25 October 2018

Vulcan 7 at Richmond Theatre was very entertaining

For some reason I was not immediately attracted to Vulcan 7. Yes Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer were big names but, from my perspective, mostly from a fairly distant past of Young Ones and Bottom. Also my most recent experience of Edmondson was watching the filming of a very unfunny sit-com at the now defunct Teddington Studios.

Despite all that I had no real reason for giving it a miss so I duly booked my usual seat in Richmond Theatre, Dress Circle A25, for a modest £30.

It seems that my trepidations about the show were shared and while the seats were reasonably full it was nothing like packed.

With limited expectations of an acceptable if predictable comedy I sat back and waited to be entertained.

Vulcan 7 was funny. Very funny. Some of this was the expected verbal slapstick, such as the abusing of Daniel Day-Lewis' name with multiple swear words, but a lot of it was intelligent humour, much more BBC than ITV. I laughed a lot.

And as befitting the two actors that Edmondson and Planer were playing, there were lots of theatrical references, including one for local lad Richard E. Grant who I have seen in the audience at Richmond Theatre, and also some extended quotes from plays like King Lear. Having actors act as actors and talking about acting was a nicely played theme.

The story was good too. Not so much the story of their current situation but more the story of their long careers and relationship which featured custard in one memorable moment. Their story also intertwined with that of the production assistant who had to manage the two actors.

Vulcan 7 surprised me. I expected a simple comedy of simple characters and would have been very happy with that. What I got was much more than and that made it a thoroughly entertaining show.

17 September 2018

Macbeth at RSC Stratford-upon-Avon was amazing

There is probably some sort of limit to the number of times I can watch Macbeth but I have not got there yet.

There were some obvious reasons for wanting to see this version. I had wanted to see a production at RSC Stratford-upon-Avon for some time, this production featured Christopher Eccleston and, judging by the posters, it was a modern take on the classical story.

It was also our wedding anniversary and we used this as an excuse to eat at the RSC Rooftop Restaurant beforehand and to begin the meal with a champagne cocktail. It was a lovely start to the evening.

The theatre surprised me a little. I knew that it had been substantially remodelled in recent years and I was expecting something like National Theatre but what I found was more like Globe Theatre (without the pit). Unexpected but also understandable.

I had paid £50 for a seat on the side of the thrust stage and I was pleased with the view of the stage that I had.

The mood was set in the opening scene with the three witches played by young girls dressed for bedtime and carrying baby dolls. It was a striking image and one that recurred with the witches making several appearances during the play and not just when Shakespeare said they should. One of their roles was to help move the props!

Refreshingly the poster was a true reflection of what the production was like. Other theatres please take note (I'm thinking particularly of Almeida).

I am far from word perfect on Macbeth so I cannot be certain how much was changed but a little was and most was not. It was very much Shakespeare and very much Macbeth and also something a little different with things like the cleaner keeping track of the deaths.

Notably the ending was different. Or rather there was an epilogue where the witches returned and made another dark prediction. It was bit of a risk but I think that it worked. Bringing the witches back bookended the production nicely and the new prediction kept the story alive.

16 September 2018

Another fine adaptation of Elric of Melniboné

I have at least two sets of Elric stories somewhere in the house, the original Michael Moorcroft paperbacks and the early 1970s Marvel adaptations by Roy Thomas with art by P Craig Russell (and others). I never expected to buy more Elric until I saw a new release notice on a new adaptation by Titan Comics and one glimpse at the art work was enough to convince me to dive in again.

This double-page spread should be all that anyone who likes comics should need.

It helps that this new comic adaptation has been produced with the full and enthusiastic endorsement of Moorcock himself, who wrote "Fully captures Elric's sense of utter decadence. The saga of the albino I would have written myself if I had thought of it first!".

That should be enough of a recommendation for any fan of Michael Moorcroft.

I like comics and I like Moorcroft so I absolutely love this version of Elric of Melnibon√©.

15 September 2018

Radiant Vermin at Ram Jam Club was an unexpected treat

I have a Google Alert set for Philip Ridley and I was drinking in the Grey Horse last night so I was surprised to the extent of being shocked to discover this morning that there was a Ridley play on at Ram Jam Club (part of the pub) today.

A few frantic unanswered emails later and I was walking to the pub in the hope, and some expectation, that I would be able to get in. I was about the first person there and as it had not sold out I was able to get a ticket. I also got a pint of Naked Ladies and a table at the front.

The Ram Jam Club is a cosy venue and it worked well fashioned for theatre. I had only be there previously for music.

I had some trepidations about seeing the play as when I saw it the first time, at Soho Theatre in March 2015, it starred Gemma Whelan and that is a hard act to follow. Still, I reasoned that it was a brilliant script and some modest acting would not hurt it too much.

I was right on one count and wrong on the other.

The script was brilliant and in addition to it's fantastical story it had some exquisite lines. Just one example, "You stick out like a toddler's leg leg from a crocodile's mouth". The acting, however, was not modest - it was very good. I was particularly impressed by the quick fire birthday party scene at the end when Joy Bowers and James Dart had to play multiple roles at the same time. It was wonderfully done.

It was a small stage and good use was made of it. The movement was a significant component of the play's success so here is a little bit of recognition for Movement Director Louise-Mai Newbury.

Radiant Vermin was a real treat and all the more so for being unexpected.

Cemetery Beach is delicious

Any new Warren Ellis comic book is something to look forward to and one with Jason Howard even more so given their illustrious collaboration on Trees. Cemetery Beach issue #1 arrived on my iPad this week and was the first comic that I read in bed with my first cup of tea on Saturday morning.

It comfortably lived up to expectations. This double-page spread starts to explain why.

Obviously the art work is lovely and the scene is futuristic and interesting. Also, like the five pages after it, it has no words.

It's early days but I am already deep into an exciting adventure that is steeped in mystery. I love the story, I love the action, I love the exhilarating pace of it. I love this comic already.

13 September 2018

Losing Venice at Orange Tree Theatre lacked substance

Losing Venice sounded like an interesting proposition with a contemporary relevance as it addressed themes like "A nation with delusional ideas of its place in the world, making poor choices, involved in clumsy foreign adventures, constantly on the edge of war.". Sadly it fell short of my modest expectations.

It was a play of two halves. The first was flimsy but had enough good lines and exotic characters to be entertaining. The second descended into political commentary and despite being only 45 minutes long it dragged. I looked at my watch several times.

At the end I struggled to see what the point of the play was. It was a bit funny, a bit political a bit absurd but not much of anything.

Rising above the play's limitations were the excellent cast, which is why I have chosen a cast photograph to accompany my words.

Tim Delap (top right) as the Duke led the way with everybody else a close second in emphasising their characters' silliness. I even forgive Tim for almost stabbing me (A30 is a risky seat) and the stand-in (presumably) for having to read from a script.

