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.

Rebecca Louise Law: Life in Death exhibition at Kew Gardens

I had gone to Kew Gardens for the orchids but I had heard good things about the Rebecca Louise Law: Life in Death exhibition in Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art so I strolled along to that.

The gallery is in one of the quieter and least attractive parts of the garden, on the path between Victoria Gate and Lion Gate and I had not been there before.

It is a modest sized gallery with half a dozen room containing several small exhibitions. Rebecca Louise Law: Life in Death was in Room 5 and, unlike the rest of the gallery, operated a one-way system through it.

The exhibition consisted of several thousand dried flowers suspended on threads from the ceiling. They were hung such that a narrow path weaved through them. This took you right up to the flowers though we were instructed to take care not to touch any of them. Dried flowers are somewhat delicate after all.

It sounds like a simple concept and it probably looks it from the photographs to but to walk through it was an amazing experience, and one I took very slowly so that I could savour it for longer.

There was a great variety among the flowers and grasses that were suspended for our pleasure and I stopped to look at many of the threads individually as well as enjoying the cumulative effect of being in a room full of them.

The exhibition closes on 11 March and I hope that I will get the chance to see it again before it does.

Kew Gardens Orchids Festival 2018

Every year Kew Gardens has an orchids festival and every year I go to it. It is easy to see why.

They take over most of Princess of Wales Conservatory and this year they did so with a Thailand theme. That was shown in the designs, such as this temple, and in the music (not pictured).

As always I got there for the 10am opening on a Sunday and went straight to the conservatory. Everybody else was going to the same place so it was already lively by the time that I walked in but it was not too busy to be frustrating. Waiting for people to move out of the way of a photo you are trying to take can take a while particularly when they are oblivious to the situation.

There was no such problem with the many elevated displays. These also allowed me to capture some of the conservatory with the flowers, I like to mix the natural and the manufactured, and in this case I also included some of the paper lanterns in the shot.

It did not matter where the orchids were placed or how they were arranged, they always looked wonderful.

There are usually some animal objects of some king in among the flowers and while this year's elephant failed to impress me I did like the buffalo.

But the orchids were, rightly, the stars of the shows so it is only fair to finish with a closer look at some of them.

22 February 2018

Curtains at Rose Theatre tackled a difficult subject intelligently

I went to see Curtains at Rose Theatre as much to support my local theatre as anything else. There was nothing particular about the play or cast that enticed me but it seemed like a reasonable show and worth a punt. The price was bit of a shock though, my seat in my usual area, A38, cost me £40 for a preview performance. That's a lot of money for a Zone 6 theatre, pushing twice what it should be.

The combination of the uncertain play and the high price kept a lot of people away and the theatre was as empty as I had ever seen it And that was a shame as Curtains was a decent enough show.

It was very much a show in two halves, the second longer than the first. Before the Prosecco break the scene was set with the death of an old woman who died on her birthday surrounded by her family. It was a slow start but with enough drama and characterisation to keep me interested.

In the second half the characterisation blossomed in the unusual situation that has been built in the first half, the main story developed into some serious directions and some new stories emerged from the interactions between the characters. There was a lot going on including the father trying to manage the situation in a way that was uncomfortably familiar, his wife trying to come to terms with the situation and what had led to it, a couple drifting apart dropping plenty of hints of problems at home, a prodigal daughter lost in middle age and a young man flirting with religion.

The main theme, which gave the play its title, was dealt with sensitively and intelligently. This was a nice contrast to the many humorous elements and it gave the play a serious heart and a purpose.

Curtains did that clever thing of entertaining and also making you think about a serious and awkward subject.

20 February 2018

Strangers on a Train at Richmond Theatre was well conceived and expertly delivered

I went to Richmond Theatre expecting Strangers on a Train to be the usual high standard touring show that I am used to seeing there. It was much much better than that.

I had seen Strangers on a Train before, also at Richmond Theatre but that was some years ago and I had forgotten most of the story. The touring shows that come to Richmond are usually pretty good so it was an easy decision to go to see this one, particularly as my ATG Theatre Card meant that I could get seat Dress Circle A7 for a remarkably cheap £24.

One of the features of touring shows is that they tend to have slick staging and this was no exception. This is how the stage looked before the show started and if you look closely you can see a faint image of the Stars and Stripes. As the show started more colour was added to the picture and the flag became obvious.

That trick was done with projection and projection was used throughout to create different scenes with the boards sliding apart to reveal different rooms behind. It was in some ways quite simple and it was also very effective. I had seen projections used before but never as well as this.

