29 December 2017

Nik Turner's Brand New Space Ritual at Borderline (December 2015)

Nik Turner's Space Ritual had their farewell performance at Borderline in November 2014 and this was quickly followed by a performance by Nick Turner's New Space Ritual at Borderline in April 2015. Things changed again and the visitors to Borderline in December 2017 were billed as Nik Turner's Brand New Space Ritual.

This time the Space Ritual we saw was decidedly different and because of the line-up changes they sounded very different too. Apart from Nik, the one familiar face was Gary Smart on bass. The biggest change was the lack of a keyboard player. This left the band with a very definite 4-1 formation with bass, drums, guitar and electronic noises in a line across the back and Nik leading on saxophone, flute and all the vocals.

Borderline was new too. The stage was in the same place but the bar had moved to face it. It had also gone very black. The best thing about the change was the new lighting as the old stuff made photography almost impossible.

The lack of keyboards probably accounted for the more rocky sound. The music also felt faster than before though there was no obvious reason for this.

The set list was a little different also. It started with several songs from their 2007 album Otherworld, hit a high point in the middle with a stunning sequence of Steppenwolf, D-Rider and Orgone Accumulator (always a favourite of mine), and hit another towards the end with Master of the Universe and Brainstorm. Amongst this familiar stuff there were several songs that I did not know, though other audience members did, which I guess means that they came from other Nik Turner projects.

After something over an hour and a half of furious and fabulous playing the final encore was the final surprise, a version of Glenn Miller's In The Mood that kept pausing then restarting faster than before. An apt ending to an evening full of surprises and high points.

28 December 2017

Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse was a Christmas treat

One of my many good theatre memories was of J M Barrie's Mary Rose at Riverside Studios in 2012 and that was more than enough to get me to see his Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse. A modest £20 was all it took to secure a ticket. I went for a matinee in Christmas week as that was when I had the most free time available and even then I got to see it only a couple of days before the end of its run.

As I was on holiday that day I took the scenic route to the theatre from Waterloo starting with a familiar walk along South Bank (complete with a quick detour into Tate Modern) that took me on to More London before I headed south, past the sadly shut White Cube, and on to the theatre in good time to have a coffee before the show.

Dear Brutus was in the Little Theatre with unallocated seating and while I was not one of the first in I was able to get a seat near the middle of one of the front rows. The stage was set in traverse (or corridor) formation with entrances at either end. In the middle the stage was set as an Edwardian drawing room with a few comfortable chairs and occasional tables.

Into the room appeared a group of ladies eager to get some business done before the men joined them. That something was a prank, with serious intent, played on the butler. It was the first of many light moment in what was often a funny play. The humour was just pleasant decoration, however, and the play had a serious and mysterious heart. Three couples and two ladies, unknown to each other, had been invited to the house by the mysterious Lob. They were staying for a few days over midsummer's night and on that night he suggested that they all went for a walk in the wood. This was a little odd as there was no wood nearby. The first thing they had to do was to find it!

In the wood mysterious things happened to each of them and we saw each of their stories played out in turn. I cannot say much more without spoiling the plot but suffice to say that the main theme and the individual stories were all engaging.

Those adventures ended, they all returned to the house where the importance of the adventures was made clear and they were all a little wiser if not happier. Then there was one final twist at the end.

It was a delightful story and superbly presented. The layout of the stage worked as did its simple transformation from a house to a wood and back again. All of the cast were spot-on for their characters from the stuck-up young Lady to the doting couple married for thirty years. I even got used to the painter looking a lot like my Uncle Eric. Many of the other faces looked familiar and checking after the event I confirmed that I had seen many of them on stage before and some of them more than once.

Despite being set at midsummer Dear Brutus had the right feel for a Christmas show because it shared many of the traits of stories like A Christmas Carol being a moral tale told through the lives of ordinary people mixed with a touch of the supernatural. It was meant to be a Christmas treat to myself and it was.

22 December 2017

The Little Match Girl at Tabard Theatre

The Little Match Girl looked like the sort of play that I should see at Christmas and Tabard Theatre was a convenient place to see it so I booked early. Not quite early enough for the usual front for but seat B5 was fine as was the £19.5 that it cost me.

Usually I'd eat in the pub downstairs beforehand but this time I had to rush to Museum of Architecture in South Kensington beforehand to catch the very end of an exhibition there and I took the opportunity to eat the obligatory avocado on toast at the wonderful Fernandez & Wells.

Moving on to Tabard I took advantage of their mulled wine and mince pie offer before taking my seat in the theatre.

The Little Match Girl was a very musical musical with (probably) more singing than speaking. There were something like 37 songs in something under two hours. Even at Ramones' rate of a song lasting two minutes that is about 80 minutes of songs in about 100 minutes of drama.

The story, which I did not know, was a little of the life and a lot of the dreams of a very poor girl selling matches on the street. In real life she was thrown out of her home by her own father but in her dreams she is looked after and loved. In the end the real life wins.

At one level it was a deeply depressing, and relevant, story and while the sentiments of it were very appropriate for Christmas (care for the poor) it was not as jolly as might have been expected for a Christmas show. Making it more Christmassy were the dream sequences and all of the songs, including the chart topping Mistletoe and Wine. The large cast helped a lot too and while they were all good and fully committed to their roles it has to be Emily Cochrane who gets a special mention as the match girl herself.

The Little Match Girl was a fine show and a fine way to prepare for Christmas.

19 December 2017

More Follies at National Theatre

It was not my idea for the company I work for to go to Follies for our Christmas treat but it was a good one and I was quick to accept my place despite, or because of, seeing it already.

This time I was up in the Circle, seat C65, and I chose the photo below as it is more or less the view I had. It was a great view and it was nice to see it from a completely different angle.

It was a strange experience seeing it again. I knew the story this time and that took some of the edge off. On the other hand I knew some of the songs and that gave me a chance to pay more attention to the lyrics. I also knew how the production was structured, with each character having a younger version of themselves, and could look out for this from the beginning.

The impact of the production was just as impressive the second time and I noticed quite a few little touches that I had missed the first time, partially because of the different view that I had and partially because there were just so many little touches to see.

In September I wrote, "The story and music of Follies were good enough, if nothing special, and everything else about the production was excellent. Follies tried hard to be a spectacle and it succeeded.", and I stand by that.

Wearing the company colours

It is our work's Christmas Party today and I bought a new shirt for the occasion. I bought it several months ago.

It is, like most of the shirts that I have bought in recent years, from 1 like no other because they make exceedingly good shirts and I can now afford to buy them. Most are kept back for special occasions, like the BCSA Garden Party, but a few are in general use and get worn to work about once a month.

As soon as I saw the one I am wearing today I had to buy it because it is very like our company branding. This is the home page of our website.

About a year ago we refreshed our brand and part of that is an image of a network of dots and lines on a dark blue background.

This is the shirt I had to wear today.

As this is a company shirt it will now go into the work section of my wardrobe (just right of centre) and will make regular appearances in the office from now on. Normally 1 like no other shirts go into the best section of my wardrobe, higher even than my Liberty shirts, which is on the left and is separated from my common work shirts by my trousers.

