27 March 2017

E15 at Battersea Arts Centre was a brutally honest look at the Housing Crisis

I had not been to Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) for a few months and I was happy to correct that error with E15, an overtly political play with the strap-line Social Housing Not Social Cleansing.

The £12.5 price tag suggested a shortish play and at around 75 minutes that was clearly good value. For that I got seat A11 in the middle of the front row, my favourite spot.

Despite being banished to work in Teddington BAC was still easy to get to with a mainline train taking me to Clapham Junction which just left me the short walk up Lavender Hill.

I got there in good time, about an hour or so before the show, which gave me time to enjoy some of the delights of the Scratch Bar which include an interesting and satisfying meal, a bottle of beer with a nice label and a window seat to spy on the world from. Later I had a coffee too. Front of house is important to me and is one of the strengths of BAC.

E15 was staged in the former Council Chamber, basically a large room with some stadium type seating in one half and the other used as a performance area. The staging was dramatic with the three walls festooned with political banners and the floor covered in chalk slogans that the cast were busy adding to as we entered. Someone else was shouting more slogans through a portable loudhailer. We were immersed in the action from the very start.

The story of E15 was based on the Focus E15 campaign which was started in September 2013 when a group of young mothers were served eviction notices by East Thames Housing Association after Newham Council cut its funding to the Focus E15 hostel for young homeless people.Four young mothers and a young man told us how they came to be in the hostel. All were vulnerable, all relied on benefits to live and all had strong connections with Newham. All were decent honest people who deserved the help they needed.

The play took us through their campaign, which had its ups and downs. Driven by need they had come together to fight for the right to live locally, rather than joining the 68,000 people rehoused outside of London every year, away from the places and people they know and away from whatever support structures they had. It was a brutal story with some brighter moments such as when they decided to hold a children's birthday party in a developer's show home.

I went to see E15 for the politics and there was plenty of this. In particular we could see the impact on real people of the government's policies enacted by local councils. I also hoped to be entertained and E15 did that too with a well constructed story and a good cast who made me care about what happened to them.

I signed their petition on the way out, I think everybody did, and would have thrown some paper at them if they had had a bucket to collect donations in but I failed to find one so I made sure to give them some money online.

It is a crime that plays like E15 are necessary in this day and age but they are necessary and more people should see them. These stories need to be told.

22 March 2017

Dark Vanilla Jungle was just as scary the second time

My Google Alert did its job and alerted me to a new production of Dark Vanilla Jungle and I made my booking immediately, £14 for an unreserved seat.

I would have gone to see it if it had been in N16 (which lies just north of  Arcola Theatre) but Theatre N16 had been on its travels and had landed much closer to home in Balham where it has taken up residency above large and rambling Bedform Arms.

I had never been to Balham before (other than passing through on a train) and was looking forward to doing a little exploration too. The exploration was somewhat limited by the pub being next to the station and the difficulty in crossing several busy roads to get there.

The Bedform Arms did its job reasonably well providing a decent, if not very full, pint (eventually) and a pretty good vegetarian burger from its limited menu.

Immediately above the pub was a large function room but that was used for some sort of keep fit class and the theatre was another floor up in a modest room, much like other pub theatres such as Pentameters and the White Bear. The stage was a simple white rectangle with normal dining chairs on three sides. There may have been some more theatrical type seating behind these but I headed straight from the front row in the central block and did not pay much attention to the other seats. I was not surprised by the limited set as The Cockpit had been much the same, if rather larger.

Dark Vanilla Jungle was a monologue, told by a young woman called Andrea, that jumped in various directions, threw in a few shocks and told some stories that might not have been true. In construction it was similar to Donny Stixx but that means little more than saying all Beethoven's string quartets used the same instruments as the same techniques were used to different effects.

And like a work of classical music, Dark Vanilla Jungle had distinct sections with one story following another but told in such a way that there was no gap between them. These stories covered Andrea's early years living with her parents, being in an exploitative relationship as a teenager and then (possibly mad, possibly dreaming) her relationship with a seriously injured soldier.

