Sunday, 30 June 2013

Children of the Sun

Gee, but the weather has been lovely today! So, it was appropriate I go to see something called Children of the Sun - although, of course, it has nothing to do with that..

Just as well I was early - Bankside was dense with tourists. As was the river, with packed tour boats passing up and down. I had booked one of the National Theatre's heavily advertised £12 Travelex-sponsored tickets: and here, again, we see the value, both of booking in advance, and of booking a cheap seat - because I was upgraded. Turns out the place was only half full, and I got to be 9 rows further forward, in a nice central seat, than I would otherwise have been. That seat would normally have cost £34..

Now, this is a political play, by Maxim Gorky, written in 1905. What I tend to find with English-language adaptations of Russian plays is that the language comes across a bit stilted, especially with everyone being addressed by their patronymics. However, I only noticed this briefly in this production, although some actors did a much better job of a natural delivery than did others. The Scot who plays Boris is a case in point, sounding the most natural, right from the start.

The play centres on Pavel, a self-absorbed scientist, who, immersed in the work he considers so important, doesn't notice that his world is falling apart around him. His wife is carrying on with her artist friend, Boris is courting Pavel's sister, who has mental problems, Boris' sister is obsessed with Pavel, Pavel is being cheated by the man who gets his supplies, and, most ominously of all, the people of the town, who have always looked up to Pavel's family, are getting restless, and suspicious of Pavel's experiments. Gorky highlights the frivolity of the upper classes, in contrast to the building resentment of the ordinary folk, which finally erupts in a (literally) explosive climax. People of a nervous disposition, be warned!

Good play, some laughs, and goes out with a bang. Not the equal of last night's Fifty Words, but not at all bad. Runs until the 14th.

Headed for Pizza Express again, since I was in the area and didn't want to go home just yet. Was sat downstairs, and had a very nice meal, but the delay afterwards meant that, by the time someone finally cleared away my plate, I had lost the desire for dessert. Still, they did give me a voucher for 30% off my next meal - it's a summer promotion - and for completing an online survey about my experience, I got a voucher for a free portion of garlic bread or dough balls! Lovely..

So, Simon Boccanegra tomorrow night, and maybe the pictures on Tuesday. Watch this space..

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Fifty Words

On a sunny and quite warm Saturday afternoon, took myself off to Dalston on the Overground, it being the cheapest way to get there, as it avoids Zone 1. Also the most convenient, involving no transport changes. I was peckish, but saw on Google Maps Streetview that there was a KFC on the way to the Arcola theatre - and that was just what I felt like!

I even got a seat on the Overground, which was handy, given that the journey took 40mins. Took an earlier train, to have time to eat. And found the KFC no problem, and the street leading to the theatre. Handy thing, Streetview. My KFC Boneless Banquet was very nice, albeit the chicken was a bit salty - but the thing that regularly strikes me about KFC is the lack of hygiene. I mean, it's almost every KFC I go into; the tables are filthy, the floors are filthy, the bins are overflowing, trays scattered higgledy-piggledy on top. Staff hardly ever seem to clean, and when they do it's with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Where are the inspectors, I ask myself? I subsequently made a complaint on the KFC website. And decided to wait until I reached the theatre to use the toilet.

Speaking of which..

Spot the toilet..! It becomes easier with the lid open. Yes, it is that bit on the right, and you sit parallel to the handbasin, which is in the same unit. Very flash.

Fifty Words is showing in Studio 1. The action all takes place in a kitchen / dining room, across which you have to walk to get to the seating on the other sides (the entrance is to the side of the stage). Nice décor on stage, you'd get ideas for home decorating. Whatever the story was with the matinee (actually, I see tickets are cheaper, which might explain why none were available), this performance wasn't sold out - although quite full - so no need to book, really, for an evening performance, just arrive early to get a good seat (seats are unreserved). Folding chairs again, and again quite comfortable. Latecomers not admitted until a suitable interval, which in this case doesn't happen until 30mins in - so plan to arrive on time!

Because you'd hate to miss a minute of this. It's the most blistering writing I've come across in years. A dissection of marriage, of the relationship between a husband and wife, over the course of a night. Every conceivable argument is raised, every conceivable scenario enacted, and yet not one iota seems contrived, or clichéd. This is flawless. The acting is superb, kudos to the director, and, well, I bow down in humility to the writer. It's funny, it's shocking, it's riveting. Overall, it's stunning. Go see, or regret the loss of your chance. Showing until the 20th. Best show of the moment - sorry, Chimerica! You've been relegated to second place.

Interestingly, the thing that kept running through my head was - this is the theatrical equivalent of Gone Girl, a very good book I mentioned a while back. The similarities are uncanny - apart from the fact that the wife in this play doesn't go missing! The guy from the Midwestern US marries the wealthy, All-American, blonde girl from the East Coast, they live in New York, they have been together for enough years to know each other inside out. They are both having work problems, and when arguments start, they know how to push each others' buttons. And a couple of other points, but that would be to give away the plot. Basically, both book and play are an in-depth, no-holds-barred, look at the psychology of marriage. Not for the faint-hearted.

The show runs for 1hr 40mins without interval, and, as one review put it, we're almost affronted to be asked to leave this world that's been created. They had to come out for three curtain calls, which surprised them. Interestingly, the actor (it's a two-person show) was on my train home. Fancy, I looked up and there he was, strolling along the platform to see the departure schedule. So I did my very best not to be the un-cool, star-struck, person. But I was vexed that I didn't see where, or if, he got off.

Well, that's two terrific shows in a row. Can Children of the Sun make it a trinity, tomorrow afternoon? In other news, I have booked to see Simon Boccanegra, in the Royal Opera House, on Monday. I had a newspaper voucher for half-price expensive tickets, which still meant they cost £85, but I'm cheaper than that, and I managed to get the very last seat going for £23. I may get altitude sickness, considering how high I'll be - indeed, this is slightly higher than I've ever been before - but it's the Royal Opera House, so I know the view will be fine, and there are railings to help get you up and down the stairs. For Tuesday, I was looking at The Night Alive, Conor McPherson's new play, which is receiving its world premiere in the Donmar Warehouse, Covent Garden - but, as only standing tickets remained, that will have to wait for another night. Thinking about a film, but again, until it's booked that's subject to change..