18 December 2017

Wallowing in Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic at V&A

I had gone to V&A to see Opera: Passion, Power and Politics but it would have been stupidity to go all that way and not also see Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic.

I needed a rest first and I went to the cafe, as I do on every visit to V&A, and had a nice bowl of comforting soup. One of the advantages of going during the week was that I was easily able to get a table in the William Morris room.

Rested, I went to the new entrance, it being the closest, and with not much difficulty managed to use one of the large self-service touch screens to buy a ticket for the first free slot to Winnie-the-Pooh, which was about an hour later. That gave me just the right amount of time to find (the hardest part) and visit the display Into the Woods: Trees in Illustration, and then return to the cafe for a coffee and some cake.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic was in half of the main exhibition space which gave me an estimated visit time of an hour, long enough given what I had already done and my interest in the subject.

The exhibition was stuffed full of E.H. Shepard drawings of all types and stages from woodland scenes used for research through to drawings he added colour to when in his nineties. The drawings were every bit as charming as I remembered from the books, probably more so.

The text with the pictures helpfully explained the techniques and tools used, e.g. the different types of pencils he worked with and the way shading was used to produce different effects.

It was also fascinating to learn about the way that the illustrations were always designed to be embedded in the text with individual pages being design in the same way that pages in a comic are.

This being V&A there was a lot more to the exhibition than words and pictures; there was even a almost full-sized mock-up of the famous Poohsticks bridge that you could walk over and have your photo taken as if in a drawing, which a lot of people did.

If I had one minor gripe with the exhibition, it was that the focus was overwhelmingly on the E.H. Shepard and relatively little was said about the A.A. Milne words. It would have been good, for example, to read/hear some passages with some explanation of how they were constructed (rhythm, rhyme, etc.). That said, it was the illustrations that I had gone for and there were lots of them and they were all lovely.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A

As a lover of both opera and V&A it was only a matter of time before I went to see the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A, though I did have to take a day's holiday to find that time.

Going on a work day meant that it was not sold out and I could get tickets on arrival. It also helped that it was towards the end of its long run. I treated myself to a decent lie-in first and after a leisurely breakfast and a decent journey in I arrived there just after 11:30am.

The exhibition was in the new Sainsbury Gallery and it was nice to have an excuse to see it.

The technology was the same as for Pink Floyd earlier in the year, headsets and a devise that played music (it was almost all music) according to where you were in the various rooms.

There were two helpful signs at the start, one said that photography was allowed and the second said that visitors should allow 70 minutes for the exhibition. One of those proved to be more true than the other.

The opera story was told as a series of dates, places and significant works connected to them. It started with Venice around 1600 and Monteverdi's Orfeo, moved on to London a century later with Handel's Rinaldo, and so on. It started off very historical with little in the way of passion, power or politics except for opera always being a rich person's activity and so it was entwined with them through its patrons.

That started to change with Marriage of Figaro which let servants get the upper-hand over their masters, something shocking in a period when workers never played important roles in art much less triumphal ones.

The passion reached its zenith with the closing aria from Richard Strauss' Salomé where a blood splattered Salomé embraced the severed head of Jochanaan much to the disgust of her step-father Herod. This was top-grade Sex and Violence.

The tour ended with Stalin's Russia and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Dmitri Shostakovich, an opera unknown to me which featured some frenetic piano playing by the composer.

The final room was a sample of opera today with excepts from several contemporary works, including a few I had seen and I few more that I would like to.

The expected 70 minutes turned out to be 100 or more and that tells you how much there was to listen to, look at, read and watch, and how engaging it all was.

15 December 2017

The Passing of The Third Floor Back at Finborough Theatre

My first visit to Finborough Theatre was to see something by John Galsworthy, the second to see something by Jerome K. Jerome. There's a theme there.

My knowledge of Jerome K. Jerome went little beyond Three Men in a Boat but that was more than enough to persuade me to part with £18 to see one of his plays.

Being a second visit the logistics were easy; a train from Teddington to Wimbledon, a tube to West Brompton, a short walk to the Finborough Arms (conveniently placed below the theatre), a good pint of beer and a pizza from next door.

The play was set in a run-down boarding house where all conceivable corners were cut, early on the proprietress told a main that the milk could take a little more water. Staying in the boarding house was a motley collection of characters including a young artist, a couple of fraudsters and a heavily over painted middle-aged woman. All of them were struggling a little in life and while none were distraught or desperate none was happy either.

Finally, thanks to the maid taking the initiative in placing an advertisement locally, the room on the third floor was let to a young enigmatic man who quickly charmed the proprietress who was so enthralled with him that she tried to lower the asking price for the rent.

Having gradually met the large cast slowly over half an hour or so we took an unexpectedly early interval. I was so surprised by the timing that I did not leave the theatre, it was too early for another beer.

In the much longer second half the stranger spoke to each of the people in turn. He knew about their pasts, often claiming a previous connection, and also their current aspirations. From this he was able to offer sound advice. He offered it in a calm, measured and yet authoritative manner that the recipient of the advice was compelled to follow it.

The advice worked and they all lived happily ever after. Sort of. It was real life so things were never going to be quite like that. The point was that they were all happier and more comfortable with their situation than they were before. It reminded me a little of the impact that Mary Poppins had on the Banks family in a story that would be told a few decades later.

The Passing of The Third Floor Back oozed goodness thanks to its simple delightful story and the excellent cast that brought all the characters and their foibles firmly to life. I cared about all of them and was uncertain whether to smile or cry at the end.

13 December 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (December 2017)

December's British Czech and Slovak Association's Get to Know You Social was every bit as good as expected for all the expected reasons.

Sadly illness kept our unofficial host, Ruzena, away but the rest of us regulars tried to make up for that by welcoming the first-time visitors even if we were limited to doing that in English. As usual there were several first-times, or long-time-since-they-last-camers, and it was they that really made the evening for me. Of course, it was nice having some friends and regulars there as well.

Zdenek grabbed out attention immediately by announcing that he manages a Czech-style brewer, Bohem Brewery, in the UK. He told a great story about how a Pilzner Urqell expert gave a demonstration on four different ways to pour beer and the way that it made the same beer taste quite different We all took his business card and pleaded to be allowed to taste some of his beers soon.

I had known Gabriela for many years, mostly via social media, and even though we had been to several of the same events, such as the BCSA Garden Party, I had never had a decent conversation with her before. We talked about Kosice and how some homes are naturally unhealthy places to live and what can be done about it.

Finally I got to talk to Frantisek who I first connected to on MySpace! He is a Czech cellist and won the t-shirt of the night competition for his Bach Fest one. We had to talk a bit about Bach, because his cello suites are definitive works, but we talked about lots of other things too.

Conversations are the point of these BCSA socials and these conversations were special. 