Being Philip Ridley these stories were thick with prose that demanded a close listen just as poetry does. Each sentence could be appreciated for its own form as well as for the narrative that they helped to construct.

Dark Vanilla Jungle lasted about 75 busy minutes after which both performer (Emily Thornton) and audience had reached a summit that it was too exhausting to try and go beyond. I have seen plays that last twice as long do half as much.

It is because of plays like Dark Vanilla Jungle and of evenings like this one that I have a Google Alert for Philip Ridley.

17 March 2017

Low Level Panic at Orange Tree had little going for it

Low Level Panic was another play at Orange Tree Theatre that I failed to see the point of. It may have made an impact when first performed thirty years ago but the only thing that the play seemed to be trying to do was give us the professional ladette's view of life which is now not new. It was not even the first play this year that I had seen that had a naked woman in a bath in it.

In trying to shock us with tales of casual sex and masturbation the play did not bother with any sort of a story or with much characterisation. At the end of the play we knew very little about the young women or their circumstances, nor did we care. Low Level Panic, I presume, referred to the women's feelings of trepidation towards aspects of their lives which while accurate also confessed that the drama was mild.

I felt sorry for the three competent actress for having so little to play with. Only the deliciously Welsh Sophie Melville had anything interesting to do as she told us about a recent sexual assault that had led her to being very wary of going out. This change of pace and tone was very welcome but was not developed and the darkness was allowed to lift.

The one redeeming factor which made the play bearable was the humour. It was never very funny but it made me smile often enough to sit through the eighty five minutes in comfort if not in pleasure.

14 March 2017

Well crafted and hilarious Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at The Old Vic

As the poster suggests, the main draw for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic Theatre‎ was meant to be Daniel Radcliffe but my main reason for going was that this was a play that I had heard of but had not seen and the name Tom Stoppard suggested that I should. I was in the queue for tickets promptly and so managed to get hold of Lilian Baylis Circle (the top level) B23 for £39 which was towards the top end of what I was prepared to pay.

The Old Vic is well situated close to Waterloo Station and so I was able to leave work soon after the end of the working day (5:30pm), but well before anybody else, to get to Culture Grub for 6:30pm where I am recognised as a regular. I went for the Chinese style curry with boiled rice, which I may have had once or twice before, and will have once or twice again.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead entertained from the very start as the two leads undertook the tasks given to them by King Claudius in Hamlet in a bumbling and uncertain manner. So uncertain were they that even they could not work out who was Rosencrantz and who was Guildenstern. Their Mr Bean like antics were a core of the play and that was a very solid core.

On a few occasions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern crossed into the world of Hamlet and we had some familiar scenes from that play embedded into this one. A simple device that was very effective.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern crossed paths a few times with The Player, a harlequin character played with great gusto and aplomb by David Haig, who will always be one of the marks in The Hustle to me. His performance had been described as show stealing in some reviews that I had seen and while I could understand why that had been said I think that the strongest performance was Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern (or was it Rosencrantz?).

The production did a lot to emphasise the fun of the story and the play was two hours of relentless light entertainment that brought many smiles and much laughter, the antithesis to the Hamlet that inspired it.

12 March 2017

Another brilliant evening with The Honeyslides at The Half Moon

It was almost a year since I last (and first) saw The Honeyslides at The Half Moon in Putney and it was an easy decision to see them play there again when they finally returned. A lot of the details were the same as my previous visit and perhaps the most significant difference was that I dug out a check shirt for the occasion, as did several other people. No jeans though as I do not own any.

Again I was too busy enjoying the music to do anything other than note a few words, words that will mean a lot to any Neil Young fan; Cinnamon, Pocahontas, Words, Alabama, River. Cowgirl, Ohio, Cortez, Hurricane, Southern. To which I would add the word Brilliant.

The Honeyslides played for the best part of two and a half hours until the 11pm curfew meant we all had to leave and find another pub to drink in (Willoughby was still open, of course). It was a stupendous two and a half hours and while I occasionally wanted some of the songs to last a little longer that would have meant playing fewer of them and I think that they got the balance right.