Friday, 28 June 2013

Circus: Limbo

First off, let me explain that I didn't go anywhere of note last night (Thursday). I had been going to go to a play, but was late, so instead I went to eat in the Black Bean (previously mentioned), and the only thing really worth mentioning about it was that I found the beef Szechuan not quite as good as the version with chicken. But still very nice.

Tonight (Friday), I finally took myself to a show that I've seen on Tube posters for weeks - Limbo, the headline show of London Wonderground. Delighted to be finally getting to it! When I was booking, I saw the seats are divided into five categories - "cheap seats", stalls, "posh seats", ringside, and booths. On the official website, the "cheap seats" and stalls were sold out, the next cheapest option being "posh seats" at £40. Thankfully, I shopped around, because several sites are selling tickets for this show, and I got a stalls ticket on for £25, which is face value, with no booking fee. Always check, for popular or expensive shows.

Good thing I arrived early. Even though I had selected a "Print at home" ticket rather than to collect from the box office, specifically to save myself time, they refused to take it and sent me to the box office to pick up my ticket there. Honestly, why do they give the option if you can't use it?! Anyway, I did get in on time. "Cheap seats" seem to be kind of at the back, and pretty much behind the action, and I wouldn't recommend them. I was very happy with my "stalls" seat, however. The stalls turn out to be the back row of the seating that's not at the back of the stage. Nonetheless, in the cosy environs of the spiegeltent, you're nowhere far from the action, and I was sat near where the performers mostly come onstage, which was interesting. "Ringside" probably refers to the front row of seats, which I'm not sure I'd recommend either, for reasons to be explained - and "posh" seats are between the "stalls" and ringside. The booths line the outer wall of the tent, contain a table and seating, and can seat four comfortably, perhaps more. They're raised, to give a good view, and not too far. Still, more for socialising than viewing - you can order a dinner there. I only saw one occupied tonight. Everywhere else was pretty full, so I would recommend booking, certainly on weekends. I did have a free seat beside me, though, which was handy for leaving my things on. Seating is on folding chairs, but comfortable. Some "stalls" seats suffer from proximity to pillars, so it's worth arriving early, if possible, to get a good place.

And so, to the show. This is a circus, about an hour long. Definitely not for the kids. I am continually amazed by the quality of performers in London shows. This show comprises a band, and about six other performers, all of whom multitask. In that, it reminded me of Flown (now finished), which I saw some time ago in the Udderbelly Festival, right next door. We have a contortionist that doubles as a fire-eater. We have a tap dancer that clowns around. We have a trapeze artist that plays the accordion. And everyone, without exception, does acrobatics. Including one of the musicians, who keeps singing and playing as someone does a handstand on his shoulders.

Yes, this is a show of the unexpected. There are some things you've seen before, performed with great finesse - but how many years has it been since I've seen sword-swallowing? or fire-eating? (Oh, and speaking of fire, that's the main objection I'd have to sitting ringside. No, no accidents were had, but the blasts of heat were quite intense enough in the stalls thank you.) And we've seen acrobatics on an unsupported ladder, but, eh, this is the first time I've seen it done with the bottom half of the ladder on fire, and the acrobat wearing a scarf over his face to protect from the fumes. And there's a bit with a spike.. and I was not that far away, as I say, and I STILL could not figure out how it was done. Go see it and let me know the secret!

And the whole thing was rapid-fire, one act after another, and with a rock soundtrack, and plenty of laughs, and the hour just flew. I strongly recommend this! Well worth the price of admission. Ate in La Piazza on the way home, because I was hungry and the rain had stopped and it was Friday and I felt like it! Have eaten there twice now, and can't really fault it, despite the mixed online reviews. I see they do takeaways too.

So. Off to Fifty Words in the Arcola tomorrow. Bit of a slog, but a nice theatre, and I do have all day to get there. Interestingly, Time Out said there was a matinee, but the theatre website made no mention of it. Maybe Time Out made a mistake, maybe the matinee is sold out. I don't know. Then, I finally get to see Children of the Sun on Sunday (that is a matinee). Back to the National again! Gratifyingly, I got one of their well advertised Travelex-sponsored £12 seats. That's been showing for ages, and I had thoughts of seeing it, but something always cropped up. Anyway, this is a new venue for it. As for Monday, I got an email today offering free tickets to previews of The Internship, on Monday evening, and by the time I checked for availability, asap after reading the mail.. all London tickets were gone! Jeez, that speed would give U2 a run for their money..

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Opera: Death in venice

Went to the Coliseum tonight, to see Death in Venice. I was curious to see what the operatic version would make of it.

As usual, of course, I was galloping to make it in time. My, the exercise I'm getting, running for shows! I went via Leicester Square this evening, and had a breather on the escalator to the exit, while the busker behind us played Castle on a Cloud on the violin. The second time I've heard that there. Lovely..

Panted my way down the road to the theatre, showed my pre-printed ticket, and started the long, long climb to the balcony. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if anyone were to ask my seat number rather than reading it from the ticket, I wouldn't have the breath to tell them. Anyway, once more I made it without collapsing, and stumbled my way down to my seat. The couple who had to stand to let me in reassured my panting self, with a laugh, that I had lots of time! In the event, I had about 5 minutes before the lights went down - long enough to notice that the house seemed full. Good job I found out about this at the weekend - tonight was the last night.

