Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Juggling: Smashed (Thumbs down!)

Tonight, I went to see Smashed, the headline act of this year's Underbelly (or Udderbelly) Festival. I checked, and despite the Tube strike, the District Line into town was pretty much operating as normal, albeit a reduced service. So I wasn't worried about how to get there.

Well, what a crowded journey I had. If you have ever thought there were just too many people in the world, this trip might have confirmed your worries. Firstly, you see, there's a big soccer match this evening in Stamford Bridge, which is just down the road from me. Cue large crowds of people on the pavement, in particular outside all the local pubs, and also thronging West Brompton Station. Not that they were all going to the match, mind. A lot of them were heading into town, like me. So the platform was crowded, and the train was crowded.

When we got to Earl's Court, someone near me - with a seat - got off, and the fellow near it let me have it. Phew! Thank the Lord for chivalry. Because the scenes at Earl's Court were scary. There were, I believe, more people on the platform trying to board the train than were on the train already. And the train was pretty well full. I hid in my seat and let them all crowd around.

We didn't stop at Gloucester Road, and wouldn't have stopped at Sloane Square either, but there were people on the platform, although I think it was supposed to be closed. There was some relief at Victoria, of course, where a lot of people always get off because of the mainline rail and bus stations. There was some oxygen after that, and you could actually see the doors! And finally it was Embankment, my stop.

I had to cross the bridge this evening, surrounded by suits. A lot of people doing more walking than usual. Anyway, I hadn't really remembered exactly where the upside-down purple cow that is the Underbelly (or Udderbelly) tent is located, but it said on the ticket that it was between the bridge and the London Eye. So that's a right turn off the bridge. It's not hard to spot the box office this year - a large wooden construction. I soon had my ticket.

I was hungry - hadn't had time to eat beforehand. There is a fast food area outside the tent. I had a choice of burgers or hot dogs, basically - checked the burger menu and decided the hot dogs sounded more appealing. Unfortunately, both I and the guy in front of me arrived at just the time that both the chips and the bread buns weren't quite ready yet. I don't really know why she felt the need to toast the bread buns, but she did. Finally, probably seeing my anxious glances towards the tent, whose doors had opened now - it wasn't long till the performance - she asked whether I'd be ok with having them hot but white. YES!! I finally got my hot dog as the guy at the tent door was announcing five minutes to go to the show. Just as well I hated the sausage. I should have known better - can't stand British sausages. I dumped it and went in.

The guy who took my ticket advised me that I could sit anywhere except the "private" seats. Ok. Went in. Eh - where were the "private" seats?! There were no signs to indicate. I just took a seat in the side section, which was empty.

The stage had a number of apples, strategically positioned. The first part of the show consisted of apple juggling, in various permutations, with people juggling while dancing with each other, fighting with each other, teasing each other. Clever enough.

For the rest, I refer you to the review I just posted on Time Out. I felt obliged, since the reviewer thought so much of it..

The reviewer thinks there's a lot more going on here than "a lot of old balls". I disagree. I think there's a lot less. I acknowledge the Pina Bausch references, and the first part of the show is accomplished enough. But the second, "darker", part is just a descent into ugly slapstick. This isn't a juggling show any more, it's not entertaining. And if you're trying to make some kind of connection with a critique of fascism or the like, I'm sorry, it's too disjointed for that and I don't think it holds up. I left when they were all crowded around the black performer, about to pour tea on him. I'd had enough, having just spent the past ten minutes watching them deliberately smash things and shout insults at each other. Sorry, too out there for me!

This show is dreadful. Please, avoid like the plague!! As one performer shouted at the audience at one point, "What a load of pretentious nonsense!" Indeed. I should have left a lot sooner than I did. At least the Tube was less crowded on the way back.

(I would have posted a link to it, but the Underbelly site seems to be down. What the hey, at least you won't be tempted to book, eh? I see they're running Limbo again - that's probably a better bet.)

Tomorrow is looking like a film, specifically The 400 Blows, a French film from 1959, showing at the Prince Charles Cinema. Just as well the strike ends tonight (for the week) - that would be complicated otherwise!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Film: Locke

I was originally planning to see Locke last week, but then it slipped in IMDB ratings and I went to see Calvary instead. So it took me until today to work my way around to Locke again. Handily, it's showing in my local Vue cinema, which I can walk to - which means the Tube strike was only of passing interest to me today!

So I had a leisurely evening and strolled down to the cinema at around 10 to 9, the first showing of this film being at 9.15. Handed in my £1.50 voucher - which I've had for weeks, I haven't been here in a while - and got it straight back again. See, they always give you a voucher if you buy your ticket at the till, and this time they just gave me the same one back again. Very environmentally friendly of them!

I was first in - there were about half a dozen of us in the end, I guess. They had allocated me a seat, but really, you could sit wherever you liked - and I did. I like the seats in front of the aisle, with no seat in front of you - can't complain about that legroom!

Locke turned out to be a fascinating film. It's just a pity that I can't really tell you about it, because that would give the story away! I can tell you that "Locke" is the star character's surname, and that we see him at the beginning of the film, leaving a construction site, taking off his mucky boots and putting them in a plastic bag before climbing into his comfy BMW. We see him strapping on his seatbelt, and the display asking him to wait as Bluetooth is enabled. This will be significant. And then he drives off.

He's played by Tom Hardy, who plays Welsh in this but is English, and who's shown up in a whole heap of films I've seen, but I don't remember him from any of them. Well, I'll remember him from now on. You would be hard pressed not to - he's the only person - apart from a few extras without speaking parts - that actually appears in the entire film. See, he spends the entire film driving down the motorway, through the night, because he needs to be somewhere urgently. It's a long drive. Along the way, he has to make, and take, a large number of important phone calls. The people on the other end of the phone are the only other characters, and we never see them. Looking them up afterwards, I would have recognised a face or two, but not by voice.

And, um, there we have it. :-) So the film consists of him driving down the motorway, through the night, and ends at about the point where he pulls off of it. And along the way, he has lots of phone conversations.

Sounds fascinating, huh?

Well, it is. It's amazingly well done. The story is gradually revealed through the phone calls, and is completely gripping, while being not at all unbelievable. There are no drug heists in this, no car chases, no gangstas. This is quite an ordinary bloke, and he's not broken the law. But still, he's having what you might call an exciting evening. I was just afraid he'd crash, with all the distractions! But no, he's a careful driver too. The editing is superb, using the confusion of car lights in the dark to heighten the tension. The focus blurs from time to time, to remind us that he's tired. I had my hands in front of my face for a considerable portion of the film, and I don't often do that. And you really empathise when the person on the other end of the phone is distracted and not paying attention to an important message, or emotional and acting irrationally, or when he gets a phone call from someone listed in his address book as "bastard", who turns out to be his boss. And yes, he does sound like one.

And it's a very human story, sensitively told. Highly recommended. A cut above the ordinary.