Walking home I tried to make sense of what I had just seen and failed to find the point of it. It lacked gravitas to make any political points and lacked sufficient humour to be a comedy. It lacked substance.

18 July 2018

The Brave and The Bold is beyond beautiful

I am not a big DC fan these days and have never read their mainstream books (Batman, Superman, JLA, etc.) consistently, tending to dip in and out for specific stories and/or creators. I still keep an eye on what is happening in DC Land so I was aware of the buzz created around Liam Sharp's Wonder Woman in 2016 and experimented with the first issue. The art impressed me but the story did not and I left it there.

Then I heard that Liam was working with Wonder Woman again this time with Batman in tow in the revamped Batman team-up comic The Brave and The Bold. I experimented again, was even more impressed by the art and liked the story too so I stayed with the book.

This panel helps to show why.

The detail is frightening and the subject is fantastic. The story is steeped in Celtic mythology and that is reflected in the design of the pages. The book is beyond beautiful.

The only shame is that it is a six part limited issue series.

17 July 2018

Genesis Inc. at Hampstead Theatre was much more than a comedy

I do not need much temptation to go to Hampstead Theatre and the prospect of seeing Harry Enfield in a comedy would probably have been enough by itself but the addition of Arthur Darvill (Rory from Dr Who) and the sharp subject matter settled any doubt.

I duly paid £25 for seat Q9 which magically turned into K9 when I collected it.

Genesis Inc. once again showed how hard it is to describe a play in one short paragraph. The Hampstead Theatre oversold the comedy side of it and undersold the drama.

It was funny, and at times very funny, but there was also a lot of pain too, as you would expect in a play about childlessness. It was the mix of comedy, drama and an interesting subject matter that made Genesis Inc. so compelling.

It was funny that the exploitative clinic run by Harry Enfield ludicrously insisted in running expensive standard tests that had been run before and it was painful that the couple had to dig deeper into meagre pockets when they knew they were being fleeced but had no other options.

Helping both the comedy and the drama was the excellent ensemble cast, many of whom played multiple roles, that is why I chose the cast announcement poster to introduce this post.

I went to see Genesis Inc. to be entertained and I was in ways that I had not expected which is always a good thing.

16 July 2018

Blown away by Gideon Falls

Andrea Sorrentino work has appeared in this blog a few times over the years, usually because I have liked the samples shown in DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks, most of which I singularly failed to tag with his name at the time. Anyway, the point is I have liked his work for a while.

I have also liked the little of Jeff Lemire's work that I have read, notably A.D.: After Death and X-Men.

The two had worked together a few times before, to great acclaim, but not on anything that I had read. Even so, that reputation was enough to get me interested in Gideon Falls.

It is my favourite current comic.

The art is as decisive as I expected with sharp lines and dramatic page layouts. The story is just as good. It is about an evil barn, a priest who lives nearby and a psychiatric patient who collects small parts of it from waste dumps across the city. If that sound weird then it is in all the ways that you want weird to be.

The two main characters' stories are told in parallel and so far, after four issues, have yet to come together. Happily Gideon Falls is billed as an ongoing series so there is plenty of time for this expected thing and many unexpected things to happen. I'm hooked and will be along for the ride all the way.

19 June 2018

Sea Wall at The Old Vic

Some plays have "mandatory" written all over them, and this was one of them mostly thanks to the name Simon Stephens though the name Andrew Scott helped too. I have a Google Alert set up for Simon Stephens and that has led me to several of his plays across London in recent years.

There was quite a buzz about this play because of the recent high-profile performances by Andrew Scott but despite waiting a couple of hours to negotiate The Old Vic's online queueing system it was fairly easy to get the seat that I wanted, Lilian Baylis Circle A-13 for £20. I was almost tempted to go for a better seat but, to be honest, charging £80 for a forty minute performance seemed something like robbery.

Sea Wall was first performed at Bush Theatre and I am sure was fantastic in that space but it got somewhat lost in the relative vastness of Old Vic, neither the play nor the performance were enough to fill the space. It was interesting enough and for £20 I could not complain about the cost but it did not live up to the hype and that made it something of a disappointment.

21 May 2018

Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne (2018)

I did well in the Festival Ballot for 2018 and got decent seats for all the operas that I was interested in, and that was all of them. These included Madama Butterfly which was being staged at Glyndebourne for the first time. They must have their reasons. It was the third time that I had seen it in two years but it is such a great opera that repetition was never going to be a problem.

I was keen enough to see this production, and so was the rest of the group, that we went for the £160 seats in our usual area. This time we were sat in Blue Upper Circle E18 to E21.

Glyndebourne had a few surprises for us before the opera. There were no significant changes to the gardens, that I noticed, but the White Cube gallery had gone and been replaced with a River Cottage kiosk. Nearby there was a new, bookable, marquee nearby that nobody knew about and so nobody had booked. People were allowed in anyway and so we gave it a go. It will be £10 a seat once it is established but I think we'll be sticking to the original marquee.

In some ways Madama Butterfly is the perfect opera, which is why it gets performed so often. The story is simple and powerful, the tension is maintained brilliantly as the cruel ending gradually emerges and while all the music is good there is one stand-out aria, the prophetic One Fine Day.

This was a simple, almost modest production with the set consisting of little more that some furniture, a couple of walls with sliding doors, and some cherry trees outside. Those trees gave the set all the character that it needed, a simple touch brilliantly done. In contrast, the ENO production had been a lot more colourful and flamboyant, especially in the costumes.

The music was simple too and Madama Butterfly relied almost entirely on its soloists there was no Anvil Chorus or March of the Hebrew Slaves here. Glyndebourne always builds its opera around the singing and this was no exception with all of the main roles being sung and acted beautifully. As always, the American Consul was a key role for me with his baritone voice adding just the right amount of gravitas.

Of course Madama Butterfly is the main player with her handmaid Suzuki a not too distant second. The heart of the opera is the contrast between the two with Madama Butterfly looking towards the USA with hope and Suzuki relying on Japanese traditions and fearful for the future. The heart beat strongly and both singers were excellent.

I really enjoyed this production of Madama Butterfly for all the right reasons, the music and the singing.

17 May 2018

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain at Rose Theatre

Often the programming at Rose Theatre confuses me and this was a case in point. As an almost templated touring theatre production I would have expected to see it at Richmond Theatre but it popped up at Rose Theatre which does not really do that sort of thing.

One problem with it being at Rose was the ticket price. My usual seat Stalls A41 cost £35, somewhat less than most Rose productions these days, whereas I usually get a discount at Richmond, due to my ATG Theatre Card, which usually takes the price down below £30. The view is much better at Richmond too as the seats are adjacent to the stage whereas at the Rose they are placed some distance from it.

