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.

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.

28 September 2017

Sparks The Hippopotamus Tour at O2 Shepherd's Bush (28 Sept)

Not for the first time I went to see Sparks two days in a row.

This time it was just Pete and myself and we went for the stalls to be closer to the band, to be amongst other fans and to have the opportunity to dance a little.

We got into the queue about 15 minutes before the door opened which was nothing like early enough to get on the rails but we were only a couple of people back and I had a decent view of both Ron and Russell all evening, though I had to work a little to defend it from a woman who kept leaning into me. I took the contact rather than concede the space.

The chance meetings continued and among those who had queued early (being there at 3:30pm was not good enough to get to the front apparently) were a couple who used to live around the corner from me and who once gave me tickets for a Sparks radio interview that they could not make. They had moved away a few years ago which explained why I had not seen them for a while.

It was quite a long wait for Sparks, over two hours in total, yet the time passed easily enough despite the somewhat unusual support act and a very bland pint of Tuborg Green, a beer I will always associate with with working in Denmark (Hjorring).

The set list was, unsurprisingly, almost identical to the day before. There were eighteen songs plus two encores on both nights but two songs, numbers four and ten in the running list, were changed. I am not going to pretend that I wrote that from memory, I am relying on setlist.fm which I have often found to be a useful resource.

I was there to be in the crowd and to dance a little so I deliberately did not try to take many photos, just a couple like this one to prove that I was there.

The sound and the performance were much the same as the day before and they felt better from the stalls where it was easier to join in with things like the "1" symbol during disco-classic The Number One Song in Heaven.

The set list and the supporting band were different from previous years but this was still a familiar Sparks concert and was a boisterous and bouncy feast as always.

I left the concert hall very happy (again) and made my way to Hammersmith station and an Underground train to Richmond. The chance meetings continued and I bumped into a friend from the BCSA on the platform as he changed trains. The District Line broke suddenly and I was forced onto a bus. On the bus I met James from work who sits on the desk opposite me. He had been to see The National at Apollo and had never head of Sparks. I was happy to send him a few links to start to fill this sad gap in his education.

During the curtain call Ron explained how important the UK was to Sparks in getting their musical career going and we have maintained our mutual attraction over forty years so I am confident that whatever Sparks do next that they will come back to London to showcase it. I am waiting.

27 September 2017

Sparks The Hippopotamus Tour at O2 Shepherd's Bush (27 Sept)

Sparks concerts in London are mandatory so I was very pleased when Sparks announced that they would be playing the O2 Shepherd's Bush (formerly the Shepherd's Bush Empire) as part of The Hippopotamus Tour to promote their new album.

Various friends were keen too and I volunteered to do the booking. There were some old ladies in the group (both younger than me!) so the decision was made to go for seats in Level 1. A bargain at £30.

The four of us were travelling from different places and we all met up in the pub next door, now called The Sindercombe Social. They did a decent veggie burger and beer which did the job nicely. It was there that two days of unexpected meetings started so I'll take a alight detour and talk about those first.

Three of the four of us went and joined the queue while I finished my food. A couple soon asked if they could share the now largely empty table and I agreed. She was wearing a black and white hooped top so I made the comment that she must have got the email about the dress code. Her reply came in a smooth Scottish accent so I quickly confessed that my top was really an Alex Harvey one, to which she replied that she knew one of the band (Max)! A quick selfie was taken, posted to Facebook and Max was tagged in the conversation.

In the auditorium Pete found himself two seats away from somebody he knew from going to other gigs, Julie was sitting next to somebody who she would be sitting close to at a Midge Ure concert and sitting in the same row as me was somebody that I knew through my Knowledge Management activities. I texted her while waiting for the convert just to say Hi and then we bumped into each other on the way out.

We shared the bus back from Richmond with Paul who I see little of these days after he moved away and our meeting place, The Hand and Flower, had stopped being a place to meet.

Back to the concert.

This was a rocky Sparks with Ron and Russell backed by three guitars, another keyboards and drums. The band wore black with white hoops, Russell wore white with black hoops and Ron wore a lovely jacket that was an equal mix. Many people had picked up on the style from videos of earlier concerts and, like me, wore hoops of some kind.

The set list, as expected, relied heavily with the new album, The Hippopotamus, with a decent smattering of hits from the last 40 plus years. It was particularly good to hear When Do I Get to Sing "My Way", as it always is.

The set mixed moods nicely and there was space for quieter numbers like Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth, another favourite of mine. The changing moods was done best at the end of the main set where two blistering performances of The Number One Song in Heaven and This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us (probably their two biggest fan favourites) were followed by the gentle Life with the Macbeths from the new album.

The Number One Song in Heaven also featured the Ron Dance that was eagerly anticipated and enthusiastically cheered.

They had to come back and it was a pleasant surprise to hear Johnny Delusional from their FFS days collaborating with Franz Ferdinand before they closed with a rousing Amateur Hour, another popular track from the legendary Kimono My House.

Sparks made the evening complete by taking this selfie with the audience. I can just about find myself on the first level just to the right of the central aisle and a few rows from the front.

It was an astonishingly good evening for so many reasons. The music was obviously the main factor but the sheer good heartedness and joy of it all was very important too. It was like having afternoon tea with a favourite aunt where you enjoy her company and also that special cake she baked for you.

24 September 2017

More Neil Young wonderfulness from The Honeyslides at The Half Moon

My excuse for seeing The Honeyslides used to be that it was a rare opportunity to hear some Neil Young songs played live and while that is still true I can now add that I wanted to see The Honeyslides.

This was my third time seeing them and after the first two I was very keen to see them again. So much so that I was happy to make the epic journey to Putney (two buses) and pay £10 for the privilege when I have plenty of opportunities to see covers bands for free within walking distance.

The 8pm start meant a 7pm bus which then left time for a first pint of Wimbledon Somethingorother before the doors opened at 8:15. I had two more later.

