20 August 2016

London Broncos 28 - 42 Leeds Rhinos

Various things have conspired against me seeing Leeds Rhinos playing in recent years, mostly the London's only team, the Broncos, moving away from Twickenham (a comfortable walking distance) to Enfield (I have no idea how to get there) and then being relegated so that they had no regular fixture against Rhinos.

Then Rhinos helped by having a terrible start to the season so that they played in the end of season Qualifiers rather than the Super 8s and the Broncos helped by moving to Ealing which I can get to on one bus.

Well, normally it would be one bus but a road closure meant that three buses or, as it turned out, one long walk to Richmond and then the rerouted 65. I had planned to walk from Ealing Station to the ground but I had done enough walking by then so I took the 297 bus. It was good to see a few other people in various Leeds Rhinos shirts get on the bus with me. None of us had been to the ground before so we all used our phones to work out the route and mine threw me off the bus the stop before everybody else, it was not a long walk from there to the ground but I suspect that everybody else took the better option.

First impressions of Ealing Trailfinders was good. Two sides of the ground were little more than basic but, at one end, had a reasonable amount of covered seating and along one side was the main building with grandstand, bar, shop and dressing rooms. Judging by the noise coming from there that is where all the Broncos fans were; they had to be somewhere as the rest of the ground was packed with Rhinos fans.

The game itself was patchy with Leeds Rhinos dominating the possession and territory for large sections of the game, enabling them to run in an impressive eight tries, but they also lost concentration a few times to allow Broncos to run in five tries themselves, including the first one and the last two. Several of the Rhino's tries came from wide play with winger Tom Briscoe getting three, and with the gusting wind several conversions were missed which also made the score closer than it could have been. The final score flattered Broncos somewhat and I had hoped for something like the 12-58 win I had seen a couple of years ago.

Still, a win is a win and I was happy with that and with the chance to see Leeds Rhinos in the flesh again.

And I was so buoyed by the win that I walked all the way back to Ealing before taking the 65 back to Teddington where I found a pub to celebrate in.

16 August 2016

Screens at Theatre503

I see just about everything at Theatre503 so it was an easy choice to go and see Screens. Once that decision was made I just had to choose the date and Tuesdays are good.

My new work location, Teddington, is not good for some theatres (e.g. Bush and Arcola) but it is fine for Theatre503 thanks to the regular trains to Clapham Junction.

It was easy enough to get there around 6:30pm and that meant plenty of time for a meal in The Latchmere beneath the theatre. Their vegetarian options were not that brilliant, as with too many gastro pubs, but I found something in the entree and the starters that I liked. They were actually very good and The Latchmere is one of the benefits of going to Theatre503.

Well fed, I claimed a second pint of Wainwrights and headed up the steep and narrow stairs to the theatre.

There was a reasonable crowd and it took my customary care to position myself close to the entrance to the theatre to be able to secure my usual seat in the middle of the front row. There in front of me was a simple square stage with two chairs and a dead cat, partially covered for decency. A promising start.

Screens took us into the world of a Turkish Cypriot immigrant family, the mother had moved here to escape the troubles there and had two now grown-up children. The young man, Al, was strongly aware of his heritage, he admitted to hating the Greeks for what they did, and was trying to come to terms with that. He was also trying to come to terms with being gay and was experimenting with Grindr.

The young woman, Ay┼če, was more interested in her personal life. This, and Al's forays into Grindr, were flashed on a banner across the top of the back wall. As the name suggests, Screens, was about how we use screens in our modern lives.

One use of the screens that I loved was when, on a date, the man Al was dating accused him of using Grindr while with him but Al showed him, and us, that he was actually playing PokemonGo and a few Pokeballs whizzed across the stage to make the point. It was good to see such a topical reference and the light touch that it brought.

Another topical item was less fun. Another theme of the play, the main one, was alienation and the Brexit vote had added to the general alienation towards the family, one of them had been accused in the street of being a Syrian and told to go home. That left an unpleasant taste in the mouth, a common feeling post Brexit.

There were a lot of other things going on which while sometimes feeling a little disjointed or unrelated, as if the playwright, Stephen Laughton, was trying to pack all of his ideas into one play, it also added to the richness of the experience and because they were good ideas could be forgiven for their unexpected appearances.

Also typical for Theatre503 was the quality of the acting. This was a story set in the real-world so everybody had to be believable and they were. It's often hard to separate character from actor and in giving a special mention to Al's date Ben, played by Paul Bloomfield, it is as much for the calm way that Ben asked about Al's heritage as for Paul's portrayal. I was especially pleased to be able to make this point with Paul afterwards and to have him agree with me.