I went with few expectations other than to enjoy more fine performances by Robert Powell and Liza Goddard, which was good enough reason to venture out for the evening.

Sherlock Holmes is a difficult character to do well partially because of the expectations set by the recent TV series and partially because of all the other adaptations that had gone before. I felt this production struggled against those expectations a little, particularly in the short first-half, where not that much happened of a Sherlock nature other than his analysis of a corpse in the opening scene.

The second half was much better and I really got into both the main story (the ghostly appearance of Watson's dead son) and also Sherlock's musing on his age and life. Moriarty and Mycroft were in there too.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain was never going to set the world on fire, nor did it expect to, and it was perfectly content being a solid piece of theatre that entertained. Average may be, but a high average.

8 May 2018

The Winslow Boy at Richmond Theatre

I could not remember having seen The Winslow Boy before but I was pretty sure that I had seen some version of it some where at some time. More importantly I knew of it and of Terence Rattigan and that was enough to convince me to go and see it at Richmond Theatre.

I went for a seat in my usual area Dress Circle Row A Seat 19 which was a shockingly low £24 thanks to my ATG Theatre Card.

One of the things that Richmond Theatre does is act like a regional theatre, it is just about far enough from the West End to do that, showing touring productions. These are almost without exception good, because the people who tour productions know what they are doing. The plays are solid, the actors first rate and the production (set, lighting, music, etc.) professional and slick. I went to see The Winslow Boy with just those expectations.

I expected good but got better.

It was better for all the reasons that I expected it to be good. The play engaged on several levels, the production was spot on and the acting was exceptional.

Aden Gillett and Tessa Peake-Jones got the main billing because of their relative fame and they were good but the two that stood out for me were Timothy Watson and the barrister Sir Robert Morton and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as the campaigning Catherine Winslow.

I was doubly impressed by Timothy Watson as I had hated him for several years in his most famous character Rob Titchener in The Archers.

I had forgotten the story, if I ever knew it, so that was a surprise. What was more surprising were all the other things going on some of which directly resulted from the case, such as the brother having to go out to work and earn money, and others which had nothing to do with it, such as the sister's campaigning work for women's rights. At the centre of all this was Mr Winslow who made all the decision with careful and purposeful deliberation and his wife who supported him all the way. This was a family living through a crisis but not being bowed by it.

The Winslow Boy was a perfect example of decent theatre done very well to make something a little special.

13 April 2018

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Lyric Hammersmith was hilarious

Two years ago I was tempted to see this version of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Lyric Hammersmith and loved it so when it came back for a couple of warm up dates before a national tour I was tempted to see it again. My Circle Seat A22 was just three away from where I had been the first time and, remarkably, at £21 was about £14 cheaper.

I had remembered some of the main themes, like the ones given away in the poster of Oberon in a superhero outfit bursting through a wall, and some of the detail but I had forgotten just how funny it was. Obviously I knew that it was going to be funny, that is why I went, but it was much funnier than I remembered and I was laughing almost all the way through.

That started with the announcer who did a stand-up comedy routine to introduce the show with lines like, "I hope that you all have a good night. Not this one, obviously, but one day." He set the tome for the evening and was an excellent warm up session for what followed.

What followed was a Shakespeare / Pantomime mash-up. A lot of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was in there, including a lot of the original language, to which the pantomime added slap-stick, music and some topical jokes. The Shakespeare element was also there in the acting which was excellent all-round and I particularly enjoyed the way the characters interacted when they were not the centre of attention.

And the food fight was just brilliant.

A Midsummer Night's Dream was a cunning combination of culture and comedy.

11 April 2018

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (April 2018)

The months continue to whizz by with the regular BCSA socials marking their passage. In some ways that is depressing but it also means that I am going to lots of BCSA socials!

April 2018's social was much like all the others, and that is a good thing. The evening was another pleasing mix of conversations, beer and food. It's a recipe that has worked for years and there are no plans to change it, I am glad to say.

7 April 2018

The Cherry Orchard at Union Theatre was sharp and satisfying

I am doing a pretty good job at seeing (almost) every Chekhov production in London even if it takes a bit of juggling to do so. To see The Cherry Orchard at Union Theatre I had to go into London on the weekend, a Saturday, and that was to catch the final performance.

I still think that Union Theatre undercharges a little and a ticket price of £22.50 meant a very full house. I was sitting in the front row, as always, so could not tell if it was completely full but it looked pretty close.

I had made something of a day of it in London going to Barbican Theatre for a matinee before walking down to Union Theatre in Southwark, taking in a visit to a Paul cafe and PokemonGo Raid along the way. The Millennium Bridge was ridiculously busy and needs widening.

I got to Union Theatre around 6pm and comforted myself with a pint of Kozel while waiting for the Box Office to open at 6:30pm. Once I had claimed my Batch 1 token I went to Culture Grub for my usual Szechuan style vegetable curry, returning to the theatre in good time to be at the front of the queue, i.e. to be number one not just one of the first ten.

The staging surprised me a little because in the first two shows in this series of three there had been stairs up on either side of the stage but this time is was set conventionally. And neatly. It just oozed faded Russian country house.

I had seen Cherry Orchard a few times, and as recently as the year before, and while I would not claim to be anything like word-perfect I did quickly spot a significant difference. Admittedly if I had looked at the poster I might have been less surprised.

This Cherry Orchard, written in 1903, was moved forward a few years to 1917 and the Russian Revolution. This added to the existing theme in the play where the landed gentry were losing out to the new merchant class. The Revolution took this redistribution of land a stage further. I think it worked well; The Cherry Orchard is partially a political play and to ignore the Revolution (which Chekhov obviously did not know was coming) left this thread effectively unfinished.

The rest of The Cherry Orchard is about the large cast of characters, their reactions (or lack of them) to the political situation and to each other and this Cherry Orchard covered this supremely. I got very frustrated with the people refusing to recognise what was about to happen to them, happy for the people who were unbowed by the changes and tearful for the couple who never quite came together. The non-proposal scene was the most poignant in the play.

Judging by the running time, something just under two hours with an interval, quite a bit had been cut here and there (much to the confusion of the man next to me trying to follow the script in Chinese) but Chekhov can be wordy and cutting a theme or two makes little difference to the totality of the play.

The ending was familiar enough though the thing that happens happened to another person. That change worked well too.

This was a very delightful and enjoyable version of The Cherry Orchard made sharper by its slight but significant shift in time.

Coraline at Barbican Theatre

I have no idea where the idea to turn Neil Gaiman's children's book Coraline into a opera came from but it was an interesting one, especially as the music was written by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

I was interested enough to fork out £37.50 for Seat A32 in the Circle. That interest came mostly from Neil Gaiman though I had only seen the film and had not read the book; I had read other books and shed-loads of comics. I was interested to hear Mark-Anthony Turnage's music too.

