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.