And tomorrow, I'm off to Smashed, at the Underbelly (or Udderbelly - they don't seem to be able to decide) Festival. Tube stop Embankment, like yesterday. A juggling display with something to say about fascism. Must check the Tube status tomorrow, but I'm sure I'll manage!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Play: 1984

I was happy to get a ticket to 1984, having missed its initial run in the Almeida, which was sold out. Well, tonight it opened in the Playhouse, and I got a ticket, at last. They're running a gimmick of providing 101 tickets for every performance at £19.84 - thing is, they're restricted view, so I skipped those and went for a "second-priced" ticket instead. And went with lastminute, who don't have booking fees, so it's cheaper despite the ticket price being the same.

Because of the Tube strike, I had researched my bus route, in case I needed it. However, I knew I'd be ok heading into town, as the strike wasn't to start till 9. So it proved, and I had a trouble-free journey to the Playhouse. It was nice, too, to arrive at Embankment and not have to climb up to the bridge, as I usually do! Great view, but a lot of steps. The Playhouse, on the other hand, is just around the corner to the left as you leave the station on the non-river side.

I collected my ticket. Lastminute doesn't give you seat numbers in advance, but they're pretty reliable in providing decent seats. I looked at my ticket. Row A of the dress circle - restricted view! Bah humbug. I knew from the seating reviews you can get online that this row has a somewhat restricted view because of the balcony rail. Not much I could do about it now, though. I got a glass of wine - you can take drinks into the auditorium if they're in plastic containers, which I did. I also decided, after sneaking a peek at a programme over someone's shoulder, that I'd better get one of those as well, not having read the book or seen the film..

The row, as promised by the seat review - and in common with other dress circle rows - had great legroom. And, as the person to my left remarked, if this was "restricted view", he'd take it! Yes, the balcony rail obscured the edge of the stage. But that didn't impinge on most of the action, and if you leaned forward a bit, the rail didn't restrict your view at all. You also get a terrific view of the theatre architecture from here, and the detail of the elaborate plastering. I busied myself with studying the programme, which I just had time to finish before the lights went down.

I did a bit of reading before this play, and I'm glad I did, although I guess you don't strictly need to. The play opens with a scene some time after 2050, with characters considering Winston Smith's diary, but soon the lead character is immersed in it, and we're back to the original story. And a powerful one it is, of a society controlled by the Party, headed by Big Brother. Every movement is monitored, and people suspected of rebelling are accused by the thought police. Food is rationed, people are told what to think. The Party introduces a new language called Newspeak, whose primary feature is that it is unique in being a language whose vocabulary actually decreases every year. The purpose of this is to make independent thought impossible, as there will be no vocabulary with which to express it. Doublethink is the rule, whereby you hold two contradictory opinions simultaneously.

The amazing thing about this story is how much of it you can relate to real-life events. Scarily. Children reporting on their parents. Constant surveillance. Thought crimes. "Unpersoning", where someone undesirable is simply erased from history. I could go on, but it's depressing. Anyhow, the play can't possibly cover all of them, but it does its best.

It is a powerful production, but I have a couple of quibbles with the end. It's powerful, it's visceral, but as the director, I would have played it with a little more solemnity. Dwelt on the horror a bit. In this, it feels a bit rushed. Never mind, it's a terrific introduction if you haven't seen it before. I liked that it didn't have an interval - the more so because it ended at 9.20, and TFL had said they'd try to run the District Line to Wimbledon - my line - with departures until 9.30 at least from central London. So I got the Tube home after all - although there were delays, due, apparently, to congestion, around Earl's Court. So what's new?!

For tomorrow, it's looking like a film, and that is looking like Locke. Which is handy, because it's showing in my local cinema, and I can walk there. So much for the strike! On Wednesday, however, I'm off to town again - to Smashed, at the Underbelly Festival. Yes, the purple cow is back, staging circus feats. This is a juggling show, with, apparently, something to say about fascism. O goodness! :-)

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Film: These Birds Walk

These Birds Walk was top of the film list today. Showing only in the Gate, Notting Hill, it was easy to get to - District Line from West Brompton straight to Notting Hill Gate, take Exit 2, and it's right in front of you. I was early, and ended up queueing for a ticket behind a rather timid man, who explained that he needed four tickets. Then a woman behind him explained to the person on the till that this was the director..! with whom we were to have a Q+A afterwards.

I was second to take a seat in the cinema. Deposited my bag on the convenient shelf beside my seat, and sank into the plush upholstery. They really do have comfortable seats! The film was late starting - whether because they were doing stuff with the director, or flogging stuff, I don't know. Certainly, one woman introduced herself as one of the distributors - this was a private screening, organised by the distributors - and pointed out that dvds were available from her husband, who was sitting over there with the cash box. You could also get dvds of their previous release, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Now, that's a film I never got to see and was disappointed that I didn't - but I passed on actually buying it.

The cinema soon filled up, almost entirely with people of Indian / Pakistani origin, by the looks of it, and we were off. Eventually. This is a documentary about street children in Karachi, and particularly the work of the Edhi foundation. At a bit over an hour long, it's a stunningly filmed piece, following the lives of a few specific children. There are brief interviews with the head of the foundation, after whom it's named, but, as confirmed in the Q+A afterwards, he was generally too busy to take much interest in the film. It's an intimate peek into the kids' lives, and shows, among other things, one of the ambulance drivers returning a bunch of them to their families. One kid, who's run away, is terrified to go back lest they beat him. Another lives in Taliban territory. The poor driver is scared to go there, and surprised when he does, to discover what a wasteland this kid is from. There are no houses there! Finally, the house appears, over the hill. The family admits that they tend to leave all of the kids at Edhi from time to time - it's handy, and they love it there. The driver, mind you, would rather be delivering dead bodies to the morgue - that's another facet of the service, and one that he gets paid for..

It looks beautiful, but frankly the Q+A afterwards was more interesting. One of the co-directors, who also produced and acted as cinematographer, Omar Mullick, was on hand to answer questions. I wasn't expecting much, given his timid demeanour in the lobby, and how reticent he was to say a few words beforehand. But my, he was fascinating! Turns out that he studied political philosophy in college, then scrapped graduate school to go make films. He also works as a conflict photographer for National Geographic - no wonder the film looks so well.

He was asked what the title refers to. Well, we'll have to make our own judgement about that, because he declined to answer. I guess the title wasn't his idea. Anyway, he had plenty to say about how he had wanted to focus on individuals, to make us empathise with them, because the last thing he wanted was to produce a piece of "poverty porn". Hear, hear! He pointed out how making this film was different from making a similar film in the States, where he studied, because, essentially, people hear "Pakistan" and think of poverty automatically. It becomes stylised. He wanted to get out of that trap. He explained how he had edited out coverage of a disabled child, because the film wasn't all about that child, and the image would have detracted from the rest of the film.

Someone asked him about his coverage of religion in the film, and he had interesting things to say about having grown up in secular Britain, and how he had wanted to portray the sincerity of these people's faith, in a respectful way. And someone else asked him about how institutions have failed in Pakistan, leaving the job to charities, which he thought a very insightful question. This led him into talking about the founder of Edhi, after whom the organisation was named, and who, as a young man, made his way overland to Britain, where he was so impressed by the welfare state that he determined to reproduce it in Pakistan. A truly remarkable man.