The timing of the performance meant that I had to have lunch at Barbican Kitchen and a sandwich with a coffee did the trick. I was a little worried but not surprised to see so many children around. I was worried that either they were in the wrong show and would be rowdy or I would be in the wrong show and would be bored. I was relying on the description "opera' rather than "musical" to give it a serious edge. I would probably not have gone to see a Coraline musical.

Somehow we were both right and Coraline managed to keep both the children and the grown-ups engaged. I cannot possibly comment on what children thought of the show (apart from the young girl who was screaming in terror in the interval that she wanted to go home) but I will try and describe how I felt about it.

I loved Coraline.

Firstly it was a proper opera that made little or no concessions to the children other than being a story that I presume they were all familiar with. All of the words were sung and there were no sur-titles to check against. Fortunately all of the singers were absolutely clear and could be understood perfectly. That is not always true for operas sung in English.

The music was modern without being experimental, and it sounded like an opera and nothing like a musical. The set was child-friendly but then Coraline is a child so that was fair. It also did some clever things as it became one room then another with doors to move between them.

And, of course, the story was a good one. I had forgotten some of the details of the story so I was interested to see what happened too. It was told in a mature way, as all the best children's stories are, and there was a genuine sense of menace about it; that girl was terrified for a reason.

At the heart of it all were Coraline and her two mothers and they both sang beautifully.

Coraline the opera knew what it was doing and did it all very well. 

6 April 2018

Lovebites at White Bear Theatre was pure gold

White Bear Theatre is one of my nearest theatres and thanks to its inventive and varied programming it is one of the ones that I go to most regularly. I had not seen a musical there before and it took the suggestion of something “hilarious and heartbreaking” to make me want to see Lovebites. At £16 there was no further discussion required.

The hard part proved to be getting there. Despite putting it my calendar correctly as a 7pm start I then forgot this and allowed myself to attend a work meeting that did not finish until 6pm (on a Friday!). Some panicking followed but thanks to some seriously brisk walking from Vauxhall station I got to the theatre with seconds to spare.

I called Lovebites a musical and while that is true it also called itself a song cycle which is more true. Lovebites told the story of several relationships in a series of songs; there was one song for each relationship showing how it started and another after the interval showing how it ended. There were no spoken words.

The many parts were played by a cast of just four, two men and two women, supported by a lone pianist. A small platform from which some lovely stories flourished.

There was a good mix to the stories too; a young woman pretended to be into rock climbing to be with a man she fancied only to confess to us that she could barely walk, two young men met at a book club, a film star hooked up with an air stewardess on a flight, a man fell in love with a woman on the day she married his boss, one woman bought a flower for the woman who owned the flower shop, and a woman did something deeply embarrassing after a one-night stand that she wanted to build on.

After the interval some of the relationships flourished, some faded, some died, one had a surprise happy ending and another had a very surprising happy ending. The stories were varied in tone and the "hilarious and heartbreaking" clam was easily justified. I would also add "charming" for the stories that ended somewhere between those two extremes and "realistic" too as these were very human stories not rom-com fantasies.

All of the songs worked well both as vehicles to tell the stories and as works of music in their own right.

Lovebites was an unusual and unexpected show that delighted me in everything that it did. It was pure gold.

5 April 2018

The Lady with a Dog at Tabard Theatre

I try to see everything Chekhov in London and so The Lady With A Dog got on to my must-see list when it appeared on the schedule at White Bear Theatre. Annoyingly I just could not find the time to see it on its short run there so I was mightily pleased when it transferred to the even more convenient Tabard Theatre. I could find an evening for it there and the £19.5 asking price for Row A Seat 3 was no obstacle.

I had seen a few Chekhov short stories turned into plays but those had always kept their Russian and C19 setting and were quite short whereas this was set in Scotland in 1923 and was a full-length play.

The lady with a dog was on holiday in Berwick waiting for her busy husband to escape from Council to work to come and join her when she met an older equally married man who was on holiday by himself. That meeting was manufactured by the man who, we soon learned, had manufactured similar meetings in previous holidays there. Things developed from there.

The way their story developed was surprising and the way that it was told was delightful.

It was interesting seeing it so soon after Tryst (six months felt like soon) where another manufactured relationship led to a wedding and then something a lot darker. Here a similar relationship that could have gone wrong in so many ways survived, and even flourished, despite the knowing presence of two spouses. It was all nicely done; yes he was a cad for starting the affair and yes they were both being unfaithful to decent partners but they still carried my sympathies and I was able to rejoice in their happiness.

The Lady with a Dog was one of those lovely plays that knew exactly what it was doing and did it beautifully. Having a Chekhov story to build on helped but there was a lot more to it than that, the mood was perfect throughout and that was largely due to four fine actors led by Richard Lynson and Beth Burrows as the unlikely couple. I loved it.

27 March 2018

Moonfleece at Pleasance Theatre was perfect

The Pleasance Theatre is hidden in a yet to be gentrified area of London just of the Caledonian Road which I had walked past a few times when based at Kings Place (back in the days or extensive walks during extended lunch breaks) but which I had not signed up to. Then my Google Alert for "Ridley theatre London" alerted me to the pending arrival of Moonfleece and I subscribed to their newsletter.

A couple of months later and I was on the Piccadilly Line to Caledonian Road. My research earlier in the day informed me that the theatre was above a pub, The Depot (appropriately named from  its recent use), which boaster a gastro menu, that is one without pound signs and big numbers with no decimal points in them. My Fiorentina Pizza cost 10 and took over half an hour to arrive but was delicious.

Front of house at Pleasance surprised me. There was a decent bar and generous seating which excelled those of some more mainstream theatres I frequent (no names!). I had had one pint with my food in the pub so I settled for an ice cream, also taking into account that there was not going to be an interval.

I waited casually at the bottom of the stairs and was the first person into the smaller of their two performance spaces (they will soon have a third) and claimed a seat in the middle of one of the two front rows facing each other. That seat cost me 17, a bargain in anybody's book.

In between those seats was a simple room in something of a mess. It was quickly established that this was an empty flat on the top (21st) floor of a Council block. Squatting in it was a young woman and making their dramatic entrance by smashing the door down were two young men in identical grey suits and red ties who were working for Avalon an alt-right party campaigning in local elections.

The situation got as messy as the room soon afterwards as an Avalon leader arrived soon followed by an ex-girlfriend, her current girlfriend, a massively camp journalist and a psychic librarian in a wheelchair, followed later by another alt-right leader (step brother to the first), his Towie wife and, finally, the first woman's boyfriend and street storyteller.

With that mix lots of things could happen and lots of things did.

The play started as a confrontation between the alt-right young men and the young female for foreign squatter. Sparks flew and the young woman gave as good as she got. One of the Avalon team was very pit-bullish and was a good source of humour.