7 December 2017

Young Marx at Michael Frayn Theatre was a successful experiment

Young Marx was something of an experiment for me as it was my first time at an NT Live broadcast. For some reason I had never been tempted to go to the local cinema to see shows but going to Michael Frayn Theatre, part of Kingston Grammar School's relatively new Queen Elizabeth II Performing Arts Centre, seemed more appropriate.

£10 was a modest price to pay for the experiment and that got me seat G3 which was more or less in the middle vertically and at the edge of the screen (not beyond it) horizontally. It was a perfectly good seat and the decent raking meant that the people in front of me were well clear of my sight line. In that respect the experiment was a complete success even before the show started.

Young Marx was broadcast live from the new Bridge Theatre. I had already booked to see a couple of shows there but Young Marx had not quite appealed enough for me to fork out theatre prices to see it in Central London. That was despite it coming from the team behind One Man, Two Guvnors and it starring Rory Kinnear. That combination was more than enough for me to pay cinema prices to see it locally.

Michael Frayn Theatre also had the advantage of being within walking distance though the early, 7pm, start time meant leaving the house around 6:25pm and walking briskly. That early start was to allow time for an interview with the director, Nicholas Hytner, to be broadcast before the show started. That was an interesting feature and it was also good to see a little of Bridge Theatre before my first visit there.

Young Marx was set in 1850 when a penniless Karl Marx and his family and maid were living in Soho. He was supported financially by Friedrich Engels but still hid from his many creditors, usually in a cupboard. Each welcome visitor to their small lodgings had their own distinctive knock that gave them access. These many visitors included their son's doctor and a syncopathic follower. Engles was keen for Marx to write but Marx was more interested in a visiting the eighteen pubs on Tottenham Court Road.

The story continued with lots of humorous dialogue and a fair smattering of slapstick. It was consistently funny if not outrageously so being constrained by historical facts from taking too fanciful liberties with the situation. The politics at times was used as a source of humour, such as in the opening scene where Marx questions the meaning of the word "value" with a pawnbroker, and at other times it was used to give us serious insights into Marxist philosophy, e.g. a worker is paid 1s but creates 3s value giving the exploitative capitalist 2s (he is right, of course). The accurate historical and political context gave the play an intellectual backbone that made it more satisfying than a simple comedy.

Young Marx was a lot of fun and and my experiment with NT Live was a great success. Future visits are being planned.

30 November 2017

Pleasingly gripped by The House of Bernarda Alba at Cervantes Theatre

I discovered Cervantes Theatre by happy accident. I was going to Union Theatre and with some time to kill I went for a short walk (I am still counting my steps) and I discovered Cervantes Theatre almost next door, just a little more away from the main road.

The next day the internet told me that they stage Spanish language plays with the productions performed in both Spanish and English. I was not very interested in plays performed in Spanish but I was interested in Spanish plays and so I joined their mailing list. Soon after I did that they told me about The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca who is probably most famous in the UK now as the author of Yerma which has had two recent runs at Young Vic. It was written in 1936 and was his last play; he was killed in the Spanish Civil War in the same year.

It took me a while to find a date to see it and by the time that I did so all the Spanish dates were sold out, including an extra week added to the run. I hope that success continues.

I did my usual thing and went to Culture Grub which is just as well as the bar above the theatre was limited to packets of crisps etc. I also had to make do with a bottle of San Miguel but that was understandable.

The theatre itself was small and neat with comfortable individual seating on three sides of a slightly L-shaped stage. The seats in the middle of the central row were marked as best but I only had a standard ticket so I chose a seat in the front row on the base of the L. It was an excellent position, possibly better than the best seats.

Bernarda Alba was a fierce matriarch bringing up her five daughters, aged between 20 and 39, in rural Spain in the 1930's. Also in the all-women house was Bernarda's elderly mother and a housekeeper.

The play started after the funeral of Bernarda's second husband and, being deeply religious, she imposed strict mourning on her daughters, one of them got scolded for carrying a blue fan rather than a black one. She had been fiercely protective of her daughters and the period of mourning intensified this with the family having little contact with the outside world. One consequence of this was that any man who came into view, such as the farmhands, caused something of a stir. This stirring and its consequences was the main story of the play.

The main construct of the play was the interaction between the women and it was a play mostly of dialogue. Most of the physical action was the women going about their daily routines, such as washing and sewing. It was a compelling view of a family of diverse characters trying to live by the hard rules set by the head of the house.

The House of Bernarda Alba was a gripping and satisfying play and it was easy to see why the run had been extended and it is being brought back for another run in 2018.

The evening had a happy ending as I spent a few minutes talking to one of the actresses, Carolina, who is a friend of the woman who sits next to me at work. It's nice when things like that happen.

29 November 2017

The Dark Room at Theatre503

Like most things (if not everything) at Theatre503, The Dark Room sounded interesting. This time it was the news that it had won the Best New Australian Work in the Sydney Theatre Awards that most intrigued me. That was more than enough to get me to part with £15. Lots of other people were convinced too and the theatre was packed.

Wednesday is not a normal theatre day for me, those are Tuesdays and Fridays, so there was a slight change from my usual routine. I was able to escape the office early, at 5:15pm, and walk the scenic route home via Jaflong Tandoori to pick up a pre-ordered takeaway, arriving home just before 6pm. That gave plenty of time to eat before heading out to the theatre. Travel worked well and I got to the pub around 7:30 and I took a pint of Meantime Yakima Red with me upstairs to the theatre. I finished it before the play started at 7:45.

I was not quite the first one in when the doors were opened but I was in early enough to get my usual place in the middle of the front row.

The stage in front of me was set as a basic hotel room. Later they players called it a motel but I'll not argue over semantics. First two appear were a middle aged woman and a teenage girl. The girl had a bag over her head and was in some distress. The woman was a social worker and she was taking the girl to the hotel for her protection but the girl was not happy about it. Some hard talking followed on both sides before they reached some sort of calm.

Then another couple entered the room, oblivious to the two people already there. The couple were at a wedding party and he, a policeman, wanted to go out for more drinks with his colleagues while his pregnant wife wanted to go home having had an unhappy time at the party. This was a second story and this was either another room in the hotel or the same room but at another time. Then a third man entered the room and he was on his own.

The stories of the three sets of people then unfolded in the same room (or identical rooms) through a series of scenes the timings of which had to be worked out. It was something like putting a jigsaw puzzle together and, also like a jigsaw puzzle, the more pieces that were added the clearer the overall picture became. It was a neat trick and neatly done.

Some memes helped to string everything together, such as the many references to dogs, hence the dog in the poster. It was the intelligent touches like that which helped to make The Dark Room special, and it was special. And making sure that the story came to life as planned was an excellent cast.

The Dark Room fitted the Theatre503 house-style superbly and that meant that it fitted my needs too.

27 November 2017

Poison at Orange Tree Theatre was steady if unspectacular

It had been a while since I had genuinely looked forward to a performance at Orange Tree Theatre rather than going out of a sense of loyalty.

The reason for that was that Poison sounded slightly difficult and I like difficult. I also liked that it was written by a foreigner as I like to see other perspective.

