29 December 2017

Nik Turner's Brand New Space Ritual at Borderline (December 2015)

Nik Turner's Space Ritual had their farewell performance at Borderline in November 2014 and this was quickly followed by a performance by Nick Turner's New Space Ritual at Borderline in April 2015. Things changed again and the visitors to Borderline in December 2017 were billed as Nik Turner's Brand New Space Ritual.

This time the Space Ritual we saw was decidedly different and because of the line-up changes they sounded very different too. Apart from Nik, the one familiar face was Gary Smart on bass. The biggest change was the lack of a keyboard player. This left the band with a very definite 4-1 formation with bass, drums, guitar and electronic noises in a line across the back and Nik leading on saxophone, flute and all the vocals.

Borderline was new too. The stage was in the same place but the bar had moved to face it. It had also gone very black. The best thing about the change was the new lighting as the old stuff made photography almost impossible.

The lack of keyboards probably accounted for the more rocky sound. The music also felt faster than before though there was no obvious reason for this.

The set list was a little different also. It started with several songs from their 2007 album Otherworld, hit a high point in the middle with a stunning sequence of Steppenwolf, D-Rider and Orgone Accumulator (always a favourite of mine), and hit another towards the end with Master of the Universe and Brainstorm. Amongst this familiar stuff there were several songs that I did not know, though other audience members did, which I guess means that they came from other Nik Turner projects.

After something over an hour and a half of furious and fabulous playing the final encore was the final surprise, a version of Glenn Miller's In The Mood that kept pausing then restarting faster than before. An apt ending to an evening full of surprises and high points.

28 December 2017

Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse was a Christmas treat

One of my many good theatre memories was of J M Barrie's Mary Rose at Riverside Studios in 2012 and that was more than enough to get me to see his Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse. A modest £20 was all it took to secure a ticket. I went for a matinee in Christmas week as that was when I had the most free time available and even then I got to see it only a couple of days before the end of its run.

As I was on holiday that day I took the scenic route to the theatre from Waterloo starting with a familiar walk along South Bank (complete with a quick detour into Tate Modern) that took me on to More London before I headed south, past the sadly shut White Cube, and on to the theatre in good time to have a coffee before the show.

Dear Brutus was in the Little Theatre with unallocated seating and while I was not one of the first in I was able to get a seat near the middle of one of the front rows. The stage was set in traverse (or corridor) formation with entrances at either end. In the middle the stage was set as an Edwardian drawing room with a few comfortable chairs and occasional tables.

Into the room appeared a group of ladies eager to get some business done before the men joined them. That something was a prank, with serious intent, played on the butler. It was the first of many light moment in what was often a funny play. The humour was just pleasant decoration, however, and the play had a serious and mysterious heart. Three couples and two ladies, unknown to each other, had been invited to the house by the mysterious Lob. They were staying for a few days over midsummer's night and on that night he suggested that they all went for a walk in the wood. This was a little odd as there was no wood nearby. The first thing they had to do was to find it!

In the wood mysterious things happened to each of them and we saw each of their stories played out in turn. I cannot say much more without spoiling the plot but suffice to say that the main theme and the individual stories were all engaging.

Those adventures ended, they all returned to the house where the importance of the adventures was made clear and they were all a little wiser if not happier. Then there was one final twist at the end.

It was a delightful story and superbly presented. The layout of the stage worked as did its simple transformation from a house to a wood and back again. All of the cast were spot-on for their characters from the stuck-up young Lady to the doting couple married for thirty years. I even got used to the painter looking a lot like my Uncle Eric. Many of the other faces looked familiar and checking after the event I confirmed that I had seen many of them on stage before and some of them more than once.

Despite being set at midsummer Dear Brutus had the right feel for a Christmas show because it shared many of the traits of stories like A Christmas Carol being a moral tale told through the lives of ordinary people mixed with a touch of the supernatural. It was meant to be a Christmas treat to myself and it was.

22 December 2017

The Little Match Girl at Tabard Theatre

The Little Match Girl looked like the sort of play that I should see at Christmas and Tabard Theatre was a convenient place to see it so I booked early. Not quite early enough for the usual front for but seat B5 was fine as was the £19.5 that it cost me.

