12 March 2019

Benidorm Live at New Wimbledon Theatre was outrageously entertaining

I have loved Benidorm on TV for many years and so when a live show was announced I was quick to book. So quick that it was over a year before the performance that I claimed Dress Circle Row A Seat 17 for a respectable £43.50.

Judging by the packed theatre my love of Benidorm is widely shared.

I went with reasonable exceptions of being entertained and these expectations were more than exceeded. It was a laugh a minute. And then some. And then some more. It was outrageously entertaining.

Six of the regular stars made the transition from TV to stage and they each made separate entrances to huge applause. This was just one of the many things that the production got just right.

The script was typical Benidorm with a lot of great lines, a genuine story and moments of gentleness.  We had everything from hotel inspectors to Sausage In Cider jokes to a marriage proposal. It was often smutty but never crude.

The familiar characters behaved as we expected, and loved. The new characters soon established themselves too; we had a young couple reluctantly there for a couple of days, a new member of junior staff whose name people kept getting wrong and Jacqueline's gay friend who arrived with a passion for Kenneth.

Neptune's Bar also provided some genuine cabaret entertainment with the singing voice of Shelley Longworth and the tapping feet of Jake Canuso.

Adam Gillen also tried to sing but less successfully! It was interesting to see him back in this role after being knocked out by his performance in Amadeus in the serious theatre. It was easy to see why he was suited to both roles and his movement was one of the other features of the show.

Benidorm on stage was very much like Benidorm on TV but with some necessary changes, e.g. simpler sets and no external locations, and also some enhancements to take advantage of playing to an enthusiastic and knowing crowd.

I have rarely waited over a year to see a show and even more rarely seen one as entertaining as Benidorm Live.

Walking from Richmond to Greenford

One of the things that I am hoping to do more of now that I have retired is walking. I am being helped in this by a friend who has a similar ambition.

Our first attempt was a section of London Loop and while that was reasonably successful we lost our way a little on Hounslow Heath and struggled all the time to find the correct route due to a lack of signage.

Our second walk was on Capital Ring and that was a lot more successful and we did stages 7 and 8, starting at Richmond and ending at Greenford.

What the map does not make clear is that most of this walk was along waterways and in something under three hours we walked fifteen kilometres following the Thames, Grand Union Canal and Brent river.

We also spent most of out time surrounded by greenery and at times in was easy to believe that we had left the city. We had the mud on our boots to prove it too.

There were other times that the traffic roar from the A4 and M4 made it perfectly clear that we had not escaped the city after all.

Of the few built-up areas we walked through Brentford Lock West was the most interesting, not least because it was not even a thing when I last walked there; admittedly that was over ten years ago. The development of new flats around the lock looked attractive enough but I would not want to live there as Brentford is not big enough to be a regional centre and lacks the transport links to get to one.

One of London's smaller transport links started our journey home as we took the 2-car shuttle train, run by GWR (!), from Greenford to West Ealing where it connected to the mainline and we caught a connection to Ealing Broadway. There we had a delicious lunch at The Farm W5 before taking the 65 bus home through the driving rain that had kindly kept away all morning.

8 March 2019

Very impressed by There is a Field at Theatre503

I see everything that I can at Theatre503 for one simple reason, the programme there is consistently fresh, though-provoking and entertaining. There is a Field was all of these.

Some things do change at Theatre503 however and this time I had to content with the new booking system that introduced allocated seating. The first result of this was that I missed my usual seat in the middle of the front-row and had to settle for seat B6 instead. That was a fair result but I will have to try and get more organised.

No change on the pricing though and my seat was a bargain at £12 (over 60s).

The poster gives a big clue as to some of the themes of There is a Field with a white man dressed as a convert to Islam and a funeral. Other elements to the story were the relationships between two very different brothers, two long-term friends and two volatile lovers, the financial stress of a young family, a drug addiction and the thieving that fed it, poetry and football. There was a lot going on and that kept the story interesting and unpredictable.

The main characters in the story were an East Londoner who had converted to Islam, his criminal brother, his recently bereaved mother, his best friend and his friends pregnant wife. The five people all knew each other well and the many one-to-one relationships between them were complex and extreme. There was a lot of love in the play and a fair amount of violence too.