Putting all that together and you got a typical Theatre503 play that was intelligent, provocative and entertaining.

13 August 2016

Brexit means paying a fortune to make ourselves worse off

Obviously there was more to the Brexit debate than just the economy, which is just as well as the wheels on that bus are falling off that bus rapidly. We always knew that leaving the EU would be bad for the economy and we are just beginning to find out how bad.

To add insult to injury, we will be paying a small fortune over the next few years to make ourselves worse off. The Department for leaving the EU have just announced their Senior Management Team and it's big. There will be thousands of other managers and staff below this adding millions to the wage bill. Then we can add the cost of all the officials in other departments and organisations that these people will be working with.


11 August 2016

A brilliant evening with Dark Vanilla Jungle at The Cockpit

This was a very mixed evening, it ended brilliantly but there were a few hiccoughs along the way.

There are four playwrights that I have Google Alerts set up for and Philip Ridley is one of them. So it irked me somewhat to find out about a production of his play Dark Vanilla Jungle at one of my regular theatre by accident. I forget the details now but I presume it was via Twitter, it normally is.

The Cockpit Theatre used to be a pleasant walk around Regent's Park from my office in Kings Cross but working in Teddington meant coming up with alternative plans. It was a sunny evening so I opted to take the train to Wimbledon, the tube to South Kensington and to walk the rest of the way including a jaunt through Hyde Park. That was a very pretty walk taking in the Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion, some sculptures and the Italian Gardens. The plan was working.

I had time for a proper meal and my plan included a curry in a place I had been before. That plan went less well. Conscious of the time I placed my simple order as soon as I got in there but 30 minutes later and I did not even have a papadum to show for it. I had to leave then so I went to pay for the mango lassi that had arrived, they were all very apologetic and offered me a free meal later that evening and I was all very reasonable about it and declined due to lack of time. I forgave them, we parted amicably and I'll be back. Plan B, not for the first time, was a packet of Nobby's Nuts and a bottle of beer in the theatre bar just before the performance.

This was almost 9pm and that brings me on to the last bad point. I do not know who thought that 9pm was a good time to put a play on, particularly one that demanded attention all the way through. This, combined with the lack of publicity, probably explained the low turnout. I don't think that it was the smallest audience that I have ever been in but it was close.

I made my way into the theatre and took a seat in the second row in my usual area (the front row is too low and is like sitting on a child's chair). The stage was bare apart from a desk, a chair and a woman sitting on it. And that is all that there was throughout the performance.

She was writing what I assumed was a statement of some sort and that turned out to be right. This was Andrea and for the next 90 minutes or so she told us her story.

It was a story that leaped around in time, something she apologised to us for, as she told us about how her parents met and how she came to be living with her grandmother, who she did not get on with.

Early on she dropped big hints as to what might come, with references to a soldier, a baby and dark events in Epping Forest, before we converged on the story of her and Tyrone.

That was a pretty dark story too. I think we all saw the sexual grooming coming though the brutality was no less shocking because of that. Andrea's reaction was equally shocking as she tried to reconcile what had happened to her with her love for Tyrone. Things got a little weird after that but remained gripping and absorbing.

Every Philip Ridley play I had seen, this was my fifth, had been so rich with ideas that I am sure that many of them passed me by on a first watching. The time-hoping was the simplest to understand and simply mirrored how we communicate normally, a tale is rarely told chronologically. There were relatively few references to religion and mysticism compared to his other works but they were there. More obvious were the repeated lines, or themes, such as the descriptions of two people meeting for the first time and the ice creams, which is where I presume the "vanilla" in the title came from.

It was a well crafted play, as I knew that it would be, with the themes leaping and mingling while the mood bounced up and down in different phases, like a symphony. One scene that clings vividly in my memory had an angry Andrea scattering c-bombs like confetti having never used such strong language before.

I am beyond praise for Lexie Braverman who played Andrea in the gruelling one-woman show. It was a difficult enough task to do all the talking for 90 minutes and was made even more difficult by the subject matter and more difficult still by the extreme variation in mood required. Lexie was brilliant.

The staging was good too. Like the gymnastics floor exercise, full use was made of the marked out square with Lexie sometimes moving the desk to another part of the stage where it became something else.

The best indication of how gripped I was by the play and the performance was is that I still had some of my beer left at the end of it. Even taking a swig would have been too much of an interruption.