After the film, I hopped over to Tesco to buy some Indian food for dinner, having been inspired by the film. My trip home afterwards was not so straightforward. There was no sign of a District Line train in Notting Hill Gate, and given that there was a delay until the next Circle Line train, and a huge crowd on the platform, indicating that there hadn't been a train in a while, I said I'd better take the Circle Line when it came. Mind you, there is no stop on the Circle Line within walking distance of my home, but I said I'd change to the District Line at Gloucester Road, where I'd have a greater choice of trains. However, when I got there, the Westbound platform indicator said there were no trains at all departing from that platform that day! I knew the Circle wasn't, but the District Line should've been.. so I ended up taking the Piccadilly Line back to Earl's Court and walking from there. What are they doing - preparing us for the strike tomorrow?! At least the chicken tikka samosas I got were delicious. Planning to have the curry soon.

Tomorrow is 1984, at the Playhouse. Better do my homework first, both on the book, and on what buses to get back, given that the strike starts tomorrow evening!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Film: Life Feels Good

I didn't think I'd get this blog done at all - when I tried to open the dashboard, it just displayed a blank page. Turns out to be yet another Internet Explorer issue! Honestly, where is it going to end? That's now the third page I can't safely open in IE, after Google Maps and Time Out. Although this is the first that's been a problem in Windows 8. I dunno, that browser just gets worse.

Right then, let's get going. So, with getting theatre tickets proving to be an ongoing problem, I was headed to a film again today. And after checking the IMDB ratings, it was down to two - Dinosaur 13 and Life Feels Good. IMDB didn't have a trailer for either of them, I had to look them up on YouTube.. after which, I decided that Life Feels Good looked the more interesting of the two.

It was showing as part of the Polish Film Festival at Riverside Studios. So that meant a bus trip. Good job I headed out early - firstly, the bus was late. (Distractions while I was waiting included a couple of guys wanting to know whether they were in the right place for EasyBus - they were, according to the address on their confirmation. Interesting - I hadn't known they stopped just there. The other main distraction was the chap heading down the road dressed in a grass skirt and a floral garland. Oh, and running shoes. Brr..) Secondly, the traffic on Fulham Palace Road was atrocious! Thirdly, the cinema was packed - not completely full, but nearly. So I was happy to get there in time to get a seat near the back - you enter from the back and there are steps down, and without a rail. With my fear of steps, I find it an absolute nightmare. The fewer steps, the better, then.

It turns out that this is the UK premiere, and we had two of the main actors for the Q+A. Anyway, I knew from the trailer that this was a film about a young man with cerebral palsy, who is unable to speak, and thought to be mentally retarded, although he isn't. It looked like it was handled in a fun way.

Well, what I saw was astounding. The film is never mawkish, but deals with this guy's problems with a great sense of humour. There are some laugh-out loud moments. Then, as the film progresses, and he moves from the supportive environment of his family to the officiousness of a state-run institution, some of what happens is horrifying. But then we're back to his indomitable sense of humour again. And scenes near the end, when, through a new system, he learns to communicate, are profoundly moving. Both I and the lady beside me were in tears.

As the film progressed, it occurred to me to wonder whether this guy was actually disabled. Because, if he wasn't, this was an astounding piece of acting. I read the name on the credits. And then - it turned out that he was one of the actors in the Q+A! Dawid Ogrodnik - remember the name. Completely able-bodied. I leapt to my feet to join some others in a standing ovation. I remember Daniel Day-Lewis, who got an Oscar for performing a similar role in My Left Foot. Will this actor be similarly praised? I hope so - it was a remarkable performance at the centre of a lovely film.

In the Q+A, everyone who asked a question was Polish. I suspect the non-Polish were few at that screening. There was an interpreter on-hand, though. There was some hilarity when Dawid, who speaks some English, forgot to go through the interpreter, who promptly repeated everything he just said! (phrased slightly differently.) The guy beside me asked whether there was a political subtext to the film - "No", was the short answer. Someone asked how much time Dawid spent with the man on whom the film is based. Turns out he only met him three or four times. He was also helped by a mime artist. Unbelievable.

Had a chilly wait for the bus back, which was, of course, late. Tomorrow's film is looking set to be These Birds Walk, showing at the Gate cinema in Notting Hill. It's a documentary about street children in Karachi. And for Monday, I managed to score a ticket to the opening night of 1984, a new production that kicks off where the book left off. I missed its run in the Almeida, but now it's moved to the Playhouse, which is closer. I see they have a number of tickets for £19.84, but they all have restricted view, so I went with the next price up. I got a better deal with lastminute than with the venue website - same price, but lastminute doesn't charge booking fees. Which saves me a few quid! With a Tube strike planned for the beginning of next week, I may have to take a bus, and would do well to check the routes. But they're going to try to run trains on my line, although less frequently - so we'll see.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Concert: Hard Facade

Yes, Hard Façade was playing again! And given that I work with two of the members, and I actually like what they do, it was obvious where I was going to be tonight! At least Club 229 is closer than where they last played..

Well, someone at the office heard that The London Cocktail Club on Goodge Street had good reviews, so we went there first, for a drink. Except some went before others - some of us had things to tidy up. So we remaining three - Martin, Nadjia, and I - followed behind. I had a rough idea where it was - but the man with the iPhone led us astray. Oh, those iPhones.. After some discussion about the best way to go, we walked from Oxford Circus, but the iPhone led us on something of a merry dance before we finally located the basement we were after!

Yes, it's in a basement. Valeriya, who booked it, had warned us not to judge it by its scruffy appearance. We didn't, despite the clamber down the iron steps, with graffiti on the walls. Once inside, we made our way to the back, where she had reserved a table. First impressions? Cramped, crowded, dark and dingy. We clustered around a teeny table in the far corner, and perused the enormous cocktail menu. I didn't see anything I was familiar with, but made a choice eventually. And after an interval, the server (with the interesting tattoos) appeared, took our order, and disappeared again.

Before our drinks had a chance to arrive, the server returned to tell us that our hour's booking was up, and no, we couldn't extend it - another party had booked the table. Well, what can you do? Friday night, eh? She did, however, agree to find us another table. And so it was that we crowded around an even smaller table out front, where our drinks were waiting for us. With, eh, nothing to tell which was which - we had to go chase her to ask.

The main part of the bar is interestingly decorated. It's kind of Hallowe'en every day here, apparently - the space above the bar is decorated with bloodstained butcher's cleavers and such, and, for goodness' sake, a giant red Lego man! Holding a bottle of booze, naturally. Speaking of which, I had ordered a "green lady" - a twist on a white lady - which went down very smoothly, I must say. You have to give them credit for their inventiveness of drink container - one was served in a Pot Noodle container, another cocktail in a beer glass. There's also a food menu - listed on the back of a plastic VHS storage box, with a sleeve advertising "Food Porn"! Mainly, they had chicken nuggets, hot dogs, chips, onion rings, and the like. We ordered some nuggets - not mad about these - and some chips, which were delicious.

