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.

21 July 2017

HAG talk: Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck

I had never heard of Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, and I am not that interested in history but I am interested in the place that I live and I always find HAG talks interesting and informative so I booked a place at this one. I also did the poster.

Mary Adelaide lived 1833 to 1897, a period when the royal families married each other with great regularity. As a result she was both granddaughter of George III and grandmother of Edward VIII and George VI.

While she was never in the centre of the Royal Family she was close enough to benefit from it, she was paid under the Civil List (or that period's equivalent) and was given grace and favour houses.

She lived for several years in Cambridge Cottage on Kew Green, which is now part of Kew Gardens where it is a popular venue for weddings. She also lived in White Lodge in Richmond Park for a while so she had strong connections to Richmond. One of the many things she did locally was open the Terrace Gardens next to the river.

She became known as the People's Princess because of the things she did and she was helped in this in Victoria's almost complete absence from public life due to her mourning for Albert. Mary Adelaide was one of the most active royals at that time and was popular because of this.

She is commemorated by a monument just outside Richmond Gate, somewhere between the busy road and the brambles. This site was originally chosen after a full sized model, in wood, of the monument was tried in various locations in Richmond. Plans are being developed to restore the monument and to remodel the setting so that it can be appreciated by people passing through the gate.

18 July 2017

Sheep at White Bear Theatre was nicely strange

The new White Bear Theatre is an attractive place in a convenient location for me so it is towards the top of my places to look when free evenings come up, as one did this Tuesday, and a humble £15 secured a ticket for Sheep. It sounded like an odd play, it was about somebody who had not slept for days and who had strange visitors, and I love odd plays.

It was also written by David Cantor who had Two Pints ... amongst his credits (admittedly it was Series 9) which was always going to appeal to me.

My route there was a simple one, train from Teddington to Vauxhall then a short walk of about fifteen minutes. For reasons I never understood, the play started at 7pm, despite being 90 minutes straight through, so my even feast was a pastie procured at Vauxhall Station. Not for the first time.

The theatre was set up with seating on two sides of a square and I took a seat in the middle of one side while everybody else piled into the other side. I felt like nobby-no-mates for a while but a few people came and sat on my side eventually. In the end the house was pretty full on what was its first night.

The stage was set as the living room in a flat and that is where everything happened. This was Dexy's flat and he was the one who could not sleep. He was visited by two friends. First an outrageous bon vivant who spent his nights clubbing with the rich and famous and then a sedate bus driver keen on board games. The fourth character was unseen out of the window, she was clearly a prostitute but Dexy tried to read something positive into her loitering and then going off in cars.

Then things got a little weird.

It could have been it-was-all-a-dream but that is an unlikely guess. Gradually we heard things about Dexy and his life that contradicted what we had heard before. A gangster was prominent. Dexy was as confused as the rest of us until and ending was reached, and that did not give too much away either.

The strength of the entertaining story came from the strong characters.

The woman, who came into the room later, was wearing a bright red dress and I hope that was a reference to, or at least a homage to, The Matrix. It certainly suited the uncertainty and artificiality of what we were seeing.

There were plenty of nice moments along the way and some of these carried the Two Pints ... house style of unexpected two liners. It was also a funny play.

Sheep was both odd and funny, as I hoped it would be. Job done.

14 July 2017

Hir at Bush Theatre was phenomenal

I wanted to see Hir because it sounded quirky in an interesting way, it was at Bush Theatre which is one of my regulars and it had Arthur Darvill, recently of Dr. Who in it. All good reasons and so I paid my £20 for seat A10.

As usual with Bush Theatre I was not quite sure what to expect on the day. I had hoped for a veggie wrap or sandwich but their limited range was devoid of veggie options when I got there so I had to find a cafe instead. Dough & So Bakery did the job very nicely.

I returned to Bush in good time to get a pint of Camden Pale Ale to take in with me.

For Hir the seating was arranged in a more familiar pattern than it had been on my last visit with the stage in the middle and the seating on either side. The slight difference this time was that there was an additional row of seating, row AA, next to the stage and sunk quite low. I was right to have avoided this, despite its proximity, and gone for row A instead.

That stage was a mess. It was an open plan room with the kitchen at one end and a sofa at the other but the main feature was the mess, particularly the clothes strewn about the floor. In the room was a middle aged woman and a similarly aged man, She was happily doing things while he was slumped in a chair. He was also wearing a women's night gown and a rainbow wig. In to this scene arrived their son Isaac (Arthur Darvill) returning from serving in the Marines in a war zone for the last three years.

We met the fourth member of the family, Max, a little later. Max used to be called Maxine.

The title of the play suggests that it was about Max/Maxine but that was just one of the strong themes and the harsh spotlight featured all four family members at various times. A phenomenal amount went on and a lot of it was verging on grotesque, though there were several lighter moments too and I loved the line, "What is the kitchen table doing in the kitchen?".

The impact of the play can be explained by a young woman in the front row almost directly opposite me. She loved the play too (I asked her afterwards) and sat through it with an almost constant look of horror on her face and she brought her hands up to her face several times. We were watching people say and do almost unbelievable things to each other. Making your husband wear a dress was only the start of it.

Hir walked many fine lines brilliantly. It was never voyeuristic in a Jeremy Kyle sort of way or exaggerated in a absurdist sort of way. This was a family on the edge, or several edges, but these were real edges lived on by real people.

And those real people were portrayed magnificently by Ashley McGuire as the mother at heart of the family, Andy Williams as the father deposed from his previous authoritarian role, Griffyn Gilligan as the young man confident in his new role,  and Arthur Darvill as the prodigal son trying to make sense of it all. They all got a lot of applause and cheers at the end and it was all thoroughly deserved.

I like modern edgy theatre and have seen many plays that could be roughly compared to Hir but Hir stood out among them all. It was phenomenal.