The waiting was enlivened by the chaos of the pub quiz in which the golden rule of writing your own questions was broken leading to much confusion and some comedy.

The timely arrival and some astute defending of my position got me into the music room first. My plan was to take a seat just to right of centre of the stage, as I had been left of centre last time, but the two table on the right were reserved for family members so it was the one just left of centre again.

I was not clock watching but I think that it was around  8:45pm that they started playing and they played non-stop until just after 11pm in a blistering set that went electric, acoustic and then electric again. It was a typical, for them and for Neil Young, mix of greatest hits and some surprises.

As last time I just noted one word from each song for the set list to save time writing and this is what I wrote: tonight, palomino, winds, cinnamon, hurricane, winter, river, alabama, revolution, words, highway, gold, moon, comes, old, rose, sugar, loner, thrasher, needle, castles, powder, cry, walk, cowgirl, dance, ohio, tonight (reprise), southern, rocking. This time my standout track was thrasher for several reasons.

There were a few technical snafus, a bit of technology broke and so did a guitar string, but the band kept playing until things were sorted and everything was fine. Better than fine actually.

It was another excellent evening thanks to Neil Young for writing the songs and The Honeyslides for playing them so well and for corralling them together into a great set.

23 September 2017

Follies at National Theatre was a great production of an average musical

The attraction of Follies was obvious, it had Imelda Staunton in it. It also helped that it was written by Stephen Sondheim. The final clincher was that it was on at National Theatre which is comfortable, convenient and cheap (compared to the West End). I was keen to see it.

So were lots of other people and I had to rely on a friend's help to get tickets. She was a member of NT and was able to get tickets before they went on general sale. Thanks Julie!

Heavy demand meant little choice of seats and I was very happy to pay £41 for Stalls H2. The Olivier Theatre has an odd shape with wings on either side of the stalls and I was in one of those. Despite being almost at the edge the view was very good, the curved shape of the stage helped as did the slightly elevated position.

Follies was a simple tale of two young women and men who met at Follies and got married. Several years later they all met again at a reunion and they both revisited the early days and considered their current situations. The relationships between the four had been "it's complicated" when they met and had stayed that way.

Possibly the most successful part of the production was the way that different actors were used to represent the characters then and now with both generations often on stage at the same time as a story starting in the present moved to the past.

The stage performed wonders in keeping the flow of the story while conjuring different scenes from different times. Key to this was the way that it rotated, which also helped those of us in the wings to see the action clearly.

The Sondheim music was much as expected and the lyrics were more so. Perhaps I had not listened to them so carefully before or perhaps they were just delivered better this time but I was hit by line after line of striking prose with phrases like "I should have gone to an acting school. That seems clear" and "Constantinople has Turkish baths, And Athens that lovely debris.".

Delivering the clever lines was an excellent cast. Follies spread the singing duties widely and no one person dominating. Of course most eyes were on Imelda Staunton, and she shouldered that responsibility with ease, but the singing and acting were universally good and there were several stand-out moments that did not involve the central four characters.

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.

19 September 2017

Juliet Stevenson flies brightly in Wings at Young Vic

Wings attracted me because it starred Juliet Stevenson and by the same team that did the remarkable Happy Days in 2015.

Booking was quite confusing. Online I was told that I had a seat in "Zone B - Best available" for £20, i.e. I did not have a specified seat number at that time. Because of the confusion I went to the theatre before eating in Culture Grub next door. Then I was given a ticket that said I had seat A49.

Half an hour later on entering the theatre I found somebody else sitting in my place. That was fair enough as his ticket also said A49. An usher took our two tickets away and when he returned I was given A49 again and the other man was reseated somewhere in row C.

The stage was similar to that used for Yerma, a high stage ran from left to right with seating on both sides. The floor was at about eye height. Not ideal but at least there was not the glass wall between performers and audience that Yerma had.

Wings was a simple play about an elderly woman, Emily, who has a stroke while reading comfortably in her armchair and then fights to recover some of her lost facilities. There are conversations where she goes unheard by the staff trying to help her and later, as she recovers a little, there are conversations consisting of gibberish. It is an intense and emotional portrayal of what it is like to have a stroke and Juliet Stevenson was superb as Emily.

The production did not help. Emily had been an aviator so Juliet Stevenson was given wires to fly above the stage and she wore these for most of the 75 minutes that the performance lasted. It was quite a sight to see her flying and spinning above the stage but I found it something of a distraction and I would much rather have seen her act being in the air than actually being in the air. It did not help either that I had to look even further up to see the action.

It was easiest just to ignore that flying and to concentrate on Juliet Stevenson instead. And that was a very rewarding thing to do.

18 September 2017

Revisiting Thebes Land at Arcola Theatre because it is still exceptional

I do not often go back and see a repeat performance of a show but Thebes Land made such a good and strong impression on me the first time around that I had to see it again when it was revived for a second run. Quick booking got me 1 Full Price ticket (Ground Floor: A19 (Aisle Seats, Arcola Best Seats)) for £22, a snip. Last year it was only £19 and that was a ridiculous steal.

Usually when I see a play I have little or no idea of what to expect but with Thebes the situation was different. Not only had I seen the same production less than a year previously I also read my blog post of that to remind myself of what I thought at that time. Despite that I was still surprised at just how brilliant Thebes Land was. I was expecting something exceptional and it was better than that.

A second watching just brought home to me just how much was going on in the play and I noticed things that I had not spotted the first time. Some examples.

One short scene about the prisoner's rosary beads was presented four times. First we saw it as it happened with the prisoner and the playwright. Then we saw an almost exact copy with the actor and the playwright. Then the playwright added a Whitney Huston CD to the scene. Then, finally, the actor built on that to produce the final version of the scene. It was fascinating to watch and also opened the question of how many other versions of this scene had been tried before these four were selected for the play.