Of course the staging is nothing without a story to tell and characters that engage the audience. Strangers on a Train was a decent enough story, again as is common with touring shows it was fairly middle-of-the-road, there were no dead babies, with enough twists in it to keep everybody interested for a couple of hours.

Leading the strong cast was Christopher Harper as the rich, heavy drinking and boisterous Charles Bruno who set the dark events in motion. Alongside him Jack Ashton was the ideal foil as Guy Haines, his quiet and submissive partner in crime. Hannah Tointon added a nice spark as Guy’s fiancĂ© Anne Faulkner. Their performances also helped to lift an already good show up another notch or two.

Strangers on a Train knew was well conceived and expertly delivered which made it a thoroughly entertaining evening.

19 February 2018

Black Mountain at Orange Tree Theatre was tense and satisfying

Recently I seem to be moaning about Orange Tree Theatre more often than I have be praising it but I keep going there anyway. Black Mountain reminded me why.

Being in the round is the distinctive feature of Orange Tree and that means that any front-row seat downstairs will do for me. This time I found myself in A31 for just £22.5. That sort of price encourages experiment,

Black Mounting was in a season with Out of Love which meant sharing the same minimalist set (there was just one prop) and the same small cast. The stories were very different though.

Here a couple were staying in a holiday cottage in the middle of nowhere trying to repair their relationship after he had a fling. The flingee followed them there.

What followed was a dark psychological drama where the truth was always questioned and rightly so. It was all very tense and the tension was nicely magnified by the lighting and sounds. This was a mighty fine production all round.

The story developed darkly and interestingly while I tried to work out what was going on. I was interested in all three characters and was struggling to choose whose side I was on. I may have chosen the wrong one.

Hasan Dixon again shone though Katie Elin-Salt was far from eclipsed and Sally Messham did the little she had to do well enough.

At seventy minutes Black Mountain only just about crept into full-length but it was the right length for the drama. It would have been hard to increase the tension even further and any let off in the mood would have been a mistake.

Black Mountain was my sort of play and I was delighted that Orange Tree chose to present it.

18 February 2018

The Honeyslides at The Half Moon (18 Feb 18)

The Honeyslides have officially become a tradition on my fourth time of seeing them at The Half Moon in Putney since April 16. Now, as with Kew Gardens, the blog posts have the date in the title to differentiate the similar entries.

Things went much the same as usual this time, a 85 bus from Kingston at 6:45pm got us to The Half Moon just before 7:30pm. The doors were due to open at 8pm and there were already three people in the queue. We grabbed a couple of pints of Ordinary and joined them.

The wait was uneventful and we passed some of the time attempting the pub quiz questions. The biggest excitement came when a heavily laden and slightly flustered bass player turned up at 8pm. He obviously did not need to be part of the sound check!

The doors opened more of less on time. As previously one of the two central tables was reserved and the group in front of us claimed the other so we took the one on the left of the stage, as we had done in September.

The Honeyslides started just after 8:30am with just Tom Billington on stage doing an acoustic set. As expected this was very much a greatest hits selection and the mood of the evening was very much Live Rust, which is still the best introduction to Neil Young's music. That meant that it was not too long before we had the full band on stage and the acoustic guitar was swapped for a black electric one.

I did not attempt a set list this time, nor did I take any notes, as I wanted to concentrate on the music and I was not expecting surprises. While there were no surprises there were some changes. The most obvious omission (to me) was Words which was balanced, I think, by a couple of new songs including Farmer John. Some of the absolute classics seemed to be longer and even more energetic before, particularly Cinnamon Girl. There were some sequence changes too with Like A Hurricane and Cortez The Killer both coming almost at the end just as I was starting to worry that we might not hear them.

As before there was a pretty hard curfew at 11pm and if you do the maths that was almost two and a half hours of uninterrupted Neil Young music played with a lot of skill and even more passion. That's why seeing The Honeyslides at The Half Moon has become a tradition.

17 February 2018

Two Towers

The saga of The Old Post Office (TOPO) in Kingston which started in 2014 still continues. The main decision to approve the scheme was made in 2016, despite the significant objections to it, but there was always a question over the main tower.

The Council wanted a visually striking building to mark the southern entrance to the town centre while residents wanted something as small and discrete as possible.

In the very proposal it was shown as 12 storeys tall and after the initial consultation it went up to 16, despite all the feedback saying it was already too tall. It kept changing slightly in size and quite a bit in shape and we finally got the scheme on the left.

There was considerable criticism of this and so a working group of the developer, residents, architects and others were asked to come up with something better. That's the tower on the right.