My enthusiasm was converted into seat Lower Floor A5 for £22.50. That was in the middle of the front row just off to the left of the picture. I was pleased to see the minimalist set when I went in, carrying a bottle of Punk IPA because there was no interval. The picture also shows the entire cast.

We quickly learned that the two people had been married but had split not long after the death of their son and had not met or spoken for nine years. Now a poison in the ground meant that their son's grave might have to move and they were at the graveyard to meet the authorities to discuss options.

For the next eighty minutes they spoke, argued and joked about their son, their parting and their lives since then. Their different reaction's to their son's death and their different reactions to their reunion drove the drama and drove it to some interesting, if not very surprising, places. The emotions fluctuated, but not a lot, and the pace was deliciously slow with many long pauses which all helped to keep a steady tension that was, thankfully, never quite relieved.

It also helped that both Claire Price and Zubin Varla delivered fine performances.

Dead children is something of a theatrical meme at the moment (which probably says more about the sort of plays that I choose to see than anything else) so many of the themes of loss and coping I had seen explored before but they were explored skilfully here which made up for a lack in originality.

I am old enough to remember Once we were Mothers (Orange Tree 2007) which handled the death of a child with more emotion and more of an impact, which is why I remember it ten years and hundreds of plays later.

Poison was a steady if unspectacular play and steady is good enough.

25 November 2017

Carmen by Ormond Opera was wonderful

I first discovered Ormond Opera in 2016 with their production of Madama Butterfly and that was so good that when they announced that they were doing Carmen then booking it was one of the easiest decisions that I have ever made.

It was still an easy decision when they announced that due to illness the performance that I had booked for had been downgraded to a full dress rehearsal.

This time I brought some friends with me and there were six of us altogether.

I have seen Carmen many times, so much so that it warrants its own tag in this blog (and I've left some performances out), so the story was never going to surprise me which meant that I could largely ignore the English translations displayed at the side and could focus on the music, the singing and the acting, all of which were superb.

The music came from just one piano and that was plenty enough sound to fill the church hall. We were warned that the singing might not be quite right but I found the exact opposite to be true, all the voices were good and many were superb. Carmen was one of those.

The acting made the performance and there were many nice little touches, several of which happened away from the centre of the action so I had to keep an eye on every part of the stage all the time. Worth a mention in this respect were Carmen's two companions who carried on their role playing when they took the curtain calls at the end.

In some ways Carmen is an easy opera to get right because it has so many good tunes in it, and it has a pretty strong story, but that is no excuse to take things easy and Ormond Opera put the work in to make this a memorable performance.

Whatever Ormond Opera do next I hope to be there to see it.

After the opera five of us retired to the Dukes Head for some serious conversations and a few beers until they threw us out at half past midnight. It was a fine and fitting end to a wonderful evening.

24 November 2017

Mother Courage at Southwark Playhouse was both bleak and heart-warming

The poster makes it clear that you are meant to see Mother Courage and Her Children because Josie Lawrence is in it but I went because it was written by Bertolt Brecht. That was plenty enough to get to to part with £20 for seat A37 in The Large.

I know I am relatively well off and that theatres are trying to encourage young people to get into the theatre-going habit but that seems to cheap to me. Almost everybody there looked to me as if they could easily afford another £5 or so.

I had done my customary research (none) and while I was expecting something with a war theme I had not expected it to the the Thirty Years War that raged across Europe between 1618 and 1648 between (mostly) various Protestant and Catholic states. My first encounter with this war was when I started working in Prague in 1992 and learned that Charles Bridge was the scene of a battle between Bohemia and Sweden (!).

Mother Courage followed the war trading with the armies as they travelled across Europe. She bought and sold items that she carried in a cart which was pulled by hand, initially by her two sons. Her other child was a mute which meant that she was not much of a marital catch and was likely to remain single.

The war raged around Mother Courage and while she was not directly involved, she traded with both armies as circumstances dictated, the war had a profound effect on her, her children and the many people they met. Many people suffered (it was a brutal war) and a few, like Mother Courage, survived. None thrived. The war brought many deaths, hardship as farms were abandoned, looting of captured towns and oppression of civilians. The war was a relentless dark presence.

The stage was set for movement being a traverse (or corridor) stage with seating along two long sides and the entrances at either end. I was sat in the middle of the front row (no surprise there).

The play told Mother Courage's story over several years in a series of scenes often several years apart. Survival meant putting up with some hard situations and also enjoying the few good times, like sharing a drink and a song with friends around a camp fire. Mother Courage's good humour provided several points of comedy too and she grabbed my knee knowingly while making a "chopper" joke.

Audience interaction like that was a feature of the performance and several people were brought into the story at various times. Another good feature was the songs. This was far from a musical but the half a dozen or so songs littered through the performance added to the variety and the entertainment.

Josie Lawrence was magnificent as Mother Courage taking full command of the stage without unfairly dominating it - the superb supporting cast were given space to flourish too. She was resolute, tender, powerful and funny. Her last act was possible her best, as she left the stage for the last time, still pulling her cart, she reached out for the hand of one of the audience and she got a warm and genuine response back.

Mother Courage and Her Children was a moving play about war that managed to find some humanity amongst the brutality. It was both bleak and heart-warming.

23 November 2017

Thoroughly entertained by Jamaica Inn at Tabard Theatre

The combination of Tabard Theatre and Daphne Du Maurier was the sort of temptation that I am not good at resisting so I willingly parted with £20 for Row A Seat 7.

I was not sure what to expect as I had not read the book and if I had ever seen a film or TV adaptation then I had forgotten it. So it came as a complete surprise to find that it was a story about smugglers, the sort that I was familiar with as a child growing up in Weymouth where Moonfleet was read by everybody.

It was a good story too with a cast of interesting characters from the brazen horse thief to a studiously pious priest. Unexpectedly finding herself caught up with dubious people and dubious activities was a young woman and orphan Mary Yellan who had been forced by her parents' death to go to Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt and her husband, the pub's landlord.

In an impressive cast Kimberley Jarvis was brilliant as Mary, the lost girl who developed strength and found a purpose. Helen Bang also shone as Mary's aunt who suffered under the bullying of her husband but somehow managed to find solace in that.

The story had me gripped and while some of the plot turns were not a great surprise the final ending was always in doubt until we got there and the tale was told with lots of drama. There were a few songs thrown in too which was a fine addition.

Jamaica Inn was a thoroughly entertaining evening thanks to a good story, a cast of strong characters all brought to life by fine acting and a production that provided plenty of action and kept the pace going.

14 November 2017

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at Wyndham's Theatre

One of the Google Alerts that I have is for Simon Stephens so I got an early warning of his latest play, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, and duly paid £39 for seat A15 in the Grand Circle.

It was ninety minutes straight through which allowed an 8pm start and that gave me plenty of time to go to Govinda's for a curry and Pret for a coffee beforehand.

Surprisingly the theatre was not full and that meant an upgrade from the Grand Circle to the Royal Circle. This has happened to me a few times at theatres and while the upgrade is always nice I would rather that the theatre were full.