Gradually the story changed to being about the Avalon leader and then about his real brother, the one in the Moonfleece jacket. There were other stories bubbling around arising from the various partially shared histories of the many characters. Finally it was the story teller who brought things to a close by revealing some unpleasant truths in a powerful improvised story.

Moonfleece had lots of familiar Ridley elements and reminded me most of Piranha Heights (piranhas got a passing mention) and Ghost from a Perfect Place. It was deeply East London in geography and feel, had people trying to make sense of the past, had significant elements of myth and was very strange yet close enough to reality to be believable. Ridley's plays manage to be complex, engaging, fantastical and relevant all at the same time. I find them an immensely rewarding experience,

Because of this Philip Ridley is one of my absolutely favourite playwrights, which is why I have that Google Alert set up, and so I was always likely to enjoy Moonfleece. I enjoyed it even more thanks to the excellent cast, all ten of whom were spot on in capturing their characters, and the staging that set the scene precisely.

This production of Moonfleece was perfect.

24 March 2018

Yes at London Palladium

The t-shirt that I wore this evening confirm that it was four years since I first saw Yes in concert, then it was at Albert Hall. I had seen them once since then, also at Albert Hall, and also Steve Howe doing a solo gig just across the water in Teddington. I was hooked and so when they announced that they were playing at London Palladium to celebrate 50 years of their music I was keen to see them again.

Unfortunately, so were lots of other people and by the time that I got online there were no decent tickets left. Then they announced a second night and I was in quickly. Even so the price was bit of a deterrent and I settled for the top layer, Upper Circle, where seat A27 cost me £54.

That proved to be a bargain as I was right in the centre and though I was warned about the safety rail that had no impact on my view, as this photo shows.

It would not really have mattered what Yes played it was always going to be a good evening and including large chunks of Tales From Topographic Oceans merely lifted the excellent to the sublime. But let's start at the beginning.

The show opened with two solid classics from the early years, Yours Is No Disgrace and I've Seen All Good People, both from 1971 and The Yes Album. It was one helluva way to open a concert and set the marker for the evening. They were followed by songs from other early albums like Fragile and Close to the edge before treating us to Wondrous Stories and Parallels from 1976's Going for the One, the final album from the classic period. The first part ended with a return to Close to the Edge and And You and I. It had been about an hour and a lovely hour it was too.

After a short break Yes were back for Sides 1 and 4 of Tales from 1973's masterpiece Tales From Topographic Oceans. They were joyous beyond belief and despite being very familiar were fresh and exciting. If not for the perilous drop to the stalls I would have been tempted to dance.

Yes had been playing with a session drummer and then in the chaotic session in Side 4, Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil), they swapped and brought on Alan White to loud cheers which he repaid with an impressive drum solo.

The second set ended all to quickly but Yes returned for an extended encore that started with a surprise. Trevor Horn joined the band on vocals for Tempus Fugit from 1980's Drama.

Finally it was back to two solid gold classics, a lengthy version of Roundabout followed by Starship Trooper.

Yes had played from 8pm to approaching 11pm with one short and one minuscule break making it over two hours of scintillating music. I expected Yes to be good and they were much better than that. This was a simply astonish concert that started high and stayed there.

20 March 2018

Vincent River at Park Theatre was riveting

There was a rush of Philip Ridley plays early last year and then again this. Vincent River was one of three different Philip Ridley plays on across London in just a few weeks. I would have gone to see this wherever it was on and being at Park Theatre, one of my regular haunts, just made things like travel and easting easier.

I eagerly forked out my £14.50 for a seat. I presume that was a preview price as it was ridiculously cheap. It was the first night of the run but that was just a co-incidence and was chosen because it was about the only free evening I had during the run.

I also forked out £12 for Park Theatre's new Pizza and Drink deal to make the food even easier. That sort of worked but as a vegetarian I only had two choices of pizza and one of those would have been cheaper to buy without going for the deal. The London Bohemia Lager was nice.

The main show started at 7:30 and keen to secure a good seat that is when I joined the queue for Vincent River. There was only one person in front of me in the queue and, not unexpectedly, he was another Ridley fan. We both claimed seats in the front row.

We were in a slightly dishevelled living room, not unlike that for Killing Time. In the room was, Anita, Louise Jameson in an aggressive red wig. There was a knock on the door and in came Davey (Thomas Mahy), a young lad who moved nervously and continuously.

For the next hour or so we watched as the couple sparred with each other. There was a reason that Davey was there and Anita knew it. There was also a reason why Anita had moved into a new flat.

As they sparred the emotions grew in intensity and in direction. Davey threatened to walked out at times, was told to go at others and they also shared drinks, drugs and a few kisses. As the emotions waxed and waned it was hard to predict how it would all end though I was not expecting many laughs.

Their conversations also uncovered more about their shared past, and why their pasts were shared, and it was the typical Ridley unravelling of layers to expose the raw truth. That truth hit in a recollection of a bus journey that Davey had taken and that changed the whole narrative.

As the play drew to its conclusion it became more of a monologue as Davey described the pivotal events that had brought the two together. It was powerful stuff.

Vincent River was the most normal Ridley play that I had seen. Yes it had dark secrets that were finally exposed but there was no fantasy in the story and no strange characters to explore. It was a simple dark believable story told the Ridley way and that made it magical.

This was the first night and afterwards Philip Ridley disappeared back stage with his notes which meant that I had no chance to bump into the cast afterwards. I made up for that a few days later when I was back at Park Theatre for another play, A Passage to India, on the press night for Vincent River and was able to have a very quick congratulatory word with Thomas Mahy then. 

16 March 2018

Summer and Smoke at Almeida Theatre was beautiful

I had one simple reason for wanting to see Summer and Smoke and that was Tennessee Williams wrote it. Almeida Theatre is awkwardly situated half way between Angel and Highbury Islington so it takes something a bit special to get me there.

The layout of the theatre had been slightly different every time that I had been there so I was not sure where to book my seat. I was a little late so some of the options were taken from me. In the end I chose Circle A29 for a humble £32. I had not been on that side of the theatre before and the seat proved to be reasonable and there were only a few moment when the action took place out of site below me.

I loved the stage from the moment I took my seat. The centre was bare, apart from a old style microphone in the centre, it was ringer with pianos and the brick wall at the back of the stage was harshly lit to show every facet of its uneven surface.

The simplicity was maintained throughout the play with the only props allowed to make an appearance being some chairs, a few white pills and a child's jigsaw puzzle. I like simplicity.

I like music and light when they help a performance too and they both did here. The pianos were put to effective use at select moments throughout the evening in both quiet and noisy moments and the lighting change subtly, almost imperceptibly, to encourage the mood.