The show starts dark and brooding. I was worried that there were no surtitles, but this was an unusually clearly enunciated opera, and after a while I got used to just listening. It's magnificently staged, starting in melancholic fashion with our hero alone on a dark stage, lamenting his writer's block. He ultimately decides to go to Venice, and my, that's where the show really takes off. All of a sudden, we're plunged into light and life, and the story of his obsession with a young boy staying at the same hotel. It's interesting, because the boy has no lines, and is played by a ballet dancer, using dance to demonstrate his athleticism and youth, along with his friends. This contrasts sharply with the gloomy songs of his older admirer. Also a very evocative use of light projections onto screens, to depict city backdrops or water. Magnificent, powerful, and moving - a show where the visual aspect is as important as the music. Terrific. I joined many in the audience for a standing ovation.

Mind you, not everyone felt this way, and there were several empty seats after the interval. Hey-ho, more space for bags, more space to shift in your seat (I had been feeling a bit cramped), and a better view, with the seats in front of me now free! And the busker in the station was playing cool jazz on my way back. And my legs certainly feel more toned after the night.

Thinking of going to the pictures tomorrow, and if I do, it has to be Before Midnight. Wow, I just checked, and it has actually gone up in IMDB ratings! From 8.4 to 8.5. That's unusual at such a high level. I am so glad, considering how good its predecessors were. And I have a voucher for a cheap Odeon ticket, so can go see it cheaply in my local! Good stuff..

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Film: This Is the End

Got a free ticket with ShowFilmFirst, to a preview of This Is the End, in Wimbledon tonight.

Despite leaving in good time, I still only just made it. Jeez, but getting around London takes time! Notes: 1. If you're heading left from the station, as I was, you can take the left corridor. There are barriers there too. 2. Yes, the door to the cinema is the one with the sign above it for a fitness centre. 3. There are escalators beside the stairs, it's just that they face the other way so you can't see them when you come in.

So, she took my ticket and in I went. Luckily, the internet confirmation was enough and I didn't have to queue for another ticket, as happened the last time. Cinema was packed, but I was lucky to get a very good seat, near the front but not too near, just behind the little wall and the aisle, so no-one in front of me. The film started promptly, as I was still looking for a seat. And then.. it stopped and the lights came on, after about 10mins. And we were left wondering what the problem was and whether anyone would fix it. And then in she came. Turned out the place had lots of people sitting on the steps and floor, which constituted a fire hazard, and she reminded us that it was first-come first-served, and those without a seat would have to leave. Now, that's fair enough, but I do think they could have instituted a more stringent check as people were going in, rather than waiting until we were all in and disturbing us.

Anyhoo. So, here is the plot of This Is the End. Jay comes to LA to visit his friend, Seth Rogen, who takes him to James Franco's house party. And then the world ends.

See, here I have a problem already. None of these people were familiar to me. Apart from Seth Rogen, who apparently had small parts several years ago in some films I saw, I have not seen a single film with any of these guys in it. In fact, apparently the whole party is full of celebrities, but the only ones I recognised were Jonah Hill (whose face I recognised, but not the name), Rihanna (whose name I recognised, but not the face), and the guy who played Mark Zuckerberg in that film about Facebook. He's really good. Oh, and Emma Watson shows up, although I wouldn't have known that's who it was if they hadn't named her, and I still didn't make the connection until someone called her Hermione.

Would've been nice if I had known them, but it doesn't matter so much, actually. For one thing, their names are repeated a lot, as well as some of their films, which is helpful. And for another, most of them rapidly disappear into a bottomless pit of fire that opens on the front lawn. No comment.

And it doesn't detract from enjoyment of the film, which throws as many disasters at our hapless actors as you can possibly think of. Really, you couldn't plan the Apocalypse better. The special effects are excellent, and the film is very funny. Despite the toilet humour that keeps getting in the way. I really enjoyed it.

Having come pretty much straight from work, when I got out I was hungry. So I decided to eat at the grill next door, Coal. It was a bit crowded, but I got a table no problem and was left with the menu. And left. And left. I caught a waitress' eye after a while, and she smiled at me, but didn't come near me, rushing on. After 20mins, a sheepish-looking young waiter came to take my order. I thought it odd that he wasn't writing it down. Anyway, I was left waiting again. And waiting. 10mins later, I still hadn't even got my wine, when the maître d' walked by and noticed my glum expression. He asked whether I was ok, and I said I was waiting. He asked whether I'd ordered. I said I had. He asked me what I had ordered, and started taking it down. Hmm. He then apologised profusely and said that the waiter had forgotten to put in my order, and that I wouldn't have to pay. For anything.


And it all arrived pretty quickly after that. Garlic bread starter was excellent - I hadn't even finished it when my piri-piri chicken arrived. The sauce was spicy, and by the end rather salty, but apart from that it was an excellent meal, and I left stuffed and very impressed with at least the maître d'. And with the fact that he had obviously not terrorised the waiter who'd forgotten my order - I felt sorry for him, he did look repentant. And I noticed that he wrote down the order of the table next to me, when they told him what they wanted..

So, the opera tomorrow night. Death in Venice, at the Coliseum again. More steps.. (sigh)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Strange Interlude

Well, I was dubious about Strange Interlude, at the National Theatre, and I was right to be.

I was late, having mistaken the performance time, but they showed me into an unobstrusive seat, which was good of them. Being by Eugene O' Neill, the script sparkled, as it should, having won a Pulitzer. And the set was interesting, reminding me of a giant, revolving, doll's house. And that's all I can find good to say about it.

Maybe it was the rapid-fire delivery, but I thought the acting lacked any depth. And I'm sorry, but for a play that is billed as a comedy, it left me singularly cold. I found it impossible to titter at the antics of a character that is obviously mentally unbalanced and headed for disaster. I left at the interval, not a moment too soon, and was glad I'd arrived late. Can't recommend it, as I can't think of a single person I know who'd enjoy it.

Ate at the café on the way out, where I had a not-chilled white wine, and the last sandwich, which was slightly stale. Best part of the evening was strolling back across the bridge, where a busker was playing cool electric guitar, and, since it wasn't dark, and I wasn't in a hurry, I had a chance to stop and stare at the view, which is spectacular. And time to tip the busker, for once.