Over the week a number of drop-in consultation sessions were held where residents could give their views on the new proposal. I suspect that my views will be in a small minority but I prefer the original scheme to the new one.

The original scheme looks more modern and, I think, fits in better with its neighbours. There is also a lot more going on and I like that, one of the joys of the Lloyds Building is that there are things everywhere.

To me the new tower looks like it was designed by a committee (which obviously it was) and we have got a bland compromise. I presume that this scheme will go ahead so I just hope that it looks better in real life than it does in this drawing.

14 February 2018

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

After missing January's British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) "Get to Know You" Social due to an unwanted business trip to Calgary it was good to be back in the groove in February.

The regular second-Wednesday slot happened to fall on Valentine's Day but that did not deter a healthy number of people from choosing to spend the evening in a group rather than a couple.

There were several of the regulars there, including myself obviously, and it was good to have the opportunity to catch up with Ruzena, Richard and Colin.

It was also good to see a couple of semi-regulars, Mirek and Veronika, who had not been for a while. One of them had last been there just after the Brexit vote, I do not know how Ruzena remembers things like that, and that started the evening off with one of our regular topics.

After that the conversations went all over the place; somehow we spent a long time talking about driverless car with the young computer professional making the case for human drivers and a trio of oldies arguing for robots to do all the work.

Somehow we got on to a possible maximum age for driving which led to the reasonable suggestion of having a maximum age for voting. That could have stopped Brexit!

At one point Ruzena produced some hand cream, which several of us used, and that changed the direction of conversation.

Along the way I had a few pints of Pilsner Urquell to drink and the now mandatory smazeny syr to eat.

It may not have been a traditional Valentine's Day celebration but it worked for me.

13 February 2018

Carmen 1808 at Union Theatre was a bold experiment that really worked

Carmen is probably my favourite opera, it ought to be given the number of times that I have seen it, so I was always going to be interested in seeing Carmen 1808 at Union Theatre, particularly as it was at Union Theatre where I had seen so many excellent musical shows and it was by The Phil Willmott Company of which the same is true.

There was only one date in the run that I could make which made the decision easier and I duly booked myself a place for 13 February for £22.5.

The evening did not get off to a good start and a late running meeting meant that I missed the usual 5:43 train from Teddington which would have got me there spot on 6:30 when the box office opened. Instead I caught a train soon after 6pm and got there at 6:45pm. That put me in the third batch for entry, the first time ever that I had not been in the first.

Then my luck changed and despite my late admittance to the theatre I was still able to claim a place in the front row.

The first thing that struck me was the similarity to the stage design for Heartbreak House, which was understandable as it was in the same season. There were differences but the basic design of a raised section in the middle and steps up on both sides was the same.

Carmen 1808 was billed as a musical rather than an opera and running at ninety minutes straight through it was considerably shorter than the opera so I had no real idea what to expect. Admittedly I could have read the details online beforehand but doing that is almost cheating.

I am sure that there is a word for this that I do not know but Carmen 1808 was a companion piece to Carmen sharing some of the characters, locations,  themes and songs but it was also had a very different plot. More than a homage but less than a remake. Somebody should do a Venn Diagram.

The main story was about Napoleon's victory over Spain and the efforts of the resistance. Alongside that we still had the love triangle/square/pentagram between Carmen, a soldier, a woman from his past and Carmen's other lovers. There were several other elements from the original Carmen, like the reading of the cards. All nice to see if you knew Carmen but also understandable if it was new to you.

The music followed the same plan, some songs were copied and changed along the way. Toreador had to be in there and it appear as a song about swearing allegiance to the Spanish flag. There was no toreador.

The singing was more musical than opera with many pieces using the whole cast and there were fewer solo pieces. Toreador was an example of this, in the opera just the toreador sings the song but here it was everybody. There were some solos though and the painter/narrator was the star here.

One thing that worked very well was using the overture as a big dance number to open the show and to reprise it at the end. I also loved the comic song that was inserted along the way. This was the one time that the French featured and they told us in song just how good they were. The song produced my favourite line of the night, "Did we mensh, we are French?".

Carmen 1808 was a nice mix of a dark story, France's subjugation of Spain, with the light human foibles that drive so much of life, particularly when there are people like Carmen around. And being a new story I was keen to see how it ended. I was engrossed.

The concept of changing something as familiar as Carmen into a musical and playing around with it so much may sound sacrilegious but it really worked and I had a lot of fun watching it unfold in front of me.

12 February 2018

Outland by Jim Steranko - a lost masterpiece

It took a tweet from Cory Doctorrow to remind me of Outland by Jim Steranko which is a little surprising as it is truly spectacular, possibly his most striking work visually.

