Monday, 31 March 2014

Play: Other Desert Cities

Other Desert Cities, in the Old Vic, was the play chosen for tonight. And my, but it's good to be back! Ah, the nostalgia I felt coming back last night - despite the engineering works etc. that doubled my journey time from Heathrow.

Looking, as usual, for the cheapest ticket that didn't have a restricted view, I found the best deal on - 22% off, no booking fee. Mind you, given the glowing review on Time Out, and the fact that it stars Sinead Cusack, I was surprised to get a ticket at all! What the hey, I booked it. No problems finding the place - I've been here a couple of times before and it's easy. Tube to Waterloo, turn right upon exiting, and you see it ahead, at the junction. Thing about that junction - both pedestrian crossing lights tend to turn green at the same time, and you can make both crossings at once. But only if you run!

Upon collecting my ticket, I was given the delightful news that, despite having booked the upper circle, I was actually in the dress circle, one level closer to the action. Excellent! Fewer stairs to climb, at least. Being quite early, I treated myself to what turned out to be a most delicious glass of pinot grigio - sadly, I didn't make a note of the name. When I did take my seat, I found myself to have an excellent view..

The lady to my left soon switched to the empty seat on the other side of her companion. I'm endeavouring not to take it personally - there was a pillar to her other side there, and maybe she thought she'd have more space that way. Anyway, I got a free seat beside me on account of it!

There was some noise from a group of three young men at the back. A couple in front of me tut-tutted repeatedly at them, and at the interval, one went up to complain to them. She just got sniggers for her trouble. Neither the couple, nor the three young men, were in their seats for the second half.. maybe they all got in a fight, I don't know! ;-) I do wonder whether there was a school assignment or something that they had to be there for, because in the second half there was more noise from a group of kids to the side, and the usher had to have a word with them.

And so the show began. I had a couple of initial complaints with it - I found the initial lines inaudible - but that was soon fixed - and the initial scene was a bit bland. But never fear - stick with it, and that too will change! Played in the round, it's set a living room in Palm Springs, where an elderly, Republican couple, friends of the Reagans, are celebrating Christmas (it's a jolt to see a Christmas tree at this time of year!) with her sister and their son. And the last to arrive is the prodigal daughter, who's just finished writing a book. Which, it turns out, is about them. And they are not happy..

There's a twist to the tale - one you probably don't expect. What I really like about it is that all the characters are multidimensional - nobody is completely innocent, nobody completely bad. Everybody is given a hearing, we get to see how everybody might be mistaken in their beliefs. And the writing is far superior to the ordinary. As well as Sinead Cusack, this stars Peter Egan, who's had a variety of roles over the years, and it shows in his booming voice. A very good play indeed, and very moving as it reaches its climax. Recommended - currently booking until 24th May.

For tomorrow, something very different indeed. I've seen many posters for CircusFest, and thought that it would be a good thing to go to - and now I am! I'm off to see a French acrobatic act involving men wearing just towels around their sensitive parts, La Meute.. and I'm in the front row. Well now, that should be different! And it's in the Roundhouse, which will be a new venue for me. That's always good..

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Opera: Noye's Fludde

When I saw that Noye's Fludde was showing today, I thought it sounded interesting, and after a quick view on YouTube, I decided to book for it. An unusual sort of thing to be running, it's part of Limerick's year as City of Culture.

We decided that the matinee would be handier, leaving the evening free, and so headed out around lunchtime. Since it's showing at St Mary's Cathedral, which hosts a lot of events and which I've been to before, I knew you can park there and figured we'd arrive in good time to get a space. We arrived with 45 minutes to spare - imagine my surprise when, on approach, the place already looked full! As I passed, a couple of cars exited the grounds, and I guessed they'd been looking for parking too - unsuccessfully. So I crossed my fingers for luck, and headed towards the courthouse, just down the road. This would be the nearest parking, as you can't park on the main road. Now, there is an official car park too - the old potato market - but I was just lucky; as I searched around the courthouse itself, a car just pulled out at that moment. So I parked for free! (The courthouse is closed at weekends, so no-one would be using it for official business.)

Ticket sales for this are handled by the University Concert Hall, and when I went to collect our tickets, the lady turned out to be the same who had given me our tickets the night before (at the concert hall)! Seating was unassigned, except that, if you had paid top price (€15), as we had, you were entitled to one of the seats with a "€15" note taped to them. These, of course, are the best, near the front. Mind you, my mother is fussy about these things, and we did a bit of moving around before she was happy. Making sure, above all, not to be right beside a speaker. And then moved again, to be away from the two small children seated behind us - which turned out to be a wise decision, as the little boy turned into a ball of hyperactivity as the show progressed.

The place was quite full by the time the show started, and the dean explained to us that it would be recorded by Lyric FM, so PLEASE make sure your phones are off - not on silent, as they'll lead to a "blip" on the recording if they receive a signal. This is - as you might guess from the name, but it isn't obvious - an opera about Noah. The composer, Britten, specified that it should be performed in a church or large hall, but not a concert venue. He wanted the audience to participate, so we were provided with hymn sheets and taken through a practice run by the conductor. And we were off!

It was obvious from the start that this is a major undertaking. The orchestra occupies the whole right side of the church, and not all members are even in the conductor's line of sight, which must be awkward. Still, I can't fault their performance. The whole altar area is taken up with props, many of which are reorganised during the performance to reveal the ark. And the cast enters and exits via the main aisle, with various other performers lurking in the side aisles.

But it's not until the show begins that you realise just how much work went into it. The performer who plays Noah is a superb singer, and first on, striding down the aisle to the altar, and then talking to God. Who answers from the back of the church! Now, that was fun, because, while lots of people were looking around for him, it took a while for me to find him. Turned out he was dressed in a sort of white shift, standing high up on the window-ledge, and intoning in a booming voice. Cool! Then the other cast members start to come down the aisle.

The next fun to be had is when the animals start to come to the ark, two by two. Dozens of local schoolchildren must have spent ages making papier mache masks and wings to adorn themselves. Some of the animals are recognisable, some more unexpected - but it's all good fun. Some of the children also try to mimic the motion of their animal, and particular mention must go to the one child that runs along on all fours! Sadly, because of this, and because this was the only child to do it, I didn't get a look at what kind of animal this was supposed to be.

I liked the bit where Noah's wife didn't want to go onto the ark, and had to be carried on bodily, whereupon she rewarded him with a slap! And then the ark is secured, and the flood waters start to rise. These are creatively recreated with flowing blue fabric, adorned with fish, and flapped about by cast members. The storm includes a little strobe lighting to represent lightning, and when it's all over, lights produce a rainbow effect on the altar. Finally, cast members come on, brandishing the sun, moon, and stars.

I was delighted with the production! What a great community effort, and what a fun show they produced! Runs until Tuesday, but the only performance for which tickets are still available is tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. Appropriately, they held a collection afterwards for local flood victims. Equally appropriately, as we left, it was lashing rain, and has continued to do so all night. My mother didn't want to walk over to the local restaurants in the rain - there is no parking outside them - so we went to the Abbey Tavern in Quin for dinner. This is our usual haunt, and we could park right outside, and were, as usual, most excellently fed. I must say, I am partial to their steak, and to the pepper sauce they serve with it!