12 July 2017

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

The monthly British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) "Get to Know You" socials continue to come around with remarkable speed. They are scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month but it never seems like a month has passed before I am back at the Czech and Slovak Bar and Restaurant in West Hampstead for more beer, more food and more conversations.

Now that I work out of the same office (in Teddington) all of the time that travel has become an easy ritual too. I leave the office around 5:40, well before most people, and walk to Strawberry Hill Station. Teddington Station is a lot closer but I like the walk and I am under no time pressure. I catch a train to Richmond just before 6pm and from there take the Overground to West Hampstead. I get to the club a few minutes before the start time of 7pm.

Richard is normally already there and has rearranged the tables and put the sign on the door. His final preparatory act is to buy me a Pilsner Urquell.


After that people drift in and the conversations start. Somewhere around 8pm we realise that we are hungry and order food. I always have smazeny syr and try to compose a different photo of it.

In July we talked about Brexit again but this time with some hope (for some of us) that it might not actually happen, the perils of budget airlines, the delights of Munich, the progress of Czech and Slovak players at Wimbledon, and the history of women jockeys.

Somebody also sang the Jeremy Corbyn song at some point. It was probably me.

11 July 2017

Lonely Planet at Tabard Theatre was a celebration of humanity


Tabard Theatre is one of the theatres that I need more of a reason not to go than to go due to both its very convenient location (next to a tube station and above a pub) and so I booked to see Lonely Planet. The synopsis sounded a little unusual, I like unusual, and the writer came with some recommendation from his work in America.

And so I duly paid my £20. The booking experience was a little surprising in that Tabard had introduced allocated seating since my previous visit. I chose A7.

The pub came first and that had changed a little too. I was expecting to have my usual veggie fish and chips but the menu had been changed. There was a still a halloumi dish and I went for that. The corn bread made it very filling and a bit chewy so I'll probably go for something else next time. There will be a next time because its still a good pub with a good range of beers.

Lonely Planet was set in a small and untidy map shop. Proprietor Jody (Alexander McMorran) lived there and was regularly visited by Carl (Aaron Vodovoz) who had several jobs most, if not all, of which were fantasies.

Carl kept bringing Jody chairs which were piling up in the storeroom at the back where Jody slept.

Jody and Carl talked about things a lot of which was small talk between friends, some of which was Jody explaining to Carl how map projections work and a some of which was about AIDS and the impact it was having on their group of friends many of whom had died. They talked in the way that normal people talk and the mood and the pace of the play changed with the subject matter. It was as light hearted as it was sad.

Carl kept bringing chairs and spoke about his chair at home with fondness.

The ending was bit of a tear jerker. It was unexpected but, with hindsight, should not have been. But it was not the sadness of the moment that stood out, it was the reality of it. This was a play about two close friends living awkward lives in difficult times. It was a celebration of humanity and that made it an engaging and rewarding play.

7 July 2017

Mumburger at Old Red Lion Theatre entertained in an intelligent way

I discovered Old Red Lion in Islington via a Philip Ridley play and had kept an eye on its programme since then. I managed to get back there only once subsequently but that was more because of the my inability to see everything that I want to due to a lack of time (and if I stopped working to make time then the lack f money).

Mumburger appealed because it sounded weird but weird alone is not enough. It took me a while but what clinched it was the realisation that Rosie Wyatt was in it. I had seen her act several times before and was keen to keep up the tradition. To be fair to Red Lion Theatre their publicity material did say she was in it but to be fair to me they wrote everything in capital letters which made it hard to read.

Having discovered my error in time I forked out a miserly £16.50 for a ticket on a Friday night.

It is always interesting to go to theatres like Old Red Lion (White Bear and Union are similar in this regard) in that you do not know how the stage will be arranged until you climb up the steep stairs and enter the room.

This time the stage was arranged as an right-angles triangle with the base about half the length of the height. The seating was along the base and vertical and the back of the stage was a grey curtain draped along the hypotenuse. The stage was sparsely set as living room with a boxed seat (useful for storing props) and a coffee table.

The play started with film projected on the grey curtain. This was a fast collage of events including a TED Talk and a serious car crash. The Mum of the play died in that crash. It was a bold and effective start to the story.

Trying to come to terms with the Mum's sudden unexpected death were her husband and daughter (Rosie). The daughter was more in control of the situation initially and had created a shared Google document for them to track activities like notifying people and finding a funeral director. The father/husband was lost in grief.

The relationship between the two was the focus and purpose of the play. That relationship had its expected ups and downs as they both went through the violent stages of grief, shared their memories of Mum (which did not always coincide) and tried to come to terms with her final wish, an emotional act of sharing.

Mumburger went all over the place, in a good way, with moments of humour, anger, sadness, absurdity and tenderness.It was something like a fast version of, er, The Fast Show, with the same two characters. A few of the scenes did not work for me and at times it felt like the script needed a bit of an edit but in saying that it feels now like I am looking to criticise it when serious criticism is unjustified. The play worked well and being a little rough and ready at times did nothing to hamper my enjoyment of it.

I went to see Rosie and she was good, as expected. Andrew Frame was just as good as her father and the two of them gelled well. I could believe that they were father and daughter and that mattered. I liked the simple staging too.

Mumburger entertained in an intelligent way and any theatre that does that is fine with me.

30 June 2017

The Ferryman at Gielgud Theatre was a complex tapestry of rich stories


I was impressed by Jerusalem, if not overwhelmed by it, and so a new Jez Butterworth play was always going to attract my attention. Adding the name Sam Mendes made it almost mandatory.

I still had my reservations though and my reluctance to pay full west-end prices so I went for a restricted view seat in the front row of the Grand Circle, A26, which set me back an inconsequential £24.50. I reasoned that the important part of the play would be the dialogue and so a good view did not matter. The best tickets were over £100 which is well above my theatre limit.