When we'd done, we hot-footed it to the venue. Which was, again, in a basement. A bigger, and, when we arrived, much emptier space this time. Our lads played a blinder, but sadly, only for about half an hour this time - which not only deprived us of hearing some material, but deprived the lead singer of his chance to work the crowd. They had two new songs - their new ballad went down well, a nice change of pace. I also liked Nabeel's new beret. (Will wardrobe surprises become a feature?) The lighting was a bit weird, cutting out completely at one point and changing awkwardly throughout the set. But the sound was good, and we all had a blast! Glad to see a good turn-out from the office this time.

I found the bar prices reasonable, at £4 for quite a decent-sized glass of wine. The room gradually filled as the night wore on - pity they weren't there to see Hard Façade. I stayed for the next two bands, but wasn't as enamoured of them, and since I was tired, when I'd had enough to drink I called it a night earlier than most of the group. Still, roll on the next gig, at The Pavilion, Brick Lane, on the 30th May. Barring anything earlier that I haven't heard about yet..

Meantime, for tomorrow, there are a couple of plays I'd like to see, but they're sold out - so it's back to films. Two are vying for top spot - think I'll go for Life Feels Good, showing at Riverside Studios as part of the Polish Film Festival.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Play: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

'Tis Pity She's a Whore came up in the Time Out listings, and sounded like fun, so I had a look at how it was booking. I was impressed to see it had sold out for last night, and tomorrow night - but there was exactly one ticket left for tonight! So I booked it.

I love the Barbican really - it's such a varied venue, and shows such a range of stuff - but it's such a trial to get to. I set off in decent time, but still just missed the Tube I should have got, to go my regular way - Edgeware Road, then change trains for Barbican. (I blame the woman in front of me, at the only entrance gate, whose card didn't work, but who kept trying it rather than let me through. Grrr!) Anyway, watching my train pull away as I headed towards the platform, and figuring that if I waited for the next one to Edgeware Road I'd be late, I made a quick decision that the fastest was probably to take the next train, change to the Piccadilly Line at Earl's Court and take that to Kings Cross / St Pancras, then switch to a train that passed through Barbican. And that is what I did.

I arrived at Barbican Tube station at about 7.15 (the show was at 7.30), crossed the road, headed down the tunnel, turned right at the end. I knew from the helpful website that the show was in the Silk Street Theatre, whose entrance is via the main Barbican entrance on Silk Street if you're going to a Barbican show. Interestingly, it's actually adjacent to the Barbican proper, in the Guildhall School, through which you're supposed to enter if it's a Guildhall School production. This being a Barbican production, I was to enter through the Barbican - so, although it was my first time at this theatre, at least I was familiar with the entrance!

And once I had passed through the entrance, I immediately got lost. Well, the Barbican does that to you! and I don't get here often enough. Anyway, I knew I should roughly be heading left, so I meandered into the lobby, and finally saw the sign for the Silk Street Theatre ahead of me. Pointing left, as it should. Good stuff! So I got there in the end. And joined the queue to collect my ticket.

And waited, and waited. The other ticket desks in the Barbican are much more efficient - there were only three people in front of me, there's no way I should have been kept waiting five minutes! The bell went twice for us to take our seats, and I was still queueing. But you see, there was only one person behind the desk, which was very remiss. And everyone ahead of me seemed to have some special request, for goodness' sake! When I finally got to the desk, my business was concluded in 10 seconds.. I took my seat, which was fine and comfortable, and then we must have waited another ten minutes for the performance to start. Despite having sold out, there were still some empty seats - possibly people who just hadn't been able to make the trek here. And it is a trek, for most.

This is a modern staging of a 17th Century play, set in Bologna. Ah yes, all things of this nature seem to be set in Italy! Anyway, the plot concerns a brother and sister who fall in love with each other. As you can imagine, it does not end well. But, if you don't know the play, I doubt you can imagine the scope of events in it! It's got blood and gore, nudity, murder, mutilation, and the fires of hell. Just as well they decide to play it with a great deal of imagination and a terrific sense of humour! It's full of dance numbers, there are a couple of stripteases, and most of the actors are very nice to look at. Just as well the performance was captioned, though - they've kept the original script, of course, and some of the actors were hard to follow.

It's great fun, but quite visceral, and maybe not for those of a delicate disposition. Anyway, the run, which finishes on Saturday, is now sold out completely, but keep an eye out for returns if you're interested, or for another run of it. It sold out its last run as well, two years ago. Runs for two hours, without an interval - but you don't feel the time passing.

And tomorrow is Hard Façade, playing in Club 229. I got a deal by also buying a ticket for their next gig, on the 30th May, in The Pavilion, Brick Lane. Great to see them getting regular gigs now.. Hopefully there will be a better attendance from the office at these than at the last gig I was at, a bit out of town, where I was the only one from the office that showed up!!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Film: Calvary

Well see, what happened was that Locke was the highest rated film (according to IMDB)showing in London today - that I hadn't seen and would be interested in seeing (my usual criteria). But when I checked its rating some days later, it had slipped slightly - putting it on a par with Calvary, which I would rather see. So I did. (My mother didn't fancy going to the cinema over the weekend, after all.)

It's unfortunate that, unlike Locke, it isn't showing in my local cinema. The nearest place, in fact, that it's showing is in the Odeon Kensington - still walking distance, but that bit further. It's actually closer to the office - but the only evening showing is at 8, which meant that I had to go home first and go from there. And it was raining, too. Bah humbug!

I didn't bother waiting for someone to rip my ticket - I know better here, now, and there was nobody anyway. I meandered my way to Screen 6, and arrived during a trailer for another Irish film - Jimmy's Hall. A typically gritty-looking Ken Loach film, it's released next month and not yet rated. Looks worth a look - set in the 30s.

And so to Calvary. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, who also wrote and directed The Guard, Calvary stars a veritable who's who of Irish talent. Brendan Gleeson, who also starred in The Guard, stars in Calvary as the parish priest of a small Sligo village. No mistaking the location - the bulk of Ben Bulben looms large throughout the film, an ominous landmark to match the dark deeds taking place in its shadow. His son, Domhnall Gleeson, has one scene, as a young man imprisoned for murder. David Wilmot, who also appeared in The Guard, plays the hapless curate, Orla O' Rourke the local femme fatale, and Gary Lydon the local not-so-long-arm of the law.

And, as is apparent from the trailer, the thing is packed with comedians!
  • Chris O' Dowd is the butcher, unfortunately married to Orla O' Rourke, poor chap!
  • Dylan Moran is the best I've seen him, as the local financier that everyone loves to hate.
  • Pat Shortt, another cast member from The Guard, is the publican.
  • Finally, in an inspired piece of casting that's hilarious in itself, David McSavage is the bishop! Anyone that's familiar with his satirical series, The Savage Eye, will appreciate - given how much he lambasts the Catholic Church - just how much he must have relished playing a bishop..
If you've seen the trailer, you know that the basic story concerns the priest, who, in the first scene of the film, is hearing confession when the man confessing explains that he plans to kill him in a week. He, apparently, recognises the voice - we spend most of the film wondering who it is, and there are a couple of red herrings, naturally. If you have a good ear for voices, you might get it before it's revealed, but it ain't made easy.

