15 January 2018

Drained and delighted by Hanna at Arcola Theatre

Hanna was a word of mouth thing. I was tempted, most things at Arcola tempt me, but Dalston is bit of a trek from home and office and so I would probably have missed this if my eldest son had not shown an interest following favourable comments from a friend of his. Besides, it was on a Monday night and a lot of theatres were closed for the night.

It helped that is was in Studio 2 as that meant a slightly later start time, 8pm, which meant I could get various trains across from Teddington and still have time for some pretty nifty tapas in La Ventana in Dalston Square, the modern development across the road that is still trying to fit in with its Victorian neighbours.

Hanna, I quickly learned, was a one-woman show with just Sophie Khan Levy to entertain us for an hour and a bit as Hanna. Her CV suggests that I may have seen her in Fracked but that would have been a minor role and no bells were rung.

Hanna sat in the chair and told us the story of her marriage and her daughter Ellie. It was frightening like being in a real conversation and I had to work hard not to join in, especially as Sophie worked assiduously to engage us all by holding eye contact and talking directly to us.

The Arcola website gave a big spoiler away, Hanna is not actually Ellie's biological mother, but that did not matter as that was only setting the scene. The real story started then when the two mothers tried to come to grips with what happened to them. The two husbands, in their different ways, were both somewhat unhelpful in this.

The story developed with real tension, real drama of the flashing blue lights variety, and a great deal of in your face real life. I was not sure where it was going, got emotionally drained on the way there, and had to swear a little at the end. It was that good.

 If I had done any research beforehand then I would have been surprised as Sam Potter, the woman with the words, also wrote Mucky Kid which I loved to bits a few years ago. Sam writes brightly about dark things and I love her for it.

I needed a beer after that and luckily the Arcola Bar had some. Towards the end of my pint I had recovered enough to speak to Sophie and to tell her mow much I had enjoyed the show. I hope that Sam and Sophie do well and that I am there to see some of it.

1 January 2018

I averaged 18,047 steps a day in 2017

Hitting 18k steps a day was never my plan and I am somewhat surprised that I managed to walk so much. Doing 20k steps in a day every so often is one thing but to average 18k is quite another.

My target on my Pedometer app is just 14k steps a day and I achieve that easily on most working days by doing 3.5k each way to/from work and 7k at lunchtime.

That means that any additional walking is a bonus. To pick one example, if I go to Rose Theatre in the evening I walk there and back and that is around 4k steps each way, turning a 14k day into a 22k day.

The walk to/from walk and my insistence on taking a lunchtime break in all weathers is the bedrock of my step counting and at weekends I often have a challenge to hit even the daily 14k target. Many a time I have had to go for a walk around 9pm to get the final 3k or 4k steps in for the day. Luckily I love walking and I have plenty of podcasts and BBC Radio dramas to keep me company.

I have not set myself a target for 2018 but I am not expecting to average 18k again. 16k would be nice though. I'll see how things go.

29 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 December 2017

Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse was a Christmas treat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 December 2017

The Little Match Girl at Tabard Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 December 2017

More Follies at National Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

Wearing the company colours

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

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

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

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

This is the shirt I had to wear today.

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

18 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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