The view I got was looking through the handrails which actually worked well.

The Ferryman was a very busy play with an awful lot going on for three hours. The main plot concerned the discovered of a body of a man killed by the IRA ten years previously (1972) for, supposedly, betraying them in some way.

The main characters in the story were his brother and his wife who had moved into her brother-in-law's farm with his large family, they had seven children at the time of the play. Add to these an assortment of uncles, aunties, friends, helpers and some members of the IRA. That large cast bred a multitude of stories many, but not all, of which were wound up with the Troubles in Ireland. To give just two examples, an aunt had been at the Dublin GPO Riots in 1916 (part of the Easter Rising) and she later recited all of the names of the Hunger Strikers. Some of them had been at Bobby Sands' funeral and he was mentioned many times.

My Mum was an Irish Catholic from Straban on the border and many of the stories here resonated with things that Mum told me about her family. When we moved house in 1964 she wrote "Up the IRA" in large red letters on the hall wall before it was covered in wallpaper. She also sang me to sleep with rebel songs like, my favourite The Wild Colonial Boy. I believe that several members of her/my family spent time in the infamous H Blocks.

Around this large and dark theme of Irish political history there were lots of other things going on including an escaped goose, some rabbits, tales from Ancient Greece (where The Ferryman came from), fortune telling, teenage bragging, an affair, a proposal, a death, a harvest, some dancing and an awful lot of drinking and swearing.

To tell stories like this needed a good cast and there was one. Paddy Considine (hapless Guardian journalist in Bourne Ultimatum) led the family and the cast with notable help from Laura Donnelly (his sister in law) and from, to be honest, far too people for me to mention or to look up. The only one I had seen on stage before was Carla Langley.

It was the complex tapestry of stories and emotions that made The Ferryman such exceptional theatre. It's mood and pace swayed unpredictably as we followed the large and extended family through little more than one day. In doing so it followed other classics like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Long Day's Journey into Night in allowing us to see the story unfold in almost realtime.

I came to The Ferryman a little sceptical and left a firm fan. I hope to see a revival in a couple of years or, as things stand, this production again as it is already running through to January 2018.

29 June 2017

Sometimes Apple Maps is better than Google Maps

The consensus seems to be that Google Maps are god and Apple Maps are bad but, despite this, I persevere with Apple Maps as the default mapping system on my iPhone and, because of that, on my iPad and iMac too. So I was pleased to find an example where Apple Maps was clearly better.

I am going to see a flat this evening and while I know the route very well I wanted to check the distance so that I could time the walk; 1km is a convenient 10 minutes for planning purposes.

I am actually travelling from Teddington but I redid the planning from Northweald Lane as that demonstrates my point better.

Apple Maps shows a quick and easy route.

On the other hand, Google Maps wants to take me on a large detour, taking 9 minutes instead of 4.

The reason for this is that Google Maps does not know about some of the local footpaths that Apple Maps does know and so it takes me along the roads instead.

That is not my only grips with Google Maps either; it insists in showing me distances in Miles (their default for the UK) rather than in km (my preference). This is despite me having a Google Profile where it could hold details of my preference.

And that is not my only gripe with Google either! I wrote something about the accuracy of online maps back in 2009 and somehow in all the changes with Google Photos (remember Picasa?) they have managed to lose some. Update 30/6/17: Google have found my old photos and they are now shown on the previous blog post.

25 June 2017

Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne (2017)

I had seen Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne before, in 2013, and I said then that "it was all very pretty, even if it did not make a lot of sense" so I was happy to see it again when it was revived for this year's festival.

Some friends wanted to see it too and I managed to get seats Red Upper Circle C38-41 at £100. Good seats in a good part of the theatre for a good price.

The traffic was kind so we arrived there just after 3pm, the official opening time but we were by no means the first people there. The weather was kind too so while we bagged a table in the marquee out of convenience we were able to spend a long time walking through the gardens before the opera started.

The production was much as I remembered it from earlier, though to be honest I did not remember that much, just general themes and concepts. Of course I could have read the synopsis in the programme or even my notes from the last time but that is not the sort of thing that I do. I prefer surprises.

I found Ariadne auf Naxos just as confusing the second time round and, just like the first time, that had no impact on my enjoyment of the opera at all. The first scene-setting half was nice enough but the second surreal half was gorgeous. Obviously Richard Strauss knew how to write a good tune and Glyndebourne know where to find good singers. The combination was dazzling.

I know I say the singing is good, or better, every time that I go to Glyndebourne but I only say that because it is true and this year I think that the singing has been even better than usual.

Ariadne auf Naxos was all very pretty, even if it did not make a lot of sense

23 June 2017

HAG talk: Ham's Modern Architecture

My involvement with Ham Amenities Group (HAG) is not that much to boast of but I do get to produce the posters for the events. An upside of this is that I get to know about the talks early and can be one of the first to book.

I was very keen to hear this talk for several reasons. I am interested in Ham and in Modern Architecture so this talk could have been made for me, and in a way it was. I had heard Richard Woolf talk about local architecture before and it was that which made me suggest him as a speaker for HAG.

I did not know beforehand that Richard also does lecturing and that came though in a superbly composed and delivered presentation.

The content was both detailed and authoritative. Richard certainly knew his subject and was enthusiastic about it too. That enthusiasm had taken him all over Ham and down no-through-road, like Sheridan Road, which I thought that only I walked down (for my Ham Photos blog).

Richard hit all the right buttons for me in the talk, and I would have been delighted with it whatever opinions he had, so it was a bonus that he seemed to agree with me on almost everything and as he was the expert that was even more gratifying.

The aim of the HAG talks is to interest and inform residents in some aspect of Ham and Richard Woolf did that magnificently. We are already trying to find a way to get him to do another talk.