The feedback on social media had given me little clue on what to expect so I sat down ready to be surprised.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is the tale of two people and they are the only two people who appear in it. He was a traditional seventy year old and she was a flighty forty-something. In almost her first sentence she apologised for he foul language which set the scene for some of Stephens' trademark swearing though there was a lot less than in some other plays.

In some ways it was a simple story about the two people told chronologically but it was delicately spiced with some surprises. The play's title comes from the principle that if you observe an elementary particle you cannot know both where it is and where it is going and the woman remarked that she watched her son so closely as he grew up that she always knew where he was at that time but could not see the direction that he was travelling.

That principle applied to us too, as we played close attention to the characters' words and actions it was not possible to see where their story was going.

Their journey through the hour and a half had a mix of emotions and moods. Most of them were happy and light and there was a lot of proper laugh-out-loud humour along the way. This was especially true at the beginning when they clumsily got to know each other.

Both the stars, Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham, were excellent and made me care about them. I wanted them both to have a happy ending and I was interested in everything that happened to them along the way.

The staging was neat with just a few props, things like benches and tables, rising out of the floor while the walls moved and the lighting changed to show us the different places that the story took us to. It appeared simple, though I am sure that it took clever mechanics and electronics to achieve that, and it was very effective.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle was an interesting and unusual tale told in an engaging way. I loved every minute of it.

10 November 2017

Hawklords at 100 Club (2017)

Hawklords are one of the select few bands that I try to see whenever they play a local venue, which in recent years has been once a year in November. I saw them at the 100 Club on 8 Nov 14 and 6 Nov 16. They played a different venue in November 15 but I had to miss that as I inadvertently booked a holiday for that time.

All the chatter on social media before the gig was about the absence of long time Ron Tree from the tour and I was curious to see what the line-up would be. In the end there was no surprise and the remaining four band members (Jerry Richards, Tom Ashurst, Harvey Bainbridge and Dave Pearce) shared the duties with Jerry doing the lion's share of the work.

Despite leading the team on both vocals and guitar, Jerry took his usual position on the right of the stage with bassist Tom taking the central position and Harvey on the left. The use of a projector meant that only the centre of the stage was lit and that meant only Tom.

Presumably as part of a deliberate plan, Jerry, Tom and Dave all wore black allowing Harvey's psychedelic shirt to stand out even more than usual despite being in relative darkness.

I took a photo of the setlist before the performance and the only tracks I recognised were Right Stuff and Ejection, both oddly from the Bob Calvert side project Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters which none of Hawklords worked on. There were four (out of seven) tracks from their latest album, Six, and three from their previous album, Fusion.

Not knowing the songs did not matter as the sound and construction were familiar enough. Each new tune and rhythm was quickly learned and enjoyed. This was music to dance to or, in my case, sway slightly from side to side to. At times they sounded more like seventies Hawkwind than Hawkwind do these days.

Hawklords played sixteen songs altogether in a set that lasted almost two hours. You do the maths. It was a mighty fine two hours too with Hawklords doing everything that the enthusiastic (and well behaved this time) audience expected and hoped for. It was a very loyal following too and there was an impressive number of Hawklords t-shirts on show.

I suspect that it will be another year before I will be able to see Hawklords again. Not ideal but far better than not seeing them at all.

9 November 2017

Rules for Living at Rose Theatre was an entertaining romp

Rules for Living sounded like a simple comedy and while I would not normally travel very far to see a play like that Rose Theatre is only a pleasant forty minutes away so I decided to go. I managed to get a seat in the dead centre of the first proper row, A37, for £30.

The situation was simple and familiar, two thirty something sons and their two wives/girl friends and one daughter were visiting their parents for Christmas day. There were a lot of family issues, a failing relationship, jealousy, expectations, abandoned dreams, etc. etc. that were gradually exposed as the day progressed.

The main trick of the play were the rules for living; these were real rules, such as Matthew has to sit down to tell a lie, and they appeared on a display board above the stage. These rules were a good source of humour in their own right, for example, when Matthew was asked an awkward question and he looked around for somewhere to sit then you knew that he was about to tell a lie and that anticipation was part of the fun.

Like a good farce, Rules for Living started fairly slowly as the characters were introduced and the situation was set and then things escalated quickly and deeply. The pictures on the far left and right in the poster above gives some idea of how bad things got, but the journey there, shown in the middle two pictures, was where most of the fun happened as the rules became more complicated and the characters became more extreme. Carrie's robot dance was a joy to behold.

Rules for Living was an entertaining romp through a family's strained relationships given an added twist by the use of real rules.

8 November 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (November 2017)

This new job (if it still is a new job after eighteen months) is working well for me in that I am working almost exclusively in London and so there is little disruption to my social life. This means that I can go to a lot of theatre and also that I can attend the BCSA "Get to Know You" Socials almost every month. I like that.

It was a smaller group than usual this month which meant that for a lot of the time we could have just one conversation. For reasons that social scientists can probably explain, when we have a dozen or more people we break up into conversational groups of two, three or four people but with seven people we remained in a single group. I liked talking in a larger group as it added more perspectives to the conversation and also meant that I had to do less talking!

This month we talked a lot about bad weather, prompted by various people travelling to Czechia or Slovakia in the next few months. One of those was a first-timer to the socials and Ruzena did a fine job in persuading him to join the BCSA and to come to the following week's Annual Dinner.

Everything else about the evening was enjoyably familiar from the Pilsner Urquell to the Smazeny Syr. I'll be going back on Wednesday 13 December for another helping.

4 November 2017

Brutal Cessation at Theatre503

I had seen Brutal Cessation before, and not that long ago, but circumstances then had not been ideal and I wanted to give it another chance, particularly as it was playing at Theatre503 which is one of my very favourite theatres and is also where I first encountered Milly Thomas (as an actress in Animals). It was a late booking made on Saturday morning for a Saturday matinee performance. £12 secured the deal.

I got to Theatre503 the interesting way which meant catching a slow train to Queenstown Road Battersea then walking back through Battersea Park. The walk was leafy and damp and somewhat directed by the miles of crash barriers assembled for the fireworks display that evening.

The nicely timed walk got me to the theatre about ten minutes before the performance started. Time for a pint and I felt pleased with myself that I avoided that temptation.

Careful positioning in the waiting area got me my usual seat in the middle of the front row. The couple were already on stage but asleep. I kept quiet until the play stared.

Brutal Cessation was a series of scenes between a couple with no sense or suggestion of chronology. They could be played in almost any order. They change in mood from the playful to the threatening to the near absurd. Themes, words and attitudes are repeated, swapping from one person to the other as they do so. It is a study in how two people behave with their loves, fears, humours and failings.

Keeping it all together and making it utterly believable were the two excellent performances by Alan Mahon and Lydia Larson. The little movements and expressions made all the difference.

Without a story, Brutal Cessation required an appreciation of theatre-craft which the audience clearly had and the performance was roundly cheered at the end.