Here's a picture I took coming back from the much-better The Amen Corner, also showing in the National, last week..
Heading to the free preview of This Is the End tomorrow, which will hopefully be better and is, at least, free - and to the operatic version of Death in Venice on Wednesday.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Restaurant: Poet's Corner

We had business in Ennis town centre this evening, so ate in the Poet's Corner, which is the bar of the Old Ground hotel.

This is arguably the best hotel in Ennis. There are a number of town centre hotels, but this is the oldest, and has hosted celebrity weddings in the past. Has that slight air of poshness about it. Parking is generally tricky - the car park tends to overflow - so we were happy to pay for parking on the street outside.

The bar was packed, and we got practically the last table in the place, right in the corner at the back. Now, the hotel may be posh, but the bar is cosy and welcoming. A pity that I had to take a stool - I have a bad back, and it wasn't the most comfortable option. Never mind.

Most remarkable about the food here is the speed with which it is served. I swear, five minutes after we ordered, we had our drinks, and three minutes later, our mains (we didn't have starters). And my chicken, certainly, was succulent and perfectly cooked. The chips were piping hot, and the salad dressing tasty. My mother had plaice, which she enjoyed, although the portion was huge, too much for her. Well, the cat appreciated the leftovers, later..

And, satisfyingly, the heavy rain cleaned my car of the debris that had fallen from the trees under which I park it. Result!!

Heading to Strange Interlude in the National Theatre on Monday. Twice to the National in under a week, when I haven't been there in ages. Well, that's how it goes. And on Tuesday, I have a free ticket to a special preview of This Is the End. Looking forward to that!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Amen Corner

Headed into town last night, to the National Theatre. It's a while since I've been here, and when I was before, I didn't follow Google Maps' suggestion, to take the Tube to Embankment and cross the bridge, because it was too **** cold! But, being a lovely evening, that was what I did last night.

After a cramped and stuffy Tube ride, despite all windows being open, we were disgorged at Embankment and off I went. Slightly panicky, given that the District Line always takes that little bit longer than it should.. So, up the steps and across the bridge. Long, long walk when you're in a hurry. Would have been very pleasant otherwise. And down the other side, and crept my way along Bankside, through the massed crowds.. again, torture when you have to be somewhere. I swear, when I was passing the building before the National Theatre, I could hear the bell calling us into the show. Eek..

There was a beggar standing at the door, holding it open for everyone and, of course, asking for spare change. I really felt bad about not giving him anything, but I was in such a hurry, and it would've taken me so long to locate my wallet, open it, etc.. Anyway, when I got in, I ascertained that the Olivier Theatre, which I had checked was the one I wanted, was on the second floor. When I was looking for the stairs, boy, was I glad to see a lift with "Olivier Theatre" over it.. which dropped us at the Olivier box office. Where there was an enormous queue. I actually couldn't understand why it wasn't better managed, given that most of us were picking up tickets, and it was start time already. Anyway, someone came out after a bit to reassure us that she had "asked the actors to stop.. acting". So we didn't miss anything.

I was seated quite close to the stage, to one side - which was just fine. And the show - The Amen Corner - which deals with the human story behind the pastor of a gospel choir in New York, 1965 - started as it meant to go on. In song. The whole show was peppered with the most wonderful gospel music - so much so that it detracted slightly from the plot. It made a nice change, just briefly, at the start of the second act, to have nobody singing and let the plot progress on its own. But that is, in no way, to detract from the singing, which was wonderful, or the show in general. The story is quite poignant, and the acting was a tour de force. I was happy to join several other audience members in a standing ovation at the end.

Currently booking up to the 14th August. Booking highly recommended - I think last night was a sell-out. Oh, and early arrival also recommended!

I looked for that beggar on the way out, but the building is a confusing one and I came out a different way. Tube was unusually crowded again on the way back - much more than usual - but at least the open windows provided some relief in the night air.

I'm in Guildford today, back to Ireland tomorrow.. I have booked for Strange Interlude on Monday, also at the National Theatre. I think I read the review of this before and decided against it, but changed my mind on a second reading. At least it's on in the Lyttleton, which, as I recall, is on the ground floor. And for Tuesday, I'm delighted to have got another of those free cinema tickets.. and this time, it's for a special preview of This Is the End, which has a much higher rating on IMDB than the last free film I went to, The Moth Diaries.. Granted, I have to go to Wimbledon to see it, but that wouldn't be the first time, or the furthest I've gone..

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Restaurants: Cobra & The Abbey Tavern

Visiting a friend yesterday, in West Cork, we headed to Kinsale for dinner. We had been planning to eat in Jim Edwards, but it was full, so we made for the Indian restaurant, Cobra.

After some difficulty in choosing from the extensive menu, we ordered. Staff were extremely friendly, and provided poppadums and toppings while we were deciding. I ordered samosa to start, followed by butter chicken, which I have a weakness for. My friend ordered onion bhajees, and.. something whose name I can't remember. Pilau rice, peshwari naan (another favourite of mine) and wine completed the order.

The samosas were spicier than I'm used to - the bhajees seemed to go down well. My friend's main course smelled good, and my butter chicken was lovely, although too much for me when combined with the naan, even though we shared. The rice was delicious - again, we couldn't do it justice. The wine wasn't spectacular, and as often happens, especially in ethnic restaurants, there was no choice when ordering by the glass (which turned out to be a quarter bottle). But, overall, the meal was lovely and I have no hesitation in recommending this restaurant.

What was odd was that, although we arrived early, we were the last there by some time, and by the time we left were feeling rather self-conscious, given that the staff seemed to have nothing to do but wait for us to leave. When we left, we checked our watches - abt 9.30. On a Saturday. And the place was deserted. Hey-ho..

And so back to Clare this evening, driving through floods and lashing rain. How consistent. As the AA said in their newsletter, we had a blast of summer, and now normal service has been resumed. Back out with the waterproof woollies. My mother and I decided to go back to the Abbey Tavern for dinner this evening. It's been a while, it's one of our locals, and we've had some good meals here.

