a mistake in the guide that I was given that got the numbering of the gardens out of sync and so mislabelled most of them. Luckily I knew the gardens well enough to work around the error but it must have been confusing for visitors to the area.

The most must-see of the must-see gardens was that at Forbes House, the newish palace on Ham Common owned by somebody very secretive. The previous time that I had been there it had been patrolled by men wearing ear-pieces and photography was strictly forbidden. It was not clear what the rules were this time so I took a few photographs but was discrete about it.

From there I headed West along Ham Common calling in at all the gardens along the way. They were all very busy so it was difficult at best to take photographs showing the layouts of the gardens without people getting in the way so most of the photographs that I took were of distinctive objects that I could get close to.

I am sure that  I took photos of this table and  chairs the last time that I was in this garden but that was no reason for not taking some more.

This was one of the new gardens, or new to me anyway. As with many of the smaller gardens it was the pots that had the most impact and these were certainly helped by the aged brick wall and the discrete statue behind them.

Another pot full of flowers, because I like the pot, the flowers in it and the white door that sets them off.

I waited a long time to take the picture of Stokes House as I wanted as few people in it as possible. Waiting was helped by the clutch of benches by the entrance. I needed a little rest by then before heading across the road to the church hall for a cup of tea and some cake, purely for charitable purposes of course.

I then headed back across Ham Common to some of the new gardens, starting with Oak Lodge on the main road. I had watched the work being done to the front garden earlier in the year so it was nice to get to see the back garden too.

The design was simple and modern which made it an interesting contrast from the many cottage style gardens that I had seen before. There is merit in both and having a mixture was ideal.

Another new garden and another modern one, this time attached to a modern house in Ham Farm Road. This had been for sale for a couple of years and the new owners had just started to fashion the garden to their tastes.

The house had always interested me and I was as keen to get a close look at that as I was to see the garden. I was not alone in that and I saw several people peering into the garden facing rooms with a lot less subtlety than I managed.

My final garden was an old favourite, that at the Cassel Hospital. The garden, if that is the correct word for it, was largely left to its own devices with just some mowing in some parts to ease walking across it.

The main attractions were its size and wildness but there was also the fear that it might be built on when the hospital closed, as it was due to, and that this might be the last time to visit it.

Ham Open Gardens 2015 was a bit shambolic in the planning but that took nothing away from the gardens themselves and seeing them made for a busy, thoroughly interesting and fun afternoon.

14 May 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird at Richmond Theatre was precise, stylish and great entertainment

I am well aware that To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic book and a classic film but my only encounter with either had been limited to watching the film out of guilt early one morning (by early I mean around 2am) after a good night in the pub. There was still a lot of cultural guilt left so when the highly regarded theatre adaptation escaped to Richmond Theatre from the West End I was keen to go.

Part of my keenness was my attempt to get friendlier with Richmond Theatre. It was my second closest theatre, beaten only by the Rose in Kingston, and I felt more guilt for not going there more often.

The evening started with a mad panic as the journey back from Reading did not go remotely to plan with trains missed and delayed. I even thought about getting a taxi from Feltham only there is no rank there.

Eventually I was saved by a train from Feltham that had not started in Reading and a slightly delayed start to the theatre. I got to Richmond at 7:28 and just got to my seat, Dress Circle A23 (£32), with seconds to spare. I hate working in Reading.

To Kill a Mockingbird was a gentle tale about dark deeds told with precision and style. The main theme and some of the story I knew from my one viewing of the film but there was much in the detail that I did not know, or had forgotten, or which was not in the film. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley were two of those new details.

There were echoes of Curious Incident in the way that the town was drawn out in chalk on the stage and the technique worked well with only simple props needed, like a gate or a chair, to indicate another house. That let the action move freely across the town without any long breaks for scene changes. I liked that as it kept the story flowing nicely and I do not go to the theatre  to watch scenery being changed.

The production lacked gimmickry and just got on with its difficult job quietly and professionally. It was clever but the clever bit was that you did not notice that it was clever because it looked simple too. And that is how I like things.

There was a large cast and while there were some main characters and some main character moments, such as Atticus Finch's long speech at the trial of Tom Robinson, it was the quality of the ensemble that made the play a success. There were no signs of the cast going through the routine of another night in another town, it seemed to be as fresh and new to them as it was to us.