Throughout the play the question was asked, what is the time?, and the answer was always 5pm until the final time when it was 1 minute past. It was only a little touch, but a nice one.

The tempo of the play varied more than I remembered and I particularly liked the slow scenes where the action actually stopped for long moments.

Thebes Land was stupidly rich with great ideas and I loved even more the second time because of that.

I was extremely lucky to grab a few quick words with Trevor White (the playwright in the play) afterwards. These were mostly me struggling to find the way to say how much I loved the play but there were some nuggets of content in which I was surprised to learn that this version of the play was slightly shorter than last year's, through cutting some scenes, and was pleased to learn that I was right about the greater emphasis on tempo.

15 September 2017

Prism at Hampstead Theatre was wonderful theatre

The main reason that I wanted to see Prism is in the picture, Robert Lindsay, and there was plenty else to recommend it, not least my previous experiences at Hampstead.

Not sure what happened with the booking but somehow seat Q6, in the back row cost me an unbelievably low £25. Not sure what happened on the evening either as i was given the slightly better seat of P7. I only notice that now when writing this up.

Hampstead Theatre sits almost on top of Swiss Cottage underground station but going that way means going via Waterloo and that always seems wrong. Besides, there is no much walking that way so I went via the Overground and West Hampstead instead. The tube map is immensely unhelpful in that part of London as it does not follow the geography closely at all and it is only through walking around there that I have learned alternative routes.

There is not much in the immediate area of the theatre so I rely on the cafe there for food and drink. Sadly they closed the kitchens a while ago so hot food is no longer an option. Luckily I was able to find a fancy open sandwich. It was pricey but tasty and did the job. The bottle of Camden Pale helped too.

In Prism we see a former film maker, Jack, with dementia. His son, Mason, is trying to get him to write the book of his life while he can still remember it. To help he has just hired a carer to look after him and his much younger wife is there too. The action takes place in the large garage of Jack's house which has been filled with all sorts of memorabilia to try and stir Jack's memory.

Two things become apparent quickly; the extent of Jack's dementia and his love for and understanding of the art of taking a picture. The prism in the title was the innovation that allowed film to be made in good quality colour. While Jack can explain in detail how the prism worked inside the camera he could not differentiate a Vermeer from one of his own paintings.

I was a little uncomfortable at first as I do not find dementia anything to laugh at and other people were laughing at Jack's confusion (e.g. he could not find his local pub) and his constant repetition of questions. That quickly ended as we got more immersed in Jack's life, present and past.

The story was compelling and interlaced the present and the past brilliantly (rarely was an interval break better used). All of the characters were interesting, solid and presented skilfully. Robert Lindsay was fantastic as Jack but he did not steal the show as the other three were also excellent. The set did clever things that helped the story and the direction was crisp and imaginative. This was an exhibition in total theatre craft and I was extremely delighted to have witnessed it.

Prism was damn near perfect.

13 September 2017

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

This Wednesday was a particularly blustery day and I was a little surprised to see so many people jostle with the weather and the resultant travel difficulties to get to West Hampstead for the BCSA  "Get to Know You" Social. We had to add an extra table to the group to accommodate every one and even then there were a few people standing, though I believe that was more out of preference than for a lack of chairs.

I had left work early to get to the social early but my travel difficulties meant an unexpected detour via Waterloo and the Jubilee Line rather than taking the direct London Overground. Plan B worked well and while I was not as early as I had hoped I was still early. Other people were too.

The evening went much as usual and much as expected with many interesting conversations, a few beers to drink and some smazeny syr to eat. Two of those are featured in the photo above.

There were several new people there and I made a point to talk to them. The opening gambits in these conversations was me asking them where they came from with Czechoslovakia (as it was) and them asking me if I spoke any Czech or Slovak (I do not). Pleasantries exchanged, the conversations then took on their own lives as good conversations do.

11 September 2017

Pleasingly disturbed by Doubt, A Parable at Southwark Playhouse

I often include part of a play's promotional blurb when explaining why I have gone to see it, this time I give the full text:
John Patrick Shanley’s masterpiece is one of the most acclaimed plays in recent memory. Winning 4 Tony Awards including Best Play, named Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Best New Play (Drama Desk Awards) and Outstanding Play (Lucille Lortel Awards). Doubt, A Parable won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
I was not going to miss that if I could avoid it. Luckily Southward Playhouse has performances on Mondays when many theatres do not so I went on a Monday. I went for a seat in the front row, as usual, and seat A20 in The Large was a more and reasonable £20. Incidentally, you have to admire a theatre that calls its two spaces The Little and The Large.

Despite having booked it only a few days before, I had no idea what the play was going to be about. I turned out to be on the somewhat challenging subject of abuse of children within the Catholic Church.

The priest under suspicion certainly had reasons for being under suspicion but was the sister being overzealous in her accusations? There was reasonable doubt both ways and that is what the play was all about.

Caught up in the dispute were a young teacher and the possible victim's mother.

These were four strong roles played strongly from the very start. The power of the play came from these four characters with their deep motivations and beliefs as they clashed and collided with each other. There was a lot of shouting.

As the play progressed we learned more about the possible abuse but never enough to erase the doubt. We were asked to choose which of the two, the priest or the sister, we believed and which should be punished. The system favoured the priest but that did not making him guilty.

It was a powerful production and it was easy to see why it won so many awards. If I have to be petty, the movement was a little unnatural as the players tried to satisfy all of the audience which sat on all sides. That was a small price to pay for being allowed to be so close to the action.

Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius was at the centre of the play and was simply magnificent.

Doubt, A Parable was disturbing drama and that is why I loved it.

8 September 2017

The March on Russia at Orange Tree Theatre was listless and pointless

While my interest in Orange Tree Theatre has cooled in recent years, as I have discovered more theatres that I find more stimulating, I still go there regularly and am prepared to give it any benefit of the doubt when considering whether to see a play there. This is a step down from seeing everything there automatically but it means that I still go there a lot.