The bar and restaurant were both packed - we couldn't figure out why, until our waiter remarked that it was Father's Day. Anyway, they squeezed us in at the back of the restaurant. My mother prefers fish - one of the only options was cod, which we were told was unavailable, but that instead they were offering steamed salmon. Which is handy, as she prefers that. Me, I chose the steak.

Which was perfectly cooked - nice to see. And edible, unlike the last medium-cooked steak I ordered, in Garfunkel's. Delicious sauce. And the salmon was also well received. The chocolate cake I had for dessert, I give a 6/10. Sorry folks, but Nando's has spoiled me for chocolate fudge.. Great service made for a very enjoyable meal.

Anyhoo. Back to London on Tuesday, and to The Amen Corner on Wednesday. And, hopefully, some dry weather!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Concert: Colm Wilkinson

Following a trip where my trousers zip, of all things, set off the airport metal detector (you think they might have it set a bit high?), we headed to Limerick yesterday evening, for a concert by Colm Wilkinson, in the University Concert Hall. We decided to try the new bar on campus, which does food, the Pavilion - unfortunately that didn't pan out very well. The car park for it turns out to be around the back, where the only access to the restaurant is via a rather long outside staircase, the Pavilion itself being on an upper level. There is a ground-level entrance, to changing rooms, toilets, and offices associated with the nearby sports facilities, but, rather incredibly, no access from inside to the upper level. V bad design. Given the rain that was pouring down, and the fact that, although the staircases at the front were shorter (the ground slopes and is at a higher level there), there is no parking there, we gave up on the whole thing and went to the Castletroy Park hotel instead, across the road from the university.

We have often eaten here before an event at the concert hall. The restaurant doesn't open until 6.30, but the Merry Pedler bar serves food all day, and that's where we usually go. Very dim lighting yesterday evening.. and that's not something I usually complain of! Anyway, we have often had slow service here, which is an issue, of course, if you're trying to make a show - but they do seem to have made a definite effort to improve, and indeed, a couple of ladies who came in after us and were heading to the same show were promised express service, and looked as though they were on track to make it in time. We had mains, desserts, and wine, and were out in an hour. I must also compliment them on the freshness of the food, which was excellent. All around, standards seem to have been raised.

The concert hall seemed quite packed, as is to be expected, and Colm treated us to a 2.5 hour show with a good mix of song, story, and jokes. That man has a voice of velvet caramel, delivered, when required, with the force of a cannon. Stand-outs include The Music of the Night, from Phantom of the Opera, in which he played the phantom; Halleleujah, by Leonard Cohen; and, of course, the song most associated with him - Bring Him Home, from Les Misérables, for which he dons the jacket that he wore in the stage version - the original and best Jean Valjean. This song always finishes the concerts, and we left well satisfied. And made it to the car between cloudbursts.

Will be back in London on Tuesday night, and have booked for The Amen Corner on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


Had my doubts that I'd make it to Flown this evening, which is part of the Udderbelly Festival. Google Maps suggested a Tube to Embankment and cross the bridge, which is something I avoided doing all winter because of the cold, but it's about warm enough to do that now, despite the chilly spell. Anyway, I didn't have time to do anything else today, and boy was I glad that was what I did, because the festival is right at the bottom of the bridge, on the south bank, on the right. Only just made it. They were just starting as I climbed the stairs, I could hear them. Didn't miss anything much, I don't think..

And boy am I glad I made it. The show is only an hour long, but it's stunning. Unlike Time Out, I didn't find the clowning irritating, and, in agreement with Time Out, the aerial acts are amazing. Set to rock music, it's aerial ballet. These are multi-talented performers - one of those shows where everyone does a bit of everything. A word of warning - you might feel a bit vulnerable sat in the front couple of rows in the centre, they have a habit of swinging over the audience. ;-) But my, what a show! Beautiful. Despite the odd raindrop, it being a wet evening and the show taking place in a tent. Shaped like an upside-down cow.

And so back to Ireland, the perpetual yo-yo, for Colm Wilkinson on Friday.. Farewell all, talk soon!

Film: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Well, it was to be a film last night, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was the highest-rated (according to IMDB) film showing in London last night that I might be interested in. Apart from Made of Stone, which is about the Stone Roses, whom I'm not so interested in (the film has now slipped to 6.9, but anyway), and a film whose name I've now forgotten, about some rock guitarist who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease at 19 and told he wouldn't have long to live, and here he is 20 years later. Yay. Except he can only move his eyes, which is how he makes music, apparently. I wish him well, but do I want to sit through a documentary on him?

So I took myself off to the aforementioned "Killing of a Chinese Bookie". On the way, had the immensely satisfying experience of being asked for directions by someone outside West Ken station, who couldn't find the street she wanted on the map, and.. I knew without having to look it up! I pass it often! Rare, that feeling. Anyway, the film was in the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I like going here, they have a terrific bookshop - which gives me lots of ideas for things to buy later, cheaper, online - but being on the Mall, it's also close to lots of touristy things, so gives me a good excuse to gape and take photos.

 Regent Street
Oh, and the army were loading horses back onto trucks as I arrived, whatever they'd been at - there is always something on the Mall. Gorgeous gilt livery.. Didn't have time to browse the bookshop this time, the cinema was open by the time I got there, and rapidly filled. Mind you, it was the small screen, and the last night this was showing. The film itself was interesting, a 70s thriller about the owner of a strip club in LA, in debt to the Mob, who, being an army veteran with some experience of killing people, has to pay back the Mob by getting rid of this particular Chinese bookie for them. Now, if this were a recent film and starred Bruce Willis, or Colin Farrell, or Jason Statham, or the like, it'd be all action and car chases and a damsel in distress. And probably boring, formulaic stuff. This, on the other hand, occupied itself much more with the character of the guy who has to repay the debt. Far from car chases, the car they've stolen for him breaks down in the middle of the freeway. An intense film, set in seedy environs, but with a heart.
And so back up Regent Street..
'Tis looking like Flown at the Udderbelly Festival tonight. Well, who could resist the lure of an upside-down, oversized, purple cow? Then back to Ireland for Colm Wilkinson on Friday.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Rutherford and Son

Last night, I went to Rutherford and Son at the St James Theatre. This has been quite heavily promoted, and I had a couple of vouchers for it - sadly, both had expired by the time I got around to it. Never mind - they only offered tickets at the same price I normally book at anyway. Also, annoyingly, I had already booked when I got an email - last thing yesterday evening - from ShowFilmFirst, offering free tickets to another show in town. Yesterday only. Bah humbug.