Back to London tomorrow, and looking at the plays available, I came up with Other Desert Cities, at the Old Vic, for Monday. Another fraught family drama, it concerns the return of a prodigal daughter. As the Time Out review says, it's a story we've seen so many times before - but we've seen it done in some terrific versions. The review goes on to say that this is the best thing the reviewer has seen at this theatre in ages! That, combined with the fact that the stern matriarch is played by Sinead Cusack, made me surprised that I could get a ticket at all, but I'm not complaining. As ever, in search of the cheapest ticket, I'm in the top level - best deal for a seat with non-restricted view was with, which is running a sale with 22% off and no booking fee!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Play: A Skull in Connemara

Partly because of our underwhelming eating experience last time we attended an event at the University Concert Hall, we decided to eat at home this evening, and just left in time for the play. So we arrived in plenty of time, parked quite close to the entrance, collected our tickets, and got ourselves a couple of ice creams. There was less people-watching to do tonight, it wasn't nearly as full.

My mother noticed someone getting some Tayto crisps, and asked me whether I wanted some - but it wasn't until someone at the next table, directly in my line of sight, got some that I felt the urge. Well, isn't there something just irresistible about the rustling of a crisp packet? Sadly, this turns out to be the second-most expensive place I know of to buy them. €1.50 on Aer Lingus flights, €1.30 at the concert hall, €1.10 from vending machines at Shannon airport, 70c over the counter at Shannon airport. Of course, in the first two cases, you have a captive audience..

Our seats tonight were right along the row from where we were on Wednesday night, and my mother preferred them - might have had something to do with the fact that, tonight, we were seated directly at the top of an aisle, so fewer heads in our line of sight. We certainly had good seats, but then, the concert hall doesn't really have any bad ones.

A Skull in Connemara is the second in the Leenane trilogy, by Martin McDonagh. He's best known for plays set in the west of Ireland, of which this is one. A very black comedy, it centres on a gravedigger whose wife died just over seven years ago, as a passenger in the car he was driving while drunk. Lack of space in the graveyard has led to a church rule that, after seven years, bodies can be exhumed to make space for new arrivals. Turns out that the time has come for his wife's grave to be exhumed. But a number of questions arise - What does he do with the bones he exhumes? What will he find when he finds the courage to dig up his wife's grave? And just what did happen when his wife died, seven years ago?

It's not the best of McDonagh's plays, and there's some, eh, bone-smashing that goes on at length, producing a cloud of dust that might not be very pleasant for those in the front several rows. Also, although I didn't really have a problem, a number of people around us complained of not being able to hear very well. Anyway, if you can get past all that, there are some really funny moments. This production was more.. ponderous than the last version of this that I saw. I barely remember seeing it the first time - which is handy, as I didn't really remember the plot at all - but I do believe that the first version I saw was an amateur production. I suppose that this is the more serious version! It's such a madcap play that I do wonder whether a fast and furious approach mightn't work better..

And the last of this week's outings is tomorrow afternoon, when we go to see Noye's Fludde, by Britten, at St. Mary's Cathedral, Limerick. Afterwards, we're thinking of checking out the culinary options just across the road. Now, I just have to research the parking options - it's a while since I did anything in this part of town!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Play: 13, Rue de l' Amour

Today was the only day, sadly, that we could get to the Clare Drama Festival, held every Easter in my old school, Scarriff Community College. We make a point of going every year, but, well, this has been a busy year.. So anyway, we welcomed the chance to go tonight.

We decided, as usual, to eat in Teach Uí Bhriain Eating House, down the road in Tuamgraney. The food is good, and reasonably priced, the service friendly, and the atmosphere cosy. There is a proper restaurant off the bar, but we prefer to eat at a table in the bar proper, if there's space. It's got a better atmosphere, you're mixing with the locals, there's a real fire roaring at one end. And you can watch the television, if you want. Tonight, our regular corner was free, and we sat there. Where we could watch the actors come to eat - this establishment is listed as one of the festival sponsors, and I think it takes the form of a free meal for the performers, because you always see them in here beforehand.

As we explained to the boss, Nuala, the only reason we're not there more often is because I'm away now. Anyway, my mother ordered darne of salmon, as usual, and I decided to go for the chicken korma, which I know is delicious here. And garlic bread to start. Their garlic bread is always a matter of curiosity - it takes so many forms. Tonight, it took the form of very thick toasted triangles, smeared with garlic butter. Yum.. my mother proclaimed the salmon to be exceptionally good, and my korma was, indeed, delicious. The only problem was the portion size - I really regretted having to leave some of my chicken, but there was so much! Make sure you're very hungry, coming here.. We skipped dessert.

We were very early, and did a small shop in Niland's service station, which lies between the pub and the school - mainly to pass the time. We considered having an ice cream at the small cafe at the back of the store, but were still too full after dinner. And then we headed to the school, where ours was the second car to arrive in the car park to the left of the gate, in front of the gym, where the festival is held. Which, of course, led to much debate about where to put the car and which direction to point it in - we've had trouble getting out of here before, on busy nights. And once that was settled, we had a long wait for the doors to open. Well, we had a car to sit in, and could listen to the radio.

The play tonight was 13, Rue de l' Amour - a farce, set in Paris in the 1890s. Not being a popularly known play, and not performed by a local group - this festival is open to, and attended by, groups from all over Ireland - we didn't expect a massive crowd, and we were proved right. We kept a careful eye on the door, and only moved when people started going in - it's very cold out tonight. And after some discussion on where to sit, we chose seats on the right, centre of the row, after my mother being so sick of having to keep getting up and down for people when she was sitting on the aisle, the night before.

I didn't see many people I know. There was my old commerce teacher, whose husband is involved with the festival administration, so she always comes. She looked a bit haggard - my mother said she thought she'd been ill. And there was an old classmate of mine, who, last I heard, was a nurse in Limerick - but we were never that close, and I didn't bother making my way over to her. My mother, however, was in her element, finding a couple of old friends to chat to, one of whom she was surprised to learn is into drama in a big way, and attends a lot of these things. He sat with us for the evening. It was also nice for her that the tea/coffee service was ready right from the start, instead of her having to wait for the interval.. and for €2, you can have a cup of either, with as many biscuits - of assorted varieties - as you can carry without feeling guilty. So she had tea and a Rich Tea biscuit, and I had a selection of chocolate biscuits..

You can't miss when something is about to happen. They don't have a dimmer switch, so they just cut out the main lights completely for a few seconds, twice. So you're plunged into near-complete darkness. And for the introduction, they have to turn off the heating so the man in the bow tie can be heard. But by that stage, it's warmed up nicely. We had a couple of large-headed men in front of us, but we managed, and they moved slightly for the second half, leaving a gap for us to see by. We were very impressed with the ornate set, designed to represent a middle-class drawing room.

The play itself has several characters - the philandering husband, who reminded me of the husband of a friend of mine. (Not to cast aspersions on his character!) His wife, who, I thought, stole the show, as the gorgeously costumed wronged wife, who sets out to wreak revenge. Mind you, the adjudicator afterwards had some comments about her costumes, which didn't quite skim the ground, which wouldn't have been appropriate for the period. The doctor, who's besotted with her. The nephew, a young man-about-town. I thought his broad country accent sounded funny for a young debonair Parisian, but never mind. The maid. The friend of the philanderer, who's being used as an alibi, but he doesn't know it. The concierge of the apartment building at 13 Rue de l' Amour, where everyone goes to conduct their trysts. The police inspector, played, in this instance, by the play director. And some extras playing gendarmes.