The March on Russia seemed like my sort of thing so I reached for my credit card to pay an almost insignificant £15 for set A1, possibly my first time there.

The play was an almost voyeuristic look at a family. A couple were celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary and were joined for this by their three children, oddly with no partners or grandchildren.

As they talked about the past, when they the children were small and before that, skeletons stumbled out of the closet in droves.

Somehow, despite that, the play never got anywhere. Many of the stories told by the couple must have been heard many times before and so caused no reaction. And when reaction did come it was unnaturally muted. There were arguments between people who seemingly had never had an argument before and had no idea that they were meant to shout and throw things.

Dark hints were dropped but not picked up. One of the children looked as though they were carrying the bleakest secret all evening but it remained a secret. Throwaway comments were made about extreme behaviours that were not followed up. It was all deeply unsatisfying. There were so many directions the play could have taken but it took none of them, choosing instead to end as if nothing had happened.

The following evening I was in my local pub and one of the regulars there got involved in an inter-generational family dispute and was far more passionate and enthralling than this one.

The set did nothing to help either. I am happy to imagine that there are walls between rooms that I cannot see but a little imagination would have made a lot of difference.

It was almost boring at times and I saw a few closed eyes in the audience. Keeping it alive were the performances from Ian Gelder in particular and also Sue Wallace as the elderly couple. That was a small reward for an evening in the theatre.

2 September 2017

A fantastic evening with Nursery Cryme at The Oak

I do not often write about bands that I see in pubs because that would be a lot of writing and usually there is nothing new to say; one rock covers band is pretty much like another. The sheer brilliance of Nursery Cryme last night has forced me to change my habit.

I had seen the band a few times before so knew what to expect, as did the other people who filled out The Oak and who sang along to far more of the songs than I did. If anything the set was less commercial than previously in that they did not play some of the more obvious early Genesis songs, like I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). What they did play was a lot of longer more complex songs, like In the Cage. This was symphonic rock at its very best and I absolutely loved it.

Loot at Park Theatre was farcical and intelligent

While I have been an admirer of Park Theatre for some time and was aware of Joe Orton what really got me to see Loot was a chance encounter with Julie at a Sparks concert and Julie comes from Leicester, as did Orton. A convenient date was agreed and I bought the tickets, A18-20 in the middle of the front row, for a reasonable £26.5.

Apart from the promise of a 'dark comedy" I had little idea of what to expect. I had heard a couple of Orton short pieces on the radio recently and while they had some light touches I would be stretching a point if I said that I found them funny.

Loot was funny. Very funny. Laugh out loud funny.

Without giving too much away I can admit that it featured a dead woman, a nurse whose seven husbands all died quickly, a bank robbery and a policeman determined to solve several crimes all related to the few people in the room. Loot was a farce and a bloody good one too.

Trying to hide dead bodies is good farcical fare but there was more to Loot than just being a farce. The dialogue delivered clever funny lines at such a quick rate that it was hard to digest them all. Without the farcical elements of the plot it would still have been a funny play. A favourite, almost picked at random from the many, was when the coffin was being taken from the room the nurse put a copy of the Ten Commandments on it saying of the deceased, "She was a big fan, of some of them".

Some deep themes were covered too. There was a lot of religion, especially Catholicism, some politics and plenty of ethics. It was not a light play despite the heaps of comedy.

I found Loot to be hilarious from unusual beginning to unexpected end.

1 September 2017

Dissecting ethics charmingly with Windows at Finborough Theatre

I had been aware of Finborough Theatre for some time but there are lots of small theatres in London and I never had a compelling reason to go before. Then I saw Windows advertised in another theatre's email and the lure of John Galsworthy was enough and I willingly parted with my £18.

Finborough Theatre is conveniently located in West London alongside Brompton Cemetery. I took the tube to West Brompton and then a short-cut through the Cemetery. That part of the plan did not work well as there were no side gates and I had to walk all the way through then back up along the road outside. It was a pleasant walk if an unnecessary one.

The pub was a welcoming place and I had a difficult choice of beers to make. I'm still not sure what I had as there was no clip on the pump but the staff recommended it and it was a good choice. Their food came from the pizzeria next door and that also worked well.

The theatre was upstairs and we were allowed in a good thirty minutes before the show started. Not knowing the theatre I went up early to get a good seat. That was easy as there were seats on three sides of the stage and I took one on one of the central benches. Having claimed my seat I went back downstairs to get a coffee and came back with a beer, thwarted by the lack of paper cups I made the only sensible decision.

We joined Windows in the dining room of an upper middle class household, they had servants, soon after the Great War in which the son of the house had served. The father was a writer and the mother ran the house and family. Her immediate responsibility was to find a new parlour maid but the odd job man, who had come into the room to clean the windows, had a suggestion to make, his daughter. The only problem was she had just spent some time in prison, for murder.

What followed was a skillful dissection of ethics, politics and class as the opinions of the diverse group collided; as anyone you has read, watched or listen to The Forsyte Saga would expect.. Humour was one an obvious result of the collisions but there serious things to think about too. The play was a success because of the range of credible characters and the ability of the cast to bring those characters alive. It was an ensemble performance and they all deserved praise they got from the sold out house for the part they played. Carolyn Backhouse as the mother, Joan March, gets a mention because I loved the character and she had more work to do with it than the others.

Windows was a welcome discovery of a good play, a fine theatre and a decent pub. I expect the pub and theatre to have my custom again soon.

29 August 2017

Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story at Grimeborn did thrill me

The premise of Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, child killers, may not be an obvious one for a musical (that is more opera territory) but it intrigued me and the promise of a "multi-award-winning, five-star production" was enough to get me to find £30 for seat G16 in the first row of the Balcony.

I would have gone for a decent seat downstairs but other people were as attracted to the show as I was and my favourite seats there had gone by the time that I was organised enough to buy tickets so I thought I would try the Balcony. I may have been up there before but only once and that would have been quite a while ago.