Now, I booked the aisle seat on the near side in the back row. I always do - the aisle seat compensates for the slightly cramped legroom, the back row is cheaper, and anyway, the view is fine. And they always upgrade you. Always, in my experience - the theatre has never even been half full when I've been there. The first time I was there, I accepted the upgrade, got a nice, close seat, and was cramped all night. The second time, I rejected the upgrade. This time, I thought, if I'm offered an upgrade, I'll accept, as long as I can get an aisle seat - that would be just as good. Behold and lo, I was offered an upgrade, asked for an aisle seat, and ended up four rows closer to the stage. So that was a good plan, and I'd recommend it to anyone booking here.

This play was written in 1912, is set in 1912, and is stunning. Will appeal to anyone who loves those costume dramas on the BBC. Brilliant writing, brilliant characterisation, terrific acting. The family patriarch rules the clan with an iron fist, everything is done for the sake of the business he founded. His children resent him and the house - somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales - is unrelentingly gloomy and loveless, as remarked on by the hapless Mary, who comes from London and had the misfortune to marry the son and heir. In particular, the tirade that the daughter, Janet, unleashes on her father just before the interval is gripping. The father, however, is not completely unsympathetic - a complex and believable character. Highly, highly recommended. Runs until 29th. Booking recommended, as I say, in the back row, to be upgraded further down.

Coming out, I was hungry, and they have a restaurant and brasserie, but I remembered seeing plenty of restaurants on the road to the station, so off I went. Nearly at the station, I came across an unassuming Indian restaurant - the Buckingham Balti. The name is not prominent, but it's the only Indian on this stretch. Having had a tantalising whiff of curry at lunch, I decided this was what I fancied, and indeed had a quick, delicious, and very reasonably priced meal here. One of the better Indian meals I've had. Also highly recommended. The place was nearly empty, so service was attentive, and I happened to be sat right beside the talkative table of three, so plenty of eavesdropping opportunities.

So far, it's looking like the film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie tonight, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. And I'm thinking about the arial show, Flown, at the Udderbelly festival, for tomorrow. But the next thing that's definite is Colm Wilkinson on Friday, in Limerick..

Friday, 7 June 2013

Restaurant: Beijing, Guildford

So, last night a large group of us went to the Beijing restaurant in Guildford. (Thanks for the lift, Helen, and for the lift to the station after..) I've been here before, with an even larger group, and we had a set menu that was excellent - we just helped ourselves to whatever we fancied. I also remembered the decor was lovely - low lighting, lighting features that change colour, large fish tanks.. plush and comfy throughout.

I do like the way they're quite generous with prawn crackers, because I was starving. And the prawn crackers were excellent. This time, I got to sample the a la carte, which was one of those long ones. The Beijing seems to go that extra mile in attempting to offer every variety of every kind of food. It's years since I saw cha siu on a menu, so I ordered that, with chicken satay to start. Also unusual on the menu was chicken szechuan - it's usually just beef, but this place even offered lamb szechuan.

We had a dedicated server throughout, who hovered in the background when she wasn't busy with something. One of our party had ordered a starter that seemed to take substantially longer than the others - something to do with prawns - and she was left waiting for a long time after we got ours. Something she should have been warned of, if this is standard.

Honestly, I thought the chicken in the satay starter was a little tough, but it was fine, and the cha siu was lovely - although I'd forgotten how filling it is and couldn't quite finish it. Particularly after all the prawn crackers! Rice good, wine good. Murmers of appreciation from other diners. Some did find the starters quite large - the mongolian lamb is a case in point. Anyhoo, after all of that, they had the standard selection of frozen desserts, but we didn't bother.

Arriving at the station in good time, I took an earlier train - which turned out to be the slow one and got me there all of ten minutes before the other one would have. But I'd have had to wait half an hour more for that one, and I preferred to be on the move. And I arrived at Clapham Junction just in time to see the Overground leave. Which turned out to be the second-last of the night, and I had to wait on the freezing platform for half an hour for the last to arrive. Blasted Overground schedules - well, at least I made it this time. Nearly fell asleep on the Overground - after an early morning, I was exhausted. Hence the delay in blogging!

Off to Ireland this weekend. Will have a look, over the weekend, at what's on next week. I am going to a concert by Colm Wilkinson next Friday - in the University of Limerick concert hall.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Film: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet was showing at the Prince Charles cinema last night. So I said I'd take myself along, grab a Chinese beforehand.

The usual squash on the Tube, and I headed for my favourite Chinese in Chinatown - The Black Bean. Sadly, they were in the throes of a power cut, and escorted me to their sister restaurant just down the road, on the corner - The Golden Pagoda. Where the staff are friendly and fairly quick, the house white is kinda vinegary, the toilets are in the usual mess, and the spring rolls are so-so. But I will say that the szechuan is the equal of any I've had anywhere. I was seated just inside the door, so had a good view of the guys from the electricity company, who fiddled around in the access hole for a bit and fixed the power. As I noticed when the lights came on in the Golden Pagoda (I hadn't actually noticed they were off!) and the manager popped out with a couple of cans of something for them, in gratitude.