Of course you cannot have good characters without good actors and everybody did an excellent job here. There were only five of them so I have the luxury of being able to name them all; Sam Frenchum (convert), Archie Backhouse (friend), Roseanna Frascona (friend's wife), Sarah Finigan (mother) and Fabrizio Santino (brother). Of these the two characters/actors that had the most impact on me were Sarah Finigan's East-end mother who calmly knew how to fix things and Fabrizio Santino's dodgy and violent brother. It was the care put into every shoulder-shrug and jacket adjustment that made Fabrizio Santino's performance the most compelling.

I almost forgot to mention that there were quite a few chuckles along the way too - nothing contrived just the natural banter between people who know each other well.

I was very impressed by There is a Field because of the breadth of interesting and difficult topics covered and the depth that they were covered through rich characters. It was an entertaining and satisfying feast of theatre.

7 March 2019

Stones in his Pockets at Rose Theatre was clever and fun

Stones in his Pockets did not appeal to me at first as it was billed as a straight comedy and I prefer theatre with some intellectual meat in it but then  I decided that an afternoon of comedy was a good option and I booked a matinee performance, taking advantage of being retired.

The underused and impracticable pit area of the theatre had been converted to seating and my usual row A had become row J, giving some idea of how far back it is. Seat J28 with a concession for being a Senior Citizen was a reasonable £30. The additional seating reduced the attractiveness of row A/J as the new row in front of it was higher than the previous one. Seat J28 was fine as row H did not extend that far across because of the curvature. I'll be in the centre for the next two shows that I have booked there so I'll get a better idea of any potential problems then. There is always the circle!

To quote the promotional blurb: A small village in rural Ireland is turned upside down when a major Hollywood film studio descends to make a historical blockbuster on location. The story is told through the eyes of two extras.

The two actors also played all the other parts from the film's female star to the grimiest local. They did this with limited costumes changes and made the different characters obvious by over emphasising their different voices and movements in amusing ways. The many quick character changes and the exaggerated characters were a constant source of comedy.

More comedy came from the rich dialogue between the two characters, whichever two they were at the time.

The main story was an unflattering view of how a film is made but there was a dark edge to it which gave it a nice bite; the stones were in his pockets to weigh him down.

Stones in his Pockets at was clever without being too clever and was a lot of fun too, a comedy fit to brighten up a grey Thursday afternoon.

6 March 2019

Much to love in Green Lantern

I have never been a big reader of DC comics and these days I hardly read any superhero comics from any company so it took something special to get me reading Green Lantern.

That special thing was the creative team of Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp, both British as it happens.

I have had mixed experiences with Grant Morrison and while I would not call myself a fan as such I really loved his long run on New X-Men and have enjoyed several other of his books.

Liam Sharp having been around for a few years has suddenly burst to the top of the mainstream at DC starting with Wonder Woman and then with The Brave and The Bold. I have loved all of his work.

This page is fairly typical. The flow is imaginative and the detail is incredible.

Also typical is the wordiness, this is clearly not a Warren Ellis comic! But this is good fluid wordiness and not the panel filling wordiness of the early days when authors thought that they had to explain what the artist had drawn. It's a typical Morrison story too and it needs some attention paid to it, which is effort well spent.

We are five issues in now and I understand that there will be 24 altogether. It is going to be a good couple of years.

5 March 2019

A fond Farewell to Cemetery Beach

I shall miss Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard which has just finished its short seven issue run. It was heralded as a rollicking adventure story and this is exactly what it was. For most of the story the baddies chased the goodies and the pace of the action was relentless.

This two page spread in the printed version (copied from my iPad screen) sums up much of what I loved about the series. The action is obvious and exuberant, the art work by Jason Howard is delicious and Warren Ellis provided both the story and the space for the art.

This dynamic due will be returning to Trees soon and I am really looking forward to that.

4 March 2019

Art at Richmond Theatre entertained

I have got into the happy habit of seeing most (drama) things on at Richmond Theatre and with a cast consisting of TV favourites Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson I was obviously going to see Art when it's tour hit there. Clearly the claims on the poster were a boost too.

My ATG Theatre Card helped with the tickets and my Dress Circle A21 seat was a modest £29.