22 June 2017

Punts at Theatre503 was powerful and entertaining


Punts, like Clickbait, was one of those plays that addressed an overtly sexual subject intelligently while skilfully avoiding the trap of becoming voyeuristic or pornographic. The poster says that quite well, it is clearly sexy but there is fun in there too.

The play was about the sexual awakening of an autistic boy who got a lot of help from his parents in that they bought a high class sex worker for him. It opened with his mother matter-of-factly preparing him for this encounter which included checking that he had washed under his foreskin. That got a laugh as did a lot of other things.

But this was not Carry On Prostitute, it quickly grew in to a lot more than that as we learned more about the boy, his parents and the sex worker. They all had reasons for doing what they did, things that they feared and aspirations for the future.

Punts became a play about empowerment as each of the four tried to take control over some aspect of their lives. There was a good story too and some important things happened which had an impact on the four and the relationships between them. It was powerful and entertaining too.

Given that all four parts were equally important to the play and that all four actors played their roles admirably, it is only fair that I name-check all of them, so take a bow Christopher Adams (son), Clare Lawrence-Moody (mum), Graham O'Mara (dad) and Florence Roberts (sex worker) for bring to life four people that I cared about.

Punts was exactly the sort of theatre that I expect from Theatre503 and that is why I keep going back there.

20 June 2017

Incident At Vichy at King's Head Theatre


I fancied Incident At Vichy because it is by Arthur Miller and I was also keen to go to King's Head Theatre which I had somehow not managed to do previously, despite working within easy walking distance for a while.

I was feeling generous and pushed the boat out a little and went for a Premium seat, C8; this cost £25 which is heading towards pricey for a pub theatre. I would not have minded that if the premium seat was good but the first few rows were at the same height so I has two rows of people in front of me. None of them was ridiculously tall or wide but my view was impacted. The view I had was something like the picture above but with some heads in the way.

The evening had not started that well either. The unusual 7pm start meant something of a mad dash from Teddington which left no time for food beforehand. The pub foresaw this and did not provide any anyway. They did provide some reasonable though and while it took a little queueing to get some the first pint went down in under five minutes and I took a second in with me.

Incident At Vichy was a procession of men waiting to be called in for nationality checks by the Nazis. These checks apparently consisted of examining papers and foreskins and took place in a consulting room off to the right. This was in the early 1940s when the Vichy Regime was the nominal government of France while the Nazis occupied the north of the country.

As the men waited they talked. Some were sure that everything would be fine, others were worried about their papers and others shared stories of what they had heard happened to those who failed the tests. In one, of many telling exchanges one man said that it did not make economic sense for the Nazis to kill so many people when they needed workers and another commented that was exactly the sort of remark that a Jew would be expected to make.

As with other war plays I had seen recently the othering of Jews, Gypsies and gays etc. had uncomfortable resonances with current times where blame for woes was laid at the doors of Muslims, Remoaners and Fake News Media. We seem determined not to learn those lessons.

Incident At Vichy was tense but it was also illuminating and stimulating thanks largely to the simplicity of the production that let the characters do all the work and to the strong cast that made all of those characters realistic and interesting. 

19 June 2017

Loving The Old Guard

It has probably been forty years since I've loved comics as much as I am now. Then the two main publishers, Marvel and DC, published a host of off-mainstream books like Warlock, Claw the Unconquered, Deathlok the Demolisher, The Warlord and Killraven, all by top class creators many of whom rose from these humble starts to become genuine stars, including Jim Starlin and P. Craig Russell.

This golden era is different in that it is the fringe publishers, notably Image, that are doing the interesting books while Marvel and DC are mired in constantly trying to refresh the dying superhero books. Another difference is that this time a lot of the good books are coming from established stars, like Brian Wood and Brian K. Vaughan.



The Old Guard appealed to me because it looked interesting visually and as a concept and because there was a lot of buzz around its launch. The barrier for entry to new comics is now very low, as soon as I hear about something that I like I can go online to buy it and the iPad means that I can read comics in any free moment. I currently have 89 books on my iPad waiting for free moments but that does not stop me buying more.

The Old Guard is very old in some cases. These are people who have lived for centuries, or millennia, simply because they cannot be killed very easily. Being almost immortal has brought them all together and made then successful mercenaries. Not a unique concept by any means but there is a lot more to the story than that and the story telling, words and pictures, is excellent. It is both a fun book and one that stands up to critical scrutiny.

The good news is that it is coming back for a second series, the bad news is that is in 2018.

17 June 2017

Excellent Hamlet at Glyndebourne

I did reasonably well in the ballot this year and got decent seats for all five operas that I applied for.

First up was Hamlet, a brand new opera by composer Brett Dean
and librettist Matthew Jocelyn. I was keen to see this because it was a new opera and, of course, with Hamlet at the core it was a dramatic story.

And Hamlet was the real winner here. I see a version of Hamlet probably at least once a year and some have been very different with, for example, a female lead or being set in a prison in Liverpool, and this version was as dramatic and as powerful as any of them.

This Hamlet, as many of them are, was somewhat abridged to fit into an opera a shade under three hours long and that produced a story with a succession of strong scenes with some of the frippery removed. Of course that frippery still works well in the spoken word through the poetry of the language but was not missed in a musical adaptation.

The strongest scene, and one of the most visually pleasing, was Ophelia's decent into madness as she sung of Hamlet's abandoned love while distributing flowers to everybody.

The music was as different and as startling as I had hoped, aided in no small measure by the unusual layout which included musicians on the top level who added both height and width to the sound. Sitting more-or-less in the middle I was impressed by the stereophonic effect of drum beats moving from left to right.

The tone was set at the very start with an abrupt opening, no promenade by the conductor first, that rumbled more than it sang. The music continued to be a succession of uncommon sounds and while it lacked the tunes that some may have been hoping for it carried the mood superbly and stayed well within the approachable limits of modern music.

