23 February 2017

Killing Time at Park Theatre was slightly dark and very delightful

Killing Time had caught my eye partially because it starred Brigit Forsyth (who I last saw in Now This Is Not The End at the Arcola Theatre in 2015) and partially because it sounded an interesting show with a mix of live cello music, played by Bridgit, and modern technology. Despite this initial interest I was not able to find a free evening to see it until another event was cancelled and I was able to make a late booking.

I used to be able to walk to Park Theatre from work but moving to Teddington meant a journey from south-west to north-east London. Thankfully the main railway line to Vauxhall and then the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park made this journey simple and fairly quick. So much so that I was there by 6:45pm leaving me plenty of time for some quiche, coffee and then a beer before the 7:45pm show.

I took the beer with me into the queue around 7:15 only because it made as much sense to stand there and play with my phone as to sit somewhere else and do so. Despite this keenness some people got into the queue in front of me simply by redefining where the start of it was. Previously theatre staff had defined the start of the queue as where I was standing on the landing between the two floors but this time people were allowed to go down the corridor to the door to the studio. To be fair to the queue jumpers I did not look much like a queue standing there on my own, but it still irked me a little.

Luckily the people who jumped me in the queue did not sit where I wanted to sit and I was able to claim a seat in the middle of the front row in he central section. This time there was seating on two sides of a slightly raised circular stage.

Killing Time opened with Bridgit playing part of Elgar's Cello Concerto which everybody knows from the Jacqueline du PrĂ© version. A good start.

The cellist, Hester, was an elderly woman at home alone dying of cancer and surrounded by crisp packet wrappers and empty bottles of wine as she lived her final days as she wanted to live them. Her only contact with the outside world was a friend who she spoke to on Skype (with her view projected on the back of the stage so that we could see it too) and a social worker who did he shopping and basic household duties.

The play was billed as a "hilarious and irreverent brand new comedy" so I was expecting something light with plenty of laughs. Killing Time was not like that. There was humour but calling it hilarious was something of a stretch. What was there was a dark edge that gave the story, and the characters, real substance. This was a play with depth and a heart which, for me, made it far better than the light relief that I was expecting. A play to recommend as well as to enjoy.

Adding to the emotion was knowing that the play was written by Bridget's daughter, Zoe Mills, who also played the social worker. The conversations that they had on stage about age and death were ones they could have had at home.

Killing Time ended on a heart-warming and satisfying high, despite what had just happened to Hester and her social worker. Their journey there had been amusing, slightly dark and very delightful.

11 February 2017

The Pirates of Penzance at ENO was delightful despite the poor view

I had largely managed to avoid Gilbert and Sullivan and was only persuaded to see The Pirates of Penzance by other people.

Having decided to go on a Saturday I made something of a day of it by popping into the V&A on the way and then into Govinda's where a Large Thali had morphed into an Unlimited one, not that I went back for seconds.

Being relatively slow off the mark for Pirates I failed to get my usual front row seat upstairs and instead had to settle for Upper Circle  B25 at £‬40.

A reasonable price for the seat until two tall people sat in front of me and limited my view to the middle third of the stage. That is ridiculous for a seat at that price and has vastly reduced the chances that I will go back to The Coliseum except for mandatory events, e.g. Philip Glass operas.

Luckily most of the action happened in the middle third of the stage.

That stage was simply constructed and boldly coloured, like a young child's toy. The opera opened with a large blue screen through which a bright orange ship emerged. This was, of course, the pirates' ship on which Frederic had just reached 21 and with that completed his indenture to the pirates. Freed of his bond he was leaving them to start a new life. Leaving with him was a maid who was responsible for his indenture to the pirate originally and in mistake.

What followed was a jolly romp with pretty young ladies, their Major-General father and a group of not so bold policeman. What also followed was lots of jolly songs. I knew I am the very model of a modern Major-General and A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One and they were fairly typical of the feast of around thirty songs. There was a lot of humour in there and the tunes were pleasant too.

The story was helped a lot by some strong acting both by the principle characters and the large supporting cast. One high point was the increasing timidity of the policemen as others remarked on their valour in doing battle with the pirates where they faced certain death,

I left the singing to last because it had been a problem at my previous exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan it had been bit of a problem and so I was delighted that the singing was good this time. Again that included both the principles, there were several, and the supporting cast.