It was late when it finished, 10:30pm to save you doing the maths, and with a difficult journey home (thanks to closing the road to/from Richmond) I was not keen to hang around but I did stay just long enough to say a few words with Lexie. I would have liked linger but then she deserved a rest too, I was exhausted from watching it so I can only guess at how drained she must have been.

Dark Vanilla Jungle was a difficult play to watch because of the subject matter but I am very glad that I did.

10 August 2016

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (August 2016)

I have taken so many pictures of my smazeny syr, which is what I always eat at the monthly BCSA Get To Know You Socials, that I have to think a bit to try and get a different picture and this month I settled on the view from directly above. I seem to have had a good portion of chips this month.

The subtle difference in the photo is the table cloth. This was a welcome return to the ones used some time ago that had been replaced with plastic mess-friendly ones with an old map of the world motif. I never liked the design and found it odd that the Czechoslovak Bar and Restaurant would use a map that did not have Czechoslovakia on it.

That big surprise over it was another excellent evening full of rich conversations. There were a few new faces this month and I moved around the table a few times to meet them all. One of the conversations we had, and other common one, was language and particularly the way that the languages differ in both form and the way that they change. I remember discussing tenses, I can never remember their names, and saying that a new (to me at least) tense was emerging in English with people talking about the past in the present tense, e.g. "I go into the bar ...". This may be related to another current fashion of writing literature in the first person continuous present, e.g. "I enter the dark room slowly ...".

Despite this being the holiday season we had more people there than we had had for a while, around twenty at various times, and it was a fabulous evening, even by the high standard set by the socials.

5 August 2016

Present Laughter at Richmond Theatre

Richmond Theatre is an easy one for me to get too from my new workplace, the 33 bus takes me from the office in Teddington into the heart of Richmond, so I am currently going to all the shows there that have any interest for me, and a Noel Coward play is always going to interest me.

I had to eat first and while I had yet to establish a regular pre-theatre eating place in Richmond the Prince's Head on The Green was good enough and the beetroot and mushroom bourguignon did the trick, which it had the last time that I was there. The same can be said for the pint of Oliver's Island.

Noel Coward obviously has niche appeal and while the theatre was busy it was certainly not full and the average age looked to be somewhere in the 60s. I was a little surprised that there were a noticeable number of under sixties there as Noel Coward strikes me as being decidedly dated in much the way that the far more recent sit-coms from the seventies and eighties are. Similarly I am not sure who reads the novels of Evelyn Waugh these days.

On the plus side, dated can also mean period giving an historical perspective on how we live. After all, "the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there". Also Coward does delightful dialogue which is the main reason that I wanted to see it.

And as it was the dialogue that I was mostly interested I took a punt and went for the very end of the front row in the Dress Circle, Row A  Seat  26 Price £35. I went for this as the premium seats extended across almost the whole row and I did not fancy sending £5 or so for the seat next to mine. The safety rail and the boxes did impinge on my view of the set slightly but not enough to impact my enjoyment. Still, I'll probably not book that seat again.

I would normally show a picture of the view from my seat and of the set but the safety curtain went up and down so quickly this time that I have had to settle with a publicity shot found on the internet. From my seat I could not see the fireplace or the door next to it. Fortunately I did not need to.

Present Laughter centres on a recently middle-aged actor, Garry Essendine (played excellently by Samuel West), who likes playing the field. In this field are a young actress, who has just spent the night in the spare room, his ex-wife and the wife of a colleague (Zoe Boyle). Among those watching the goings on were his long-term secretary (Phillis Logan), an unnaturally happy man-servant and an exuberant maid. The mix of characters and their well observed interactions were the main strengths of the play and the source for much of comedy.

There were also elements of farce with people hidden at various times in the office on the left and in the spare room on the right. A wife hiding from an suspicious husband may not be a new idea but it is one that worked. All the other ideas worked too and the play was humorous all the way through and frequently edged into laugh out loud territory.

Essendine is a role that Coward wrote for himself and he remained centre stage throughout. To use some dated terminology, he was a cad who cared nothing for the women he played with or for the impact that this had on others. In his eyes he was the star and everybody owed their success to him but did not respect him enough for that. Despite his character our sympathies were more with him than against him. This was partially because the wronged women were portrayed as contributing to their own fates, remember this was written in 1939.

The story got messier and more complicated before ending in much the same way that Private Lives did and, like Private Lives, the ending was more a way to draw the play to a close than an ending to a story and it was the journey to this point that mattered far more than the destination. I liked the journey.

Present Laughter was never going to be more that a light treat, like a slice of cake with your afternoon cup of tea, and the simple production and good cast made it a treat to truly savour.