The centre of the stage was dominated by Alma and John and their story. They were neighbours with little in common, she was a nervous preacher's daughter with no expectations and the was a brash doctor's son who was expected to become a doctor too. Disturbing their story were their families and a few friends.

I thought that it was a nice touch to have some of the cast play multiple similar roles without changing their costumers; one actor played their two fathers and another played three of John's girlfriends.

It was a coming of age story, of sorts, filled with the loves, lusts and mistakes that we all make at that age. There were some moments of humour, sadness and anger and even more of acute embarrassment.

The pacing was superb too and I particularly liked the long slow scenes where little, if anything was said.

All that was very good but was as nothing to the performance of Patsy Ferran as Alma. She dominated the stage for two and a half hours with her touching performance that was packed full of little gestures and expressions. She was stunning and an obvious star in the making.

Summer and Smoke brought all the elements of theatre-craft together and made something quite beautiful.

15 March 2018

maliphantworks2 at Print Room was dramatic and lovely

Dance is all too rare a beast in the otherwise expansive cultural richness that is London. There is Sadler's Wells and that is about it. That alone would have tempted me to go and the name Maliphant made it compulsory. I had seen several of his pieces performed by other artists, notably Balletboyz, and was keen to see his own group do them so I promptly paid my £25 for Seat D6.

I had not been to Print Room for a few months (there are a lot of theatres in London!) and had forgotten that there were so many cafes nearby so I settled for a vegetable pasty from Wimbledon Station instead. Next time. I had remembered how good the par was there though and before going in I helped myself to a London IPA and had a look at the curiosities adorning the room.

There was a nice symmetry to the evening. There were four dancers, two men and two women, and four pieces and the evening went two men, two women, interval, first mixed couple, second mixed couple.

In Critical Mass the two men, Russell Maliphant was one of them, danced vigorously and closely. It was a display of technical excellence and deep trust. It was two men working together to a common end, co-workers not lovers. The working aspect was reinforced by their matching blue shirts. In it's mood it reminded me of the gorgeous wall scene in The Rodin Project.

Two Times Two was a study in light. The two women were dressed in black outfits with no sleeves that helped to hide their bodies and accentuate their arms. They danced separately in two blurs of whirling and stabbing arms.

Still (an ironic title) played more tricks with lights as bar-code like lines flew confusingly across the stage. The strobe effect was striking as it hid and illuminated different parts of the dancers in quick succession. It was an energetic dance too making full use of the stage.

Duet saw Russell Maliphant and one of the women dance a piece that was almost the mirror of the first except that this time they were definitely a couple and the dancing was slower and more tender.

Even with the interval it was a short show, not much over an hour, but I had no complaints about that.  All of the pieces were dramatic and lovely and they also worked together nicely to make it a sumptuous performance.

14 March 2018

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (March 2018)

The second Wednesday of the month keeps coming around with frightening speed and with it another trip to the Czech and Slovak Bar and Restaurant in West Hampstead for the British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA)  Get to Know You Social.

I am scared to do the maths but I must have been to well over a hundred of these now and still I am keen, almost desperate, to go every month. March 2018 was no exception and I was at the club just before 7pm as usual.

I was the first one there which left me with a few moments to enjoy the Mucha prints on the wall, and my first pint of Pilsner Urquell, before some company arrived and the conversations started.

As usual I was too busy enjoying the conversations to make any notes as to what they were about but suffice it to say that those conversations went on beyond the bar's closing time, helped along the way by some more of that bar's wares, and he had to be gently eased out of the premises around 10:45pm.

It also goes without saying that somewhere in the evening I found time for some smazeny syr and posted the mandatory photograph of it on Instagram.

It was another great evening and only four weeks until the next one.

13 March 2018

Everything about Network at National Theatre was excellent

When National Theatre announced Network they assumed that they were on to a good thing as it was scheduled to run from November 17 to March 18. The run completely sold out so they were obviously right.

The show came with the reputation of the multi Oscar winning 1976 film and the even bigger reputation of Bryan Cranston who was everybody's favourite drugs dealer for several years when binge watching was something you needed DVDs for.

Those reputations were enough for me to push the boat out a little and pay £62 for Circle A17. I took the picture below just before the performance began and I think I had the best seat in the house as I could see everything from there and with a deep stage you need some height to do that.

That stage was an undoubted star of the show. The news desk was wheeled out onto the centre of the stage and Howard Beale gave his broadcasts from there while hand-held cameras recorded everything. The broadcast picture was shown to us on the large screen though, disconcertingly, a fraction of a second after the live action.

What you cannot see is that just off to the left was the glass walled production booth where all the producers and technicians worked during the broadcasts. There were also a few chairs used as offices and other meeting places. All that meant that the stage could be several locations with minimal fuss and no breaks in the action.

Two show-off bits were scenes were the action started outside on the waterfront and the roving cameras followed the couple into National Theatre and on to the stage and where Howard Beale stopped talking and the film of him carried on.

Clever things like that helped the show a lot.

A lot rode on Bryan Cranston as the central character and he was superb, as I think we all knew that he was going to be. He was more than ably surrounded by those around him and the two that impressed me the most were Tom Hodgkins as the president of the company and Michelle Dockery as the programmer keen to rise to the top quickly.

Network ran for two hours without an interval, respecting the construction of the original film. In that time we saw the fall and rise of Howard Beale and the impact that had on him and the people around him. It was also a very political film and it was depressing to see how many of the problems Howard railed against are still big issues today, such as the neglect of ordinary working people in the rust belt in the quest for new capital from overseas. All the would have been needed to make this a contemporary play would have been to change some of the news stories and change the capitalists of fear from the Arabs to the Chinese.

The political commentary, including the motivations for the company executives, were the core of the play and the characters' lives were almost incidental to that. We are all small fish.

Everything about Network was excellent and I loved it to bit.

11 March 2018

Kew Gardens (11 March 18)

A week after the Orchids Festival I was back at Kew Gardens for a normal visit and that meant going in at Lion Gate and heading first for the Japanese Landscape which looks gorgeous at any time of the year.

The stones are as important as the planting and I love the way that they are raked. This must be done regularly to remove leaves etc. and it always looks pristine.

Nearby a couple of peacocks were celebrating Summer by showing off. The other male was having more success at that time and was close to the hen leaving this one to groom his feathers.

I went up the treetop walkway, as I usually do when in that corner of the gardens, and with no leaves to look at yet I had a close look at the Temperate House that was due to open later in the year.

10 March 2018

Improving wildlife habitats with Friends of Ham Lands (10 March 18)

Friends of Ham Lands (FoHL) have sessions on the second Saturday of each month where we venture into Ham Lands to clear important sections of it to improve the wildlife habitats.  A focus of this is to keep the grasslands clear of scrub and connected to each other so that butterflies can move between them.

In March we tackled a section quite close to the junction of Riverside Drive and the footpath leading to Teddington Lock.

