19 April 2014

Lots of laughs with Two Into One at the Menier Chocolate Factory

It is hardly unusual for me to forget why I booked to see a show by the time that I get to see it but I rarely get it as wrong as this.

Because I was at the Menier Chocolate Factory I assumed that this was a musical. It wasn't. It was a farce. A very funny one.

This was my third visit to Menier Chocolate Factory and the seating arrangements had been very different each time. For Two Into One it was laid out more-or-less as a standard proscenium with straight rows to seating. I was in the front row just left of centre (seat A17).

The place seemed to be completely sold out with a reasonably  diverse audience.

The story was a fairly simple one. A lecherous MP saw spending a few days in London, in the Westminster Hotel, as the ideal opportunity for some quality time with one of the PM's secretaries while his wife was out at the theatre. She had managed to send her husband away on a skiing holiday. The MP's Permanent Private Secretary was told to book another room under an assumed name to create a place for the dalliance to happen.

The first slip-up in the plans convince the MP's wife that the PPS is after a dalliance with her and she is up for this and cancels her theatre trip.

For the next couple of hours we had the PM, his wife, his PPS, his amour, her husband, a Labour MP, a waiter and the hotel manager moving between the two rooms with increasingly confusing and amusing results as lie after lie was invented to explain the compromising person that somebody found themselves in.

For most of the play we could see the two hotel suites, each with three doors that were constantly opening and closing as people in varying stages of undress moved through the rooms either trying to find somebody or to get away from them. This was a classic farce and was very well done.

It was only while watching it that I remembered that I had booked it because of its stellar cast. This included Michael Praed as the MP, Kelly Adams as his love interest and Jeffrey Holland as the Hotel Manager. It also featured Ray Cooney who wrote and directed it.

Of the actors new to me, Josefina Gabrielle was appropriately saucy as the MP's wife and Nick Wilton was brilliant as the beleaguered PPS at the heart of everything.

The shrieks of laughter were confirmation of the success of the play. It was a fabulous evening made all the more so by the surprise of it not being a musical.

16 April 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (16 April 14)

The Open Mic nights at the Grey Horse have become something of a habit recently thanks to circumstances keeping me at home during the week and also keeping my Wednesday evenings otherwise free. It's a good habit to have.

There is a certain similarity in the acts each week but either the performers change enough or their songs do for it not to be representative. Instead it is comfortingly familiar.

This week, for example, Maria Ahearn (the event organiser) sang an acoustic set in the middle of the evening rather than playing some rock and blues at the very end. She performed with a guitarist who I've seen play there for other singers. I've not caught his name yet but Maria introduced him as "not my Dad".

A highlight for me was the instrumental session by Richard Stickney (picture at the top). He played a mandolin through a loop machine so that he could build up textures and rhythms. The folky music was pleasing enough but what made the session was Richard's relentless joviality. These are meant to be fun evenings and Richard epitomised that.

I also liked another instrumentalist who used loops to build his sound. These sounds were quite experimental with a hint of the progressive. I was impressed enough to seek him out afterwards to thank him personally for his performance.

Catherine Paver was there again, this time with feather earrings, a colourful native-American necklace and a song sung in Spanish.

It was a little quieter than usual, possibly because it was the week before Easter, and some of the regular acts were missing and some of my friends were missing too. However, it was still a lively and fun evening which I spent mostly with two mates and managed to get to speak to quite a few other people, including a young lad wearing a Sparks t-shirt.

It was another fun, entertaining and sociable evening and that's why I keep going.

15 April 2014

Occupied at Theatre503 looked at England questioningly through Romanian eyes

The premise of Occupied was interesting but the real reason that I went was because it was on at Theatre503 and I've liked everything that I have seen there. This was no exception.

Sadly the Latchmere pub downstairs was still closed for a major refurbishment and even sadder I forgot that it was Bring Your Own Bottle and I forgot to take my own bottle. So it was a dry evening for me.

Despite that setback I still kept my wits about me enough to claim my usual seat in the middle of the front row.

As is often the case these days, there were already some performers on stage including a Romanian woman playing songs like Rule Britannia on an accordion.