Before I saw this, I remember discussing it with another Irish person who hadn't seen it, and who was dubious. Despite its popularity in the UK, he put it down to the general popularity of Irish films abroad, and was suspicious that it would be full of twee characters.

Boy, was he wrong.

An early line - the priest, in the confessional, saying, "That's certainly a startling opening line" - got a laugh from the back. That was the last time anyone laughed in that cinema during this film. Which isn't to say that there aren't some terrific one-liners. And the aforementioned comedians are a joy to watch, vaguely humorous even when they're playing it straight.

But if this is a comedy, it's a very black one. This priest's community is a microcosm of modern Ireland, its members taking cheap potshots at Ireland's two favourite punching bags - the Church and the banks. Everybody has an axe to grind, and here is this honest, humble priest, with a true vocation, trying to bring a message that nobody wants to hear. This is a very, very powerful film, and makes a very serious point in a visceral way. The final scene is played in silence, and the credits roll over a black screen, in silence for about 60 seconds. You're meant to take a message from this film, which delivers it as effectively as it possibly can.

* * * * *

Go see. Film of the year so far.

Well! For tomorrow, I got THE very last ticket for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore at the Barbican. Sold out tonight and on Friday. We'll see whether the production merits such enthusiasm! It's a modern setting for a 17th-century play - always interesting to see how they go. And then Hard Façade is playing again on Friday - at Club 229. Must see about tickets for their next two gigs tomorrow..

Saturday, 19 April 2014

One Year Old!

Whee! One year old today! Well, it's past midnight now, so the anniversary was yesterday - but never mind. Sorry, I was busy! Anyway, it doesn't feel like a year since I started posting blogs about lovely London.. but if you check the records, it is. And the play I saw then is one I didn't even remember the name of when I saw it - had to read the post to bring it all flooding back.

Anyway, I've had a ball, both in writing about things, and more particularly, going to them. So here's a list of some of my favourite things about London, as they occur to me.. if you know them too, hope you agree! If you don't know them, maybe you'll get some ideas. In no particular order, here are the things I love best about the place:

  • The view from the Hungerford Bridge
    I've often mentioned this. I love going to the BFI, the National Theatre, or, less frequently, the Southbank Centre, if it's a fine evening, because then the handiest way is to get the Tube to Embankment station and cross the bridge. And, day or night, the view is STUNNING! (As evidenced by all the photo-taking tourists you need to dodge as you cross.) By day, you get skyscrapers and St. Paul's; by night, it's lit up like a year-round Christmas tree. You get views of the London Eye and Westminster if you cross on the other side of the rail bridge. Really, you can't lose! Free sightseeing. Good buskers, too.
  • The cluttered skyline
    They keep complaining about it, but I love it. Yes, St. Paul's is swamped by skyscrapers, but it's a function of just how much there is in this relatively small area. And it's all as dramatic as ever, down at ground level.
  • That sweep around the front of Buckingham Palace and down the Mall
    If anything were designed to make you feel small.. yes, there's a huge expanse of pinkish tarmac outside Buckingham Palace, with a whopping great statue of Queen Victoria in it, and it's all so much more imposing than just the palace itself. Terrific place to feel like a tourist, and join the hordes of them. Great on a sunny day, and plenty of souvenir shops around if you desire. And the atmosphere on the night Prince George was born was electric, with crowds clambering over each other to see the easel inside the palace gates, announcing the news, and the world's media staked out across the road!
  • The South Bank, around the Southbank Centre, BFI, National
    So, when I get off the bridge and am heading to one of the above venues, it's just annoying, with the crowds that usually throng it. But when I'm not in a hurry, it's fantastic on a sunny day, with river views, tourists, restaurants, and a massive book market under Waterloo Bridge.
  • Further down the South Bank, around the Globe
    I don't get down here so often, so it's a treat when I do. As well as the Globe, a reconstruction of Shakespeare's original theatre - which stages exhibitions and Shakespearian plays - there's a Pizza Express nearby whose first floor has fantastic views across to St. Paul's.
  • The City
    I love history, so I'd have to love the City, which covers the area of the original city that was London. Give me an excuse, o please, to wander the winding alleys between the skyscrapers. In a glorious lack of planning, there is no separation between old and modern buildings, so if you know where to look, you can find the most astonishing gems. Walking tours involving this area are highly recommended.
  • The Tube
    My favourite way of getting to places too far to walk. The fastest, most reliable, and most frequent of London's many transport methods - most places will list the nearest Tube station in their directions, and certainly on the North side of the river, you're never far from one. 
  • The Overground
    Cleaner, newer, and more spacious than the Tube, it's also cheaper for getting to the far side of town, as it goes around, rather than through, the centre. Trains are infrequent though, which can be a nuisance.
  • The buses
    They get hampered by traffic, and road works, otherwise I'd take a bus more often. It's cool - usually less crowded than the Tube at busy times, and you get a better view. It's nice to see the streets of London, rather than speed underneath them. They're a nice, bright red colour. And these are the easiest buses in the world to use - each stop has a name, and the name of the next stop is displayed on an lcd screen, and by announcement, on the bus. So all you have to know is the name of your stop! Cheaper than the Tube, and lots of the bus stops have displays telling you what number buses are due, and how long it should take them to get there. Once you get a basic idea of what buses go where you want, you're laughing!
  • The Royal Albert Hall
    I don't get here so often these days, but it's a grand old building. And the highest level of boxes are my favourite seats in the house - for £20 you get a seat in a box that sits four, and really isn't too high to enjoy the action. I don't like going higher here - it gets very steep.
  • The Royal Opera House
    Another grand old building - once you get into the theatre. Before you get that far, it's all modern design, with some striking features. And it's quite a fairytale feeling, getting off the Tube at Covent Garden. Lift access, so no breathlessness from climbing stairs. Definitely a place worth dressing up for.
  • The BFI
    A terrific and varied programme, with many rare films. The seats are plush, all showings include film notes that you can pick up on the way in so you know what's notable about what you're seeing. They take film seriously. Also sells books and dvds. The place for film buffs!
  • Cineworld
    There are lots of them, and they show a good range of films. Particularly good for that Bollywood blockbuster that nobody else is showing. Seating is comfortable, and they give a 10% discount for booking in advance, if you've registered (for free). Or, if you can guarantee that you'll buy at least two tickets a month, you can get an Unlimited card, which does what it says on the tin - all tickets and food bought at the cinema are free. But there is a monthly fee, which is why I say you need to ensure you buy enough tickets to make it worthwhile!
  • Theatres above / behind pubs
    These are amazing. Lots of London pubs have a back room, or a room upstairs, that is used as a theatre. Sometimes tiny, but you wouldn't believe how good the shows can be in these places! Most of the plays I see are in such venues, and by and large the quality is far superior to the bigger shows, with higher prices, in places like the National Theatre.
  • The Curzon Soho
    Worth a mention because of its proximity to Chinatown - very handy for a bite to eat, before or after. Also a nice cinema in its own right, with a little cafe. Good range of arthouse films.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Concert: Limerick Choral Union 50th Anniversary

Given that I was going to be back in Ireland early for the weekend, Good Friday being a bank holiday in the UK - although not in Ireland - I was free to go to Limerick Choral Union's 50th anniversary concert, in the University Concert Hall, Limerick. It was nice to have something to go to on Good Friday, which tends to be low-key.