The simple premise of the play was three long-term friends reacting to the expensive purchase of a painting by one and the imminent marriage of another. They met in twos and a three in each other's homes, which were identical for the piece of art on the wall.

The play was constructed as a series of meetings of the friend and each was like a different sketch with its own mood and punchline. Two scenes that made a lasting impression were the one where the three of them sat not talking but eating olives and deposing of the stones noisily into a metal bowl, and the one where the husband to be gave a long unbroken monologue on the problems he has trying to organise the wedding; this got a round of applause for Stephen Tompkinson.

There were a lot of nice moments like that and Art was entertaining and amusing throughout though it never quite justified the claims on the poster. To be honest, I expected that as a good rule of thumb is that the weaker the play the stronger the cast required to pull the punters in. Art was by no means a weak play, but nor was it a masterpiece as some of the promotional literature claimed.

The good news is that all three members of the cast lived up to their high reputations and their performances lifted the material that they had to work with to make it a decent enough show.

Art entertained me, and that is all that I asked of it.

1 March 2019

The Son at Kiln Theatre was gripping

I discovered the works of Florian Zeller more or less by accident. His play, The Father, was on at Richmond Theatre and as a regular visitor there I took a chance on it. That compelled me to see The Mother when it came to Richmond Theatre prior to a west-end run. I was mightily impressed by both plays so going to see The Son was an easy choice to make.

The venue this time was Kiln Theatre in Kilburn which used to be Tricycle Theatre and had recently reopened under its new name following an extensive refurbishment. This included a new cafe area facing the main road where I had a coffee and something to eat. There is also a good-sized bar and restaurant area but all the tables there had been booked and I was not in the mood for a full meal any way.

The oddly shaped theatre, with rows of seats on either side not facing the stage, was much as it was though all the seats had been replaced. I recalled that the raking in the stalls was quite shallow and so I went for the circle instead where my centre seat, A7, cost me a perfectly reasonable £32.5.

The Son in question was a late teenage boy living with his mother after his father left them to start a new family with another woman.

The story started with the mother telling the father that their son had become moody and was skipping school. The mother could no longer cope and thought that the father was better placed to look after him, especially after some of the things that the son had said about the father.

What followed was almost two hours of extreme teenage tribulations and the various attempts to solve them by all three parents.

As with The Father and The Mother, the heart of the play was the in-depth examination of the intra-family relationships and some of the key events that had shaped them. It was gripping stuff from beginning to end and the 105 minutes flew past.

This was one occasion where the stage direction had a clear and dramatic impact. This was particularly true when the mother and father were talking to each other taking confrontational stances some distance from each other. The father was demonstrative throughout trying to exert the power of his position when that was of no use to the situation. He was as lost as his son.

Throughout the play there was a lot of talking but not much listening and that made the son's problem difficult to solve.

There was a happy ending, of sorts, but only after a lot of pain and some bad things that could not be undone.

I loved The Son as much as I loved The Father and The Mother, and for all the same reasons. It was an excellent play superbly presented and well acted.

27 February 2019

Radiant Vermin at Tabard Theatre was excellent

I have travelled across London to see Philip Ridley plays so making the short hop to see Radiant Vermin at Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green was always going to happen.

This was my third time of seeing Radiant Vermin in three different productions, the most recent being only last September.  The three productions shared a minimalist approach (no props, no staging and no backdrops), all made good use of the different spaces they were in and all had excellent acting.

Tabard can be criticised for not naming the actors on their website but at least they are named in the free programme so I can give well deserved mentions to Laura Janes as wife, Matthew John Wright as husband and Emma Sweeney as devil(?) and tramp.

This production had more audience interaction than the others and even changed the script ever so slightly to let us vote between a new garage or a new bathroom. I was sitting in my usual seat, A4 which was almost theft at £16, and so got spoken directly and looked at quite often. Audience interaction is a key part of the story as it is told as a narrative and the couple are seeking our acceptance for what they have done and this production kept the dynamic between performers and audience bubbling throughout.

Radiant Vermin is a fast paced script with lots of lovely phrases, unexpected details and sudden sideways jumps that it still felt fresh on my third listening.

This production is probably my favourite (so far!). Some of that is down to the size of the theatre (Soho was too big, Ram Jam too small) but most of it is down to the sheer quality of the production overall and to the acting in particular.