Usually I'd eat in the pub downstairs beforehand but this time I had to rush to Museum of Architecture in South Kensington beforehand to catch the very end of an exhibition there and I took the opportunity to eat the obligatory avocado on toast at the wonderful Fernandez & Wells.

Moving on to Tabard I took advantage of their mulled wine and mince pie offer before taking my seat in the theatre.

The Little Match Girl was a very musical musical with (probably) more singing than speaking. There were something like 37 songs in something under two hours. Even at Ramones' rate of a song lasting two minutes that is about 80 minutes of songs in about 100 minutes of drama.

The story, which I did not know, was a little of the life and a lot of the dreams of a very poor girl selling matches on the street. In real life she was thrown out of her home by her own father but in her dreams she is looked after and loved. In the end the real life wins.

At one level it was a deeply depressing, and relevant, story and while the sentiments of it were very appropriate for Christmas (care for the poor) it was not as jolly as might have been expected for a Christmas show. Making it more Christmassy were the dream sequences and all of the songs, including the chart topping Mistletoe and Wine. The large cast helped a lot too and while they were all good and fully committed to their roles it has to be Emily Cochrane who gets a special mention as the match girl herself.

The Little Match Girl was a fine show and a fine way to prepare for Christmas.

19 December 2017

More Follies at National Theatre

It was not my idea for the company I work for to go to Follies for our Christmas treat but it was a good one and I was quick to accept my place despite, or because of, seeing it already.

This time I was up in the Circle, seat C65, and I chose the photo below as it is more or less the view I had. It was a great view and it was nice to see it from a completely different angle.

It was a strange experience seeing it again. I knew the story this time and that took some of the edge off. On the other hand I knew some of the songs and that gave me a chance to pay more attention to the lyrics. I also knew how the production was structured, with each character having a younger version of themselves, and could look out for this from the beginning.

The impact of the production was just as impressive the second time and I noticed quite a few little touches that I had missed the first time, partially because of the different view that I had and partially because there were just so many little touches to see.

In September I wrote, "The story and music of Follies were good enough, if nothing special, and everything else about the production was excellent. Follies tried hard to be a spectacle and it succeeded.", and I stand by that.

Wearing the company colours

It is our work's Christmas Party today and I bought a new shirt for the occasion. I bought it several months ago.

It is, like most of the shirts that I have bought in recent years, from 1 like no other because they make exceedingly good shirts and I can now afford to buy them. Most are kept back for special occasions, like the BCSA Garden Party, but a few are in general use and get worn to work about once a month.

As soon as I saw the one I am wearing today I had to buy it because it is very like our company branding. This is the home page of our website.

About a year ago we refreshed our brand and part of that is an image of a network of dots and lines on a dark blue background.

This is the shirt I had to wear today.

As this is a company shirt it will now go into the work section of my wardrobe (just right of centre) and will make regular appearances in the office from now on. Normally 1 like no other shirts go into the best section of my wardrobe, higher even than my Liberty shirts, which is on the left and is separated from my common work shirts by my trousers.

18 December 2017

Wallowing in Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic at V&A

I had gone to V&A to see Opera: Passion, Power and Politics but it would have been stupidity to go all that way and not also see Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic.

I needed a rest first and I went to the cafe, as I do on every visit to V&A, and had a nice bowl of comforting soup. One of the advantages of going during the week was that I was easily able to get a table in the William Morris room.

Rested, I went to the new entrance, it being the closest, and with not much difficulty managed to use one of the large self-service touch screens to buy a ticket for the first free slot to Winnie-the-Pooh, which was about an hour later. That gave me just the right amount of time to find (the hardest part) and visit the display Into the Woods: Trees in Illustration, and then return to the cafe for a coffee and some cake.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic was in half of the main exhibition space which gave me an estimated visit time of an hour, long enough given what I had already done and my interest in the subject.

The exhibition was stuffed full of E.H. Shepard drawings of all types and stages from woodland scenes used for research through to drawings he added colour to when in his nineties. The drawings were every bit as charming as I remembered from the books, probably more so.