The story ended happily and the journey there was a lot of fun. I had a delightful evening and was able to forgive the poor view.

10 February 2017

Winter Solstice was another great disappointment at Orange Tree

It is tempting to cut and paste parts of my review of Blue Heart because there were large dollops of deja vu. Winter Solstice suffered fatally from trying to be clever for cleverness sake and forgot to entertain while doing so.

There were too main gimmicks used both of which started off as amusing but soon became tired cliches. The play had large sections of narrative with the cast taking in turns to be narrator which meant that they sometimes spoke about themselves in the third person. I've seen this devise used effectively in small doses, House of Cards does this excellently as did Shakespeare, but here it was overused and did nothing to aid the story.

The second gimmick was the use of props of the office meeting type for other things, so a pencil became a cigarette and a highlighter became a lipstick. Again I failed to see the point of this and did it noting to aid the drama. I would have preferred it if no props had been used at all.

The play's title came from its setting, Christmas Eve. All the events took place in the house of a couple of well-to-do intellectuals (she made films, he wrote books) and the daughter. They were soon joined by her mother and later a friend of hers and, finally, a friend of the family. There was little action but a lot of talking. Some skeletons rattled out of cupboards but were gently put back again and forgotten. Hints of affairs were glossed over, unbelievable hints of Nazi collusion faded away and hints of a serious illness were not developed. Basically nothing happened.

I felt sorry for the cast at times. They did reasonably well with the material that they had to work with  and that was all that they could do.

I loved Sheppy but Winter Solstice made it two disappointments out of three for me and with the Bush reopening soon (I have tickets) and the Riverside reopening next year there is the real possibility that Orange Tree will drop off my must-see list. Sad days.

On the plus side Orange Tree was packed and apparently the run was sold out so there is clearly a market for plays like this. It's just that I'm not in it.

8 February 2017

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

I was disappointed to have to miss the monthly British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) in January due to illness and delighted to be back at the The Czech and Slovak National House in West Hampstead in February.

I have a settled routine from my new workplace in Teddington that starts with a decent leg stretching walk to Strawberry Hill Station where I catch a train to Richmond and then the London Overground to West Hampstead. Simple enough though the connection at Richmond does not have much contingency. When things work, as they did this time, then I get to the venue just before the official start time of 7pm. As always there were already some people there.

The rest of the evening went to plan too with a few Pilsner Urquells concluded by a Zlaty Bazant, some smazeny syr to eat and to immortalise on Instagram, and lots of interesting conversations with interesting people. I do not keep track of numbers, it is not that sort of evening, but I think we had a higher proportion of new faces than usual which was a great excuse to repeat some old stories from my Prague days, which were 24 years ago now.

The evening had everything that I expected, and like, from the monthly BCSA socials. No more, no less.

6 February 2017

Silver Lining at Rose Theatre was passably entertaining

In the end it was loyalty to Rose Theatre that persuaded me to go and see Silver Lining. Other people were probably attracted by the playwright, Sandi Toksvig, and some of the actors familiar to TV addicts, such as Sheila Reid (Benidorm).

Whatever the reason people went they did so in good numbers so much so that the upper circle was open (it rarely is) and all but the very edge seats downstairs were sold. I was late to the game and while I was able to get a seat in my preferred Row A it was very much at the sides, A6, for which I paid a modest preview price of £21.

The poster almost tells you all that you need to know. Silver Lining is set in an old people's home which is gradually being flooded as a large storms rolls in and the tide rises.

In structure it was much like a sit-com with lots of humorous, sometimes funny, one liners often making fun of each other. It was a reasonable sitcom too but only reasonable. You would not change the channel if you came across it but then you would probably not change the channel to catch it either and you would certainly not be buying the box set.

Towards the end, once we knew the characters a little better, there were some moments of pathos as some of the ladies told us more abut themselves, how they felt and what happened in their pasts to influence them. This was a welcome change of pace from the unrealistic snappy dialogue but that is all that it was, nothing meaningful or memorable came from these revelations.

The direction was somewhat artificial too. The five ladies spent most of the time speaking to each other yet they did so sitting in a straight line facing the audience. Their movement was as unnatural as their dialogue.

That all sounds like a relentless stream of negativity, and it largely is, so it is worth remembering that I started off by saying that Silver Lining was like a sitcom that was often humorous and sometimes funny. Overall the humour rescued the play and what could have been a disaster was passably entertaining.