We usually eat in the Merry Pedlar pub, in the Castletroy Park Hotel, when we're going to the University Concert Hall - the hotel is right across the road and it's handy. But my meal there was so tasteless last time that we considered going to Finnegan's instead - we've often had a good meal there. And then it occurred to us that today was a "dry" day, when alcohol can't be sold - one of only two in the year, along with Christmas Day - and in consequence, many pubs close on those days. We weren't sure about Finnegan's, but given that it was out of our way, we decided not to risk it, but to try the Castletroy Park again instead, which was guaranteed to be open, being a hotel.

We were pleased to discover that they interpret the rule as allowing diners who are not residents one alcoholic drink with their meal - in our case, a small glass of wine each. We did notice that the pumps were covered, so I doubt your alcoholic drink could have been a pint. But we did see others with wine, or a bottle of beer or cider.

I was particularly hungry, so decided to have a starter, although we don't normally here, because the service is so slow. Soup of the day was vegetable (gee, what a surprise!) and I know their soup is good, so I ordered some, and the crispy chicken, which came with "creole mayonnaise". I asked them to leave out the coleslaw - I don't like to mix it with hot food. I think it's actually a good idea to order a starter here - otherwise, you might faint from hunger while waiting for the main course. Anyway, the soup was, indeed, excellent - as was the main course! The chicken tasted of something this time, and the mayonnaise that accompanied it was delicious. The potato wedges were a bit burnt, and a bit too spicy, but fine - and my mother's salmon was perfect, she testified. She was also very taken with the miniature saucepan that the sauce for her meal came in - she asks for it on the side. A recommendable meal this time - well done, folks!

We had a look at the dessert menu, but she didn't fancy anything, so we said we'd have an ice cream at the concert hall. The soup and salmon were on the special menu, unlike my chicken, so were priced as if the same person had them, which was nice of them, as it gave us a small discount. They're a little pricey there. But we were well satisfied, and had our ice creams at the concert hall while reading the souvenir programme. Despite the elderly gent, who, as I sat down, was convinced that I had his programme - he'd mistaken the table he'd left it at! (No alcohol here, BTW - the bar was all locked up.) We saw many red-gowned people about, and thought at first that there had been a conferring, since this is the building where they take place. But they turned out to be choir members, in their choir costumes.

We couldn't get our normal row, and were much closer to the stage than usual, albeit in a good position at the centre of the row. My mother was worried it'd be too loud for her, but I figured it wouldn't be over-amplified. They hadn't opened the balconies for tickets, so it was just the stalls, which were pretty much completely full. Apart from the seats in front of her, which remained unfilled - handily enough! She had an idea that a relative of a neighbour of ours was in this choir, and sure enough, as they filed onstage, she saw him - third from the left in the very back row. I counted 91 singers in total (although they claim 110). There was also an orchestra in front, a conductor, a grand piano and harpischord - both of which were played by the same person - and four soloists; a soprano, an alto, a tenor, and a baritone. Oh, and the mc. That's a lot of people - their very first concert, 50 years ago, was in St. Mary's Cathedral. The original member list was printed in the programme, and listed 84 people. That's a much smaller venue. They must have practically blown the roof off..

Well, the evening began with the mc wittering on. And he reappeared before every new piece. A bit monotonous. My mind started to drift during his speechifying, and then I started to recognise his voice. Sure enough, when we checked the programme at the interval, it turned out to be Lorcan Murray, a dj well known to anyone who listens to Lyric FM, which is based in Limerick. Other famous persons included the Lord Mayor, who sat in the front row, and the composers of the first piece, written about Limerick and debuted tonight. One of the composers - Mary Coll - is actually a choir member as well.

"And so to the music", as the man said. The first piece was "Spirestone", the aforementioned new work, commissioned especially for this show. As with most new classical music, it's a strange beast - but this one is rather inspiring, evocative of hundreds of years of Limerick's history. And then we were into more familiar territory, with a piece from Orfeo ed Euridice, a piece from Elijah, by Mendelssohn, and the big guns of Laudate Dominum (Mozart) and Stabat Mater (Verdi).

During the interval, the woman to my right asked me to confirm, from the programme, who the mc was - they'd been having a discussion about it. Then she wondered whether so-and-so was playing one of the trombones - she'd be surprised, he's the musical director at Mary Immaculate College, apparently! Sure enough, that was him.. indeed, the mc himself let us in on the fact that one of the chorists was his next-door neighbour - and he had never even known he was in the choir! Despite having lived next door for 15 years.. We also figured that Mary Coll's family were sitting just in front of us - she and the other composer had each got a floral presentation after its performance, and these people got to mind Mary's for the second half of the concert.

After the interval, we were treated to Mozart's Requiem. All four soloists were required for this, and I did notice that the alto seemed very nervous - she smiled too much, and her hand was shaking as she held the music. The tenor kept glancing across at her. Didn't affect her singing, though. Attagirl. The baritone, BTW, was a very smiley, bearded Hungarian.

Two things occurred to me during tonight's concert. Firstly, the standout performer, for me, was the soprano, Franzita Whelan, whose voice soared. She runs a music academy, apparently. On the basis of her performance, I'd have to recommend it. I think she was the only soloist who could probably be described as experienced, although the performances were all flawless. The second thing that occurred to me was - how ever can they expect people to be solemn and prayerful in the presence of such glorious music? It was breathtaking, and the extended standing ovation was well deserved.

Nothing specific planned for the rest of the weekend, although there's been talk of going to Flanagan's restaurant in Killaloe, and to see the film Calvary. We shall see. I'm not back to London until Tuesday night - the flights for Monday were prohibitively expensive, so I said I'd take Tuesday off and fly back then. For Wednesday, for now, it's looking like a film - I'm liking the look of Locke, the trailer looks excellent. Again, we shall see.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lunch: The Warwick Arms

I had to say something about the lunch we had today. Someone in the office had the idea of going to the Warwick Arms, so a group of us tagged along, it being a nice day.

It turns out to be about a ten-minute walk from our office. I've passed it many times, but never been in, although I remember considering it once. What I've missed! The main entrance is off the main road, in a small alley. The outdoor seating was in the shade, which made it a bit too cool, so we sat inside. It's a lovely, cosy little pub, traditional decor, with wood panelling and plenty of ornaments. They have a gimmick on Wednesdays, so the sign advertised, that you can roll the dice, and if you get a double 6, your drinks are free! (Champagne excluded..) Despite a large group of us showing up without a reservation, we had no problem getting a table.

There are two menus - a regular bar menu, with the usual fare, and a full Indian menu. Well, what with having seen an Indian film yesterday, I was just in the mood for an Indian. I hadn't been able to have one yesterday because I had food in the fridge, that was due to go off. So I ordered a chicken tikka masala, with steamed rice. I wanted apple juice, but all they had was J20 apple and mango - which was very refreshing.