The singing was exquisite as is the custom at Glyndebourne. Hamlet has a large supporting cast of strong characters including his father, Gertrude, Laertes, the previously praised Ophelia and, obviously, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who survived the English in this version. All of the soloists, were superb, not just the roles listed earlier. It was a beautiful performance.

Glyndebourne played its usual role in the excellent day with everything from a new pond in the garden, lots of new art and a jug of Pimms from the Long Bar.

It is precisely because of days like this that I keep going to Glyndebourne.

14 June 2017

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


The months seem to be whizzing past at the moment and every month has a second Wednesday and every second Wednesday there is a British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) social and I always go for the Czech and Slovak beers, the Czech food (always smazeny syr) and the conversations and camaraderie with the other people there.

June was just like every other month and that is a good thing. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

13 June 2017

Jane Eyre at Richmond Theatre


For some reason Richmond Theatre started promoting this event many months before it was on and so I bought my ticket, Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 22 Price £31.50, many months in advance.

By the time that the show came around I had, as I often do, forgotten precisely why I had booked it. Obviously Jane Eyre is a classic story so that helped. I had forgotten which classic story it was until about half way through but that did not matter, it was still a classic. I went to the theatre thinking it was a ballet, and understandable error given that Northern Ballet were touring their version of Jane Eyre around that time.

It turned out that this was a National Theatre production that had been on at NT and was then being toured prior to a return to NT. That explains why I booked it.

The staging was the defining feature of this production. The stage was arranged like an assault course with the various levels, ladders and walkways becoming rooms, corridors and paths as required. All that was needed was a little imagination and some good acting.

And the acting was another strength of the production. It was an ensemble production with some of the actors playing multiple roles. One was even a dog at times and a very lovable dog he was too. There were constant looks, gestures and movements that filled the stage and enriched the story.

The final string in the bow was the music (did you see what I did there?). You can see some musical instruments at the back of the stage. This was far from a musical but the incidental music and the odd song certainly helped to make the production entertaining.

With all those strong supports in place the drama of Jane Eyre's story was able to flourish in a thoroughly entertaining way.

8 June 2017

Stunning Richard III at Arcola Theatre


I go to see quite a lot of Shakespeare and I also go to Arcola Theatre quite a lot so this production of Richard III was an obvious temptation, despite having seen a good Richard III at Almeida Theatre less than a year ago. It helped that this version had been getting good reviews, mostly for the performance of Greg Hicks, and also had Paul Kemp in the cast, an actor I knew originally from Orange Tree and who I had managed to speak to after a couple of shows.

As always, the main problem was finding a free evening and I finally managed to find a slot on a Thursday just before it closed. I was on my own, which always makes finding a decent seat easier, and I was able to get a front-row (A23) seat in one of the corners of the stage for a paltry £20.

Intimate spaces make for intimate theatre and Arcola is adept at exploiting that intimacy. Richard III is about a man driven to extremes by the lust for power and being in touching distance of that lust and malevolence was powerful and intoxicating.

Richard III is also very much about one man and so this production relied heavily on the skills of Greg Hicks and, as the quote on the poster shows, it was an excellent performance. The deformity was there but it was the constant menace that defined the character and the play.

Helping the play along was the simple and flexible set and a good ensemble cast. I was a little concerned when Paul Kemp died as Clarence (Richard's brother) at the start of the play and was please to see him return later as Stanley. The rest of the large cast, others of whom also doubled up on roles, were very good too and this was one of the significant pluses of this production.

This was my sort of Shakespeare. The story moved fluidly, the characters were distinct, the set concentrated on the overall mood rather than specific details, and the star starred.

Richard III is one of Shakespeare's more enjoyable plays (in my opinion), which is why I have been to see it so often, and this was possibly the most enjoyable production of it that I have ever seen. Other productions have had bigger budgets and bigger stars (Kevin Spacey was outstanding in 2011) but these have also had bigger stages and the intimacy of Arcola made the drama more tangible.

7 June 2017

Chummy at White Bear Theatre was a gripping tale brilliantly told


The new White Bear Theatre had forced itself onto my short list of regular theatres (others include Theatre503, Bush, Arcola, Union and Park) partially because of its proximity, it is a modest walk from Vauxhall, but mostly because I was enjoying the shows there. Chummy sounded like my sort of thing and so I made a fairly last-minute booking for a skimpy £15.

Chummy called itself a "gripping psychological thriller", and it was. And more than that, it was presented brilliantly with a good production (staging, movement, lighting, music, etc.) and an excellent cast of just three.

Jackie Straker (Megan Pemberton) was a Private Investigator with some familiar tropes; ex-police, single, hard drinker and with a disturbed background. It is no surprise that the writer, John Foster, has written a documentary on Raymond Chandler.

Jackie got a strange job from a nameless man who she called Chummy, a police nickname for criminals they were hunting. He wanted her to stop him from killing and he phoned her many times to explain how he felt and what he was planning to do.

The play revolved around the relationship between Jackie and Chummy as she tried to work out who he was, whether she knew him from a previous case, and how she could stop him. She spent most of the time in her small office on the phone to Chummy or going through papers looking for clues. He moved around unknown locations purposely, slowly and menacingly, lurking in the dark dressed entirely in black.

There was a dark sting in the story's dark tail and while I saw it coming it still stung hard when it came. The story was a proper thriller where I was keen to find out who Chummy was and why he wanted to kill. It was also genuinely gripping and deeply psychological. The dark creeping mood of the piece was as powerful as the story.

Chummy was rich and immensely satisfying theatre.