The play started off feeling a bit stilted - the adjudicator later remarked that this was a fault of the play, rather than the performers. But it soon became apparent that at least some of the performers really knew their stuff. And one of the most enjoyable aspects of the play was the stage design - they had to depict two scenes, and used the same basic set for each, with alternative decorations hidden behind panels, and revealed when appropriate. And two panels that swivelled entirely, to reveal completely different furniture. These, as well as a writing desk that turned into a sofa, earned the company a round of applause when they demonstrated them while doing the first scene change, fully lit so the crowd could see what was happening. Much appreciated!

We bought some raffle tickets at the interval, which ended up not being winners, but which I filled our names out on and dropped in the box for the final night draw. Which, sadly, we won't be there for - but they also have our contact details. And the second half of the show gleaned far more laughs than the first, with some clever plot twists. A nice feature of attending shows in a festival like this is that there's adjudication after every performance, and we hung around tonight for that. The judge's credentials, listed in the programme, were impeccable, although, while I agreed with most of what he said, I did think the way he expressed himself was a bit technical for a non-professional audience. His comments, mind you, were well heeded by someone - for the duration of his address, a door to the side was held open by a tantalizing arm, belonging to someone whose face could not be seen..

It's a pity we won't get to any more, but it finishes at the weekend, and we're heading to Limerick for the next two nights - we have booked for A Skull in Connemara in the University Concert Hall tomorrow night, and Noye's Fludde, by Britten, in St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Opera: La Boheme (UCH)

It was months ago that we saw La Boheme advertised at the University Concert Hall, Limerick. We were actually at another opera at the time - either Aida or Nabucco, I forget which. They generally run as a pair. Anyway, we booked tickets on the spot and kept those tickets safe ever since - they were a bit dog-eared by this evening!

As normal, we decided to eat at the Merry Pedlar pub in the Castletroy Park Hotel beforehand. It's just across the road from the university, and the cuisine is mild enough to suit my mother, who wouldn't eat in Chung's Cuisine Chinese restaurant, in the same complex. So anyway, we took a table - we were early enough to beat the pre-concert rush - and soon had our orders taken. My mother went for the salmon, as usual, and I decided to try one of the specials - the chicken parmiganna (sic) - chicken fillet with a cheese sauce topping, served on pasta.

The pinot grigio we ordered was quite nice. However, I do not know what it is, but it takes forever for food to arrive in this establishment. Granted, we could have had a starter to pass the time, but still, half an hour for mains to arrive seems excessive. And, while you could argue that they were cooking the food from fresh, neither of us thought our food smacked of freshness, although I could be wrong. Finally, in my case at least, despite chicken that had a breadcrumb coating and a covering of cheese sauce, and pasta immersed in tomato sauce, my dinner tasted of very little. We decided, despite being quite early, that we wouldn't risk a dessert - despite a tempting list, we had no idea how long it would take to arrive. And so, two glasses of wine and two main courses (at least one bland) cost us over €42. Seems excessive.

We got a parking space quite near the door, and entered the lobby area of the concert hall. They have a new idea - a concession stand. Quite a great idea, as alcohol ain't the only thing customers want - this stand contains crisps and chocolate, and provides a base for people to stand while selling ice cream from the portable cart - the solitary barman certainly didn't have much time to sell anything other than alcohol. So we bought a couple of ice creams and headed to the cafe at the side to find a seat - there is hardly any seating in the main lobby area. And we people-watched - the crowd that comes to the concert hall tends to dress up, and we found many outfits to comment on. As well as the fact that there were a couple of dogs around! - one on a lead, one carried in a handbag. "Oh yes," remarked one woman when we mentioned it, "quite a few people do that." Well, what a treat to find a dog-friendly venue.

I queued for another glass of wine, and reflected that the barman could hardly have gone slower if he'd tried. It did give me time to watch the group of people in the glass lift - dressed up and obviously headed to my level - who mistakenly pushed the button for the level above, and were quite visibly surprised when they sailed up past where they needed to be. You see, from the car park, you enter at basement level, not ground, so they thought they were higher than they were..

At about the time they normally open the doors, there was an announcement about "technical difficulties", which, as usual, trailed off into muttering, so that not a single person knew what had been said. Well, the doors themselves are not mechanical, so I figured that wasn't it, and maybe they were talking about the wheelchair lifts or something. So we headed for the door by which we were to enter. And there we waited.. and waited.. returning to our seats in the cafe wasn't an option; by now, the place was packed (the show was sold out) and our seats were probably gone. And there was nowhere nearby to sit. And we were told it would just be a few minutes. Well, it was about fifteen minutes, with a mostly elderly crowd, some disabled, before we were let in. As we took our seats in the auditorium, I guessed that the technical difficulties might be with the surtitle display, which was currently displaying something weird.

We had the usual problems with sitting on the aisle (having to let people past every so often), and did some more people-watching. This time, we had a mini-drama to watch, as a group of four arrived to take their seats in the row in front of us, only to find two of them already occupied. Double-booked, it seems! Combined with the surtitle problems - which led to a late start - and what the lady sitting inside me told me about the heating not working during the show she attended last week, this is not painting a good picture of the concert hall..

Anyway, the show got underway, and it soon became apparent that the surtitles were, indeed, not working. There was much muttering in the crowd about this, and I had to whisper major plot points to my mother every so often. The opera is in Italian, so if you don't speak it, well.. Someone reviewed this production, by Ellen Kent, as the best they've ever seen. While I can't fault the performances, neither can I describe the show in such glowing terms. In particular, the first scene change took an inordinate amount of time, with what sounded like hammering, sawing and drilling offstage. Were they still building the set?! Still, the music was as stunning as ever, I remembered the gist of what was going on, and the little dog in the cafe scene bore a striking resemblance to the one we'd seen outside, on the lead.

At the interval, there was an apology about the late start, and an explanation that they had been unable to get the surtitles working, they wouldn't work for the remainder of the production, and they hoped it wouldn't impair our enjoyment too much. The crowd didn't appreciate that too much. And I ended up explaining what had happened in the first half, and what would happen in the second, not only to my mother, but to the woman on the other side as well. After a bit, we saw a woman carrying the self-same dog that been onstage! She and her doggy took a seat just down from us, and, as people were ooh-ing and aah-ing over the doggy, she explained that, actually, this wasn't the starring doggy. This was the doggy understudy, in case the starring doggy became incapacitated! Fancy that..

After the interval, the couple behind us didn't return, although most people stuck it out. In the end, as ever, I came out humming the music. But I wouldn't describe this as the best performance I've ever attended..

Well, tomorrow we're planning to head to my old school, Scarriff Community College, for the annual Clare Drama Festival. It's always interesting to head back there - the plays are staged in the gym, and well attended by staff and locals; you never know whom you'll run into. On Friday, we're heading back to the UCH for A Skull in Connemara, which is a comedy that's quite good, and shouldn't require surtitles. And on Saturday, we've booked another opera, Noye's Fludde, by Britten, in St Mary's Cathedral..

Restaurant: Dragon Palace

I have actually been to the Dragon Palace before, but had forgotten the name. I remember having some very good dim sum there the last time.

We were a bit late joining the others, and there was a little confusion about which restaurant we were actually going to - but it's not hard to find. Just across from Earl's Court station, on the other side of Earl's Court Road. (It's actually shown in the video from that last link.)