To Kill a Mockingbird was a joy from start to finish. It was accomplished, engaging and, above all, entertaining.

10 May 2015

Sudbrook Cottage was pretty but busy

I had visited Sudbrook Cottage a few times and, knowing what to expect, I squeezed a visit to it at the end of a busy afternoon looking at local gardens.

Actually I only knew what to expect from the garden, I had not expected it to be so busy with visitors and with Pimms and cake on offer most people there were treating it as a picnic rather than a chance to explore the garden. It was warm so I helped myself to a Pimms too but it was the garden that I was there for and I picked my away around the picnickers to enjoy the structure of the garden and the planting within it.

There were a few differences from previous visits but nothing to get alarmed about. A neat stone bench had been repaired (I liked it broken) and a small greenhouse had appeared next to the house, and that was about it.

As before, the classical pond was the centrepiece and I waited patiently to take this picture of it, just as the garden was closing, with nobody in it, which is how I like my gardens.

Sudbrook Cottage was not a large garden, though it was by no means small either and the name "cottage" was somewhat misleading, and I was able to walk around it two or three times in the half an hour or so that I had. What made it worth walking around two or three times was the sheer amount of stuff to look at with lots of borders and beds all packed with plants and ornaments.

Sudbrook Cottage was a very explorable garden and the Pimms added a nice little touch to that exploration.

Warren House on Kingston Hill gets arty

Warren House on Kingston Hill makes its money these days as a venue for conferences, weddings and other special events and that means that a lot of attention is paid to make the garden something to be enjoyed over a glass of wine and also a perfect background for photographs.

There are various gardens within the garden to suit different moods and occasions and while none of them are very large they are all pretty and have interesting things in them. The collection of gardens is made more interesting by their contrasts and I always like moving between and through them. The sunken garden is a particular delight of mine simply because it is hidden away below an ornate wall.

Next to the house is a small Italianate garden with a cute water feature. This had a new addition this year with some birds flying above the water. This was one of the several works of art that had been added throughout the garden since my previous visit and it was fun discovering them all.

The side garden, which was never really part of the main garden, was closed for a serious makeover that will bring it up to the standard of the others. Seeing the new garden will give me a good excuse to go back to Warren House the next time the gardens are open. Not that I need an excuse.

Watergardens on Kingston Hill (May 2015)

The Watergardens on Kingston Hill are one of my favourite local gardens so I go to most of their open days, which happen twice a year in April/May and October.

There are pretty things in the gardens, things like bridges, waterfalls and these birds, and the prettiest things are the many paths that climb their way around the steep garden. This is a garden for walking through, down and around until every path has been taken at least once and preferably twice, once in each direction.

So that is exactly what I did for forty five minutes or so while the haunting sound of water followed me wherever I went.

7 May 2015

Old music from a new bottle

The Open Mic nights that I used to go to at the Grey Horse had moved (more or less) to The Oak just a few hundred metres north. This was a pub that I knew from when I lived in Kings Road though it was far from my favourite then and it had been many years since I last went there during which time it had a few make-overs and name changes. The new venue and day (it had moved from Wednesday to Thursday) had thrown me a little and it took a while before I was finally able to get there.

When I did get to The Oak it was just like old times with many of the acts I knew from before playing some of the songs that I remembered to some familiar faces in the audience. Not that there was anything wrong with that, it worked well at the Grey Horse and there was no reason that it should not work at The Oak too.

One of the familiar acts, and one that I was especially pleased to see again, was Catherine Paver with her mix of reasonably simple tunes and complex words. I broadcast her first song on Periscope as something of an experiment. I think that it worked but Periscope only keeps videos for 24 hours so you will have to take my word for it.

Now that the new venue and day have wormed their way into my consciousness I am sure that I will be going back for more old music from a new bottle.

6 May 2015

Alice's amazing Adventures Underground

I like promenade theatre (if that's the correct term) and I like theatre in unusual locations so going to take part in Alice's Adventures Underground in the tunnels under Waterloo Station was a no-brainer. The surprising thing was that it took the theatre club at work to inform me of the show.