The seat was OK though there was a slight disadvantage in having a safety rail (I would rather see than be safe!) and a bigger one in not being allowed to take drinks up there. I will try and be faster off the mark in future to get a downstairs seat but the Balcony is a fair alternative.

I had not done much (i.e. any) research before hand so the minimalist production was a pleasant surprise. There were just two players, Harry Downes and Ellis Dackombe who were Leopold and Loeb funnily enough, and just one musician, a pianist.

The story started in the 1920's as the music reflected that with an easy-listening lounge style. Not usually my sort of music but it worked very well here and the music was a strength of the performance.

We met Leopold and Loeb just after they left High School. They had been very close friends and were almost lovers, though the partnership was very unequal with one of them universally popular and outgoing and the other shy and a loner. They were both rich and looking for thrills. They committed petty crimes just for the excitement. Things developed badly from there.

The story was important but more important was the evolving relationship between the two young men and that was portrayed sensitively and intelligently. The singing was spot-on too emphasising the changing emotions expertly. It was pure joy to watch and to listen to.

The set was simple but clever too with, for example, a car conjured from a few pieces of wood. Beds and desks came and went quickly too and that nicely maintained the pace and, through that, the emotional connection with the young men and their situation.

 Thrill Me was a sumptuous production all round and it did indeed thrill me.

25 August 2017

Delilah delighted in Samson and Delilah at Grimeborn

Grimeborn is an interesting opera festival run every Summer at Arcola Theatre in Dalston. It compliments the Tete a Tete festival, which unfortunately is on around the same time, as that focuses on new opera (and many variants thereof) and Grimeborn largely does new productions of old operas. These are rough boundaries and they often overlap and a few operas appear at both.

Samson and Delilah fitted the Grimeborn brand neatly as it was written by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1877 but is not performed that often, By that I mean that I had not heard of it before. I had heard of Saint-Saëns and was interested to hear some of his works.

That was enough for me to fork out £22 for a good seat (A12, on the end of the central block) on a Friday night.

That night started well with a simple journey to the theatre, despite the partial closure at Waterloo Station, giving me enough time to hit the salad bowl beforehand. At £6.50 it is the most interesting and best value meal at any theatre that I know. The obligatory pint of Foundation was nice too.

The opera started on a high. We walked into a dark theatre, as usual, to find a group of people lying on the floor at the far end of the stage and a man dressed in Mad Max: Fury Road gear standing still just in front of my chair. It was something of an effort to get around him, which i liked as it brought me into the story at the very start.

The group lying down began to writhe and sing and we were off on the familiar story. Actually it soon transpired that I was not that familiar with the story (who was Dagon?) and I had to rely on the surtitles to help me a long as my skills with French were on a par with my knowledge of the Bible.

The story soon mattered very little as Delilah made here entrance. Not only was she stunning, as she should be as a femme fatale, she sung beautifully too, which was just as well as she had a lot of singing to do. The opera could have been called Delilah and Samson.

The music came from a single piano and that was lovely too. It flowed continuously rising when called upon to provide more colour during the frequent arias.

Samson and Delilah was everything that I would have hoped from at Grimeborn, a good classic opera delivered as if it was a new brash one. Everything about it was right.

21 August 2017

Bob Dylan shines in Girl from the North Country at Old Vic

It took quite a lot to get me to see this as, apart from the promise of some Bob Dylan music, nothing about it appealed to me. It sounded bland and I do not like bland.

Then the good reviews flooded in and that was still not enough. Finally a friend said it was so good she was considering going again and that forced me to consider it. I was lucky an =d was able to get a single seat on its own, A30, in the front row of the Lillian Baylis Circle (my usual place) for a not to be argued over £21. I got a safety rail in front of me for that but I knew from previous experience that I could live with that.

I was still not sure what to expect, which is how I like it, and I settled into my seat with no preconceptions.

I think Girl from the North Country was a musical. There was certainly plenty of music in it but little (if any) of it seemed to be directly related to the story. This was not just an excuse to play some greatest hits either and I did not recognise most of the songs despite owning, and playing, several Dylan albums.

The songs were the highlight of the show and all were delivered with energy and panache. The singing roles were shared widely and successfully, leading to much clapping after every song, just like at a more obvious musical. Those not singing the lead in a particular song were usually dancing, providing some backing vocal, playing instruments or some combination there of. These were long songs too and they filled the performance with their exuberance and, thanks to Dylan's Nobel Prize winning lyrics, intelligent wit.

The songs led the way and the story flowed around them. It flowed nicely too. The simple premise, a guest house, allowed us to follow the fortunes of many people who lived, worked or stayed there. These were generally unsetting stories which was not surprising given that this was set in 1934, just a few years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 when America was wallowing in the Great Depression. There were tales of love and humour in the mix but there were more about despair and unhappiness.

Girl from the North Country (I never did work out why it was called that) was an undoubted success and an affirmation of humanity and it's ability to survive large setbacks. The large cast was excellent and deserved all the cheers they got but the undoubted star of the show was Robert Zimmerman.

20 August 2017

Kew Gardens (20 August 17)

Kew Gardens opens over the Summer at 8am for members and I decided to take advantage of that even though it meant getting up earlier on a Sunday than I would normally do on a working day. The breakfast and buses worked to plan and I was at Victoria Gate about five minutes before opening time. There were people there before me.

Going early means that less of the day is taken with the visit but the most important benefit is that the garden is relatively empty and do it is possible to take pictures like this without worrying about the people in it.

My plan, such as it was, was to walk round anti-clockwise sticking more or less to the outer path. That was only a rough plan and I went through the Rock Garden rather than the Plant Family Beds. This is one of the areas that benefits most from fewer people as the sounds of the several waterfalls can be heard more clearly and the main view, next to the biggest waterfall, is peaceful.