It was the sort of play that I enjoyed but found hard to articulate why afterwards. There is no simple conclusion to the sentence, "You must see Brutal Cessation because ..." but a long sentence would go on to mention the construction, the characters, the dialogue and the relevance.

Despite crossing Milly Thomas' path a few times I had never had the opportunity to speak to her before so I made the effort to do so after the performance. Sadly I was somewhat in awe of her and in a few brief sentences I think that all I did was convince here that I am either an imbecile, a stalker or even both. I hope that I'll get an opportunity one day to try and correct at least one of those impressions.

3 November 2017

Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson Vol. 1

It was in 1983 that Walter Simonson began his legendary run on Thor with issue #337.

I was readying Thor at that time simply because I was reading everything published by Marvel and DC that was distributed in the UK and Simonson's work blew me away from the start.

I've culled my comics collection a couple of times since then but I have kept all the Simonson Thor issues. He kept on as both writer and artist until issue #367 and as a writer until issue #382.

When Marvel (through ComiXology) had a sale of every issue of Thor I had to get some Simonson issues just to read. The easy way to do it was to buy Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson Vol. 1 which collects the first year, issues #337 to £348. That is 283 pages of comics genius for a pittance.

Indeed the money was not even a remote consideration. My only concern was whether I would ever find the time to read them again. I hope that I do.

In the meantime I am toying with the idea of buying the next volumes in the Thor Visionaries series. I am particularly keen to read issues #360 to #362, The Death of the Executioner, because that story has stuck with me for over thirty years.

Update: Writing the above left me with no option other than two buy the next two collected volumes which gives me the run from #337 to #369 to reread.

2 November 2017

For Love or Money at Rose Theatre

This is another one that I almost at Rose Theatre because of their bad publicity. I was in the theatre cafe for something else when I saw a pile of leaflets for the show and I recognised Barrie Rutter immediately. I had seen a few Northern Broadsides' touring productions in recent years and that was enough to convince me to see another one. I went for my usual place, A32, and paid £30 to do so.

For Love or Money was an adaption of a French farce, Lesage’s Turcaret apparenty, which meant that I knew what to expect, something funny that would not be too demanding on the intellect. And it was just that.

The situation was a young woman living beyond here means and surviving on the generosity of one admirer, a dubious banker much older than her, while being fleeced by a younger man, a rascal at best, that she had fallen for. That man had a partner in rascality and there were a few other maids and such like.

Most of the humour, and there was a lot of it, came from the larger than life characters who behaved extravagantly and ridiculously. The situation got more interesting too as wives turned up, people pretended to be other people and illicit encounters were recalled.

I went to see For Love or Money for some simple good humoured entertainment and that is exactly what I got.

1 November 2017

I am an ESTP

I had to do a Myers-Briggs test for work and while I am extremely sceptical of such things I took it seriously and answered honestly. As when I did a Belbin test ten years ago, I found the simplicity of the questions difficult given the complexity of real life and in many questions the correct answer would have been, "It depends on the situation", but I had to give one simple numerical score. I tried to answer for an "average" situation but I am not sure that I succeeded.

The end result is that I came out as an ESTP.

As with the Belbin, I recognise some of this but less so. Thinking and Perceiving I have no quarrel with. Sensing is not bad but the word "traditional" surprises me a little. Extraverted I do not get. Some of that is true some of the time but I do not see that as a fair summary.

It did not help that the evaluation tool helpfully listed some famous ESTP people that I could compare myself to.

This was not a good day to be linked to Kevin Spacey.

31 October 2017

The Lady from the Sea at Donmar Warehouse was clinical and cold

I keep going to see Ibsen plays in the hope that I will understand what the magic is and start to appreciate them more but it has been a mixed journey so far and while some productions have been reasonable none have been exceptional and others have been disappointing. This was one of the reasonable ones.

It was a late decision to go and see it. I had a free evening, had seen decent reviews (I do appreciate that theatres only share the good ones) and there was a lone free seat in the middle of the Circle (A37) so I forked out £30. It was a good seat, even if the woman next to me spent the whole evening trying to eat sweets quietly and failing.

This was a new version of The Lady from the Sea and the biggest change was moving the Norwegian characters with their Norwegian names to the Caribbean. Not sure why. I had only seen the play once before so I did not expect to catch many of the differences.

The Lady herself was played with much aplomb by Nikki Amuka-Bird and the rest of the cast did a fine job too. I particularly enjoyed Ellie Bamber as Hilde, the Lady's younger step-daughter, and that have been because as the young cynic she was the most believable character.

I liked the set too with it's simplicity and its quirky water tank that contained a model of an island with a submerged boat and houses.

The acting and production were unable to rescue a play in which the characters are not believable and the story does nothing. In the best part of two uninterrupted hours there were no wow moments and there were no characters that I cared for, except (possibly) the eldest step-daughter and the play was not about her.

The Lady from the Sea was well constructed but lacked any emotion. It was clinical and cold. I admired the professionalism of the production and enjoyed the story but it left no last impression.

27 October 2017

Aida at ENO was Grand Opera delivered grandly

To Be Honest, the only reason that I went to see Aida at ENO was because I had to book tickets for three operas in order to book early for Satyagraha.

I had seen a version of Aida before at ENO and then I had gone mostly for the Zandra Rhodes set designs and costumes, which turned out to be the best part of that show.

Despite those misgivings I forked out £51 for  Upper Circle Centre A31. A pretty fine seat.

The monochrome poster suggested a very different performance this time, and it was. Not quite as visually striking as the poster suggests but then I've learned not to trust posters and it was still striking.

The tone was a mix of colonial and ancient which has been done before and which has worked before and which worked well again this time. The colonial costumes with their military motifs grounded the story in familiar territory and the ancient flourishes, particularly the hats, added the period authentic and another layer of grandeur.

This Aida was a production immersed in the spectacular with grand scenes, large choruses, many extras and some circus performers. It was Grand Opera delivered grandly.

Of course, as I always say, opera is all about the singing and this Aida was far far better than the last ENO production which confessed to being hit by illness. There was only one voice that caused me any issues at all and that was only for consistency of power, she could really belt the notes out when called upon to do so but was a little quiet at other times. That was one small weakness in a production with several soloists and, overall, the singing was superb.

Aida was a fine example of what ENO can do and I like what it does.

26 October 2017

A Day by the Sea at Southwark Playhouse was delightful

I did not go to see A Day by the Sea just because it was set in Dorset but that helped. The biggest draw was that the playwright, AC Hunter, was described by Southwark Playhouse as the English Chekhov.

The final draw was Southwark Playhouse itself. It's a cosy theatre in a convenient location that consistently presents interesting plays.

All that was enough to persuade me to part with £20 for Seat A7 in The Large.

That seat proved to be a little bit of an issue. The layout of the theatre changes for every performance, which is fine, and the booking system suggested that it was laid out this time in traditional theatre format. This was almost true but the stage was not across the whole width of the seating and in A7 all the stage was to the right of me. That was ok, if unexpected, for me but an issue for anyone in seats 1 to 6.