The map we were working to showed a path from the grasslands to that footpath but it was not very visible on the ground and I could see no sign of it at all from the Teddington footpath end. We had to go into the grasslands, find the path at that end and try and battle our way through.

The picture at the top shows what we started with. The path almost disappears under the twin challenge of brambles on the left and saplings on the right.

We tackled both and as I had some sturdy loppers I chose to tackle the saplings and small trees. The ground was very mossy on the left and I wanted to get more sunlight in there for the grass and, ultimately the butterflies.

The picture on the right shows some of the team in action. Some others were behind me and some of braver ones were beyond that group deep in brambles.

It was a very successful and rewarding session. I took this picture from about where the path disappeared in the top picture looking back to the open grasslands.

We even managed to cut our way through to the Teddington Lock footpath.

9 March 2018

A second delightful dose of Angry at Southwark Playhouse

My second visit to see Angry at Southwark Playhouse was actually the one that I booked first, before I made the second booking to see the alternative version of the play and, more importantly, to see Philip Ridley in the Q and A session afterwards.

This was, probably, the first time that I had seen the same production of a play, as opposed to seeing many different versions of something like Three Sisters, and it was most definitely the first time that I had seen any version of the same play twice in just five days.

The point of the two versions was that the two actors alternated in the roles of each of the monologues so while I knew what to expect in some aspects I also knew that it was different in others.

The preamble was the same with a meal at Culture Grub, by Young Vic, followed by a walk up to Southwark Playhouse and then a pint for a treat.

There are a lot of words in Angry and I was not surprised that I had forgotten a lot of them in five days while remembering the basic themes. The rich and complex dialogue alone made the play worth a second visit. The change in performers was a bonus.

I enjoyed Angry the second time around even more than I did the first. A large part of that was probably down to the familiarity that let me focus on some of the detail with the main themes already secured. Another part was I slightly preferred Georgia Henley version of Air, the long monologue that closed and defined the play. That said, I also slightly preferred Tyrone Huntley's version of two of the smaller monologues, Okay and Dancing, from the first show.

It was definitely worth seeing both shows.

The second visit to Angry confirmed that is is always worth seeing a Philip Ridley play even if you have already seen it that week.

5 March 2018

Angry at Southwark Playhouse was a phenomenal evening

Philip Ridley is one of a select few playwrights for whom I have a Google Alert set up for. This is because I am keen to see everything of his that I can. So far his plays have taken me to places like Old Red Lion, The Bunker and N16 for the first time and to more familiar places too, like The Cockpit.

Southwark Playhouse is one of my favourite theatres so going to see Angry was a no-brainer and I booked it.

Then they announced a series of Q&A sessions a couple of which Philip Ridley would be at and that left me with no choice but to book for a second night, which I actually went to first. Luckily the nice people at Tramp thought of that and there were two versions of the play with the two actors alternating the parts.

Mary Stewart had the same idea but there the two roles were both women and they decided on a roll of a coin which meant that you did not know who was going to play what role. In Angry the two actors were of different genders and allocation of actors to roles was in the programme. That meant that I knew that this performance would be different from the one that I had already booked for.

I have a routine for Southward Playhouse which includes a curry at Culture Grub and then a nice walk up to the theatre. I got there in good time to buy a drink and then hang around the door to be sure of being amongst the first to get in. That plan worked well and I got what looked to be the best seat.

The stage was seat in the round (or square) with the performance area sung about a foot. The picture taken at the Q&A session shows me in the front row next to the steps.

While we waited for the show to star our ears were assaulted by All Drums Go to Hell from Two Steps From Hell. It was load and very industrial. I loved it, Shazam could not cope with all the chatter so I asked one of the crew what it was afterwards. It set the scene nicely.

The show started with people still talking, as they often do. The rule seems to be if actors are not actually talking then it's ok for the audience to talk. The two actors Tyrone Huntley and Georgia Henley entered the pit and stalked each other menacingly. Angry had started.

The music stopped and the words started. They were angry sweary words that were shouted with venom. Less a play, more a study on Tourettes. Huntley left the stage to leave the anger with Henley who directly confronted the audience with it before storing off.

Huntley returned for Okay in which he procrastinated through ever tightening and speeding circles which replaced anger with some solid humour.

Henley's second piece was Bloodshot. A somewhat dark and strange piece, i.e. typical Ridley, about teenage love. Then it was Huntley's turn for a spot of comedy in Dancing, a lament against poor security that allowed severed heads  to spoil a night out clubbing. Henley's third and final piece was just odd which, with the repetition, also marked it out as a Ridley piece. At one point she was in a spaceship being sucked into a black hole; you get the idea.

Air closed the show and lasted for about as long as all the other monologues put together, some 45 minutes. The endurance test for Huntley was increased by the nature of the story which was deeply emotional in two directions. It started as a tender love story then the helicopters came and the darkness came with them. It ended with a desperate fight for air in a sinking ship.

Air was undoubtedly the star of the show but I liked all of the monologues and the way that they gelled together.

The Q&A session that followed was a real bonus with some good questions getting some good responses. It was also good to see Terri Paddock lead the session. I knew from her Twitter feed that we had been to many of the same plays but never on the same night before.

When even that was over I just had to go and say something nice to Philip Ridley and I managed to show why they say that you should never meet your heroes as I bumbled almost incoherently. I think enough of my admiration came through and he seemed genuinely pleased and a little surprised to be approached by a fan.

Angry was a phenomenal evening for many reasons and I had it all to look forward to again four days later.

28 February 2018

The Weir at Richmond Theatre brought fairies and ghosts to the pub

Apparently The Weir was the winner of the 1997 Olivier Award for Best New Play, which was good enough to get me to see it. My ATG Card proved useful again and I secured seat Dress Circle Row A Seat 22 for just £22. At that price there was really no decision to make.

I was pleased to see the theatre fairly busy on what was a treacherous evening and for a play that had little history (i.e. I had not heard of it) and no established stars in it.

The play was fairly obviously set in a pub and the accents told me that it was in Ireland, though it was a reasonable time before anyone spoke. The play opened with one of the pub's regulars serving himself and that was comically fraught with difficulties. The slow cosy pace set the tone for the evening.

More people came into the pub until we had the five characters pictured.  The pub and the five people was all we had for an hour and three quarters. It was a fairly standard pub and fairly normal people too. The opening conversation was about horse racing.

The conversations changed direction when the woman, a newcomer to the area, came in with the rich landlord she was renting from. Looking at an old photograph on the wall of the weir led to conversations about the past and gave the play its name.

The normal conversations became first a little fantastic and then a little dark. There were fairies and ghosts in them but nothing to scary. And then the woman told her real story and things got darker still.

