31 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 October 2017

Aida at ENO was Grand Opera delivered grandly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 October 2017

A Day by the Sea at Southwark Playhouse was delightful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 October 2017

All the Little Lights at Arcola Theatre was uncomfortable but necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2017

Oslo at Harold Pinter Theatre was theatrical magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then things changed.

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

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

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

16 October 2017

The Incredible Hulk #189

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

This is proving to be moderately expensive!

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

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

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

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

I very much enjoyed reading it the second time too.

14 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2017

Rosie Wyatt sparkled in In Event of Moone Disaster at Theatre503

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

All my hopes were met or exceeded.

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

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

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

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

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

11 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 8 November is not very far away.

7 October 2017

Lucy Light at Theatre N16 sparkled

I was always going to see Lucy Light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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