The scene was a toilet that two recently arrived Romanians, a man and a woman, had made their home. Hence the pun title "Occupied".

With them was a young Englishman whom they had kidnapped so that he could teach them about England. There was also an old Romania woman who appeared occasionally looking for drink or food before going to sleep in the corner.

If that all sounds a little weird, well it was.

The conversations between the three varied from the surreal, e.g. how to ask an English woman out for a date, to the dark, e.g. on witnessing deaths on the violent overthrow of Ceaușescu in 1989.

Through these conversations we learnt something about the three young people and, through them, something about perceptions held by others on England, Romania and the Romani.

It was something of an emotional roller-coaster with the general levity and good humour punctured by some moments of harsh reality.

Steering the way was Alex (played brilliantly by Mark Conway) who was vibrant and passionate in his wish to make something of his life in England. Andreya (Josie Dunn) followed him somewhat slavishly and Tom (Joe Marsh) tried to talk his way out of his imprisonment.

The turning point came when we learnt how Alex and Andrea first met Tom and that led to the unexpected, and unhappy, ending.

Occupied used the situation and the characters to look at immigration and the issues that surround it from different perspective but it remained a human story rather than a political polemic. There were some nice touches such as all the anti-immigrant stories that Alex had collected from the Daily Mail and stuck on the wall, the songs played by Andreya and the unusual card game that they played where cheating was an accepted feature.

There was so much going on in Occupied and on some many levels, and that that made it a thoroughly absorbing and engaging drama. It was a touching story about three people that we cared about set in the context to wider events that shape all our lives.

It was grim (set in an abandoned toilet, how could it be otherwise?) with a grim ending, and I loved every moment of it.

13 April 2014

It takes an hour to walk around Kew Gardens

Another Sunday morning visit to Kew Gardens but this time with a difference.

Usually I go there to look at something but this time I was with a friend and the only thing on the agenda was exercise.

We got to Lion Gate, him walking me by bus, just before it opened at 9:30 and joined the small queue. Once in we walked all around the outside clockwise. Mostly this meant sticking to one of the main paths but we took a slight detour around Kew Palace to cover more distance and also, surprisingly, too see the garden there. We also went through the Duke's Garden, following the horseshoe path, and behind the Temple of Aeolus for the same reasons.

The only diversion we took was early on when the flash of red called us across to the Japanese Landscape.

We got back to Lion Gate very close to 10:30am, almost exactly an hour after we started. I walk at a fairly predictable 1km in 10 minutes so that makes the walkable circumference pretty close to 6km.

That was a good way to start the day, though the people I know who were running the London Marathon at the same time may feel that they were doing a bit more.

12 April 2014

NeMeSiS thrash the Fox and Duck

NeMeSiS are not quite my thing but they are still worth popping in to the local pub to see on an otherwise free Saturday night.

They are not quite my thing because they are on the thrashy side of rock and, to me, that makes the songs sound much the same. So, for example, when they played Rockin' in the Free World the guitar solo sounded nothing like anything Neil Young has ever done.

On the plus side, they do play songs like Rockin' in the Free World and also established rock cover band classics like Wishing Well, Jumping Jack Flash, Whole Lotta Rosie, and (obviously) Smoke on the Water.

There were a lot of my favourites in their set and in the end the plus side won me over. NeMeSiS entertained.

Brainstorm, the art of Bryan Talbort at The Muse gallery

I have been a fan of Bryan Talbot's work for quite a few years now so I was always going to be interested in an exhibition of his art, even more so when it was reasonably close to home in Ladbroke Grove.

The only problem was finding out about it. Luckily I read the Forbidden Planet blog on the penultimate day of the exhibition and so was able to see it just before it closed.

Bryan had been there for the opening night and is pictured here between two pictures of Nemesis the Warlock from 2000AD.

There were samples of Bryan's work from across his career and I was again drawn to The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and I might just have bought this page had not somebody beaten me to it. It carries the menace of a Nuremberg Rally plus the detail of a fine artist.

I came close to buying another page a couple of years ago. I spoke to Bryan about it at one of his signings (I've been to several) and he told me then that it had been sold just a couple of days previously.