One reason that it got lost is that, unlike his work on characters like Nick Fury and Captain America, it was never that obvious in the first place. It was serialised in Heavy Metal in the early 1980's and I was lucky to be reading it then.

I recall that the story, an adaptation of the film of the same name, did not impress me that much but the art work most certainly did. These two pages show why. They speak for themselves and I will not attempt to explain why they are brilliant.

The other reason it is lost is that it is out of print, physically and digitally. All of his Marvel work is available digitally, and I think that I have bought all of it, but Outland is not despite the obvious demand for it from the many Steranko fans like myself.

I did look on eBay to see if there were any copies of the book available and there was just one, in America and it cost 150 USD. It's in French.

10 February 2018

Satyagraha at ENO is a delightful tradittion

ENO have got into the habit of staging Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha every few years and I have gladly fallen into the habit of going to see it every time. This time I made it a real treat and went for Dress Circle A29 for £106.25.

The evening got off to a less than brilliant start as once again Pizza Express failed to live up to the Express part of the name but we were served eventually and the Pizza was nice.

My seat in the Dress Circle was very nice too with an excellent view. The first thing that struck me was how small the orchestra was, they used up about half of the pit. I realised later why that was, the music in Satyagraha was relatively quiet throughout with the noise coming, when there was noise, from the large chorus. A great deal of the time there was not much noise and the mood was very gentle, as you would expect when the subject is Gandhi.

Satyagraha did not tell a story as such, though there were some narrative elements. It consisted of three tableau, each about fifty minutes long, showing scenes from the period that Gandhi lived in South Africa. This was actually quite a long period, from 1893 to 1914, during which he secured significant legal concessions for the local Indian population.

For the best part of three hours, punctuated with a couple of short breaks for ice creams, we had images of newspapers, shoes, cellophane, jackets, beats, houses all of which were presented in almost slow motion to the famous rhythms of Philip Glass and the sumptuous singing of the soloists and chorus.

It was every bit as delightful as it had been when I saw it before and as I hope it will be when I see it next time.

Improving wildlife habitats with Friends of Ham Lands

I have been a member of Friends of Ham Lands (FoHL) for several years and most of that time we have been talking about what we want to do with this important nature reserve and it was good to get involved with some direct action.

Ham Lands supports a rich variety of wildlife and at the moment we are concentrating on butterflies and are clearing some of the grassy patches of encroaching scrub.

It was a grey day with the promise of rain but that did not stop a group of us heading out along the main path that follows the river in Ham Lands South.

I should have taken a "before" picture but was so keen to get chopping that I forgot. Above is the "after" picture which shows a clear patch of grass.

We cleared that in about an hour and then we headed down the path in the middle of the picture making sure that it too was free from encroaching scrub and we also cleared a couple of smaller grassy areas.

We had not gone to do a litter pick but we could not ignore the litter in the areas that we wore working in and we filled a good sized bag with cans and bottles some of which had clearly been there a long time.

We worked for a couple of hours before the tiredness and impending rain encouraged us to call it a day. It was a good workout rewarded with a visible improvement to the area.

We will be back doing more work on Saturday 10 March.

9 February 2018

Out of Love at Orange Tree Theatre

I may have fallen somewhat out of love with Orange Tree, as I have grown to love places like Theatre503 and Southwark Playhouse more, but it is still my nearest small theatre and I still feel some loyalty towards it because of the many years that I have been going there.

While some visits had a sense of duty about them I was looking forward to this one because it sounded like my sort of thing, "A tale of friendship, love and rivalry over thirty years from award-winning playwright Elinor Cook."

It was a promising start too with the most minimal of stages, just a circle drawn on the ground. I like minimal.

Moving in and out of that circle were two women, the close friends, and one man who played all the men in their lives. Again, nothing wrong with that.

The story of their friendship was told in a series of short non-chronological scenes. Nothing wrong with that either as a concept and one I had come across before but this time I found it poorly executed. My main complaint was there there was little to say when each scene was set and there was no obvious reason for the timeshiftimg either.

The confusion was annoying but was not my main problem with the play. I completely failed to engage with the characters or to find anything interesting in their lives. To be honest, I struggled to stay awake at times.

There is a reason that I do not do star rating and that is because art is completely subjective and I am not conceited enough to think that my view matters very much to anyone else, I am writing this for myself. Other views are available and this time an actress that I know and respect went the following night and loved it. She could relate to the characters and their situation in a way that I could not which was good for her but not so good for me.