2 June 2017

Life of Galileo at Young Vic sparkled despite an exaggerated production


On a few occasions I have found productions at Young Vic a little bit pretentious to the detriment of the play and Life of Galileo was a case in point. Others include Street Car Named Desire and The Trial. Despite the overblown production there was so much good stuff in Life of Galileo that the good significantly outweighed the bad and overall it was a fine production, it is just a shame that it could have been more.

Oddly I felt much the same about another recent Brecht play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Donmar Warehouse, but this was much stronger and managed to overcome the overblown bits.

Every time I go to Young Vic there seems to be a different layout and this one was more different than most. Playing to the Galileo theme the stage was a circle with some of the audience sat on cushions in the centre while the cast moved around them on a walkway. Above the stage the ceiling was a dome on to which moving images of the stars were projected. It was very effective.

Also effective was the incidental music by a Chemical Brother. I particularly like the sections where the music and the projects combined to show something of the majesty and wonder that Galileo was discovering with this telescopes and calculations.

Some of the other gimmicky things worked, or at least did not detract, and these included the puppet reciting a short poem before each scene and the interactions between the cast and the audience, particularly those that they had to move between in the centre. What did not work for me were some of the bigger set piece such as the carnival scene and the steps with bright lights behind them used for the arrival of senior religious figures.

This pomposity was a shame because at its heart Life of Galileo was a fine play that showed us one of the origins of science and the impact that it had on people. The story telling was made exceptional by Brendan Cowell as Galileo who sparkled at the centre of everything. He bounced, skipped and clapped a lot and he also played the slower scenes very well and one of my favourites was towards the end when he was locked away to stop his ideas spreading and had a touching conversation about the role of science and scientists. I actually disagreed with Galileo's view on this but I liked the passion in his argument.

This production of Life of Galileo (I had seen it before but too long ago to remember the details) was certainly something special and the few moments of exaggeration could be forgiven.

1 June 2017

Babette’s Feast at Print Room was achingly gorgeous

I fancied Babette’s Feast for several reasons. Having heard of but never read the story I heard a dramatisation of it a few months previously and loved the almost English charm of a story in which not much really happens.

I also liked Print Room on my first visit, for The Tempest, and was keen to be back in their quirky spaces. Their bar is one of the very best despite the limited range of beers.

I remembered that the front row (where I sat last time) was sunk to almost stage height and so I went for a seat in the second row, B9, for a fair £28. I was pleased to see all the seats around me taken and most of the seats in the theatre taken too. This on a Wednesday evening.

Babette’s Feast made the transition from novel to play in a neat and pertinent way. A group of refugees hiding from armed forces, in Syria maybe, kept their spirits up by telling the stories that make up the narrative of the book. Early on the main narrator leaves and others take over believing in the power of the story.

The first narrator became Babette, one of the many times that the cast doubled up in their roles. We also had different members of the cast playing the same role as, in the story, the characters aged. This was best done when the two sisters aged thirty years or so.

There were many other nice things to enjoy too including music and singing (one of the characters was an opera singer and sounded like one too), fluid changes between scenes, subtle lighting and delicious acting. I genuinely cared for the characters and that made the stories the more engaging.

Babette’s Feast was a delightful story told delightfully and I smiled in delight all the way through it.

10 May 2017

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


Another month another excellent BCSA "Get to Know You" Social.

The evening started with a shock, the layout of the beer taps in the bar had changed. The main impact of this was that they could pour two pints of Pilsner Urquell at the same time, something that I asked them to do a couple of times. That apart, it was a fairly typical BCSA "Get to Know You" Social and I had a fantastic time.

The conversations were a little more serious than they sometimes are, inspired by me mentioning a picture that I saw on Instagram of a protest in Brno. We did not discuss the protest itself but we had a lot to say in how the Mainstream Media ignored events like this to leave most people ignorant of the situation in other countries, including some quite close to home. I pride myself that I am better informed than most in world news and I only learned about the Czech protests thanks to a photo from somebody by somebody that I follow because of their photos of pretty Czech towns.

Technology was talked about, as it often is, and I found myself alone in not wanting, or needing, to work surrounded by several large computer screens.

One person there was having major work done to her flay, about six weeks' worth, and it was fun to look at pictures of the plans and of the work in progress. The enthusiasm she had for the project was infectious,

I was there just before 7pm and left not long before 11pm, and loved every single moment in between.

9 May 2017

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Donmar Warehouse entertained but failed to excite


My main reason for going to see The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was Bertolt Brecht though, as is often the case, the main theme of the play's publicity was its star, Lenny Henry. His presence did help my decision to go and I forked out a meagre £30 for Circle  Row A  Seat  5.

It was obvious that something was different about the performance as soon as I arrived and was approached by one of the cast who engaged me in friendly conversation. Audience engagement was a large, and successful part of the production. The front row downstairs was set up with tables as if in a bar and during the evening a few people were enticed onto the main part of the stage, mostly to be killed or abused.

Arturo Ui dabbled with comedy, music and menace but never seemed quite sure what it was really trying to do and in doing many different things decently it did none of them brilliantly and it failed to find a winning spark in any of them.

I would have liked more menace and more music and more of the other things that made the recent production The Beggar's Opera at National Theatre such a success. Arturo Ui paled in comparison to that production and while it was undoubtedly fun it was never any more than that.

8 May 2017

Fracked at Richmond Theatre was a pleasant surprise

I went to see Fracked! with modest expectations and left pleasantly surprised.

I was expecting a comedy by the numbers, which I quite happily paid £26 to see from my usual seat Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 25, and that is very much what the first half delivered.

It felt like watching an ITV sitcom with some simple characters of which the Public Relations consultant to the energy company was the most prominent as he oozed smarminess. He was definitely the man we were all meant to hate. The two named stars were the ones we loved, she (Anne Reid) accidentally became prominent in the local anti-fracking team and he (James Bolam) was the hapless husband struggling to keep up with her and with the modern world.