Our group had booked the back room, and occupied two tables. Most were having dim sum, but I decided to make life a little easier for myself and order a regular main course. When I saw char siu on the menu, I decided to have that - it's been a while, and not everywhere offers it. Meanwhile, the dim sum order list was being passed frantically around the table, as people tried to decide what to order, then find it on the list and tick it off. Most kept a note of what they had ordered - some, wisely, also kept a note of the menu number of it. After all, it takes about three dim sum dishes to make a decent meal, and with several people ordering, it can get chaotic!

Some people had ordered tea, and the pot that arrived for our table was a lovely, gilt one. Others had Chinese beer - I had a glass of wine. What arrived for me was an enormous glass, with what appeared a small amount of wine in the bottom - although it was probably just the size of the glass that made it appear so. I think I got a regular amount of wine. Unfortunately, it was a bit watery.

Someone else was having chicken szechuan, and I was a bit jealous when I saw it coming out, as I had thought about it myself. I was especially jealous as it came out so much earlier than mine. When my lunch eventually arrived, it was tasty, but lukewarm, as was the rice. I think the dim sum was generally well received, except for the three dishes that hadn't arrived by the time everyone had finished. One of us went to ask, and was told the food would be out shortly - someone had made a mistake with the order. It did, eventually, arrive, and in due course the fun of paying began. As usual, some of us had cash, some cards - amusingly, the server had to keep going over to the other side of the room to get the card machine to work. And back, to get the customer to input details. And over again, to get a signal. And so it went.

Verdict - not recommended for large groups - certainly not if you're having dim sum, it gets too crazy. In general, however, I think dim sum is what they do better. I don't know about the others who had mains, but mine was definitely not up to scratch, and was completely cold by the time I got to the end of it. If I'm there again, I will take my chances with the dim sum.

Right - better think about getting ready for La Boheme this evening! Will be eating out, but not Chinese..

Monday, 24 March 2014

Film: Evaporating Borders

My film quest today took me to Evaporating Borders, in the Barbican. When I checked yesterday, I saw that over half of the seats were booked, so booked myself - otherwise, with all I have on at work at the moment, I wouldn't have bothered going.

Google Maps had a few suggestions on how to get there - trouble is, there is no single obvious route. I have a couple of favourites by this stage though, so will be following my own judgement from now on, for this venue at least. So it was that I took the Piccadilly line to Kings Cross / St Pancras, and another Tube from there to Barbican Station. And then it's easy - under the tunnel, straight to the Barbican. In particular, I was heading to Cinema 2 this evening, which is on the left as you exit the tunnel. Easy.

For this performance, I was sat between the young lady who obviously had no hanky, as she snuffled through most of the film - when she wasn't texting - and, on my other side, the elderly lady who fell asleep and snored loudly through most of the film. Ironically, her companion, who asked a question in the Q+A afterwards, mentioned that he had found the documentary fascinating..

It turned out to be part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The festival ends on Friday, so I won't have another chance to go, sadly. Anyway, the film was introduced by a softly spoken woman with an American accent (never fear, she had a mic), an old school friend of the director, apparently. The film, it seems, was part of the requirements for a Masters in Fine Arts. The director is Yugoslav by birth, and grew up as a refugee in Cyprus. And she decided to make her film about the refugees in Cyprus.

As a film, it's not terrific. It's ok, and the subject matter is interesting, but the review on IMDB describes it very accurately as "muddled". It's very short on specifics, preferring to concentrate on interviews with refugees, as well as some officials, and one activist working on behalf of refugees. Specific details and precise numbers are not much in evidence. Also, as one questioner at the end pointed out, it would have been nice to hear what the director's own experience as a refugee was - she explained that her experience was different, that it's far worse now. But we could have done with hearing that in the film.

The story of refugees in Cyprus, however, on the basis of this film, is a depressing one. The director describes "institutionalised racism" on the part of the Cypriot government, which is aided by the media, which paints a very black picture of refugees. International law is regularly flouted, people are imprisoned without cause, and continue to be detained, even after courts order their release. Despite hundreds of refugees receiving state benefits, last year, only 26 were granted asylum, in total. This despite many coming from Syria, whose refugees, apparently, countries are obliged to accept. Not much welcome for them on this island, some of whose native citizens were interviewed, and spouted the same old racist rhetoric we hear all over. Some of the most disturbing scenes involved rallies by ELAM, a far-right fascist group that is recognised as a political party in Cyprus.

In all, it left me with a sour taste in my mouth for Cyprus - not that I was considering holidaying there, but if I had been, this film would have changed my mind. Very disturbing look at Cypriot society.

Well, 'tis back to Ireland tomorrow. But first, we have a farewell lunch at the Dragon Palace for our colleague who is, sadly, leaving us. Then I've got La Boheme at the University Concert Hall, Limerick on Wednesday, the Clare Drama Festival on Thursday, A Skull in Connemara in UCH again on Friday, and Noye's Fludde at St Mary's Cathedral, Limerick on Saturday. And then the London merry-go-round starts again.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Film: The Past (Le Passé)

When I was looking for something to do today, I rejected an opera that, from the review, sounded weird. I then came to films, and rejected two Bollywood films that, having viewed the trailers, I didn't think I'd be into. Which led me, with some glee, to The Past. I've seen the trailer for this a couple of times, and that, combined with the director's pedigree, meant I was gagging to see this. Asghar Farhadi - remember the name. He's Iranian, and wrote and directed A Separation and About Elly, among others, before this - those are the two I've seen. A better maker of films about the complexities of human relationships you will NOT find. I've always loved Iranian film, and it's great to see a director who's so consistent in making ones that you're happy to recommend!

Well, it turned out that The Past was only showing in a special preview today, in the Curzon Mayfair. Yuck, my least favourite cinema. The website describes it as the "jewel in the crown". You what?! I much prefer the other Curzon cinemas I've been to - the Curzon Soho and the Renoir. Or the HMV Curzon, in Wimbledon. They charge less, have more facilities, and have staff that don't sleepwalk through their task of selling you a ticket! Also, the Mayfair branch usually has the issue of crowds of commuters to push your way through. At least that wasn't going to be an issue today..

I did take note that it was a special preview, and I should keep an eye on how tickets were selling. Now, they don't have a seating plan, which is a good way to check - but in such circumstances, what I try to do is put through a sale for as many tickets as the site allows. It's the best way I know to check how it's selling - as long as the maximum number goes through, I consider myself safe. Sure enough, when I tried at lunchtime today, they wouldn't let me put all the tickets through. Ooh, I thought to myself, and upon seeing that they would let me buy one ticket, I promptly did so. I wasn't surprised, as this was the only preview this week.

Tube to Green Park, turn right on Piccadilly, take a right on Clarges Street, left on Curzon Street, appropriately. I made my way without much difficulty - although, note to self: the best exit is Piccadilly (North Side). Look ahead on Curzon Street, you can already see the cinema. As I entered, it gave me a smug feeling to see the "Sold Out" sign on the door for the film I was going to, knowing I already had a ticket. And I guessed, as I queued for the box office, that the queue that snaked around the lobby was for the same film. "Is it a free ticket?" she asked, as I told her I had a booking. "No," I said, feeling slightly miffed. I felt less miffed afterwards, as I watched the ads that preceded the film, including one for Curzon membership (which would entitle you to some free tickets), which costs just £50 if you just want two free tickets (as well as no booking fee) - £300+ if you want any more!