The Grass Garden, close to the Rock Garden, is always one of my favourite parts of the gardens at this time of year when they are in full growth. The variety and majesty of the grasses never fails to delight me.

It was quite a long walk round from there to Log Trail in the south-west corner. It had been many years since I had last seen, let alone tried, the trail and it was much longer than I remembered. I presume that was because it had been added to rather than a fault of my memory.

This is just a section of it, perhaps a quarter, and you can see that it has a wide variety of balance challenges. I suspect that it is intended for children but I had great fun completing the course.

I finished my tour of Kew Gardens just before 10am as the gates were opening for the regular visitors. It had been a wonderful two hours.

18 August 2017

boom at Theatre503 was entertaining and surprising

I go to all the main shows at Theatre503 these days, not out of some loyalty but because they have a consistent track record of delivering unusual plays that are both stimulating and entertaining.

And so I eagerly forked out my £15 for boom.

First I had to feed and water myself and I did that in the pub downstairs, The Latchmere. I am not much of a foodie so I had the nachos, yet again, and a pint of Landlord, yet again.

The premise of boom is in the poster. A gay geek is studying fish and from this he concludes that they know that the world is about to end due to a collision with a large asteroid. The fish are right.

The geek makes plans, he prepares a bunker and entices a woman into it just before the collision. She is studying journalism and her motive in going was to write a piece on him.

boom is the story of one man's attempt to save the human race.

Except it is more than that. There is a third player, a narrator and our guide. She is in a uniform and it soon becomes clear that the play we are watching is some sort of historical reenactment taking place in a museum for our education.

Balancing this sci-fi element is the story of the two young people as they try to come to terms with the new world and with each other. They had been thrown together by circumstances and were not really suited which generates a lot of humour. The play (the couple) within the play (the history lesson) is nicely entertaining in the way that sit-coms should be.

The history lesson is a surprise. I've had to delete several attempts where I have tried to explain why it is surprising without spoiling it but the clues were too obvious. Just trust me on that one.

boom was a delightful treat and ideal fare for a Friday evening.

17 August 2017

Socks Do Shakespeare at Camden Fringe

If this blog is to be believed it was almost five years ago that I had last seen the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. That was five years of bad luck with the occasional Socks gig in the London area always clashing with something I had already booked.

So when a date was announced that there was a chance that could make I jumped at it. The start time (6:30pm) and location (Islington) were far from friendly but needs must and I sneaked out of work early, grabbed a train and a tube, then walked the final mile or so down from Highbury and Islington to the Bill Murray, which is a little off the beaten track.

There was a bar so I grabbed a pint while somebody wrote "15" on my hand in green pen.

The club room was small, dark, packed and hot. That was far from ideal but the discomforts were forgotten as soon as I heard Kev Sutherland say the familiar, "Hello, we are the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. And so am I. And so is he."

The only other material that I remembered from previous shows that I had seen was the I am a Sock song, which I guess is mandatory. The Socks do tours, or seasons, on a theme and this was all about Shakespeare so it was new material to be, apart from the odd clip that I had seen on YouTube, though Kev tries to keep his live act and YouTubing separate so there is not much opportunity to see the live show except by going to it.

For the next hour the Socks did what the Socks do and, I believe, better than I had see them do it before. The hour simply whizzed past and I spent almost all of it laughing. The only times I was not laughing at jokes I was groaning at puns.

Socks Do Shakespeare was simply far funnier than it had any right to be. Kev Sutherland is an artist who knows his craft and his audience. It had better not be another bloody five years before I see the Socks again.

15 August 2017

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Apollo Theatre was blistering

There are several names on the poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the one that made me buy a ticket was Tennessee Williams. I love modern theatre but I like seeing the classics too, especially if I have not seen them before, and so this was an obvious choice to make.

It was a Young Vic production at a west end venue so it came with eye watering west end prices and so I found myself up in Grand Circle, seat B12, with part of the safety rail obstructing my view and still paying £35 for the privilege (top price was £99). The play had to be pretty good to justify that.

It was pretty good.

In a format I am beginning to think of as American Standard we watched a family in almost real time across an evening in one room.

In what felt like the first of three acts (and the internet suggest that it might be that) there was a long conversation between Maggie (Sienna Miller) and Brick (Jack O'Connell) where Maggie did most of the talking and Brick did a lot of drinking. His drinking was one of the things they discussed. Sienna Miller rose highly in my estimation (admittedly from a position of obscurity).

There was also a fair amount of nudity which felt unnecessary to the story and a little distracting. They were in their bedroom, and Brick was having a shower, so the nudity was natural but unhelpful.

In the second act the main conversation was between Brick (still drinking heavily) and his father, Big Daddy Pollitt (Colm Meaney). Colm I did know because he had appeared in several great films including Layer Cake and, or course, Under Siege. This was a more equal conversation about the future. Big Daddy was celebrating his 65th birthday and had big plans for the future. Women featured in these.

In the final act all the family dramas came together and the other people at the party became more prominent, including Brick's mother, brother and his wife who had designs on Big Daddy's substantial wealth, and a couple of old family friends.

The plot helped to move things along and gave a point to the conversations but, as with other American Standard plays, it was the conversations themselves that mattered with the crisp use of language to convey emotions and ideas. The dialogue fizzed because Tennessee Williams wrote a great play and the cast did it full justice.

11 August 2017

Sumptuous evening at Tête à Tête Festival 2017

Tête à Tête took a gap year last year and there was no festival in 2016 so I was keen to get back in the groove with Tête à Tête Festival 2017.

This year the Festival was based around RADA Studios (the former Drill Hall) near Goodge Street which would have been ideal if I were still working at Kings Cross but I had changed jobs and was in distant Teddington with a train service disrupted by major works at Waterloo. All that is my thin justification for not getting to the Festival until the final week. Still, better late than never.

The first performance that I saw was Albatross.