The text with the pictures helpfully explained the techniques and tools used, e.g. the different types of pencils he worked with and the way shading was used to produce different effects.

It was also fascinating to learn about the way that the illustrations were always designed to be embedded in the text with individual pages being design in the same way that pages in a comic are.

This being V&A there was a lot more to the exhibition than words and pictures; there was even a almost full-sized mock-up of the famous Poohsticks bridge that you could walk over and have your photo taken as if in a drawing, which a lot of people did.

If I had one minor gripe with the exhibition, it was that the focus was overwhelmingly on the E.H. Shepard and relatively little was said about the A.A. Milne words. It would have been good, for example, to read/hear some passages with some explanation of how they were constructed (rhythm, rhyme, etc.). That said, it was the illustrations that I had gone for and there were lots of them and they were all lovely.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A

As a lover of both opera and V&A it was only a matter of time before I went to see the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A, though I did have to take a day's holiday to find that time.

Going on a work day meant that it was not sold out and I could get tickets on arrival. It also helped that it was towards the end of its long run. I treated myself to a decent lie-in first and after a leisurely breakfast and a decent journey in I arrived there just after 11:30am.

The exhibition was in the new Sainsbury Gallery and it was nice to have an excuse to see it.

The technology was the same as for Pink Floyd earlier in the year, headsets and a devise that played music (it was almost all music) according to where you were in the various rooms.

There were two helpful signs at the start, one said that photography was allowed and the second said that visitors should allow 70 minutes for the exhibition. One of those proved to be more true than the other.

The opera story was told as a series of dates, places and significant works connected to them. It started with Venice around 1600 and Monteverdi's Orfeo, moved on to London a century later with Handel's Rinaldo, and so on. It started off very historical with little in the way of passion, power or politics except for opera always being a rich person's activity and so it was entwined with them through its patrons.

That started to change with Marriage of Figaro which let servants get the upper-hand over their masters, something shocking in a period when workers never played important roles in art much less triumphal ones.

The passion reached its zenith with the closing aria from Richard Strauss' Salomé where a blood splattered Salomé embraced the severed head of Jochanaan much to the disgust of her step-father Herod. This was top-grade Sex and Violence.

The tour ended with Stalin's Russia and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Dmitri Shostakovich, an opera unknown to me which featured some frenetic piano playing by the composer.

The final room was a sample of opera today with excepts from several contemporary works, including a few I had seen and I few more that I would like to.

The expected 70 minutes turned out to be 100 or more and that tells you how much there was to listen to, look at, read and watch, and how engaging it all was.

15 December 2017

The Passing of The Third Floor Back at Finborough Theatre

My first visit to Finborough Theatre was to see something by John Galsworthy, the second to see something by Jerome K. Jerome. There's a theme there.

My knowledge of Jerome K. Jerome went little beyond Three Men in a Boat but that was more than enough to persuade me to part with £18 to see one of his plays.

Being a second visit the logistics were easy; a train from Teddington to Wimbledon, a tube to West Brompton, a short walk to the Finborough Arms (conveniently placed below the theatre), a good pint of beer and a pizza from next door.

The play was set in a run-down boarding house where all conceivable corners were cut, early on the proprietress told a main that the milk could take a little more water. Staying in the boarding house was a motley collection of characters including a young artist, a couple of fraudsters and a heavily over painted middle-aged woman. All of them were struggling a little in life and while none were distraught or desperate none was happy either.

Finally, thanks to the maid taking the initiative in placing an advertisement locally, the room on the third floor was let to a young enigmatic man who quickly charmed the proprietress who was so enthralled with him that she tried to lower the asking price for the rent.

Having gradually met the large cast slowly over half an hour or so we took an unexpectedly early interval. I was so surprised by the timing that I did not leave the theatre, it was too early for another beer.

In the much longer second half the stranger spoke to each of the people in turn. He knew about their pasts, often claiming a previous connection, and also their current aspirations. From this he was able to offer sound advice. He offered it in a calm, measured and yet authoritative manner that the recipient of the advice was compelled to follow it.