Well, I got a decent seat - until a fellow sat to my left, who looked ok, smartly dressed and all that. But it soon became apparent that he emitted a most dreadful whiff. O my! Well, I'm not usually a prude about such things, but really, I literally had to hold my nose several times. And then he turned out to be a wriggler - the sort that shakes the whole row periodically. And, towards the end of the film, he started chewing his nails! You could hear him.. O, how I'd have liked to physically restrain his hands. I could imagine myself doing it, too..

And so to the film! The story concerns an Iranian man who is married to a French woman, Ann-Marie, but left, and is now returning to France so they can finalise their divorce. Not that he needed to be there in person, but, as he explains in the course of the film, he wanted to end things amicably with her, and say goodbye to her daughters, to whom he was very close. One is a teenager, with something more than the usual teenage angst. One is still quite little.

Well, the complications ensue as soon as he arrives. First, his case goes missing. Then he discovers, quite by accident, that his soon-to-be-ex is seeing someone else. Which she swears she told him in an email, but he claims he never got any emails from her. Anyway. Then he discovers the new guy's wife is in a coma, and the guy is living with Ann-Marie, as is his little boy. And believe me, that's only the beginning.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - a better director for films about human relationships you will not find. This poor chap's problems are so manifold that he actually accuses her, during the film, of arranging things to make sure he was in the middle of everything again. And his old friend advises him to just cut and run.

So, what's the essential message of the film? The past, of course, and particularly, how we interpret it. How we might have misinterpreted it, and how it impacts on our lives today. I'm not going to give away any plot points, but this is a very thought-provoking film. Not on general release yet - try and see it when it is.

Right! Well, believe it or not, my whole week is organised from now on. And we have:
All this activity in and around Limerick is highly unusual. As I mentioned today, it's like being in London. Probably something to do with Limerick being City of Culture. Good to see they finally got their act together, after all the infighting..!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Concert: Hard Facade

Honestly, the last time I saw Hard Façade, it was because there was nothing better on. This time, I didn't bother to check what else was on. I knew I'd enjoy it!

Well, the venue was nice and confusing - look up the Iron Horse pub on Google Maps, and you'll see The Metro, because it had a name change, you see. Anyway, once I figured that out, I did manage to determine that it was right beside Sidcup Station, which was handy. Google Maps also informed me that trains run straight there from Charing Cross, and that these trains are run by Southeastern. And thus, I was able to determine that it would take me half an hour to get there, and what time the last train was. Yes, v useful info. And now that I've figured out Google Maps' new layout, I've decided it's not as bad as I thought. Not quite, anyway.

I just missed the Tube into town, and decided, given the wait for the next one into town, that I'd repeat my trick of just getting the next one anywhere and changing at Earl's Court. More connections available, you see. That worked rather well, but I just arrived a few minutes too late for the train to Sidcup. Which was unfortunate, given that they only run about every half hour.. never mind, I was early anyway!

It was nice as the train left the station, because it's the first time I've taken a train across the Hungerford Bridge, which I've walked across so many times. I sat on the right, to get the view of the London Eye. Ahh.. and after several tower blocks, I dozed for a bit. And arrived in Sidcup after about half an hour. Where I made an intelligent assessment of the station layout. Two platforms, therefore two exits. The exit beside the pub hadn't looked like the main exit, and from what I could see of it, the main exit was beside the other platform. Which made the "pub" exit beside my platform. Handy! And so it proved - as I came out, I could see the pub across the car park. Called "The Iron Horse", not "The Metro". Google Maps, take note.

As I entered, my bag was searched, but, despite what it said on the posters, I was charged no entry fee. Not sure how that works.. Anyway, I entered a room with some tables, a bar at the side, and a stage at the far end. The band were chatting to folks, so I went and ordered a drink, and as I was waiting, Nabeel (the one in the woolly hat in the photo) tapped me on the shoulder. Turned out I was the only one who'd shown up from the office. (Boo!) Ah well, it was a bit of a trek. He was somewhat impressed that I'd come all that way. So we nattered for a bit, about what it's like to be in an up-and-coming rock group and such, and then he wandered off and I found myself talking to John (the one in the flat cap in the photo). Who was somewhat impressed I'd come all that way. And finally, I got talking to the singer. Who was somewhat impressed I'd come all that way. (Well, I have form - you should see how far I travel for U2.. at least with Hard Façade, I can get home the same night!)

And so they started, and I sat about halfway down the room, for fear I'd be deafened. No such thing occurred. Anyway, I thought it was a good vantage point to take photos..

The room wasn't exactly jumping. There was a table of people to my right who were celebrating a birthday and (a) would have liked the music a bit quieter and (b) would have liked something they knew. Like The Script. Might I humbly suggest that they might have been at the wrong gig? The lead singer was, mind you, kind enough to let the birthday boy take the mike for a bit.

Well, I had no such issues, I thought they were excellent. Moved up after a bit, as the music was a lot less loud than I expected. I'm not quite at the stage of recognising the numbers yet, but getting there. I definitely recognised a couple of the intros. And it's very cool that they play their own material. And even cooler that that material is good, and worth listening to. Not that I know that much about it, but they have a really good sound. Already looking forward to their next one! (25 April, as I recall, venue as yet unknown to your author.) I exited fairly rapidly afterwards, shamefully without waiting to talk to them, because (a) they were otherwise occupied, naturally, (b) I'd had quite enough to drink, and (c) I could just make the 10.30 train if I hurried. Which I did. Sorry guys for not hanging around, it wasn't a reflection on the performance!

Interesting observations upon returning to Embankment Station - (1) there was a lady standing right in front of the busker outside, listening avidly. That's nice, I haven't seen that before. (2) There was a guy at the ticket machine who was wearing a crown and a red cape. Well, I guess you don't see much of that either!

Tomorrow, after excluding an opera that just sounds too weird, is looking like a film. After excluding the films that aren't showing tomorrow, and a couple of Bollywood films I just don't think I'd be into, top of the list is going to the preview of a film called The Past, a French-Iranian production. It's a drama about an Iranian man who leaves his French wife and their children to return to Iran, and then has to cope with her request for a divorce as she forms a new relationship. The trailer looks terrific..

Friday, 21 March 2014

Dance: Shadowland

I do like to get to a dance performance when I have a chance, so had no problems with booking Shadowland when it came up in the Time Out listings. As with last night, there had been ticket offers, but I'd missed them! and the best remaining deals were with the venue website. So I booked the cheapest ticket I could with them, which was in the rear stalls.

When I checked Google Maps about how to get to the Peacock Theatre, where the show was on, I was confused, as they suggested the Tube instead of buses. Of course I was confused; when I went to a Sadlers Wells production last, it wasn't in this theatre, but the Lilian Baylis. Which is most easily reached by bus. Not the same place at all!

After the trouble I had getting to the Langham, which was my last unfamiliar destination, I was apprehensive. I needn't have been - the Peacock is really easy. The first time I checked Google Maps, they sent me via the District Line to Temple - later, they changed their mind and sent me via the Piccadilly Line to Holborn, which is the way I ended up going.