I went for my ice cream at half-time happy with what I had seen but not particularly stretched by it.

Then in the second-half added some bit and significantly lifted itself above the ITV sitcom level. The stakes became higher, the PR consultant became a lot nastier and the drama became a lot more political. Then there was something for my brain to do as well as my funny-bone. The PR consultant, played brilliantly by Harry Hadden-Paton, became the star of the show to the extent that I saw his name on later posters for the play.

I was expecting Fracked to be a light comedy and I would have been happy with that. It turned out to be darker and deeper and I was even happier with that.

28 April 2017

Intense and compelling drama with Obsession at Barbican Theatre

My season of big-hitter dramss continued with Obsession at Barbican Theatre. This time the big-hitter was Jude Law who I had seen on the stage a couple of times before, Anna Christie and Henry V,  and that was plenty enough to make he want to see him perform again.

I was nimble on the booking and was able to capture seat Circle A12 for a respectable £60. Barbican Theatre has an unusual layout (matching the building it sits in) so I was pleased that the first row in the Circle gave me the view that I was hoping for.

The stage was vast and almost empty, the width I expected but the depth was a surprise. Obsession adopted several contemporary theatre tropes, e.g. smoking and nudity, and this included starting the play with people already on the stage. The heroine, if that is the right word, Giovanna was in the kitchen area on the left and was joined by her husband, Giuseppe, who worked on the car engine in the middle.

The lights dimmed, most people stopped talking, and Gino (Jude Law) appeared at the doors at the back of the stage playing a harmonica. He entered the bar/diner looking for food and having eaten but not having any money to pay for it he offered to use his engineering skills to fix the car. He identified the problem quickly, Giuseppe went out to buy that required part leaving Gino and Giovanna behind and that's when the obsession started.


Jude Law was the obvious draw and he was excellent but did not outshine Halina Reijn and Gijs Scholten van Aschat as Giovanna and Giuseppe.

Obsession ran for 110 minutes without a break telling its story with fabulous theatre craft. I loved the pace of the play most of all, there were short scenes of intense passion mixed with long scenes of slow reflection. Here the full width and depth of the stage was used to let the few players make sedate entrances and exists.

The mood was also tempered brilliantly with music. This started with the laconic harmonica playing, featured a full aria from la Traviata, had an automated accordion (it's the odd shaped thing just to the right and behind the kitchen) and included hefty dollops of This Land is Your Land.

Because of the way that Obsession superbly managed the mood of the play (which was the whole point of it) I was reminded of Hedda Gabler and Obsession shared it's final trope with that production with the play moving seamlessly from dramatic ending to curtain call. And a very raucous curtain call it was too.

Oddly, Obsession was probably the big-hitter play that I had the least expectations for and is the probably the one that had the most impact on me. I loved it to bits and then some.

22 April 2017

The last ever game at Kingsmeadow


I will be the first to admit that Kingstonian has never been a big part of my life but, even so, this was a sad occasion.

Kingstonian had got into financial troubles some years ago and thanks to an opportunist businessman managed to lose the ground that was built for them. They managed to stay on while the new owners, AFC Wimbledon, let them ground share but then Wimbledon found the home back in Wimbledon that they always wanted, the ground was sold and Kingstonian were forced to move out.

There was a double party that day as the K's fans were saying farewell to the ground and their opponents had hopes of winning the league, a draw would do it for them.

The sunny day helped the party atmosphere as did the game. It finished a scoreless draw but was actually a good game to watch and was a fitting end to the K's time at Kingsmeadow. We all went on to the pitch afterwards and did some chanting because that was absolutely the right thing to do.

A few beers were consumed before, during and after the game and it definitely felt like the end of an era. It remains to be seen whether I'll be tempted down to Leatherhead next season but that has to be unlikely. The hunt for a ground closer to home continues and I hope that they do make it back to Kingston before too long.

21 April 2017

HAG talk: The History of Ham

There was something of a mix-up over this talk. Originally it was going to be called The History of Ham and then we (I am on the HAG Committee) agreed that we wanted the speaker to do more than one talk and that we should ask him to focus on medieval Ham in hist first one. So I did the poster accordingly. But, somehow, the message did not get to the speaker and he delivered a talk on The History of Ham instead.

The room was packed and I ended up standing against a wall so as not to be in anyone's way. I do not mind standing at all and in doing so I could see the screen clearly.

The presentation was not so easy to listen to though because the alarm went off when somebody opened a window for fresh air and despite several desperate phone calls we were unable to turn it off. A few people left because of this but that just released some chairs for other people who were standing. The room was packed.

All that sounds like a disaster and it could have been were it not for the brilliant and entertaining talk. Gordon Elsden used the old border of the parish of Ham as the basis of his story and he beat the bounds and told tales of the places that we passed as he did so. The talk was rich with information , anecdotes and pictures. It was also very well presented and I was enthralled throughout.

Many of these stories and pictures will appear in Gordon's soon to be published book Remarkable Ham - The Untold Story which he showed us a copy of prompting much interest. I will be getting a copy when it comes out and so will many other people who, like me, loved his talk.

I also hope that Gordon has enough material for a second HAG talk one day.

18 April 2017

David Tennant sparkled in Don Juan in Soho at Wyndham's Theatre


David Tennant was the obvious reason for going to see Don Juan in Soho. I had seen him on stage a couple of times before, in two very different Shakespeare plays, and was pleased to have the opportunity to see him again, even knowing nothing about the play. My eagerness translated into a better seat than one that I would normally go for, Royal Circle A6 (the tier below my usual) at a price, £60, getting towards my upper limit.

Don Juan in Soho was a telling of the Spanish story that had been told many times and in many ways before. It was best known to me as Mozart's Don Giovanni. This was a contemporary Don Juan in a play from 2006.