I left the Orange Tree trying to work out what the point of the play was, that is how we were meant to be entertained or enlightened, and I could not work it out. I felt that it put too much emphasis on the structure and not enough on the content. There were a couple of laughs along the way and a tender moment towards the end but that was a poor return for seventy minutes.

6 February 2018

It's Not Cute Anymore at Theatre503 was cute, actually

Getting to see It's Not Cute Anymore was a real challenge as there were only six performances and it was a busy week for me. I managed to get there by missing a regular evening meeting and cutting a work meeting short so that I could escape from the office soon after 5:30pm.

The journey worked well and I got to The Latchmere around 6:30pm. I had been there only a few days previously and did not fancy the limited choice in the dining end so I went for my bar snack of choice, nachos, which filled a gap without making any sparks fly. Spoons do them better.

For some reason Theatre503 had moved to 7:30pm start times from their traditional 7;45 start. That extra 15 minutes took the pressure off eating and was something that made the theatre different from the rest. The play was only 75 minutes long so hardly warranted an early start.

Despite staying downstairs in the pub later than usual I was still able to position myself skilfully in the theatre's reception area so that I was first in and was able to claim my usual seat in the middle of the front row, still warm from my visit there four days previously.

It's Not Cute Anymore introduced us to two twenty-something women in marginally creative jobs for a magazine. They were muddling through but were hoping to be writers and had entered a publisher's competition with a loose idea based on some sexy sexual material they had worked on together at university. Somehow Marianne Faithful was in the mix.

There were two other main characters, their boss and an aunt, which the the women played. The male publisher appeared on recorded voice only. Both techniques worked.

What followed was a creditable sit-com that addressed many of the aspirations and concerns of young women in London and their were many knowing laughs from the mainly young audience. I was laughing too as it was genuinely funny.

It was also very good natured. Sure the two women did some lewd and some wrong things but they were essentially nice people and it was easy to like them. Well, I did. And because I liked them I cared about what they did and what happened to them. So the zero hours contract in a shoe warehouse was a real disappointment.

It's Not Cute Anymore had a clear purpose, to be funny, and managed to be that for well over an hour. It was cute, actually.

4 February 2018

Kew Gardens (4 February 18)

Other things, like lazy Sunday morning lie-ins and bad weather, had kept me away from Kew Gardens for more weeks than I was used to so I was glad of an excuse to go back. That excuse was that other people wanted to go to and it was a select group of six of us that queued outside Victoria Gate waiting for it to open at 10am.

As always there was no clear plan but somebody mentioned the Treetop Walkway so we headed there first. Being in to the gardens early meant that we were the only people on it, which is just how I like it. It sways enough by itself without having children running all over it.

It was even colder up there than it was on the ground so somebody else suggested a green house and we avoided any further decision by visiting both the Palm House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory which was getting ready for the Orchids Festival scheduled to open the following week.

The next warm place we had to visit was the Orangery. This had gone a little down market with the coffee coming from a machine and the cake not up to its previous standard. I suspected that this was because of the opening of The Botanical which had become the smartest cafe in the gardens. I resolved to always go there from now on.

The final leg took us through the Alpine garden and back out through Victoria Gate, just in time to walk on to a 65 home.

It had been an unremarkable couple of hours and that is why Kew Gardens works so well, even on an unremarkable day it fills a Sunday morning pleasingly with consummate ease.

2 February 2018

Her Not Him at Theatre503 was a nice little drama nicely crafted

I understand why theatres do short run plays but it plays havoc with my scheduling as I find it hard enough to find a free evening for long run plays and I am regularly forced to see the final performance in a run. Her Not Him was only on for a week and I was lucky that the Friday was not already booked so I gleefully paid my £10.

Theatre503 is a ridiculously convenient ten minute walk from Clapham Junction and above a decent pub, The Latchmere, so the logistics sorted themselves out.

I had gone expecting a quirky comedy and so was a little surprised to see a warning sign in the reception area saying that it included a frank discussion on suicide. That did not worry but it piqued my interest further.

Her Not Him was the story of of love triangle. Making the story somewhat unusual was the make up of that triangle, a middle-aged woman, her much younger girl friend and a young man who liked to dress as a woman. The title of the play coming from the older woman's preference for his female persona.

Despite the untypical mix of people this was a fairly typical story, and I think that was the point - people are people irrespective of who they love or what they wear.

Stripped of its character's shock value the story still held up on its own. I believed in the relationships and wanted to know how they would be resolved. I also liked the touches of humour, to call it a comedy would be bit of a stretch, and the use of physical theatre when changing scenes. It was a nice little drama nicely crafted.