Holborn must, I mused, have one of the longest Tube escalators. I had time to muse about this, because the escalator to the exit takes some minutes, if you just stand instead of walking, to get from one level to the next. I was a bit nervous about how long it would take me to get to the theatre - again, I needn't have bothered. There are only two exits, one of which is for Kingsway, which I knew I wanted. So I left the station, compared the view with what I'd seen on Google Maps Streetview, and headed left. Continued towards Portugal Street. Long before I got there, though, I could see the theatre sign, and as I approached, there were plenty of direction signs. By the time I got there, it had taken me just over five minutes from the station - rather better than Google Maps' estimate of 11!

The stalls are downstairs from the lobby, and as I headed down, the 1-minute announcement was made. I found my seat without trouble, and sank gratefully into what is comfortable upholstery. There are no bad seats here, by the way - feel free to get the cheapest ticket you can! Probably no need to book, mind - it was far from full when I was there tonight.

As we came in, the preview screens made it seem as though there were already dancers on stage. Actually, they're just costumes, hanging from the ceiling. The first of many illusions in this show. Which is.. absolutely charming! In short, the main character is a little girl who has a dream about a fantastical world. Which is realised with live dancers, but mostly through shadows projected onto screens. And you'd never believe what they can do with shadows.. the show lasts just under 1.5 hours, without interval. Suitable for all the family, and I do recommend it for all. Oh, and don't run off as they start to take their bows - they have more surprises for you! Runs until the 30th.

I just found out today that Hard Façade is playing at the Iron Horse (also known as the Metro) in Sidcup tomorrow evening. So I think I may go to that..

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Musical: Urinetown

I've seen the posters for Urinetown for some time now, so was well aware of its existence. Despite not being enamoured of the name, I was willing to consider it when Time Out recommended it, and was glad to hear that they were impressed. So I decided to tick it off my list. There had been plenty of ticket offers, but no cheap offers were still available for tonight, so I went with the venue website. Now, it's at the St James Theatre, whose legroom I find snug (I'm 5'6). So I always insist on an aisle seat there, and I managed to get one, although not in the cheap back row.

When I picked up my ticket this evening, I decided to give the girl at the box office a break and drop my R. You see, there's an R in my postcode, and they always ask for your postcode here, instead of ID. And when I pronounce my rs, they never know what I'm saying. So I dropped the R this evening, and no bother was had. (Won't be making a habit of it, though!) Just after I collected my ticket, they opened the theatre - handy, as I was beginning to wonder where to put myself! So I was one of the first in. And took care going down the long flight of steps - I've seen plenty of people stumble on these before. Took my seat, swung slightly to the side, and was comfortable. Apart from having to get up several times to let people in - the disadvantage of an aisle seat.

I noticed pretty quickly that there were two levels on stage, and that, in the second row from the front, and at the side, as I was, I could hardly see the upper level. Which was annoying, given that, in general, seats in this theatre never have a restricted view, and the only seats listed as having a restricted view for this performance were in the very back row. Hmph. Anyway, although I did miss some of the action, it didn't impair my enjoyment too much. The middle of the theatre would have been better for this show, it did occur to me.

We entered the theatre 20 minutes before the start, and about 10 minutes later, the (unseen) band started up. And the man who turned out to be the narrator wandered out on stage, looking for all the world like my last boss (only chunkier), and reading a tome on manipulation of the masses. Or something. And wandered vaguely about until start time, when he put on the rest of his costume and launched into his role.

So, what's it all about? Well, at some unspecified time in the future, there has been a terrible drought, and the people have little water left. So water is privatised, and people no longer have the right to their own toilets - they must pay, and handsomely, to use public ones. Public urination (or defecation) on the side of the road etc. is illegal, and punishable - as is use of the facilities without paying - by deportation to "Urinetown". In the midst of all this misery, we have a love story between the assistant curator (or whatever his job title is) of "Public Amenity No. 9" and a lovely young woman, who looks a bit like Princess Kate (but not nearly as tall - so it's not she, despite Buckingham Palace being right across the road), and turns out to be the only daughter of the tyrant who runs the company that controls the water.

Is any of this starting to sound a bit ludicrous yet? Don't worry, it's supposed to be! This musical is firmly tongue in cheek. I didn't know quite what to make of it at first, but right from the start, the excellent production values are apparent. The singing is great, the choreography is well thought out and as funny as the rest (what I could see of it, from the side). And it is FUNNY! I had no idea I'd enjoy it as much as I did! It's absolutely hilarious! It sends itself up so much you can hardly keep track. There's a little girl character, to whom the narrator keeps explaining plot points, and the structure of the musical. Some of the musical numbers are real show-stoppers, and for one of these in particular, as rapturous applause tears through the theatre, the performers stand on stage, transfixed for several minutes, holding rictus grins, as if to acknowledge that yes, this is a Show Stopper. Accept the applause. Milk it.

Only problem with all this talk of peeing is that, by the interval, we were all desperate to use the (free) facilities. At least I was close to them. Or, at least, to the sign for them! I haven't been to the toilet here before, and it's a bit of a warren. But once you've passed through the door that's marked PRIVATE on the other side, and clambered over the ushers, sat on the floor, there they are. Complete with ads for - em - London Loo Tours. You get a discount for quoting "Urinetown", it seems. Pity the hand dryers didn't work. My intermission adventure ended with one of those insanely expensive ice creams they sell at these things - well, I was hungry! And I was sat at the side they always sell at - he was right in front of me! Wotcha gonna do?!

The evening ended with a well deserved, universal, standing ovation. For once, I don't think a single person stayed sitting as they took their bows. And this in what was for this theatre, for the various times I've been in it, the first completely full house I've ever seen! Show HIGHLY recommended. Booking also recommended - a day in advance should be fine, longer if you care about where you sit. Runs until 3 May.

Tomorrow is Shadowland, a Sadlers Wells production that incorporates shadow into dance performances. Well, tonight will take some following! We shall see. Interestingly, Google Maps advises me to take the Tube and walk. That's new for them - for this theatre, they generally recommend buses. Well, whatever..

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Film: Under the Skin

I was delighted when Under the Skin's IMDB rating increased, because I had thought it looked very interesting, and had heard great things about it. The nearest it's showing to me is Cineworld, which gives a discount for booking. So I did. Unfortunately, I hadn't counted on work running late, and it eventually became apparent that it just wasn't going to be possible to make that showing.

Well, I might have used that as an excuse to skip it, if I'd been less interested. But I really did want to see this. So I booked for the later showing, which, at least, gave me time (just about!) to eat beforehand. I looked up transport options, to give me more time (and I must say, at this point - I HATE Google Maps' new interface! The homepage defaults to North America, with no way to change it - with Streetview open, the accompanying streetmap isn't pannable - it doesn't seem to want to store my home address..) but it was nearly as fast, and just as handy, to walk - not to mention cheaper, and better for me. So I did.

I arrived a few minutes after the scheduled start, but of course I knew there'd be ads, so it was ok. Which was just as well, because, of course, the double booking confused the idiot Cineworld ticket machines, neither of which let me collect my ticket. The guy standing around doing nothing wouldn't give me my ticket either, but directed me to the concession stand. At least I didn't have to queue, but even they had trouble getting the ticket to print. Then I couldn't find my screen! Bah humbug. At least I didn't have stairs to climb, and I got one of those aisle seats that's cleverly angled so there actually isn't a seat in front of you, and you have all the legroom you want.