A Day by the Sea was basically just that, a group of family and friends spent a day by the sea somewhere in Dorset (Dorchester was mentioned). We also saw some of the day before and a little bit of the day after.

The Chekhov comparison was immediately obvious from the large cast of characters and that one was a doctor who drank a lot. The central character and, therefore, my star of the show was the elderly woman, played wonderfully by Susan Tracy, who owned the house. Staying with her were her frail older brother, her son on holiday from his diplomatic job in Paris, a woman she had taken in as a young orphan girl who was visiting with her two children. There was also the doctor, a solicitor and a maid.

As with Chekhov, all of the characters had their own stories and their own ambitions. The main thread was the son and the young woman renewing their connection to each other having grown up together at that house before parting twenty years previously. Those twenty years had not been kind to the woman who had been through two marriages and had been touched by scandal along the way. This led to the best line of the night, "When you've made a bad decision the last thing you need is good advice." She was talking about relationships but I was thinking about Brexit (and her relationships).

Because of that story line the other actor/actress who made a big impression on me was Alix Dunmore, the shamed woman. It helped that she wore some gorgeous outfits.

A Day by the Sea was a rich tapestry of characters and their stories, some dark, some trivial, some funny and all engaging. It made for a delightful evening.

24 October 2017

All the Little Lights at Arcola Theatre was uncomfortable but necessary

The promise of "truly extraordinary ad moving theatre" is always going to appeal to me as will visiting Arcola Theatre so All The Little Lights was definitely a show for me.

This was in Studio 2, in the basement, and my unreserved seat was a miserly £17.

This was a standard theatre-after-work day which meant trains from Teddington, Vauxhall, Highbury and Islington and then to Dalston Kingsland. The food and drink before the theatre were standard too. The ease of access and front of house facilities make Arcola Theatre an attractive place to visit.

I was, unusually, not the first person in the queue for Studio 2 but the group in front of me chose seats in the second row so I was able to secure my usual place in the middle of the front row. Everything was going according to the well rehearsed plan.

All The Little Lights was a coming of age story with a lot of bite. Three young girls meet up at their usual place on some railway sidings. It's a celebration and one of the presents is a Frozen Onsie which is well received. The conversations are all very early teenage girlie.

The conversations change when the youngest girl mentions that a young man in a the fish and chip was showing some interest in her. The other two girls reacted swiftly and seriously to this saying that she should keep away from him but without saying why. Soon the world of Frozen onsies was forgotten and we were mired in sexual abuse. It got very dark very quickly and would have been very difficult to watch had the story not been so real and the characters so convincing. It was uncomfortable to watch but the story needed to be told.

All The Little Lights was less a coming of age, more a death of childhood. I loved it for showing me important things in an honest, if brutal, way.

20 October 2017

Oslo at Harold Pinter Theatre was theatrical magic

It was not a conscious decision to avoid seeing Oslo when it first arrived at National Theatre, it just failed to get any traction with me at the time. Then the reviews arrived and the decision was taken away from me. I think twice about going above £30 for a theatre tickets (I go c150 times a year, you do the sums) but I was happy to push the boat out spend £46 for Royal Circle Row A Seat 9. A great seat for a fair price.

I had been put off Oslo by its dry subject mater, a behind the scenes look at the Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation signed in 1993. This was a bit unfair as I had seen the similarly themed A Walk in the Woods twice, most recently at the Tricycle Theatre in 2011.

The basic idea, devised by a Norwegian academic, played by Toby Stephens, was to have semi-formal talks by fringe players that well out of the public eye and that both sides could plausibly deny were happening. Only when a deal was close would the leaders of both sides become involved and only once a deal was reached would the negotiations become public.

The story revolved around the negotiators, who had a natural distrust for each other, and the facilitators who were concerned about running the talks behind the USA's back. There would be political and personal consequences for everybody if things went wrong. The negotiations were held behind closed doors and nobody, not even us, was allowed to see what was going on. Most of the action, if action is the right word, took place in an ante-room where they retired for breaks or stormed into when negotiations got difficult.

A potentially dry story was given bundles of life by the characters in it. They were all serious in intent but, being people, they all did human things like make silly jokes and comment on the foreign food. The diversity and humanity of the many characters was one of the play's strengths.

Somehow a story that we already knew the ending to effortlessly filled three hours with griping drama. That effortlessness was created by superb theatre craft where all the tricks of the trade were skilfully deployed. It was professionally expert theatre that used that expertise to make an easily approachable drama. It was easy to see why it was a success.

Oslo is every bit as brilliant as the people who say it is brilliant say it is.

17 October 2017

Tryst at Tabard Theatre was a lovely play in a lovely theatre

Tabard Theatre is conveniently situated above a decent pub and while that is by no means the only reason for going there it certainly helps as I enjoy my theatre more if I have been properly refreshed beforehand.

The pub has its limitations, the service tends to be slow due to a poor staff to customers ratio and the food choice for vegetarians is very restricted, but it has a good range of beers, a perfectly acceptable Asian veggie burger and a welcoming atmosphere.

Tabard had implemented allocated seating and as the holder of Seat A4 (£19.50) I did not have to rush upstairs early to  ensure a good seat.

When I did go upstairs it was very bury. The box office desk had moved again and, somehow, one end of the narrow corridor had become a bar. The combination of people queuing to collect tickets and people enjoying a drink made the entrance area somewhat crowded. It was bit of a struggle to get into the theatre but I would much rather that the theatre was busy than it was easy to get into.

Tryst told us the story of George Love and Adelaide Pinchin. At first their stories were separate and they spoke to us directly, George explained how he conned women into marrying him and Adelaide how she worked at the back of a milliner's shop. We squirmed as George explained and then implemented his plan, he was the archetypal baddie and all our sympathies were for young vulnerable Adelaide.

For the next hour or so George's plan developed much as he told us it would and we hated him more and felt more sympathetic for Adelaide.

Then things changed.

I cannot say much without spoiling the surprises (there was more than one) but I can say that the relationship between the villain and victim changed gradually as they spent more time together and then, suddenly, something dramatic and unexpected happened. Finally, the writing on the wall (literally) completed the drama. I loved the story.

I loved the characters too. Natasha J Barnes got top billing because of her high profile stand-in role in Funny Girl and she was very good as the young woman that we all felt sorry for. Fred Perry was equally impressive as the suave and callous villain. I didn't like what he did but had to admire the way that he did it (mostly).

Tabard is a lovely little theatre and Tryst is a lovely little play.

16 October 2017

The Incredible Hulk #189

With Marvel relaunching all their main titles (again) and returning to their legacy issue numbering they have been having a number of quick sales where every issue of the comic has been available.

This is proving to be moderately expensive!

Luckily for both my wallet, and my unread pile, not many of the collected editions of The Incredible Hulk were available and none from my Hulk Golden Age of reading black and while reprints in The Mighty World Of Marvel in the late 70s.

That left me with the options of buying s shed load of single issues which would have come to quite a price, even in a sale, or to buy just a few as a reminder of the good days.

In the end I went for just a single issue, #189. I wanted something with Herb Trimpe artwork and his run with writer Len Wein because of the humanity in those stories.