The play had been updated a little for this production and an anti-Trump line got one of the best laughs of the evening; challenged over his womanising (3 a day for thirty years) Don explained that he loved woman and did not prey on them, "I am not a rapist. I don't grab pussy".

We followed Don Juan as he romped through his hedonistic life and skillfully deflected obstacles like an abandoned wife and her angry family. He was having a lot of fun and David Tennant skipped and bounced around the stage in obvious delight. He was at the centre of the play (obviously) and he commanded that space. It was a sparkling performance.

It was not all fun and frolics and Don Juan faced a dark end which he faced with the same bravado and flair as he faced everything else.

Don Juan was a reasonable play, nothing more and nothing less, and it became worth the price of the ticket thanks to David Tennant's sparkling performance.

13 April 2017

The Lottery of Love at Orange Tree Theatre was fluffy fun

I may be less enthusiastic about Orange Tree Theatre these days but it still the easiest theatre for me to get to and I am always going to be tempted by a play described as Marivaux’s greatest comedy translated by John Fowles to the Regency England of Jane Austen.

That period chimed well with my listening at that time with BBC Radio Drama broadcasting (or rebroadcasting) many classics including works by Jane Austen that I had not read previously. These were mostly stories of class and love which set my expectations for The Lottery of Love.

These expectations were quickly met.

The thin premise of the play was that a well to do couple, who had never met, were being steered towards each other by their parents but both wanted to be sure of the other first and both came up with the plan of swapping places with their maid/manservant to observe the manners of the other from a more lowly position.

This was explained to us at the start of the play so there were no surprises for us. The only other people in on the double deception were the woman's father and brother.

I had anticipated the plot even before its early announcement and it maybe that I had seen the play before or, possibly, another play with a similar theme. No matter either way, the plot was largely immaterial, which was just as well as all that happened was that the two couples (the two gentlefolk and their two servants) spent an hour and a half confessing their undying love between them despite the clash in positions that they all that there were.

The minimal plot was supported by a minimal set. The cast wore period costumes, which I think they had to as the class conflicts would not have worked in modern dress, but there was no furniture and no props. The circle on the floor may have meant something to somebody, if so I missed the clue.

So far it does not sound as if The Lottery of Love had much in its favour, and that was true, so it is just as well that the acting was sumptuous.

These were simple characters with simple emotions so the actors were not called upon to do very much but what they did do was ham it up magnificently.

The father skipped in delight at the mischief, the women fanned their faces in awe of attractive men, the servant come gentleman was outrageously extravagant in his movement and gestures. In stark contrast the gentleman come servant was calm and resolute to a degree that no human being ever could be.

The acting lifted the light production and made it something genuinely and constantly entertaining. A welcome jolly end to the week.

The Lottery of Love was fun but it again left me wondering why Orange Tree was putting on plays like this. I go to the theatre to be entertained and I also go to be stimulated and challenged and The Lottery of Love was far too fluffy to do that. I expect fluffy entertainment at places like Richmond Theatre (and they do it well) and I expect more from Orange Tree.

After many years of being an Orange Tree regular I have reluctantly decided not to go to every show there automatically, each play has to win my time on its merit and has to compete with the more consistent offerings from places like Theatre503.

12 April 2017

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


For some reason the monthly BCSA social was especially busy and there was a struggle to get seats for everybody. A nice problem to have.

The conversations, as always, were the point of the evening and, as always, they covered a wide range of subjects. I was sad enough to take brief notes of some of the topics covered and these included the Rough Guide to Czechoslovakia, bottled beer and yoga. There were also several conversations about the internal mechanics of the BCSA ahead of the Annual General Meeting.

The BCSA "Get to Know You" Socials are always good and this one was a bit special.

11 April 2017

The Goat at Theatre Royal Haymarket‎ was both disturbing and funny

There seemed to be a steady stream of A-List actors appearing at the West End in the early part of 2017 and all were appearing in interesting plays so I just had to go and see a lot of them.

With A-List actors there is usually a hefty ticket price to pay and to see The Goat I had to fork out £45 for a front row seat (A14) in the Upper Circle. I was happy with that deal.

Perhaps because of the pricing, or perhaps because of the less familiar play, or perhaps because Damian Lewis is not quite at the top of the A-List, the theatre was busy but not full.

A sign on the way up warned that the play was an hour and fifty minutes without a break. This was a little on the long side (though ninety minutes is common) and suggested that there was no natural break in the story to insert an interval. That meant missing out on the ice cream and that was probably a good thing.

The play was similar in structure to several other American plays I had seen in that everything happened in one room and more or less on one day. The time period was slightly longer this time but not much. The core of the play was the intense, and often funny, dialogue between a long-time married couple, Martin and Stevie (played by Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo), with some contributions from their late teenage son and a long-term friend of the family.

Early in these discussions Martin revealed his adulterous love for Sylvia and things escalated rapidly from there. In the long scene while Stevie tries to understand the situation (but not to come to terms with it) she destroyed ornaments almost with glee.

The Goat tested us by presenting Martin as an intelligent man and a good husband/father who just happened to have fallen in love unexpectedly. It was easy to be sympathetic to his plight despite the extent of his moral crime. Martin remained calm throughout and is almost bemused by everybody else's disgust.

Sophie Okonedo had the more interesting role as the injured wife and she was magnificent.

The play managed to be funny throughout despite the serious nature of the story and without going for cheap jokes. It also managed to make an hour and fifty minutes speed by such that when the lights went out it was hard for me to believe that we had got to the end, a confusion helped by the distinct lack of resolution to the story.

The Goat may not be the classic that Virginia Woolf is and Damian Lewis may not have the stage presence of Imelda Staunton but that would be to unfairly compare it to something staggeringly good which almost every play will look paler against. Considered on its own merits The Goat was an intelligent play that managed to be both disturbing and funny, often in the same sentence.