Oh well, I'll just have to carry on buying the books and I've already got two by Bryan on this year's Christmas List, Arkwright Integral, due in October, which reprints the two Luther Arkwright novels in A4 hardback, and Grandville Noel, the fourth book in the series due out in November. I won't have to wait that long to get Sally Heathcote, Suffragette.

The best part about the exhibition was seeing the art from the various projects side-by-side to compare and contrast the styles. There were a lot of differences between them. I am hardly an expert on this but some looked like soft pencils, some thick felt-pen and some watercolour washes. That was testament, if further testament were needed, to Bryan's skill.

It was only a small exhibition but the scope of the work more than made up for that and it got me even more excited than I already was for his next books.

11 April 2014

Faustian Pack: Through His Teeth at the Linbury Studio Theatre

The main theatre at the Royal Opera House was showing Faust and it was running other events under the label Faustian Pack to compliment this.

Through His Teeth was a new opera inspired by the story of Faust which was performed at the modern Linbury Studio Theatre on the lower level.

I got to the opera house just as the crowd for Faust was going in which meant that the Floral Hall was all but empty and was the ideal place to have a leisurely drink. I had thought about going to one of the Covent Garden pubs but they were all frighteningly busy.

I had been to the Linbury a few times before but this was my first time in the Upper Gallery, in seat R9. The view was perfect from there, which was just as well as I had already booked the same seat for the next day.

Through His Teeth got its name from the phrase "lying through his teeth" and it told the story of a man who psychologically manipulated women to give up their lives, and their money, and to follow him with almost messianic devotion that defied even the most obvious truths.

One woman escaped due to the efforts of her sister but she was still not free of him and other women were still ensnared.

The story was told as a sung narrative, almost recitative but a little more musical than that. The music was dramatically modern and devoid of the sort of tune that you can hum along to. I liked the impact of the music and it worked well, much like a good film soundtrack helps to signal the mood.

The story was the main feature of the opera and it was a good story well told. It was genuinely at times and all three singers played their part/s well, despite one of them complaining of a cold.

It was a gripping opera and I could ask for no more.

10 April 2014

Fatal Attraction at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

The first reviews for Fatal Attraction are coming in and they are generally poor. They are also wrong. This is a fine performance and I enjoyed it immensely.

It is not the sort of play that I would normally be attracted but what swung it was the offer of cheap tickets via the theatre club at work and it came with the name Sir Trevor Nunn attached to it.

It was not the sort of film that I would normally watch either and so I went with just a clue to the plot rather than with much detail. I have no idea how close the play is to the film, and I do not care.

Somehow this was my first visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket though I had walked past in many times, often on the way to/from other theatres.

As this was a group booking I was in the stalls (F5). I had a good view from there but as before the show started all I could see was the large black safety-curtain I have not included the usual view-from-my-seat photo.

Fatal Attraction, in case you did not know, is the fairly simple story of a married man who has a brief fling with another woman which he immediately regrets and tries to walk away from. But she has other ideas and becomes increasing frenzied in her wish to keep the relationship going.

That makes the woman, Alex Forrest played by Natascha McElhone, the centre of the action and she was perfect as both the blonde temptress and then the vengeful mistress.

Another of the play's strengths was the way that it was constructed, and I presume that Trevor Nunn was to thank for much of that.

Physically the set swung effortlessly from scene to scene allowing the action to flow freely between homes, offices and parks. Emotionally the play used Madame Butterfly cleverly to build to the climax, though the final scene was a little unnecessary for those of us who knew the opera.

And while Alex was the baddie in the story some of the blame was also neatly placed on the man, Dan Gallagher played by Mark Bazeley, who took the lead in his initial encounter with Alex, and also on his wife, Beth Gallagher played by Kristin Davis, who in presenting Dan with a choice of town v country spurred him to have that fateful night on the town. The fairly simple story was actually a bit more complicated than it first looked. Their daughter and her pet rabbit were blameless though.

The tension built nicely and there were gasps of surprise from the audience, most of whom I assume actually knew the story beforehand. It was billed as a thriller and it was.

Fatal Attraction was a gripping story well told and I enjoyed it immensely.