And so to what was the most bizarre cinema experience I've had in years (and this is after seeing both Nymphomaniac films!). I've heard the director compared to Kubrick. I'm not a bit surprised. 2001: a Space Odyssey kept popping into my head as I watched the opening images. To say this is visually striking is comparable to the airline pilot that remarked to his passengers that they had a small problem - all four engines had stopped. And he hoped they weren't in too much distress. I was agape for most of this film. And, within 60 seconds, I wanted to stand up and applaud.

It does help if you have a reasonable appreciation of the weird. For this is truly, truly weird. The story? Not terribly defined, and nothing is explained, but we do gather that Scarlett Johansson is some kind of alien, and bad news for mankind. She gets all dolled up and drives around Glasgow in a white van, picking up strange men. She actually did this for real, and the various men we see her asking directions of were actually just passers-by, none of whom recognised her (well, she does look quite different with black hair) and who were subsequently asked for their permission to be used in the film. Which brings me to another mentionable fact - they were brave to release a film with real Glaswegians in it, without subtitles. Seriously, I am amazed that she always seemed to understand them - I would have been gaping at them like an idiot, saying "Wha'?!" One of the world's more impenetrable accents.

Right then. Well, she singles out those on their own, who are far from home and friends - and when she gets them back to her place, the fun begins. In a consistently visually interesting effect, they invariably get - absorbed - into an inky black pool that she seems to have in her back room, or somewhere. Actually, the décor is all black, so it's really hard to get your bearings. "Come to me," or similar, she says, seductively, and in they go, apparently unwittingly, into this pool. And when we finally see what happens to them in the pool - well, eh, you wouldn't wish it on anyone. Ick.

Things get even more interesting when she decides she'd like a change of direction, and leaves her comfort zone behind. I haven't read the book upon which this is apparently based, but everything came as a surprise to me. I'll say this - throughout the film, we get a continual sense of Other - of how it is to see humanity with a cold, calculating eye. Very cleverly done. I loved it. You just need a strong appreciation, as I say, of the Weird.

Phew! Well, that's it for films for a couple of days. I'm heading to the attractively named Urinetown tomorrow, at the St James Theatre. It's a musical. :-) This is the theatre where you need an aisle seat, and I managed to get one - although not in the cheap back row, where I normally go. There were plenty of deals on this, but sadly I missed them all! And on Friday, a dance performance - Shadowland - at Sadler's Wells again. Appropriately named, it uses shadows on screens to great effect, if you watch the clip. Again, missed the good deals - ah well..

Monday, 17 March 2014

Carvery lunch: The Grove

Well, I took a long weekend in Ireland this weekend, in honour of St. Patrick's Day. And after Mass this morning, we headed to Ennis to buy some things, and, feeling like eating, we decided that The Grove was easiest, as they do a carvery lunch.

There was plenty of parking anyhow, and we went in, where we could see that they were setting up for the carvery; however, they told us that it wouldn't be until 12.15, that they were still serving breakfast until then. They certainly do like to feed you! It was easier to wait than to do anything else, so we popped into the Costcutter supermarket next door, and then took a seat back in The Grove and waited until we could see a queue forming.

The carvery had a choice of turkey, bacon, chicken breast, salmon, and a vegetarian risotto whose details I can't remember, with sides of stuffing, gravy, pepper sauce, white sauce, carrots, cabbage, mash, and unusually large potato croquettes. And you could have any combination of the above, for a flat price of €9.95. I went for the chicken, with pepper sauce, my mother went for the salmon. And we both had wine, which was nice, considering that the licensing laws don't allow alcohol to be sold in off-licences until 12.30 on public holidays.

The food was generally excellent - the chicken was succulent, the salmon was highly praised. The pepper sauce was highly peppery - approach with caution! The stuffing was tasty, the carrots a bit watery, the mash a bit nondescript. My mother thought the croquettes, being so large, lost some flavour - but I thought they were delicious. The wine was brought down to our table separately - and I must mention the consideration of the server who brought it, who, upon hearing that I had meant to ask for some stuffing but had forgotten, went up and brought down a large dish of it.

As we ate, the place started to fill, obviously with families that had been to the parade, which must have been finishing around then. And what a sea of green they presented! Not just those wrapped in tricolours and wearing oversized leprechaun hats - almost everyone seemed to have made an effort to wear something in green. Kudos to the family where father and son wore green trousers, daughters wore green stripy jumpers, and mother wore a green polo-neck with matching skirt! Only one small girl left out, who hadn't a trace of green on her. Kudos also to the chef, who kept the food coming, and served a never-ending line. I think word must have got out about good quality at a low price..

The only complaint I have to make is in relation to dessert. We decided we'd like one, I went to order and pay, and she was to bring them to us. And we waited.. and waited.. and had to ask about three times. I do get that they were busy, but when the only choice is for them to go to the kitchen and get the dessert, and they do advertise dessert, well, you'd think they'd have it a bit better organised. I had profiteroles, my mother had cheesecake - which had a strong green colour, but was tasteless, she proclaimed. Desserts may not be worth waiting for, here.

Anyway, here's to the most Irish day I've had in a long while, with Darby O' Gill and the Little People on telly this afternoon. Oh, it's years since I saw that - I'd forgotten it was a Disney production. Stars Jimmy O' Dea as the king of the leprechauns, and I'd also forgotten the appearance of a very young Sean Connery. And you know, it's still worth watching, after all these years. Especially in the company of a large Easter egg. Well, you know, St. Patrick's Day is the day you can abstain from abstaining! ;-) A day's holiday from Lent. And whose idea was it, anyway, to put the national holiday in the middle of Lent?!

Change in plans for Wednesday - I was checking film ratings last night, and Under the Skin has shot up in ratings. Well, from 7 to 7.2, which, at this level, pretty much counts as a meteoric rise. And particularly when most films are headed in the opposite direction. This is the new sci-fi horror starring Scarlett Johansson, pretty unrecognisable with black hair, as an alien that trails around Scotland eating people. My, isn't she going for unconventional roles lately? The last thing I - well, heard rather than saw her in - was Her, where she played a stroppy computer operating system! Anyway, this sounds very unusual, and has quite a surreal trailer. Apparently, she really did drive around Glasgow picking up strange men, who were filmed and were then asked for permission to use the footage. And what with it now having joint top billing on my film list for Wednesday, well, it does sound like fun! So, with the nearest cinema showing it being a Cineworld, I've booked it, as they give a discount for booking.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Concert: Hard Facade

Honestly, I wouldn't have gone to this if two of the members hadn't been colleagues of mine. But, well, I had nothing better to do.. so I bought one of the discounted advance tickets to see Hard Façade (and others) at the Water Rats tonight.

There were quite a few going from the office, and some of us decided to eat beforehand at the Hare and Tortoise Japanese restaurant, on Kensington High Street, which is walking distance from the office. I've passed it so many times, but never gone in. Came close once, but it was so crowded we decided to eat elsewhere. Tonight, they were sufficiently empty as to be able to accommodate a table for seven with no waiting, apart from waiting for them to push a few tables together.