The advice worked and they all lived happily ever after. Sort of. It was real life so things were never going to be quite like that. The point was that they were all happier and more comfortable with their situation than they were before. It reminded me a little of the impact that Mary Poppins had on the Banks family in a story that would be told a few decades later.

The Passing of The Third Floor Back oozed goodness thanks to its simple delightful story and the excellent cast that brought all the characters and their foibles firmly to life. I cared about all of them and was uncertain whether to smile or cry at the end.

13 December 2017

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

December's British Czech and Slovak Association's Get to Know You Social was every bit as good as expected for all the expected reasons.

Sadly illness kept our unofficial host, Ruzena, away but the rest of us regulars tried to make up for that by welcoming the first-time visitors even if we were limited to doing that in English. As usual there were several first-times, or long-time-since-they-last-camers, and it was they that really made the evening for me. Of course, it was nice having some friends and regulars there as well.

Zdenek grabbed out attention immediately by announcing that he manages a Czech-style brewer, Bohem Brewery, in the UK. He told a great story about how a Pilzner Urqell expert gave a demonstration on four different ways to pour beer and the way that it made the same beer taste quite different We all took his business card and pleaded to be allowed to taste some of his beers soon.

I had known Gabriela for many years, mostly via social media, and even though we had been to several of the same events, such as the BCSA Garden Party, I had never had a decent conversation with her before. We talked about Kosice and how some homes are naturally unhealthy places to live and what can be done about it.

Finally I got to talk to Frantisek who I first connected to on MySpace! He is a Czech cellist and won the t-shirt of the night competition for his Bach Fest one. We had to talk a bit about Bach, because his cello suites are definitive works, but we talked about lots of other things too.

Conversations are the point of these BCSA socials and these conversations were special. 

7 December 2017

Young Marx at Michael Frayn Theatre was a successful experiment

Young Marx was something of an experiment for me as it was my first time at an NT Live broadcast. For some reason I had never been tempted to go to the local cinema to see shows but going to Michael Frayn Theatre, part of Kingston Grammar School's relatively new Queen Elizabeth II Performing Arts Centre, seemed more appropriate.

£10 was a modest price to pay for the experiment and that got me seat G3 which was more or less in the middle vertically and at the edge of the screen (not beyond it) horizontally. It was a perfectly good seat and the decent raking meant that the people in front of me were well clear of my sight line. In that respect the experiment was a complete success even before the show started.

Young Marx was broadcast live from the new Bridge Theatre. I had already booked to see a couple of shows there but Young Marx had not quite appealed enough for me to fork out theatre prices to see it in Central London. That was despite it coming from the team behind One Man, Two Guvnors and it starring Rory Kinnear. That combination was more than enough for me to pay cinema prices to see it locally.

Michael Frayn Theatre also had the advantage of being within walking distance though the early, 7pm, start time meant leaving the house around 6:25pm and walking briskly. That early start was to allow time for an interview with the director, Nicholas Hytner, to be broadcast before the show started. That was an interesting feature and it was also good to see a little of Bridge Theatre before my first visit there.

Young Marx was set in 1850 when a penniless Karl Marx and his family and maid were living in Soho. He was supported financially by Friedrich Engels but still hid from his many creditors, usually in a cupboard. Each welcome visitor to their small lodgings had their own distinctive knock that gave them access. These many visitors included their son's doctor and a syncopathic follower. Engles was keen for Marx to write but Marx was more interested in a visiting the eighteen pubs on Tottenham Court Road.

The story continued with lots of humorous dialogue and a fair smattering of slapstick. It was consistently funny if not outrageously so being constrained by historical facts from taking too fanciful liberties with the situation. The politics at times was used as a source of humour, such as in the opening scene where Marx questions the meaning of the word "value" with a pawnbroker, and at other times it was used to give us serious insights into Marxist philosophy, e.g. a worker is paid 1s but creates 3s value giving the exploitative capitalist 2s (he is right, of course). The accurate historical and political context gave the play an intellectual backbone that made it more satisfying than a simple comedy.

Young Marx was a lot of fun and and my experiment with NT Live was a great success. Future visits are being planned.