The Honeyslides were somewhere between sitting at home alone listening to Live Rust on headphones and being in the front row of a concert with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and that was a might fine place to be.

Update: 18 hours later and I'm still singing Cinnamon Girl to myself, and sometimes to the rest of the office too.

11 March 2017

Josef Frank Patterns Furniture Painting at Fashion and Textile Museum

It was not much of a loose end but I had a few hours to fill between theatre appointments in Shoreditch and so I made another visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM) in Bermondsey, a short hop on the Northern Line from Old Street to London Bridge with a refreshing walk at either end.

Any visit to a museum starts or ends with a coffee and some cake. This time it started that way.

All I knew about Josef Frank beforehand was what FTM had shown me in their regular emails which was enough to tempt me to the exhibition but did little to inform me about the man or his works so I went in with some expectations and a lot of curiosity.

I soon earned that Josef Frank was Austrian by birth but moved to Sweden in middle-age to escape anti-Jewish persecution where is work in architecture extended to other forms of design.

Those expectations were quickly met too with large displays of fabrics in the style of the poster. The scale of the patterns with their large repeats and their lack of symmetry made them quite different from the floral patterns that I was familiar with from the likes of William Morris and Liberty. Somewhere along the line I remembered that I had some Ikea chairs with a pattern not unlike these, perhaps it a Scandinavian style.

Upstairs was something of a surprise as it was mostly paintings. Frank liked painting but was not terribly good at it, his cars looked very amateurish and his sense of perspective was unusual. That said, he often painted interesting scenes and their natural beauty and interest survived his artistic interpretation.

The paintings and other displays were interesting but it was the fabrics and furnishings that made the show special for me and there were lots of them to enjoy even in the relatively small space that is the FTM. I had to walk past them all again as I came back downstairs to leave and I enjoyed seeing them the second time almost as much as I had the first. It was a slow and pleasant exit.

The FTM is a remarkable place simply because it continually does exhibitions as stimulating this one.

8 March 2017

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

Even by the usual high standards of the monthly BCSA monthly Get to Know You Socials, March was a great evening. It was not just that it was busy, though that helped, but something about the combination of people there made the conversations flow even better than the beer did, and that flowed well.

One highlight of the evening was a discussion on Physics that moved onto a Czech physician who I had become Facebook friends with ten years ago to the day and who was known, surprisingly to me, by a few other of the people there. I had a quick chat with her on Facebook to let her know that we were thinking about her. These evenings are called socials for a reason.

The hardest part of the evening was finding a different way to photograph my smazeny syr and in the end I settled for playing around with the mayonnaise. The smiley face is exactly how I felt.

1 March 2017

The Complete Steranko SHIELD Collection

I have written before about the comics legend that is Jim Steranko but that was mostly in relation to his Captain America work whereas it is Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. that he is rightly most famous for.

I had read and bought various collections of his later episodes, and I may even have the occasional single issue in a comic box somewhere, but there was much of the run that I had not seen before, or even knew much about.

The ComiXology made me an offer that I could not refuse.

I am not sure what the occasion was but they had the completion collection in one of their sales and I did not hesitate to take the bait. The prize was almost 500 pages of comics for around £5.

Unexpectedly, and welcomely, the complete collection included complete copies of Strange Tales where Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD first appeared and which it shared with Dr Strange.

Both artists seem to have been told to try and emulate the styles of those that preceded them with Jim Steranko looking very like Jack Kirby (who did some of the layouts) and Dan Adkins like Steve Ditko. One of the joys of the comic is to see how the artists' styles evolved as they developed their own styles.

Elements of the Steranko style were there from the beginning, especially in the high-tech equipments, but it was a while before he was able to throw of the constraint of the six panel page to create stunning compositions.

The detailed line work with heavy contrasts that had been used sparingly became the signature of Steranko's work and why he is a legend.

The storytelling developed nicely too and I love the way that the panel above has no words, something that Warren Ellis also does very well. This is a marked contrast to Stan Lee who filled panels with lengthy speech balloons and explanatory texts. Comics were growing up then and Steranko was one of the people helping them to do it.

It is many years since I first came across Steranko's work and it still gives me a thrill.