I don't like sushi, but was relieved to see chicken teriyaki on the menu, which I love. And they have three special sides this month, one of which sounded good, so I ordered that too. Despite being a "side", it came out as a starter. I can't remember its name, but it was what you might call the Japanese equivalent of chicken nuggets. :-) With sweet chili sauce. I found the teriyaki a little sour, but tasty, and had a glass of quite the nicest wine I've had in a while - a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, The Frost Pocket. The meal was rounded off with dessert - no great hardship on my part to choose, there was only one chocolate offering, and I had that. An intriguing taste was provided by a mousse ice cream, with chocolate covering and a chocolate sauce. Ooh yes, I'd have that again..

There was some discussion as we left about the best way to get to our destination, which is near King's Cross. One was of the opinion that we should take the Tube to Victoria, then the Victoria line. Another thought we should just take a bus straight there. Which would probably have been the best option, had we researched the buses, which we didn't. In the end, we took a Tube to Edgeware Road and changed there for another going to King's Cross. It went swimmingly, and we found the place, at a short walk from the station, without difficulty, arriving at about 10 to 8, with our band supposed to come on at 8.15. In the end, they were delayed until 8.30 - the act before them ran on.

I haven't been here before, but I really liked the atmosphere! The bar area is at the front. The theatre is through a pair of swing doors, with a booth in front, painted red, with "Ticket Booth" helpfully painted on it, and a young lady sat behind it, guarding the doors, to make sure everyone who passes through has a ticket. Actually, red is a real theme here - even the ceiling is red. And the doors through to the music venue acted like a kind of portal to chaos, swinging open every now and again to emit a cacophony of noise, before swinging closed again to muffle it. The effect was heightened by the floor-length, heavy red curtains that covered the doors..

We also visited the toilets, down stairs with a red banister. Unfortunately, the toilet cubicles weren't up to much, with two officially out of order, only one having a working lock, and that one having an insipid flush. The next (working) one down had a much better flush, mind. And the trip was enlivened by the graffiti on the walls, and the music from upstairs, which periodically rattled the ventilation shafts.

The time duly came, and we decided to head in while the band was setting up. Got a stamp on our hands in return for our tickets - we also had to say whom we'd come to see. I believe the artists get a share of the proceeds from the tickets they sell themselves. The room where the gigs take place isn't very large - the stage is at the far end, with an open area in front of it and a slightly raised area to the back, where the doors are. There's a limited amount of seating here, but basically you're standing. And be warned - it will be quite loud, although not as loud as some places I've been. You may want to position yourself centrally, if you want the ringing in your ears to be evenly distributed, what with speakers at either side.

Well hey, we from the office all took ourselves down near the front anyway. Some were taking photos. There were about 50 people there, and it was great to see Hard Façade developing something of a following! And I'll say this - they've really improved from the last time I saw them, last September. Mind you, that was in a marquee - the sound setup was much better here. But also, they've developed their live skills, and the music - which is all their own, by the way - sounded much better. If you hear of them playing, and you're into heavy metal.. Go check them out! They certainly got a great reception tonight.

And I shall arise and go now (well, tomorrow), and take my ringing ears to Ireland. Where I shall abide until Tuesday. I was having a quick look at what's on in London on Wednesday, and what I came up with was a film called The Unknown Known. In this documentary, Donald Rumsfeld is interviewed about his career, and apparently enlightens us as to things we didn't even know we didn't know! Showing only in the Ritzy, it includes a q+a with the director. I'll have to try and make sure it doesn't sell out without me getting a ticket.. on a related note, it seems to have gotten to the stage where I've seen so many films currently showing, that pickings are getting a little slim! Fancy that.. And, as I noticed while trying to find a film for Wednesday, with respect to the top-rated (as per IMDB) films on my list, 7 of the top 8 are only showing on Thursday! What is it with Thursdays, all of a sudden..?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Hotel Plays

I've seen The Hotel Plays on Time Out's listings for ages now, with three shows a night and three matinees, when they are running them. But every single show time I clicked on was sold out. Until I clicked on tonight's last show, at 8! So, when I got my chance, I took it, and booked immediately - lucky to get a ticket, this being the final week.

They're playing at the Langham - a place I've never been. So I researched it. Victoria line to Oxford Circus, and a short walk up Regent Street. The Langham itself is a great block of a place, on the left as you head north, and across from a church. Ok, I thought, so I need to head up Regent Street, towards the church.

Well, as usual, I got a bit delayed, and left later than I would have wanted. Still, I was in ok time, and arrived in Oxford Circus at about 10 to 8. Looked all around, couldn't see the church. Guessed my direction, and off I went. After a few minutes, I realised I was heading down Oxford Street! Oh hell. Completely my own fault, if I'd checked the street name I'd have realised sooner. Anyway, I figured out I needed to retrace my steps to Oxford Circus, and hang a left. And off I galloped, desperate not to miss a show that had been so hard to book, and I wouldn't have another chance to see!

Finally, I was headed the right way. Found the church - which, unhelpfully, was not floodlit. Found the great bulk of the Langham, flags fluttering over the door and a doorman, complete with top hat and grey overcoat, helping people from their taxi. Scampered in the door and into the great, marbled lobby. Amazingly, I headed the right way, and found the box office, hidden in a corner, to which I staggered up and croaked that I was here for the plays, and what my name was. It was a couple of minutes past 8, but I said I'd give it a shot. "You're ok," she reassured me, "they've just gone up and they're probably still in the cloakroom." And she gave me a wristband instead of a ticket, and directed someone to take me upstairs, which he kindly did. Phew..

I was the last arrival, but with three shows running simultaneously, and groups not supposed to overlap, they have to time it right, and were running a few minutes late. I don't typically leave my coat at these things, but they were right to advise me to do so - it was boiling! And then our usher, Emma, took us up to the fourth floor. We could have taken the lift if we'd wanted, but no-one did. As we were waiting to be let into the first of three hotel rooms, for the first of three plays, she explained that the plays had been supposed to be on lower floors, but they moved them upstairs so as to disturb fewer guests, as the upper floors are less occupied in low season. She also confided in us that her American accent was put-on. "Do I sound American? They want it to sound as though you're in a grand old American hotel, but I'm a Scouser!" Smiley, chatty person, she was, and led us between each pair of rooms.

Each play was on a different floor - the 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively. And each room in which the plays were staged was laid out with benches. We got everyone seated for the first play, but not for the later ones, possibly because they realised how cramped it was - there were 34 of us, I counted, and getting us all on the benches was snug indeed. Still, I got a seat every time, and was glad of it. And the heat! I would describe this as one of those overheated hotels - though maybe that was intentional, as the plays are set in New Orleans.

Well, with Tennessee Williams, you know you're onto a good thing. His plays are full of passion and fun. In The Hotel Plays, we get Pink Bedroom, Green Eyes, and Sunburst - we had them in that order, at least. And Charlie, the hotel porter who appears in a minor role in each, and outside the plays too, for a sense of continuity. In short, Pink Bedroom is beautifully done, with a terrific twist at the end! Green Eyes, a play about jealousy, as you might imagine, is powerful and passionate. Sunburst is quite unexpected. I always love to be so close to a performance, although as I say, we were a bit cramped. And they were kind enough to give us a chocolate on the way out! And my, but the cool night air was sweet.. the plays run until Saturday, but are now completely sold out. Still, if you ever get a chance, go check them out.

And tomorrow night will be Hard Façade (on the bill with others, but that's the one my workmates are in) at the Water Rats. And that'll be it for me, for the week - I'm off to Ireland on Friday, and taking a long weekend, not back until Tuesday evening.. and the merry-go-round starts again on Wednesday.