Our group was served gradually, each dish being brought out as it was ready - a sign of freshly prepared food. Mine came in a very exotic-looking setup - tikka and rice each served in tin bowls, each bowl balanced on a matching holder that contained a nightlight, to keep the food warm. The tikka came in a bowl with handles on the side, the rice bowl had a handle attached around the rim. Laura was impressed with the colour of the tikka - not fluorescent orange, as often happens. Well, it was gorgeous! The others all enjoyed their food, but those who had Indian gave it the highest praise. As Paul - who had chilli - remarked, while it was spicy, it was tasty, without just burning your mouth. Now, that is a find. Someone in that kitchen is a terrific Indian chef, and I have no hesitation in recommending it as the best Indian I've had in London so far! The rice is priced a bit steep, starting at £4, but combined with a main course for £8.95, for the quality we got, it's great value!

Well, I'm back in Ireland now, and next on the agenda is the Limerick Choral Union 50th anniversary concert, at the University Concert Hall. Limerick, tomorrow evening. Should be lovely - only thing is, it's a "dry" day, one of two in the year - Good Friday and Christmas Day. So no alcohol can be sold! Although I do hear that theatres are exempt, if you have a ticket for the show. So we might be ok! ;-)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Film: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox has been top of the film list for these few days, and it was about time I saw it. I would've seen it on Monday, but Time Out recommended me a play instead, and I went to that. Still, I was glad to get to The Lunchbox, finally, today.

It has a limited release, and the nearest cinema showing it is the Gate, in Notting Hill. Now, that's one I really didn't have to look up how to get to. Only showing at 6.30, the Tube was more reliable than a bus in rush-hour traffic. And if you take the right exit, I know from experience that the Gate is right in front of you as you emerge. Actually, if you check the map before choosing an exit, the exits are numbered on it, and the Gate cinema is shown on it. So it's really easy. Leave by Exit 2, and the cinema sign looms high above you at street level.

The lady at the till assigned me a seat, and I went in. There's only one screen, so it's hard to get lost! Of course, someone was sitting in my seat. So I was happy to sit in the next row forward. This hadn't been booking heavily when I checked online, and I didn't think I'd be usurping anyone's place. Anyway, it turned out - it's been a while since I was here, and I didn't remember - that the screen is too small for the size of the venue, really, and the middle, which I'd requested, is a bit far back. This isn't the Electric Cinema - a few minutes' walk up the road, and the last cinema I visited in Notting Hill - but they do like their comfy cinemas in this part of town! My seat was fabulously comfortable, and they do have little shelves between every second pair of seats. And again, the ceiling was terrifically ornate! Long may Notting Hill cinemas thrive..

The Lunchbox is an Indian film, set in Mumbai. A young housewife, neglected by her husband, seeks to win his heart again by cooking him the best lunches she can manage, sent via the famous lunchbox delivery system, collected from the home and delivered to the husband, at his desk. But when, upon coming home, he mentions something she didn't cook, she realises that her lunches have, unusually, been misdirected! (There's a very funny scene where she argues with the delivery man, who's insistent that this is a world-famous system and is infallible.) Meantime, an older man, close to retirement, whose wife has died, notices that the lunches he's been ordering from a local restaurant have been improving in quality..

So one day she includes a note with the lunch, thanking the anonymous diner for finishing all the lunch she cooked, explaining that it was meant for her husband but has gone astray. He replies, sending back the tiffin box with another note, and they duly become pen pals.

Each finds an outlet for their loneliness in this exchange, and it makes for a completely charming, and very moving, film. As a co-worker of his remarks, upon seeing him reading a handwritten note - it's very old-fashioned in these days of email! And all the lovelier for it. Makes you hanker for those days, and for someone to write a letter to, and to receive one from. Well, of course, something of a relationship develops between them, and the ending is as ambiguous as can be. The best kind. Oh, and watch out for the commuting scenes, on the trains - reminiscent of London, really. Just no women, you'll notice!

Back to Ireland for Easter tomorrow. And heading to the Limerick Choral Union concert, at the University Concert Hall, Limerick on Friday, of which the highlight will be Mozart's Requiem. Looking forward to that..!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Play: A Small Family Business

Yes, indeed. I was thinking of going to an Indian film tonight - The Lunchbox - that's getting terrific reviews. But I hadn't booked it, which left me open to the vagaries of the Time Out listings. Sure enough, it was plays, plays, plays with them when I checked yesterday. After checking the ones I couldn't get tickets for, and carefully considering some I decided weren't for me, I hit on A Small Family Business, playing at the National Theatre.

Checking the venue website for tickets, I discovered that the cheapest were gone (naturally) and the norm was £50. However, there were about two seats left in the circle for £28. Knowing that this is a venue whose shows often have tickets available on discount sites, I shopped around, but although a couple were selling top-price seats for about £41, mostly they were no cheaper than the National's own website for this show, and I wouldn't recommend them. Some were selling the £50 tickets for even more, despite the venue itself having plenty! Be careful.. I went with the venue, which had no booking fee, and only suggested a 5% voluntary donation, which I thought was very reasonable. Most places ask for 10%.

Of course, it always takes longer than expected to get there. Today, I had little to spare from 50 minutes. I decided to count the steps on the way up to the bridge - 23 to the landing, then another 21. Despite being in a slight hurry, and needing to go to the toilet, I had to stop for a photo..