This was a work in development that was exploring the mystery and majesty of the albatross using The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as the guide and pulling on other voices, such as Herman Melville.

This was a sparse piece with just two actors, the mariner and the albatross, one other voice off stage and an accordion providing all the music. The accordion also provided some pretty impressive wind noises in a way that I did not know that it was capable of.

One of the creatives behind the piece introduced it by saying that movement was a key part of what they wanted to achieve and this was obvious from the beginning. This worked particularly well when the two actors used two white rods each to summon images of a wild sea.

We were presented with a series of scenes, i.e. the ones they had managed to write and rehearse, that were sequenced in the way that made best sense.

It could have been clunky but was nothing of the sort. While pushing the boundaries of what opera is (one of the things Tête à Tête does) with only a couple of what could be called songs it easily managed to be poetic, musical and engaging. I enjoyed it a lot.

An excellent start to the evening.

The second performance that I saw was The Winter’s Tale, an interpretation of Shakespeare's play. The picture gives a good idea of what it looked like.

This was a fully formed piece lasting about an hour. There was a substantial cast with the musicians stepping into roles when not playing their instruments.

The music was composed by the man who also wrote Albatros and had the same short sharp sounds, more like sound effects than tunes, though that is an oversimplification. The singing was in the same mode with sounds rather than words. The story was told in spoken word.

If I had to classify it I would say that this was a play with a musical accompaniment. That music was constant and was important in describing the mood of the story. As was the movement.

It was a nice version of the story and even though I knew it I was caught in the mood of it as if hearing it for the first time.

Again I would have been pushed to call The Winter’s Tale an opera but it was a fine piece of something and I would happily see it again.

I ended the evening with ‘i’. To be honest, I was at the Festival that day anyway and it was the only thing on at that time so I booked to see it too.

I love it when accidents like that happen. "i" was my highlight of the evening.

"i" was very different again. It was much more like a traditional opera than the other two works and it was a lot weirder and a less structured story too.

It had plenty of songs which sounded like "normal" songs, with a clearly modern twist. The lyrics were heavily repetitive, for example the princess said "I" many many times before she completed the sentence "I am not happy". Musically and lyrically it was an excellent opera.

Making the good something special were the costumes and the touches of humour. The costumes were extraordinary and then some. The story teller who opened the opera by singing on her back is only a clue as to what they wore. Note the makeup too.

"i" was delightful in every way and for every minute and it was all the more pleasing because it was such a surprise.

Adding to the pleasure of the evening were the opportunities to mix with some of the Tête à Tête crew and friends in the breaks. That's why they call it a festival.

9 August 2017

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

The second Wednesday in August 2017 was ridiculously wet in south-east London but a few hardy souls still made it to West Hampstead for an evening of talking, drinking and eating at the regular BCSA "Get to Know You" Social.

There were a few new, or rare, faces there which helped the conversations take a different tack this time. There was no mention of politics and it was nice to have a long chat with Jana about dance at Saddler's Wells instead.

Other things were much the same; I started the evening on Pilsner Urquell, topped it off with a bottle of Zlaty Bazant on last orders and had some smazeny syr somewhere in the middle.

Another excellent evening and only five weeks to the next one.

8 August 2017

The Hired Man at Union Theatre was beautiful

The Hired Man was one of those easy choices. I had seen three Howard Goodall musicals at Union Theatre a couple of years ago and loved them all and that was more than enough to get me back there for a fourth helping.

Having the story based on a book by Melvyn Bragg only made it more attractive.

A bargain at £22.50.

Normally a trip to a theatre in that area (there are four that I go to fairly regularly) means eating at Culture Grub first but they were closed for refurbishment so that meant looking for a Plan B. That was an easy too and I stayed in the theatre cafe and had a halloumi wrap with some interesting accompaniments and, er, chips.

My usual good planning got me a top ten ticket which got me in the first batch of people let into the theatre and that got me a middle seat in the front row in what proved to be a full house, they even brought a couple of chairs through from the bar.

The Hired Man told us the story of a casual agricultural worker, his two brothers and their friends and lovers in the early part of the twentieth century. They were people at the bottom of the economic tree, the sort of people Thomas Hardy also wrote about, and their lives were never settled, never comfortable. There were plenty of moments of happiness, times spent with lovers, time at the races and drinks with friends in the pub but there was also the discomfort and danger of working in the pits and the even worse discomfort and danger of the trenches in the Great War.

It was a grim story that was, somehow, never bleak.

Holding everything together was the music which did everything that I hoped it would do from my previous experiences of Goodall's work. The mood and the structure kept changing with soloists, diets, trios and choruses providing different soundscapes while some themes were repeated to make new tunes sound familiar. There was clearly a Goodall approach at work here and I felt he could write musicals in the way that other people write episodes of The Archers and they would all be good.

Sitting in the front row proved to be a good choice and I felt totally immersed in the story. That story gripped me because I did not know it, it was not obvious where it was going and there was always something interesting going on.

There was a lot of activity too with the large cast dancing quite a bit and generally moving around a lot. It was an ensemble performance and everybody played their part well.

With story by Melvyn Bragg and music by Howard Goodall my exceptions were clearly set and The Hired Man sounded exactly like that. It was beautiful (and grim!).

4 August 2017

Yerma at Young Vic was a powerful story

I am not sure why I skipped Yerma when hit first appeared at Young Vic last year but it got plenty of good reviews then, and won some prestigious awards, so I was in the queue early when it returned. That alertness secured me seat A36) in the stalls for an unbelievable £10. At that price it did not matter what view I had or even if the play was not particularly good.

Young Vic seems to delight in extreme productions and this was no exception. The stage was arranged as a rectangle with seating on the two long sides, it was raised about 1.5m, had glass walls and the actors communicated with the audience through speakers. None of this had anything to do with the story and all seemed rather pointless and gimmicky.