All to quickly the pub closed and everybody left. Nothing much had really happened but if you have to have a play in which nothing happens then this was the way to do it. A lot of clever things went on with the pacing, the interplay of the characters, the development of the stories that they told and the way that the lighting helped to massage the mood.

The Weir was a bit like listening to some ethereal ambient music, and that is a good thing.

27 February 2018

Dust at Soho Theatre was astounding (again)

Having seen Dust on an Edinburgh preview run at The Bunker in July 2017 I very keen when it returned to London for a full run at Soho Theatre. The Sold Out sign on the poster tells you that lots of other people wanted to see it too, no doubt enticed from the very positive reviews it had easily collected.

Possibly because it was a one woman show, or perhaps because it was staged in the smaller upstairs space, it was priced at a ridiculously low £14. No wonder it sold out.

The unusually early start time, 7;15pm, was something of a challenge, particularly as people kept talking in my 5pm meeting at work and dragged it out until almost 5:45. A bit of careful haste, due to the snow, allowed me to catch the 5:52 train and I was back on some sort of plan. I got to Soho Theatre Cafe in time to share a pizza and I finished that just before the doors opened. Careful positioning, from experience, got me into the theatre quickly enough to claim a seat in the front row which is exactly where I wanted to be.

Having seen Dust before I had some idea of what to expect and while there were no surprises in the main themes the sheer speed with which stories were delivered meant that I had forgotten many of them. I had also forgotten the  bewildering range and depth of those stores. It was often very dark, as you would expect a play about a suicide to be, it was often extremely coarse with, for example, a graphic description of oral sex, it was often frivolous such as when she coveted Top Show vouchers and it was often funny too. It was a rich hailstorm of ideas.

The great success of Dust is that it easily encompassed that wide diversity of ideas while dealing with the main theme, depression, sympathetically and realistically. We were living in the intersection between a young woman's chaotic life and her depression.

The great success of Milly Thomas was not only that she wrote Dust but she also played all the characters in it, from the rich aunt to the drug riddles brother. The characters changed as quickly as the ideas and it was a very impressive performance.

Dust had evolved a little since I first saw it and the addition of lighting and sound effects added the professional touch that turned it from a work in progress to a fully formed show.

I am not sure who impressed me the most that evening, Milly Thomas the playwright or Milly Thomas the actor. It was also nice to meet Milly Thomas the young woman briefly afterwards to tell her just how much I had enjoyed the performance.

26 February 2018

Democracy for the many, not just the few

I was invited to this event my a Facebook friend and being interested in democracy I was glad that it was on a theatre-free evening so I could attend. The location suited me too though the 7pm start was bit of a challenge (theatres normally start at 7:30pm), luckily the staff at Wagamama were up to the challenge and I was in and out of there within twenty minutes.

I liked the format of the evening, which was not unlike Gurteen and LIKE events that I go to. We started with four speakers limited to just five minutes each (I'm not sure they all managed that) on why they thought Proportional Representation (PR) is a good think for democracy and for Labour. We then collected in four self-selecting groups to address four different questions. We did this for about half an hour before regrouping for a brief summary session.

As usual at these sort of events I talked a lot and struggled to keep notes while doing so. What follows is some highlights from those notes and some subsequent expansion of those ideas made after the event.

It was not clear whether democracy was seen as a good thing in itself, even though it can lead to the German stand-off situation, or whether it is the outcomes it is assumed to produce, like less inequality, that are important. This is very important as if we do not know what it is that we are trying to achieve and what the principles are that drive this, then we lack purpose and direction.

Everybody seems to agree that First Past The Post is deeply flawed not least because it creates many cases, such as Labour voters like me in Richmond Park, where my vote does not count as my party has no realistic hope of ever winning the seat. The problem is what system to replace it with as every system has strengths and weaknesses, e.g. they may balance proportionality with local accountability. At times it felt like we were saying PR means PR and were scared to go into what PR really means when we know that is a bad approach from the Brexit shambles.

The mood in the meeting was mixed on whether Labour should commit to one form of PR before the next General Election or not. My view is that we should. We should have a clear idea of what system is best and try to get other parties to agree to this before the election so that it can be implemented afterwards having already achieved majority support from the electorate. I also think that to be vague on this issues opens Labour open to the suggestion that they are looking to change the voting system just to suit them, much as the Lib Dems (probably rightly) were blamed for supporting AV.

If PR is a principle that we, Labour, believe in then we should insist that it applies to every election, particularly local elections. Most, if not all, of the regional assembly elections already use some form of PR.

There is a lot more that Labour could, and should do, to reinforce democracy than just change the voting system. We should address issues like voter registration, party funding (particularly by corporates) and also when we vote, Thursday evening does not suit everybody. It is good that we have committed to reducing the voting age to 16 and we should do more things like that.

There was some discussion about the Lib Dems and whether they should be included as a progressive party, particularly when on the one chance they had they put the Conservatives in power. I think of Lib Dems as Tories but the meeting was split on that.

We only discussed different PR schemes in passing but I think that I hardened towards the idea of top-up lists where most MPs/Councillors/etc. are elected as they are now with a few additional people  then appointed from party lists to make the overall totals roughly proportional. This is not straightforward, none of the system are, as, for example, it would create two classes of representatives and those from the lists would be seen by some as getting "jobs for the boys".

It is good that people are talking seriously about improving our democracy but I would like those debates to be more clearly driven by principle than opportunity, to cover all aspects of democracy and to be more detailed.

25 February 2018

La Boheme at Normansfield Theatre

Opera at Normansfield Theatre hits so many good buttons that I have to have a very good reason not to go and, luckily, nothing got in the way of this performance of La Boheme.

One of the good buttons if that the concerts are for charity and so I was more than happy to part with £20 for my ticket. Another one is the location and despite the intense cold and the presence of some some snow I enjoyed the forty minute walk there.

My timing was good enough for us to claim four seats in the front row with our coats before disappearing down to the basement to make another donation to charity (and get a beer).

La Boheme was presented by Villa InCanto who I had seen before. They have a simple and effective technique that works very well. The leader, Riccardo Serenelli, introduced the opera and then each of the four scenes before taking his place at the piano leaving the stage to the the flower girl Mimi, her beloved poet Rodolfo, his friend the painter Marcello and his love the fickle Musetta. I had seen La Boheme several times and, even so, I found the introductions useful.

The four singers Zarah Hible, Renato Cordeiro, Jorge Tello Rodrigues and Elise Lefay were all very good. Indeed this was the best ensemble that I could recall hearing, usually there is one singer who standouts for being slightly above or below the standard of the others but not this time.

The setting helped too with the intimate atmosphere of the small theatre and the seating arranged in a horseshoe making it a very personal performance.

Everything about the evening was lovely (except the weather!) and once again I was reminded of just how lucky I am to have a special place like Normansfield Theatre on my doorstep.