Then I mooched around Leicester Square, read my Evening Standard, and noticed a Haagen-Dazs place on the corner, just down from the cinema. Chinatown isn't great on desserts, so I decided to head there after finishing my paper. Well, and if they didn't have a sit-down section as well! So, after perusing the menu, I settled on the Chocoholic. Naturally. :-) And still made the film in time.

'Twas the first in their David Lynch season. Queue wasn't as bad as the last time I was there, although I had noticed a large crowd there earlier, whatever was on upstairs. Blue Velvet was in the downstairs screen - the one with the nice, reclining leather seats. Goodee. When the film started, I had that feeling I always have with David Lynch - "Oh no, why did I bother? This is going to be so hard to watch..!" and after a few minutes, was hooked. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's a dark thriller from the 80s, with the late Dennis Hopper doing his usual dangerous lunatic turn, terrorising a haggard-looking Isabella Rossellini, and investigated by a pair of mawkish youngsters, Kyle MacLachlan (whose black suits - shirt and all - and earring serve to show us that he's not as strait-laced as he looks) and Laura Dern (whose mouth makes interesting shapes when she's upset). This is quite a disturbing film (not a rarity with David Lynch) and not recommended for those with delicate constitutions. Parts seem dated and ridiculous - other parts are among the darkest things I've ever seen in the cinema. Quite a mix. A few comments from audience members at various bits, but these were the sort of comments you get from people who are familiar with, and love, the film. Not annoying at all. And in the diner, when Geoffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) scoots over to Sandy's (Laura Dern) seat, someone let out a loud "woo-hoo!" and everyone laughed. And applauded when the film was over. This is a classic, we'll never tire of it. And now I know where that scene comes from, with Dennis Hopper taking an oxygen mask off his face with a grin! At last.. I can rest easy.

And so into the sardine can and home. Heading out in Guildford tonight, to the Beijing restaurant.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Yellow Face

Well yes, I finally made it! Took half an hour on the Tube, and should have been easy to find my way to the Park Theatre once I got there. Except it wasn't, really! Somehow, I automatically went left to leave the station, when I should have gone right, and ended up at the wrong exit. I can't remember any signs pointing right.. I only know that's the way I should have gone because I recognised it on the way back. And I only figured out I was at the wrong exit by carefully studying the map they were considerate enough to place outside.

So I figured, if I walked around the outside of the station, I should get to the other side - and, after a bit of confusion, I got to where I should have been, and started down the right street. And then couldn't see the blasted theatre! Now, you'd think, especially for a new theatre, they'd advertise a bit more prominently.. turned out it was just past the scaffolding... and yes! there it is.

Then she was a bit confused that I wanted to buy a ticket on the spot, not collect one. Bless. Anyway, this venue has two stages - Park 200 and Park 90, referring to the seating capacity. I was in Park 90. Unallocated seating, which is nice. Folding chairs, we had, but nice comfy ones for a change. The stage was in the round, and I must say, they really did play to all sides, which is nice to see. Minimalist set - looked very well. Some seats were reserved - we would later discover why.

Yellow Face is a hilarious, and an extremely clever, play. The linked review says it better than I could. It explores the idea of race, and our perceptions of it and reactions to it, through the partly autobiographical story of the author mistakenly casting a Caucasian actor in an Asian role. Sounds a lot more po-faced than it is - this is great, and terrifically acted. Oh, and the reserved seats? The actors sit in them, and pop up, with a spotlight on them, to say their piece, when their bit doesn't require them to be onstage.

This play is award-winning, and made its author, David Henry Hwang, a third-time finalist for the Pulitzer prize for drama. Need I say more? Seriously recommended. Runs until the 16th.

Oh, and nice staff here. An elderly audience member was confused, at the interval, when he returned to his seat, about where he had been sitting. He couldn't find the book he'd had with him (he was looking in the wrong place). An usher found it for him, and when he got flustered about having forgotten where he was sitting, she reassured him with, "Oh, quite understandable. You see, we don't have a safety curtain, so we actually turn the whole theatre around at the interval." ;-)

And so home, noting with interest how I had got on before the train got crowded, watched it fill and empty as we moved through the centre, and it was quite uncrowded by the time I got off again. Interesting, moving right along the length of a Tube line.

Tomorrow is looking like Blue Velvet in the Prince Charles cinema. Not on until 9, so I could nip to Chinatown for a bite beforehand. But we shall see, as ever..

Monday, 3 June 2013


Remember the iconic photo of the man with bags, standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square during the student protests of 1989?

That's what Chimerica is all about.

You could write a thesis on the nuances of this play, and the issues it raises. Someone behind me remarked that she'd have to see it again, just to catch everything she missed. Sure, it's fast paced. And sure, it raises big issues.

You know what I took from it? It reminded me of the passion I had, back then, for politics. Because this play simply reeks of passion. The story is of the fellow who took the photo, and his search for the guy that stood in front of the tanks - "tank man". But it leads us in unexpected directions.

The staging is wonderful - as Time Out calls it, a revolving "Rubix cube" provides the set, against which a projector displays whatever photos are appropriate: the aforementioned tank photo featuring prominently.

I couldn't place the lead Chinese actor at first, before recognising him as the guy who played Ai-Weiwei, in The Arrest of Ai-Weiwei. There are a few actors from that production in this one.

This is terrific. Odds are, it's the best play currently showing in London. Seemed to be sold out tonight - booking recommended. Well worth the trek out to the Almeida.

Google Maps seemed to indicate that the Overground, which I had taken to get there, was not my best route home, so I took their advice, and the bus & Tube instead. On the bus, had the rather surreal experience of a little old man - he was wearing a hoodie, pulled right up, but I'm assuming he was old by the way he was bent almost double and moved so slowly - after he finally sat down, pulling out what looked like a recorder (yes, the musical instrument) and treating us to a tune. It was timeless, and quite lovely. Wherever you are, Sir, thank you.

Probably going to have another go at getting to Yellow Face tomorrow night.. may the night be as good.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Film: It's Such a Beautiful Day

See? I said to watch this space.