I remembered this story some forty years after first reading it so that was the one that I went for.

I very much enjoyed reading it the second time too.

14 October 2017

The Beauty of Chaos Tour with Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash at 100 Club

I am quite happy to see either of the current versions of Wishbone Ash but the way that their touring schedules have gone meant that I had not seen Andy Powell's version since April 2011 (at The Brook in Southampton) and since then I had seen Martin Turner's version three times. This made it four.

The tour advertised a full performance of Argus which seemed a little unnecessary as they had played it the last time that I saw them and at least once before then. I'd also seen Andy Powell's version play it in 2008.

Not that playing Argus again was any sort of problem. It is Wishbone Ash's classic album (from 1972) and all the tracks deserve to be played often.

The 100 Club was packed. So much so that we had to queue in the street above for several minutes before being allowed down the steps into the venue. There was only one person checking tickets and that seemed to be an unnecessarily slow process. Still, I got in before the band started playing and with enough to spare to treat myself to a decent pint of Dead Pony Club from BrewDog.

However, I was not in early enough to get to the front of the stage and so I had to find somewhere else to stand and the famous pillar in the middle made that an issue. In the end I found a reasonable spot on the centre-left about four rows back. That was close enough to see some of the band and far enough away from the constant talkers at the back (why do people do that?!) to hear the music clearly.

I took just one picture towards the end of the concert to prove that I was there and to capture something of the evening. This is it.

Of course the camera does not capture the music and that is what the evening was all about.

Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash were on excellent form playing extended versions of famous songs with skill and joy. The sound system was in fine form too and I could hear all four instruments clearly and distinctly. That mattered, as the Wishbone Ash sound is the sound of three guitars playing with, against and off each other.

I was most definitely not clock-watching but I think that Wishbone Ash started playing around 8:45pm and kept going for all but two hours, including an encore containing four songs as the calls for "one more" were heeded.

Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash did what they came to do and they did it rather smartly.

13 October 2017

Rosie Wyatt sparkled in In Event of Moone Disaster at Theatre503

I had high hopes for In Event of Moone Disaster. I love the programme at Theatre503 and this play was selected by them in an international competition so I was expecting something in the Theatre503 style backed by the assurance of the very competitive selection process. And it starred Rosie Wyatt who qualifies for a tag (Wyatt) in this blog as I have seen her act in several plays in a fairly short period.

All my hopes were met or exceeded.

In Event of Moone Disaster was a cleverly constructed family story about a man who was conceived as man firs landed on the moon (possibly fathered by an astronaut) who then fathered a woman who was going on the first manned (personned?) mission to Mars.

The three generation story was made more complicated, and more interesting, by Rosie Wyatt playing both the woman going to Mars and her grandmother, and by the story flipping between the generations. As always with these structural devices, they either work or look pretentious and in this case it worked beautifully.

In one particularly memorable scene Rosie played the aged grand mother and her younger self switching between the two as the old woman remembered scenes from her earlier life. Again that might sound unnecessarily complicated but it worked both as a scene and within the context of the play.

The cast were all excellent but it was Rosie Wyatt that I had gone to see and she was magnificent giving the sort of performance that first made me take notice of her in Blink and Spine. She had done well enough since then but I never felt that she was stretched or given the opportunity to shine in the other productions so it was lovely to see her in full force again.

The story developed nicely too and I was genuinely interested in what happened to all of the characters. It was a very human story about going to the Moon and to Mars.

11 October 2017

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (October 2017)

The months seem to be very short at the moment and so the monthly BCSA BCSA "Get to Know You" Socials, every second Wednesday since you asked, come along with brisk regularity, and a pleasing regularity.

October's social had all the usual features, including the now mandatory picture of my smazeny syr and plenty of good conversations. It also had something a little different.

One of the guests (if that's the right word) had just been to a workshop associated with World Values Day (20 October) and was keen to do something with the BCSA. That something started with an unnecessarily heated discussion on what "values" are, which was entirely my fault.

After arguing over the difference between principles and worth we agreed that we could do something with the question, "What do you value about the BCSA?". Having reached consensus I was happy to go first and you can see the result below.

Other people came up with similar themes like "Friendship" but perhaps the most imaginative response was "Czech Beer".

The values idea worked well and we are looking to do something similar at the Annual Dinner. When I say "we" I really mean "Agata" whose idea it was an who did all the work. Thank you, Agata.

The rest of the evening was as good as you would expect an evening with a community of interesting people to be, especially one fuelled by excellent Czech and Slovak beers (4 x Pilsner Urquell and 1 x Zlaty Bazant).

Wednesday 8 November is not very far away.

7 October 2017

Lucy Light at Theatre N16 sparkled

I was always going to see Lucy Light.

My chance encounter with playwright Sarah Milton on a train had led me to see her excellent Tumble Tuck at Soho Theatre last year and that made her next play, Lucy Light, unmissable.

So unmissable that I went to see it on a Saturday evening, not normally a time that I go to the theatre but it was the only free evening that I had. Not for the first time I caught a play on its last performance. I like to think that is good planning.

Tickets were a miserly £14, less than three pints in the pub downstairs where my Meantime London Ale was £5.5 a pint.

We were first in the queue upstairs, reasoning that we might as well sit and drink there as downstairs where the bar was noisy with music and Saturday revelry. Unexpectedly that also meant a chance to talk to Sarah before the show. She even remembered us from the train.

Being first in the queue meant securing our coveted seats in the middle of the front row where we faced a girl's bedroom with sand on the floor.

The girls were seventeen and celebrating the end of school. Lucy did so with some reservations as she was worried about her mother who was having chemotherapy for breast cancer. Lucy also carried the gene that increased the likelihood of her getting this.

We got a teenage girl's view of this as she was very interested in boys, particularly Gary, and saw her breasts as an important part of her attractiveness. That theme, the good and the bad of breasts, continued throughout the play as we watch Lucy and Jess grow to be 22 then 26. They talked about their hopes, dreams, fears and all the little things that make up ordinary life, like the flavours of Ryvita available from the local Sainsbury's (apparently they come with pumpkin seeds these days).

Several dramatic things happened which the spoilers rules prevent me from mentioning, but they concerned breasts and cancer. Many less dramatic things happened too, like jobs and walks on the beach, and it was this richness of experiences seen through the eyes of two young women that made Lucy Light sparkle.

Bebe Sanders (Lucy) and Georgia May Hughes (Jess) were both excellent. They were totally convincing as 17 year old girls and as 26 year old women and we saw them age with just a change of clothes, an adjustment in hair styles and good acting. I was impressed.

Being the last nigh there was some hanging around in the bat afterwards so I invested another £5.5 and heaped more deserved praise on Sarah and Georgina; sadly I missed Bebe.

Lucy Light was simply one of those plays that did everything right. It tackled a challenging subject with sympathy and was entertaining as it did so.

I do not know what is going to happen next to Sarah but after Tumble Tuck and Lucy Light it should be something special and I hope that I will be there to see it.