That was a shame because Yerma was a really good play and the cast did a great job with it. Of course Billie Piper as the mother trying to get pregnant was the star, and many people seemed to have come just to see her, but there were equally strong performances from her husband, sister and mother.

Yerma started with a raunchy conversation about sex between the couple. I am not sure if it was done to shock us at the very start or as a way of raising the issue to childlessness early but the conversation started with bum sex (as they called it). No other conversations in the play were as crude.

There were many other strong conversations though as the story developed. Possibly the most shocking was the sister talking about her baby in angry terms. The complaint about exploding nappies rang a bell! It was always a tense story and while there were many light touches, particularly from the mother, it was an emotionally draining story to hear and a happy ending never looked likely.

There was no interval and that was as it should be. This was not a story to drop and pick-up again.

Despite the nature of the story I loved it for its realism, grittiness and pace. It dragged you along brutally pausing for breath occasionally.

I love dark challenging theatre and so Yerma suited me well. I liked it a lot and was only prevented from loving it by the somewhat ridiculous staging.

27 July 2017

Datong - The Chinese Utopia at Richmond Theatre was melodic and interesting

A Chinese themed and styled opera at my local theatre was an obvious attraction even though the odd performance times meant that I had to take an afternoon off work to see it. The pricing was friendly enough though and sitting in my preferred area, Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 21, cost me a mere £20, though some of that may have been down to my ATG Card (I cannot remember).

The opera told the tale of "modern China's first major utopian philosopher and earliest constitutional reformer, Kang Youwei and his pioneering daughter, Kang Tongbi." Needless to say I had not heard of either of these people before and knew nothing of their story. It was a story of flight from China, a period in the USA, a death in India and a return to and another death in China.

Apart of the location changes (one for each of the three acts) there was little physical action and little narrative. Instead the space was filled with philosophical and political discussions. Our understanding of these were helped with translations given at each side of the stage in both Chinese (the traditional form, I believe) and English.

The story covered some sixty years starting early in the last century with each act set at a different time. Kang Tongbi was the one constant in all three acts which, made her the star of the show, a billing she lived up to. All of the singing was good and hers was delightful.

I liked the music too. It was in the western tradition, it even incorporated some well-known tunes (e.g. The Beatles' Let it Be), and was given an oriental flavour in both the scoring and the instrumentation. The evocative and mournful sounds familiar from films like House of Flying Daggers came from a huqin (thanks Google) and there was lots of percussion too.

Datong was everything that I hoped it would be, enough of a western opera to be understood with enough Chinese influence to make it different. 

26 July 2017

La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Visit four of six to Gyldebourne Festival 2017 was to see La clemenza di Tito.

The seats we got in the ballot were Red Upper Circle G31-34 for £125. That is, technically, the very back row in the opera house but they were good seats because of their central positioning. Every seat in that zone is a good one which is why we almost always sit there.

We had some Glyndebourne first-timers with us, my boss and his wife!, which was a good excuse, if one was needed, to walk through the whole of the garden. A little drizzle did nothing to put us off either; that's what umbrellas are for.

The opera was very much in two halves. Before the dinner break we met a host of characters and their complicated relationships. All this led to a plot to overthrow Emperor Tito. In the second half he forgave them. Of course there was a lot more to the opera than that. The limited action was there to build the emotion and the emotion was expounded upon at great length in the words and music.

The music was Mozart and the singing was Glyndebourne. That is a winning combination.

24 July 2017

Milly Thomas was phenomenal in Dust and Brutal Cessation at The Bunker

This was my fourth encounter with the talented Milly Thomas and I made the trip to The Bunker specifically because of her. She wrote both of these Edinburgh sized works and also performed solo in one of them. Previously I had seen her act twice and seen one of her plays, Clickbait. It was Clickbait that made me want to see more of her works and so I happy paid my ridiculously low £15.

Dust came first. It came with a work in progress warning and Milly carried the latest version of the script with her but did not seem to rely on it very much. The presence of the script did not bother me in the least and it did nothing to mar the performance.

Dust started strongly and got better. It was narrated in the first person by a young woman, Alice, who had just died. What followed over the next hour was an exploration of how we got their and what the impact of her death was on the people around her.

Alice, as a ghost (presumably) went to see family and friends and Milly played them too, or rather she played them as Alice remembered them. Milly proved herself to be a formidable actress.

The play was naturally grim, death is like that, but there was a lot of humour in there too which had me laughing, giggling and even squirming at times. To give one example from early on, Alice examines her own dead body and has a close look at her vagina as she had never been able to see it before. While doing so she remembered all of the boys/men who had been in there. It was a long list and she wheeled it off quickly.

Dust was similar to Clickbait in the way that it moved violently between moods and ventured into sexual territories usually ignored out of embarrassment. It was a very different play and the similarities were more of house-style that anything else. It is a style that I very much like and I loved both plays.

Dust built neatly towards an ending with more discoveries and revelations and after an hour I was emotionally drained and in complete awe of both the play and the performer. Milly has already achieved a lot and is sure to achieve a lot more. Update: Dust has won a Stage award at the Edinburgh festival; I'm not surprised.

Brutal Cessation was always going to suffer following immediately after Dust. I had invested so much in Dust that I had little left for Brutal Cessation and I was unable to give it the attention it deserved. I could appreciate it but was unable to engage with it. That was my fault, not the play's.

It felt more like a work in progress than Dust had with a lot of clever techniques looking for a story to hang off, or it was there and I missed it. A couple were going through some issue that mattered a lot but probably not quite enough to break the relationship. The clever bit was the way that they used the same arguments against each other at different times and repeated the other's dialogue to do so. It forced us to look at both sides of their arguments at the same time.

Brutal Cessation was a competent play that suffered in following a brilliant one.

I hope that Dust comes back to London for a proper run somewhere and if it does I will definitely go and see it again. It was absolutely exactly what I go to the theatre for.