The original plan was to go to Yellow Face, in Finsbury Park. Takes about 44mins, according to Google Maps, on the Piccadilly Line - nearest station to me on that line is Baron's Court. So I set out about an hour before the play was due to start, at about 2.15, got to Baron's Court about 2.30 (got waylaid on the way by people asking for directions I couldn't give), only to find that Baron's Court was closed! The railway worker barring the entrance didn't give me any more information.

I knew I wouldn't make it now - the next nearest station was Earl's Court, in the other direction, and by the time I'd walked there I'd have no chance. Just as well I hadn't bought a ticket - might go on Tuesday, I have as yet nothing booked for that day. Plan B was a film, but the film at the top of my list (highest showing in terms of IMDB ratings), Amores Perros, I remembered was only showing at 2.35 and, wherever it was showing, I wouldn't make it now. So back home I went to discover why Baron's Court was unexpectedly closed, and see what the next available film on my list was.

On the way, saw more people with cases, trying to hail a taxi. There were a lot of people with cases around. I'm guessing this was because of the sudden closure of Baron's Court. Heavens, it only just occurred to me that many of them might have been trying to get to Heathrow - that's the way I go myself. Yikes, that would be a problem, trying to make a flight.. Anyhoo, when I got online, I discovered that the reason for the closure was a trespasser on the line. Makes a change from the more usual "person under a train". And identified the next-highest rated film on my list as the above-mentioned It's Such a Beautiful Day, the feature-length compilation of three short animated films by Don Hertzfeldt. It was showing in the Institute of Contemporary Arts at 8.15, which gave me plenty of time. And now I knew straight away to walk to Earl's Court.

I was peckish, so figured I'd head off pretty soon and grab something to eat in town. Getting off at Embankment, I knew there were plenty of eateries I hadn't tried on Villiers Street, and hit on the first that looked decent - La Piazza, an unassuming Italian. Service wasn't the quickest, but I had plenty of time, and the food was rather good. Not the best I've ever had, I give it about a 6/10, but I had the sirloin, and noticed how much better it was than the one I had in Garfunkel's last Friday.

Now, I should know better than to eat in Garfunkel's, I find standards have really slipped there, but it was right across from the theatre, and I was hungry, so.. Frankly, shoe leather came to mind. I am not in the habit of sending food back, but when she asked how my meal was and I remarked it was tough, she offered to change it and I decided that was wise. When I got another steak, it was edible, but this was obviously because it had been cooked for longer, and it was not as tasty as the first had been. Still, all right with the sauce (which was extra). Now, that's the problem I have with cooking sirloin - I cannot get it tender enough, so I don't do it. I have been in plenty of restaurants where they have served perfectly cooked, tasty steak, soft as butter. Garfunkel's doesn't seem to have learned the knack of this. Avoid.

After my meal tonight, I decided to mooch around Trafalgar Square for a while. On the way, was waylaid by yet another lost tourist, who wanted Covent Garden. Took me forever to find where we were, and where it was, in maps on my phone. Why she didn't have a maps app on her iPad, I really can't say. Then continued on my mooch. Photos on Facebook:
BTW, forgot to post the photo I took yesterday in Pizza Express. Will do that when finished here.

Strolling down the Mall to the ICA, noticed a whole herd of people, corralled like cattle and wondered what was on.

Haven't been in the ICA since January, so I was delighted to have the excuse again. They have the most fascinating bookshop, but I don't know how it makes any money, with people such as myself (and I did see someone else at it!) seeing interesting books and immediately going online on their phones to see whether they can get them cheaper. Every time I'm in there, I get more ideas of books to buy. Online. And then I hung out in the bar upstairs, with a lemonade (it was quite warm out) and mooched around some more until it was film time.

Well, Don Hertzfeldt is quite endearingly demented, and so are his cartoons. There's a very funny series of ads he was commissioned to write, which are shown before the feature, and were apparently all rejected by the clients. You can see why. I would have too. Some can be seen on YouTube. The feature is quite good. :-) This was the last night of it, and I'm rather glad I got to go.

Coming out, there was some kind of a rock concert in full blast across the road and down Horse Guards Parade. After some searching, I've discovered it was Muse. Well, that settles that then.

Chimerica, at the Almeida Theatre tomorrow night. Tube trespassers permitting..

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Play That Goes Wrong

..goes very right!

I went to today's matinee of The Play That Goes Wrong in Trafalgar Studios. The box office guy that gave me my ticket is the same that gave me my ticket for The Hothouse last Tuesday. Wonder whether he recognised me.

Arrived just as the doors opened, which is good, because the action starts before.. the action starts. If you get my drift. Basically, pay attention to anything and anyone that moves and is not an audience member.

Comedy is tricky. This is hilarious, so someone somewhere knows their comedy, and these people know how to play it. Simply, the story is that an inept theatre company is staging a murder mystery. Unfortunately for them, pretty much everything that can go wrong does. A couple of times, it spills slightly over into silliness, but this is laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face funny. My personal favourite was "Charles", who has a deadpan way about him, but special mention must go to the "stagehand" who finds herself forced to step on at short notice.

Word of warning - a lot of liquid is sprayed around, so beware if you're in the front row!

Booking recommended - I think this performance sold out, and it is a small venue. I see they're booking right through next year, but it wouldn't make sense to move this to a larger venue, you'd miss many of the facial cues.

It's only about 75 mins long, so afterwards I took a stroll down Whitehall to Westminster. You can forget how pretty this city is, and I haven't been here for a while. Passed a few protests - one to save some Sikh professor, who has apparently been wrongfully sentenced to death, one against the BNP, and one to save the badgers.

Then across the bridge to the south bank, left along Bankside, which always has a party atmosphere, and all the way up to the Globe, to my favourite Pizza Express, where I was sat upstairs with a beautiful view of St. Paul's. And was marvellously fed.

So far, the plan for tomorrow is Yellow Face, in the new Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. Watch this space..