These tunnels were not, I think, the same ones that the Old Vic Tunnels used and where I saw some great shows. These tunnels were a little closer to the platforms and were accessed via a different entrance, Launcelot Street rather than graffiti laden Leake Street. The feel was just the same though and the tunnels were the ideal location for a show like this.

As with Drowned Man  and In The Beginning was The End, we were let in in small groups at set times and we had to be in position in good time and had to divest ourselves of bags. This time we also had a no photography rule which I actually kept to.

The performance was more structured than the other two and we were tightly guided from one scene to the next. We did not all go the same way as we were split up twice, first we each had to choose between "eat me" and "drink me" then later we were allocated to card suits. Not only did we go different ways but talking to other people later on I confirmed that we went to some separate places too. I like that idea as it means that it is worth going to "see" the show more than once.

There were different kinds of scenes and different levels of interaction. There was quite a bit of water sloshing around at one point and the kitchen was very messy. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and told us a story, Tweedledum and Tweedledee performed circus tricks, the Mock Turtle sang to us, some rooms were packed with objects for us to explore, another room had peep holes so that we could spy on another group inside.

The variety of scenes and the speed that we went through them helped to make the show exciting and the familiar characters helped to take us into the story. It was all smartly done and I could see why some groups were using the show as part of a celebration party.

Alice's Adventures Underground was not high-art but then nor was it pretending to be and it was not low-art either. It was a very successful collection of performance strung together imaginatively to produce an evocative narrative.

The originality was the bonus that made the show special. It was also a great deal of fun.

1 May 2015

Animals at Theatre503 was very funny, very dark and very wonderful

Theatre503 had become one of my very favourite theatres simply by presenting a series of unusual, challenging and entertaining plays. Animals was another one of these.

From it's description, it was firmly in the Dark Comedy category and so it already appealed to me and it proved to be more than that.

The logistics were boringly simple this time. I arranged to work in the London office that day and then made my way to Battersea. It was a little too far to walk all the way so I started off on public transport but left that when a couple of kilometres away to walk the last part.

Theatre503 was above a pub, the Latchmere, and I went there fist for something to eat and a beer. Like most gastro pubs they were a little light on the vegetarian options but I only needed one decent choice to be happy, and they had one. The picture I took (I am not always that sad) showed asparagus, egg and shaved Parmesan. A welcome change from the days of veggie lasagna as the only veggie choice.

Meal over I helped myself to a second pint and made my way up the steep and twisting stairs to the theatre to collect my ticket and to wait in comfort of the theatre doors to open. It is a cosy reception area and is one of the many nice things about Theatre503.

Once inside and in my favoured front-row position the view was much less cosy as I faced a wall of distressed and unloved steel.

Animals was set in a derelict housing estate in a dystopian future. Three of the estate's kingpins of the shadow economy were three old ladies who, we learned, had officially gone past their sell-by date. The avoided termination by hiding away and using false papers and they served their local community through sexual favours and their part in the distribution of food.

It was a strange and nasty world made the stranger and the nastier by these ladies' role in it. They had adapted well to the harsh circumstances but the State still posed a real threat to them.

This threat became more real when an Inspector turned up to check the people living in the block. He was both an executioner and a victim, working on a zero-hours contract and needing to get result to be paid. These results included terminating people living beyond their contracted time, that time being set by their social usefulness.

The Inspector had his daughter with him. She was approaching eighteen when her social usefulness would be first judged and until then was forced to live as a child. She was both curious and naive. She was also in great danger.

That rich setting let the play spread its tentacles in all directions from hard politics to protocols around who sits in the armchair, from what it means to be useful in society to what gloves to wear when giving hand-jobs.

The initial setting was both dark and funny and I would have been quiet happy if it had continued in that vein so I was absolutely thrilled when it got funnier and much darker. The darkest secret was well hidden, despite being in plain view at the very start, and was gradually revealed through comments and implications. As a plot structure it worked brilliantly, as did all the other things going on in the play.

It was good to see the three main roles going to older women and they were all marvellous at being the granny you always loved as well as prominent crime-lords. The inspector gave a convincing portrayal of a man trapped by the rules that he did not question and his daughter was the delightful little-girl-lost (physically and intellectually).

Animals was a great deal of fun and made some interesting and provocative comments about politics and society too. I could watch plays like this forever and it looks as though Theatre503 can keep producing them too.