Look closely at the bridge. What's that they say about buses all coming at once?!
Anyway, I entered the theatre building just as the bell went for the final call. Good job I'd checked which of the three theatres in this building the play was showing in - the Olivier. For once, I knew exactly where I was going! There are lifts to the Olivier, and you get your ticket from a kiosk at the theatre entrance, on Level 2, if you're within a certain time of the show start. This is better than queueing at the main box office - which had moved anyway, for building works. So I gratefully hopped in a lift, with a lady who was very anxious that she'd be late. And she with her ticket in hand! The employee in the lift - do they have lift operators now? - assured her that we had at least five minutes. Exit the lift, and the kiosk is just to your left. I soon had my ticket, but no time to visit the facilities, damnit! I decided I'd better head straight in. I soon found my row, but my brain deserted me and I entered from the wrong end, forcing a whole row of people to stand to let me pass. My apologies, folks - of course there was an aisle at the other end I could have used! I had time to sit, take off my coat, and get myself organised, but I wouldn't have had time to go to the toilet..
I can best describe the set as an enormous doll's house. Each act opens to the front of the house - an innocuous-looking, redbrick, two-storey, family home. Then the platform it's on swivels, and we get to see the back. Just like a doll's house, particularly so from my high vantage point, the back of the house is missing so you can see inside. There are, as I say, two storeys, with rooms leading off. We can see, upstairs, a bedroom with fitted wardrobes on one side, a bathroom on the other. A landing between leads to two other bedrooms that are hidden from us - we can just see the doors. A staircase leads to the lower level, where there's a kitchen on the right, with a service hatch opening into the dining room. Across the entrance hall, there's a living room, which is meant to have a wall separating it from the hall, but that's been left out.
The story opens on a surprise party for a fellow who's just quit his job to work for the family firm. This was actually the only scene that really didn't do it for me - the audience found it hilarious, I just found the humour a bit too obvious. But it soon improved. Turns out that he gets an awful shock, being a pillar of honesty himself, to discover that his family isn't so straight-laced as he would like.. the question is, how far will he allow himself to be pulled in their direction?
The theatre was mostly, but not completely, full, and I contemplated changing my seat to one of the £50 ones, but decided I was fine where I was and couldn't be bothered. The audience, as I say, was mostly appreciative, with the distinct exception of the teenage girl to my left, who had been dragged along by her parents - who enjoyed it much more - and who shook my seat with her leg-jiggling (accompanied by deep sighs), until she realised that she could play with her phone. Which was fine for the rest of the first act, but an usher caught her at it at the start of the second act and made her put it away. So it was back to the leg-jiggling and sighing. Even she, however, quieted down for the denouement!
A number of people - the person to my right included - remarked that it was very dated. I also read a review to the effect that it was a pity they saw fit to stage it in the 80s, when it was written, although it would have fitted in the present day. Well, they would have had to change more than the costumes, I think. And pardon me, but are we so removed that we can't appreciate something written in the 80s? The furnishings are certainly perfect for the period, and what's wrong with seeing something written in the 80s performed as though the characters are living in the 80s? As to the themes, they pretty much could translate to the present-day, which is what I take the criticism of a "dated" play to relate to. So no, in that sense, I don't think it's dated. I enjoyed it more than many a play I've seen, particularly in the National. Runs until August 27, and I recommend it for an enjoyable night out.
I managed to hold on until I got to the toilet at the interval, and then wandered off in search of something to eat. I haven't been this high in this building before, and was stunned by the view, although it was blocked by people sitting on the edge, snacking and drinking. And then I saw a door onto the balcony..
Ah now, isn't that lovely? St. Paul's gleaming white against the sparkling lights of the City.
Guildford tomorrow, I'll be too tired to get up to much after. And I might just get to The Lunchbox on Wednesday! Watch this space..

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Play: Hedda Gabler

I was reading the Time Out listings when I saw a listing for a new production of Hedda Gabler. I've seen it before, but this production caught my eye - staged, as it is, in Fulham Palace, which I've never before visited. Strangely, however, they've never bothered to list the production on their website, and I had to email them for the link - So I booked it.

I had great fun today trying to figure out how to get there. Google Maps suggested the Tube as one of my options - Tube to Putney Bridge and it's a 10-minute walk. Alternatively, there were three buses I could take. The Tube sounded like the best option - no longer than the others, and no traffic woes to contend with. The only problem was - I had never been around the area, and had to figure out my walk. After careful study of Google Maps, I thought I knew the way, and I was set.

I had some delays in setting out. Among other things, I realised I had printed out the wrong email, and had to set up my printer at home and print out the ticket! So I was later in leaving than I intended. Then my Tube was delayed - person under the train. Happens a lot. Anyway, it finally came, - no indicator on that platform - and the sign assured me that I was only 7 minutes from Putney Bridge. The Tube was crammed - most passengers, fortunately, got off at the next stop, Fulham Broadway. It occurred to me that I was wise not to take the bus - the traffic would have been horrendous.

Then, when I finally alighted at Putney Bridge, it took me some minutes just to get out of the station, with the crowds. So much for Google Maps telling me to take Exit 1 - there was only one exit that I could see! Luckily, it was the one I hoped for. I knew I had to head right for the main road, and so I managed that, crossed, and headed to the left, past All Saints' Church, through the big gates that lead to Bishop's Park. You see, Fulham Palace was once the residence of the bishops of London. Although I knew I'd be slightly late, I also knew that was just for the sherry reception, which I could afford to miss a bit of. So I allowed myself the luxury of some photographs:

It turned out, despite my misgivings, to be quite easy. I continued along that road until it curved to the right, and there was the main gate to the palace. There was a sign indicating which direction to go in for the Friends of Fulham Palace event. Well, that was the first I'd heard of them, but I figured that was the event I was headed to. The sign said to go through the Tudor courtyard. When I got there, another sign said the courtyard and great hall were closed for the day for a private function - I guessed that was my event, too!

When I entered, a lady in a 19th century servant's outfit directed me to Bertha, who had the list of names. She also explained that there was sherry - I'd heard something about that already - and that two wings of the palace were available to us to explore. So first I headed to Bertha, who had all our names, in beautiful calligraphy, which she blithely crossed off when we arrived. I then headed in and had a glass of sherry. Not mad about it, but what the hey. I explored the side passage, which led, with some artfully staged decorations and sound effects reminiscent of the play we were about to see, to the chapel, where the sound of an organ could be heard. Then I explored in the other direction, and found a darkened room, where the promotional film was playing on loop. Finally, I discovered that, for once, the cloakroom was free - it took the form of a rail of coats in the entrance hall, where I deposited mine with relief. Programs were free too, and inventively constructed.

We eventually took our seats in the great hall, maybe 10 minutes late. There were a couple of rows of seats, and I overheard someone remark to her companion that she supposed she didn't want to sit in the front row, anyway! I take completely the opposite view - I love being close to the action, and hate being separated from it and having to peer around people's heads. So I sat, happily, in the front. The seats were quite comfortable, I'm pleased to say. And the front row was quite close to the action.

Hedda Gabler is a play about a woman who, returning from honeymoon, has already realised she made a mistake in marrying this man. He's just gone and bought this mansion for them, which they can't afford, because he thought she wanted it. Actually, she just mentioned it in passing, and can't stand the place. Neither can she stand his relatives, to whom he's very close, or his old flame, whom she bullied when they were in the same class  in school. Mind you, she has a couple of old flames herself - and that's when things start to get messy..

It really does make a difference to have a play staged in a large house akin to the one it's set in. The acoustics are great, and it gives a lovely setting for the ladies' sweeping gowns. This is a powerful and dramatic version. The main character has been represented in many different ways - sometimes as a brave heroine, combatting social mores. In this, she's a cruel, scary, bitch. The actor playing her speaks haltingly and maintains a creepy, frozen expression throughout most of the play. Various of the characters are obviously scared of her. Kudos to the cast and crew - the main actor is also the creative director - for a terrific version! Mind you, I did worry a bit about the wooden screen that separates the great hall from the entrance hall. There was a lot of coming and going through the door in that screen, and some banging of it. The door is about 500 years old.. and the whole screen shook at one point! So I worried.. but it hadn't yet fallen down by the time I left. Highly recommended, but only running until Saturday. Booking required.

By the time I left, it was dark, and, predictably, the park was shut for the night. So I had to go round the other way. I walked for a bit, unsure of my exact location and still looking for the Tube station, but when I eventually came to a bus stop, I thought I was as well to wait there for a bus, it'd be faster. I checked the routemap, and all three buses stopped at the stop local to my house! Wasn't long before a bus came, and soon after, I was home.

Back to Ireland for the weekend tomorrow. The provisional plan for Monday is to go see an Indian film called The Lunchbox, which looks quite good. Then I'm in the Guildford office on Tuesday, and won't schedule anything for that day - I'll be too tired.